Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Steuben, 24 April 1781

To Steuben

Richmond Apr. 24. ½ aft. 7. A.M.


I have information this morning from Capt. Maxwell on his own view that the enemy landed at Westover yesterday evening. If it be impossible that he should have been deceived, it is equally unaccountable that we are uninformed of it from the Videts sent. The movements of the enemy up Chickahominy obliged Colo. Innes, incumbered with 20 waggons with stores, and 100 sick to cross Pamunkey at Ruffin’s ferry. As soon as he has disposed of those, he will endeavor, if the movements of the enemy render it proper, to retire towards this place. There are here about 200 militia armed and 300 unarmed. At Manchester there is I am told a larger number armed, but of this I have no proper information. The militia of several counties being here, I gave Colo. Wood the command till you should be able to have them arranged as you should chuse. He happened to be here on business and it will be inconvenient to him to continue any time.—Can the object of the enemy be our vessels at Osborne’s? There are no public stores here, and they have shewed that private depredation is not within their views.

Colo. Southall shewed to Colo. Wood and myself your orders of Yesterday for the militia to divide into two parties and go to the Long bridge and Turkey island, and to correspond with Colo. Innes. But the enemy having as is supposed landed at Westover, and Colo. Innes crossed Pamunkey it was thought adviseable that Colo. Wood should await your orders on those new circumstances, supposed to be unknown to you at the date of your order.—As soon as it be known that the enemy are landed at Westover, and my presence here no longer necessary I shall cross the river either here or at Tuckahoe and keep in the neighborhood on the other side. I shall be ready and happy to give you every aid from the civil power which may be necessary. I have the honor to be with great respect Sir Your most obedt servt,

Th: Jefferson

P.S. Arms are much wanted here.

RC (NHi); addressed by TJ to Steuben at Petersburg; endorsed.

Your orders of yesterday: See Steuben to Davies, 23 Apr. 1781. At this critical moment on the day before the battle of Petersburg uncertainty prevailed in the minds of almost everyone as to the location and intent of the enemy, and even as to the location of the American units: Innes did not know where the American or British troops were, Steuben and TJ did not know precisely where Innes was, and there was faulty communication even between Richmond and Manchester. On the 23rd John Pryor wrote Steuben: “We have no certain account where the Enemy are, the last say, they were at the ship yard, and some of their shipping up as high as Cannons this morning. This place [Richmond] is much alarm’d at present with the thought that the Enemy will be in Town tonight” (Pryor to Steuben, 23 Apr. 1781, “8 o Clock P.M.,” NHi). From “Manchester 24th 5 O Clock” and in great haste Pryor reported further: “Accounts were received this morning that the Enemy landed last night at Westover and were on their march to Richmond. The Militia at that place are not arranged and many wanting arms. Am afraid confusion will ensue. … I have heard that Colo Innes has retreated over into King Wm. at Ruffins Ferry” (Pryor to Steuben, 24 Apr. 1781, NHi). On the afternoon of the 24th Steuben reconnoitred the enemy fleet as it lay opposite Westover; there were 23 flat bottomed boats and 13 topsail vessels. As he watched, the fleet stood up the river towards City Point, but kept him in doubt as to which side they would debark. That evening, however, the enemy landed their entire force at City Point, “which removed all doubt but that Petersburg was their object.” Consequently, Steuben “made choice of Blandford for the place of defence, and the Bridge of Pokohuntas for our retreat. The Troops were disposed in Consequence and passed the night under Arms.” On the 25th the enemy came in sight towards noon, “formed themselves and displayed to their left, but it was three o’clock before the firing commenced, which continued from post to post till past five when the superiority of the enemy and the want of ammunition obliged me to order the retreat and to take up the Bridge which was executed with the greatest good order. Notwithstanding the fire of the enemy cannon and musketry, the troops with the same good order retreated about ten miles on the road leading to Chesterfield Courthouse. … I have the pleasure to say that our troops disputed the ground with the enemy inch by inch and the maneuvres were executed with the greatest exactness” (Dft, Steuben’s report of Petersburg engagement to Washington, Greene, and the Board of War, undated, NHi). Steuben later reported that “of all the stores collected at Chesterfield Courthouse and Petersburg … not the least article fell into the Enemy’s hands” (Steuben to Washington, 5 May 1781, NHi).

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