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Letter from Henry Knox, November 3, 1780

TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.05.093

Henry Knox.  Autograph letter draft signed:  Bergen County, New Jersey, to George Washington, 1780 November 3.  10 p.


[inserted – different hand: To Washington 3 Nov ’80 in answer to Washingtons request on 31 Oct of the opinions of the Council.]


[inserted – different hand: 3 Nov. 1780]




In the Council of War held on the 31st ultimo your Excellency did your General officers the honor to state to them the force which the Enemy [struck: have] [inserted: had] detach’d from New York and the reinforcement they, [struck: have] [inserted: had] received since the Council of the 6th of  [struck: last] September, [inserted: last [struck: the]]:  and of the [struck: detachment] [inserted: probability] that the detachment was destin’d for the Southern states.  Also the numbers of men that will remain of this Army for the War on the first of  January next, at which period the engagements of the new levies will expire.  That you had detachd Major Lee with his Corps of horse and foot [inserted: to the Army in the winter]; & requested the opinions of the Council individually whether under these circumstances it would be proper to make any further detaching from this [inserted: to the Southern] army [2] [struck: to the southward.]


Your Excellency also requested [struck: the] [inserted: an] opinion, where would be the most proper position for Winter quarters, and the time when to move to it –


The situation of Winter quarters being decided, and the points which must necessarily be guarded, will also decide whether it will be practible to send any more troops from this Army to the assistance of the Southern States.


The infinite importance of West point, and its dependencies, appears to be [struck: pretty fully] [inserted: pretty well] understood by ourselves as well as the Enemy.  We shall be as careful to secure our possession as they may be industrious to deprive us of it.  This being establish’d the capital object of our attention all inferiors ones must give way to it.  To render its safety indisputable, with our small force I think it would be necessary that the army at present [3] in this camp should take post somewhere between New Windsor and Chester but much nearer to the former than the latter on account of the benefits that may be deriv’d from the [struck: Water] transportation of the River and yet not so near to it [struck: that] [inserted: as in] case of a possible suprize to be in a disadvantageous situation – a Regiment of about 200 might be stated at Ringwood and its vicinity to secure the passes, and another of 300 at Morris Town to give some security and assistance to the Country.  These regiments would be preferable [inserted: to larger Corps] for two reasons, the first of which is that we cannot spare them and the [struck: second is] [inserted: other] that [inserted: the disgrace of] a regiment being dislog’d [struck: by the Enemy] or oblig’d to remove [inserted: by the Enemy] will be in no degree proportiond to [inserted: the retreat of] a brigade or line.


Another Corps might be station’d on the East of Hudsons River [4] some where to the left of Peekskill church hollow and rather advanc’d of it towards Cromp pond.  This Corps besides being a kind of reserve to [struck: a number] [inserted: 4 or 5] of block houses [inserted: which should be erected [strike-out] on Croton Riv] & which should be picketed and sufficient to contain [inserted: each] an officer or two and forty men should send patroles below [inserted: there] towards Kings Bridge


The supplies of flour [struck: of] [inserted: for] the main body in the neighbourhood of New Windsor, should be brought from Pennsylvania by the route of Hachets Town and Susex Court house, at both of which places it would be necessary to have a [struck: Captain &] forty or 50 men properly officer’d


This is the most prudent disposition of our small army that occurs to me.  The country about Chester Gotham and between <?> and [inserted – at margin:  and New Windsor [struck:  in addition would] [inserted:  could afford plent of Hay which] in addition to what might be brought down the river by Water, [struck: afford <?>] would be sufficient for the [strike-out] Horses necessary to be kept in Camp, corn & Oats in any position ought be brought a great distance]


[5] [struck: [inserted:  <?>] Considering [struck: a force this] the smallness of our force this is the best disposition that occurs to me – the Country about Chester Gotham & between New Windsor and <?> [struck: abounds in sources] [inserted: would] in addition to what might be brought [struck: from] Down the river by water afford Hay sufficient for the horses necessary to be kept in Camp, corn & oats in any possition must be brought a greater distance.]


I am sensible a position in Jersey would be more eligible, & that [inserted: by it] we should be able to protect a state which in cases of the most pressing emergency has been our Magazine, and [inserted: to] procure the supplies with which it so liberaly abounds [inserted: at present] from falling into the enemys hands. – Our taking a remote position where the mountains [struck: were certainly] [inserted: most [struck: probably] [inserted: undoutably] would] involve that disagreable consequence for the Enemy will [strike-out] [inserted: certainly] this Winter [6] or in the Spring when we shall be at so considerable distance, collect large supplies of Grain from Essex [struck: county] [inserted: & <?> Counties] <?> & probably [struck: probably more] invade Morris [struck: County] –


But if we reverse the mater we shall find [struck: the <?>] West point equally liable to danger [struck: if we] should [inserted:  we] take post in [struck: the] Jersy without our being able [struck: to <?>] [inserted: to] support it – or [struck: that we should be olig’d to <?> fly and] if the attack should directed against the army we should be oblig’d to fly and [strike-out] probably with the loss of our baggage & Cannon, for we cannot <?> [inserted: subsist] on [struck: horses] a sufficient number of horses in this [strike-out] [inserted: Camp] to draw them off on all <?>


[strike-out] If we had 5000 men that we could depend on through the Camp of the Winter and 3000 to Garrison the highlands – I should for mny reasons [7] perfer a position in the Jerseys – but that number cannot be [struck: had without] [inserted: obtaind] unless some [strike-out] [inserted: light levies] are call’d [strike-out] [inserted: for], [strike-out] [inserted: to be sent or to be <?> battalions & required <?>] It is true <?> not [struck: <?> many] to make up the numbers I mention, and the inconvencies [inserted: & expence] of the measure andre to be contrasted with the injury that Jersey [struck: will] [inserted: struck: may] [inserted: might] receive and the danger [inserted: to which] Philadelphia will be expos’d to, [struck: by being unprotected] – probly the inconveniences and Expence would be amply Counterballanced by the advantages [struck: that [inserted: probably] would be derived] and it may be observd that in addition to the above mention of 5000 [struck: that] we [struck: should] might under all circumstances depend on [strike-out] at least 2000 good militia of this state [struck: who woul] are [struck: [inserted: <?>] tolerably good <?> troops and for <?>] [8] [struck: use] –


[struck: under any circumstances] [inserted: At any rate,] I think West point ought not to be left with less than 1000 or 2000 [struck: continental] [inserted: old] troops [struck: & <?>] – If it should be thought proper to adopt the later Idea [strike-out] I think the possition should be some where on the hills from Morris Town to <?> Town or about Bashenside or even near the Ground where we encmpd in 77 but upon no principle to go below the mountains. – and there the whole ought to hut together if possible – In this [strike-out] case we might to go into Winter quarters immediately, but if we should go above the [struck: mountains] highlands, it is difficult to say where, because the hills circulated would be constantly impending, & might [struck: be put into <?>] to be place [inserted: this fall] if we should [struck: be hasty in our] move to [9] Winter quarters [struck: before] whilst the good weather lasts – and yet to [struck: stay] [inserted: continue] in the field untill winter shall be fixd will [struck: have] be productive of  [struck: many more] [inserted: many [strike-out]] hardships and difficulties [inserted: to] our brave soldiers who must then have to make their [struck: winter quarters] [struck: winter] habitations –


In either case it is impossible [inserted: at present] to send any of this army to the Southward without subjecting an army to the most dreadful Calamities – [struck: If in the Spring] if the respective states take [struck: upon the most] decided measures [inserted: this Winter] and fill their battalions agreeable to the [inserted: late] acts of Congress, your Excellny in the Spring will be able to afford ample relief to all parts that [struck: are] [inserted: shall be] <?> –


[struck: Your Exceleny also <?>] At the same council your [10] Excelleny [struck: req] disir’d an opinion whether any thing could be undertaken [inserted: against the Enemy] at present or before we should go in to winter quarters [struck: against the Enemy] –


The Enemy secur’d on their fortified Islands [inserted: are] inaccessible, [struck: excepting] [struck: without] [inserted: unless] by a superior navy, & they have observ’d [inserted: such] an extreme caution this campaign as sufficiently indicates their determination not to risque any thing in this quarter on the scale of equality – This being their [struck: dispos] temper and situation I do not [inserted: see a probability] [struck: conceive] that [struck: we] [inserted: any thing] can [inserted: be] attempt [struck: any thing] that will promise a [strike-out] success. –


I have the honor with great
respect to be your Excellencys
Most Obedient Servant
H Knox


Bergen County
New Jersey 3 Novr 1780

His Excellency General Washington