George Washington Papers

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear, 31 January 1792

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear

War Department, Philadelphia, 31 Jan. 1792. Please submit to the president the enclosed papers, received this day from General St. Clair. “If it should be the judgemt of the President, the letter of Genl St Clair may be published.”1


1Tobias Lear replied to Henry Knox on this date, enclosing the monthly returns, noting that the president wished to have an accurate return of all the troops then in service, as well as their dispositions, and stating that GW thought the letter from Arthur St. Clair should be published (DLC:GW). For the returns, see Knox to GW, 5 Feb. 1792, n.1. For the journey of St. Clair to Philadelphia, see Knox to GW, 22 Jan., n.2. St. Clair probably met with the secretary of war shortly after his arrival on 21 January. He apparently only later presented Knox with a letter dated 22 Jan. explaining the measures he had prescribed to avoid a surprise attack during the night of 3–4 Nov. 1791 and charging Maj. Gen. Richard Butler and Col. William Oldham, both of whom were killed on 4 Nov., with dereliction of duty. St. Clair’s letter reads: “To the letter of the 9th November, which I had the honor to address to you from Fort Washington, a postscript was added relating to information communicated by Captain Slough to General Butler, and not imparted by him to me, and that did not come to my knowledge till after the army had got back to that fort. As the nature of the information was not mentioned, the postscript must have appeared mysterious, and it is proper that I should explain it. Captain Slough was intended to have been the bearer of the letter (it was so indorsed upon the corner), therefore I thought it needless to insert the particulars, and had he presented it to you, no doubt, sir, you would have inquired into it fully, and all ambiguity would have ceased; but, at the moment he should have set off, some account of the situation of Colonel Gibson, who is his uncle, induced him to delay his journey, and the packet was put into the hands of another person then going to Lexington. You will be pleased to recollect that it was stated in that letter, that on the night preceding the 4th October [November], the militia were in advance of the most of the army. For greater security, and to intercept any small parties of Indians which might be approaching with predatory view, it was thought fitting that a party of regular troops should be advanced from a quarter to a half of a mile from the militia. The party was taken from the right wing which formed the front line, under the immediate command of General Butler, and Captain Slough was the officer ordered out by him for those purposes. In the night, it seems, he discovered the Indians approaching in such numbers that he thought it necessary to draw in his party, and immediately made report of what he had discovered to General Butler, from whom he received his orders. He proposed to the general to make the same report to me, but General Butler replied to him that, as he must be fatigued, he had better lie down to sleep, and that he would himself give me the information. This is, as nearly as I can recollect, the account that Captain Slough gave me at Fort Washington. The orders given to Colonel Oldham, mentioned also in the postscript as not executed, were that he should send out from his command, an hour at least before day, and as much earlier as possible, four or five parties of twenty men with an officer, to take different directions, to make discoveries. I was very anxious on this point, and not without doubt that it might not be practically attended to. Therefore, about the dawn of day, but rather before it, the adjutant-general was sent to Colonel Oldham, that I might be certain of that precaution having been taken. Colonel Oldham was met by him at some distance from his encampment, and informed him the parties were not then gone out, but would be dispatched the moment he returned. Unhappily he never returned” (Smith, St. Clair Papers, description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends 2:277–78). For St. Clair’s correspondence with GW after he returned east to defend his reputation, see St. Clair to GW, 24 Feb., 26, 31 Mar., 7 April, and GW to St. Clair, 28 Mar., 4 April.

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