George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 16 November 1780

To Major General William Heath


Hd Qrs Passaic falls 16th of Novr 1780.

Dear Sir,

Your forage will be made to subserve a project I have in view, the success of which depending upon a concurrence of things, and upon causes that are unalterable, I have to request that matters may be so ordered by you, as that the detachment employed on this occasion may be at the white plains, or as low down as you mean they should go, by two Oclock on thursday the 23d Instt:1 They will remain there that Night upon their Arms, and as it is not unlikely but that the enemy (if they are in force at Kings bridge) may attempt to surprize them, a vigilant look out is to be kept, & small parties of horse & foot employed in patroling the different Roads leading from the enemy’s lines.

It is my earnest wish, that you make your foraging party as strong, and have it as well Officered as possible. I am of opinion, that you may trust the several works (as it will be for a few days only, & this body advanced of them) to the Invalids, and such Troops as are rendered unfit for the field on Acct of cloathing—The Guard Boats should, upon this occasion, be uncommonly alert—they should proceed as low down as they can, with safety, and so dispose of themselves as, by signals, to communicate the quickest intelligence of any movements on the River. A Chain of Expresses may also be fixed between the Foragers and your Quarters, for the purpose of speedy information of any extra event, or occurrence below.

It is unnecessary to be more explicit—your own Judgment, and conviction of the precision with which this business—especially in point of time—should be executed, will supply any omission of mine. This, that is, the time of being at the white plains in force, under the appearance of a large forage if you cannot make it real, is the first object to be attended to—I dare not commit my project to writing for fear of a miscarriage of my letter, but it is more than probable that between this and the day appointed for the execution, I shall send an Officer to you with a detail acct of it.

So soon as this comes to hand I beg of you to send by water five Boats of the largest size that can be conveniently transported on Carriages to the Slote above Dobbs’s ferry, where I will have them met by Carriages2—l et there be five good Watermen with their Arms & accoutrements—from the Jersey line if they have them—allotted to each Boat under the command of an active intelligent Subaltern (of the same line) who is also to be a good Waterman. If there should be any armed Vessels of the enemy in the River above Dobbs’s ferry, let me know it, that I may order the Carriages to Kings ferry. The Officer & Men are to attend the Boats by Land, as well as water.3

Sending the Invalids & bad cloathed men of Pensylvania to Morris Town4—those of Massachusetts & Connecticut to West point,5 and the Artillerists to New Windsor,6 strongly mark’d the Cantonments of the Army, & this will be manifested more clearly when Majr Gibbs fixes upon my Qrs, for which purpose he is now gone up to New Windsor.7 The Detachments from Massachusetts & Connecticut lines now on their March to West point, including ten hearty & well cloathed men from each of their Regiments, amounts to 1400 Men, which will enable you to enlarge your foraging party very considerably.

The inclosed for Colo. Govion requires his attendence at Head Quarters.8 With much esteem and regard I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. The Boats Should be of the Strongest & best built kind.9

ALS, MHi: Heath Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW addressed the cover of the ALS to Heath at West Point.

1For Heath’s intended forage, see his letter to GW, 10 Nov., and n.5 to that document.

2Heath wrote an unnamed lieutenant from West Point on 18 Nov.: “You will please immediately to proceed down the river with the five Flatt Boats to the Slote above Dobbs’s Ferry where You will receive further orders You are to keep with the Boats to whatever place they may be removed” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath later wrote in his memoirs: “On the morning of the 18th, five large flat-bottomed boats, under the charge of a subaltern and 25 picked watermen, were sent down the river to the float above Dobb’s Ferry, where they were to be placed on carriages, and transported to a certain place, for an enterprise which was meditating against the enemy” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 278; see also n.3 below).

3GW’s directions were connected to his plans for an offensive operation (see The Aborted Attack on the Northern Approaches to New York City and the Feint on Staten Island, 9–24 Nov., editorial note).

5See GW to Philip Burr Bradley, 14 Nov., and the source note to that document.

6GW wrote Lt. Col. Ebenezer Stevens from headquarters at Preakness on this date: “You will proceed with the Invalids and Baggage of the Artillery to Murtherers Creek in the Neighbourhood of New Windsor. You are to consult the Qr Mr General before you march—Should he have no occasion for the speedy return of the Waggons you are to proceed the whole way by land, taking the Route by Ringwood and thro’ the Clove—But should he have occasion for the Waggons shortly—you are to proceed to King’s ferry and go up from thence by Water.

“Upon your arrival at Murtherers Creek, you are to lodge the Baggage securely—and then look out for a convenient piece of Ground for putting the Number of Officers and Men who will be attached to the park this Winter of which Genl Knox will inform you—In doing this, you are to pay particular attention to the dryness of the soil—sufficiency of Wood for Building and firing—and conveniency of Water—The position to be as near New Windsor as the circumstances of Ground—Wood and Water will permit—Having pitched upon the position, you will set the Men to cutting Logs of proper lengths for building—and splitting Shingles—General Knox may perhaps have some further directions to give you—You will therefore apply to him before you set out—And to the Quarter Master for an order for the necessary Tools” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also General Orders, 13 Nov.).

7Maj. Caleb Gibbs kept an “Account of Expencess when sent by His Excellency the Commander in Cheif to New Windsor to look quarters for Him.” Gibbs spent $53 at Pompton, N.J., on 17 Nov.; $54 at Smiths Clove, N.Y., on both 18 and 20 Nov.; and $39 at Pompton on 21 Nov., for a total of $200 (Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1, 1776–1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5).

For the army’s final arrangements for winter quarters, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov., and n.12.

8The enclosure for Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion has not been identified, but it presumably related to the contemplated offensive operation (see n.3 above).

Index Entries