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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Southern Phase, 1778-1781
Washington to Continental Congress, September 7, 1779

In the following letter to the Continental Congress, Washington rather astutely surveys the strategic situation from the British point of view. His thinking is not far from what the British were actually considering at this time, as shown in a letter from Sir Henry Clinton to George Germaine that the editors of Washington's papers included as a footnote to the September 7 letter. What does Washington say the British intend to do and why? What are the British actually considering and why?

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Sir: The current of intelligence from New York makes the late reinforcement under Arburthnot amount to about 3000 troops principally recruits and rather in an unhealthy situation. It also speaks of preparations for an expedition and some recent rumours point to the Southern States, though the enemy have thrown out menaces against this post. If the reinforcement does not exceed this estimate they may not think them selves able to operate effectually this way, in which case, the unpromising situation of their affairs may tempt them to make an effort to get hold of some of the southern States, to counterballance their losses in the West Indies and favor negotiations in the Winter. They have been for some time past fortifying across New York Island; and it is said are going to erect a strong work at Brookline on Long Island: all this may be to have it in their power to secure their present posts with a small force and make large detachments with the greater confidence. A part may go to the West Indies and a considerable number still be spared for the purpose I am supposing; the more so, if Rhode Island, which [is] now become to them a very inferior object should be evacuated.

An apprehension of the Spaniards may be an objection to this plan; but they may not be deterred by this danger, from the probability that the Spaniards will rather direct their attention to Jamaica than to this Continent; besides which if they have a large force operating in the southern States, it may easily enough be turned to the defence of their own possessions that way, or if these should be lost, they will be amply compensated by the full acquisition of Georgia and South Carolina, both of which are so weak as to be in no small danger.

I take the liberty to suggest these hints, as it seems to me to be the part of prudence to be upon our guard against a plan of this nature and to take every precaution in our power to disappoint its success. By a letter I have received from General Lincoln his force is insignificant and his prospects of an addition feeble. No exertions should be omitted to make them better.

Though our force here is far from making a diminution desirable; yet as I think we have more to apprehend to the south ward than in this quarter, if Congress should be of opinion for sending the two North Carolina regiments that way, I should hope they might now be spared without material injury. The distance is a very discouraging circumstance; but the troops shall be in readiness to move the moment the pleasure of Congress is known.

Sir Henry Clinton to George Germaine, August 21, 1779

I now find myself obliged by many cogent reasons to abandon every view of making an effort in this Quarter [meaning the New York region]. The precautions, which Mr. Washington has had leisure to take, make me hopeless of bringing him to a general Action; and the Season dissuades me strongly from losing time in the attempt. The weather will admit of our acting in Carolina, in the beginning of October; ... if we do not conquer South Carolina; every thing is to be apprehended for Georgia. We have flattering hopes of assistance from the Inhabitants held forth to us by Mr. Simpson. ... In order to give the effort a fair trial it is necessary that the Corps destined for that Service should get there before Mr. Washington can throw any considerable reinforcement to the Southward: Before also, before any part of the French fleet. ... shall have come upon the Coast. I am therefore employing the Army to perfect the defences of this post, which at all events must be left out of reach of any probable insult. I shall then give the Enemy every jealousy at the Eastward, and without losing a Moment the expedition will proceed to South Carolina. ... Having seized on the stations of Verplanks and Stoney Point. ... with a view to offensive operations in this Country, their principal importance must cease when that design is discarded: And as without great reinforcements which we cannot expect, nothing of consequence can be carried on again in this quarter. I shall probably abandon those posts; not having Troops sufficient without hazard and difficulty to maintain them thro' the Winter.
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