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Letter from General George Clinton to General Washington



Fort Montgomery, July 23, 1776.

SIR: I am favoured with your Excellency' s commands of the 17th instant, and am happy to find the measures taken here for the reception of the enemy' s shipping approved. Yesterday some of the carpenters from Poughkeepsie arrived at this place with the fire rafts. They are


constructed on the plan lately transmitted to your Excellency by my brother. We are busy preparing, and hope to be able tomorrow or next day to draw them across the river, though I fear we will be put to great difficulty in procuring anchors, cables, &c˙, for securing them. The combustible matter with which they are filled will, I apprehend, hardly be quick enough, for want of spirits of turpentine and saltpetre. We have neither, and I don' t know where to apply for or how to procure these necessary articles. Should the enemy ever attempt to gain possession of this fortress by land, with equal numbers only, we are in a bad situation to defend it. The hill on the south side of Pooplopen' s Kill, and not above one-seventh of a mile distant, overlooks every gun almost in our battery, which lies in open view of it. It is accessible to the enemy from a landing that we cannot command with our batteries, by a road along which field pieces may easily be brought up. We must, for the safety of these works, keep a large body of men there, should the enemy attempt landing, if no works are erected. If fortified, a less number will hold the ground, annoy the enemy' s shipping, and render us safe from that quarter or any attempt by land. Indeed, it is the spot where our first works should, in my poor judgment, have been made. Mr˙ Jay, Messrs˙ Livingston, Mr˙ Tappen, and Mr˙ Yates, a Committee of Provincial Congress lately at this place, are of opinion with me, that this fortress is by no means safe, unless that height is secured. General Fellows and other officers from the eastward are all of the same opinion. They advised me to begin some small works there. I have laid such out, as well as I know how; and the Militia are employed in making fascines and other necessary preparations which are not attended with any publick expense; but I can' t think of doing anything more than making a small breastwork for musketry, until I receive your Excellency' s orders on this head, especially as there may be good reasons against erecting any such works, which, from my want of military knowledge, don' t occur to me. A few cannon would serve them; and these, I think, may be spared from other fortifications here, where they cannot be so serviceable.

I find large arrears are due to the few artificers, carters, &c˙, employed in completing these works. Since the Commissioners of Congress were dismissed, I believe there has not been any money furnished the commanding officer for that purpose. They are uneasy, discontented, and, in my opinion, do not half work. We dare not drive them till able to pay them, and are obliged to use our own private cash and credit to prevent their leaving us, which they threaten, and we can' t as yet do without them.

Nothing of any great importance has happened since my last. On the 16th instant the enemy' s shipping came under way, and proceeded up the river opposite the stores at Haverstraw, about eight miles above where they first lay, opposite Tarrytown. They discharged a few shot at the houses on the west shore, without doing any damage. I went down there next day, caused the goods to be removed out of the stores, and the cattle, sheep, &c˙, contiguous to the shore, to places of safety, and ordered one hundred and eighty Militia, under a prudent officer, to protect that neighbourhood and prevent the enemy getting any supplies. In the afternoon a tender sloop made sail, and ran up within full view and long shot of our battery, sounding the river carefully as she beat up. We gave her a thirty-two-pounder, which hit her; she put about, and fell down to the shipping, plundering a small house on her return, near the shore, before our people could possibly get there.

The 17th instant, the Rose, Captain Wallace, and the same tender, came under sail. The tender, soon after, endeavouring to cover a barge in shore at which our people were firing, run aground, and did not get off before evening. The Rose proceeded up within three miles of this, plundered a poor man' s house, and set it on fire. Captain Wallace headed the party who committed this little robbery; his share of the plunder was a handkerchief full of salad and a pig so very poor that a crow would scarcely deign to eat it. The house stood single under a mountain, and we thought the poverty of the owner would be a sufficient protection, though we had a party not far distant, but they were not able to arrive time enough to prevent the mischief. Their being able to move from place to place so much quicker by water than we can by land, is much against us. However, I think I have my party so disposed of now as to prevent


effectually any mischief in future. The Rose fell down in the evening near to where the tender run aground, and the next day the Phoenix moved up to her; so that they now all lay about five or six miles below us.

A deserter swam on shore from the Rose a few nights ago. I directed Colonels Nicoll and Hay to take and transmit to your Excellency his examination, which I hope you have received. He was a volunteer in our service last summer, was taken on board of one of our privateers last winter by the Rose, is now here, and well known by our Artillery officer and people.

I am very apprehensive that the enemy' s shipping (from their moving up so near us, and other little circumstances) mean to take the advantage of a dark night, and slip by us. The shores are high and bold, and the navigation of course safe and easy. To prevent this, I keep out an advanced guard every night on the extreme point in view, about two and a half miles below our works, properly prepared to kindle up a large light fire on the shipping' s heaving in sight; I have also on the shore, opposite the battery, for a considerable distance up and down the river, large piles of dry brushwood, mixed with leaves and the best combustible matter I can procure, with proper persons to set them on fire upon the signals being given from the first point; so that, by having them between us and those lights, we will be able to play upon them with great advantage, while our shore will be thereby darkened to them.

The Militia from New England, on the opposite shore, have lately applied to our Congress at White Plains for leave to return home. They referred the matter to a council of war to be held here, and yesterday General Fellows and other officers attended on that business. The result was, that all should be dismissed but three hundred, who were to continue to defend the shore. I think that number sufficient.

I am sorry to trouble your Excellency with so long a letter. I am induced to give you so particular an account of the motions of the enemy here, that, by comparing them with their movements below, some judgment may, perhaps, be formed of their designs, while diffidence of my own judgment in military operations leads me to inform your Excellency of every little step we have taken. These considerations, I hope, will apologize for my being so prolix.

I am, with the highest respect, your Excellency' s most obedient servant,

To His Excellency General Washington.

P˙ S˙ Since writing the above, Messrs˙ Livingston, Van Zandt, and Lawrence, arrived here to consult upon the most advisable way of fixing a chain across the river, and to view the shores. The ship carpenters at Poughkeepsie are making more rafts and other matters advised by the Committee of Congress. The bearer may be trusted with your Excellency' s commands for this post.