George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Arthur St. Clair, 2 November 1780

From Major General Arthur St. Clair

Camp at Totowa Novemr 2d 1780.


In cantoning the Troops there are two Objects which seem to claim particular Attention—The securing West Point; and covering Jersey in such a manner as to preserve an easy communication with Pennsylvania. But West Point requires 2800 Men, and for the northern Posts dependent upon it, and the necessary Detatchments below, a thousand more will not be an extravagant Allowance. I will suppose that the Army may be cantoned to answer these Purposes in this Manner—The Corps now at West Point to remain there, and those under the immediate Command of your Excellency to take Post in Jersey. But of the first there will, on the first Day of January, remain Little more than 3000 Men, and of the last about 2400. Should those in Jersey be posted in the Vicinity of the Ennemy they would be liable to have their Quarters beat up—they would, probably have a new Position to take, which may be very difficult, in the Winter; and be exposed to the loss of their Baggage and Artillery, as the Horses must be sent away. Should they be removed to any considerable Distance, in order to place them in greater Security, they would not answer the Purpose of covering the Country. It is not probable that many Recruits will have arrived by the first of January, be the Measures of the States ever so decisive—a Part, however of the Quotas of Pennsylvania and Connecticut may perhaps be counted upon, which is all I apprehend may be expected before the Month of March at soonest.1 Should the Troops be posted in the upper Part of Jersey, or in the Vicinity of West Point, the most valuable Part of that State will be left entirely open to the Ennemy; the Communication with Pennsylvania will become more difficult, & the Carriage be greatly encreased thro a rough Country where Forage is not abundant. Difficulties present themselves on all sides, but upon the whole, I think some middle Station should be chosen in Jersey, so situated as to be within a few Hours forced March with Light Troops of the New-Ark Mountain, which appears to me a Barrier of considerable Importance, but I have not sufficient local knowledge to be able to point out a particular Place. There will be a time when that part of the Army, supposing this Disposition should be thought proper, will be very weak; but then a Body of Militia of the State may be called out, which will not much interfere with the filling their Battallions, as the Number they want is not considerable, and from the Season not at all with the Affairs of Husbandry—with them joined to the Troops, there would be no great Danger of a serious Attempt from the Ennemy on account of the Distance they would have to penetrate into the Country, and the Difficulty of a Retreat in Case of Misfortune.2

But at West Point there are only the Number of Men necessary, merely, for the Works; and therefore not a sufficient Number for its Defence should it be attempted in any other way than by a Coup de Main. It is not, however, probable that the Ennemy will set down before it in the Winter Season; and should that be their Design it must be discovered time enough to throw in a Reinforcement; and part of the Militia of York might also be called out without impeding the recruiting Service, as their Battallions are near compleat.

On one Hand the Ease and comfort of the Troops requires their being cantoned as soon as possible that their Hutts may be constructed before the Severity of the Winter sets in; more especially if we reflect upon the State of their Cloathing; on the Other, the possibility of an Attempt upon West Point seems to forbid it. But a serious Attempt upon West Point, as I observed before, requires such previous Preparation as cannot well be concealed, and a Body, I should suppose, of at least eight Thousand Men, as both Shores of the River must be occupied, so that the probability is against its being made in the Winter when their Communication with New York by Water must be precarious. there is no probability at all of its being made by Land, as the Means of transporting the Apparatus for a Siege, and the necessary Provision, are not I beleive within their Power. I should therefore think that in about a fortnight hence the Camp may be broken up; but this will in some Measure be governed by the Weather.3

After all it must be owned that should the Ennemy bend their Force against the Army I have supposed in Jersey, it would be in a hazardous situation; but as they have discovered no Inclination to attempt any thing of that kind since the Detachments have been made from the Army and whilst the Season was favourable to military Operation, it induces an Expectation that they will not be more enterprising, on the large Scale at least, during the Winter.

I am most clearly of Opinion that no Troops can at this Time be spared for the southern Army; neither do I see any offensive Operation that can be undertaken against the Ennemy with much likelihood of Success—It appears indeed to me that we have but one Object—Staten Island the Garrisons of which are most probably reinforced. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Sir Your Excellencys Most obedient Servant

Ar. St Clair

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, OHi: Arthur St. Clair Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

St. Clair was responding to queries GW posed in the council of war held on 31 Oct. (see also n.6).

1Congressional resolutions to reorganize the army called upon the state governments to fill their regiments by 1 Jan. 1781 (see General Orders, 1 Nov. 1780).

2The Newark Mountains, now known as the Watchung Mountains, run generally southwest to northeast from the vicinity of Bound Brook, N.J., to the Preakness area. In the vicinity of Springfield, N.J., near the center of the range, the mountains are about ten miles from the coast. For the thwarted British attempt to penetrate the Watchung Mountains and seize the Continental army’s encampment and magazines near Morristown, see The Battle of Connecticut Farms, 7–8 June, and The Battle of Springfield, 23–24 June, editorial notes.

3For the Continental army’s winter encampment, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov., and n.12.

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