George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 23 February 1781

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters New Windsor 23d Feby 1781.

Dear Sir

In a letter of the 18th I hinted to you that the detachment which was then forming might be five or six Weeks absent from this post1—possibly it may be longer, and advance us into a season when the enemy, if they are in force and circumstances at New York, may endeavour to avail themselves of our weakness.

To provide against this, I have as you are already informed, wrote pressingly for the Recruits of Massachusetts Bay—Rhode Island &ca to be hastened to the Army.2 I shall direct the commanding Officers of the Militia of Ulster—Orange and Dutchess to have their Men in readiness to repair to West point upon the first Alarm, and the firing of the Beacons.3 I would have you make the same request to those of West Chester.

Independent of this, I shall request Govr Livingston to have the Jersey Militia properly arranged and held in readiness to oppose any invasion of that State, by the way of Elizabeth Town &ca4—And I earnestly request that your dispositions for defending the several Works at and in the Vicinity of West point may be perfect, and so arranged, as that no confusion may take place, or delay happen, if we should be suddenly called on. Let every Work have water and provision in it, and the commanding Officer of each informed of his duty, and the part that is expected of him.

Besides these, let the Officer commanding the Water Guards be directed to use the utmost vigilance, and instructed to obtain the best intelligence he can of the movements at New York. The Officers commanding at Stoney and Verplanks Points must be ordered to defend those posts to the last extremity. The Beacons upon Butter-Hill and the Mountain opposite the Village of Fishkill, should be examined, and put in order to fire at a moments warning.

Providing for and giving security to the different Works you will consider as the great objects of your attention. Every other consideration is secondary and must yeild to them—for which reason I think you had best further reduce the command upon the lines to a patrol of 50 Men under an active Captain.5 I am Dear Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

The application to the Militia of West Chester may be delayed a while as perhaps it would indicate to the enemy too immediately & too strongly our apprehensions.6

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The postscript appears only on the LS and is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton. GW signed the cover of the LS, which is addressed to Heath at West Point.

5On the draft, the previous twenty-five words are in Tilghman’s writing.

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