WASHINGTON, George. Letter signed ("G:o Washington" text in hand of James McHenry) to Governor George Clinton (1739-1812), Ramapaugh, [Ramapo, N.Y.], 27 June 1780. 2 page, folio, autograph address panel, slight closed tear at crease.
FEARING AN ATTACK ON WEST POINT, WASHINGTON SENDS A PUBLIC LETTER TO THE GOVERNOR ABOUT TROOPS "FOR COMPLETING THE BATALLIONS"
Encamped at Morristown in the spring of 1780--three months prior to Arnold's treason at West Point--Washington is getting rumors of a possible British move up the Hudson. On 2 June he had issued a call for 17,000 militia to be in the field by 15 July. Here he follows-up with New York Governor George Clinton about the state's response: "The measures taken by the legislature are vigorous and correspondent to that spirit which has uniformly actuated them. In the execution I am persuaded whatever depends on you will be done. I regret that there seems to have been a mistake in a very essential article--the men for completing the battalions. I know not what may have been the intention of the committee, but mine was to have the battalions filled to their establishment in the field, independent of the levies for frontier service, and my calculations of the force requisite for the intended co-operation have turned upon this principle: any thing short of it will be a serious and injurious disappointment. As I am not near enough the committee to take their sense, and as the point is of too much importance to admit delay, I have thought proper instantly to return your express with an explanation of my views. If they arrive before the legislature rises I entreat your Excellency to lay my letter before them and obtain their determination. There is a certain proportion of regular continental force which is essential of our success, and the full compliment of our continental battalions is the least that gives a tolerable prospect of success. By having these we may probably lessen the number of militia, but without these no additional number of militia will compensate for the deficiency. Your Excellency's knowledge of service will make this reasoning clear to you, and supercedes the necessity of any arguments to enforce it."
The tone is diplomatic, but privately Washington was lamenting the constant difficulty of getting adequate manpower: "We are...dreaming of independence and peace, without using the means to become so....without some change, we are hastening to our ruin" (quoted in Freeman, 4:168-169). Teasing feints by small British forces up and down the Hudson compelled Washington to break camp at Morristown and concentrate his weak forces at West Point. He writes this letter from Ramapo, N.Y., in the midst of executing that move. He set up camp at Preakness, New York on 1 July and by then the British threat seemed to have receded. It was time to shore up West Point's defenses, and Washington cast about for a more vigorous man than General Robert Howe to command the garrison. Benedict Arnold volunteered for the job.