Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Knox, Henry (1750-1806) [Draft of Knox's responses to questions regarding an attack on the British at Philadelphia]

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.00676 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: s.l. Type: Autograph document Date: circa 27-29 October 1777 Pagination: 5 p. ; 33.4 x 21.2 cm.

"My sentiments are against a general attack of the enemy strongly posted as they are except upon the clearest principles of superior numbers to counterballance their superior discipline. I am fully of the 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..." Argues that the possible advantage gained by the Continental Army in taking Philadelphia will not equal the cost. Prepared for George Washington in response to his queries of 26 October 1777. See GLC02437.00660 for a draft in Shaw's hand.

On the first Question
My sentiments are against a general attack of the enemy except upon [inserted: strongly posted as they are] the clearest principles of superior numbers to counterbalance their superior discipline. - I am fully of the 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 to us beyond a doubt that they will not stand a severe fire - the only uses that can be made of them are either to make a shew by way of feint - or to send them on in a scattering manner, with liberty to take advantages of any thing that can cover them-

It requires the best discipline [struck: and] the firmest spirit, [strikeout] and [strikeout] [inserted: good] officers to storm works or to make an impression on british troops - not that I suppose that Europeans will make better soldiers [inserted: than the Americans] but that habitual discipline to which they are us'd & in what all their officers are initiated gives them a superiority over us which nothing but a similar [strikeout] [inserted: discipline or superior numbers] can counterballance -
My opinion is against a general action because we are not in the predicament which obliges us to it - The enemy are in Philadelphia & even supposing us to be victorious and dispose that enemy of the City, the advantage in my opinion would be nothing new equal to the expense we probably shall be at in obtaining it - The utmost would be gaining [2] gaining an empty city for Winter quarters driving the enemy on board their ships which they might gain by means of the bridge or bridges over Schuylkill & which with our present numbers, we cannot prevent -
It is a very possible circumstance in a general [struck: attack] action we may be defeated in which case we are my no means to argue upon as favorable [strikeout] [actions] as at Brandywine or Germantown - it is possible the enemy may manoevre better then before and we worse, [struck: war is an uncertain] the events of war are uncertain - our affairs by a total defeat may be followed with very fatal consequences on the west side the Delaware
I am against a general attack on the enemy Lines at this time - because the event of Genl Burgoyne's army in its consequences, if properly us'd will [strikeout] [inserted: enable] America [struck: to put a few] to terminate the War almost on her own terms - America has been defeated and divided by two different attacks, but in the next Campaign the win be able to unite her whole [strikeout] army which will be much strengthened this [inserted: and reform'd during the approaching] winter by the different states filling their requirements - and which by being pointed against any one object [strikeout] will be truly formidable - [struck sentence] - that prospect would be much obscur'd by the Southern army being dispersed or considerably reduc'd [3]
[struck: with] ansr to the 2d Question -
In my opinion the army ought to take such a general disposition until the badness of weather shall drive us from the field as will enable us to either reinforce the Forts in the river by the way of the Jersies or transport a body of troops thither [struck: in or] if the enemy lay siege to red bank as to [miss] the siege - the preservation of the Forts in the river and ruining any body of the enemies troops which may be sent to operate against them is now in my opinion become the first object of this army. For this reason I would still reinforce the posts there - and hold a respectable body of troops ready to operate against the enemy should they [struck: again] attempt red bank by siege - The remainder of the army should remain in a strong supplied 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 -
Ansr to 3d Question -
Supposing the Circumstances to exist as in the 3d Question. I think, Reading ought to be fortified & made the principal cantonment and Allen Town [struck: Northern york] [inserted and struck: East] & Bethlehem [inserted: & Easton] the lesser ones all of which [struck: ought] must to be fortified by redoubts with which and the store keepers they could be be impregnable to any surprise [4] or siege in the winter -
The evils of the enemies 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 light horse - these wagon horses as they are strong and hardy will answer very well to carry two footmen who must be well equip'd with each 2 blankets a warm jacket and overalls - a very [useful] body [inserted: of] partisans may by this means be form'd and without which, I believe it will be impracticable so fully to prevent the enemy from drawing supplies -
the office of Inspector General would I think be highly [useful], as well to introduce one uniform set of manouvers to see that the soldiers [illegible] [inserted: & cloathing] be uniform and proper provided that he know not how to introduce any new manouvere without first laying of it before the Commander in Cheif or a [inserted: full] board of General officers
Regimental promotions should be to Captains [inclosing] and no further - when a majority becomes vacant the oldest Capt in the Line of the State when the vacancy happens to succeed to it provided he be competent to the place
It is my opinion that it would [inserted: not] consistent with propriety and good policy to allow soldiers the reward offerd to others for apprehending Defectors - because that Desertion is [4] a crime of the blackest [arye] committed against the well being of a state. Which every good man ought as far as in his power to bring to light - It cannot be argued from this that one man will [inserted: not] betray his comrade or his friend. Because, if the tye by which the soldiers are bound to their company is not strong enough to induce them to [disavow] a deserter [now] will risk the paltry sum allowed for apprehending deserters -
The Commissary informs me that he knows of no abuse in his Department - the officers draw but one ration, except now & then an officer drawing a piece of Beef -

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources