George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 10 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

Garrison West Point Jany 10th 1781

Dear General

Enclosed is a letter I received yesterday from Lt Colonel Hull.1 I wrote him an answer that he was not to put himself, or the Regular Troops, under the Command of a Militia Officer2—Whether upon the receipt of my letter, Colonel Thomas would conclude to act as a Voluntier, under Colonel Hull or not, I have not yet learnt. The heavy rain this day will probably suspend the Enterprise untill the weather clears up.3

In mine of the 8th I mentioned to your Excellency, that I had sent a Detachment towards Pompton; the strength of the Garrison every day decreasing by the discharges of the Levies, whose times of service expire, & the necessary, & constant hard duty, call for the return of that Detachment, as soon as the state of the public affairs will admit. shall be much obliged to your Excellency for information, when tranquillity is so restored in the Jersies as to admit of their recall.

A number of Soldiers who have for some time been Prisoners with the Enemy, have lately been exchanged, have come out, & joined their regiments; from their long confinement in Prison, injured health, & absence from their Friends, they are very anxious to obtain furloughs to visit their Friends—is it expedient to indulge them? The return of these Soldiers from Captivity, renders a few more articles of Cloathing similar to those lately drawn, nec[e]ssary Will the Store admit of it?

Major Bauman was the last winter, by Your Excellencys permission, to try some distances with shot, & shells—some particular circumstances at that time prevented; he still represents the great utility of it, & that by ascertaining the distances, from some of the works, a great advantage will be acquired in the defence of the works, should the Enemy ever attack them.4

Is it your Excellencys intention to make any alteration, in the arrangement of the Massachusetts Brigades in consequence of the late establishment of the rank of the Regiments? or to let them remain as they are, untill they quit their winter Quarters.5

The Boats that lately went up the river after flour, have returned; they brought down 169 barrells, and a Craft brought down 120 barrells three days since—These quantities were all that could be obtained at that time.6 Colonel Hay wrote me, that about 100 barrells would be ready at Esopus about this time, if boats could be sent up—they will be sent tomorrow.7 We have been this two days without beef Cattle, nor do I yet learn that any are near at hand; Yesterday & to day the Commissary has been obliged to serve the Troops, from the provissions salted in bulk; the whole Quantity of which is a mere triffle, & will be gone in a few days. The issuing of this beef is certainly bad policy, but necessity compels us to do it. Half our8 time is spent in writeing to Agents, Commissaries & Quarter Masters, to represent our wants & distresses, & to urge the forwarding of provissions to prevent our starveing.9 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. A deleted portion of Heath’s ADfS complaining about seeking supplies reads: “my constitution will not Support me under the constant vexations and distresses which I am forced to endure Twenty hours in the Twenty four, nineteen of which have trully no Connection with my Department or Duty. I am Sorry my Dear General to paint to You in these colors but the pressure that I feel compels me to do it.”

1The enclosed letter from Lt. Col. William Hull to Heath, dated 8 Jan. (Monday) “Near Pines Bridge,” reads: “Immediately after receiving your Favour of Yesterday, I wrote Colo. Thomas, desiring him to call on me for the Purpose of settling a Disposition for the intended Enterprize—He has this Evening called on me, & I find expects to take the Command of the whole, on Account of his being the eldest officer in Point of Rank—In my first Conversation with Capt. Delivon & Justice Honeywell on the Subject, it was explicitly settled that all the Troops employed in the Expedition should be under my Orders, and they informed me the Militia Officers would be happy to have it placed on that Footing—With this View, I solicited your Honors Permission, and by the Spirit of the Answer conceive it was granted upon that Consideration.

“Altho’ I am sensible that a full Colonel of Militia when called into Service by proper Authority, and acting with any Part of the Army, commands a Lieut. Colonel upon the Establishment, yet it is clear to me as the present Case is circumstanced, when the Colonel of Militia turns out at his own Option, collects a Number of Volunteers for a particular Purpose, and joins regular Troops for a Day, that he has no Right to assume that Command—As I conceive it absolutely necessary to have a commanding Officer to every Body of Troops acting in Conjunction, and as every military Principle forbids my placing myself, with the Detachment under the Command of a Militia Officer, under the present Circumstances, I have informed Colo. Thomas, that he must not expect my Cooperation, unless my Genl differs with me in Sentiment, and orders me to a Measure, which my Judgment does not approve.

“Should any Misconduct take place by which the whole or a Part of the regular Troops should be lost, who is to be answerable? The Answer is plain the commanding Officer—Could Colo. Thomas be brought before a proper Tribunal? At the same Time that he thinks my Reasoning on the Subject is just, yet he thinks he cannot consistently put himself under my Command—As he has made his Arrangements, and expects the Militia to rendezvous on Wednesday, he wishes to make the Attempt—We have therefore left the Matter thus.

“If you, Sir, differ with me in Judgment, & think it military to place myself and Detachment under his Command, the Confidence alone which I place in your Judgment, will induce me to cooperate with him in any Way, he shall propose—Should I be so happy as to have formed a right Judgment, I told him I would solicit your Permission, to send a Capt. & sixty Men as a covering Party as far as East Chester, who would have my Orders to act as Circumstances might require—I should be happy to hear from you on the Subject as soon as possible” (DLC:GW). For GW’s approval of this operation, see GW to Heath, 7 Jan.; see also Heath to GW, 6 Jan. (third letter), and Heath to GW, 8 January. Heath’s letter to Hull of 7 Jan. notifying him of GW’s permission to conduct the operation, and relaying GW’s desire to maintain the utmost secrecy, is in MHi: Heath Papers.

2Heath had written Lt. Col. William Hull on 9 Jan.: “Yours of the 8th is before me I most fully coincide with you in Sentiment with respect to your commanding the intended enterprise, and mentioned it so to his Excellency the Commander in Chief[.] I could wish that the militia would cooperate with you, but if they will not I do by no means Consent that you put yourself or the regular Troops under the Command of any Other Officer, I was carefull in ordering the Detachment from the New Hampshire Line Under the Command of a Major, that it might not Injure your Commanding if the militia are determined to make a tryal” (MHi: Heath Papers).

3British major Frederick Mackenzie, stationed in New York City, wrote in his diary entry for this date: “Heavy rain from 9 last night ’till 8 this morning. Strong wind at S.E. No frost. Soft mild day. Thick wet fog ’till 1 o’Clock, then clear ’till 4, when it came in thick again, and rained from 6 ’till 9” (Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:449).

4For the grant of permission for Maj. Sebastian Bauman to conduct experiments in gunnery, see GW to Heath, 27 Jan. 1780.

5For the newly established rank of the Massachusetts regiments, see General Orders, 8 January.

6For the orders to send these boats, see GW to Heath, 3 Jan.; see also Heath to GW, 4 Jan., n.1.

7Lt. Col. Udny Hay’s letter to Heath, dated 8 Jan., is in MHi: Heath Papers.

8Heath wrote “my” on the draft.

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