George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 25 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

West Point Jany 25th 1781

Dear General

Permit me to congratulate Your Excellency on the success of the American Arms, in the enterprise against the Enemy at Morrissania, which is this moment announced to me, by the enclosed letter from Major General Parsons.1 The particulars have not yet come to hand, when they do I shall have the honor to forward them without delay.2

On account of the depth of the snow & fatigued state of the Troops, represented in General Parsons’s letter of the 24th I shall write immediately to have them halt at Crom Pond, untill I can see General Parsons, and obtain from him a more particular state of things;3 wish for a hint from Your Excellency how I shall proceed in case the fatigue of the Troops is so great as to excite a general reluctance to going over to the Jersies. The Detachment that have marched for that Quarter were in high spirits, & in some instances where the details on Companies could not be furnished, the Sergeants turned out as rank & file; but the Detachment swept us so bare that we have not been able since to releive the guards.4

The noise heard Yesterday morning and supposed by some to be the discharge of Cannon, & musquetry is generally thought to have been a noise in the air.5 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

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

1Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons’s letter to Heath, dated 23 Jan. at Horseneck, Conn., reads: “after an Attempt to execute your Orders, which was attended with as much Success as an Expedition which invold so many complicated Mov’ments could reasonably promise we returnd to Sawpitts: though in some Part the Contest was warm & severe we have been able to carry into Execution the principal parts of the Plan. We have burnt the Hutts, cutt away the Bridge; took some Prisoners & some Cattle; we have lost one Lt Thompson kild, Cpt. Dorrance wounded & some Privates kild & wounded. the Troops are so exceedingly fatigu’d that I was inducd to take this Rout, as I could in no other Road cover the Troops in any Degree compactly: I propose to move them as soon as the Weather will possibly admit, to Bedford, where I wish to halt them two Days to recover a little from their Fatigue, before they march to their Hutts. I hope it will not exceed Saturday [27 Jan.] before we arrive at our Quarters—as tis not possible to make a particular Report of the Transactions at this Time I must beg your Patience for a few Days” (DLC:GW).

For the preliminaries to this attack, commanded by Parsons and Lt. Col. William Hull, see GW to Heath, 19 Jan., and n.3 to that document; see also Heath to GW, 8 January. In his memoirs, Heath failed to mention the militia component of this attack force but gave a summary of the Continental troops involved: “18th.—Two hundred men, properly officered, marched down to the lines, under pretence of being a relief; 100 men of Hazen’s regiment moved from Fishkill to the village, and a detachment of artillery from West Point. These were intended for an enterprise against the enemy.

“19th.—150 men from the Connecticut line, and 200 from the New Hampshire line, were to move towards the lines; these, with those who marched from Hazen’s the day before, were to form a covering party to the detachment under Lieut. Col. Hull, who was to make an attempt on Delancey’s corps” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 285).

2For the full reports of Parsons and Hull, see Heath to GW, 28 January.

3Parsons’s letter to Heath, dated 24 Jan. at Bedford, N.Y., reads: “I recd your Favor of the 22d at Horseneck this Morning at ten o Clock: & immediately put my Troops in march for this place with Orders to reach Crompond to Morrow which is as much as is possible in their fatigu’d Situation: and set out myself with an Intention of being at your Quarters to Night but find the Snow deepning as I come on which renders it impossible without fresh Horses & have therefore sent an Express & will follow as early as possible to Morrow. in the mean Time I beg you to send Orders to halt the Troops at Crompond until I see you: I am with All the field Officers decidedly of Opinion that moving our Troops according to your present Order (from the Delay heretofore made & present Circumstances of the Troops) will be our infallible Ruine: I would therefore beg you to suspend the Execution till I see you & give Orders accordingly: I hope to be with you before to Morrow Noon—we are in good Spirits & the little Success we have had gives good Animation to our Troops” (DLC:GW; see also Heath to Parsons of 22 Jan., MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath wrote Parsons on this date ordering him to halt at Crom Pond, N.Y. (see MHi: Heath Papers).

4For this detachment, ordered out to suppress the mutiny in the New Jersey line, see GW to Robert Howe, 22 January.

5Heath wrote in his memoirs: “24th.—In the morning, about sunrise, a noise was heard in the air, resembling the firing of platoons, and there were various conjectures respecting it” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 286).

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