George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant General Rochambeau and Rear Admiral Ternay, 15 December 1780

To Lieutenant General Rochambeau and Rear Admiral Ternay

New Windsor 15th December 1780


Two days ago, I did myself the honor to inform His Excellency the Count de Rochambeau, that Sir Henry Clinton was making another embarkation1—this is since confirmed by other accounts, but I have received none yet which fix the particular Corps or numbers, with certainty—though all agree, that this detachment is intended as a reinforcement to Lord Cornwallis—that it is to consist of about 2500 Men, and that it is the intention of the enemy to push their operations to the Southward, this Winter, in the most vigorous manner.2 Official information is likewise lately received, that this is the resolution of the British Cabinet, and that, for this purpose, a powerful reinforcement is to be sent to America, with all possible dispatch.3

When it is considered, how essential it is to the Independance of the United States, and how important to the interest of their Allies, that the common enemy should be obliged to relinquish their conquests in South Carolina and Georgia—Your Excellencies will, I am confident, agree in opinion with me, that no means ought to be left unessayed, to endeavour to dislodge them, in the course of this Winter and next Spring.

It is needless for me to enter into a detail of the situation of our affairs to the Southward—Your Excellencies must know, that from the great loss of Men—Artillery and Stores in Charlestown, and from the defeat of our Army near Campden, we can only hope to reassemble such a force, and that chiefly of raw troops, as will prevent the enemy from extending their conquests over North Carolina.4 To attempt the reduction of Charlestown, supposing we had Men sufficient for the purpose, is a thing impracticable, while the transportation of Artillery and of all kinds of Stores proper for a Seige must be made from hence by land.

I am informed by the Marquis de la Fayette, who is still at Philadelphia, that a Vessel had just arrived at that place from L’Orient, which port she left the middle of October; but as he makes no mention of the second division of land and sea Forces expected in America to reinforce the Army and Navy at present under your Excellencies respective Commands, I am led to believe that, that much desired event is more remote than, under present circumstances, is to be wished.5

A peice of intelligence, which has been communicated to me in confidence by His Excellency the Minister Plenipotentiary of France, has turned my attention towards a new object, and brought into my mind the outlines of a plan, which, if it can be acceded to by the parties necessary to its execution, may be attended with the most solid and permanent advantages. The communication of His Excellency the Minister is, that the Court of Spain have in contemplation two expeditions against the British settlements in the Floridas—Pensacola and St Augustine. The first, consisting of 4000 Men convoyed by eight Ships of War, had sailed from the Havanna the 16th of October. The force destined against the last was twelve Ships of the Line, besides Frigates and Bomb Ketches, and ten thousand Troops. These were to leave the Havanna some time in6 the present Month.7

The plan, with which I am impressed and which I would submit to your Excellencies considerations, is, the propriety of attempting to combine our Forces with those of Spain, for the purpose of totally subduing the common Enemy, not only in the Floridas, but in the States of South Carolina and Georgia.

It is not for me, at this moment, to enter upon a detail of the Business. My general Ideas are, that a proposition or request should be made to the General and Admiral of the Spanish Forces (and through them to the Governor of the Havanna if they are not themselves at liberty to accede to the proposal) to cooperate with us conjunctively, or by diversion,8 for the purposes I have mentioned.9 In case they do accede, their Ships of War are to be sent, as soon as they have made good the debarkation of their troops at St Augustine or at any other given point, to form a junction with the Squadron of His Most Christian Majesty at Rhode Island, and take under their Convoy, the French and American Troops destined for the expedition against Charlestown—The first of which will be embarked at Newport, the last at Philadelphia. I should make such drafts from this Army, as would amount to two thousand Men at least. His Excellency the Count de Rochambeau would, I should hope, be able to detach double that number, and leave a sufficiency, with the Militia who might be called in upon the occasion, to give security to your Works—Hospitals and spare Stores, should you chuse to leave the two last behind you. These Corps and the troops which will be collected under the command of General Greene, in conjunction with the force which may be furnished by the Spaniards, in the manner aforementioned,10 will form an Army not to be resisted by any, which the British can draw together in that quarter, and capable of effecting the utmost wishes of the Allied powers.

It is unnecessary for me to remark that the Basis of my plan and proposition is, that the Combined Fleets shall be decidedly superior to that of the enemy, and that they shall cooperate to the completion of the enterprize, or untill it shall be abandoned by general consent.

To ensure so essential a point as that of a naval superiority, the propriety of a further requisition to the Admiral commanding his most Christian Majesty’s Fleet in the West Indies is submitted to your Excellencies judgments.

I persuade myself, that your Excellencies will view these propositions with an eye to all their consequences, and candidly approve or reject them, as they appear to you practicable or proper. In making them, I am solely influenced by motives of general good, and would not wish them carried into execution, unless they shall be deemed as conducive to the interests of the Powers who have generously stepped in to our Relief, as to those of the United States.

Should the plan happily meet your Excellencies approbations, I have to request that the Chevalier de Ternay would be good enough to dispatch a Frigate, if one can be spared, with the substance of these propositions to the Generals of his most Catholic Majesty. Duplicate and Triplicate of which I will endeavour to forward via Philadelphia.11 If the communication is to be made, no time is to be lost in doing it, and procuring an answer. I think I could, in a month from hearing of the proposition being agreed to on the part of Spain, be ready to embark at Philadelphia, if the state of the River Delaware will admit of it.

I cannot conclude this letter without mentioning an argument, which, in my opinion, ought to induce the Spaniard to accept of these propositions. The force which the British will be able to draw together in South Carolina and Georgia will be so superior to the American, that they may, without putting matters to the risque, leave small Garrisons in Savannah and Charlestown, and throw such a reinforcement into St Augustine, a very strong fortification, as will, in all probability, defeat the enterprize: Whereas, if they find that measures are pursuing to divest them of those acquisitions, which I am convinced they mean to make the Basis of a negociation, I think it more than probable, that they will abandon the Floridas to their fate, and exert themselves to the utmost to retain the only apparent compensation for their vast expenditure of Blood and Treasure—Besides this—the Spaniard ought to reflect, that while Britain is in possession of Georgia and South Carolina, he must hold the Floridas by a very precarious tenure, or by a very expensive one.12 I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Yr Excellencies Most obt and humble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, CtY-BR:R; Df, DLC:GW; Rochambeau’s French translation, CtY-BR:R; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; French translation, CSmH; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. For Ternay’s death, see Destouches to GW, this date.

2One of the additional intelligence reports may have been Samuel Culper (Abraham Woodhull’s alias) to John Bolton (Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge’s alias), written at Setauket, N.Y., on 12 Dec.: “Your favour of the 20th Novr—And 9th Inst togather with four Gines hath bene received—And note the contents—And Shall follow your directions—And in one word rest assured, Thatt I Shall as heretofore devote more time to Serve our Cause than in any other employment whatsoever.

“I yesterday received by a good hand All the accounts from New York that could be collectd—Thers expectd another embarcation about to take place Soon for the Southward, And the Enemy are in Great fears about Lord Cornwallace, And are much dejectd on account of the dreadful Hurricanes in the West Indies. The desolations throughout the English Islands is uneaq[u]illed by any that hath ever bene heretofore, The French Islands hath Sufferd much less. The papers Inclosed relates in Some measure to the Island of Jamaica Barbados is ruind hardly a liveing Creature on it three Ships of the Line & two frigits are lost with all their People This is the Enemies publick account, But I am ready to conclude that they have lost all.

“Thers Said to be no Uropean Intelligence Worthy of Notice I have directd C. Brewster to Cross again about the 24 Instant And in the Interim Shall visit New York and Some other Quarters.

“Trade Goes on Briskly much more goods goes to you now than heretofore, Thers a memorand[u]m that I have Seen for £10000 Worth of goods from three principall men with you two of them are of the Continentall Congress and one Judge of the Supream Court. I will Communicate their plan if you desire it but great Cair must be taken, Write me by the next opportunity And your oppinion on Such Conduct and wheather it is Winked at or not (DLC:GW; underlines signify decoded text). For the code, see Tallmadge to GW, 25 July 1779. Bolton’s letters to Culper dated 20 Nov. and 9 Dec. 1780 have not been identified. For newspapers with the same lengthy report on the recent destructive hurricane that struck Jamaica, see GW to Rochambeau, 10 Dec., n.5.

4For the British victories at Charleston and Camden, S.C., see Duportail to GW, 17 May, and n.1 to that document, and Horatio Gates to GW, 30 Aug., n.1.

5See Lafayette to GW, 4 Dec., and n.4 to that document; see also Rochambeau to GW, 1 Dec., n.3.

6GW wrote the previous three words on the draft, which his aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman penned.

8GW wrote the previous four words above the line on the draft.

9Congress had authorized GW to present proposals to the French or Spanish for joint operations in the southern department (see GW to Huntington, 8 Sept., and n.3 to that document; see also GW to Guichen, 12 Sept.).

10GW wrote the previous four words above the line on the draft.

11GW wrote this sentence in the margin on the draft.

Index Entries