Part 6 out of 9
to tell you that I came from France on board a frigate which the king
gave me for my passage. I have affairs of the utmost importance which I
should at first communicate to you alone. In case my letter finds you
anywhere this side of Philadelphia, I beg you will wait for me, and do
assure you a great public good may be derived from it.
To-morrow we go up to the town, and the day after I shall set off in my
usual way to joined my beloved and respected friend and general.
Adieu, my dear general; you will easily know the hand of your young
My compliments to the family.
1. The second of the measures discussed in the preceding letter was the
one preferred, and M. de Lafayette embarked alone at the island of Aix.
TO M. DE VERGENNES.
Waterburg, on the Boston road,
From the Camp, May 6th, 1780.
I have already had the honour of writing to you, sir, and of announcing
to you the news of my arrival; but I place so much confidence in the
kindness you express for me, that I do not hesitate to repeat the
contents of my former letter. It was the 28th of April, after a voyage
of thirty-eight days, and after having experienced both calms and
contrary winds, that the _Hermione_ entered the Boston harbour. I
cannot sufficiently express my admiration of the frigate herself, and
my gratitude to her commanding officers.
I can neither give you any certain information, sir, nor promise you
any degree of accuracy respecting numbers and dates. General Washington
can alone inform me of the truth; but this does appear to me certain;--
Our army is not numerous; the eastern states are occupied in recruiting
it. Paper has been regulated by congress at forty for one: these are
very high taxes, and they hope to be able to raise the finances a
little, which are in a very low state; but, at present, I cannot give
you any settled ideas upon this point.
The scarcity of horses, their price, and the want of provisions, have
very much increased during my absence; but I assure you, sir, that, in
a moral point of view, I continue to see a most favourable prospect for
my American friends.
General Clinton has besieged Charlestown, and as he has eight or ten
thousand men, and the report is spread that his vessels have crossed
the bar, it is impossible not to fear for that place, unless Spanish or
French vessels should come from the islands to its succour. Some troops
from the army of General Washington have proceeded thither.
New York has only six or seven thousand garrisoned men; such is, at
least, the public report, and I do not believe that the hostile forces
are much more numerous at present. They say, at Boston, that there are
only four thousand men; but I repeat, sir, that my gazettes cannot be
at all accurate at present.
The English have but few vessels at Charlestown; at most they have
only, I think, one or two at New York. It is said here, and every one
seems to believe it, that if some French forces were to arrive at this
moment, they might strike some decisive blows.
Be pleased, sir, to accept the assurance of the warm and respectful
affection with which I have the honour to be, &c.
P.S. Some American officers, just come from New York, assure me that a
frigate has, arrived with important despatches from the English
government. Don Juan de Miralles, who has been long established at
Philadelphia, and who knows M. d'Aranda, died at Morristown; he was
buried with much honour.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Morristown, May, 1783.
My dear Marquis,--Your welcome favour of the 27th of April came to my
hands yesterday. I received it with all the joy that the sincerest
friendship would dictate, and with that impatience which an ardent
desire to see you could not fail to inspire. I am sorry I do not know
your route through the State of New York, that I might with certainty
send a small party of horse, all I have at this place, to meet and
escort you safely through the Tory settlements, between this place and
the North River. At all events, Major Gibbs will go as far as Compton,
where the roads unite, to meet you and will proceed from thence, as
circumstances may direct, either towards King's Ferry or New Windsor. I
most sincerely congratulate you on your safe arrival in America, and
shall embrace you with all the warmth of an affectionate friend, when
you come to head-quarters, where a bed is prepared for you. Adieu till
we meet. Yours, &c.~
1. General Washington expressed, in several letters, the
pleasure he felt at M. de Lafayette's return. (See his letters of the
13th and 14th of May.) The 16th of May, the congress declared, by a
public resolution, that "they consider his return as a fresh proof of
the disinterested zeal and persevering attachment which have justly
recommended him to the public confidence and applause, and that they
receive with pleasure a tender of the further services of so gallant
and meritorious an officer."--(Journal of Congress, May 20th.)
It was afterwards resolved that the commander-in-chief, after having
received the communications M. de Lafayette had to make to him, was to
take the proper measures which were most likely to forward the success
of the plan they had in view. The communications related to the
expected arrival of a French squadron and land forces. The plan in
contemplation was to make some attacks, especially on New York.
TO THE COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU.
Philadelphia, 19th May, 1780.
Sir,--This letter will be handed to you by M. de Galvan, a French
officer in the service of the United States, and you may receive with
confidence the various accounts which he will have the honour to give
you. I have appointed him to await your arrival at Cape Henry, and you
will see that my instructions to this officer are in conformity with
those which I have received from the Count de Vergennes.~
I reached Boston. on the 26th of April. On the morning of the 10th of
May, I was at head-quarters, and after passing four days with General
Washington, I went to meet the Chevalier de la Luzerne. The military
preparations and the political measures which it was necessary for us
to attend to, have delayed M. de Galvan up to the present moment. I now
hasten to despatch him to his destination, and shall keep him informed
of whatever news may be interesting to you, continuing to add the ideas
of the general, with regard to the best means of improving present
Immediately upon my arrival, confidential persons were sent out to
procure plans and details upon the different points which become
interesting for the operations of this campaign. As to other matters,
the Chevalier de la Luzerne has had the goodness to enable me, as far
as possible, to fulfil my instructions, and he has taken the first
measures requisite to procure a supply of food and other necessaries
for the land and naval forces. Although the scarcity of all things is
infinitely greater than when I left America, the precautions taken
before-hand by the Chevalier de la Luzerne, and the measures we are now
taking here, render it certain that the French will not be in want,
either of flour or of fresh meat.
I will now give you a summary of the present situation of the enemy on
the continent. I shall say nothing of Canada, or Halifax, or the
Penobscot, from whence we are expecting news, and which, for the
moment, are not of essential importance. Rhode Island is in our
possession; you can enter it in full security; letters, signals, and
pilots will await you there, agreeably to my instructions. Your
magazines, your sick, and all your unnecessary baggage, can go up the
Providence by water; I shall soon send to Rhode Island more particular
information on this point.
The enemy have, at the present moment, seven thousand men of their best
troops employed at the siege of Charlestown; they have also some ships
of the line without the harbour; one vessel of fifty guns, two frigates
of forty-four, and several smaller vessels. According to news from New
York, Charlestown still held out on the 3rd of this month. On the
Islands of New York, Long Island, and Staten Island, the forces of the
enemy consisted of eight thousand regular troops, a few militia, upon
which they place no dependence, and a small number of royalists, very
contemptible in all respects. They have only one ship of
seventy-four guns, and some frigates. The American army is in three
divisions; one guards the fort of West Point and keeps open the North
River; another is in South Carolina; and the third, which is the
largest, is in the Jerseys, under the immediate command of General
Washington. This last division, not very numerous at present, will be
increased in a few days; and for that reason, I shall defer till
another letter giving you a more exact account of its situation.
Your voyage is known at New York. Advices were immediately sent on to
Charlestown, recalling either the troops, or at least the ships of war.
They are erecting fortifications on the Island, and preparing vessels
loaded with stones to obstruct the passage; in a word, if it be true
that the present divided state of the English forces seems to insure
their destruction, and to promise us the conquest of New York, it is
equally true that, at the moment of your arrival, if by good fortune
things remain in their present state, we shall have no time to lose in
taking advantage of those favourable circumstances.
At the same time that I here execute the orders of my general, and
communicate to you the sentiments of my friend, permit me to assure you
of the strong desire of our army to do whatever may please you, and how
much we shall all endeavour to merit the friendship and the esteem of
troops, whose assistance at the present moment is so essential to us.
You will find amongst us a great deal of good will, a great deal of
sincerity, and above all, a great desire to be agreeable to you.
I send a duplicate of this letter to the Chevalier de Ternay, and I
shall send the same to Point Judith and Seaconnet; so that in case you
should make land at Rhode Island, you may at once sail for Sandy Hook.
The next letter which I shall have the honour to write to you, will be
dated at headquarters. The confidence of General Washington, which M.
de Galvan has deserved, and the means which he has of fulfilling his
instructions, all assure me that you will be satisfied with our choice.
I have the honour to be, &c.
1. The instructions given to M. de Lafayette by the minister of foreign
affairs, (5th March, 1780), were, that, to prevent any mistake or
delay, he was to place, both on Rhode Island and on Cape Henry (the
mouth of the Chesapeake), a French officer, to await the arrival of the
French squadron, which was to land at one of those two points, and to
give it all the information it might require on its arrival. This
letter was consequently given to M. de Galvan, and he repaired to Cape
Henry, but vainly expected those frigates: they landed at Rhode Island.
they left Brest the 2nd of May, under the orders of the Chevalier de
Ternay, and appeared before Newport the 10th of July. This letter was
delivered afterwards to M. de Rochambeau, as well as several others,
which want of space and interest do not allow us to insert.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp at Preakness, July 4th, 1780.
You know, my dear general, that I am very anxious to see the army well
clothed for this campaign; the importance of such a measure is on every
account obvious, and from the knowledge I have of the auxiliary troops
that are coming, I can so well demonstrate its necessity that I shall
for the present but attend to the means of executing it.
In the space of six months (we know from experience) the coats of our
soldiers begin to be worn out, so that there is no great inconvenience
in giving some new clothes to the draftsmen, and after they shall be
discharged, the number of the remaining soldiers will not much exceed
six or seven thousand men; as those very men will have been completely
clothed by the middle of July, I think I make full allowance for them
by keeping in store the seven thousand unmade suits that have been
shipped by Mr. Ross.
If more are wanted in the course of next summer, I engage to go over to
France and bring back ten thousand complete suits properly conveyed.
Excluding wagoners, servants, and all such people who do not want to be
uniformly clothed, we may calculate the continental army to consist of
fourteen thousand men in the field. There may be found in the army four
thousand coats and waistcoats which are not absolutely bad, four
thousand stocks or cravats, and one thousand pretty good hats.
We may get from the stores fifteen thousand overalls, ten thousand
pairs of shoes, three thousand round hats, and some few shirts.
There are also six or seven hundred coats of every colour, to which may
be added about three or four hundred of the same kind, and some
indifferent hats found in the army, &c.
A small quantity of buff and red cloth to be bought for the facings of
the Pennsylvanian and Jersey lines.
The four thousand good hats in the stores or in the army to be cut
round, or cocked in the form of caps, but to be in an uniform manner.
All the articles now in the possession of the clothier-general, to be
immediately ordered to North River, and, if necessary, wagons should be
pressed for their speedy transportation.
I will write a letter to the Chevalier de Ternay, wherein I will desire
him to send to the most convenient place the clothing which has been
put under his convoy.
We shall then have ten thousand new coats and waistcoats, and four
thousand old ones, the whole of an uniform ground, ten thousand new
hats and stocks, and four thousand old ones, five and twenty thousand
overalls, more than twenty thousand shirts, and thirty thousand pairs
Each soldier enlisted for the war, let them even be ten thousand, shall
have, if you choose, a new complete suit, one hat, one stock, two
shirts, two pairs of overalls, and two pairs of shoes.
Each draftsman, if he has not the same, will at least receive a decent
uniform coat, one stock, one hat, one pair of overalls, and two pairs
of shoes; he will not certainly come out but well provided with shirts.
By the above mentioned arrangement, there remain about a thousand coats
of every colour, a thousand hats, which are not absolutely bad, and two
thousand pairs of shoes; these I propose to give to such men as will
not appear under arms in the field, and, if necessary, some hunting-
shirts may be added to the said clothing.
The dragoons are generally better clothed than the infantry, and we
might very easily complete their coats or stable-jackets, as each
different regiment could adopt a different colour.
As soon as the French clothing comes, I wish the whole army to be
clothed at once, in observing to give the round hats to some particular
brigades, for the sake of uniformity, and to turn up the facings
according to the plan agreed.
There will be then no excuse for the officers who, out of neglect,
should suffer their men to lose a single article, and the most strict
orders may be given for that purpose.
The French arms that are coming might be put in the hands of soldiers
enlisted for the war.
I wish that there was a distinction of one woollen epaulette for the
corporal, and two for the serjeant.
As to the feathers, (become a distinction of ranks,) I wish such as
have been pointed out might be forbidden to other officers, and for the
light division I shall beg the leave of wearing a black and red
feather, which I have imported for the purpose.
These ideas, my dear general, are not given to you as a great stroke of
genius, but I heartily wish something of the kind may be thought
TO MM. LE COMTE DE ROCHAMBEAU, AND LE CHEVALIER DE TERNAY.~
Camp, before Dobb's Ferry, Aug. 9, 1780.
Gentlemen,--I arrived two days ago at head quarters, and in consequence
of the mission I was charged with, my first care was to render an
account of our conversations; but the most minute details of them are
so important, and the fate of America, and the glory of France, depend
so completely upon the result of our combinations here, that, in order
to feel more certain of having perfectly understood your meaning, I
will submit to you a summary of our conversations, and entreat you to
write me word immediately whether I have rightly understood your
meaning. Before quitting Rhode Island, gentlemen, I should have taken
this precaution, if General Washington's march against New York had not
obliged me to join my division, at the very moment when, from our
further arrangements, you most required some information.
1st. I have described to you the actual situation of America, the
exhausted state in which I found her, and the momentary efforts she had
made, which could only have been produced by the hope of being
delivered, by one decisive blow, from the tyranny of the English.
I told you those efforts were so enormous, when we consider the state
of our finances, and the failure of all our resources, that I do not
expect to see them renewed during another campaign. I added that on the
1st of November we should no longer have any militia, that the 1st of
January one half of our continental army would be disbanded, and I took
the liberty of saying, in my own name, that I thought it necessary, as
a political measure, to enter into action this campaign; and this I had
ascertained also to be the case, by sounding, on my journey, the wishes
of the people.
2nd. I confirmed what I have already had the honour of writing to you
respecting the continental troops, and the militia whom we are to have
with us. I told you that by counting the enemies in New York at
fourteen thousand men, of which ten thousand are regulars, and four
thousand very bad militia, I thought their numbers were somewhat
exaggerated, and that it was necessary to begin by deducting the
sailors employed by Admiral Arbuthnot. As to the fortifications, I said
that the American troops would take charge of New York, and that the
fort of Brooklyn (upon which you might operate in concert with a
division of our troops) is merely an earthen work of four bastions,
with a ditch and a shed, containing from a thousand to fifteen hundred
men, and having in front another smaller work, which cannot contain
more than a hundred men. I added that nothing could prevent a regular
approach upon Brooklyn, and that that post is the key of New York.
3rd. I explained to you General Washington's plan, and told you that
the moment you began your march, he would repair to Morrisania, where,
I again repeat, he would establish batteries that would close the
passage of Hell's Gate, and secure the one from the continent to Long
Island, so as to have nothing to fear from the enemy's ships. Whilst
awaiting your arrival, gentlemen, our army would entrench itself at
Morrisania, or, if possible, on the Island of New York, and would place
itself in a situation to detach a corps of troops, as soon as you shall
have approached us, either by coming by land to Westchester, and
passing afterwards under favour of our batteries, or by repairing by
sea to Wistown, or any other bay in that neighbourhood. General
Washington would furnish a sufficient corps of Americans, and fifteen
large cannon, to co-operate with your troops, and he believes that with
these forces, and united with artillery, the point of Brooklyn might
soon be taken, and consequently the town of New York.
4th. I represented to you that Long Island was a rich country, which,
even alter the destruction effected by the English, still possesses
some resources; that we might feel certain of being joined there by the
militia of the island; and, in short, that with the assistance of our
Morrisanian under-batteries, and still more with a battery on the
Island of New York, we should assure the communication between Long
Island and the continent. From these various circumstances, my own
private opinion would decidedly be to commence our action, if the fleet
could be placed in security, before we possessed any superiority of
5th. I strongly insisted upon the necessity of taking possession, as
soon as possible, of the New York harbour. I requested M. de Ternay to
examine that point with the pilots I gave him, and by the immense
advantages of that measure I hoped that, either with the aid of land
forces on the side of Sandy Hook, or merely by the superiority of his
own naval force, he would be enabled to accomplish the object we had
feared his attempting when we expected him with Admiral Graves.
6th. When proposing to you to send your magazines to Providence, I told
you that Rhode Island was completely useless to the Americans, but very
important for the succours arriving from France, in case, however, no
army should be necessary to preserve it; that if the English were to
commit the fault of taking it, a superior fleet, aided by forces from
the continent, would always have the power of retaking it.
7th. I ended by having the honour of telling you, gentlemen, that in
order to operate upon New York it would be necessary not to commence
later than the first days of September; and, after this explanation, I
said that General Washington, feeling the most perfect confidence in
you, was very desirous of having your opinion upon the subject, and
would only undertake what might appear to you most advantageous.
This, gentlemen, is what I had the honour of saying to you, and this is
what you did me the honour to reply to:--
1st. That the succour sent to the United States was anything rather
than trifling; that the second division was to set out a short time
after you, and, that it might justly be expected every instant; that it
would consist at least of two thousand five hundred, and, in all
probability, of a still greater number of troops; that it was to be
sent by three ships, but that, according to all appearances, a larger
number of vessels would be granted; that the only reason which could
prevent its arriving before the 1st of September, would be the
impossibility of a junction between the French and Spanish fleets, and
that, in the latter case, it would arrive, at farthest, by the end of
autumn, and would then be a great deal stronger; that M. de Guichen has
been apprised of our projects, and has received the order to facilitate
them; that, consequently, the Chevalier de Ternay has written to him
for the five promised vessels; and that, from all these circumstances,
you hoped to be able to act before the end of the campaign, but did not
doubt, at least, having the power of furnishing us with very superior
forces for this winter, and for the next campaign.
2nd. The project of attacking Brooklyn was extremely agreeable to you,
and appeared to you the most proper measure for the reduction of New
York; but you think that we ought to have upon that Island a force at
least equal to that which the enemy may offer us, and you added that by
leaving a counterfeit at New York, they may fall on the corps of Long
Island, with nearly their whole army, which contingency, you will
perceive, had been already provided for by Washington's arrangements.
3rd. You appeared to me doubtful whether it would be possible to stop
the enemy at the passage of Morrisania, but on this point I can give
you no decisive information. The idea of repairing by land to
Westchester appeared less agreeable to you than that of going by sea
into a bay of Long Island. As to the landing, the Count de Rochambeau
looks upon it as a very long operation, and, from his own experience on
the subject, he believes that it would require nearly three weeks to
land an army, with all its accoutrements, for a campaign and siege. You
desired to have every possible information concerning Brooklyn, in
order to be able to make calculations accordingly for the artillery and
engineer service. You appeared to me to consider a naval superiority as
necessary, even at the commencement of the campaign; but it is true
that this idea may partly proceed from your doubts relating to the
communication concerning Morrisania.
5th. The Chevalier de Ternay conceives it would be difficult to take
possession of New York harbour, and hopes to accomplish the same object
by the situation in which he has placed his cruisers. He does not think
that his seventy-fours can enter, but from the difference of opinion
which I ventured to express, as to the importance at least of occupying
the harbour, he told me he would again attend to this project. As to
his manner of protecting the disembarkation, it would be to cruise in
the Sound, and his frigates, and one or two vessels, would enter into
the bay at the place where the troops should land.
6th. Rhode Island appears to you a very important point to preserve;
but if M. de Ternay should have the superiority, you think, as we do,
that it would be unnecessary to leave a garrison there during the
attack of New York. The Count de Rochambeau desired me to assure
General Washington that, in every case, upon receiving an order, he
would instantly repair to that spot which the commander-in-chief should
appoint. I told him, also, that the French generals wished that it were
possible to have an interview with him.
At the termination of our conversation, we decided upon the following
measures, of which I consequently gave an account to General
1st. You have written to France to urge the speedy arrival and
augmentation of the promised succours. You have already asked for the
five vessels of M. de Guichen, and I have also taken charge of another
letter, which repeats the same request, and which will pass through the
hands of the Chevalier de la Luzerne.
2d. As soon as you receive news of the arrival either of the second
division or of the ships from the West Indies, you will immediately
despatch a messenger to General Washington; and, whilst our army is
marching towards Westchester, and your own making preparation for
embarkation, M. de Ternay will endeavour to effect his junction.
3d. If the French fleet should be equal to that of the enemy, it will
immediately enter into a contest for superiority; if it should be
superior, it will take the French troops instantly on board, and carry
them towards the bay intended for their landing.
4th. A spot shall be chosen from whence the ships may protect the
operation, and which will also afford to the troops first landed a
position well sheltered by the fire from the ships, and behind which
the remainder of the troops may join them; or by advancing with all the
landed troops, the right and left wings may be so placed as to cover
the last of the disembarkation. The spot selected shall be situated in
such a manner that the corps of the American army intended for this
particular expedition, may arrive and land at the very moment of the
landing of the Count de Rochambeau, and that their general may be able
to co-operate instantly with the French general.
5th. According to the number of French troops in a state to operate,
General Washington will either conduct himself, or send to Long Island,
a sufficient number of troops to obtain a force nearly equal to that of
the enemy, and he will also have a corps of troops of nearly the same
strength as the one opposed to him, either at Westchester or in the
Island of New York.
6th. The Chevalier de Ternay will examine, attentively, the possibility
of forcing the passage of Sandy Hook, and if it be deemed practicable,
will attain that important end.
7th. As soon as the arms, clothes, and ammunition, belonging to the
United States, shall arrive, the Chevalier de Ternay will have the
goodness, without giving them time to enter the harbour, to send them
with a convoy of frigates, or, if the batteries be not yet erected, by
a ship of the line, to that point in the Sound which General Washington
may judge proper to select.
8th. The French fleet will take charge of the boats we shall require,
which will be delivered up to them at Providence; they will also land
us all the powder that they can do without themselves; this does not
amount, at present, to more than thirty thousand pounds.
9th. I shall send to the French generals all the correct information I
may obtain respecting the passage of the Sound by Hell Gate; I shall
communicate to them, likewise, all the details relating to Brooklyn,
and they will send us the calculations which have been made in
consequence by the artillery and engineers,--from thence we shall
decide what must be sent with the American Long Island corps for these
two companies. Some doubts are entertained by the French generals
concerning the two points of this last article; I shall send them from
home some information respecting that subject, of which I had before
the honour of speaking to them.
10th. The invalids, magazines, &c., shall be sent to Providence, and
the batteries of that river are to be placed by us in proper order. It
is clearly specified that the instant the expected naval superiority of
force arrives, the French are not to lose a single day in commencing
their co-operative measures.
Such is, gentlemen, the abridgment of the account rendered to General
Washington; and it will serve as the basis for his preparations, as
well as a rule for the future elucidations you may receive. From the
confidence with which he has honoured me, I was obliged to settle
finally all that it was possible for me to arrange with you,--the fate
of America, in short, appears to be dependent upon your activity or
repose during the remainder of this summer. I attach the greatest
importance to all your ideas being clearly rendered, and I entreat you
to lose no time in writing a few words to say whether I have understood
A short time after my departure, gentlemen, you must have learnt that
General Clinton, fearing for New York; had been obliged, by a sudden
movement of our army, to enclose himself in that island. The army is at
present near Dobb's Ferry, ten miles above King's Bridge, on the right
side of the North River, and our advance guard is nearly three miles
If General Clinton, with a force and position equal to our own, should
judge proper to fight, we shall give him a favourable opportunity of
doing so, and he may take advantage of that kind of challenge to make
the most impartial trial of the English and Hessian against the
I shall wait here, most impatiently, gentlemen, your answer to this
letter. I shall have the honour of communicating to you the various
advices General Washington may find it expedient to send you. The first
intelligence of the arrival of the ships is very necessary to our peace
of mind, and from an intimate knowledge of our situation, I assure you,
gentlemen, in my own private name and person, that it is important to
act during this campaign, that all the troops you may hope to obtain
from France next year, as well as all the projects of which you may
flatter yourselves, will never repair the fatal consequences of our
present inactivity. Without resources in America, all foreign succours
would prove of no avail; and although, in every case, you may rely
wholly upon us, I think it important to take advantage of the moment
when you may find here a co-operation, without which you will not be
able to achieve anything for the American cause.
I have the honour to be, &c.
P.S. Such, gentlemen, is the long official letter which I have the
honour of writing to you, but I cannot send it without thanking you for
the kindness you expressed for me at Rhode Island, and presenting you
the assurance. of my sincere and respectful attachment.
1. General Heath, who commanded the militia in the state of Rhode
Island, announced, on the 13th of July, the arrival of the French
squadron to Washington, who was then stationed with his staff at
Bergen. M. de Lafayette set out instantly, bearing instructions from
the general-in-chief dated the 15th, to meet the French Generals and to
concert with them. Washington had long formed a plan of offensive
operations, for the reduction of the town and garrison of New York
(letter to General Greene the 14th of July); this plan was to take
effect on condition, first, that the French and American troops should
form a junction; second, that the French should have a decided naval
superiority over the united forces of Admiral Graves and Admiral
Arbuthnot. In nine letters, written between the 20th of July and the
1st of August, which would not perhaps have offered much interest to
the reader, M. de Lafayette rendered an account of his mission, of
which a short analysis will give the principal details.
The first letters relate to the multiplied difficulties he encountered
in the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, in collecting
provisions, clothing, arms, and, above all, powder, in sufficient
quantities for the projected expedition. These difficulties were much
increased by the insufficiency of every kind of munition brought by the
French squadron, which but half realized the promises of the French
cabinet. M. de Lafayette repaired to Newport the 25th, and found the
army, which had been disembarked, encamped in Rhode Island, and M. de
Rochambeau much occupied by the news of an important attack, and, in
fact, four of the enemy's ships appeared on the 19th, and nine or ten
more two days after, before Block Island. Sir Henry Clinton had on his
side left New York. By a combination of his land and sea forces, he
intended to surprise the French army. But he experienced some delay;
his soldiers could only embark in the transports the 27th; there was a
wrong understanding between him and Admiral Arbuthnot. He learnt that
the French had fortified themselves at Newport, and that the
neighbouring militia had joined them; and at length that General
Washington was making a rapid movement upon New York. He hastened to
pass over the Sound, and landed his troops on the 31st.
M. de Lafayette, who had always felt doubtful, himself, of Clinton's
making the attack, had then the opportunity of discussing with the
allies the project for an offensive operation. He was extremely anxious
to put it into execution, and General Washington was desirous also of
doing the same.
The thing was, however, difficult. Although the capture of New York had
always been one of the objects of the French ministry, the instructions
of M. de Rochambeau prescribed to him to attach great importance to the
station of Rhode Island, and to endeavour to make it the basis for his
other operations. He was therefore reluctant to quit it in order to
march upon New York. M. de Ternay, at the same time, considered it as
impossible to enter with his ships of war into the harbour of that
town, and contented himself with promising a blockade; he did not,
besides, possess that naval superiority which could only be obtained by
the arrival of the second division, which was so vainly expected from
France, or by the junction of the squadron of M. de Guichen, then in
the West Indies, to whom M. de Lafayette had written to promote that
object. M. de Rochambeau's own opinion was, however, in favour of
offensive measures, and he promised to conform, according to his
instructions, to the orders of the general-in-chief. Everything was
discussed and regulated in two or three conferences, which took place
from the end of July to the commencement of August, between MM. de
Rochambeau, de Ternay, and de Lafayette. The result of these
conferences is resumed in a letter, to which is annexed this
In the suppressed letters it is also seen that the French troops
evinced the greatest ardour, and that the good intelligence that
reigned between the two allies completely justified the expectations of
M. de Lafayette, and the measures he had proposed. He wrote, in a
letter of the 31st, to General Washington:--
"The French army hate the idea of staying here, and want to join you.
They swear at those that speak of waiting the second division: they are
enraged to be blockaded in this harbour. As to their dispositions
towards the inhabitants and our troops, and the dispositions of the
inhabitants and the militia for them, they are such as I may wish. You
would have been glad the other day to see two hundred and fifty of our
drafts that came on from Connanicut, without provisions and tents, and
who were mixed in such a way with the French troops, that every French
soldier and officer took an American with him, and divided his bed and
his supper in the most friendly manner. The patience and sobriety of
our militia are so much admired by the French officers, that, two days
ago, a French colonel called all his officers together, to take the
good examples which were given to the French soldiers by the American
troops. So far are they gone in their admiration, that they find a
great deal to say in favour of General Varnum, and his escort of
militia dragoons, who fill up all the streets of Newport. On the other
band, the French discipline is such, that chickens and pigs walk
between the tents without being disturbed, and that there is in the
camp a corn-field, of which not one leaf has been touched. The Tories
dont know what to say to it."--(ORIGINAL.)--(_Letters of Washington
from the 14th of July to the 5th of August, 1780, and Appendix, Nos. 1
and 8_, VOL. vii.)
FROM THE COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU TO M. DE LAFAYETTE.
Newport, August 12th, 1780.
I received, my dear marquis, the letter you did me the honour of
writing the 9th of August; permit me to send you, in reply, the one I
had the honour of addressing to our general on the 10th of this month,
to express to him the opinion you asked for by his desire. I am only
now, therefore, waiting for his last orders, and I have earnestly
requested him to grant me the favour of an interview, that the admiral
and I may receive from his own lips the last plan he has decided upon;
we should do more in a quarter of an hour's conversation than we could
do by multiplied despatches. I am as thoroughly convinced as any person
can be of the truth of what your letters mentioned, that it was his
marching which had detained Clinton, who intended to come and attack
us; but I must observe to you also, at the same time, that there was
much reason to hope that he would have been well beaten here, and
during that time our general would have taken New York. As to your
observation, my dear marquis, that the position of the French at Rhode
Island is of no use to the Americans, I reply:--
First, That I never heard it had been injurious to any one of them.
Second, That it would be well to reflect that the position of the
French corps may have had something to do with Clinton's evacuation of
the continent, when he has been obliged to confine himself to Long
Island and New York; that, in short, while the French fleet is guarded
here by an assembled and a superior naval force, your American shores
are undisturbed, your privateers are making considerable prizes, and
your maritime commerce enjoys perfect liberty. It appears to me, that,
in so comfortable a situation, it is easy to wait patiently the naval
and land forces that the king assured me should, be sent; that, in
short, as I have received no letter from France since my departure; I
can only flatter myself that the second division is already on the
road, and is bringing me despatches, since, if it had been blockaded by
superior forces, some sort of advice would have been sent me from the
shores of France. I fear those savannahs and other events of the kind,
of which I have seen so many during the course of my life. There exists
a principle in war, as in geometry, _vis unita fortior_. I am, however,
awaiting orders from our generalissimo, and I entreat him to grant the
admiral and myself an interview. I will join the latter's despatch to
this packet as soon as I receive it.
I beg you to accept, my dear marquis, the assurance of my sincerest
TO MM. DE ROCHAMBEAU AND DE TERNAY.
Camp, August 18th, 1780.
GENTLEMEN,--As I wish to submit the same observations to you both,
permit me to address this letter to you in common, and permit me also
(without pretending to complain of the interpretation you have given to
my last letter) to accuse myself of having explained my own meaning in
a very awkward manner.
On my return here, gentlemen, General Washington asked me for an
account of our conversations. You know that he had given me full powers
to explain to you our situation, and to settle finally the plan of the
campaign. When he knew that you wished to confer with him, he again
wrote me word that I was to arrange everything in his name, as if he
were himself present. It was natural that he should wish to know what I
said to you, what you replied, and what we had finally decided upon. He
thought that the best manner of collecting our ideas was to write them
down; and I, fearing to say a single word that was not precisely
according to your intentions, thought it more polite, more respectful
towards you, to submit to your examination the written account which my
general had requested. I may add, at this place, gentlemen, that the
general, thinking that you were only acquainted with our position from
what I had the honour of saying to you, did not consider the previous
letters he had received as answers to what I had undertaken to explain
to you. All that I said to you, gentlemen, concerning Rhode Island, the
passage of Hell Gate, the harbour of New York, and the disembarkation,
was from the reiterated orders of General Washington; and as to the
political opinions, which I will dispense myself with expressing in
future, because they must come from the Chevalier de la Luzerne, I,
assure you that if, as your own countryman, it was more delicate for me
to give them in my own name, they are not less conformable to the ideas
of General Washington. The only time when I took the liberty of
speaking for myself was, when, wearied by the questions that have been
made to me by a thousand American individuals upon the second division,
and the superiority of the English at this present period, I yielded to
my ardent wish of entering at once on action, and to the hope of
commencing our operations immediately. If I have been to blame, I think
it can only be in this one instance.
I believe that the march towards New York has recalled Clinton from the
bay of Huntington, but I believe that if he had been guilty of the
folly of attacking you, he would have both lost at Rhode Island a
portion of his army, owing to our French troops, and the Island of New
York by our attack. This was my opinion, and the one I found most
prevalent here, and I also think that it is very unfortunate for the
common cause that General Clinton did not pursue his enterprise. Is it
I who could imagine the contrary?--I who have always been laughed at
for thinking it impossible that the French could ever be beaten!
When, after having received three letters from General Washington, and
held twenty conversations with him on the subject, I thought it proper
to tell you in what point of view we looked upon Rhode Island, I do not
think it ever occurred to me to say you had injured any person by
staying there, and as to the advantage America derives from having a
French squadron and French troops, allow me to mention, gentlemen, that
M. d'Estaing found me formerly well disposed to acknowledge this truth;
that for more than eighteen months, and especially since the
commencement of last summer, I held a regular correspondence with the
French government, to represent to it the utility of such a measure;
and, although the gratitude of the Americans does not by any means
require being excited, few hours pass without my employing a part of my
time in pointing out to them the advantages that you may procure for
them even when inferior to the hostile forces, and in which I do not
take the measures most proper to publish this truth from the extremity
of Canada to that of Florida, as I may prove to you by the few copies
of letters which I have preserved.
As to the political opinions with which I took the liberty of closing
my letter, although I acknowledge having committed the fault of
expressing them to you, I am certain beforehand that, from an intimate
acquaintance with the American character and resources, the Chevalier
de la Luzerne and General Washington are both of my opinion.
I will do all that depends upon me, gentlemen, to prevail upon the
general to meet you half way; but, from his proximity to the enemy, and
from the present situation of the army, which he has never quitted
since the commencement of the war, I fear it will appear to him very
difficult to absent himself. Whenever you have any orders to give me,
look upon me as a man who, you must well know, idolizes his own country
with a peculiar degree of enthusiasm, and who unites to that feeling
(the strongest one of his heart) the respectful affection with which he
has the honour of being, &c.
TO M. DE ROCHAMBEAU.
Camp, August 18th, 1780.
Having written, sir, one letter to you in common with the Chevalier de
Ternay, permit me to address myself to you with the frankness
authorised by the warm affection I have felt, and endeavoured to prove
to you, from my earliest youth. Although your letter expresses your
usual kindness for me, I observed a few sentences in it which, without
being individually applied to me, prove to me that my last epistle
displeased you. After having been engaged night and day for four
months, in preparing the minds of the people to receive, respect, and
love you; after all I have said to make them sensible of the advantages
they derived from your residence at Rhode Island, and after having made
use of my own popularity to propagate this truth; in short, sir, after
all that my patriotism and affection for you have dictated to me, my
feelings were unavoidably hurt by your giving such an unfavourable turn
to my letter, and one which had never for a moment occurred to myself.
If in that letter I have offended or displeased you; if, for example,
you disapprove of that written account which General Washington asked
for, and which I thought I ought to submit to you, I give you my word
of honour that I thought I was doing a very simple thing; so simple,
indeed, that I should have considered I was wronging you by not doing
If you had heard that second division spoken of, sir, as I have done;
if you knew how strongly the English and the Tories endeavour to
persuade the Americans that France only wishes to kindle, without
extinguishing the flame, you would readily conceive that my desire of
silencing those reports might have inspired me, perhaps, with too much
warmth. I will confide to you that, thus placed in a foreign country,
my self love is wounded by seeing the French blockaded at Rhode Island,
and the pain I feel induces me to wish the operations to commence. As
to what you write to me, sir, respecting Rhode Island, if I were to
give you an account of all I have said, written, and inserted in the
public papers; if you had heard me, frequently in the midst of a group
of American peasants, relating the conduct of the French at Newport; if
you were only to pass three days here with me, you would see the
injustice of your reproach.
If I have offended you, I ask your pardon, for two reasons; first,
because I am sincerely attached to you; and secondly, because it is my
earnest wish to do everything I can to please you here. As a private
individual, in all places your commands will ever be laws to me, and
for the meanest Frenchmen here I would make every possible sacrifice
rather than not contribute to their glory, comfort, and union with the
Americans. Such, sir, are my feelings, and although you have imagined
some which are very foreign to my heart, I forget that injustice to
think only of my sincere attachment to you.
P.S. I am far from thinking, sir, that I am in any degree the cause of
the sentiments that are experienced in this country for yourself and
the officers of your army. I am not so vain as to have entertained such
an idea; but I have had the advantage of knowing you, and I was,
therefore, able to foresee what would occur on your arrival, and to
circulate the opinions adopted by all those who have personally known
you. I am convinced, and no one here can deny it, that but for your
arrival, American affairs would have gone on badly this campaign; but,
in our present situation, this alone is not sufficient, and it is
important to gain advantages over the enemy. Believe, that when I wrote
in _my own name_, that opinion did not belong to myself alone; my only
fault was writing with warmth, in an official manner, that which you
would have forgiven on account of my youth, if I had addressed it as a
friend to yourself alone; but my intentions were so pure, that I was as
much surprised as pained by your letter, and that is saying a great
FROM M. DE ROCHAMBEAU.
Newport, August 27th, 1780.
Permit an aged father, my dear marquis, to reply to you as he would do
to a son whom he tenderly loves and esteems. You know me well enough to
feel convinced that I do not require being excited, that when I, at my
age, form a resolution founded upon military and state reasons, and
supported by circumstances, no possible instigation can induce me to
change my mind without a positive order from my general. I am happy to
say that his despatches, on the contrary, inform me that my ideas
correspond substantially with his own, as to all those points which
would allow us to turn this into an offensive operation, and that we
only differ in relation to some small details, on which a slight
explanation, or his commands, would suffice to remove all difficulties
in an instant. As a Frenchman, you feel humiliated, my dear friend, at
seeing an English squadron blockading in this country, with a decided
superiority of frigates and ships, the Chevalier de Ternay's squadron;
but console yourself, my dear marquis, the port of Brest has been
blockaded for two months by an English fleet, and this is what prevents
the second division from setting out under the escort of M. de
Bougainville. If you had made the two last wars, you would have heard
nothing spoken of but these same blockades; I hope that M. de Guichen,
on one side, and M. de Gaston, on the other, will revenge us for these
It is always right, my dear marquis, to believe that Frenchmen are
invincible; but I, after an experience of forty years, am going to
confide a great secret to you: there are no men more easily beaten when
they have lost confidence in their chiefs, and they lose it instantly
when their lives have been compromised, owing to any private or
personal ambition. If I have been so fortunate as to have retained
their confidence until the present moment, I may declare, upon the most
scrupulous examination of my own conscience, that I owe it entirely to
this fact, that, of about fifteen thousand men who have been killed or
wounded under my command, of various ranks, and in the most bloody
actions, I have not to reproach myself with having caused the death of
a single man for my own personal advantage.
You wrote to the Chevalier de Chastellux, my dear marquis, that the
interview I requested of our general has embarrassed him, because it
only becomes necessary after the arrival of the second division, when
there will be quite time enough to act. But you must surely have
forgotten that I have unceasingly requested that interview immediately,
and that it is absolutely necessary that he, the admiral, and I, should
concert together all our projects and details, that in case one of the
three chances should occur and enable us to act offensively, our
movements may be prompt and decisive. In one of these three cases, my
dear marquis, you will find in your old prudent father some remnants of
vigour and activity. Be ever convinced of my sincere affection, and
that if I pointed out to you very gently what displeased me in your
last despatch, I felt at the time convinced that the warmth of your
heart had somewhat impaired the coolness of your judgment. Retain that
latter quality in the council-room, and reserve all the former for the
hour of action. It is always the aged father, Rochambeau, who is
addressing his dear son Lafayette, whom he loves, and will ever love
and esteem until his latest breath.
TO THE CHEVALIER DE LA LUZERNE.
Robinson House, opposite W. Point, Sept. 26, 1780.
When I parted from you yesterday, sir, to come and breakfast here with
General Arnold, we were far from foreseeing the event which I am now
going to relate to you.~
You will shudder at the danger to which we have been exposed; you will
admire the miraculous chain of unexpected events and singular chances
that have saved us; but you will be still more astonished when you
learn by what instruments this conspiracy has been formed. West Point
was sold--and sold by Arnold: the same man who formerly acquired glory
by rendering such immense services to his country. He had lately
entered into a horrible compact with the enemy, and but for the
accident that brought us here at a certain hour, but for the
combination of chances that threw the adjutant-general of the English
army in the hands of some peasants, beyond the limits of our stations,
West Point and the North River, we should both at present, in all
probability, be in possession of the enemy.
When we set out yesterday for Fishkill, we were preceded by one of my
aides-de-camp, and one of General Knox's, who found General Arnold and
his wife at breakfast, and sat down at table with them. Whilst they
were together, two letters were given to Arnold, which apprised him of
the arrestration of the spy. He ordered a horse to be saddled, went
into his wife's room to tell her he was ruined, and desired his aide-
de-camp to inform General Washington that he was going to West Point
and would return in the course of an hour.
On our arrival here, we crossed the river and went to examine the
works. You may conceive our astonishment when we learnt, on our return,
that the arrested spy was Major Andre, adjutant-general of the English
army; and when amongst his papers were discovered the copy of an
important council of war, the state of the garrison and works, and
observations upon various means of attack and defence, the whole in
Arnold's own hand writing.
The adjutant-general wrote also to the general, avowing his name and
situation. Orders were sent to arrest Arnold; but he escaped in a boat,
got on board the English frigate the _Vulture_, and as no person
suspected his flight, he was not stopped at any post. Colonel Hamilton,
who had gone in pursuit of him, received soon after, by a flag of
truce, a letter from Arnold to the general, in which he entered into no
details to justify his treachery, and a letter from the English
commander, Robertson, who, in a very insolent manner, demanded that the
adjutant-general should be delivered up to them, as he had only acted
with the permission of General Arnold.
The first care of the general has been to assemble, at West Point, the
troops that, under various pretences, Arnold had dispersed. We remain
here to watch over the safety of a fort, that the English may respect
less as they become better acquainted with it. Continental troops have
been summoned here, and as Arnold's advice may determine Clinton to
make a sudden movement, the army has received orders to be prepared to
march at a moment's warning.
1. The project of an expedition against New York had not been
abandoned: it was still canvassed by letter. General Washington agreed
with the French generals as to the, necessity of waiting for a naval
reinforcement. The latter insisted upon having a conference with the
General and M. de Lafayette. (See especially Washington's Letter of the
21st August, vol. vii. p. 169.) That long deferred conference was at
length granted, and it was fixed that it should take place at Hartford
(Connecticut). Washington left his army the 18th of September. It will
be recollected that it was his interview with Arnold at the passage of
the Hudson, that induced the latter to take the steps which led to the
discovery of the conspiracy. (See above.) Some days after, M. de
Rochambeau wrote thus to M. de Lafayette:--
"Providence has declared itself for us, my dear marquis,--and that
important interview, which I have so long wished for, and which has
given me so much pleasure, has been crowned by a peculiar mark of the
favour of Heaven. The Chevalier de la Luzerne has not yet arrived; I
took the liberty of opening your letter to him, in which I found all
the details of that horrible conspiracy, and I am penetrated with
mingled feelings, of grief at the event itself, and joy at its
TO MADAME DE TESSE.
Camp, on the right side of the North River, near the Island of New
York, October 4th, 1780.
A French frigate arriving from America,--the son of M. de Rochambeau on
board! Good God, what a commotion all that will excite, and how much
trouble inquisitive people will take to discover the secrets of the
ministers. But I, my dear cousin, will confide to you our secret. The
French army has arrived at Rhode Island, and has not quitted that spot.
M. de Ternay's seven vessels have been blockaded the whole time, and
the English have nineteen vessels here under that lucky commander,
Rodney. We Americans, without money, without pay, and without
provisions, by holding out fair promises, have succeeded in forming an
army, which has been offering to fight a battle with the English for
the last three months, but which cannot without vessels reach the
island of New York. Gates, who was no favourite of mine, has become
still less so since he has allowed himself to be beaten in the south.
But all this is quite as monontonous as a European war, and
catastrophes are necessary to excite and sustain the interest of men.
You must know, then, my cousin, that a certain General Arnold, of some
reputation in the world, was our commander at West Point, a fort on the
North River, whose importance the Duke d'Ayen will explain to you.
General Washington and I, returning from Hartford, where we had held a
conference with the French generals, discovered a conspiracy of the
highest importance. We owe that discovery to an almost incredible
combination of accidents. West Point was sold by Arnold, and we were
consequently lost. The traitor has fled to join the enemy.
I received letters from you by the fleet, and by the Alliance, and I am
impatiently expecting more recent ones. The nation will not be pleased
with the state of tranquillity in which we remain. But as we have no
ships, we can only wait for the enemy's blows, and General Clinton does
not appear in any haste to attack us. As to ourselves, we republicans
preach lectures to our sovereign master, the people, to induce him to
recommence his exertions. In the mean while we practise so much
frugality, and are in such a state of poverty and nudity, that I trust
an account will be kept in the next world, whilst we remain in
purgatory, of all we have suffered here.
Poircy~ is here, and although he does not find a St. Germain in this
part of the world, he accustoms himself extremely well, I assure you,
to a soldier's life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all
the news you gave me. Although they afforded me the greatest pleasure,
I scarcely dare reply to them, from the fear that my answers may appear
to come from another world. I saw in the paper that the King of Spain
was dead: has God, then, punished him for having conferred the title of
grandee upon M. de Montbarrey?
I need not tell you that I am in good health, for that is, you know, my
usual custom. My situation here is as agreeable as possible. I am in
high favour, I believe, with the French army: the American army shew me
every possible kindness and attention. I have the command of a flying
corps, composed of the elite of the troops. My friend General
Washington continues to be everything to me that I before described to
Adieu, my dear cousin. When shall I again see you? I pray that God may
grant us an honourable peace, and that I may embrace my friends, and I
willingly, for my own part, will give up my share of the glory in the
hope eventually to win.
Present my affectionate regards to M. de Tesse, M. de Mun, M. Tenai,
and the baron;~ I was on the point of saying, embrace his daughter
1. Secretary. The Marshal de Noailles had a house at Saint Germain.
2. The Baron de Tott.
TO MADAME DE LAFAYETTE.
Near Fort Lee, opposite Fort Washington, on the North River, Oct. 7th,
You must have already learnt, my dearest love, all that can interest
you relating to myself, from my arrival at Boston until my voyage to
Rhode Island, which place public affairs, and the desire of seeing my
friends, induced me to visit soon after my landing. I have been since
to Hartford in Connecticut, to be present at an interview between the
French generals and General Washington: of all my young friends, Damas
~ was the only one who accompanied us. The viscount~ and I often
write to each other, but we do not meet, and the poor man remains shut
up in Rhode Island; the French squadron detains the army there, and is
itself detained by nineteen ships of the line and sundry other ships of
war, upon which M. Rodney proudly exhibits the British colours. So long
as our naval inferiority lasts, you need feel no anxiety about the
health of your friends in America.
I must speak to you, however, about my health; it continues excellent,
and has not been interrupted for a single moment; a soldier's mode of
living is extremely frugal, and the general officers of the rebel army
fare very differently from the French army at Newport. You have
probably heard that, on my arrival in America, I found the army of
General Washington very weak in numbers, and still more so in
resources. Our prospects were not brilliant, and the loss of Charleston
was for us a most heavy blow, but the desire of co-operating with their
allies gave new vigour to the states. General Washington's army
increased more than half in number, and more than ten thousand militia
were added to it, who would have come forward if we had acted
offensively. Associations of merchants and patriotic banks were formed
to supply the army with subsistence. The ladies made, and are still
making, subscriptions, to afford succour to the soldiers. When that
idea was first proposed, I made myself your ambassador to the ladies of
Philadelphia, and you are inscribed on the list for a hundred guineas.
General Gates had in the south an army quite sufficient for defence;
but he has been completely beaten in Carolina. The fruit of all these
labours has been, to prove to the French that the Americans desire
nothing better than to second their views upon England, to prove to the
English that the flame of liberty was not wholly extinguished in
America, and to keep us, during the whole campaign, in daily
expectation of a battle, which General Clinton, although equal to us in
number, has never thought proper to accept. If we had only had ships,
we should have been enabled to do a great deal more.
As I know that all that interests me deeply is also interesting to you,
I will tell you that we are much occupied by an important system, which
would secure to us a considerable army during the whole war, and would
bring into action all the resources which America is capable of making.
God grant that the nation may understand its true interests, and our
affairs will go on without difficulty!
M. de Rochambeau and M. de Ternay, as well as all the other French
officers, conduct themselves extremely well here. A little ebullition
of frankness gave rise to a slight altercation between those generals
and myself. As I perceived I could not convince them, and that it was
important for the public good that we should remain friends; I
declared, with due humility, that I had been mistaken, that I had
committed an error, and, in short, in proper terms, I asked their
pardon, which produced such an excellent effect that we are now on a
more amicable footing than ever.
I command a flying corps, which always forms an advance guard, and is
quite independent of the great army; this is far too grand for our
On the Hackensack River, Oct. 8th, 1780.
You will learn, my dearest love, an important event, which has exposed
America to the greatest danger. A frightful conspiracy has been planned
by the celebrated Arnold: he sold to the English the fort of West
Point, which was under his command, and, consequently, the whole
navigation of the river: the plot was within an ace of succeeding, and
quite as many chances combined together to discover it as in that
affair of the _Alliance_, which I have so often described to you.~
After our journey to Hartford, General Washington passed by West Point,
which was not on his road; but he was desirous of shewing me the works
that had been constructed since my departure for France. Detained by
various accidents upon the road, we arrived at the traitor's house just
as he received the letters which announced that he had been discovered.
He had not time to intercept those proofs of infamy, and consequently
he could only make his escape towards New York half an hour before our
The adjutant-general of the English army has been arrested under a
feigned name and dress. He was an important person, the friend and
confidant of General Clinton. He behaved with so much frankness,
courage, and delicacy, that I could not help lamenting his unhappy
I received, with great delight, the letters of my dear sisters; I shall
write to them to-morrow; but I shall send this scrawl, as I fear the
frigate may depart. I finish my letter in this place, having begun it
rather more close to the enemy: we had approached them to protect a
small enterprise, in which a detachment of my advance-guard has been
engaged, and which only ended by capturing two officers, and fifteen
men and horses. We are now marching towards a place you will find
marked upon the map Sotawa, whither the grand army is also to repair. I
shall write to Madame d'Ayen and to my sisters.
Sotawa Bridge, October 10th, 1780.
I am closing my letter, but before sealing it, I must again speak to
you for a moment of my affection. General Washington was much pleased
by the kind messages which I delivered from you; he desires me to
present to you his tender regards; he is affectionately attached to
George, and is much gratified by the name we have given him. We often
speak of you and of the little family. Adieu, adieu.
1. The Count Charles de Damas, died a peer of France under the
2. The Viscount de Noailles.
3. The conspiracy discovered on board the frigate which brought home M.
de Lafayette, in September, 1779.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Light Camp, October 30th, 1780.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--In our conversations upon military operations you
have often told me that, since the beginning of the campaign, your eyes
were turned towards a project upon which I generally agree in opinion
with you, and beg leave to offer some observations.
Far from lessening my desire of finishing the campaign by some
brilliant stroke, the project of Staten Island, though it miscarried,
has strengthened my opinions, as I have clearly seen, by the details of
this operation, that we should, in all human probability, have
succeeded, and that our men were fully equal to any enterprise of that
My reasons for wishing to undertake something are these:--1st. Any
enterprise will please the people of this country, and shew them that
when we have men we do not lie still; and even a defeat (provided it
was not fatal) would have its good consequences. 2ndly. The French
court have often complained to me of the inactivity of the American
army, who, before the alliance, had distinguished themselves by their
spirit of enterprise. They have often told me, your friends leave us
now to fight their battles, and do no more risk themselves: it is,
moreover, of the greatest political importance to let them know, that,
on our side, we were ready to co-operate. Be sure, my dear general,
that many people's interest will be to let it be believed that we _were
not ready_, and if anything may engage the ministry to give us the
asked for support, it will be our proving to the nation that, on our
side, _we had been ready_. So far was the Chevalier de la Luzerne
convinced of this (and on this point the minister's interest is the
same as ours) that he was made happy by my mentioning to him the Staten
Island affair. I well know the court of Versailles, and were I to go to
it, I should think it very impolitic to go there unless we had done
something. 3rdly. It is more than probable that mediators will
interfere this winter by a negotiation. Then England will say, how can
we give up people whom we consider as half conquered; their best city
has been taken by an army not much superior to the people that were to
defend it; their southern army was routed almost as soon as looked at
by the British troops New York is so much ours, that they dare not
approach it, and General Washington's army does not exceed five
thousand men. What shall France answer? Principally now that from the
letters I have received I find the Charleston affair has brought our
arms into contempt. But what difference, if France might say, the
American army has taken, sword in hand, your best works; they have
offered to you the battle upon your own island, and, perhaps they may
add (for news increases in travelling), they are now in possession of
Upon these considerations, my dear general, what I want is this, to
find an expedition which may wear a brilliant aspect, and afford
probable advantages, also an immense, though very remote one, which, if
unsuccessful, may not turn fatal to us, for the loss of two or three
hundred men, half of them being enlisted for two months, I do not
consider as a ruinous adventure.
The basis of the plan will be, that Fort Washington, being in our
possession, may, with the Fort Lee batteries, protect our crossing
North River, and be a security for our retreat, principally if some
works are added on the point of embarkation. The taking of Fort
Washington we may demonstrate to be very probable, and upon that point
you are of my opinion.
The enemy have, on the upper part of the Island from fifteen hundred to
two thousand men, who would immediately occupy all the other upper
posts. Their army on Long Island would repair to New York, and there
would also retire the troops posted at Harlem.
As soon as Fort Washington should be ours, the army would cross over to
the island, and those of West Point arrive in the same time (which
calculation may be easily done) so that we should effectually possess
all the upper posts, or cut them off from their main army. Some militia
would come to our assistance, and as these posts are not well furnished
with provisions we should take them, at least, by famine.
The enemy's army consists of nine thousand men: they must certainly
leave one thousand men in their several posts; fifteen hundred of them,
at least, will be either killed at Fort Washington or blocked up at
Laurel Hill, and they will then have between six and seven thousand men
to attack ten. The two thousand militia (in supposing that they durst
take them out) I do not mention, because we may have four thousand
militia for them: under such circumstances it is, probable that Sir
Henry Clinton will venture a battle. If he does, and by chance beat us,
we retire under Fort Washington; but, if we beat him, his works will be
at such a distance, that he will be ruined in the retreat. If, on the
contrary, he knows that the French army is coming, and if we spread the
report of a second division, or of Count de Guichen being upon the
coasts, he will keep in his works, and we will, some way or other,
carry the upper posts. When we are upon the spot we may reconnoitre New
York, and see if something is to be done. If Clinton was making a
forage into the Jerseys, I should be clear for pushing to the city.
If we undertake, the circumstances of the weather make it necessary
that we undertake immediately. I would move the army, as soon as
possible, to our position near the new bridge. This movement may invite
Clinton in the Jerseys, and bring us nearer to the point of execution.
Though my private glory and yours, my dear general, both of which are
very dear to my heart, are greatly interested, not so much for the
opinions of America, as for those of Europe, in our doing something
this campaign, I hope you know me too well to think I should insist
upon steps of this nature unless I knew that they were politically
necessary, and had a sufficient military probability.
I have the honour to be, &c.
The six hundred men of Luzerne's legion might be got in twelve days. If
our movements had no other effect but to make a diversion in favour of
the south, it would, on that footing, meet with the approbation of the
world, and perhaps impeach the operations of General Leslie.
1. M. de Lafayette had taken, since the 7th of August, command of the
corps of light infantry, consisting of six companies of men, selected
in different lines of the army. Those battalions were divided into two
brigades; one under the command of General Hand, the other of General
Poor. The inactivity of the army was very opposite to the character and
policy of M. de Lafayette; he endeavoured incessantly to find means of
putting an end to it, at least as far as regarded himself. The 14th of
August he had written to General Washington to ask his permission to
attempt a nocturnal surprise on the two camps of Hessians established
at New York Island. At the beginning of October, he attempted an
expedition on Italian Island, which could not be accomplished, owing to
a mistake made by the administration of the materality of the army.
This letter, and the letters of the 13th of November, allude to this
circumstance. We have been obliged to retrench ten letters, which
relate solely to the unimportant incidents of a war of observation.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Head-quarters, 30th October, 1780.
It is impossible, my dear marquis, to desire more ardently than I do,
to terminate the campaign by some happy stroke; but we must consult our
means rather than our wishes, and not endeavour to better our affairs
by attempting things which, for want of success, may make them worse.
We are to lament that there has been a misapprehension of our
circumstances in Europe; but to endeavour to recover our reputation, we
should take care that we do not injure it more. Ever since it became
evident that the allied arms could not co-operate this campaign, I have
had an eye to the point you mention, determined, if a favourable
opening should offer, to embrace it; but, so far as my information
goes, the enterprise would not be warranted; it would, in my opinion,
be imprudent to throw an army of ten thousand men upon an island
against nine thousand, exclusive of seamen and militia. This, from the
accounts we have, appears to be the enemy's force. All we can do at
present, therefore, is to endeavour to gain a more certain knowledge of
their situation, and act accordingly. This I have been some time
employed in doing, but hitherto with little success. I shall thank you
for any aids you can afford. Arnold's flight seems to have frightened
all my intelligencers out of their senses. I am sincerely and
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Light Camp, November 13th, 1780.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--In revolving in my mind the chances of discovery by
moonlight, and, on the other hand, the inconveniences of staying longer
than you wish under our tents, I have thought if there was any position
which might enable us to take advantage of the first hours of the
night. How far the sending of the Pennsylvanians towards Aquakanac, and
going ourselves to the Hukinsac~ position, may awaken the enemy, I
cannot pretend to say. The most difficult affair in this would be the
article of the boats. Colonel Smith will go tomorrow morning to West
Point, unless any intelligence received at head-quarters had made it
useful that the enterprise be attempted soon, in which case he would go
and reconnoitre the place. Suppose he was to bring from West Point
Colonel Gouvion, who has often examined the place with the eye of an
engineer. These ideas, my dear general, have rather started into any
mind, than become fixed, and I thought I would communicate them.
Most affectionately and respectfully yours,
The Marquis de Laval Montmorency, one of the most illustrious families
in France, is on his way to the camp. The Chevalier de Chastellux, a
relation and friend of mine, major-general in the French army, is also
coming. I every day expect my brother-in-law, and his friend, Count de
Charlus, only son to the Marquis de Castries, who enjoys a great
consideration in France, and has won the battle of Closter Camp. The
Duke of Lauzun has also written to me that he would come soon.~
These five gentlemen may, by their existence at home, be considered as
the first people in the French army. This little history I give you
before their arrival, in consequence of what you have desired from me
at the beginning.
I write some letters to the commanding officers at Fishkill, West
Point, and King's Ferry, so that the gentlemen may be directed to come
by the best road to my quarters, from which I will present them to you.
I think the letters ought to be sent as soon as possible.
P.S. As General Heath commands in all these parts, I think, upon
recollection, that I had better write to him alone. You might also send
him a line on the subject.
1. The general-in-chief projected an attack on the posts of the
northern part of New York. While General Heath was to attract, by a
feint, the attention of the enemy, Washington was to march in advance,
and M. de Lafayette to attack Fort Washington. This expedition, for
which great preparations had been made, terminated in a few
reconnoitring parties. The campaign closed without an engagement.
2. The Marquis de Laval, is the Duke de Laval, who died under the
restoration. The Chevalier de Chastellux is well known by his works.
The Count de Charlus is at present the Duke de Castries, member of the
chamber of peers. M. de Lauzun has been general in the service of the
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON
Paramus, November the 28th, 1780.
My dear General,--We arrived last night at this place, and were much
favoured by the weather in our recognising of the Island, where, I
confess, my feelings were different from what I had experienced when
looking at these forts with a hopeful eye. I saw the fatal sentry
alluded to, Colonel Gouvion, on an upper battery of Jeffery's Hook. I
also saw a small vessel playing off this Hook, but quite a trifling
thing, without guns, and but two men on board. Nothing else on the
river but the usual guards of spiting devil.
As you have been pleased to consult me on the choice of an
adjutant-general, I will repeat here, my dear general, that though I
have a claim upon General Hand, in every other point of view, his zeal,
obedience, and love of discipline, have given me a very good opinion of
Colonel Smith has been by me wholly employed in that line, and I can
assure you that he will perfectly answer your purpose.
Unless, however, you were to cast your eye on a man who, I think, would
suit better than any other in the world. Hamilton is, I confess, the
officer whom I should like to see in that station. With equal
advantages, his services deserve from you the preference to any other.
His knowledge of your opinions and intentions on military arrangements,
his love of discipline, the superiority he would have over all the
others, principally when both armies shall operate together, and his
uncommon abilities, are calculated to render him perfectly agreeable to
you. His utility would be increased by this preferment; and on other
points he could render important services. An adjutant-general ought
always to be with the commander-in-chief. Hamilton should, therefore,
remain in your family, and his great industry in business would render
him perfectly serviceable in all circumstances. On every public or
private account, my dear general, I would advise you to take him.
I shall, on my arrival at Philadelphia, write you how those matters are
going, upon which I build my private schemes. But I heartily wish that
some account or other from Europe may enable you to act this winter on
maritime operations. I hate the idea of being from you for so long a
time; but I think I ought not to stay idle. At all events, I must
return when your army takes the field.
I flatter myself with the hope of meeting Mrs. Washington on the road.
Adieu, my dear general, most affectionately and respectfully yours.
TO HIS EXCELLENCY GENERAL WASHINGTON.~
Philadelphia, December 5th, 1780.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--By my letter of yesterday I have mentioned to you
that a Spanish expedition was intended against St. Augustine. They mean
to set out at the end of December, which will certainly delay them till
the middle of January. It consists of twelve ships of the line, some
frigates, bomb ketches, and a large number of troops. I have advised
the minister to communicate officially to you this intelligence, and
also to Count de Rochambeau, that proper means, if convenient, may be
taken to improve it.
For my part, my dear general, I have conducted myself agreeably to what
you said to me in our last conversations, that if, in the course of the
winter, a naval superiority was obtained, our business should be to
push for the southward, and that you would take for that purpose four
thousand French and two thousand Americans. Nothing against New York
can be undertaken before the end of May. Anything, therefore, that
could employ us during February, March, and April, is worthy of our
The confederacy was going to sail for some clothing which we have in
the West Indies. No time was left to wait for an answer from you. I
knew perfectly your sense of this affair. I therefore, with the advice
of Chevalier de la Luzerne, wrote him a letter dated from Camp, wherein
I explained to him that something might be done in conjunction for the
public good. My opinion is strengthened by your sentiments on this
matter, without, however, bringing myself, and still less yourself, to
make any formal application to the Spanish generals.
Inclosed you will find a copy of this letter, the first part of which
mentions that if, after having landed their troops in Florida, they
would send their ships of the line for us, we might, at three weeks
notice before the departure of the squadron, have in readiness six
thousand men for a powerful diversion in Carolina. Their own interest
is the only thing I seem to consider in this business, and I endeavour
to invite Spanish caution in this measure; but, unless a more
particular application is made, I do not believe that this part of my
letter will have any effect.
The second part will, I hope, be productive of some good for America. I
urge the necessity immediately to open a correspondence with General
Greene that he may, by his manoeuvres, facilitate the operation of
Spain. I tell them, that unless they land a corps of troops on the
boundaries of Georgia, with a view at least to threaten Augusta and
Savannah, their expedition will run a great risk. I advise the measure
of cruizing off Charleston Harbour, the whole under the idea of their
I have also written to the naval French commander in the West Indies,
advising him to succour Chevalier de Ternay, which I know he will not
do. But I take this opportunity of condemning their foolish neglect, in
not appearing on our coasts when they return to Europe; and I do also
advise that, in their cruizes from St. Domingo, they may sometimes
appear off Savannah and Charlestown Harbour. Inclosed you will find a
copy of this letter.
Though I always speak of the beginning of February, it is, however,
certain, that any time in February would be convenient to go to the
southward. March and April are more than sufficient for the taking of
Charlestown; and in all cases, I know, from our last conversations,
that you wish for a naval superiority this winter, in order to succour
the southern states.
I had this morning, my dear general, a long conversation with the
Chevalier de la Luzerne, relating to a southern operation. He is, as
well as myself, clearly of opinion, that unless a formal application
and a plan of campaign be proposed to them, they will not send their
ships to us. In this last case their coming ought still to be
questioned. But if you thought it better to try, you might propose to
the French generals to send a frigate there, and see, with them, what
might be done in conjunction. Suppose they were to take four thousand
men, leaving some, and the militia, at Rhode Island. We could on our
part muster two thousand Americans. However, the Spaniards are so
positive and strict in following literally their instructions that I do
not believe anything will engage them to come. But my letter, which I
look upon as a mere cipher on the first proposition, will, I hope,
engage, them to impart their projects to General Greene, and of course
this diversion will become useful to us.
Suppose Count de Rochambeau and Chevalier de Ternay were to send to
Havanna a copy of your letter, I think they ought to intrust it to
Viscount de Noailles, who will soon return to Rhode Island, and whose
name is highly respected by the court of Spain for many particular
reasons, too long to be mentioned here.
I have seen Mr. Ross, and find that very little clothing is to be for
the present expected. They have some arms on board the _Alliance_, and,
I think, a hundred bales of cloth on board a vessel under Jones's
convoy. The remainder will come with the _Serapis_. Unless the storm
has forced Jones to put in some French harbour, he may be expected
The assembly of Pennsylvania have before them the affair of the
recruits; but proper arrangements are not properly supported. They are
fond of voluntary enlistments. I have an appointment for to-morrow with
General Mifflin, where I will debate this matter with him.
To-morrow, my dear general, I will go to Brandywine with Chevalier de
Chastellux, and also to Red Bank, Fort Mifflin, &c. On my return I hope
to find news from France, and I will write you my determination about
my going to the southward.
Inclosed you will find a newspaper, wherein congress have printed a
letter from General Gates, relating to a new success of Sumpter.
Congress have lately received letters from Mr. Jay and Mr. Adams, but
nothing very particular. They have more fully written by other
opportunities that are expected. Portugal has entered into the
convention of neutrality, and with such conditions as to shew their
partiality to our side of the question.
Adieu, my dear general, most respectfully and affectionately.
1. The winter, according to custom, causing the dispersion of the army,
M. de Lafayette repaired to Philadelphia to be nearer arrivals and
intelligence from Europe. It was there he first conceived the project
of going to serve in the south under General Greene, who was to make a
winter campaign. As regards the project of making a division in
Florida, with the co-operation of the Spaniards, he seconded it with
ardour, and to General Washington, M. de la Luzerne, and the Spanish
commanders, he wrote long letters on the subject, which have but little
interest, owing to the project not having been attended with any
important result: those letters have been omitted.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
New Windsor, 14th December, 1780.
My dear Marquis,--Soon after despatching my last letter to you, your
favour dated at Paramus was put into my hands by Colonel Gouvion. The
Chevalier de la Luzerne's despatches came in time for the post, which
is the only means left me for the conveyance of letters; there not
being so much money in the hands of the quartermaster-general (I
believe I might go further, and say in those of the whole army,) as
would bear the expense of an express to Rhode Island. I could not get
one the other day to ride so far as Compton.
I am now writing to the Count de Rochambeau and the Chevalier de
Ternay, on the subject of your several letters. When their answer
arrives, I will communicate the contents to you. You must be convinced,
from what passed at the interview at Hartford, that my command of the
French troops at Rhode Island stands upon a very limited scale, and
that it would be impolitic and fruitless in me to propose any measures
of co-operation to a third power, without their concurrence;
consequently an application from you, antecedently to an official
proposition from the minister of France, the gentlemen at the head of
the French armament at Rhode Island, congress, or myself, could only be
considered as coming from a private gentleman; it is, therefore, my
advice to you to postpone your correspondence with the Spanish
generals, and let your influence come in hereafter, as auxiliary to
something more formal and official. I do not hesitate to give it
clearly as my opinion to you, (but this opinion and this business
should be concealed behind a curtain,) that the favourable moment of
the Spanish operations in the Floridas ought to be improved to the
utmost extent of our means, provided the Spaniards, by a junction of
their maritime force with that of his most Christian Majesty, under the
command of the Chevalier de Ternay, will give us a secure convoy, and
engage not to leave us until the operations shall be at an end, or it
can be done by consent of parties.
I am very thankful to the minister for permitting, and to you for
communicating to General Greene, intelligence of the Spanish movement
towards the Floridas. It may have a happy influence on his measures,
and it may be equally advantageous to the Spaniards. Your expressions
of personal attachment and affection to me are flattering and pleasing,
and fill me with gratitude. It is unnecessary, I trust, on my part, to
give you assurances of mutual regard, because I hope you are convinced
in your own choice to go to the southern army or to stay with this,
circumstances and inclination alone must govern you. It would add to my
pleasure if I could encourage your hope of Colonel Nevill's exchange. I
refused to interest myself in the exchange of my own aide. General
Lincoln's were exchanged with himself, and upon that occasion, for I
know of no other, congress passed a resolution, prohibiting exchanges
out of the order of captivity.
Under one general head, I shall express my concern for your
disappointment of letters, our disappointment of clothes, and
disappointment in the mode of raising men; but I shall congratulate you
on the late change of the administration of France,~ as it seems to
be consonant to your wishes, and to encourage hope. I am much pleased
at the friendly disposition of Portugal. Much good, I hope, will result
from the combination of the maritime powers. I am in very confined
quarters; little better than those at Valley Forge, but such as they
are I shall welcome into them your friends on their return to Rhode
Island. I am, &c.
1. Footnote 1: The Marquis de Castries had succeeded, as minister of
the navy, to M. de Sartine. This change gave rise to the hope that
France would send the promised succours, and that expectation induced
M. de Lafayette to renounce his journey to the south.
TO M. DE VERGENNES.~
New Windsor, on the North River, Jan. 30th, 1781.
The letters which I had the honour of writing to you, sir, and which
were dated the 20th May, 19th July, 4th and 16th December, have, I
hope, reached you safely. Since the arrival of the squadron, your
despatch of the 3rd of June is the only one I have received. The
Chevalier de la Luzerne has only received one letter of the same month,
and none have yet reached the officers of the army and squadron.
The first copy of this letter will be delivered to you by
Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens, aide-de-camp to General Washington, who is
charged by congress with a private mission. Permit me to recommend to
you this officer as a man who, by his integrity, frankness, and
patriotism, must be extremely acceptable to government.
According to the instructions of congress, he will place before you the
actual state of our affairs, which demand, I think more than ever, the
most serious attention. As to the opinions which I may allow myself to
express, sir, they entirely correspond with those I have hitherto
expressed, and the very slight alterations observable in them have been
occasioned by a change of time, prejudices, and circumstances.
With a naval inferiority, it is impossible to make war in America. It
is that which prevents us from attacking any point that might be
carried with two or three thousand men. It is that which reduces us to
defensive operations, as dangerous as they are humiliating. The English
are conscious of this truth, and all their movements prove how much
they desire to retain the empire of the sea. The harbours, the country,
and all the resources it offers, appear to invite us to send thither a
naval force. If we had possessed but a maritime superiority this
spring, much might have been achieved with the army that M. de
Rochambeau brought with him, and it would not have been necessary to
have awaited the division he announced to us. If M. de Guichen had
stopped at Rhode Island, on his way to France, Arbuthnot would have
been ruined, and not all Rodney's efforts could have prevented our
gaining victories. Since the hour of the arrival of the French, their
inferiority has never for one moment ceased, and the English and the
Tories have dared to say that France wished to kindle, without
extinguishing the flame. This calumny becomes more dangerous at a
period when the English detachments are wasting the south; when, under
the protection of some frigates, corps of fifteen hundred men are
repairing to Virginia, without our being able to get to them. On the
whole continent, with the exception of the Islands of Newport, it is
physically impossible that we should carry on an offensive war without
ships, and even on those Islands the difficulty of transportation, the
scarcity of provisions, and many other inconveniences, render all
attempts too precarious to enable us to form any settled plan of
The result, sir, of all this is, that the advantage of the United
States being the object of the war, and the progress of the enemy on
that continent being the true means of prolonging it, and of rendering
it, perhaps, even injurious to us, it becomes, in a political and
military point of view, necessary to give us, both by vessels sent from
France, and by a great movement in the fleet in the Islands, a decided
naval superiority for the next campaign; and also, sir, to give us
money enough to place the American forces in a state of activity;
fifteen thousand of the regular army, and ten thousand, or, if we
choose it, a still greater number of militia in this part of the
country; a southern army, of which I cannot tell precisely the extent,
but which will be formed by the five southern states, with all means of
supporting in this country such a considerable force. Such, sir, are
the resources that you may employ against the common enemy; immense
sums of money could not transport resources of equal value from Europe
to America, but these, without a succour of money, although established
on the very theatre of war, will become useless; and that succour,
which was always very important, is now absolutely necessary.
The last campaign took place without a shilling having been spent; all
that credit, persuasion, and force could achieve, has been done,--but
that can hold out no longer: that miracle, of which I believe no
similar example can be found, cannot be renewed, and our exertions
having been made to obtain an army for the war, we must depend on you
to enable us to make use of it.
From my peculiar situation, sir, and from what it has enabled me to
know and see, I think it is my duty to call your attention to the
American soldiers and on the part they must take in the operations of
the next campaign. The continental troops have as much courage and real
discipline as those that are opposed to them. They are more inured to
privation, more patient than Europeans, who, on these two points,
cannot be compared to them. They have several officers of great merit,
without mentioning those who have served during the last wars, and from
their own talents have acquired knowledge intuitively; they have been
formed by the daily experience of several campaigns, in which, the
armies being small, and the country a rugged one, all the battalions of
the line were obliged to serve as advance-guards and light troops. The
recruits whom we are expecting, and who only bear, in truth, the name
of recruits, have frequently fought battles in the same regiments which
they are now re-entering, and have seen more gun-shots than
three-fourths of the European soldiers. As to the militia, they are
only armed peasants, who have occasionally fought, and who are not
deficient in ardour and discipline, but whose services would be most
useful in the labours of a siege. This, sir, is the faithful picture
that I think myself obliged to send you, and which it is not my
interest to paint in glowing colours, because it would be more glorious
to succeed with slighter means. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, who,
having himself seen our soldiers, will give you a detailed and
disinterested account of them, will doubtless tell you, as I do, that
you may depend upon our regular troops. The result of this digression,
sir, is, to insist still more earnestly on the necessity of sending
money to put the American troops in movement, and to repeat that
well-known truth, that a pecuniary succour and a naval superiority
must be the two principal objects of the next campaign.
It would take us too long to examine the faults that have been
committed, and the efforts that the states may still endeavour to make:
we must return to the former point, that, under present circumstances,
money is requisite to derive any advantage from the American resources;
that the means which have been substituted for funds are almost
completely worn out; that those to which we are at present reduced, do
not fulfil the proposed end, and are opposed to the ideas which induced
the nation to commence the revolution; that, consequently, we require
money to restore to the army that degree of activity without which it
cannot operate in an efficacious manner. Clothes, arms, ammunition, are
comprised in the same article, and Colonel Laurens carries with him a
copy of the former list, from which some deductions have been made. I
will content myself with saying, that nothing of any importance has
been sent us, that it is necessary to clothe the American army, that it
requires arms, and, to be enabled to besiege places, a great
augmentation of powder. As these expenses relate to the pecuniary
succours, and are those which will strike most forcibly individuals,
both of the army and nation, I think it important that the government
should prepare them with promptness, and send them in a secure manner.
If it should appear strange, sir, to call that completion of the army a
great effort, I would beg to observe, that hunger, cold, nudity, and
labour, the certainty of receiving no pay, clothes, or necessary food,
being the prospects held out to the American soldier, they must be but
little inviting to citizens who are, generally speaking, accustomed to
live at home with some degree of comfort; and the English having had
sufficient time to think of all the naval points, the attacks of next
year will be anything rather than surprises, and our forces must
increase in proportion to their precautions. I could have wished that
there had been some French troops, and my confidence in the decrease of
prejudice has been even greater than that of congress, General
Washington, or your minister at that time. The advance-guard of the
Count de Rochambeau, although inactive itself from want of ships, by
its presence alone has rendered an essential service to America: if it
had not arrived, the campaign would have been a ruinous one. When I
consider the present state of feeling, my opinion, as I have had the
honour of telling you before, would be to send hither, for the
expedition of New York, a division of about ten thousand Frenchmen.
In our conference at Hartford, sir, the calculations were of course
made, not according to the fortifications actually existing, but
according to those they might intend erecting. The answers General
Washington thought proper to make to the questions put by the Count de
Rochambeau, have been long since carried to you by the _Amazon_. A
proposal to ask for a corps of fifteen thousand Frenchmen could only be
acceptable to the commander-in-chief. But if that surplus were to
lessen the sum of money by means with which fifteen thousand regular
troops, ten thousand militia, and a southern army should be put into
motion; if it were to lessen the number of ships that would enable us
to act in all places, and with a decided superiority;--I must again
repeat, that pecuniary succours and a naval superiority are the two
most essential points; that the same quantity of money would, put into
action here, double that number of American soldiers; and that, without
ships, a few thousand men more would be but of little use to us.
The admirable discipline of the French corps, in addition to the honour
it confers on M. de Rochambeau and the soldiers under his command,
fulfils a still more important aim, by impressing on the minds of the
Americans the highest idea of our nation.
The wisdom of the government, in placing that corps under the orders of
General Washington, allows me only to repeat how essential it is that
his authority should be complete, and without any sort of restriction.
The talents, prudence, delicacy, and knowledge of country, which are
all united in him in the greatest degree of perfection, are qualities
of which one only would suffice to ensure the rigid observance of the
instructions which I bear; and the longer I remain here, the more
frilly am I convinced that each of them is equally necessary to the
harmony and success of the whole affair.
We have had, lately, sir, an important mutiny, of which Colonel Laurens
will give you the details.~ A corps of Pennsylvanian troops, almost
wholly composed of strangers, and stationed at Morristown (Jersey),
unanimously rose against their officers, and, under the direction of
one of their sergeants, marched on to Princetown. The civil authorities
repaired thither, to afford them the justice they demanded. To be in
want of food and clothes, to serve for more than a year without pay,
some of them, indeed, having been forced to serve a whole year beyond
their engagement, are evils to which no army would submit. It is
singular enough that those mutineers should have hung up the envoys of
General Clinton. The greatest part of the soldiers are disbanded, but
they are to re-enter the service, and to join the recruits in different
regiments of the state. I am not less positive as to the number of men
we shall have in our continental army. Some troops belonging to the
Jerseys, seduced by example, and being those next to the
Pennsylvanians, which were composed of the greatest number of
foreigners, wished to take the same method of obtaining justice; but
General Washington, having taken the management of this affair in his
own hands, sent forward a detachment; the mutineers submitted, and
their chiefs were punished. It is impossible to pass too high encomiums
upon the New England troops, almost all national ones, whose cause was
at bottom the same, and who, in spite of their nudity, crossed heavy
snows to march against the mutineers. This proves, sir, that human
patience may have some limits, but that soldier citizens will endure
far more than strangers. These events furnish another argument for the
necessity of obtaining money.
I flatter myself, sir, that the government, conscious that the ensuing
campaign may be a decisive one, will occupy itself seriously of
rendering it favourable to us. The taking of New York would destroy the
power of the English on this continent, and a short continuation of
naval superiority would secure to us the easy conquest of all the other
parts of the United States. As to the taking of New York, which it
would be rash to consider easy, but absurd to respect the town as if it
were a fortified one, it is, I believe, well authenticated, and General
Washington has no doubt upon the subject, that with the means proposed
in my letter, we should obtain possession of it in the course of the
It is, I believe, important to turn, as far as possible, the enemy's
attention towards Canada.
When General Washington gave Colonel Laurens his opinion respecting
military affairs and the operations of the campaign, he also put down
in writing some ideas on our present situation, and communicated to me
that letter, which contains the substance of several of his
conversations with me. I take the liberty of requesting the king's
minister, to ask to see that letter. Our situation is not painted in
flattering colours; but the general speaks from the sad experience of
our embarrassments, and I agree with him, sir, that it is indispensable
for us to obtain some pecuniary succours, and a decided naval
You must certainly have learnt, sir, that the defeat of Ferguson, and
some other successes of ours, having disarranged the plans of Lord
Cornwallis, General Leslie re-embarked to form the junction by water,
and that he has since arrived at Charlestown. Arnold, became an English
general, and honoured by the confidence of that nation, is at this
moment at the head of a British detachment. Having landed in Virginia,
he took possession of Richmond for some hours, and destroyed some
public and private property: he must now have retired into a safe
harbour, or has, perhaps, joined some other expedition. At the very
moment when the English fancied that we were in the most awkward
situation from the mutiny of some troops, General Washington sent a
detachment on the left side of the Hudson, commanded by
Lieutenant-Colonel Hull, supported by General Parsons, which surprised,
at Westchester, a corps of three hundred men under Colonel Delancey,
wounded several, killed thirty, took sixty prisoners, burnt all the
barracks and provisions, and retired, after having destroyed a bridge
of communication with the Island of New York.
The general is soon to pass some days with the French troops at Rhode
Island, and I shall accompany him on that journey.
I have the honour to be, sir, with equal affection and respect, &c. &c:
New Windsor, February 4th, 1781.
By a letter from M. de Rochambeau, sir, we learn that the English
squadron in Gardiner's Bay has suffered severely from a gale of wind. A
seventy-four, it is said, has run on shore; the _London_, of ninety
guns, is dismasted, and M. Destouches~ was preparing to take
advantage of this event. But you will receive more circumstantial, and
perhaps more certain details, by letters from Rhode Island, and we are
also ourselves expecting some, to fix more positively our own ideas and
hopes. General Knox, commander of our artillery, a man of great merit
and extreme probity, has just reported to the general the result of a
mission which had been given him in the New England States. The spirit
of patriotism and the zeal he found,--the exertions they are making to
levy troops, either for the whole duration of the war, or for (what
amounts, I trust, to the same thing) the period of three years, surpass