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) [Military advice for George Washington]

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 #: GLC02437.00683 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: Valley Forge, Pennsylvania Type: Manuscript document Date: 3 January 1778 Pagination: 6 p. : docket ; 32.5 x 20 cm.

Written from Artillery Park of Great Valley (Valley Forge), Pennsylvania. Knox discusses the necessity of recruiting more men. Argues that New York City is of greater importance to the British than any other place due to its accessibility by way of water. Writes, "The disagreeable circumstances to which the loss of New York would reduce the Enemy operate so strongly on my mind, that were the numbers there fully ascertained, their works of defence & ca so as to render the Success of a Coup de Main probable, I should most readily give my opinion to open the Campaign by an attack upon that place..." Suggests the British would leave Philadelphia to help fortify New York if an attack were made upon New York City. Emphasizes the role of militia, maneuvers, magazines, hospitals, quarter masters and commissaries in strengthening the Continental Army. In reference to commissaries and stores, writes, "We have found by experience in this course of this campaign that a [fill] of Rum would support the men through every difficulty." In Samuel Shaw's hand, including signed docket. Signed for Knox by Shaw.

Sir,
The following Hints are humbly submitted to the consideration of your Excellency.

The necessity of recruiting the Army is so very obvious, that there cannot be the lest doubt but Congress will take the most speedy and effectual methods to induce the respective States to furnish their quotas of men, in such season that they may be collected and disciplined before the Campaign opens. - The modes of opening the Campaign, the success of it, and, perhaps, the Liberties of America depend on exertions in this important affair.

The movements in the spring will be pretty confined, as the Enemy have now but two Ports, in which are all their forces - [vizt.] Philadelphia and New York, except Rhode Island, which probably they will evacuate. It will become a matter of consideration which place is of the greatest importance to the Enemy, and which is the most assailable.
It is a standing maxim in war, to fight the Enemy with your whole force opposed to part of his; for part of the Enemy's force being defeated, the remainder, probably being inferior to your whole force, declines the combat, and you reap all the good consequences of a general victory, without any of its dangers.
New York has ever appeared to me to [2] to be of much greater importance to the Enemy, in their intended design of subjugating America, than any other place whatever. The goodness of the harbour and comparitive easy access in all seasons, - its central situation and easy communication with the neighbouring States, - the facility of obtaining supplies and recruits by the North River, (supposing them to be in possession of it) - all conspire to render the preservation of New to them a matter of the utmost consequence.
The disagreeable circumstances to which the loss of New York would reduce the Enemy operate so strongly on my mind, that were the numbers there fully ascertained, their works of defence &ca so as to render the Success of a Coup de Main probable, I should most readily give my opinion to open the Campaign by an attack upon that place: - first securing our magazines &ca that are in this State. Indeed I think we might with more ease and safety make this manoeuvore than any other - supposing it to be undertaken at a more early period than we could possibly open the Campaign in this State, as we shall be obliged to wait untill our recruits join. - The Militia of New England in conjunction with 5000 Troops detached from this Army, and the two Brigades on the North River, would make up a force irresistable by the Garrison of New York. The remainder of the Army here might fall back so as to cover our magazines. The Enemy would not dare to penetrate in large numbers far into the Country, and small numbers would answer no purpose. - I believe the Enemy would immediately detach [3] tach to New York all the Troops they could spare from the defence of Philadelphia, which would, were our measures taken with any prudence and [struck: safety] [inserted: secrecy] arrive too late. If we succeed in New York, we might join our whole force and return to Philadelphia, be strengthened by one of the two Brigades now on Hudson's River, and the recruits from all parts of the Continents, - leaving the other, with the Militia for the security of that place.
Should the Army be filled up and organized in such a manner as to give your Excellency a decisive superiority in the field, and the affair of New York be thought ineligible, my opinion would be to make such movements on this side Schuylkill as to be able to repossess Mud Island and Red Bank, and interrupt the navigation in such a manner as to oblige the Enemy to come out and give battle upon our own terms. But Should this fail, and they remain in Philadelphia, your Excellency will be able to form a blockade in such a manner as must unavoidably reduce them to the necessity of fighting. -
- These appear to me to be the only two methods of opening the Campaign with success and eclat, and I freely confess I think the first will be, not only the most brilliant, but the most advantageous.

Militia

If the numbers of the Enemy the next Campaign be so far increased as to oblige your Ex [4] Excellency to call in a Body of Militia, I would propose that they should be incorporated into the Continental Regiments of the State to which they belong, and do duty with them in the same manner as the Continental Troops, only commanded according to rule by the Continental officers, from the Colonel downwards. From this method I think we should derive the best consequences, and upon all occasions have a powerful Body of Auxilar Troops.

Manoevores.

It is absolutely necessary that one sett of manoeuvores should be adopted and practised by the whole Army - plain and simple - one general mode of drawing up the Army for Battle - a general rule for marching in Column to action and mode of displaying the Column - manner of mounting guards &ca All these, except the order of battle, (which the General Officers [inserted: alone] ought to know) to be printed and given to every officer in the Amy.

Magazines

It will be necessary to pitch on proper places for Magazines, in which shall be deposited Provisions, Field - Ammunition, Hospital stores, and spare Artillery. Security ought be the governing principle in the choice, therefore I think they should be at such a considerable distance from the immediate seat of war, that in case of a defeat the Enemy should not be able [by parking] the remains of the Army. to destroy the sinews of the war. - Supposing the seat [5] seat of war the next Campaign should be in this or either of the neighbouring States, I think the Magazines would be well disposed of as follows, - One at Litchfield in Connecticut, in which the greater part of the Provision purchased in New England should be deposited, - One in some place about 30 miles back of Morris Town, or rather nearer the Delaware, - and one at Carlisle or York; - these would form a chain at a respectable distance by easy and safe communications.

Hospitals.

The Surgeons ought to exert every nerve in order to have things comfortable for the sick and wounded the next Campaign. For this purpose, among many others, the regimental Surgeons ought to be supplied with necessaries for the sick, under proper restrictions.

Quarter Masters & Commissaries.

Experience has taught us that without good Quarter Masters and Commissaries in an Army the most important designs will probably fail. After these Departments shall be filled, it will be necessary for the Quarter Masters to have all the Carriages inspected and repaired, Horses recruited and dificiencies supplied, Tents, and everything else in readiness by the opening of the Campaign. The Commissaries should immediately set about forming Magazines, in proper places of se [6] security, of salt Provisions, Hard Bread, Rum, &ca. It would have a happy tendency that such provision of Rum were made as to enable [inserted: the] Commissary to issue a jill per day. - We have found by experience in this course of this campaign that a jill of Rum would support the men through every difficulty. - The Commissaries also ought, by all means, to provide a sufficiency of soap and vinagar, for on these, in a great degree, depends the health of the Army.

I hope your Excellency will excuse the broken manner in which these thoughts are conveyed, and believe me to be, with the most sincere attachment,
Your Excellency's most obed.t Serv.s

HKnox
B. G. Artillery

Artillery Park, Great Valley,
3d Jany 1778.

His Excellency General Washington.
[docket]
Papers delivered
to his Excellency
Genl Washington
Jany 3 1778.

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources