Description

    Philip Schuyler Draft Autograph Letter to George Washington. Eight pages, two sided, 7.25" x 12", n.p. [Morristown, NJ], May 28, 1780. Following a severe winter and devastating losses by American forces at Charleston, Philip Schuyler resigned from his position as one of the four major generals in the Continental Army, a position he'd held for five years. He continued to serve, however, as a U.S. Senator from New York and a regular correspondent with General Washington, sharing the latest intelligence and offering strategic advice on troop movements and military tactics. Schuyler drafted this lengthy letter in that same vein, offering fascinating insight into the many considerations that must be taken into account in fighting the British. Penned in draft form and unsigned, the letter is filled with corrections and strikeouts, and is so poorly penned as to be nearly indecipherable.

    The final copy of this letter is held in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress (Series 3f Varick Transcripts), and it reveals that Schuyler has gone to such lengths to enumerate his thoughts and suggestions because he was specifically asked to by General Washington. From the final copy, Schuyler open his letter thusly: "The queries which your Excellency has stated, and on which you have done me the honor to request my opinion, are on a subject so exceedingly Interesting and Important that I feel my inability to consider it is extensive. As you wish, I shall, however, attempt to state my Ideas on the occasion, and to regard it in every point of view I am able."

    The previous month, the British had begun their attack on Fort Moultrie at Charleston; on May 6, 1780, British forces captured Charleston and its 5400-man garrison, along with four American ships and a military arsenal. It was this hopeless situation at Charleston to which Schuyler first turns his attention. He begins: "To save Charles Town to prevent the garrison falling into the hands of the Enemy . . . and expose the British to risk the loss of their Army are objects of such great magnitude that I should not hesitate . . . to advise commencing our operations in the Southern Quarter." However, Schuyler realized the futility of attempting to overcome the British to retake Charleston, and related his doubts to Washington: "In preparing the Transports for the reception of the horses . . . in procuring the necessary provisions for these troops (supposing it procurable) and in completing the voyage to Charles Town that it appears . . . certain either the town would be reduced before our force could arrive . . . or the siege be raised . . . I doubt whether the force we could send would be sufficient to act with any probable prospect of success either for the recovery of the Town or in an attack."

    Schuyler then goes on to suggest that, rather than expend time and energy sending troops south to Charlestown to engage in what appeared to be a fruitless endeavor, Washington should instead focus his energy on making an unexpected move against the British at New York, which was the political and military center of British operations in North America at the time. Schuyler discusses the pros and cons of his plan to move troops and naval transports into Sandy Hook bay, and reminds Washington that "[We] probably risk losing by operating in the first instance to the southward. . . . In preference have a march on N. York . . . equal time will be lost . . . whether we operate here or go South. Yet much time will be otherwise saved as no provisions need be made for Transports of horses." Schuyler then considers the possibility of assistance from the French in that endeavor: "But admitting the French troops are to come up the Sound, provision must be made for dislodging the Enemy from Staten Island. . . . The remainder of the Army now in this quarter . . . can be put in position [on] the North river and occupy the heights between [unintelligible] & Kings Ferry from whence the troops move being provided with crafts down the river and or cover of a Frigate or two to be sent from the fleet. . . . It is to be observed that if our forces together with the French . . . scarcely number that of the Enemy, a division of it may expose us to a patent disaster, as they may easily combine . . . either on Long or York Island and make a push at us."

    This outstanding draft letter is moderately age toned and bears minor damage to folds on the final two pages. Docketed in an unknown hand on the verso of the last page. Incredible military content connecting two of our greatest Revolutionary War leaders!


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    March, 2009
    6th-7th Friday-Saturday
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