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Knox, Henry (1750-1806) [Response to queries from Headquarters]

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.00660 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: s.l. Type: Manuscript document Date: circa 27-29 October 1777 Pagination: 5 p. ; 30.4 x 18.2 cm.

In the hand of Samuel Shaw. Knox expresses his opinion against a general attack on the British. Writes, "It requires the best discipline, the firmest spirit, and good officers, to storm works or to make an impression on British troops. Not that I suppose the Europeans will make better soldiers than the Americans, but that habitual discipline to which they are used and in which all their officers are initiated gives them a superiority over us, which nothing but a similar discipline or superior numbers can counterbalance." Discusses the division in Continental troops between northern (against Burgoyne in New York) and southern campaigns (near Philadelphia). Refers to the possibility of uniting American troops. Suggests that Reading, Pennsylvania serve as the site for a large cantonment. Covers other military matters including, deserters, promotions, and offices. Prepared for George Washington in response to his queries of 26 October 1777. See GLC02437.00676 for a draft in Knox's hand.

[draft]
On the first question,
My sentiments are against a general attack of the enemy, strongly [posted] as they are, except upon the clearest principles of superior numbers to counterbalance their inferior discipline. I am fully of opinion that we have no experience of our troops that will justify the supposition of their being able to storm redoubts defended by British troops. Our knowledge of the militia proves it beyond a doubt that they will not stand a sever fire. The only uses that can be made of them, are either to make a shew by way of feints; or to send them on in a [seatling] manner, with liberty to take advantage of every thing that can cover them.
It requires the best discipline, the firment spirit, and good officers, to storm works or to make an impression on British troops. Not that I suppose the Europeans will make better soliders than the Americans, but that habitual discipline to which they are used and in which all their officers are initiated gives them a superiority over us, which nothing but a familiar discipline or inferior numbers can counterbalance.
My opinion is against a general action, because we are not in the predicament which obliges us to it. The enemy are in Philadelphia, and even supposing us to be victorious and dispossess the enemy of the city, the advantage in my opinion, would be nothing near equal to the expence we probably shall be at in obtaining it. The utmost would be gaining an empty city [2] city for winter quarters and driving the enemy on board their ships, which they might gain by means of the bridge or bridges over Schuylkill and which with our present numbers we cannot prevent.
It is a very possible circumstance in a general action we may be defeated, in which case we are by no means to argue on as favorable retreats as at Brandywine or Germantown. It is possible the enemy may manoeuvre better than before and we worse. The event of war are uncertain. Our affairs, by a total defeat, may be followed with very fatal consequences on the the westside the Delaware.
I am against a general attack on the enemy's lines at this time. Because the event of General Burgoynes army, in its consequences, if properly used will enable America to terminate the war almost on her own terms. America has been distracted and divided by two different attacks; but in the next campaign we shall be able to unite her whole army, which will be much strengthened and reformed during the approaching winter by the different States filling their regiments, and which by being pointed against one object will be truely formidable: - that prospect would be much obscured by the Southern army being dispersed or considerably reduced.
Answer to the 2d Question.
In my opinion, the Army ought to take such a general disposition, until the badness of the weather shall drive us from the field, as will enable us either to reinforce the forts in the river by the way of the Jersey or [3] transport a body of troops thither, if the enemy should lay siege to Red Bank, to raise the siege. The preservation of the forts in the river, and ruining any body of troops which may be first to operate against them, is no, in my opinion, become the first object of this Army. For this reason I would still reinforce the ports there, and hold a respectable body of troops ready to operate against the enemy should they attempt Red Bank by siege. The remainder of the Army should remain in a strong fortified camp, chosen for that purpose, so far distant from Philadelphia as to be secure against a surprise; and, in my opinion the camp lately recommended near Whitemarsh Church would be proper for this purpose.
Answer to the 3d Question.
Supposing the circumstances to exist as in the 3d question, I think Reading ought to be fortified and made the principal cantonment and Allen Town, Bethlehem and Easton the lesser ones; all of which ought to be fortified by redoubts, with which and the stone houses they would be impregnable to any surprise or siege in the winter.
4th.
The evils of the enemy drawing supplies can be remedied only by a very large body of horses. Waggon horses may very well answer this purpose in conjunction with the right horse. These waggon horses [4] horses, as they are strong and hardy, will answer very well to carry two footmen, who must be well equipped with each two blankets, a warm jacket and overalls. A very useful body of partisans may by this means be formed, and without which I believe it will be impracticable to prevent the enemy from drawing supplies.
5th.
The office of Inspector General I think would be highly useful, as will to introduce on uniform set of manoeuvres, as to see that the soliders habliments and clothing be uniform and proper. Provided that he have not power to introduce any new manoeuvre without first laying it before the Commander in Chief or a full board of general officers.
6th.
Regimental promotions should be to captains inclusive, and no further. When a majority becomes vacant the oldest captain in the line of the State where the vacancy happens to succeed to if provided he be competent to the place.
7th. It is my opinion that it would be consistent with propriety and good policy to allow soldiers the reward offered to others for apprehending deserters. Because desertion is a crime of the blackest die committed against the well being of a state, which every good man ought as far as in his power to bring [5] bring to light. It cannot be argued from this that a man will not betray his comrade or his friend; because if the tye by which the soldiers are bound to the country is not strong enough to induce them to discover a deserter, no more will the paltry form allowed for apprehending deserters.
8th
The commissary informs me that he knows of no abuse in his department. The officers draw but one ration, except now and then as officers drawing a piece of beef.

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