Memoirs of Aaron Burr, Volume 1.
Matthew L. Davis
Part 3 out of 9
camp. I understood that while we were on the march, an officer arrived
express from Major-general Putnam, who commanded at Peekskill,
recommending or ordering Colonel Burr to retire with the public stores
to the mountains: to which Colonel Burr replied, that he could not run
away from an enemy whom he had not seen, mid that he would be
answerable for the public stores and for his men.
We arrived at Paramus, a distance of sixteen miles, before sunset.
There were considerable bodies of militia, in great alarm and
disorder, and doing much mischief to the neighbouring farms. They
could give no intelligence of the enemy but from rumour. Supposed them
to be within a few miles, and advancing.
Colonel Burr set some of the militia to repair the fences they had
destroyed, and arranged them as well as time would permit; and having
taken measures to secure the troops from surprise, and also for the
protection of the cornfields, he marched immediately, with about
thirty of the most active of the regiment, and a few of the militia,
to ascertain the position and numbers of the enemy. About ten o'clock
at night, being three miles from Hackensack, we got certain
intelligence that we were within a mile of the picket-guards of the
enemy. Colonel Burr then led the men into a wood, and ordered them to
sleep till he should awake them, of which we had great need, having
marched more than thirty miles since noon. Colonel Burr then went
alone to discover the position of the enemy. He returned about half an
hour before day and waked us, and told us that he was going to attack
the picket of the enemy. That we had only to follow him, and then
forbid any man to speak or to fire, on pain of death. He led us
between the sentinels in such a way that we were within a few yards of
the picket-guard before they suspected our approach. He then gave the
word, and we rushed upon them before they had time to take their arms,
and the greater part were killed. A few prisoners and some
accoutrements were brought off without the loss of one man. Colonel
Burr immediately sent off an express to Paramus, to order all the
troops to move, and to rally the country. Our little success had so
encouraged the inhabitants, that they turned out with great alacrity,
and put themselves under the command of Colonel Burr. But the enemy,
probably alarmed by these threatening appearances, retreated the next
day, leaving behind them the greater part of the cattle and plunder
which they had taken. Colonel Burr was prevented from pursuing, by
peremptory orders, which were received the day following the action,
to join, without delay, the main army, then in Pennsylvania.
I served in this regiment all the time it was under the command of
Colonel Burr, being about two years; after which he was called to take
a separate command in Westchester. During the whole time he never
permitted corporal punishment to be inflicted in a single instance;
yet no regiment in the army was under better discipline, and I doubt
whether it was equalled by any one.
FROM LIEUTENANT ROBERT HUNTER TO GABRIEL FURMAN,
ESQ., MEMBER OF ASSEMBLY.
New-York, 22d January, 1814.
I have understood that an application will be made to the legislature
by or on behalf of Colonel Burr, for remuneration for his military
services during our revolutionary war. Having had the happiness to
serve under him for more than two years, and having retained an
unbounded respect for his talents and character, you will pardon me
for asking your active support of any thing which may be moved in his
favour; for certainly, if any officer of the army deserved recompense,
it is Colonel Burr.
He sacrificed his health, and underwent more fatigue and privations
than any other officer of whom I had any knowledge. If I thought it
could be useful to him or amusing to you, I would enter into details;
but the facts are of general notoriety, and his superiority as a
military man, as far as my knowledge extends, universally allowed.
I will however detain you while I relate a single incident, because it
was the first of which I was a witness. I was attached as a cadet to
Colonel Malcolm's regiment, then stationed in the Clove, when Burr
joined it as lieutenant-colonel, being in the summer of 1777. Malcolm,
seeing that his presence was unnecessary while Burr was there, was
with his family about twenty miles distant. Early in September, we
heard that the enemy were out in great force. Burr gave orders for the
security of the camp and of the public stores, and within one hour
after news was received, marched with the choice of the regiment to
find the enemy. At Paramus the militia were assembled in considerable
force, but in great disorder and terror. No one could tell the force
or position of the enemy. Burr assumed the command, to which they
submitted cheerfully, as he alone (though but a boy in appearance)
seemed to know what he was about. He arranged and encouraged them as
well as time would permit, and, taking a few of the most hardy of the
men, continued his march towards the enemy. Two or three miles this
side Hackensack, we learned that we were near the enemy's advanced
guard. Burr chose a convenient place for the men to repose, and went
himself to examine the position of the enemy. A little before daylight
he returned, waked us, and ordered us to follow him. He led us
silently and undiscovered within a few paces of the British guard,
which we took or killed. From the prisoners we learned that the enemy
were about two thousand strong. Without loss of time he sent expresses
with orders to the militia, and to call out the country; and I have no
doubt but he would, within forty-eight hours, have had an army capable
of checking the progress of the enemy, and of preventing or impeding
their retreat; but they retreated the day following, and with every
mark of precipitation. During these two days and nights the colonel
did not lie down or take a minute's repose. Thus you perceive, my dear
sir, that Burr, being more than thirty miles distant when he heard of
the enemy, was in their camp the same night. You will agree with me
that things are not done so nowadays.
Similar instances of activity and enterprise occurred in each of the
four campaigns he served, and very frequently, during the winter, he
commanded on the lines of Westchester. I repeat, that it will afford
me pleasure to relate so much of these things as came to my own
knowledge, if it would be of any use.
Malcolm was never a month with the regiment after Burr joined it; so
that it was Burr who formed it, and it was a model for the whole army
in discipline and order. He never, in a single instance, permitted any
His attention and care of the men were such as I never saw, nor any
thing approaching to it, in any other officer, though I served under
many. It would be a disgrace to the country if such a man should be
denied a liberal compensation, when it is too well known that he
stands in need of it.
I shall consider myself as personally obliged by your exertions in his
favour, and hope your colleagues will add theirs to yours. Please to
show this letter to your colleagues, and to offer them my respects.
I am, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
The original order to join the main army in Pennsylvania, to which
Judge Gardner refers in the preceding statement, is found among the
papers of Colonel Burr, and is as follows:--
Headquarters, Peekskill, 27th September, 1777.
I have just received a letter from General Washington, dated
_thirty-four miles up Schuylkill_, wherein he informs me that General
Howe's army had found means to cross Schuylkill several miles below
his army; upon which he has ordered a further reenforcement from this
post, of which corps you must join. You will therefore, upon the
receipt of this, prepare to join General Parsons's brigade, whom I
have ordered up from the White Plains. I shall endeavour to send some
militia to guard the stores remaining in the Clove. Your baggage must
go with you.
I am, sir, your very humble servant,
ISRAEL PUTNAM, M. G.
Immediately after Colonel Burr had surprised and captured the British
guard, he received various complimentary notes from officers of the
army requesting details. A short extract from one is given.
Peekskill, 20th September, 1777.
I congratulate you upon the good fortune you met with in taking off
the enemy's picket. We have had various accounts about the manner in
which you executed the plan. The particulars I should be glad to hear
To Lieutenant-colonel A. BURR.
Colonel Burr, with his accustomed promptitude, as soon as he received
the orders of Major-general Putnam, put his regiment in motion. On the
second day of his march he received from General Varnum the following,
directed to Lieutenant-colonel Burr, on his march to Morristown.
Cakeat, October 1st, 1777.
I this moment received your favour of this date. The enemy have landed
at Powler's Hook in great force. I am apprehensive they mean attacking
Fort Montgomery by the way of the Clove. I have sent my baggage and
some forces there. The enemy must be attended to. You will therefore
halt in the nearest place that is convenient upon the receipt of this.
Keep a good look-out towards Newark, Elizabethtown, &c., or those
places from whence they can march into Pumpton. Should you be in
danger of being interrupted there, throw your party across the river
in Pumpton, and defend the bridge, if practicable. If not, make the
best retreat you can towards Morristown, &c. But by no means proceed
unless necessity urges, derived from the present object. In every
thing else pursue your best discretion.
I am, sir, your humble servant,
The following note from General Conway tends to prove, that although
Burr was only a lieutenant-colonel in 1777, yet that he was actually
received and treated as the commandant of his regiment, from which he
was never absent. Colonel Malcolm, in general, was employed on other
FROM GENERAL CONWAY.
29th October, 1777.
I have received a letter from Captain Kearsley respecting the
settlement of the rank of the captains and subalterns. I could not
give him an immediate answer, because I was then attending a
court-martial. I wish this matter was settled as soon as possible to
the satisfaction of the officers of your regiment. The general
officers being employed in several courts-martial, which, along with
the camp-duty, will take up all their time, I think you had best apply
to the adjutant-general. Know from him the manner in which the ranks
of the Virginia and Pennsylvania officers have been settled, and
arrange accordingly, at least pro tempore, the rank of your gentlemen.
I am, sir, your most obedient and humble servant,
The regiment joined the army in November, 1777, at Whitemarsh, in
Pennsylvania, twenty miles from Philadelphia. Colonel Burr, in command
of it, was stationed about half a mile in advance of the main body.
After a few weeks, the army went into winter-quarters at Valley Forge.
During the winter, Colonel Burr proposed to General Washington an
expedition against Staten Island. He stated to the commander-in-chief
that he was personally and well acquainted with many of the
inhabitants in the vicinity of the island. That he believed they would
join him as volunteers; and that he only asked two hundred men of his
own regiment as a nucleus. General Washington declined granting the
request. But subsequently, an unsuccessful attempt was made under the
command of Lord Stirling.
Within eight or ten miles of Valley Forge, there was a narrow and
important pass, known as the Gulf. A strong body of militia were
stationed to defend it. They were in the habit of exciting in the camp
false alarms; and the main body, in consequence, was frequently put in
motion. When not put in motion, they were greatly disturbed,
especially at night. These alarms generally resulted from the want of
a rigid discipline. General McDOUGALL was at Valley Forge, and
exceedingly annoyed. Of Burr, as a disciplinarian and a soldier, he
entertained a high opinion; and recommended to Washington that he
withdraw from this detachment Burr's seniors, as officers, and give
him the command of the post, which was accordingly done. Colonel Burr
immediately commenced a rigid system of police, visiting every night,
and at all hours of the night, the sentinels; changing their position,
&c. During the day he kept the troops under a constant drill. The
rigour of this service was not adapted to the habits of militia, who
had been accustomed to pass, in camp, a life of idleness, and to act
as suited their individual whims and caprices. A portion of the most
worthless became restless, and were determined to rid themselves of
such a commander.
Colonel Burr was notified of the contemplated mutiny, in which he
would probably fall a victim. He ordered the detachment to be formed
that night (it being a cold, bright moonlight), and secretly directed
that all their cartridges should be drawn, so that there should not be
a loaded musket on the ground. He provided himself with a good and
well-sharpened sabre. He knew all the principal mutineers. He marched
along the line, eying the men closely. When he came opposite to one of
the most daring of the ringleaders, the soldier advanced a step, and
levelled his musket at Colonel Burr, calling out--"Now is your time,
my boys." Burr, being well prepared and in readiness, anticipating an
assault, with a celerity for which he was remarkable, smote the arm of
the mutineer above the elbow, and nearly severed it from his body,
ordering him, at the same time, to take and keep his place in the
line. In a few minutes the men were dismissed, and the arm of the
mutineer was next day amputated. No more was heard of the mutiny; nor
were there afterwards, during Colonel Bun's command, any false alarms.
This soldier belonged to Wayne's brigade; and some of the officers
talked of having Colonel Burr arrested, and tried by a court-martial,
for the act; but the threat was never carried into execution.
That Colonel Burr joined the army at White Marsh, and was there in
command of his regiment, the following application and order will
Near White Marsh, Nov., 1777.
The papers and clothing of the companies which have lately joined
Malcolm's regiment are at Bethlem. The papers are now wanted; and
several of the officers cannot appear decent until they receive other
clothes: for these reasons I would ask your indulgence for leave of
absence, for two subalterns, six days. Their presence is not
particularly necessary with their companies.
Respectfully your ob't serv't,
Hon. General CONWAY.
This application General Conway returns, with the following
Colonel Burr is master to send such officers as he thinks requisite,
in order to procure the papers wanted, and the clothes for the use of
While the army was at Valley Forge, in the winter of 1777-78, the
difficulties between General Washington and General Gates, and their
respective friends, became, in a great measure, matter of publicity.
At this period there were two parties among the officers. Washington
had his warm friends and supporters. Lee and Gates had theirs.
Colonel Burr was of the latter. The merits of the question will not be
discussed; and the subject will only be referred to so far as Burr is
In the spring of 1776, at the request of the commander-in-chief, Burr
joined his military family for a short space of time, but soon became
dissatisfied and retired. On the 29th of August, 1776, the American
army retreated from Long Island. This retreat Burr had pressed upon
Putnam, Mifflin, and others. In his letter to T. Edwards,  dated
the 10th of August, nearly _three weeks_ before it took place, he
says: "They (the British) are to come through the Sound, and thus
invest us by the North and East rivers. They are then to land on both
sides of the island, join their forces, and draw a line across, _which
will hem us in, and totally cut off all communication, after which
they will have their own fun._"
During the night of the retreat, Burr was actively engaged aiding
McDOUGALL in the embarcation of the troops at Brooklyn; and, from a
personal knowledge of the localities of it and the adjacent places, he
imagined that he had rendered some service. It has been shown that, by
his intrepidity and perseverance in the retreat from New-York, he
rescued from impending danger the brigade of General Silliman. In
neither of these cases was his conduct noticed by the
commander-in-chief, either in general orders or otherwise. Young,
ardent, ambitious, and of a fiery temperament, he thought that justice
was not done to his efforts, and construed these, with other minor
occurrences about the same time, into acts of hostility towards him.
In September, 1776, therefore, his prejudices against General
Washington became fixed and unchangeable; and to the latest hour of
his life he recurred to the retreat from Long Island, and from the
city of New-York, with acrimonious feelings towards the
commander-in-chief. Whatever may be said to the contrary, as early as
this period those prejudices were formed and confirmed. That General
Washington placed no confidence in Burr, and that, for some reason, he
was exceedingly hostile towards him, is equally certain. Whether his
hostility commenced at this period is matter of more uncertainty.
Events already noticed demonstrate that the general considered him an
intrepid, efficient, and vigilant officer.
Thus, in 1777, Burr was the friend of Lee and Gates in opposition to
General Washington. In the beginning of January, 1778, it was reported
to Burr that Lord Stirling had made some remarks respecting the manner
in which the colonel had contributed to arrange the rank of his
(Burr's) subaltern officers. Lord Stirling at this time commanded the
division. It will be recollected that, a few weeks previous, Colonel
Burr had proposed to the commander-in-chief an enterprise against
Staten Island, which was rejected; but, immediately after, it was
unsuccessfully attempted by Lord Stirling. The difficulty, therefore,
in fact, between these gentlemen, grew out of the latter circumstance.
On the 7th of January, 1778, Burr addressed Lord Stirling, requesting
an explanation, which was promptly given in the following note, and
thus the matter terminated.
Camp, January 8th, 1778.
The receipt of your letter of yesterday's date not a little surprised
me, for I can assure you that I have never made use of a word in
censure of yourself, or of the court you mention. I some days ago
ordered a return to be brought in of the names and rank of the
officers of the division, independent of what the two courts were
doing, and desired Major Monroe  to direct the brigade-majors to
make them out as soon as possible: from this, I suppose, some mistake
has arose, which I will call upon Major Stagg to explain.
Your most obedient humble servant,
1. See Chapter VII.
2. See Chapter VII.
3. James Monroe, late president of the United States, then aid to Lord
Colonel Burr was a rigid disciplinarian, and in the performance of his
duty made no difference between those officers who were his friends
and those who were not; yet he never failed to adopt the most delicate
and gentlemanly course, where, in his opinion, rigour became
necessary. There are many documents tending to establish this fact,
such as the following:--
Camp, April 10th, 1778.
In my weekly returns, your lordship may have observed that Captain Tom
has been returned--_absent without leave_. As he had been long from
the regiment, and no reasons had been assigned to me for his
extraordinary absence, I thought myself in duty bound to make such
report. Upon his return to camp, he has accounted for his conduct in a
manner more satisfactory than I feared he could.
Unwilling to deal too severely with a valuable officer, and conscious
of the impropriety of passing any seeming neglect in entire silence, I
refer him to your lordship as the proper judge of his conduct and
My lord, you are acquainted with the character of Captain Tom. You
have often heard me mention him with respect. Should his absence
appear, in any degree, to have arisen from inattention, I hope your
lordship will treat it with all the delicacy which the conduct of a
man of feeling and of spirit can desire.
I have the honour to be,
Your lordship's most obedient servant,
FROM COLONEL MALCOLM.
Yorktown, June 16th, 1778.
MY DEAR SIR,
I have just now met with Captain Kearsley, which enables me to let you
know that I am here, sent by General Gates to Congress on a variety of
I have consented to do duty as adjutant-general to the northern army,
on conditions of holding my regiment, and that it should come to the
northward. The first agreed to; the last according to events.
None of the sixteen additional regiments stand on the new
establishment. Of the strongest, if ours comes within that
description, it will be one. _As General Washington writes General
Gates that he cannot conveniently spare you at this time_, I recommend
your sending three or four officers to the State of New-York on the
recruiting service. You know who will answer best, and who can be best
spared; and to recruit for the regiment at large, I think I can
provide you with some men.
As I have not time either to pass through, come, or to write any other
of the officers, do tell them how I am circumstanced, and offer them
my best respects. I am happy to hear that Major Pawling is better. I
shall write from Peekskill very soon, and beg to hear from you.
I ever am, very sincerely, affectionately yours,
By the preceding letter it appears that "General Washington had
written to General Gates that he could not conveniently spare Colonel
Burr." The reason is obvious. It was at the very moment when Sir Henry
Clinton was about to evacuate Philadelphia, and to retreat through
New-Jersey. The commander-in-chief was unwilling at such a crisis to
part with an efficient and gallant officer. On the 18th of June, Sir
Henry Clinton, with his forces, left the city, proceeded to Gloucester
Point, three miles down the river, and crossed the Delaware into
New-Jersey. That day he marched as far as Haddonfield. The Americans
crossed the Delaware at Corriel's Ferry, and halted, after a
distressing march from heat and rain, within five miles of Princeton.
During the preceding winter General Lee had been exchanged, and joined
the army at Valley Forge.
The enemy's force was now estimated at between 9000 and 10,000, rank
and file. The Americans at 10,600, exclusive of Maxwell's brigade,
about 1200, and about 1200 militia. On the 24th of June, 1778, the
commander-in-chief propounded to the general officers the question,
"Will it be advisable to hazard a general action?" The answer was,
"Not advisable; but a detachment of 1500 to be immediately sent to
act, as occasion may serve, on the enemy's left flank and rear, in
conjunction with the other continental troops and militia already
hanging about them, and the main body to preserve a relative position,
to act as circumstances may require." Signed by Lee, Stirling, Greene,
Fayette, Steuben, Poor, Paterson, Woodford, Scott, Portail, Knox.
Four days after, viz., the 28th of June, the battle of Monmouth was
fought. It was on this occasion that General Washington ordered the
arrest of General Lee: 1stly, For disobedience of orders in not
attacking the enemy on the 28th of June, agreeably to repeated
instructions; 2dly, For misbehaviour before the enemy on the same day,
by making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat; 3dly, For
disrespect to the commander-in-chief, in two letters, dated the 20th
of June. On the 12th of August the courtmartial, of which Lord
Stirling was president, found Lee guilty, and sentenced him to be
suspended from any command in the armies of the United States for the
term of twelve months. The history of the battle of Monmouth, with all
the consequences that followed, has long since been given to the world
by the friends and the opponents of the respective parties. It is only
necessary to state here, that Colonel Burr, on that occasion, was
ranked among the supporters of Lee, and had himself real or imaginary
cause of complaint against the commander-in-chief.
In this action Colonel Burr commanded a brigade in the division of
Lord Stirling, composed of his own regiment and some Pennsylvanians,
under the immediate command of Lieutenant-colonel Dummer. Gordon, in
his History of the American Revolution, says, "The check the British
received gave time to make a disposition of the left wing and second
line of the main army in the wood, and on the eminence to which he had
been directed and was retreating. On this were placed some batteries
of cannon by Lord Stirling, who commanded the left wing, which played
upon the British with great effect, and, _seconded by parties of
infantry detached to oppose them, effectually put a stop to their
advance_. The British, finding themselves warmly opposed in front,
attempted to turn the American left flank, but were repulsed."
Shortly after the action had become general, Burr discovered a
detachment of the enemy coming from the borders of a wood on the
southward. He instantly put his brigade in motion for the purpose of
checking them. It was necessary to cross a morass, over which a bridge
was thrown. He ordered Lieutenant-colonel Dummer to advance with the
Pennsylvania detachment, and that he would bring up the rear with his
own regiment. After a part of the brigade was over the bridge, Colonel
Barber, aid to General Washington, rode up, and said that the orders
of the commander-in-chief were that he should halt. Colonel Burr
remonstrated. He said his men, in their present position, were exposed
to the fire of the enemy, and that his whole brigade must now cross
the bridge before they could halt with any safety. Colonel Barber
repeated that the orders of General Washington were peremptory that he
should halt, which was accordingly done, and the brigade, in their
divided state, suffered severely. Lieutenant-colonel Dummer was
killed; Colonel Burr's horse was shot under him; and those who had
crossed the bridge were compelled to retreat.
The movements and the firing of the armies continued until dark. The
Americans remained on the battle-ground, with an intention of renewing
the attack in the morning. Burr's uniform practice was, when near an
enemy, to be up at night, visiting his own pickets, and taking the
necessary precautions for avoiding a surprise. The night preceding the
action Colonel Burr was thus engaged, as it was known that the British
would move at dawn of day, if not before, and General Washington had
given orders to Lee, who was in the advance, to commence the attack as
soon as they did move. The weather was intensely hot. Notwithstanding
the fatigue which Colonel Burr had undergone during the night of the
27th and the succeeding day, yet he remained up the night of the 28th
also. Sir Henry Clinton's troops were employed in removing their
wounded, and then marched away in such silence, that, though General
Poor lay near them, their retreat was effected without his knowledge.
Exhausted with fatigue, and worn out for the want of repose, on the
29th, Colonel Burr lay down under the shade of some trees and fell
asleep. When he awoke, he was exposed, and had been for some time, to
the rays of the sun. He found himself unable to walk without great
difficulty; and so severely was he afflicted, that he did not recover
from its effects for some years afterwards. A stranger to complaints
or murmurs when enduring pain, the real state of his health was
unknown to even his brother officers. In this situation he was
immediately ordered by General Washington, through Lord Stirling, to
repair to Elizabethtown, on highly important and confidential
business. The great object of the commander-in-chief was to ascertain,
as far as practicable, the future movements of the enemy, Sir Henry
Clinton having secured his retreat to the city of New-York. General
Washington proceeded to New-Brunswick, at which place Lord Stirling
was attending as president of the court-martial for the trial of
General Lee. The following notes will explain the character of Burr's
mission, and the confidence reposed in him by the commander-in-chief.
FROM LORD STIRLING.
Brunswick, July 4th, 1778.
I have this moment received yours of yesterday's date. On showing it
to General Washington, he approves of the progress of your inquiries,
and desires they may be continued. But he particularly desires me to
_send off this express to you_, to request that you will endeavour to
get all the intelligence you possibly can from the city of New-York:
What are the preparations of shipping for embarcation of foot or
horse?--what expeditions on hand?--whether up the North river,
Connecticut, or West Indies? For this purpose you may send one, two,
or three trusty persons over to the city, to get the reports, the
newspapers, and the truth, if they can. We are just going to exhibit a
grand champetre and feu de joie, so must only say that
I am sincerely yours,
FROM LORD STIRLING.
Brunswick, July 6th, 1778,
I have your letter of yesterday's date. The court-martial, of which I
am president, is adjourned to Morristown, which will oblige me to go
there to-morrow. I must therefore desire you will direct your letters,
with such intelligence as you may procure, to his excellency General
Washington, who will be on the line of march with the army. In haste,
Your most obedient servant,
FROM LORD STIRLING.
Brunswick, July 6, 1778.
General Washington desires me to state that he wishes you would employ
three, four, or more persons, to go to Bergen heights, Weehawk,
Hoebuck, or any other heights thereabout, convenient to observe the
motions of the enemy's shipping, and to give him the earliest
intelligence thereof; whether up the river particularly. In short,
every thing possible that can be obtained.
FROM TENCH TILGHMAN.
Newark, July 8th, 1778.
His excellency desires me to inquire whether you have received any
information of the enemy's movements, situation, or design? He will
leave this place about 4 o'clock this afternoon, before which he will
expect to hear from you.
I am, dear sir, your most obedient,
Having completed the business on which he had been despatched by the
commander-in-chief, Colonel Burr proceeded to join his regiment,
although his health was very bad. In a few days he received the
Camp, near Croton Bridge, 19th July, 1778.
Colonel Malcolm's regiment is ordered to march at two o'clock
to-morrow morning, to the fort at West Point, on Hudson river, with
the regiment commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Parker, which is to join
on the road near Croton bridge. The commander of the two regiments
will make all convenient despatch, marching ten miles a day, as water
and ground will admit.
The Baron DE KALB.
Early in July, 1778, in consequence of Sir Henry Clinton having
arrived in New-York with his army, much excitement and some
apprehension existed in the upper part of the state respecting the
tories. The legislature had previously adopted rigid measures on the
subject, and it became necessary that an intelligent and confidential
military officer should be designated to take charge of them. General
Washington selected Colonel Burr for this purpose, The trust was one
of a delicate character.
FROM ROBERT BENSON.
Camp, White Plains, 2d August, 1778.
By an act of the legislature of the State of New-York, the
commissioners for detecting and defeating conspiracies, &c., were
directed to tender an oath of allegiance, in the said act prescribed,
to certain persons, inhabitants of this state, who have affected to
observe, during the present war, a dangerous and equivocal neutrality;
and on their refusal to take the same, that the said commissioners
should cause them to be conveyed within the enemy's lines. In
consequence whereof, sundry persons, to whom the said oath hath been
tendered, and who have refused to take the same, were by the
commissioners directed to rendezvous at Fishkill, on Monday next, in
order to embark on board a sloop to be provided at that place for the
In order that this business might be conducted with as little danger
as possible to the operations of the present campaign, his excellency
Governor Clinton requested his excellency the commander-in-chief to
appoint an officer of the army for the purpose; and you being assigned
to this business, his excellency Governor Clinton hath directed me, in
his name, to request you to repair to Fishkill on Monday next, &c.
If by any accident you should not find the commissioners at Fishkill,
his excellency will be much obliged to you if you would ride up to
Poughkeepsie, where the board are sitting.
I am, with great respect, yours, &c.,
ROBERT BENSON, Secretary.
P. S. Enclosed is the flag; and his excellency the governor desires
you will fill the blank with the name of the sloop, and the names of
the persons who may be put on board by the commissioners.
_At a meeting of the Board of Commissioners for detecting and
defeating Conspiracies, held at Poughkeepsie, August 3d, 1778._
Present--Mr. Platt, Mr. Harpur, Mr. Cantine, and Mr. Wynkoop.
The board having received a letter from his excellency Governor
Clinton, dated at camp, White Plains, the second instant, informing
that his excellency General Washington had appointed
Lieutenant-colonel Burr to conduct such persons as had refused to take
the oath of allegiance to this state, prescribed by an act of the
legislature thereof, within the enemy's lines; therefore,
_Resolved_, That Colonel Burr be served with a copy of the proceedings
of this board against William Smith and Cadwallader Colden, Esquires,
and Mr. Roeliff J. Eltinge; and that he is hereby authorized to remove
each and every one of them within the enemy's lines, in such way and
manner as his excellency General Washington may have already directed,
or hereafter shall direct.
Extracts from the minutes, by order,
TEUNIS TAPPAN, Secretary to the Board.
FROM THE COMMISSIONERS TO COLONEL BURR. Poughkeepsie, August 3d, 1778.
The commissioners for conspiracies being informed by his excellency
the governor of your appointment to receive at Fishkill such persons
as have refused to take the oath prescribed by a law of this state,
and who, by virtue of the said law, are to be sent into the enemy's
lines, by us appointed to carry the same into execution; in
consequence of this, we hereby send you William Smith, Cadwallader
Colden, Esquires, and Mr. Roeliff J. Eltinge, who have refused to take
the said oath, and thereby have subjected themselves to a removal
within the said lines, which removal you will be pleased to take
The bearer, Cornelius E. Wynkoop, Esquire, is one of the board, to
whom we refer you for such particulars as may be necessary to adjust,
the more effectually to enable us to convey, in future, such gentlemen
as the above over into the enemy's lines.
We are, sir, with respect,
Your most obedient servants,
ZEPHA. PLATT, )
ROBERT HARPUR, ) Commissioners.
PETER CANTINE, Jun.,)
FROM THEODORE SEDGWICK.
Kinderhook, August 7th, 1778.
MY DEAR SIR,
I write you in haste by Mr. Van Schaack,  who will convey it to you
should you be at West Point. This gentleman has, by long acquaintance,
manifested such qualities as have much attached me to his interest;
but, most unfortunately for his friends, has differed in political
opinions from the body of the community in general, and from me in
particular, in consequence of which difference (by means of the test
act of this state) he is about to be removed to the city of New-York;
and has been so obliging as to offer me his assistance in procuring
for, and sending to me, a few family necessaries. Should it be in your
power, I am very certain it would be an unnecessary request to desire
you to lend me any assistance: nor need I desire you to render Mr. Van
Schaack's short stay among you as agreeable as his and your
circumstances will permit.
I most sincerely congratulate you on the happy prospect of a speedy
termination to the war. I believe I shall visit the camp soon, in
which case you will have the pleasure to see Mr. Edwards in company. I
have, since I saw you, become the father of a second daughter. Pamela
has had a most tedious and dangerous illness, but is, thank God, now,
for her, very well. You may be sure she will be glad to be
affectionately remembered by you.
Yours most sincerely,
It has heretofore been stated that Colonel Burr was of the Lee and
Gates party in the army. A short note from Lee to Burr will show the
poignancy of the general's feelings under the sentence of the
court-martial, and the mortification and disappointment he experienced
when Congress refused to reverse that sentence.
FROM GENERAL LEE.
As you are so kind as to interest yourself so warmly in my favour, I
cannot resist the temptation of writing you a few lines. Till these
two days, I was convinced the Congress would unanimously have
rescinded the absurd, shameful sentence of the court-martial; but,
within these two days, I am taught to think that equity is to be put
out of the question, and the decision of the affair to be put entirely
on the strength of party; and, for my own part, I do not see how it is
possible, if the least decency or regard for national dignity has
place, that it can be called a party business.
I wish I could send you the trial, and will the moment I can obtain
one. I think myself, and I dare say you will think on the perusal,
that the affair redounds more to my honour, and the disgrace of my
persecutors, than, in the warmth of indignation, either I or my
aid-de-camps have represented it. As I have no idea that a proper
reparation will be made to my injured reputation, it is my intent,
whether the sentence is reversed or not reversed, to resign my
commission, retire to Virginia, and learn to hoe tobacco, which I find
is the best school to form a consummate _general_. This is a discovery
I have lately made. Adieu. Dear sir, believe me to be your most
Sincerely obliged servant,
After the battle of Monmouth, in June, 1778, Colonel Burr was
constantly employed. His health, from the fatigues of that and the
subsequent day, was greatly impaired. Early in October, he found
himself, in a measure, unfit for active service. He left West Point,
where his regiment was stationed, and repaired to Elizabethtown, in
the hope that a few weeks of repose might prove beneficial; but in
these hopes he was sorely disappointed. He then determined to ask a
furlough, and retire from the army for a few months, provided the
furlough was granted without his receiving pay. On this point he was
very fastidious. By these feelings he was uniformly governed through a
long life. He never sought nor accepted an office for the emolument it
afforded. He wrote the commander-in-chief on the subject, as
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Elizabethtown, 24th October, 1778.
The excessive heat and occasional fatigues of the preceding campaign,
have so impaired my health and constitution as to render me incapable
of immediate service. I have, for three months past, taken every
advisable step for my recovery, but have the mortification to find,
upon my return to duty, a return of sickness, and that every relapse
is more dangerous than the former. I have consulted several
physicians; they all assure me that a few months retirement and
attention to my health are the only probable means to restore it. A
conviction of this truth, and of my present inability to discharge the
duties of my office, induce me to beg your excellency's permission to
retire from pay and duty till my health will permit, and the nature of
service shall more particularly require my attention, provided such
permission can be given without subjecting me to any disadvantage in
point of my present rank and command, or any I might acquire during
the interval of my absence.
I shall still feel and hold myself liable to be called into service at
your excellency's pleasure, precisely as if in full pay, and barely on
furlough; reserving to myself only the privilege of judging of the
sufficiency of my health during the present appearance of inactivity.
My anxiety to be out of pay arises in no measure from intention or
wish to avoid any requisite service. But too great a regard to
malicious surmises, and a delicacy perhaps censurable, might otherwise
hurry me unnecessarily into service, to the prejudice of my health,
and without any advantage to the public, as I have had the misfortune
already to experience.
I am encouraged in this proposal by the opinion Lord Stirling has been
pleased to express of the justice of my request;--the sense your
excellency must entertain of the weak state of the corps in which I
have the honour to command, and the present sufficiency of its
respective officers. I purpose keeping my quarters at this place until
I have the honour of your excellency's answer, which I wait with
I am, with respect,
Your humble servant,
His Excellency GEORGE WASHINGTON.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Headquarters, Fredericksburgh, 26th October, 1778.
I have your favour of the 24th. You, in my opinion, carry your ideas
of delicacy too far when you propose to drop your pay while the
recovery of your health necessarily requires your absence from the
service. It is not customary, and it would be unjust. You therefore
have leave to retire until your health is so far re-established as to
enable you to do your duty. Be pleased to give the colonel notice of
this, that he may know where to call upon you should any unforeseen
exigency require it.
I am your obedient servant,
On the receipt of the above letter, Colonel Burr repaired to West
Point and joined his regiment, notwithstanding the shattered state of
his constitution. He was unwilling to absent himself from the service,
and at the same time receive pay. Colonel Burr was now in his
twenty-third year, and yet so youthful was his appearance, that
strangers, on a first introduction, viewed him as a mere boy. As
evidence of the fact, he has often related with great good-humour this
anecdote. While he was commanding at West Point, a countryman had some
business to transact with him. He requested admittance to Colonel
Burr. The orderly sergeant conducted him into headquarters.
"Sir," said the countryman, "I wish to see Colonel Burr, as I have
something to say to him."
"You may proceed. I am Colonel Burr."
"I suppose," rejoined the honest farmer, "you are Colonel Burr's son."
The sentinel at the door heard and repeated the conversation, and Burr
was often afterwards designated as Colonel Burr's son. He remained at
West Point until December, when he was removed to Haverstraw by the
orders of General McDOUGALL, and had the command of a brigade,
consisting of Malcolm's regiment, and a portion of Spencer's and
Patten's regiments. He was subsequently ordered to take command on the
lines in Westchester county, a most important and not less perilous
post. In December, he received from Mrs. J. Montgomery, the widow of
General Montgomery, a letter, as follows :--
FROM MRS. MONTGOMERY.
Rhinebeck, December 25th, 1775.
I take the liberty to enclose a list of things Mr. Smith was so kind
as to send me from New-York by the return flag. The captain of the
flag, of whom I made some inquiries, professed to know nothing of
them, and referred me to Colonel Burr, who might know something of the
I am almost ashamed to take up your attention about so small an
affair; but the difficulty that attends obtaining the least article of
dress, must, I think, plead my apology. Besides, having this
opportunity, I would wish to assure Colonel Burr of the very great
respect I have for those gentlemen whom General Montgomery professed
to esteem; among which, sir, I am told you was not the least. To be by
him distinguished argues a superior merit, and will ensure you a most
sincere welcome at Rhinebeck should it lie in your way.
I am, sir, with esteem, yours, &c.
On taking command of the lines in Westchester, Colonel Burr received
from brother officers congratulatory letters, so distinguished was the
station considered. Colonel Udney Hay, under date of the 29th of
January, 1779, says, "As you have now got the post of honour, accept
of my sincere wishes that you may reap the laurels I believe you
As soon as Burr arrived at the camp, he commenced a system of reform
and discipline. Previous to his arrival, there was exhibited a most
disgraceful scene of plunder, and sometimes of murder, along the whole
frontier. This he promptly checked; and, in all his efforts to
accomplish this end, he was sustained by General McDOUGALL.
TO GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Camp, White Plains, 12th January, 1779.
The enclosed return will show you the deficiency of officers and men
at this post. Above the complement for the parties, I wish to have a
guard for myself, and a commissary's guard. To detail men for these
purposes will interfere with the rotation of duty.
I arrived here on Friday evening. The weather on Saturday was too
severe and stormy to permit me to make myself acquainted with the post
and disposition of the troops. I improved yesterday for those
purposes, and found it necessary to alter the position. I have moved
the left three miles forward, and the two centre divisions so as to
allign with that and Tarrytown. The posts now possessed by these
_Second._ Isaac Reed's and John Hammond's, near Sawmill river.
_Third._ Starr's and Moses Miller's, one and a half miles in front of
_Fourth._ Merritt's and neighbouring houses, near Farmer Oakley's.
By this arrangement the extent of my command is contracted three
miles, and the distance from my left to the Sound is three miles less
than before. The men more compact, and the posts equidistant from the
enemy. While I was upon the business above mentioned, Colonel
Littlefield and Mr. Thomas visited Colonel Enos and Lieutenant-colonel
Holdridge, to enforce the necessity of an immediate junction, to
complete the security of the country upon the present plan; but these
gentlemen say they have no orders to cross Biram river. They have
their quarters in Horseneck, and some troops are north of that place.
Thus, notwithstanding my endeavours, the country will be unprotected,
and I am insecure.
I enclose you the arrest of a Captain Brown. I am sorry for the
necessity of any thing which may have the appearance of severity; but
the avowal of behaviour so very unbecoming constrained me to it. The
required parties of militia will, I believe, join me this week. I
shall write you about iron-bound casks in a few days. There is not a
hide, the property of the country, in all this quarter, except
fourteen in the hands of the commissary of hides. I shall, as soon as
possible, make myself acquainted with the officers of the militia. I
have sent to Bedford, but have no answer, about rum, &c.
I send the names of a few of Malcolm's officers, whom I would wish
were ordered to join me immediately. Some of them, I believe, are
absent. Lieutenant-colonel Littlefield had it in intention to go with
most of the men this evening on an expedition to West Farms and
Morrisania. Abstracted from your verbal instructions, the plan
appeared to me premature. The men here are not half officered; the
country by no means sufficiently reconnoitred; the force very
inadequate, even for covering parties. As there was a prospect that
each of the inconveniences would shortly be removed, I advised to
defer it. To convince them that my disapprobation arose from no
jealousy of honour, I told Colonel Littlefield that if the enterprise
should hereafter be thought more advisable, I would leave to him the
execution: if I should think proper to send him on that command, I
would act with the covering party. One hundred and fifty continentals
and fifty militia was the force proposed for this evening; but as
there are a number of volunteers on the spot, I consented to and
encouraged an excursion to Frog's Neck, under Colonel Littlefield. I
expect little from it, but have not so much to fear.
I hope Mr. Stagg succeeded in his application to Mr. Erskine. A
draught of the country would be of great service to me. In your
instructions about plunder, you direct that all the fat horses, &c. in
the hands of disaffected persons, "lying certain courses," are to be
taken, on the supposition that they are designed for, or will fall
into the hands of, the enemy. As this mode of determining may be the
source of much altercation, I could wish, if you thought proper, the
seizable property might be designated by a certain number of miles
below our lines, or below the line intended to be formed from
Tarrytown, through White Plains, to Sawpits or Rye.
The two parties from Paterson's brigade will most of them want shoes
in ten days. It is my opinion that a great part of those who came last
with new shoes, will not, at the expiration of the time, be able to
return for the want of shoes. Those they now have are of the slightest
French make; many already worn out. If these men must be again
relieved by others better shod, and they again in a few days, there
will be such an endless marching and countermarching as will harass
the troops, and wear out more shoes than all the duty performed here.
Would not these evils be in some measure remedied by sending me a
parcel of shoes? I will keep an exact account of the regiment they are
Your most obedient servant,
TO GENERAL McDOUGALL.
White Plains, January 13th, 1779.
All the horsemen were so infatuated with the itch for scouting, that I
had not one to despatch with the letter herewith sent. Colonel
Littlefield, with the party, returned this morning. They brought up
one prisoner. I shall send him up with another grand rascal to-morrow.
There are evidences enough against Merritt to hang a dozen such, but
many of them dare not appear at present.
Notwithstanding the cautions I gave, and notwithstanding Colonel
Littlefield's good intentions, I blush to tell you that the party
returned loaded with plunder. Sir, till now, I never wished for
arbitrary power. I could gibbet half a dozen _good whigs_, with all
the venom of an inveterate tory. The party had not been returned an
hour, before I had six or seven persons from New-Rochelle and Frog's
Neck, with piteous applications for stolen goods and horses. Some of
these persons are of the most friendly families. I am mortified that
not an officer on the ground has shown any activity to detect the
plunderers or their spoil. I have got three horses, and a number of
other articles, and have confined two soldiers who had them in
possession. But these are petty rascals. I feel more pity than
indignation towards them. They were honest men till debauched by this
expedition. I believe some officers are concerned. If I can be assured
of that (and I shall spare no labour), you may depend on seeing them
with a file of men. The militia volunteers excelled in this business.
If I detect them I shall treat them with the same rigour, unless you
advise to the contrary. I wish you would give me directions. I have at
least a fortnight's work before me to undo the doings of last night.
This day I enter on my command. Truly an ominous commencement. Is this
the promised protection? I read in the face of every child I pass; for
the whole _honour_ of the expedition redounds to me. But enough of
this; more perhaps than you will thank me for. Webbers was of the
party, and can give you a history. I now perceive from whence arose
the ardour for scouting. I suppose the sergeants' parties of militia,
when they join me, will be subject to courts of the line.
Your most obedient servant,
FROM MAJOR PLATT, AID TO GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Peekskill, January 14th, 1779.
The general has received yours, and directs me to inform you that such
assistance will be granted as is necessary for the protection of the
country and your honour.
He desires that no expedition be set on foot till you hear further
from him. He has no objections to Colonel Littlefield's remaining with
you till the arrival of more officers.
Handcuffs will be sent you as soon as they can be made. If you have a
number of prisoners at any time to send up, let them be fastened right
and left hands, and the guard cut the strings of their breeches, and
there will be no danger of their making their escape, as they will be
obliged to hold them up continually with one hand.
Last evening Josiah Fowler made his escape from the provost; possibly
he may fall into the hands of your scouts or patrols. If he does,
please to take the best care of him.
The general will write you fully by the captain who will soon
re-enforce you. One hundred pair of shoes will be sent you. The map of
the country is herewith transmitted, for the purpose of taking a
sketch of it. You will please to do it as soon as possible, and send
it up by a careful hand. The general does not wish you ever to carry
it from your quarters.
Your most obedient servant,
RICHARD PLATT, Aid-de-camp.
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, Peekskill, January 15th, 1779.
MY DEAR SIR,
Your favours of the 11th and 12th, with their enclosures, came duly to
I am much mortified that Captain Brown should have merited your
putting him in an arrest. But you have done your duty, for which
accept my thanks.
If an officer commanding an outpost will not be very vigilant, he
exposes his party to be butchered, as the unfortunate Colonel Balor
I am very sorry the militia have conducted so disorderly; but I wish
you to deal tenderly with them, as they are brave, and are very sore,
by the plundering of the tories. But support the honour of our arms
and your own, by giving redress to the innocent and defenceless.
As the principal objects of your command are to protect the good
people of these states, and prevent supplies going to the enemy, you
will not send out any parties, or make any excursions, but what are
necessary for intelligence, and the preservation of your parties, till
further orders. Your own ideas on this subject fully meet my
approbation. In the meantime, let all the officers and men of your
command, who are unacquainted with the ground, traverse it
alternately, from flank to flank, and as many miles in front as you
may judge necessary. The position of the whole I leave to your own
discretion, as circumstances shall arise. A good captain, and twenty
picked men, of Nixon's, with two drums, accompany this, to re-enforce
your left, and the orders are despatched to Major Pawling for the
officers you wrote for. One hundred pair of shoes_ will be sent to you
by this snow.
Send up all Burgoyne's men, with a good corporal and small party of
the nine-months men, with the first deserters or prisoners. The
sergeants' parties of the militia who are to join you, will, by their
engagements, be under the continental articles of war. If any of the
militia who may go out on scouts or parties with yours will not submit
to the articles of war and your orders, don't suffer them to go with
them, nor to appropriate any plunder; but order it to be given to the
continental troops, and those who shall submit to those articles.
If any of the militia maraud, send them up to me, with a guard. They
must not be suffered to violate civil and military law. The
legislature is the proper authority to enable them to make reprisals.
For whatever disorders they commit in front of your lines, will be
placed by the enemy to your account.
In all doubtful questions which may arise on my orders as to the
limits or legality of plunder in your front, _I authorize you to be
the sole judge._ In the exercise of this trust, it is my wish you
should lean to the honour of our arms.
A surgeon is directed to attend your party; when he arrives, please to
advise me of it, that I may be relieved from all anxiety about you and
your corps. If you are not supplied with rum before a quantity of it
arrives here, we shall not forget you. If your horsemen are mounted
and appointed, as well as your horse-guides, they will receive the
same pay. If the oxen at Mr. Hunter's are not in working order, put
them in the care of your forage-master till they are.
If you can get the articles taken from the inhabitants in the late
expedition restored, let the militia off for that offence. When you
get things in train, I flatter myself you will not have any fixture
trouble with them. But the officers of the regular troops must be
rigorously dealt with, according to our martial law.
As you and the commissary will be in the rear of the whole, the
nine-months men, worse shod than the other troops, may serve till I
have more leisure to complete your corps.
Don't omit sending to me all the newspapers you can procure. I am so
borne down with correspondence, that I can only add that
I am your affectionate humble servant,
P. S. I fear the pickets from your parties are too far advanced from
them. The distance ought not to exceed half a mile at night; and the
quarters of the pickets should be changed every night after dark.
Frequent patrols from each give the best security.
I submit it to your consideration whether it would not be of service
to have a quantity of old rags collected at each party and picket, for
the patrols to muffle their feet with in frosty weather when there is
no snow on the ground. It will prevent their being heard by the enemy,
and yours will hear those of the enemy if there are any near them.
1. There were two families of Van Schaicks in the State of New-York.
They spelled their names differently. The family of Colonel _Van
Schaick_ were revolutionary whigs. The _Van Schaacks_ were adherents
of the crown.
TO GENERAL MALCOLM.
White Plains, 21st January, 1779.
Mr. Benjamin Sands, and three other persons from Long Island, banished
for malepractices, wait on you with this. Benjamin Sands, jun. appears
to be a man of good understanding. He can give you a detail of their
Captain Black and three subalterns of Malcolm's regiment joined me
William Burtis goes under guard to you to-morrow. Also a Garret
Duyckman, whom I took upon information of Burtis. I knew of Burtis
having drove cattle before the receipt of your letter. Of his being a
spy I know nothing. Burtis wishes to procure favour by giving
information. I enclose his confession to me, that you may compare it
with his story to you. He has not told me all he knows, I am
convinced. I can secure Elijah Purdy any time if you direct. There is
no danger in delaying till I can hear from you. I wish to clear the
country of these rascals. It would be of infinite service to hang a
few up in this neighbourhood.
The two parties from Nixon's brigade, which came under sergeant's last
week, are so distressed for clothes, that I am obliged to send them to
their regiments. They came provided but for one week. Lieutenant
Wottles marches them up. I wish him to return with the re-enforcement.
I have sent the corporal and sixty-nine men to Bedford. I have now
about 170 privates. A single company, and twelve from Hammond's
regiment, join me to-day. That is his complement.
A commissary of hides at this place can furnish me with shoes as I
want them, if you will give an order for that purpose. He delivers
none without a general order. I can purchase rum here at twenty
dollars per gallon. There is no commissary of purchases.
There are a number of women here of bad character, who are continually
running to New-York and back again. If they were men, I should flog
them without mercy.
It was the indolence of the commissary, and not the real scarcity of
wheat, which alarmed me. I shall not trouble you again on the score of
flour. I send you two papers by the sergeant.
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Peekskill, January 22, 1779.
There are reasons, which I shall explain to you at a proper time, why
----- should not be sought after. Make a great noise about him; abuse
him as the vilest of horse thieves, and a spy for the enemy; but send
no parties after him. If you are told where he is, turn off the matter
by some pretext or other. Don't carry this out on party, or out of
your quarters to any unsafe place.
FROM WILLIAM PATERSON.
I am at the Hermitage, my dear Burr, and cannot forbear writing you a
few lines, although I expected, before this time, to have been
favoured with a letter from you. Mrs. Prevost informs me that there is
the most flattering prospect of your soon being reinstated in your
health. The intelligence gives me real pleasure, and the more so,
because, until Mrs. Prevost told me, I had no idea of your disorder
being so rooted and dangerous. May health soon revisit you, my good
friend; and when it does, may it continue with you for years. I am
pleased with the hope of seeing you in Jersey early in the spring. I
shall be this way again in March, when perhaps I shall meet you at
this place. I write this standing in the midst of company. I am called
off to court, and therefore, for this time, adieu.
FROM MAJOR PLATT, AID TO GENERAL MCDOUGALL.
Peekskill, January 26th, 1779.
Captain Wiley, of Learned's brigade, will hand you this. He brings
with him forty men, I believe as good as any in the army. 'Tis the
general's intention that Nixon's, Paterson's, and the late Learned's
brigades, shall each furnish a party of sixty. You will please, after
selecting the best men for your parties, to order all the rest (save
your own and commissary's guard) to join their corps, as they complain
the duty is hard above. Either Captain Williams or Spur must leave
you, as Captain Wiley will command the party from Learned's. If there
are three subs for each party exclusive of those from your own
regiment, you can detain the whole of the subs of other brigades or
not, as you like.
Kearsley has not yet joined. The general will review all your letters
in a day or two, and give them full answers.
I am your most obedient servant,
RICHARD PLATT, Aid-de-camp.
TO GENERAL McDOUGALL.
White Plains, January 29th, 1779.
I had this day the favour of yours by Lieutenant Rost. The same
gentleman brought me a re-enforcement of thirty-nine privates, and a
proportion of officers. This enables me to send to camp a few of the
worst provided of the nine-months men. The returning party takes up
the prisoners mentioned in my last, and a deserter. Two more of
Malcolm's officers have joined me.
I enclose you a copy of a letter from Colonel Holdridge. The
enterprise appears to me something romantic; but I have acquainted
Colonel Holdridge of the steps I shall take should it prove serious,
and have appointed a place near this to meet him, if he thinks it
necessary. The number, disposition, and apparent intentions of the
enemy will point out our duty. I am this evening told, by good
authority, that Emerick is re-enforced, either by volunteer or
enlisted refugees, to the amount of 4 or 500, and that there are
strong symptoms of an excursion. I shall pay due attention to these
reports and authorities.
These two days past I have taken a particular view of the country and
roads from White Plains to Mamaroneck, Rye, and Sawpits. I find it
much easier protected, and more secure, than the western part of this
county. From the Bronx to Mamaroneck river, through White Plains, is
three miles. There are very few fords or bridges on either of those
rivers. Might it not be of service to draw a line, if but for a few
days, from Bronx to Rye, or Mamaroneck? The Purchase would be
certainly a ridiculous post.
The map is herewith sent. Lieutenant Chatburn, who has business at
West Point, will deliver this.
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, Peekskill, 6th February, 1779.
MY DEAR SIR,
I have devoted part of this night to review your letters, and to give
them some kind of answers. I can only mention ideas. I leave you to
The bearer is one of the sentries who was partly the occasion of the
late misfortune. I have reproved them severely, which I hope will have
the desired effect. For the future, order the sentry who does not fire
the alarm one hundred lashes, and the like number to any who shall
part with his arms without its being wrested from him by the enemy;
and a reward of twenty dollars to any non-commissioned officer or
soldier who shall bring in such arms. Publish this in orders.
I am fully sensible of your embarrassments and difficulties, for want
of vigilant officers and discipline. Be it your honour to surmount
them. Accept of my thanks for your attention to the service. Order one
pound and a half of flour or bread, and the like quantity of meat, to
each man, till the first of April. The duty is hard, and exercise
increases the appetite. Will it not advance the service to send you
down some biscuit? Give Commissary Leake no rest without vegetables.
His guard will be relieved by a militia one. How many sergeants'
parties have you? Your guard and that of the commissary will be taken
from the brigades, as 120 from Paterson's is to 60 from the others. In
returns, designate the strength from each brigade. The regiments whose
men have no bayonets, some means will be devised to furnish them.
Heavy packs should not be at the stated quarters. Fix a day beforehand
when you will hear the complaints of the disaffected. If any come on
other days, give them thirty-nine lashes first; wait the effects of
The oath of allegiance is no criterion of characters, nor the want of
a certificate thereof an evidence of a person's being disaffected.
Uniform character is the best rule to judge. Send up under guard all
women who stroll to New-York without leave. But cause them to be well
searched by matrons for papers _immediately_ when they are taken;
hair, caps, stays, and its lining, should be well examined. Do the
like to those going down. Send up the evidences against Bettice. I
approve your manner of treating Captain Williams. I did not yet intend
the hard money taken by him should be distributed. But, if it is done,
let it remain so. In future, no hard money should be distributed. You
will see the use I intend it for in a few days. I am sure it will
divert you. I hope soon to make up another party of sixty. If
Lieutenant Freeman is not returned to you, I shall send for him. Are
the wagons you mentioned some time ago returned? What is become of the
rifles? I want them much for the servants who go out with me on
horseback. All returning parties should march together till they
arrive at the cantonment of the first corps, then with their
respective officers. This will prevent disorders.
After rain or snow, I wish you to inspect the arms, and order them, in
your presence, to discharge them at a mark. The few cartridges spent
in this way will be well disposed of. Colonel Putnam is marched to the
mouth of Croton. Greaton's, in two or three days, moves near Pine's
bridge on that river. I think the present scarcity of bread will
prevent a movement of the enemy with regular troops. Major-general
Putnam is right in having the militia of Fairfield ready, if it has
not the effect on them, like that of the boy and the wolf in the
fable. If Ensign Leeland is still on the lines, send him up as an
evidence against Captain Brown.
A sea-captain, who, with three others, made their escape from New-York
the night of the 4th instant, says fourteen sail of the Cork fleet had
arrived last Sunday.
I am your affectionate
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, Peekskill, 7th February, 1779.
MY DEAR SIR,
I directed Major Platt, some days since, to inform you, no provision
of any kind should be suffered to go below you till further orders.
Please to announce this to the justices. You have herewith a flag;
fill up the blank. On its return, desire the officer to call at
Colonel Phillips's for any papers or catalogues of books which may be
left there for me. The letter to Mr. Delancey to be left with the
enemy's officer on his advanced post. Cast your mind on the best means
of sweeping Westchester and West Farms of the tories when it is good
sledding, supposing two regiments to cover you. But this under the
Gonsalez Manuel, the bearer of this, brings with him John Broughton, a
prisoner of war, who is exchanged. You will please to order him kept
at a convenient distance in the rear till the flag goes in, when he is
to be sent and delivered to the commanding officer of the advanced
post. A receipt must be taken for him and transmitted to me.
FROM MAJOR PLATT.
Peekskill, February 23d, 1779.
In yours of yesterday you requested particular care of the enclosed,
but there was none. Malcolm left this yesterday for Haverstraw. He
intends, with Major Pawling, to pay you a visit by water, and perhaps
it will be to-day. I think there is some probability of his relieving
you. At any rate, you will be relieved by the time you wish.
As the general writes fully by this conveyance, I shall not be so
particular as I otherwise would. Cammell will be down shortly to pay
off accounts. One dollar per day is allowed for a saddle-horse. Your
certificates to the Van Warts will entitle them to their pay, be it
what it may.
The general has ordered Williams and Wattles to return the hard money
to him. It will be put in your hands. Love to Roger, when he comes.
Compliments to Malcolm's lads and Benson.
With singular affection,
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL
Headquarters, 23d February, 1779.
MY DEAR SIR,
Your several favours have been handed to me. I have not time now to
answer them fully. It will, however, be done by Major Hull, who is
ordered down to assist you. All your wishes will be gratified. One
hundred and twenty picked men, with bayonets, will reach you
to-morrow. Send your commissary up for rum. Let him call on me.
I am yours,
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, 15th February, 1779.
Your favour of the 12th came to hand with the prisoners. I have long
known Ackerly was up, and his business, but did not think his present
situation of sufficient importance to have him taken by K. Mr. Platt
will inform you how I intend to supply you with bayonets. He reached
you, I suppose, yesterday evening. I intend to send down the remains
of Colonel Poor's regiment for a few days, to cover a forage making by
Mr. Hayes near Mamaroneck; and shall send by them public arms, with
bayonets, to be exchanged for yours which want them. No good officer
or man now below with you must be relieved till further orders. Give
the officers of Poor's all the advice and assistance you can. The
money taken from Ketor will be divided among the officers and men in
such manner as you think proper. I shall send them down six for one
when I can raise cash.
Greaton's is at Pine bridge. Nixon moves in two days to support
Putnam. The stated express is on this side Croton, at his own house.
His name is John Cross, a refugee from New-York. Give me the earliest
advice of any appearance of a movement of the enemy on the river. Mrs.
Pollock was detained with the late bad weather two nights. She left
this at eight this morning.
I am, sir, yours, &c.,
FROM MAJOR PLATT, AID TO GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, 25th February, 1779.
The general wishes you to detain the best officers and men, for five
complete parties of sixty: and, as soon as Major Hull can be made
acquainted with your posts, and the nature of your command, he desires
you will ride up to headquarters if there is no probability of a
movement from below, and he will concert with you such measures as
shall be thought expedient.
The combustible balls are not yet come to hand. Five or six boxes of
ammunition will be sent down to Tarrytown by water the first
opportunity. 'Tis necessary that Dr Eustis, if not at the Plains,
should be sent for.
I am your obedient servant,
RICHARD PLATT, Aid-de-camp.
P.S.--Please to inform the general whether Colonel Poor's men have
accomplished the business they were sent upon or not.
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, Peekskill, 26th February, 1779.
I received your letter of this day. Colonel Putnam is ordered to march
and join you, and to act as circumstances shall cast up. Five boxes of
ammunition are ordered to be carried to you immediately from King's
ferry, by water. Leave a small party to receive it, and a cart to
carry it where you shall order it. As the strength of the enemy is not
mentioned, I can give no other orders.
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, 27th February, 1779.
MY DEAR SIR,
Your favour of yesterday reached me at 8 P.M. It was immediately
answered. Colonel Putnam was ordered to march and join you; he has
taken Nixon's regiment with him. Greaton's was put in motion at the
same time, to join the brigade, if the enemy did not continue to
advance in Connecticut. At half past ten of the same evening, five
boxes of ammunition was sent to you from King's ferry, by water, with
orders to keep close in shore, for fear of accidents. I hope it has
reached you. Your letter of this day, at 7 A. M., came to hand an hour
ago. From the reputed strength of the enemy, I am pleased with your
position. I think it promises success and laurels. I hope Bearmore
will smart for his temerity. You are all too remote from me to render
orders expedient. Circumstances must direct your movements. If the
enemy _move_, or appear in _force_ on the river, or a movement on it
in force should _apparently_ be intended, send up all Paterson's
detachments by _forced_ marches. I commit you and your corps to the
Lord of Hosts. Greaton has four boxes of spare ammunition. He will be
on the North Castle road to the Plains.
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, Peekskill, 6th March, 1779.
This will be delivered to you by Mr. John Pine, who acted last
campaign as a horse-guide. He is a true friend to the country.
Whenever he shall get properly mounted, and reports himself to you for
service, give him a certificate of the day, and employ him.
Enclosed you have a list of horse-thieves and others who act very
prejudicial to our cause. I wish to have them taken and sent up here.
Perhaps it will be most eligible to make the attempt on all at the
same time. But I do not wish to retard the forage on your left, as
those posts are in great want of that article.
I am, sir, your humble servant,
FROM GENERAL PUTNAM.
Camp, Horse Neck, 9th March, 1779.
I have received a letter from Colonel Emerick (British), informing me
that one Butler, who has been a prisoner in New-York, being unable to
travel on foot, obtained of Colonel Emerick a dragoon and two horses
to conduct him some part of his way in the country. That Butler made
the dragoon drunk, then brought him off, together with the horses. The
whole of which he, in his letter, makes a demand to be returned.
Colonel Emerick has been misinformed as to Butler's acting so
faithless. The truth of the matter is, that Butler wanted the dragoon
to return with the horses, but that he (the dragoon) refused to do,
and swore he would never return. I would advise you by all means to
send the dragoon to Colonel Emerick in irons, together with the
horses, as a refusal would be contrary to all public faith.
I am, with the greatest respect,
FROM GENERAL McDOUGALL.
Headquarters, Peekskill, 11th March, 1779.
Yours of the 9th has reached me. If the militia of Colonel Drake's are
good men, arm them of General Paterson's, and I will replace them to
him. Take the receipts of every man who shall be armed by the public,
and send them to me. The old general is not a civilian. Send Colonel
Emerick the enclosed copy of the horseman's deposition. Stop no
provisions, when small quantities answer for the purpose of -----. The
plunderers will be punished on the lines, but tried here. The names of
the witnesses are wanting. What you wrote for, to answer certain
purposes, shall be collected as soon as possible.
Give me the true history of the facts relative to the mare sold by
Wattles. He quibbles. Did he know the printed orders?--was she sold
conformable? The paymasters will be ordered down, and soap shall be
In haste, yours, &c.,
The preceding correspondence is evidence of the military character of
Colonel Burr, and his standing with General McDOUGALL. Although his
rank was only that of a lieutenant-colonel, yet he was constantly in
the actual command of a regiment, and frequently of a brigade. His
seniors were withdrawn from the post (which was generally a post of
danger) where he was stationed; or detachments were taken from
different regiments so as to make up for him a separate and
independent command. No man had a better opportunity than Samuel
Young, Esq., of knowing Colonel Burr's habits and conduct while
stationed in Westchester. Mr. Young was at one time a member of the
state legislature, and for many years surrogate of the county. The
following letter contains some interesting details.
SAMUEL YOUNG TO COMMODORE VALENTINE MORRIS.
Mount Pleasant (Westchester), 25th January, 1814.
Your letter of the 30th ultimo, asking for some account of the
campaign in which I served, under the command of Colonel Burr, during
the revolutionary war, was received some days ago, and has been
constantly in my mind. I will reply to it with pleasure, but the
compass of a letter will not admit of much detail.
I resided in the lines from the commencement of the revolution until
the winter of the year 1780, when my father's house was burnt, by
order of the British general. The county of Westchester, very soon
after the commencement of hostilities, became, on account of its
exposed situation, a scene of deepest distress. From the Croton to
Kingsbridge, every species of rapine and lawless violence prevailed.
No man went to his bed but under the apprehension of having his house
plundered or burnt, or himself or family massacred, before morning.
Some, under the character of whigs, plundered the tories; while
others, of the latter description, plundered the whigs. Parties of
marauders, assuming either character or none, as suited their
convenience, indiscriminately assailed both whigs and tories. So
little vigilance was used on our part, that emissaries and spies of
the enemy passed and repassed without interruption.
These calamities continued undiminished until the arrival of Colonel
Burr, in the autumn of the year 1778. He took command of the same
troops which his predecessor, Colonel Littlefield, commanded. At the
moment of Colonel Burr's arrival, Colonel Littlefield  had returned
from a plundering expedition (for to plunder those called tories was
then deemed lawful), and had brought up horses, cattle, bedding,
clothing, and other articles of easy transportation, which he had
proposed to distribute among the party the next day. Colonel Burr's
first act of authority was to seize and secure all this plunder; and
he immediately took measures for restoring it to the owners. This gave
us much trouble, but it was abundantly repaid by the confidence it
He then made known his determination to suppress plundering. The same
day he visited all the guards; changed their position; dismissed some
of the officers, whom he found totally incompetent; gave new
instructions. On the same day, also, he commenced a register of the
names and characters of all who resided near and below his guards.
Distinguished by secret marks the whig, the timid whig, the tory, the
horse-thief, and those concerned in, or suspected of, giving
information to the enemy. He also began a map of the country, in the
vicinity of the fort; of the roads, by-roads, paths, creeks, morasses,
&c., which might become hiding-places for the disaffected or for
marauding parties. This map was made by Colonel Burr himself, from
such materials as he could collect on the spot, but principally from
his own observation.
He raised and established a corps of horsemen from among the
respectable farmers and young men of the country, of tried patriotism,
fidelity, and courage. These also served as aids and confidential
persons for the transmission of orders. To this corps I attached
myself as a volunteer, but did not receive pay. He employed discreet
and faithful persons, living near the enemy's lines, to watch their
motions, and give him immediate intelligence. He employed mounted
videttes for the same purpose, directing two of them to proceed
together, so that one might be despatched, if necessary, with
information to the colonel, while the other might watch the enemy's
movement. He established signals throughout the lines, so that,
whether by night or by day, instant notice could be had of an attack
or movement of the enemy. He enforced various regulations for
concealing his positions and force from the enemy. The laxity of
discipline which had before prevailed enabled the enemy frequently to
employ their emissaries to come within the lines, and to learn the
precise state of our forces, supplies, &c. Colonel Burr soon put an
end to these dangerous intrusions, by prohibiting all persons residing
below the lines, except a few whom he selected, such as Parson Bartow,
Jacob Smith, and others, whose integrity was unimpeachable, from
approaching the outposts, without special permission for the purpose.
If any one had a complaint or request to make of the colonel, he
procured one or more of the persons he had selected to come to his
quarters on his behalf. This measure prevented frivolous and vexatious
applications, and the still more dangerous approach of enemies in
disguise. All these measures were entirely new; and, within eight or
ten days, the whole system appeared to be in complete operation, and
the face of things was totally changed.
A few days after the colonel's arrival, the house of one Gedney was
plundered in the night, and the family abused and terrified. Gedney
sent his son to make a representation of it to the colonel. The young
man, not regarding the orders which had been issued, came to the
colonel's quarters, undiscovered by the sentinels, having taken a
secret path through the fields for the purpose. For this violation of
orders the young man was punished. The colonel immediately took
measures for the detection of the plunderers; and though they were all
disguised, and wholly unknown to Gedney, yet Colonel Burr, by means
which were never yet disclosed, discovered the plunderers, and had
them all secured within twenty-four hours. Gedney's family, on
reference to his register, appeared to be tories; but Burr had
promised that every quiet man should be protected.
He caused the robbers to be conveyed to Gedney's house, under the
charge of Captain Benson, there to restore the booty they had taken,
to make reparation in money for such articles as were lost or damaged,
and for the alarm and abuse, the amount of which the colonel assessed,
to be flogged ten lashes, and to ask pardon of the old man; all which
was faithfully and immediately executed.
These measures gave universal satisfaction, and the terror they
inspired effectually prevented a repetition of similar depredations.
From this day plundering ceased. No further instance occurred during
the time of Colonel Burr's command, for it was universally believed
that Colonel Burr could tell a robber by looking in his face, or that
he had supernatural means of discovering crime. Indeed, I was myself
inclined to these opinions. This belief was confirmed by another
circumstance which had previously occurred. On the day of his arrival,
after our return from visiting the posts, conversing with several of
his attendants, and, among others, Lieutenant Drake, whom Burr had
brought with him from his own regiment, he said, "Drake, that post on
the North river will be attacked before morning; neither officers nor
men know any thing of their duty; you must go and take charge of it;
keep your eyes open, or you will have your throat cut." Drake went.
The post was attacked that night by a company of horse. They were
repulsed with loss. Drake returned in the morning with trophies of
war, and told his story. We stared, and asked one another--How could
Burr know that? He had not then established any means of intelligence.
The measures immediately adopted by him were such that it was
impossible for the enemy to have passed their own lines without his
having immediate knowledge; and it was these very measures which saved
Major Hull, on whom the command devolved for a short time, when the
state of Colonel Burr's health compelled him to retire.
These measures, together with the deportment of Colonel Burr, gained
him the love and veneration of all devoted to the common cause, and
conciliated even its bitterest foes. His habits were a subject of
admiration. His diet was simple and spare in the extreme. Seldom
sleeping more than an hour at a time, and without taking off his
clothes, or even his boots.
Between midnight and two o'clock in the morning, accompanied by two or
three of his corps of horsemen, he visited the quarters of all his
captains, and their picket-guards, changing his route from time to
time to prevent notice of his approach. You may judge of the severity
of this duty, when I assure you that the distance which he thus rode
every night must have been from _sixteen_ to _twenty-four_ miles; and
that, with the exception of two nights only, in which he was otherwise
engaged, he never omitted these excursions, even in the severest and
most stormy weather; and, except the short time necessarily consumed
in hearing and answering complaints and petitions from persons both
above and below the lines, Colonel Burr was constantly with the
He attended to the minutest article of their comfort; to their
lodgings; to their diet: for those off duty he invented sports, all
tending to some useful end. During two or three weeks after the
colonel's arrival, we had many sharp conflicts with the robbers and
horse-thieves, who were hunted down with unceasing industry. In many
instances we encountered great superiority of numbers, but always with
success. Many of them were killed, and many were taken.
The strictest discipline prevailed, and the army felt the fullest
confidence in their commander and in themselves, and by these means
became really formidable to the enemy. During the same winter,
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