WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799), President. Letter signed ("G:o Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Col. James Clinton (1733-1812), Head Quarters, New York, 17 July 1776. 2 full pages, folio, recipient's docket in margin of page 2: "we suffer more from our own artillery than from those of the enemy."
PRELUDE TO THE BRITISH ASSAULT ON NEW YORK: "...WE SUFFER MORE FROM OUR OWN ARTILLERY THAN THE ENEMY..."
Writing not long after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in New York and less than a month after a sizeable British army had landed unopposed on Staten Island, Washington gives instructions for the naval defense of the American forts in the Hudson Highlands. He approves defensive measures taken by Clinton as "extremely proper," and adds "that there may be no Discouragement in the Purchase of Arms, of which we stand in great Need, I have by the Bearer sent you the £300 you request."
Clinton had lost several men in an artillery accident. Washington informs him that "...two Officers of the Artillery, whom I dispatched last Sunday, will have arrived to supply the Place of those so unhappily disabled. I trust these Accidents will form a Lesson of Prudence and Calmness at such Times, and particularly excite Care and Caution." He observes that "It is a melancholy Consideration that in these Cases we suffer more from our own Artillery than the Enemy."
Several English warships have sailed, he notes: "As the Enemy weighed Anchor Yesterday, with a seeming Intention to pass up the River, I trust every thing is in the best Readiness and Preparation to receive them." He recommends the use of incendiary rafts against the enemy vessels: "The Rafts, if properly constructed and executed with Spirit and Intrepidity, are most dangerous and alarming Enemies to Shipping. Unacquainted with the River, the Situation of the Ships, and may other Circumstances necessary to form a Judgement of the Probability of success, I can only say, that I agree in opinion with your Brother [George Clinton, commander in the Highlands], that Expenses ought not to be regarded, if the Prospect of Success is any Way encouraging. You must, with them on whose Opinion you can depend, form the best Judgement and act accordingly..."
In fact, the Americans in the Highlands had already (the day before this letter) unsuccessfully attacked the British battleship Phoenix by fire rafts. The attack so alarmed the British commander that he withdrew downriver, rejoining the main fleet off Staten Island by the 18th. For Clinton's 12 and 15 July letters to Washington see Papers, Rev War Ser., ed. Abbot, 5:292-293 and 322-323; for Washington's 354-355.