George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General Henry Knox, 10 February 1781

To Brigadier General Henry Knox


[New Windsor, 10 Feb. 1781]


In the conference between the Count De Rochambeau and myself, it was agreed, that if by the aid of our allies, we can have a naval superiority, through the next campaign, and an army of thirty thousand men (or double the force of the enemy [at New York]2 and its dependencies) early enough in the season to operate in that quarter, we ought to prefer it to every other object, as the most important and decisive;3 and applications have been made to the Court of France in this spirit, which it is to be hoped will produce the desired effect.4

It is therefore incumbent upon us to make every necessary preparation on our part for the seige of New York—as far as our funds and means render practicable. Applications have been also made to The Court of France for a large supply of powder arms, heavy cannon, and several other essential articles in your department.5 But as we cannot ascertain the extent of the success, these applications will meet with, and as they only go to such articles as are less within the compass of our own internal means, we ought not to neglect any exertion in our power for procuring within ourselves those things of which we shall stand in need.

I give you this communication of what is in prospect, that you may take your measures accordingly, by making such estimates and demands and other arrangements, as may appear to you best calculated to produce what we want. And you may rely upon all the assistance and support it will be in my power to give.

In your calculations you will estimate the force on our side at about twenty thousand men; the remainder with a proper seige and field apparatus are to be supposed to be furnishd by our allies. You are well acquainted with New York and its defences; and you can therefore judge of the means requisite for its reduction by a seige. The General idea of the plan of operations is this (if we are able to procure the force we count upon) to make two attacks one against the works on York Island, and the other against the works of Brooklyn on Long Island—The latter will probably be conducted by our allies. Ulterior operations must depend on circumstances.

If we should find ourselves unable to undertake this more capital expedition; and if we have means equal to it, we shall attempt as a secondary object the reduction of Charles Town. Savannah Pennopscot &c. may successively come into contemplation. Your dispositions will have reference to these different objects; though indeed a preparation for the principal one will substantially comprehend every lesser.

These instructions would have been earlier given to you; but for the commotions in the army, which suspended my attention.6 Given at Head Quarters February 10th 1781.

Go: Washington

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, NNGL: Henry Knox Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW wrote this word.

2The words in square brackets, omitted from the LS, appear on the draft, which also is in Hamilton’s writing.

4GW refers to two missions to the French court. Lieutenant General Rochambeau’s son and aide-de-camp, the vicomte de Rochambeau, carried dispatches explaining the results of the Hartford Conference (see Rochambeau to GW, 5 Oct., n.2). Congress had also commissioned GW’s aide-de-camp John Laurens as a special minister to the French court (see Laurens to GW, 7 Jan., n.2, and GW to Laurens, 15 Jan., first letter).

5Laurens’s objectives, in addition to seeking money and naval support, included a supply of military stores (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:1184).

6Knox replied to GW on 13 Feb.; see also Knox to GW, 17 Feb. (first letter). The “commotions” were mutinies in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey lines (see Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and Israel Shreve to GW, 20 Jan., and the source notes to each document).

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