George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 2 November 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Totoway 2d Novr 1780

Dear Sir

By the Informations your Excellency did the Board of General Officers the Honor to give them the Day before Yesterday, it appears that the Detachments made by the Enemy to the South’ard are not much superior in Numbers to the Reinforcements recently received, & that consequently their Strength in this Quarter can have sustain’d no very sensible Diminution1—Added to this, when I reflect that a great Part of the Army under your immediate Command is compos’d of men, the Expiration of whose Time of Inlistment is so rapidly approaching that no Detachments can be made from them to be of Use to the South’ard; & that to detach from the stationary Troops (who in Aggregate are but barely adequate to merely defensive Operations) wou’d leave this Country in general, & our important Posts in particular in so expos’d & precarious a Situation, that Policy, Prudence & the common Cause militate, at this Crisis, against the measure.2

I therefore do not hesitate to pronounce as my Opinion, that Your Excellency has done every Thing as to southern Operations which the present State of this Army will admit of.

The precise Places of winter Cantonments, it is out of my Power to point out—especially on this Side the North River, where Opportunity has not given me to know much more of the Country than the Encampments we have occupied, & their Environs—within the Bounds of which, from a Sense of Duty I have hitherto confined myself3—But to speak generally, my Opinion is, that the Positions taken shou’d be such as not to leave us liable to too sudden an Attack from the Enemy, & yet if attacked be defensible—where Wood is plenty, & where Supplies of Forage & Provisions can with the greatest Certainty be obtain’d—& with most Safety & Facility be brought up—& as Cattle can be drove any where, & Flour is with great Dificulty transported by land Carriage—Attention should be had to that Circumstance in the Positions taken that the Inconvenience may be rendered as light as may be—with these Advantages we should combine, as much as possible, the Protection of our Fellow Citizens from the Ravages of the Enemy, & the Convenience & Ease of our Officers & Men—One Object however which we should never lose Sight of, & to which all other Consideratio⟨ns⟩ ought to be subordinate, is, to be so posted that we can give timely Support to our capital Posts, as well as the different Cantonments of the Army to one another—It appears to me Sir, these ought to be our governing Principles in making our Winter Dispositions—Your Excellency’s known Judgement, & perfect Knowledge of the Country renders every Thing that has been, or can be said on this Subject unnecessary—To go early into Winter Quarters is a Circumstance, on many Accounts, devoutly to be wish’d—but the Time when will depend, I should imagine, in som⟨e⟩ Measure, upon the Motions & Designs of the Enemy—to retire too early might expose the Country, & give the Enemy Advantages they would probably make Use of—To keep the Field too long would be oppressive to the Army, & injurious to Service—Perhaps it might be possible to detach a Number of Men under proper Officers to prepare the Huts for the Reception of the Army when it retires—by which Means less would be to do when we can leave the Field.

I confess myself an Advocate for retiring as early as possible, as it might encourage the recruiting Service, by probably inducing many of the new Levies to inlist for the War, & make the whole of them useful in building the Huts for our stationary Army.4

Thus Sir have I in a loose Manner thrown out a few Hints that have occured to me upon the Subjects Laid before us—not because they were necessary, but because You requested it—Your ample Mind, I know, not only takes in all I have express’d, (but much more than I can imagine[)]—so that I can have no Merit in this Letter, but the Pleasure of obeying your Excellency’s Commands. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Dear Sir Your Excellency’s most obedient & very Humble Servant

Robt Howe

LS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2Howe differentiated between reinforcements sent to the army during the summer whose enlistments were to expire at the end of 1780 and soldiers enlisted for longer terms who would remain with the army.

3Howe had joined the main army in August after serving as commander at West Point with responsibility for the Highlands on the east side of the Hudson River.

4For the Continental army’s winter encampment, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov., and n.12.

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