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) [Henry Knox's responses to questions posed by 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 #: GLC02437.00724 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: White Plains, New York Type: Autograph manuscript signed Date: 2 September 1778 Pagination: 8 p. : docket ; 34 x 21.7 cm.

Knox's original working draft. Knox responds to General Washington's questions regarding eastward movement of the Continental Army to reinforce troops in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

I shall give my opinion on the subjects [strikeout] [strikeout] [inserted: proposd] by your Excellency [strikeout] [inserted: to] your General Officers with as much brevity as the matter will admit. - The first of which is Whether a movement of the greater part of this Army to the Eastward under the present information and circumstances will be eligible?
I cannot see the propriety of such a measure at present or that it could be warranted from the state of information which your Excellency gave to the Council last evening. - Suppose the Enemies force at Rhode Island including the reinforcements they may receive from New York to amount to 10,000. men. What [insert: enterprize] will this force be adequate or what will be its object? - Surely with [strikeout] 10,000. men at this season of the [strikeout] [inserted: year] will not attempt to penetrate the Country to Boston by land? if so from what quarter will they probably procure the Carriages & [2] assistance necessary for such a project? I Confess I know not. it will take a great number of Carriages and horses, which cannot be procured from the Country contiguous to Newport - . Boston will be [struck: worth but little] of little value to them supposing [struck: them] they were possessed of it. Every person acquainted with the Country [inserted: there] will know that the force [inserted: I have] supposed will be unequal to the possession of Boston and the neighboring Country. probably it may be urged the fleet of Count D' Estaing [struck: is an now at] Boston is an object of sufficient magnitude to warrant [inserted: the supposition of] a Combined operation of the british fleet and army [struck: against] [inserted: that way] [struck: Boston to get] possession or [struck: destroy this considerable armament of France] [inserted: to effect the destruction of this considerable armament] and thereby give England the ascendancy on the ocean during the War with [struck: from that nation] [inserted: France].
[struck: In my opinion] the probability of this supposition is the superiority of [strikeout] the french to the british fleet is founded on the existence of two circumstances [apprd] the destruction [inserted: or capture] of Sullivan's army as the of which being taken away or not existing must render [strikeout] [struck: the whole conjecture of such an] the [struck: suppos'd operation a [groundless] conjecture] [inserted: suppostion not well [illegible]d. - If the troops under General Sullivan get off from the Island without much injury they will be [3] a sufficient stamina for [struck: the foce of the country to collect the] [inserted: to collect that] force of the country. - [struck: and acquiring from constant experience it would not be [illegible].] The Experience we have had of [struck: it where] [inserted: the whole army] combined with [strikeout] continental [inserted: troops] will warrant the suppostion that if [strikeout] [inserted: they are] not equal to totally stop [strikeout] the March of the british Army to Boston it will [struck: an] retard them so much as to give time to this Army or a great part of it to arrive to their assistance. It is my opinion they would [inserted: be able to totally stop the enemy and] [strikeout] considering the roughness of the country, [strikeout] the difficulty of the Enemys obtaining intelligence & the want of the necessary carriages to transport provisions &c. But suppose they should overcome all difficulties and arrive at Boston. The british fleet [sruck: before] allowing it to be superior to the french [struck: at sea] on a broad sea where the whole force could be brought to act, would not be so in the Channel leading to Boston by the castle where from its narrowness its not possible for two ships to lead abreast, and where a very few stalks [strikeout] [inserted: sank] which are ready prepared [struck: will] would [strikeout] [inserted: make] the approach above the Castle impossible. The reduction of the Castle Island would be an arduous [4] [struck: task] & extensive task too unequal to the strength of 10,000 men who would [struck: be obliged] besides [struck: occupying] Boston [inserted: be obliged to] occupy a number of Islands, in the Harbor [strikeout] Boston or either of the [struck: Harbors] Islands being carried by the American (Army (which would by this time must be allowed to arrived there) the whole enterprize would be frustrated and [strikeout] [inserted: the troops at the] other ports in all probability made prisoners -
For these [strikeout] and other reasons which might be urg'd, I am [strikeout] of opinion that the Enemy [struck: do not] have not extended their veiws so far as the reduction of Boston & the French fleet there. But should Genl Sullivans troops be captur'd, the event would be so great a misfortune to us and [struck: so great] an [inserted: such a prodigious] advantage to the [struck: Enemy] the Enemy as to induce them to undertake enterprizes of which before they did not dream. A [struck: misfortune so] [inserted: Calamity so] dreadful [struck: in] even in supposition would demand the immediate march of the greater part of this Army to endeavor by its exertions [inserted: to counteract] [strikeout] the consequences which may be supposed to [arrive] from [strikeout] so unexpected an accident.
[struck: But] There is another [struck: operation of the Enemy] [inserted: expedition] which the Enemy may [struck: probably] undertake. [inserted: and] That is against the Town of Providence. The reinforcement [5] The reinforcement will probably arrive at the period that Genl Sullivan [struck: [illegible] retracting from] has effected his retreat from the Island. he then will be at two [inserted: or three] days march from Providence encumbered with his heavy Cannon [struck: baggage] which [struck: came] [inserted: came from & are] Almost the only defence of Providence, and all his baggage and stores. The Enemy in full possession of the Waters, flush'd with [struck: Sullivans] [inserted: our] retreat, in [struck: possession] [inserted: having] of a formidable force [struck: and] their troops ready embark'd and only [inserted: three] four hours sail from Providence, a rich defenseless [inserted: obnoxious] Town, with a Considerable quantity of shipping and [strikeout] stores. [strikeout sentence] Under these circumstances, I think they will by a Coup d' main push and destroy that Town & its stores which may be effected without any loss in 24 hours or even risque. - The Army under your Excellency can have no possible Agency in preventing an enterpize of this kind -
[struck: I shall not consider the quantity] [6] 2d. [supporting] the Army to move to the Eastward what number of troops would be necessary to secure the possession The highlands and the Forts on the Hudson's river?
The force to be left [struck: in the] for the security of the ports and Forts in the highlands I conceive should be relatively strong to those [inserted: that] the Enemy may leave in New York. [struck: I the] I suppose the Question cannot be determined [inserted: with precision] untill that [strikeout] circumstance be tolerably well ascertained.

4th Can any attack be made on {struck: New York] [strikeout] in New York on the present information and circumstances with a probability of success - ?
The situation [struck: is from] of the Island of New York [struck: is such, assisted by the frigate &c and garrisoned by nine thousand men] surrounded by Waters, is such as [inserted: gives] the party possessing the navigation a great superiority. The Enemy having nine thousand men, have force fully adequate to its defence against our Army. To batter their redoubts on this side Kings Bridge would require cannon and an apparatus, which we are [illegible] [7] distance and which would take time to procure. To [struck: attack] attempt the [illegible]oubts by surprize would require a most perfect knowledge of their [strikeout] number construction [struck: and the situation and strength] [inserted: strength & situation]. upon the acquisition of this knowledge, and the matter of risque on our part being fully weighed [strikeout] against the advantages of success, and the balance preponderating in favor of the latter, I should be for such an attempt. But I believe on such a trial, the reasons would be [struck: more] [inserted and struck: the most] [inserted: more] powerful against the attempt than for it.

4th - Supposing this Army to move Eastward, how shall it be supplied with provisions?
Forage for the Horses could be procur'd with ease - meat, fresh & sated [sic] for the troops. The difficulty would be in procurring bread - This perhaps can be done no otherways than than by the Quarter Master making a proper arrangement of a large number of Waggons to [8] to transport it from the Southern States. - But it may be had tho it will require a judicious [strikeout] & much pains and trouble to obtain it -

I am with great Respect Your
Excellency's most Obedient Humb
Servt H Knox
An opinion delivered
to his Excellency Genll
Washington 2d Septbr
1778 -

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources