George Washington Papers

V. George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion, 21 November 1780

To Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion

Head Quarters Prekaness 21st Novr 1780


You will proceed to Fort Lee and thence with the greatest secrecy and caution along the margin of the North River to the landing which is opposite Spiten Devil Creek. You will observe with the greatest accuracy possible the numbers & situation of the enemys works from Fort Washington upwards—the huts incampments barracks in or near them—the number of troops that occupy these and are otherwise within view—the landing places on the Island, noting which are easiest for debarking troops, and which admit most of secrecy—the approaches to the several works, particularly Fort Washington, the redoubt on the same ridge to the Northward of it, and Laurel Hill1—the guard houses and washing houses along the river; the vessels boats &c. in the river and their several stations.

You will make these observations at different points from the landing opposite Spiten devil to the banks opposite the hollow that extends across to Harlem river—You2 will endeavour to arrive in time tomorrow morning to observe where the troops parade at Assembly, which will the better enable you to judge of their number.

In short you will make every observation necessary for forming a plan for surprising the posts which have been mentioned by a night expedition, and for determining the propriety of such an attempt.

You will also remark the state of the roads from the encampment of the light corps to Fort Lee; particularly that part of it from the Heights of Fort Lee to the landing below—to ascertain the practicability of moving down boats in Carriages to the landing either in waggons or on the shoulders of men.3

The perfect confidence I have in your judgment and address4 assures me that you will execute this trust in the most proper manner.

For your better security I shall send a patrole towards the three pigeons5 but who shall not fall in with you or know anything of your errand. I shall expect your report tomorrow night or very early next morning.6 I am with the greatest esteem Sir Yr Most Obed.

P.S. You will observe whether there are any small boats at any of the landings this side which the inhabitants may make use of to convey intelligence.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The heading to the draft describes Gouvion as “Commanding the Corps of Engineers.”

1Fort Tryon stood on the same ridge north of Fort Washington, then known as Fort Knyphausen. Fort George occupied Laurel Hill.

2Prior to this word on the draft, Hamilton wrote and struck out: “if you think you can remain so long with security and without suspicion, I shall be glad, you would remark.”

3See Documents I, IX, and X.

4Hamilton wrote and struck out “have induced me to” at this place on the draft.

5GW refers to Three Pidgeons Inn in Bergen County, New Jersey.

6Gouvion apparently rendered an unfavorable report (see Lafayette to GW, 28 Nov.; see also Documents XVIII and XIX).

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