Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Vol. 2

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Author: Arthur St. Clair

U.S. History

From Major-General St. Clair.

Crane’s Mills, 28 January, 1780.

SIR,

I arrived at Colonel Hazen’s quarters the night before last; and yesterday, with him, visited the several posts, which I found to be Rahway, Crane’s Mills, Connecticut Farms, Elizabethtown, and Newark. Elizabethtown and Newark are occupied by small detachments only, and guards are posted at De Hart’s and Halsted Points. A small guard is also kept at the New Blazing Star from the post at Rahway.

In this situation the troops are as compact as, I

believe, the nature of the cantonment will allow, consistently with the objects in view; yet they are far from being so much so as could be wished. The distance these different places lie from one another, and the want of horse to communicate speedily any movements of the enemy, render it very easy to surprise one or other of the posts, particularly Rahway, which is only two miles from the Sound, and lies five miles from hence and five miles from the Blazing Star. The small detached guard at that place may be very easily taken off; and then their flank, and even their rear, is entirely open.

To cover effectually such an extent of country as from Newark to Amboy, in the present state of the ice, would require a very considerable body of troops; and the dispersing them in small bodies exposes them to many accidents, and greatly favors desertion, which, with much regret, I find has prevailed on these commands.

In Elizabethtown I found a four days’ guard, consisting of one hundred men with a Field-Officer. This I reduced to a Captain and fifty, to be relieved daily, which I thought would answer every purpose that could be expected from the hundred, as they may, when on for one day only, be kept constantly alert, and haft of them at a time patrolling during the night. Indeed, I believe good patrols would answer every purpose better than small guards; but, where the distance betwixt posts is considerable, they should be composed of home. The guards at De Hart’s and Halsted Points are certainly much exposed, and if the enemy suffer them to remain, it must arise from extreme caution, or their having something of more importance in contemplation, for I cannot suppose they want information of our position.

I have not yet been able to ascertain the enemy’s number on Staten Island, or at Paulus Hook, but expect to-day to have pretty good accounts of the last, as also of the state of the ice on both the North and East Rivers; but from nil that I can learn, and from the intelligence Colonel Hazen has received, their numbers on the Island amount to two thousand and upwards. The reinforcement, thrown in from New York, consisted of three regiments, supposed about seven or eight hundred men; part of them are cantoned, and part encamped about the middle of the Island. Intelligence is, however, very difficult to be obtained, and is not, in my opinion, in a good train; the person who seems to be most depended upon bearing a very bad character, and known to act as an agent for the enemy. Indeed, it will be almost impossible to get it into another train, unless the intercourse betwixt the inhabitants and the Island can be prevented; nor can a stop be put to the traffic carried on with the city, unless some other way of rewarding those we employ be fallen upon, than countenancing it in their favor.

Nothing has yet presented itself to induce any attempt upon the enemy which should at least have probability in its favor. Their advanced picket at     Mills might be taken off, but it is a trifling object, and the retreat of the party might be prevented. If any thing is to be done on the Island, it must, I believe, be by open force, which they seem to expect, as, from the information of a deserter, they are improving their works, and adding abatis, and keep their troops as close to them as possible. They are also constructing a new work with timber, on a hill that commands the redoubt at the watering place. There is, at present, an open passage to New

York, but it is frequently interrupted by the driving ice.

Doctor Burner expected a trusty, intelligent person from New York last night, and I shall see him to-day. By him I expect the information your Excellency wishes with respect to the East River, and the situation of the enemy’s vessels. If it favors Colonel Willett’s enterprise, I shall desire him to wait upon your Excellency immediately. I find, by an order of General Tryon’s of the 13th, that a number of bateaux are to be laid up at De Nuys’s Ferry, at the Narrows.

I suppose Colonel Hazen has informed your Excellency of the attempt the enemy intended upon the detachment at Rahway, on Wednesday last, which was prevented by Colonel Gray’s having obtained some notice of it. I cannot help repeating that horse are much wanted to give any degree of security to the cantonments; but, as one object is to cover and secure the inhabitants, they ought, some of them at least, to be furnished by the State, and if these were trusty, good men, acquainted with the country, they would make the best patrols possible. I believe, too, they would more effectually cheek the spirit of traffic than it will ever be done by the soldiery, who hold it, in some measure, a disreputable employment.

I wish I could give your Excellency any hint that might help to prevent or check the shameful desertion that prevails, and for which the troops of Pennsylvania, especially, have so little reason. It would, perhaps, answer a good end, whilst the ice continues firm, instead of detachments from the army, to send whole corps; the first to be taken from those lines where that vice has not crept in. By the time one or two commands are completed, the communication will probably be more difficult.

I have inquired, of every person I thought could give me proper information, into the causes of our misfortune at Newark and Elizabethtown, and it appears to have been owing to negligence in not having the patrols out in proper time, and to their having fatigued themselves too much the night before; and it is certain, that the Captain had not a single vidette, nor even a sentry on the stable where his horses were. I am not quite satisfied whether your Excellency intended a formal inquiry, or that I should inform myself in the manner I have done. Nothing further occurs at present. If any intelligence of moment arrives, it shall be immediately communicated, and I will detain Colonel Hazen until I hear from your Excellency. I have the honor to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servant,

ARTHUR ST. CLAIR.

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Chicago: Arthur St. Clair, "From Major-General St. Clair.," Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Vol. 2 in Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, ed. Jared Sparks (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1853), 388–392. Original Sources, accessed April 20, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNATFF7T6CDDRZL.

MLA: St. Clair, Arthur. "From Major-General St. Clair." Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Vol. 2, in Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, edited by Jared Sparks, Vol. 2, Freeport, NY, Books for Libraries Press, 1853, pp. 388–392. Original Sources. 20 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNATFF7T6CDDRZL.

Harvard: St. Clair, A, 'From Major-General St. Clair.' in Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Vol. 2. cited in 1853, Correspondence of the American Revolution: Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, ed. , Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, NY, pp.388–392. Original Sources, retrieved 20 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNATFF7T6CDDRZL.