George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 28 December 1780

From Major General William Heath

Garrison West Point Decr 28th 1780

Dear General

I was honored with yours of the 25th;1 have ordered two Detachments, each to consist of one Captain, two Subalterns, three Sergeants, Drum & Fife, & fifty rank & File to garrison Verplanks & Stony points; the former I have given to Capn Sumner of the Massachusetts Line; the latter to be a picked Captain from the Connecticutt Line, have given each very particular written Instructions2—have desired Colonel Livingston, to put the Non Commissioned Officers & Soldiers, of the two regiments in motion, to join their respective Lines. There are some Commissioned Officers who are arranged, who will conduct them; have also desired an accurate Return of the names, and rank of the Officers, on the day of dissolution, to be transmitted to Head Quarters, agreeable to your directions.3

I have heard nothing from Captain Mechim respecting the road, you were pleased to advertise me he was directed to mark, as soon as he reports it to be done, Parties shall be immediately ordered to work on it.4

I have been paying attention to the Forrageing below—Colonel Hughs, still remains at Albany; I have sent for Major Campbell his Assistant at the Village;5 he informs me there will be much difficulty in procureing Teams, and if it were practicable, just at this time, from the deepness of the roads it would not be the most advantageous, as the loads would be but trifeling, and the fatigue to the Teams very great. With respect to the water Craft, he informs me it is very uncertain. I have directed him to make every exertion in his power, in every way & manner, to get forrage off, and to Colonel Hull, to afford such protection & assistance, as may be necessary.

Colonel Hull wrote me yesterday that he should have all the Teams in that Quarter, collected at Pines Bridge at sunrise this morning, and properly covered for a forrage; he also informs me, that from the best intelligence, he has been able to obtain, the Fleet has not sailed from New York.6

If the Q.M. General cannot devise some way & means, for quickning the supplies, of Flour, Salt &c. we shall inevitably suffer; we cannot keep two days allowance of the former on hand; of the latter, there is not a suffici[e]ncy to secure the meat. I have the honor to be With the greatest respect, Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

P.S. Captn Watson who has been a Prisoner on Long Island, which place he left a week since, this moment arrived here. He informs me the Fleet sailed on the day he came away, between forty & fifty sail: the Transports chiefly large Ships; their destination variously conjectured.7


LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

Heath wrote in his memoirs for 30 Dec.: “Gen. Washington visited the Point, and, with a number of other officers, dined with our General” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 282).

2Heath had written Capt. Job Sumner from West Point on Wednesday, 27 Dec.: “Confideing in your Ability and good Conduct, I have thought proper to appoint you to the Command of the Garrison and Post of Verplanks Point at Kings ferry The Detachment destined for the Garrison is to parade on Fryday Morning next, you will please take Command of the Detachment and before you march them for Verplanks call at my Quarters for further Instructions” (MHi: Heath Papers; a notation on his draft suggests that Heath sent the same letter to an unnamed captain in the Connecticut line). Extensive undated instructions for Sumner are also in MHi: Heath Papers.

3Heath had written Col. James Livingston from West Point on 27 Dec.: “The time drawing nigh when Your Regiment and Colonel Spencers are to be reformed, In consequence of Instructions received from His Excellency the Commander in Chief, I have ordered Detachments to Garrison the Posts at Verplanks and Stony Points … as Soon as the Detachments arrive, please order, the Officers and men, belonging to your own and to Colonel Spencers Regiments to Join the Lines to which they respectively belong, with all Possible expedition.” Heath then detailed the distribution of troops from these units before adding: “In Obedience to his Excellency’s Orders I have also to request, that you and the Officer Commanding Colonel Spencers Regt will make very accurate returns to Head Quarters of the Names and ranks of the Officers at the time of dissolution, that they may be transmitted to the Board of War in order to their being registered upon the half pay List” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath transmitted the returns, which have not been identified, when he wrote GW on 1 Jan. 1781 (DLC:GW).

4For this new road to West Point, see GW to Heath, 23 December.

5Heath refers to Continental Village, New York.

Heath had written Maj. John Campbell from West Point on 23 Dec.: “I think the forageing below Croton River, may be made very successfull, and advantageous. I wish to See you on the subject as Soon as possible, Lt Coll Hull goes down to take Command on that Line tomorrow morning” (MHi: Heath Papers).

6Lt. Col. William Hull had written Heath from near Pine’s Bridge, N.Y., on 27 Dec.: “The late Rain has swell’d the Croton to such a Height that all the Fords between Pines & the new Bridge are at present impassable either with Horse or Foot—This Circumstance has induced me to draw off all the Troops from the New Bridge except a Sub[alter]n and twenty … This Change of the Disposition has strengthened my main Body and will enable me I hope to extend that Protection to the friendly Inhabitants of Bedford. …

“Tomorrow Morning At sunrise, I shall have all the Teams in this Quarter collected at Pines Bridge for the Purpose of making a Forage below, which will be covered with a Capts. Party. …

“Herewith I send a Paper of the 22d—By the best Intelligence I have been able to obtain the Fleet has not sailed.

“The Duty being extremely hard and the Weather Cold, Rum becomes very necessary—I could wish to have a Hogsh[e]ad, sent if the Magazine will admit of it” (MHi: Heath Papers; the enclosed newspaper has not been identified; see also n.7 below and Heath to GW, 23 Dec., and n.2 to that document).

Heath replied to Hull from West Point on 28 Dec.: “Your very agreable favor of yesterday came to hand this Morning with the news paper enclosed. … please request mr [John] Haynes to get off the Forage as much as possible and from time to time afford the necessary Protection to the Foragers, you shall have seasonable notice if a Grand forage is to take place, I hope mr [John] Fish will be able to procure you ample Supplies of meat at least, we are entirely out of rum at present, but am informed that Mr. [James] Forsyth lately drew a Hogshe[a]d, please direct your Commissary to call upon him for as Much as he can Spare Rum is Soon expected, down the river.

“We have no news of Cons[e]quence from any Quarter, you shall have a hint of it when we get any, please collect all you can from below” (MHi: Heath Papers). Hull’s reply to Heath from near Pine’s Bridge on 29 Dec. in part reads: “I have sent to Mr Haynes, but can hear nothing of him as yet—Very considerable Supplies of Forage might be drawn from below, were Measures adopted for the Purpose—All the Forage, which I have Occasion for, is collected from that Quarter—By Returns which I this day called for, More than twenty of my Men are unfit for Duty for the Want of Cloathing, the most of them for the Want of Shoes—I must either request to have these Men releived, or Shoes sent down for them—As the Duty principally depends on patroling, it will be impossible to perform it without Shoes … I send herewith two Hessian Deserters, who came in this Evening” (MHi: Heath Papers).

7Heath received this intelligence concerning the British expedition from either Capt. Abraham Watson, Jr., or Capt. William Watson, both recently exchanged prisoners; see also GW to Samuel Huntington, 27 Dec., and n.2 to that document.

William Watson (c.1748–1822) served as ensign in the Lexington Alarm in April 1775 and as lieutenant in Col. John Fellows’s Massachusetts Regiment from May to December. He spent 1776 at the same rank in the 21st Continental Infantry and then joined the 9th Massachusetts Regiment in January 1777. Promoted to captain in July 1779, Watson was taken prisoner during an engagement at Joseph Young’s farm within Philipse Manor, N.Y., on 3 Feb. 1780. Exchanged that December, he subsequently transferred to the 3d Massachusetts Regiment in January 1783 and left the army in June. Watson later lived in Poultney, Vermont.

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