Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Steuben, 23 April 1781

From Steuben

Petersbg 23 Apl 1781


I this moment received intelligence from Gen. Muhlenburg which I inclose you.

Your letters of Yesterday are received and shall be answered the first leisure moment Yr Excellcys


Dft (NHi) endorsed: “Copy to Govr Jefferson 23 Apl 1781 8 o Clk Pm.” Enclosure missing, but from two letters that Steuben wrote to James Innes on the same day it is clear what information Muhlenberg had transmitted. (1) In the first of these letters, dated 23 Apr. “12 o Clk M [noon],” Steuben acknowledged Innes’ letter of the 20th and added: “I am of opinion that the Enemy mean for the present but to Occupy the Neck of Land between the York and James River as high up as Williamsburg, and their movement up Chickahominy was such as might be expected in order to oblige our Troops to remove higher up the Country that they might remain there without being harrassed. … I am endeavoring to have the fortification at Hoods put in the best state of defence possible; and making what other preparations in my power, to oppose the Enemy should they advance on this side the James River”; (among these preparations, at the height of an invasion and when the enemy’s movements were uncertain, was Steuben’s general orders of the day before which revealed his fundamental quality as a drillmaster: “The advantage disciplined troops have over others is incontestable, and points out the necessity of our immediately attending to so important an article. … The troops will be exercised in marching in the morning, and the manual in the afternoon”). (2) But Steuben’s first letter had scarcely got off to Innes when information arrived that put a stop to drilling and threw Steuben’s headquarters into feverish activity: at “8 o Clk PM” on the 23rd Steuben wrote Innes: “I have this moment received intelligence that the enemy have left your side and come too at Hoods this afternoon at three o Clk. This being the case it would be necessary you should approach James river. Should they land on your side a more excellent position can not be found to oppose the enemy than at turkey island. I this day ordered one half the militia assembled at Richmond to that place and the other half to long bridge. You will dispose of the whole according to circumstances; acquaint me by return of express where to find you, and from time to time of your situation.” At the same time Steuben issued orders to the commander of militia at Manchester to repair at once to Osborne’s; to the commander of militia at Richmond to divide his force as indicated in Steuben’s second letter to Innes; and to his aide-de-camp, Major Pontson, to remove all stores and militia from Chesterfield to Powhatan courthouse (file copies of all of these orders and of the two letters to Innes are in NHi). Innes, unfortunately, was in no position to approach the James or post himself at Turkey Island: he had crossed the Pamunkey and on 23 Apr. had heard that “A Detachment of the British Army consisting … of one thousand men are marching rapidly by the Chas City Road towards Richmond,” a report that caused him to give up the idea of recrossing the Pamunkey at Ruffin’s (as he had told TJ he might do) and instead to march up the north bank of that river for Richmond by way of Page’s Warehouse (Innes to Steuben, 23 Apr. 1781, NHi). Two days later, from Page’s, Innes further reported to Steuben: “I advertised you by Express of the reasons which obliged me to take this Route. Fearing that from the carelessness of the Express riders, that my Letter may not have reached you, I enclose a copy of it. In addition to the reasons therein urged, I may add that some of the lower Counties woud not turn out and I was informed by the Governor that the Tardiness of the upper counties was such that speedy reinforcements could not be expected [see TJ to Innes, 21 Apr. 1781]. I shall encamp within ten miles of Richmond tonight in a safe position from whence I can move either up or down as exigencies may require or as my orders desire. … I have informed the Governor by Express of my present position, and beg’d to be informed at what place near Richmond the Troops are collected [see Innes to TJ, 24 Apr. 1781]” (Innes to Steuben, 25 Apr. 1781; Steuben received this letter at 8:00 A.M. on the 26th and replied at once that he had “not the smallest Doubt but that the manuvres you have made were from the Dictates of Reason,” NHi). Steuben then ordered Innes to Osborne’s, but Innes—who must have been smarting under criticism for having crossed the Pamunkey, but who had in the past few days exhibited a remarkable degree of vigorous movement—though acquiescing in this command, asked Steuben: “May I be pardoned for wishing to have the honor to be called into immediate and active service? Various reasons both of a public and private nature induce me to take the Liberty to express the inclinations of myself and of my Corps on this Subject” (Innes to Steuben, 26 Apr. 1781, six miles from Richmond, NHi). Steuben replied that he could not call Innes “into more immediate or more active service than by placing you at Osborns where it is most likely the enemy will attempt something if they come any higher up the river”—an opinion fully justified within a few hours after Steuben had expressed it (Steuben to Innes, 27 Apr. 1781, NHi).

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