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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Northern Front, 1775-1777
Washington's Strategy: "A War of Posts"

In the aftermath of the disaster of the Battle of Long Island, Washington and his officers gave considerable thought to their strategic situation. In the following letter written on September 8, 1776, Washington explained his developing strategy--which he called a "war of posts"--to the Continental Congress. What are the main features of his strategy?

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Head Quarters, New York, September 8, 1776.

Sir: Since I had the Honor of addressing you on the 6th. instant, I have called a Council of the General Officers, in order to take a full and comprehensive view of our Situation and thereupon form such a plan of future defence, as may be immediately pursued and subject to no other Alteration than a change of Operations on the Enemy's side may occasion. Before the landing of the Enemy on Long Island, the point of Attack could not be known or any satisfactory Judgment formed of their Intentions. It might be on Long Island, on Bergen or directly on the City, this made it necessary to be prepared for each, and has occasioned an Expence of Labour which now seems useless and is regretted by those who form a Judgment from after Knowledge. But I trust, men of discernment will think differently and see that by such Works and preparations we have not only delayed the Operations of the Campaign, till it is too late to effect any capital Incursion into the Country, but have drawn the Enemy's forces to one point and obliged them to decline their plan, so as to enable us to form our defence on some Certainty. It is now extremely obvious, from all Intelligence, from their movements and every other circumstance, that having landed their whole Army on Long Island (except about 4000, on Staten Island) they mean to enclose us on the Island of New York by taking post in our Rear, while the Shipping effectually secure the Front, and thus either by cutting off our communication with the Country, oblige us to fight them on their own Terms, or surrender at discretion, or by a brilliant Stroke endeavour to cut this Army in pieces and secure the Collection of Arms and Stores which they well know we shall not be soon able to replace.

Having therefore their System unfolded to us, it became an important consideration how it could be most successfully opposed. On every side there is a Choice of difficulties and every Measure on our part (however painful the reflection is from experience) to be formed with some Apprehension that all our Troops will not do their duty.

In deliberating on this Question it was impossible to forget, that History, our own experience, the advice of our ablest Friends in Europe, the fears of the Enemy, and even the Declarations of Congress demonstrate, that on our Side the War should be defensive. It has even been called a War of Posts. That we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn.

The Arguments on which such a System was founded were deemed unanswerable and experience has given her sanction. With these views, and being fully persuaded that it would be presumption to draw out our Young Troops into open ground, against their Superiors both in number and Discipline; I have never spared the Spade and Pick Ax; I confess I have not found that readiness to defend even strong Posts, at all hazards, which is necessary to derive the greatest benefit from them. The honor of making a brave defence does not seem to be a sufficient stimulus, when the success is very doubtful, and the falling into the Enemy's hands probable. But I doubt not this will be gradually attained. We are now in a strong Post, but not an Impregnable one, nay acknowledged by every man of Judgment to be untenable, unless the Enemy will make the Attack upon Lines, when they can avoid it and their Movements indicate that they mean to do so. To draw the whole Army together in order to arrange the defence proportionate to the extent of Lines and works, would leave the Country open to an Approach and put the fate of this Army and its Stores on the hazard of making a successful defence in the City, or the Issue of an Engagement out of it. On the other hand to abandon a City, which has been by some deemed defensible and on whose Works much Labour has been bestowed, has a tendency to dispirit the Troops and enfeeble our Cause. It has also been considered as the Key to the Northern Country. But as to this I am fully of opinion, that by Establishing of strong posts at Mont Washington on the upper part of this Island and on the Jersey side opposite to it, with the Assistance of the Obstructions already made and which may be improved in the Water, that not only the navigation of Hudson's River but an easier and better communication, may be effectually secured between the Northern and Southern States. This I believe every one acquainted with the situation of the Country will readily agree to, and will appear evident to those who have an Opportunity of recuring to good maps. These and the many other consequences, which will be involved in the determination of our next measure, have given our Minds full employ and led every one to forma Judgement, as the various objects presented themselves to his view. The post at Kings Bridge is naturally strong and is pretty well fortified the Heights about it are commanding and might soon be made more so.

These are important Objects and I have attended to them accordingly. I have also removed from the City all the Stores and Ammunition, except what was absolutely Necessary for its defence and made every other Disposition that did not essentially enterfere with that Object, carefully keeping in view, until it should be absolutely determined on full consideration, how far the City was to be defended at all events. In resolving points of such Importance, many circumstances peculiar to our own Army, also occur; being Provided only for a Summers Campaign, their Cloaths, Shoes and Blanketts will soon be unfit for the change of weather which we every day feel. At present we have not Tents for more than 2/3ds., many of them old and worn out, but if we had a Plentiful supply the season will not admit of continuing in them much longer.
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View the original document from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.