<br /> Lee Letter: n307

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Page

My dear Sir,

I am concerned to find that the Governors health does not yet permit his
attention to public business. Your anxiety no doubt is great to hear
how things go on at N. York. I will give you the best account that
Congress has been able to collect. Of our Troops about 6000 were
stationed on Long Island under Command of Generals Putnam, Sullivan and
Lord Sterling. Of these, three guards of 800 men each were posted at
the edge of a wood opposite the enemy who with about 18,000 men were
encamped on a plain below & directly opposite these Guards. At 10
o’Clock in the night of the 25th [i.e. 26th] of Augt. Gen. Howe
marched with 6000 men and unperceived turned the left of our Guards and
halted. Sometime before day three large Columns under command of the
Hessian General, Lord Cornwallis, and Brigadier Gen. Grant marched to
the front and Right of our Guards with a view to attack and surround
them at the same time. In the meantime Gen. Putnam received
intelligence that the enemy were in motion and about break of day
ordered Gen. Sullivan & Lord Sterling to reenforce the Guard with
two Batallions and annoy the enemy in their march. Our Officers having
no knowledge of Gen. Howes march proceeded to meet and engage the Corps
under Cornwallis &c. These last by their superior numbers had very
soon outflanked, and in great degree surrounded our people. Thus they
fought for some time, without advantage on either side, except that
some of Cornwallis s Troops & others had given way but were
supported by reenforcements, when they discovered Howe with a large
body directly between them and their Lines. Environed on all sides with
such superiority of numbers they determined to fight their way throw
and more than two thirds of them reached the Lines, three thousand
having been engaged and our loss in killed, wounded, and missing not
exceeding 7 or 800. The enemies loss in killed is certainly greater
than ours, but they have more prisoners, and on the whole our loss of
men is greater than theirs. Gen. Howe conceiving that our lines were
either abandoned or too much weakened marched boldly up to them with
his Corps, but they received so heavy and well directed a fire that
they retreated with great pricipitation. Generals Sullivan and Lord
Sterling are prisoners. We do not know of any Officer among the enemy
being killed of greater rank than Colo. Grant, who is certainly among
the Slain.

A Council of War having determined to evacuate Long Island as no longer
tenable, this dangerous service was effected on Friday night last
without loss, except two heavy Cannon which could not be brought away
and were spiked. Our Army, all now on the New York side, and consisting
when together of about 26,000 men are in high spirits. The flying Camp
increases daily. ‘Twill presently be 10,000 strong. Our enemies force,
by the best accounts is about 23,000. We have so respectable a Marine
force on Lake Champlain, and so good an army on its borders that we are
under no apprehentions from that quarter. In the W. Indies, every thing
promises a speedy rupture between France & G. Britain. They have
certainly offered us their Ports to carry our Prizes into, and when
Capt. Weeks in a Continental Ship of 16 six pounders lately drubbed
Capt. Chapman in the Shark of 18 guns in sight of the people of
Martinique and to their great joy, the Captain of our Vessel
(suspecting Chapman was gone to Antigua for help) was offered by the
Governor a Convoy of Frigates to see him on his way as far as he chose
to take them.1 All this looks well. It is
amazing what fortunes are made here by Prizes. small Privateers
returning with large Sugar Ships &c. We all agree that it will be
very wise and proper to order Lilly and Cocke at least to go Cruize in
the way of the homeward bound West India
Men.2 A few of them will pay our Marine
expences already incurred, and help us to build 10 or 12 large Sea
Gallies to keep open the trade of our Bay. If you approve this plan,
pray push it into immediate execution. The French harbors may receive
them, or Chingotigue in the Eastern Shore, if our Bay should be shut
up. Farewell dear Sir and believe me affectionately yours,

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. If you see our friend General Lee hasten him here, he is extremely
wanted at N. York.

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, (MWA).

1 For the July 27 engagement between the Shark and the Continental ship
Reprisal, commanded by Lambert Wickes, see Thomas Jefferson to Edmund
Pendleton, August 26, 1776, note 4.

2 Thomas Lilly and James Cocke, commanders of Virginia naval vessels, had
been ordered by the Virginia Council on August 6 to cruise against
enemy ships in the vicinity of the York River. Journals of the
Council of the State of Virginia, ed. H. R. McIlwaine, 3 vols.
(Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1931 – 52), 1:109 – 10.