George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 29 December 1780

From Major General William Heath

Garrison West Point Decr 29th 1780

Dear General

The receipt of the enclosed papers, which this moment came to hand, compels me again to take up my pen, and trouble your Excellency on a subject, on which the very existance of these Posts depend. I therefore trust you will excuse the repetition.1 I submit to your Excellency what expectations are to be formed, from the spirit & complexion of the papers.2

If the Q.M. General wants any number of men, to effect bringing forward the provissions, they shall be immediately sent upon his nameing the number, but I do most earnestly intreat, that some regular & effectual mode may be immediately adopted for our relief, and matters not left in the way they appear to be in at present, it is very evident if they do, the Army must very soon starve or disperse.3 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

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

1Heath enclosed copies of three letters: J. Fisher, deputy quartermaster to Uriah Mitchell, assistant quartermaster, written on 27 Dec. at Fishkill Landing, N.Y.; Q.M. Gen. Timothy Pickering to Peter Anspach dated 28 Dec.; and John Keese, assistant deputy quartermaster, to Daniel Carthy, written on 28 Dec. at Fishkill, N.Y. (all DLC:GW; see also Heath’s first letter to GW on this date.).

Fisher’s letter to Mitchell begins: “I Recd a Line from you a few minutes ago requesting a Craft might be sent to N. Winsor to transport a Number of Barrels of flour to the garison at west point. I have endeavoured to procure a Conveyance but totally unaccessable all the crafts employ’d with us (excepting one) are now laid up, & this one is up the river waiting the arivel of flour from back the country should it not arive soon, I am Doubtfull wether (if this weather Continues longer than the Day[)] if it will at all.” Fisher then requested “hands” to man “two small Boats” that “might answer [the] purpose of Collecting Small parcells of flour,” which he believed amounted “to near one hundred Barrels.” Fisher concluded: “pray let me hear from you as soon as posible might I advise I should think the Sending Batteus & hands from the fort & not trust to chances of conveyances only most eligible.” Anspach appended a note, presumably to Pickering: “Capt. Mitchell Says that no craft can be procured here to carry the flour down the River he wishes to have your Directions about the Matter.”

Pickering’s letter to Anspach reads: “Let battews be Manned to carry What flour they can down to West point the fatigue Men may be employ’d if there are no Battew men but there ought in each Battew to be one Man accquainted with the River if there be no battews let Capt. Mitchell write to Genl Heath & send the Letter by express to New winsor & if there be no express boat there let the express proceede by Land to West point to desire Genl Heath to send up boats for the flour” (DLC:GW).

Mitchell enclosed the letters from Fisher and Pickering when he wrote Heath from Newburgh, N.Y., on 28 Dec. with a request that the general “order men and Boats from the fort to fetch the flour Down.” Mitchell added that he had “made out to man one boat with the fatigue men we have at this Post” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Keese’s letter to Carthy reads: “Mr Fisher informs me you are Starving for want of Flour. … All the Sloops lately in public employ, have laid up for the Winter, except one that is up the river, and momently expected down.

“Can’t you send Batteaux for the flour in this quarter, if you cannot I do not know how you will get it.

“We are half the time destitute of flour at this post, having no more than four, Four-Horse Teams, at the Post, and the justices cannot get the People to turn out with their Waggons—so much are they disgusted at their ill usage from the public, by Withholding payment, for past and present services.

“If Flour is to be transported from this post, and its Neighborhood; there must be an Impress Warrant for Teams, & Soldiers to Collect them; a most disagreable task to preform” (DLC:GW).

2Heath struck out material at this point on his draft: “is there either System or energy to be discovered in any part of them, while we are on the brink of Starving, It is to be presumed that both the Commissary and Quarter master General know the Strength or nearly the Strength of the army, and that the one taking the necessary measures for procuring the Provisions and the Other for forwarding them in Season and regular Succession, by Land or water as the Season or Circumstances require, and that the Ideas are gleaned to future events as far as in a Judgement of reason they can be discovered, and remedys ready to be applied, from the enclosed papers it is to be gathere⟨d⟩ that the vessels are laid up, One Assistant is calling upon another, tellin⟨g⟩ him there are no Craft, or Boats, and if recourse is to be had to teams, the Country men are disgusted, and wont turn out, and it will be necessary to obtain an empress warrant. finally General Heath is to be informed how matters are and to adopt measures.”

3GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote Pickering from headquarters at New Windsor in the evening on this date: “The inclosed which have come to hand from General Heath point out his distress for want of Flour, and his apprehensions of what may ensue if some supply more than from day to day cannot be thrown in before the Navigation closes. It appears by the letters that there is some Flour at different places on the River which lays there for want of transportation. If the private persons will not risque their Vessels any longer upon the River, the public Craft must be manned with soldiers and every exertion made while the water communication is practicable. His Excelly goes down to the posts tomorrow morning and he thinks you had better do the same and endeavour to form a plan with General Heath to transport without loss of time whatever is upon or near the River. Colo. Blaine mentioned that the private people would not run their Vessels any longer, except upon a promise of paying for them should they be lost in the Ice. This His Excellency thinks had better be done than to lose the present favorable Weather.

“When you have perused the inclosed you will be pleased to return them” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 25661; see also Heath’s first letter to GW on this date). GW visited West Point on 30 Dec. (see Heath to GW, 28 Dec., source note).

Pickering replied to Tilghman from Newburgh on the same date, 8:00 P.M.: “Yours of this date is this moment handed to me with the inclosures from General Heath—among them a note of mine written in a hurry directing the mode in which the little flour in the neighbourhood should be transported to West point: yet hasty as it was, on reviewing it I see no practicable method to effect it which is not pointed out. There is no access to West point but by water, for the purpose of transportation. The private craft in the river would not undertake the business altho’ an indemnification were offered for the value of their vessels; and for a very good reason. Their subsistence depends on their craft: if their vessels be lost by the ice they lose the means of getting their bread during the next season at least: for were the public to pay them their value in the Spring (which they have abundant reasons to doubt) it would take the next summer to build others, & at a much greater expence than those they now possess could be appraised at. I advance this on the information given me some ten or twelve days since by Colo. Hughes’s assistants, when Colo. Hay demanded vessels to transport flour from all the landings in the river; (but which flour was then to be impressed—& transported to the landings). I did not hesitate a moment to order the vessels up, & to direct Mr Keese to offer an indemnification for the value of the vessels should any be lost. The wether moderated. A day or two afterwards I inquired of Major Keese if the vessels went up the river. He replied that one was gone up to each landing.

“Knowing there was not a probability of getting sail craft, I instantly directed all the batteaus in this quar⟨ter⟩ to be manned & sent to New Windsor to carry the flour there to West point; and if there were not any or not enough of them for the purpose, that Genl Heath should be informed of it & desired to send up boats from the point. Wh⟨at⟩ more effectual step could be taken I know not. I could make neither boats nor men. Yet Genl Heath seems to think the business left at loose ends. The matter struck me in this light: The weather indicated a speedy closing of the river—if there were not boats enough here and at Fishkill landing to transport the flour; or if those could not be manned—the only chance remaining was to get up boats ready manned from West point: I could not imagine it expedient to launch the boats which had been just halled up in Murderers creek; and if I had, hands must have been sent from West point for the purpos⟨e;⟩ besides many of these boats were so leaky it was with difficulty they were brought up. But the business did not admit of such delay. I therefore wrote the note to Mr Anspach, which tho’ done in haste, when I was attending to other busin⟨ess,⟩ yet still appears to me proper, & to indicate, as well by its stile as the express directions it contains, the necessi⟨ty⟩ of the utmost dispatch.

“I only wish you further to inform his Excellency tha[t] when Colo. Hughes was appointed, there were very few boats in the river fit for service—not a pound of oakum—not a single board—& scarcely a bar or rod of iron—to make repairs of such boats as were worth repairing. Though d⟨es⟩titute of money, he has been exerting himself to supply these defects.

“I will be at New Windsor tomorrow morning to a⟨c⟩company his Excellency to West point, & speak to you farther on this subject” (DLC:GW; material in angle brackets is supplied from a copy in MHi: Pickering Papers; see also n.1 above).

Index Entries