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Letter from Henry Knox, June 18, 1778
TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.04.114
Henry Knox. Letter: Artillery Park, to George Washington, 1778 June 18. 5 p.

Park of Artillery.

18 June 1778.

Sir,

In compliance with your Excellency’s request of the last evening, I shall consider and briefly give my opinion on the following questions.

1st. “Whether any enterprize ought to be undertaken against the enemy in Philadelphia in their present circumstances ?”

The principles of operation proper to be adopted by us in our present circumstances being taken up and pretty fully discussed last evening by your Excellency and your general officers it appeared to be the general sentiment, That it would be the most criminal degree of madness to hazard a general action at this time with the enemy, as by it we might lose every advantage which a three years war, combined with many fortunate circumstances, have given to America. and even supposing us partially successful the advantages would be by no means proportionate, considering our respective forces, to the risque and loss we must be at to obtain such an event.

The position being laid down as certain, that a general action with the enemy on the scale of equality, or even some advantage of numbers on our side, would be highly improper in the present prosperous state of the affairs of America, -- it will be a governing principle in answering the proposed queries.

Considering circumstances as they appear to be, that the enemy have [2] removed all their waggons, heavy baggages, cannon, &ct across the Delaware, and also a certain part of their army, – yet it is probable and almost certain that they have enough remaining behind to defend themselves against any reasonable numbers that may be brought against them. Suppose the part yet remaining in the city be four thousand it would take a very large part, if not the whole of our army to attack those with a prospect of success, entrenched and fortified as they are; and even then we must presume they have secured the retreat in such a manner from one port to another and one street to another that we could make very little impression on them. But if, in addition to the supposed 4000, they should recross all their army, except enough to take care of the baggage, we should be under a double disadvantage, of storming works and fighting a number equal to our own of veteran troops: – and all this to gain possession of a city that one or two days will make our own, without the loss of a man.

Any enterprise, therefore, against Philadelphia cannot be accomplished by a small number; and to do it with the whole army would be dangerous and improper.

“Whether the army should remain in the position it now holds till the final evacuation of the city, or move immediately towards the Delaware?”.

My opinion is that we remain in our present position untill the final evacuation of the city, and the movements of the enemy clearly ascertained. If we move towards the [3] Delaware before this event takes place, we shall expose all our sick to be made prisoners, and perhaps incur the disgrace of being manoevered out of the present fortified strong camp.

“Whether any detachment of it shall be sent to reinforce the brigade in the Jersies, to advance towards the enemy – to act as occasion may require and endeavor to take an advantage of their retreat.?”

I think any considerable detachment from the Army at this time would be running a very considerable risque without any object proportioned to it.

“If the Army remain on its present ground until the enemy quit the city, and if they march through the Jersies to Amboy, – will it be possible, from the obstacles they may probably receive from the troops already there in conjunction with the militia, to arrive in time with this Army to give them any material interruption? Will it be prudent or not? Or rather more eligible to march to the North River in the most direct and convenient manner to secure the important communication between the Eastern & Southern States?”

The answer to the first part of this question depends entirely on the intentions of the enemy: If they mean to march from Cooper’s ferry to Amboy, by the shortest route and in the most expeditious manner, the brigade in the Jersies and the Militia will not probably detain them twenty four hours. So that it will be impossible for this Army to [4] arrive in time to give them any annoyance. But if they go through the Jersies leisurely to depredate and plunder all around, it will be very possible for this army to arrive in time to restrain their devastations and perhaps to chastise some of their parties; – not to say any thing of their waiting for us in the Jersies with an intention to fight a general action. Though I cannot, I must confess, see the propriety of such conduct in them, – as they might find many ways to bring us to action, less expensive than giving up one of their most brilliant conquests; and even that without the least certainty of effecting such a design. I do not believe it to be their first wish to bring on an action, without the chance were much more in their favor than at present. When Your Excellency shall be assured of their march and routes, it would, in my opinion, be very proper to move the whole Army towards the Delaware, when you will be able to determine from circumstances whether to march the Army collectively to the North River, or by divisions as formerly proposed, or cross the Jersies and watch and restrain the movements of the enemy.

“In case such measures should be adopted as to enable this Army to overtake the enemy, will it be prudent, with the militia, to make an attack – or ought it to be a partial or a general one?”

This is answered by the answer to the first query. But however it must be determined by circumstances, which might [5] possibly be such as would justify a partial if not general attack.

“In case of an immediate removal of this Army, what precautions will be proper to secure the sick and Stores in this State?” I suppose it will be thought proper to have the forts and defences in the River repaired and garrisoned. This, if the enemy leaves this State and New Jersey entirely, will be a sufficient security to the stores if the magazine remain where they now are. All the convalescents who are able to march should by easy marches follow the Army to the North River by the upper route through the Jersies. The sick in the hospitals I should think, judging by past experience, ought not to be removed to Philadelphia.

These sentiments are submitted with great deference by Your Excellency’s most obedt hum Servant

HK
18 June 1778

His Excellency General Washington.