Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the County Lieutenants of Washington and Certain Other Counties, 15 February 1781

To the County Lieutenants of Washington and Certain Other Counties

Richmond Febry. 15. 1781.


I have just received intelligence from Genl. Greene that Lord Cornwallis, maddened by his losses at the Cowpens and George town, has burnt his own Waggons to enable himself to move with facility, and is pressing forward towards the Virginia line, Genl. Green being obliged to retire before him with an inferior force. The necessity of saving Genl. Green’s Army and in doing that the probability of environing and destroying the Army of the enemy induce me to press you in the most earnest terms, in the instant of receiving this to collect one  1 of your Militia, and send them forward well armed and accoutred under proper Officers to repair to the orders of Genl. Greene wherever he shall be. By this movement of our enemy he has ventured his all on one stake. Our stroke is sure if the force turns out which I have ordered and without delay. In such a crisis expedition decides the event of the contest. Reflecting that it depends in a great measure on your personal exertions in effecting a rapid junction of your men with Genl. Green whether the Southern war be terminated by the capture of the hostile Army or entailed on us by permitting them to fix in our bowels, I cannot beleive you will rest a moment after receiving this untill you see your men under march. They must be subsisted on their way on whatever can be furnished by any person holding public provision or by impressing under the invasion law, returning to the Auditors lists of the certificates they give, or by taking provisions with them: for which they shall be allowed by way of rations.

This order necessarily interrupts the execution of the draught law. It would be too oppressive on those spirited men who shall now turn out, to have that law carried into execution, when they should not be on the spot to act for themselves. I would therefore advise you to postpone it untill their return and I will undertake to lay it before the Assembly which is shortly to meet who I cannot doubt will approve of the suspension and allow the execution of the Law at a future day.

Should the approach of danger and your public spirit have already called any Men from your county to the aid of Genl. Greene, they will be counted in lieu of so many of the number now ordered.

T. Jefferson

P.S. It is possible that you may have made such progress already in the draught as to render the immediate completion of it not only practicable but more eligible to the people on the whole than to discontinue it now and resume it hereafter. In this case use your own judgment and act for the best.

whole half fourth
Washington 829
Montgomery 750
Botetourt 589
414 207
375 187
294 147
Under this letter 1564
Chestd. C.H. 400
1083 Riflemen below 800
1564 of whom 1883 would be riflemen
1083  541
Henry 1004
Pittsylvania 924
502 251
461 230
 963  481
2046 1022

FC (Vi); at head of text: “Several County Lieuts.” RC to William Preston (county lieutenant of Montgomery) is in Vi (in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ; endorsed); it calls for one fourth of the Montgomery militia.

Intelligence from Genl. Greene: The Va. Council Jour. under the present date (ii, 293) has this entry: “The Members present taking under their consideration General Greenes Letter wherein he mentions his being obliged to retire before Lord Cornwallis, who is pressing forward towards the Virginia line, advise the Governor to write to the County Lieutenants of Washington Montgomery, Botetourt, Henry & Pittsylvania pressing them immediately to send a fourth part of their respective Militias to the aid of General Greene: and to write to Baron Steuben informing him of this measure, & leaving to his judgment the propriety of reinforcing General Greene from the army below.” The references to Greene’s recent letter here and elsewhere may seem puzzling, for Greene in his short letter to TJ of 10 Feb., q.v., does not mention retiring before Cornwallis and other details recited in the present and other letters of this date; nor had TJ at the time of writing the present letter seen copies of Greene’s letters addressed to Washington and Steuben that did give these details (see letters exchanged between TJ and Steuben, 15 Feb., below). But the explanation may be that TJ had received the full and accurate report from Stevens of 8 Feb. at the time he received Greene’s of 10 Feb. (i.e., the night of 14 Feb.) and that he therefore could cite details that apparently came from Greene but actually derived from another source. In any case TJ certainly understood more from Greene’s letter than Greene put in it (see TJ to Steuben, 15 Feb., first letter).

1The tabulation at foot of FC indicates that this blank was to be filled by “half” in the letters to Washington, Montgomery, and Botetourt, and by “fourth” in the letters to Henry and Pittsylvania. However, in the letter to Preston (of Montgomery co.), TJ himself inserted “fourth” in the blank; see TJ to Steuben, 15 Feb.

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