George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 17–18 November 1780

From Major General William Heath

West point Novr 17th[–18] 1780

Dear General

I am this evening honored with yours of yesterday, will endeavour to have every thing respecting the proposed forage conducted conformable to your directions, I have ordered five of the best Boats we have to be Sent down tomorrow morning, The Subaltern and twenty five boatmen I think may be depended on.1

On monday morning parties will be Sent out to empress Teams, beginning at the extreme distances and moving downwards, it is Supposed and intended that they be at North Castle on Wednesday night,2 They will be preceeded and covered by the Troops who are to march in three Columns, One on the Tarry town road, one on the White plains road, and the Other on the Bedford road, It is now proposed to forage in Tarry town, Rye, and New Rochel, if the two latter should be thought expedient, which I hope to be informed of tomorrow,3 each column, will have One light Field piece,4 The troops will be positively instructed to be at the place where the chain is to be formed at the time mentioned in your Letter. General Starke, the only General Officer I have here, will command, the men belonging to each Brigade will form a Regt. The Regts will be Commanded by Colonels Shreve, Jackson, and Cilley, Lieut. Colonels Barber, Olney, and Dearborn, Majors Cummings, Wylles and [ ] not yet determined, and a proper number of Capts. and Subalterns,5 these will be Joined by the Troops on the Lines above croten river, about 100, and by Colol Sheldons Regiment and the Detachment of Infantry with him, about 200 in the whole, The Dragoons divided to the three Columns for videtts &c. a Troop of Militia Light horse, Capt. Delivan for the Same purpose,6 I shall also order the Connecticut State Troops at Horseneck (which I observe by my Instructions to be Under my command) to advance on the Day mentioned to New Rochel,7 all the precautions you are pleased to mention will be duly observed.8 If your Excellency Should have Objections to any part of th⟨e⟩ foregoing, as there will be time to ⟨Change⟩ the disposition, I request you would be pleased to Signify it.

It is expected that about 200 teams will be collected, and it is probable that the covering party will not move off the Ground untill Fryday afternoon, or night.

Colonel Govion went this afternoon for Head Quarters. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect & Esteem Your Excellency Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

P.S. 18th The Boats are gone down the river, I cannot learn that the Enemy have any vessels above Dobbs’ Ferry.9


ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. Heath wrote “(Private)” on the cover of the ALS (see also n.2 below). Mutilated material on the ALS is supplied in angle brackets from the draft.

2Heath wrote Maj. John Campbell, deputy quartermaster general, from West Point on Saturday, 18 Nov.: “The 250 men will be at the Village tomorrow They must proceed and Compleat their business so as to have the Teams that go on the eastern route at North Castle on Wednesday night, and those for Tarry town at the New Bridge at the Same time, The troops that empress the teams are to march and keep with them, Please to have the Horses ready on monday for the artillery, Twelve will be wanted and let them be good” (MHi: Heath Papers). Campbell replied to Heath from Continental Village, N.Y., on the same date: “I have received your’s by the bearer and shall strictly adhere to the orders respecting the party, and send the letter to Genl Washington by Express” (MHi: Heath Papers). Campbell had sent Heath a detailed plan, dated 16 Nov., proposing “that 250 troops properly Officered will be wanted for the Impressing Teams for the Purpose of Transporting Forage from the Lines, They to be divided Into five parties … The Number of Teams Expected to be got is 200” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also Campbell to Heath, same date, MHi: Heath Papers). Heath later wrote in his memoirs for 19 Nov.: “Five companies, of 50 men each, marched from West Point, for the purpose of impressing teams in the upper part of Westchester, and lower parts of Dutchess Counties, preparatory to the grand forage” (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).

3Col. Elisha Sheldon wrote Heath from North Castle, N.Y., on 18 Nov. in response to Heath’s question on “the practicability of Foraging as low as N. Rochelle.” Sheldon believed “the Risque will be greater than the advantage that will arise from the Quantity that can be Collected. … In my opinion would be sufficient to forage as low as Marroneck White plains & Dobbs’s Ferry. Should you think proper to proceed in this plan, I think it would be Necessary to have 400 Troops on the East & 400 on the west of the River Bank which with the Horse and Infantry under my Command, I believe would make us safe in Collecting as low as beforementioned” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath replied to Sheldon from West Point on 19 Nov. and agreed “to forage in the Line you mention The Troops destined for the purpose will be as many as you mention they will be in two or three Columns, as may be hereafter determined on. … from the time this reaches you let the whole of your Command keep Two Days provisions ready cooked adding one daily as they eat the Oldest, would it not be of advantage for Colo. Welles Command to move at the time appointed to or near Maroneck?” (MHi: Heath Papers). Sheldon replied to Heath from North Castle on 20 Nov. with his opinion that the detachment under Col. Levi Wells “is very weak … he has about 30 Militia Horse which if advanced below the [Mamaroneck] Bridge, m[a]y be of service to give intelligence of any movement of the Enemy—at the same time will have it [in] their power to Collect a number of Cattle that are in that Quarter” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.7 below).

Heath began another letter to Sheldon on Monday, 20 Nov.: “Every thing is in a good way, General Stark will be with you on wednesday evening—please Send one third of your mounted Dragoons properly officered, on to Croten New Bridge where they will meet one of our Columns Commanded by Colo. Shreve of the Jersey Line with whom the Dragoons are to remain untill the Forage is over, let them be at the Bridge before Night General Stark will Shew you the plan and advise with you on Some matters” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.8 below).

4Heath wrote Col. John Lamb from West Point on 18 Nov.: “You will please to have three Light Field peices well found in readiness to move on monday morning next, please order a Tumbril to each, and after puting the ammunition necessary for the peice, put in each as many Musket Cartridges of proper Size as can be Conveniently carried” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath again wrote Lamb on Sunday, 19 Nov.: “please to order the Three Field peices, with the Tumbrels of Ammunition (and I would have a fourth added for Musket Cartridges) to be embarked on Board Boats as early tomorrow morning as Possible and proceed down the river. …

“The artillery are to Carry four Days Bread and Three Days meat Cooked which is to be entire on tuesday morning” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath later wrote in his memoirs for 20 Nov.: “Three light field-pieces, with four ammunition tumbrels, with ammunition for the artillery, and musket-cartridges; and also a quantity of hard bread, rum, &c. was sent down to Peekskill, for the use of the grand foragers” (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).

5Heath continued at this point on his draft: “I fear These Regts will not make more than 1000 rank and file in the whole (Unless I should take the New York Troops from on board the Transports).”

6Heath wrote Capt. Samuel Delavan from West Point on Monday, 20 Nov.: “If it be agreable to you and your Troop of Light Horse to be at North Castle on Wednesday evening next with Two Days provisions with them they will render their Country an essential Service” (MHi: Heath Papers).

7Heath wrote Wells from West Point on 20 Nov.: “Please to move with the Troops Under your Command on Thursday next the 23rd Instant So as to be not far from the South east side of Maroneck at about Two oClock in the afternoon, where keeping up every precaution I would have you remain Untill Fryday The Troops Under Command of Colo. Sheldon will be on the South of Maroneck when he retires you will do the Same if during the Continuance of the Troops in that Quarter either Should be attacked, mutual Support must be afforded. … P.S. a possibility that this may fall into the hands of the enemy prevents my being more particular” (MHi: Heath Papers; see n.3 above).

8Heath wrote Brig. Gen. John Stark from West Point on Sunday, 19 Nov.: “Having thought it expedient to make a Grand forage in the County of West Chester between our Lines and those of the Enemy to Secure to our Selves and prevent falling into the hands of the Enemy the Beef Cattle grain and Hay with which that County abounds, I have made the following disposition for the purpose, The five Companies which marched this Day are gone to empress the Teams of the adjacent Country which it is Supposed will amount to about 200, these are to rendezvous at Certain places appointed by Assistant Quarter Master, Campbell, the five Companies are after collecting the Teams to keep with them during the forage within the Chain or covering Troops to preserve order and prevent the foraging being interrupted by the refugees or Cow Boys for which purpose you will please more fully to Instruct them.

“The Troops destined for Covering the Foragers will consist of a detachment from this Post thrown into Three Commands, the Troops from the Jersey and New York Lines to be Under the Command of Colonel Commandt Shreve, Those of Starks Brigade and Colo. Michl Jacksons and Colonel Bradleys detachments, Under Colo. Commandt Henry Jackson, those of late Poors Brigade Under Colo. Commandt Cilley, and a Detachment of artillery with three Light Field peices Under the Command of Capt. [Joseph] Thomas.

“The Country proposed for the Forage lies in the rear of Dobbs’s Ferry White plains and the Southern parts of Maroneck.

“The Troops are to march on Tuesday morning next, those on West point to cross over as early as Possible. …

“On Thursday next the 23rd night the greatest punctuality as to time, and exactness in the movements of the Several Columns are to be observed, be the weather what it may it is to have no Consideration, If it should be thought expedient at North Castle to divide the Troops into two or more Columns it may be done, but these as well as the Column on the right are to be at the places where the chain is to be formed between One and Two oClock in the afternoon of Said day, the latter hour not to be exceeded and the progress of the Columns to be Slower or faster accordingly. … The Troops will lie on their Arms during the night, and it may be adviseable to make a Small movement after dark which will deceive the Enemy, no Fires are to be lighted up during the night, the Troops should be under arms an hour or two before Day, The Ground on which you form should be Strong and well chosen, The waggons will follow the Troops down at a proper distance and as Soon as the Chain is formed begin to forage and collect the Stock which is to be done under the direction of the persons appointed for that purpose to whom assistance is to be offered if necessary, The Forageing is to be executed with great dilligence and expedition and as the Teams load or Cattle are collected they are to move upwards with small escorts, as it is probable the forageing will not be compleated on Thursday afternoon it is to be continued very early on Fryday morning, as Soon as the Teams are all loaded and the Cattle collected and drove off the Covering Troops will move up keeping Some miles below and still exercising precaution on the Side next the Enemy and on the Flanks, both by Day and night, and perhaps as much precaution may be necessary on Fryday night as at any time.

“Should the Enemy venture to attack you, The Goodness and Bravery of the Troops you Command will ensure you every thing that can be expected from the best Officers and Soldiers, in case of the advance of the Enemy please give the earliest notice to the foragers … keep up a Communication between your Columns by patroles of Horse and Light parties, and support each other as occasion may require, the Cannon will Seasonably announce the alarm from those attacked, If the Enemy should come out in such force as Prudence and Policy should dictate your acting more cautiously Seize the most advantageous grounds and collect your force and act as Circumstances may require, The Column on the right will keep a watchfull look out to the River, and Should the Enemy attempt to convey a Body of Troops in Vessels or Boats on that Side of you, you will keep pace with them recross Croten river or return to these Posts as the nature of the movement and its force may point out your duty.

“please let me hear frequently from You especially when any occurrence happens whether favorable or adverse—Preserve Strict order and discipline, Suffer not the least Insult or abuse to be offered to the Inhabitants and absolutely forbid all plundering.

“You will probably be Joined by a Troop of Militia Light Horse under the Command of Capt. Delivan, and the Militia under Colo. Thomas both of which from their knowledge of the Country may be very serviceable, Send part of the force to Colo. Shreve—When you find it necessary Issue your hard Bread and pittance of rum the latter is all that can be Spared, as you will have beef Cattle order such killed and Issued as may be wanted, please with Major Campbell to Settle a Chain of expresses at about eight miles apart that the earliest Intelligence may be Communicated.

“Probably a Regiment of State Troops from Connecticut may form on Thursday on the Left of your Chain to the South east of Maroneck, before you retire give them notice that they may do it at the same time.

“Confideing in your Zeal Bravery and good Conduct I commit the execution of this Enterprise to you, your own good Judgment will lead you to take Such further Steps as may be necessary for effecting the object in view. … P.S. Call on Major Campbell at the Village for Such Guides as may be necessary for both Columns—as the distance from Croten Bridge to Dobbs’s Ferry is considerable it will be best for the right Column to go as far as Sing sing on wednesday night to which place Colo. Shreve will order the Teams on that rout” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.6 above).

Stark wrote Heath from near North Castle on 22 Nov., 7:00 P.M.: “I arrived here about Three oClock, and am Encamped on a very formidable piece of ground, but have found no quarter master, nor agents—I have seen Colo. Sheldon—and shall move down to the place tomorrow—No Teams has yet arrived—Capt. Delivan has promised to meet me this evening, but has not yet arrived. …

“I got but four Bbls Rum, and six barrells of hard bread, I wish six barrels of bread may be sent to meet us on our return, & a little more rum, if it can be spared—By the present favourable prospect of affairs, I have hopes of accomplishing the business to your wish—I applied to Majr Campbell for a Chain of Expresses, he tells me he has none, nor knows of none that he can get, for that reason I can give you no letters, but by light Horse men” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath replied to Stark from West Point on 23 Nov.: “I am Just honored with yours of yesterday pr the dragoon am exceedingly happy to hear that every thing goes on well with you, altho out of my Sight be assured you are not out of my mind, being informed by the Commissary this morning that five Barrels of Bread were left behind you through Some mistake, I directed him to add ten more to the number and Send the 15 on immediately, with Two Barrels of rum addressed to You, and Some Barrels of Flour, I wish it was in my Power to Send you more rum it is not, but I expect a Supply every moment keep up precautions and great vigilance, be ready to act in an instant, I flatter my Self You will pluck Laurels, God Bless and prosper you, let me hear often from you” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Stark subsequently wrote Heath from “2 Miles below White plains” on 24 Nov. to communicate recent troop movements and his opinion that the forage would not meet his “expectations, for the country below White plains is almost desolate by the frequent ravages of both armies; scarce a farmer has more than one Cow, & many, who were once in affluent Circumstances are now reduced to indiscriminate poverty. …

“I believe if my instructions would have permitted me, that I could have burnt Morrissina, that famous nest of Villains, but I think it too late now” (MHi: Heath Papers; for an altered version of this letter, see Stark, Memoir of John Stark description begins Caleb Stark. Memoir and Official Correspondence of Gen. John Stark, with Notices of Several Other Officers of the Revolution . . .. 1860. Reprint. Boston, 1972. description ends , 203–4).

Heath replied to Stark from West Point on 25 Nov. that “Unless you have received Instructions from Genl Washington to the contrary I would have you return with the Troops as expeditiously as possible to this Post. … please to dispatch an express to me whenever you take up your march this way” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Stark again wrote Heath from “two Miles below White Plains” on 25 Nov.: “I am Still in the same position which I acquainted you with in my Letter of last Eveng. In consequence of an Express last Evening from Genl Washington I shall continue on the present ground ’till the weather clears, when I shall proceed to the ground at North Casttle which I occupied coming down where I shall wait your further orders If I have sufficient Supplies for the Troops” (MHi: Heath Papers).

In a letter presumably dated 26 Nov., Heath apparently replied to Stark: “Your favor of yesterday came to hand this morning. I am glad to hear that everything goes on well with you. The weather is disagreeable, but your troops will endure anything. I apprehend that some rum and bread will have reached you before this does.

“I am anxious to hear from you to-day, and hope an express is now on the way with an account of something very interesting. Heaven grant that it may be equal to our most sanguine expectations. Please give me notice when you are on your return, and the time you will probably reach this place, that provisions may be in readiness for the troops. I have sent you a few sheets of paper” (Stark, Memoir of John Stark description begins Caleb Stark. Memoir and Official Correspondence of Gen. John Stark, with Notices of Several Other Officers of the Revolution . . .. 1860. Reprint. Boston, 1972. description ends , 204–5, letter misdated 23 Nov.).

Stark next wrote Heath from “Cortlandt’s Manor 1½ Miles from Pines bridge” on 26 Nov. to report that “rum & bread was rec[eive]d this evening and is now distributing—The forage is compleated & Mr Haynes tells me he has loaded 120 Teams, the short notice, and the excessive bad weather prevented, procuring as many teams as was proposed, however the inhabitants are wretched enough, and their calamaties (which are heightened by the depredations, of the upper Cowboys) are almost intolerable, those rascalls are in my opinion the greatest Villains on the Continent there is no crime, theft, Roberry, or mischeif that they strike at, they are proof against good, & fit for nothing but the Halter.” Stark then described a potential offensive thrust interdicted upon the arrival of “a Letter from Genl Washington, desiring that no further offensive opperations might take place—the weather was excassive bad, but the Troops behaved with firmness & Temerity … I expect to be at West point by tomorrow three oClock P.M., the Troops will be very much Fatigued, therefore I wish to have as many boats as possible waiting on This side for their reception—I know you will endeavor to make them as comfortable as possible therefore I need not mention particulars” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.9 below). Heath later determined that “the grand forage was very successful. Some of the light troops went as low down as East Chester; and on the 27th, Gen. Stark returned with a large quantity of corn, some hay, cattle, &c.” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 279; see also Thacher, Military Journal description begins James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a detailed account of the principal events and Battles of the Revolution, with their exact dates, And a Biographical Sketch of the most Prominent Generals. Hartford, 1862. description ends , 236–38).

9Heath intended his preparations to facilitate a larger 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).

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