George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Henry Knox, 17 February 1781

From Brigadier General Henry Knox

[“Park of Artillery, near New Windsor,” 17 Feb. 1781]. In a series of tables, Knox estimates “Ordinance, Ammunition, &ca necessary for an operation against the City of New York, by way of York Island, exclusive of what may be wanted for Long Island and its communications.”1 The first table estimates “Cannon” as 32 pounders—8, 24 pounders—12, 18 pounders—26, and 12 pounders—22. A second table estimates “Mortars” as 13 inch—2, 10 inch—20, 8 inch—2, and 5½ inch—12. A third table estimates “Howitzers” as 8 inch—12 and 5½ inch—6. A fourth table estimates “Shot” as 32 pounders—16,000; 24 pounders—24,000; 18 pounders—43,000; and 12 pounders—6,600. A fifth table estimates “Shells” as 13 inch—1,500; 10 inch—30,000; 8 inch—15,000; and 5½ inch—15,000. “Powder” estimated “For the service & the aforegoing cannon, mortars, & howitzers—940,400. For contingenc[i]es—200,000” with a total weight of 1,140,400 lbs. A sixth table estimates “Paper Cartridges” as 32 pounders—16,000; 24 pounders—24,000; 18 pounders—43,000, and 12 pounders—6,600. “Cartridge Paper—for extra service” was estimated at 150 tons, and the same figure was given for “Old Junk—for wads.”

Next came “A detail for the service of the Ordnance and Stores contained in the aforegoing estimate.” Cannon needed “To batter the enemy’s work on the Island”: 32 pounders—8; 24 pounders—12; and 18 pounders—20. Cannon needed “for Paulus Hook—to prevent any of the enemy’s ships being stationed between that Place and the City—occasionally to fire into the City—and to fortify the Hook to secure our possession”: 18 pounders—6. Cannon needed “For a battery on York Island, to keep open communication with Long Island”: 12 pounders—6. Cannon needed “For two batteries nearly opposite each other, at Fort Lee or its vicinity and York Island; to preserve a communication with Jersey”: 12 pounders—8. Cannon needed “For works which must be constructed somewhere about Kingsbridge or on the Haerlem River, to preserve a communication with the main”: 12 pounders—8. Mortars needed “For batteries in the line:” 13 inch—2; 10 inch—20; 8 inch—2; and 5½ inch—12. Howitzers needed “To batter the enemy’s works”: 8 inch—12 and 5½ inch—6.

A table then broke out the amounts of powder needed for the various rounds of cannon, mortars, and howitzers. It began with cannon. For 32-pounders to fire 16,000 rounds at 11 pounds each required 176,000 pounds. For 24-pounders to fire 24,000 rounds at 8 pounds each required 192,000 pounds. For 18-pounders to fire 43,000 rounds at 6 pounds each required 258,000 pounds. For 12-pounders to fire 6,600 rounds at 4 pounds each required 26,400 pounds. For 13-inch mortars to fire 1,500 rounds at 12 pounds each required 18,000 pounds. For 10-inch mortars to fire 30,000 rounds at 6 pounds each required 180,000 pounds. For 8-inch howitzers to fire 15,000 rounds at 4 pounds each required 6,000 pounds. For 5½-inch howitzers to fire 15,000 rounds at 2 pounds each required 30,000 pounds. Contingencies required 200,000 pounds, for a total of 1,140,400 pounds. Then “On hand as per return from the board of war 24 July 1780” was 3,139 barrels with powder that weighed 313,300 pounds, leaving a deficiency of 826,500 pounds.

Another table then broke out shot required and “On hand” for the ordnance. Eight 32-pounder cannon each required 2,000 shot, or 16,000 total. There was “none” on hand, leaving a deficiency of 16,000. Twelve 24-pounder cannon each required 2,000 shot, or 24,000 total. There was 3,408 on hand, leaving a deficiency of 20,592. Twenty 18-pounder cannon “for York Island” each required 2,000 shot, and six 18-pounder cannon “for Paulus Hook” each required 500 shot, or a 43,000 combined total. There was 26,051 on hand, leaving a deficiency of 16,949. Twenty-two 12-pounder cannon each required 300 shot, or 6,600 total. All needed were on hand.

The next table broke out shells required and “On hand” for the ordnance. Two 13-inch mortars required 1,500 shells. There were 347 on hand, leaving a deficiency of 1,153. Twenty 10-inch mortars required 30,000 shells. There were 13,506 on hand, leaving a deficiency of 16,494. Fourteen 8-inch howitzers required 15,000 shells. There were 2,469 on hand, leaving a deficiency of 12,531. Eighteen 5½-inch howitzers required 15,000 shells. About 1,000 were on hand, leaving a deficiency of 14,000.

As for paper cartridges, cartridge paper, and old junk, Knox considered “nearly the whole quantity wanting.”

“Remarks on the aforegoing Estimate” conclude the report.

“This estimate is some what different in the size of the calibres from those that have been presented for the same purpose in the two preceeding years.2 But the time for preparation at those periods was so exceeding short as to preclude a possibility of obtaining heavier cannon, and therefore there was an imposed obligation of using those in our possession, although the effect would have been less than from those of a larger nature.

“There are great variety of articles necessary for the service of the ordnance, which must be made in the laboratories and can be procured in the States, which are not enumerated in the estimate.

“It must be observed that every thing provided in consequence of any former estimate can be applied as part of the present without a superfluous article.

“Probably the 32 pounders may be borrowed of Massachusetts, that State being in possession of the Somersetts cannon of this calibre.3 But it is much to be doubted whether they have the proper number of shot.

“Six 24 pounders are contained in the returns as belonging to the Continent—at Newport, Philadelphia, and one at West Point; but there is some dispute whether they belong to the Continent or to the states.

“The 18 pounders might be taken from West Point. There are also some returned as belonging to the Continent, in Rhode Island and in pennsylvania.

“The 12 pounders are in possession at different places and at West Point.

“Two 13 inch mortars, left at Boston by the enemy, are by a resolve of Congress subject to the orders of Congress or those of the Commander in Chief.4

“The 10—8—& 5½ inch mortars are in possession.

“The 5½ inch—and five of the 8 inch howitzers are in possesion. The seven remaining 8 inch are wanting.

“For the actual service of the artillery which are to be exposed to the fire of the enemy, the pieces must have garrison carriages with iron trucks. For various services it is necessary to have travelling carriages a sufficiency of which for the 18 & 12 pounders are at West point.

“The estimate supposes New York to be the point of operation, as a great proportion of the cannon and mortars are to be drawn from West Point, which cannot be the case in so great a degree if any other object is in contemplation. However, if all the ordnance and stores are provided as in this estimate a very respectable apparatus can be appropriated to any other expedition.”

DS, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. GW enclosed a copy of this document with his letter to Samuel Huntington of this date, but that copy has not been found.

Knox also submitted to GW from the artillery park “near” New Windsor on this date “A Return of Cannon, Mortars & Howitzers, with their Ammunition, &ca belonging to the Continent—which can be collected from the respective States, so as to form part of a Train for a Siege.” It listed iron cannon as 24-pounders—6 and 18-pounders—20, with the supposition that “carriages and implements … are in good order. Suppose New York the point of operation, there can be drawn from West Point—18 Pounders—20,” for a total of forty 18-pounders. There were also six brass and twenty iron 12-pounders, “which may serve for batteries (if those of larger calibres cannot be obtained) to fire at the enemy’s ships, &ca interrupting the communication of the rivers &c. in the vicinity of New York. Carriages, implements &ca in perfect order” for these twenty-six 12-pounders.

The return showed 3,408 balls for 24-pounder cannon; 26,051 balls for 18-pounder cannon; and 19,637 balls for 12-pounder cannon.

The return showed two 13-inch iron marine mortars, twenty 10-inch brass mortars, and three 8-inch brass mortars.

The return showed one 8-inch iron howitzer and four 8-inch brass howitzers, for a total of five howitzers.

The return showed 347 shells for 13-inch mortars and 38 “carcasses fill’d” for the same ordnance for a total of 385. There were 13,506 shells for 10-inch mortars and 2,469 shells for 8-inch mortars.

The return showed 3,139 barrels of powder at 100 pounds each, or a total weight of 313,900 pounds.

“About 700 barrells of the above Powder are at West Point—the remainder at different deposits” (DS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 21146).

1For the request for this estimate, see GW to Knox, 10 Feb. (first letter); see also Knox to GW, 13 February.

2For these previous estimates, see GW to Jeremiah Powell, 7 Oct. 1779, n.2; and GW to Knox, 26 June 1780, n.4.

3For the wreck of the British warship Somerset and the retention of its cannon by the government of Massachusetts, see John Sullivan to GW, 10 Nov. 1778, n.2; GW to Horatio Gates, 24 Nov. 1778; and Gates to GW, 27 Dec. 1778, and n.1 to that document.

4No congressional action has been identified.

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