Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Steuben, with Plan for Defensive Operations, 17 April 1781

From Steuben, with Plan for Defensive Operations

Chesterfield Ct. Hs. April 17. 1781.


Major Mitchell will present to your Excellency a List of the Men now with Genl. Muhlenberg and will inform you of the number of those who are on the point of leaving him.

He will also communicate to your Excellency my plan for defensive Operations, which will require at least the number of Men I have already asked for, and I must again request that this force may be on foot before the Enemy begin their Operations.

Colo. Armands Corps having retired Genl. Muhlenberg is now almost without Cavalry. I have the honor to be with respect Your Excellencys most Obed hum Servt.,

Steuben Maj: Genl.


April 17th. 1781.

Militia to be Continued in the
field under the Command of General Muhlemberg.
1st. three Regiments Militia Each 400. men 1200.
2nd. three Battalions Riflemen Each 200. men 600.
3rd. four troops horse Each 50. men 200.
Total 2000.

Should the Ennemy penetraite in the Country, the whole Militia will be turned out, Receive all the Spare arms, and be imbodied in Battalions, Regiments and Detachements as General Muhlemberg thinks proper. Should the Ennemy Dislodge General Muhlemberg from Broad Water his Retreat will be towards Petersburg, from thence his movements must be Such as to enable him to keep the upper Country. Should the Ennemy Direct their March towards North Carolina General Muhlemberg’s Corps will still endeavour to keep their Right flanck. At the same time the troops on the other side of the River will follow the Ennemy, march in the rear. In Case the Ennemy should move up James River so far as Richmond General Muhlemberg’s first movement will still be to Petersburg, from thence the farther movement of the Ennemy will Regulate or Determine his movement.

The Corps under General Nelson will Consist of Eight hundred men infantry, and as many horse as Can be Collected. Should the ennemy Land Below River, this Corps must Cross said River, and govern his Retrete and movements as those of the Ennemy may make it necessary. But as soon as the Ennemy Land on the south side, General Nelsons Corps must indeavor to Cross James River at the most Convenient place in Order to follow their march in the Rear. Should the Ennemy Come up By the Way of York River general Nelson’s Corps must act accordingly to Circumstances in order to annoy them.

As the fort at hoods is not in a state of Defence and our force in the field insufficient to make the Necessary Resistance so Low Down the River the stores and arms from Prince George Courthouse are Directed to be Carried to Petersburg, from which place the field Commissary of military stores will be Distributed there in the following manner.

One hundred stand of arms at Brunswick Court house Catridge Boxes ammunitions and flints in proportion, three hundred Stand arms Catridge Boxes ammunitions and flints to Amilia Court house, the Remaining part of the arms and Military stores to, or in the Vicinity of Powhattan Court house.

The spare arms and military stores on the North side of James River must be Carried to Goochland Court house. At Each of three places, will be a Conductor of Military stores with instructions to Deliver the arms to the officers [of] militia who Shall Call for them.

Directions have been given to the heads of the Department of Provisions and Quarter Masters to secure their stores as high up in the Country as is Necessary.

RC (Frederick M. Dearborn, New York City, 1949); in an aide’s hand, signed by Steuben. FC (NHi); in French; endorsed: “Copy to the Governor Apl. 16/81,” but the date on the face is “April 17./81.” The list conveyed by Major Mitchell has not been found, but Steuben’s “plan for defensive Operations” is in NHi. Though technically it cannot be called an enclosure, it is nevertheless, because of its importance and because it was conveyed to TJ with this letter, printed here as having the equivalent of that status.

Major Mitchell will present: On 17 Apr. Steuben wrote to Muhlenberg: “J’ai chargé Maj: Michell de presenter L’Etat de Votre force au Gouverneur, et j’ai reitiré par une Lettre ma demande pour le nombre d’hommes que Vous trouverai dans ma disposition, dont je Vous Envoy copie, en Vous priant Mon cher General de me communique Votre oppinion sur l’Operation que je propose en cas que L’Ennemi marche en avans” (Steuben to Muhlenberg, 17 Apr. 1781, NHi). The “disposition” of troops and stores that Steuben sent to Muhlenberg with this letter is also in NHi under the same date, and is the plan for defensive operations that Steuben sent to TJ through Mitchell. Colo. Armands corps: A return of Armand’s Independent Legion, signed by Major Lomagne, 18 Apr. 1781, showed that it consisted of 58 officers and men (NHi), on 21 Apr. Davies wrote Steuben: “I am really at a loss what steps to adopt with respect to Armand’s corps. Had I your Authority I think I should decide the matter at once. Major Claiborne refuses them forage, pretends, I suppose, that it is against the system as he calls it. The officers applied to the Governor; he said he did not chuse to do anything in continental arrangements, while you were within reach. They applied to me; I desired the state quartermaster to furnish forage for them today, if he had it; and that I would write to you on the subject and submit the matter to your regulation; as it is not just nor proper that the State should bear the burthen of providing for these men, when there are proper continental officers for that purpose in this place. In the regulations of Congress it is expressed that no forage shall be issued at a post where there are not troops. I suppose this is Claiborne’s objections, tho’ it is very evident that the arrival of these troops at this place [Richmond, sent there by Steuben’s orders] makes this a proper post for the issuing of forage. I will be exceedingly obliged to you to relieve the corps from the present embarrassment by ordering the necessary issues of forage which are thus absurdly refused, as I am persuaded you yourself would think it wrong for the State to supply on this occasion. If, however, you will invest me with authority to decide this matter as a continental officer, I will do it” (Davies to Steuben, 21 Apr. 1781, NHi). The next day Steuben ordered the corps to Port Royal, “they being totally unfit for service”; at the same time he directed Claiborne to provide quarters for them and “to supply them with forage, that the inhabitants may not suffer by their being obliged to impress” (Steuben to Claiborne, 22 Apr. 1781, NHi). But before these orders arrived Lomagne wrote Steuben: “je vous prieray Monsieur Le baron, de me permetre de presser du forage, car il ny en a point dans Le magazin continental. Pour celuy de Letat ceux qui en ont la direction pretendent n’avoir rien a fornir a des troupes continentales; veuillez me munir du pouvoir que je vous demande cy dessus; et je reponds davoir dans peu de tems tous mes chevaux en bon ordre” (Lomagne to Steuben, Richmond, 22 Apr. 1781, NHi). But Steuben was too much preoccupied to give attention to this for some days (see Steuben to TJ, 4 May 1781).

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