George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 21 July 1778

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Camp at the [White] Plains July 21. 1778


Your Excellency has made me very unhappy. I can submit very patiently to deserved censure; but it wounds my feelings exceedingly to meet with a rebuke, for doing what I conceivd to be a proper part of my duty; and in the order of things.

When I left your Excellency at Haverstraw you desird me to go forward and reconnoiter the Country, and fix upon some proper position to draw the troops together at.1 I was a stranger to all this part of the Country and could form no judgment of a proper place until I had thoroughly examined the ground.

Croten River was the only place that I could find suitable for the purpose all circumstances being taken into consideration. I wrote your Excellency what I had done, and where I was, that if you had any thing in charge I might receive your orders. I wrote you the reasons for my not waiting upon you in person were I had many Letters to answer and many matters to regulate in my department which prevented me from returning.2 Besides which it was almost half a days ride the Weather exceeding hot and my self not a little fatigued. And here I must observe that neither my constitution or strength are equal to constant exercise.

As I was a stranger to all the lower Country I thought it absolutely necessary for me to come forward. A thorough knowledge of a Country is not easily obtaind. such a one at least as is necessary to fix upon the most elligible position for forming a Camp.

The security of the Army, the ease and convenience of the troops as well as a desire to perform the duties of my office with a degree of reputation all conspird to make me wish to fix upon the properest ground for the purpose. This it was impossible for me to do unless I came on before the Troops. And I must confess I saw no objection, as your Excellency had wrote me nothing to the contrary, and what I wrote naturally led to such a measure.

I expected you on every hour and was impatient to get forward, that I might be able to give some account of the Country when you came up. Before I left Crumpond I desird Mr Pettit to wait upon you at your arrival and take your orders; and if there was any thing special to forward it by express.

If I had neglected my duty in pursuit of pleasure or if I had been wanting in respect to your Excellency I would have put my hand upon my mouth and been silent upon the ocasion but as I am not conscious of being chargeable with either the one or the other, I cannot help thinking I have been treated with a degree of severity, that I am in no respect deserveing of.

And I would just observe here that it is impossible for me to do my duty if I am always at Head quarters. I have ever given my attendance there as much as possible both from a sense of duty and from inclination; but constant attendance is out of my power unless I neglect all other matters. The propriety of which, and the consequences that will follow I submit to your Excellencys consideration.

Your Excellency well knows how I came into this department. It was by your special request; and you must be sensible there is no other man upon Earth could have brought me into the business but you. The distress the department was in the disgrace that must accompany your operations without a change; and the difficulty of engageing a person capable of conducting the business, together with the hopes of meeting your approbation and haveing your full aid and assistance reconcild me to the undertakeing.

I flatter my self when your Excellency takes a view of the state ⟨mutilated⟩ things were in when I first engagd; and consider the short ⟨time⟩ we had to make the preparations for the opening Campaign and reflect with what ease and facillity you began your march from Valley Forge; and continued it all through the Country. Notwithstanding we went great part of the way entirely out of the line of preparations. You will do me the justice to say I have not been negligent or inattentive to my duty.

I have in every respect since I had my appointment strove to accomodate the business of the department to the plan of your Excellencys opperations. And I can say with great truth that ever since I had the honour to serve under you, I have been more attentive to the public interest and more engagd in the support of your Excellencys charactor, than ever I was to my own ease interest or Reputation.

I have never solicited you for a furlough to go home to indulge in pleasure or to improve my interest which by the by, I have neglected going on four Years. I have never confind my self to my particular line of duty only. Neither Have I ever spard my self either by Night or Day, where it has been necessary to promote the public service under your direction. I have never been troublesome to your Excellency to publish any thing to my advantage. Altho I think my self as justly entitled as some others who have been much more fortunate. Particularly in the action of Brandywine.3

I have never sufferd my pleasures to interfere with my duty; and I am perswaded I have given too many unequivocal proofs of my attachment to your person and interest to leave a doubt upon your mind to the contrary. I have always given you my opinion with great candour and executed your orders with equal fidelity. I do not mean to arrogate to my self more merit than I deserve or wish to exculpate myself from being cha[r]geable with error and in some instances negligence⟨.⟩ However I can speak with a becoming pride, that I have always endeavord to deserve the public esteem and your Excellencys approbation.

As I came into the quarter masters department with reluctance so I shall leave it with pleasure. Your influence brought me in and the want of your approbation will induce me to go out.

I am very sensible of many deficiencies; but this is not so justly chargeable to my intentions as to the difficult circumstances attending the business. It is almost impossible to get good men for the conducting all parts of so complex a business. It may therefore naturally be expected that many things will wear an unfavorable complexion; but let who will under take the business they will find it very difficult not to say impossible to regulate it in such a manner as not to leave a door open for censure and furnish a handle for reproach. I am with all due respect your Excellencys most Obedient humble Servt

Nath. Greene


1GW maintained his headquarters at Haverstraw, N.Y., 14–18 July. His orders to Greene were probably given verbally.

2The letter that Greene describes here has not been found.

3For a more detailed exposition of Greene’s view that his contributions at Brandywine had been slighted, see his letter to Henry Marchant, 25 July 1778 ( Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 2:471).

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