<br /> Lee Letter: n6

Washington and Lee University

Sender: George Washington
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir:

I was exceeding glad to receive a letter from you, as I always
shall be whenever it is convenient; though perhaps my hurry, till such
time as matters are drawn a little out of the chaos they appear in at
present, will not suffer me to write you such full and satisfactory
answers, or give such clear and precise accounts of our situation and
views, as I could wish, or you might expect. After a journey, a good
deal retarded, principally by the desire of the different townships
through which I travelled of showing respect to the general of your
armies, I arrived here on this day week; since which I have been
laboring with as much assiduity by fair and threatening means, to
obtain returns of our strength in this camp and Roxbury and their
dependencies, as a man could do, and never have been able to accomplish
the matter till this day; and now, I will not answer for the
correctness of them, although I have sent several of the regimental
returns back more than once to have mistakes rectified.

I do not doubt but the Congress will think me very remiss in not writing to
them sooner; but you may rely on it yourself, and I beg you to assure
them, that it has never been in my power till this day to comply with
their orders. Could I have conceived, that what ought, and, in a
regular army, would have been done in an hour, would employ eight days,
I should have sent an express on the second morning after I arrived,
with a general account of things; but expecting in the morning to
receive the returns in the evening, and in the evening surely to find
them in the morning, and at last getting them full of imperfections, I
have been drilled on from day to day, till I am ashamed to look back at
the time, which has elapsed since my arrival here. You will perceive by
the returns, that we have but about sixteen thousand effective men in
all this department, whereas, by the accounts which I received from
even the first officers in command, I had no doubt of finding between
eighteen and twenty thousand; out of these there are only fourteen
thousand fit for duty. So soon as I was able to get this state of the
army, and came to the knowledge of our weakness, I immediately summoned
a council of war, the result of which you will see, as it is enclosed
to the Congress. Between you and me, I think we are in an exceedingly
dangerous situation, as our numbers are not much larger than we suppose
those of the enemy to be, from the best accounts we are able to get.
They are situated in such a manner, as to be drawn to any point of
attack, without our having an hour’s previous notice of it, if the
General will keep his own counsel; whereas we are obliged to be guarded
at all points, and know not where, with precision to look for them.

I should not, I think, have made choice of the present posts, in the first
instance, although I believe the communication between the town and
country could not have been so well cut off without them; and, as much
labor has been bestowed in throwing up lines, and making redoubts; as
Cambridge, Roxbury, and Watertown must be immediately exposed to the
mercy of the enemy, were we to retreat a little further into the
country; as it would give a general dissatisfaction to this colony,
dispirit our own people, and encourage the enemy, to remove at this
time to another place; we have for these reasons resolved in council to
maintain our ground if we can. Our lines on Winter and Prospect Hills,
and those of the enemy on Bunker’s Hill, are in full view of each
other, a mile distant, our advance guards much nearer, and the sentries
almost near enough to converse; at Roxbury and Boston Neck it is the
same. Between these, we are obliged to guard several of the places at
which the enemy may land. They have strongly fortified, or will fortify
in a few days, their camps and Bunker’s Hill; after which, and when
their newly landed troops have got a little refreshed, we shall look
for a visit, if they mean, as we are told they do, to come out of their
lines. Their great command of artillery, and adequate stores of powder,
give them advantages, which we have only to lament the want of.

The abuses in this army, I fear, are considerable, and the new modelling of
it, in the face of an enemy, from whom we every hour expect an attack,
is exceedingly difficult and dangerous. If things therefore should not
turn out as the Congress would wish, I hope they will make proper
allowances. I can only promise and assure them, that my whole time is
devoted to their service, and that as far as my judgment goes, they
shall have no cause to complain. I need not tell you, that this letter
is written in much haste; the fact will sufficiently appear from the
face of it. I thought a hasty letter would please you better than no
letter, and, therefore, I shall offer no further apology, but assure
you, that, with sincere regard for my fellow laborers with you, and Dr.
Shippen’s family,1

I am, dear Sir, your most affectionate
servant.2

Notes:

1 Dr. William Shippen, jr., of Philadelphia. He, later, became director
general of the Continental Hospital.

2 The text is from Sparks, but no copy of this letter is in the
Washington Papers.