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Letter from Henry Knox, September 2, 1778

TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.04.127

Henry Knox.  Document copy:  Report to George Washington, 1778 September 2.  4 p.


[inserted - different hand: Copy K. opinion ans. to Commander in Chief Sep. 2. 1778.]


An opinion delivered to his Excellency General Washington 2. Sep. 1778 (meeting of Council of war the eveng of Sep. 1.)


Q. 1. Whether a movement of the greater part of the Army to the Eastward under the present information and circumstances would be eligible.


Ans. not warranted from ye information given by W. last evng to the Council.


Suppose 10,000 at Newport includes reinforcements from NY & Savannah, they <?> not at this season attempt Boston by land – canot procure carriges [inserted: & horses] necessary & Boston of little value if possessed.  Forces not sufficient to hold Boston & the neighboring country.


May be urged d’Estaing’s fleet at Boston a sufficient inducement – & give England the ascendancy on the Ocean durng the war with France.


Knox then considers two circumstances – the [2] supposition of the superiority of the Fr fleet, and the destruction capture of Sullivan’s army.


K’s opinion is that if Sullivan gets off from R.I. without much urgncy, it will be a sufficient “staminee” to collect the force of the Country, experience shows that militia combined with [struck: regulars] continental troops, would be sufficient at least to delay Br Army on march, till main army can be forwarded –


K. is of opinion that Sullivan & the militia would be sufficient to totally keep the Br. considering roughness of the country, the difficulty of enemy obtaining intelligence, want of the necessary carriages to transport provisions &c


But suppose:  reach Boston – Br fleet if superior on broad sea, wd not be so in the narrow channel, when two ships canot enter abreast – & where a [inserted: “very] few hulks which are ready prepared would make the approach above the castle impossible.”


For 10,000 men it would be too extensive a task to take Castle Island, as they would be obliged besides to occupy a number of Islands in the harbor – any of which being carried by this American forces – &c


[3] For these & other reasons K. arrives at the conclusion that the Br. will not attempt Boston & the Fr.fleet.


K. acknowledges that should Sullivan’s troops be captured, it wd be such a misfortune to us & ”prodigious advantage” to Br, as to induce them – to attempt enterprizes not <?> [struck: thought of] dreamed of.  This wd require “the immediate march of the greater part of the army – to counteract &c


He then considers an attempt upon Providence, in case of Sullivan’s retreat – the Br. in full possession of the waters – “P. a rich and defenceless [struck: town] and <?> town with a considerable quantity of shipping & sluces, (defenceless because their “heavy cannon” are with Sullivan)


“The army and your Excellency can have no possible agency in preventing an enterprize of this kind.”


2 Supposg the army to move to the Eastward what number of troops would be necessary to secure the [struck: highlands] possession of the highlands


[4] Ans – This question cannot be “determined with precision” It should be relatively strong to the force the enemy may leave in New York.


3. Can any attack be made [inserted: the troops] in NY, on the present information and with a probability of success.


Ans. N.Y surrounded by waters, gives party possessg ye navigation a great superiority.  The enemy 9,000 strong – force adequate agt our army – take time to procure cause [struck: &][inserted: from a distance] to batten the redoubts on this side King’s Bridges


To attempt [inserted: the redoubts] by surprize wd require a most perfect knowlege of their number constructive strength and situation – under all the circumstances whc he names he advises against the attempt.


4th Suppose The Army to move eastward how shall it be supplied with provisions.


Ans. Forage for horses – meat fresh & salted for men, no difficulty – The difficulty wd be in procuring bread.  It must be only by Q M. making arrangemts for a large number of wagans to transport it from the Southern States.  It may be had, tho. it will require a judicious disposition, and much paine and trouble to obtain it –