G. Washington Battle Letter: No “danger of an Attack in your quarter for some time yet, as the Enemy from their late Motions are drawing this way” -- An Exciting Letter!
A 3pp manuscript letter signed by Continental Army Commander-in-Chief George Washington (1732-1799), as "Go. Washington" on the third page. Written on February 20, 1777 in Morristown, New Jersey. Inscribed in the hand of Washington’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman (1744-1786) boldly and cleanly signed by Washington himself. Expected wear including paper folds, light scattered soiling, and a few minute areas of foxing. Else near fine. 8.25" x 13."
In this lengthy letter, General Washington explains the importance of retaining the militia in service and of calling on them when needed. He also discusses the lack of pay for troops, the expected movements of the British in New York City, the need to keep all forces nearby, the arming of forts on the Hudson River, and the holding of courts martial.
Following crucial victories over the British at Trenton (December 26, 1776) and Princeton, New Jersey (January 23, 1777), Washington marched the Continental Army north to Morristown, where he set up winter headquarters on January 6, 1777. The hills surrounding the camp provided a vantage point for Washington to monitor the roads used by the British troops and to spy on the British Army in New York City.
In full, with original spellings and usage:
"Head Quarters Morristown 20th Feby 1777
I am glad to find by yours of the 16th that your Health is sufficiently re-established to enable you to do your duty.
Considering the great dependance which we shall be under the necessity of putting upon Militia for a while longer, we certainly ought not to remove a General Officer from a post, to which, he can, by his influence, draw them when they are wanted. Upon this principle, you were right in waiting an answer, before you forwarded General James Clintons letter to him. I desire it may now be stopped, and that he may continue in the command of the Forts, the Garrisons of which he will endeavour to keep up by all the ways and means in his power, till our regular Troops take possession.
I should [be] very well pleased if Colo Gilman’s Regiment could be prevailed upon to stay till the middle of March, by any other means than the advance of Money. As I fear that the moment they have got it, they will make use of it to carry them home. If any advance is necessary, I will settle that matter with Major Genl Lincoln when they are discharged.
Previous to the receipt of your letter, I had information that Supplies of provisions were going to the Enemy from paramus & Hackinsack, and I wrote to Genl George Clinton, to send a party of Men from his Corps to cover that part of the Country and stop any further practices of that kind. [On the previous day, Washington had written to Brigadier General George Clinton, asking him to stop inhabitants near the Passaic Falls from supplying the British with provisions. George Washington to George Clinton, February 19, 1777, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]
I do not apprehend you will be in any danger of an Attack in your quarter for some time yet, as the Enemy from their late Motions are drawing this way. Whenever our Regiments of Artillery are raised, you may depend that the Forts up the River will have their proportion. In the mean time a part of the Men who compose the Garrison might be set apart and exercised in loading and firing the Cannon. This is a shift we are obliged to make, for we have very few regular Artillery men.
I shall write to Connecticut to send in all the Officers who were taken at princetown; which will answer the end of their petition in a manner most agreeable to themselves. [On the same day as he wrote this letter, Washington wrote to Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut regarding British officers taken as prisoner at the Battle of Princeton on February 3. Fearing that they would learn too much about the American forces and plans, Washington asked Trumbull to send them toward Providence to have General Joseph Spencer or General Benedict Arnold arrange for their exchange for an equal number of American officers held by the British. George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull Sr., February 20, 1777, Trumbull Papers, Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Connecticut.]
I will order the Judge Advocate to draw up a Commission empowering you to hold General Courts Martial at your post.
Having occasion to write to Colo Livingston; I shall desire him to drop his Expedition for the present, as he may probably be of more use and advantage nearer home.
I am obliged to you for the information you give me respecting the Behaviour of part of Webbs Regiment; if they have not recd their pay it shall be stopped, but if they have, it will not be the first or greatest imposition that has been put upon the public.
I am Dear Sir
Your most obt Servt
On February 9, 1777, General George Washington wrote to Brigadier General Alexander McDougall, enclosing a letter to Brigadier General James Clinton appointing him to the Northern Department to replace General Anthony Wayne, if McDougall believed he could do without Clinton. [George Washington to Alexander McDougall, February 9, 1777, Private Collection.] Washington had established his winter headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey on January 6, 1777. The hills surrounding the camp allowed Washington and the Continental Army to monitor the British army in New York City and the roads used by the British troops.
On February 16, McDougall responded from Peekskill, New York, that he had so far recovered “as to be able to do my duty.” McDougall also explained that the enlistment of the troops who garrisoned Fort Montgomery on the Hudson River would expire in two weeks, and he would have to rely on the militia to hold that fort. He believed that he would need to place General Clinton in command of Fort Montgomery and therefore did not give Washington’s letter to Clinton, “which I hope will meet your approbation.” He also hoped that Washington could supply some artillery men for the forts on the Hudson River.
In addition, McDougall informed Washington that the enlistment term for the regiment of Colonel David Gilman (1735-1826) from New Hampshire would expire on March 1, though Gilman thought “they may be prevailed upon to stay longer.” McDougall also reported information that the British might be getting provisions from the Paramus and Hackensack areas of New Jersey. McDougall forwarded a letter to General William Heath from Governor Jonathan Trumbull S. concerning a petition from British officers captured at the Battle of Princeton to get their baggage from New York City. He also asked about holding general courts-martial at his post at Peekskill. [Alexander McDougall to George Washington, February 16, 1777, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]
This letter is Washington’s response to the many issues raised by McDougall’s letter of February 16. He approves of McDougall’s decision not to send Clinton away. Washington also addresses McDougall’s concerns about Gilman’s regiment from New Hampshire, which had come to reinforce the Continental Army in New York at Washington’s request. He asked McDougall to get Gilman’s men to remain until the middle of March. They did although they experienced hardship in the winter months due to the lack of food and proper clothing. Washington raises concerns about McDougall’s suggestion of giving the regiment one month’s pay because he fears they will use the money to return home. Washington commits to settling the matter of pay with Major General Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810) when the regiment ends its service in New York.
Washington had also heard that inhabitants in northern New Jersey were planning to provide provisions and supplies to the British Army in New York City. He tells McDougall that he had written to Brigadier General George Clinton (1739-1812) to send men to the area to stop any such activity. Clinton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built two forts along the Hudson River and stretched a great chain across the river to prevent British forces from sailing northward. Washington also reassures McDougall that he will receive his share of new recruits, especially artillerymen, for his encampment at Peekskill, and surrounding fortifications along the Hudson River, once they arrive and that he did not foresee any British attack in the area for some time, believing the British would move toward Washington’s army instead. After the initial Patriot victories in January 1777, the opposing forces held only a series of skirmishes until the British victories at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania in September and October pushed Washington’s forces into a winter encampment at Valley Forge.
At the request of McDougall, Washington ordered Judge Advocate General William Tudor (1750-1819) on February 21 to empower McDougall to publish rules for the conduct of soldiers and officers and to hold general courts-martial of those who violated such rules. [George Washington to Alexander McDougall, Warrant of Powers, February 21, 1777, McDougall Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York, New York.] On the same day that he wrote this letter to McDougall, Washington wrote to Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston (1750-1831) to lay aside his planned expedition to Long Island because the military situation had changed and his services might be needed elsewhere. [George Washington to Henry Beekman Livingston, February 20, 1777, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]
Washington ends his letter with remarks concerning the Connecticut regiment under the command of Samuel Blachley Webb (1753-1807), which, according to McDougall, had engaged in abhorrent behavior. While Webb was away recruiting soldiers, his regiment was commanded to escort British prisoners to Hartford, Connecticut, during which time forty men deserted and most of the officers were absent without leave. In this letter, Washington orders McDougall to stop the pay of the deserters and absent officers if it had not already been paid. Webb had a close relationship with Washington and was captured by a British warship in December 1777.
Alexander McDougall (1731-1786) was born in the Parish of Kildalton, on the island of Islay, Scotland, in 1731. In 1740 he immigrated with his parents to the United States and settled in New York, where he became a merchant. In the years before the Revolutionary War, McDougall became a leading member of the New York Sons of Liberty. During the Revolutionary War, he was commissioned colonel of the 1st New York Infantry. He later gained promotion to Later brigadier general (August 1776) and major general (October 1777) in the Continental Army, participating in the Battles of Long Island, White Plains, and Germantown. He was stationed for most of the war in the Highlands of the Hudson, much of the time as commanding officer. He briefly served as a member of the Continental Congress and as the Secretary of Marine for six months in 1781. He was the first president of the New York Society of the Cincinnati and the first president of the Bank of New York. He was elected to the New York Senate in 1784 and served until his death.
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