George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Nathanael Greene, 15 February 1781

Camp Irwin’s ferry on the Dan river Feb. 15th 1781.


I wrote Your Excellency at Guilford Court House, giving you an account of our situation and of the measures devised by The Council of War. Since which we have been manouvering constantly in the face of the enemy, who pressed our rear every day. Finding our numbers and condition so unequal to the enemy that it would be too hazardous to Risque a general action, and being pressed in point of time to get off our stores and baggage, notwithstanding I had ordered it to file off for Hillsborough when the Army began their march from Pedee, and the stores from Hillsborough to cross the Roanoke the moment I could satisfy myself that it was the intention of Lord Cornwallis to penetrate the upper Country, to gain time to effect this business, as well as give the Militia an opportunity to collect, I found it necessary to form as strong a covering party as possible which was commanded by Col. Williams who had orders to keep as near the [enemy] as he could without exposing the [party] too much and retard their march all in his [power] his conduct upon the occasion does him the highest honor. Lord Cornwallis [has been] at our heels from day to day [ever] since we left Guilford and our movements from thence to this place have been of the most critical kind; having a river in our front, and the enemy in our rear. But happily we have crossed without the loss of either men or Stores. Much credit is due to Lt Col. Carrington on this [occasion]. The enemy are on the other side of the river and as it is falling, I expect it will be fordable before night.

The fords are so numerous, and the enemy lays in such an advantageous situation for crossing that it would be folly to think of defending thence, [as it] would reduce our force to small [parties] which might prove our ruin. The miserable situation of the troops for want of clothing has rendered the march the most painfull imaginable, several hundreds of the Soldiers tracking the ground with their bloody feet. Your feelings for the suffering soldiers had you been here, must have been pained upon the occasion.

The enemy’s movements have been so rapid and the Country under such [terror] that few or no Militia have joined us, and the greater part we had have fallen off.

Inclosed I send your Excellency the strength of the British Army, which you will see is much stronger than I had calculated upon in my last. This account I believe may be depended upon. Tho’ I have not a shilling of money to obtain intelligence, notwithstanding my application to Maryland for money for this particular service, and your Excellency knows that good intelligence is the Soul of an Army and ought to govern all it’s movements.

I have done every thing to call out the Militia of the upper country, and have kept Governors Nash and Jefferson as regularly advised of the state of matters as time and circumstances would permit. Nothing is yet done to give us effectual support and I am not a little apprehensive that it is out of the power of Virginia & North Carolina to afford it.

I must repeat again what I have said in several of my letters; That I fear nothing can save the Southern States but a good regular Army, and I am more confirmed of the importance of the Cavalry upon this occasion than ever I have been, tho’ strongly impressed with it before.

Should Lord Cornwallis cease his pursuit after this army I imagine he will file off for Hallifax, and endeavour to establish a post there; to prevent which I have sent Col. Kosciusko to fortify it. That position would greatly [awe] Virginia and almost totally subject N. Carolina. If we can prevent his taking post there, and oblige him to fall down into the lower Country, he will reap little advantage from his movements. I wish it were in my power to give your Excellency more flattering accounts from this quarter; but I fear unless reinforcements come from the Northward, this will prove a [looted] Country. However my utmost cautions shall be continued to save these States and shall be happy if my conduct meets with your approbation as my situation affords me no prospect of personal glory.

Lt Col. Lee made a charge upon the enemy’s advanced party a few days since and cut off the greater part of them, a Captain and several privates were made prisoners. The enemy move with great caution though with great rapidity, frequently performing marches of 30 Miles a day: My self and my Aids are almost worn out with fatigue, which prevents my giving you more frequent and particular accounts of our movements.

Our Army are in good spirits notwithstanding their sufferings and excessive fatigue.

I have had no further accounts from Wilmington or the Baron Steuben since I wrote. I am, with great respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

Nathl Greene

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


January 6th 1781

Memorandum of the Corps under the Command of Lord Cornwallis in S. Carolina

23d British Regt 300 Tarltons command is
33d do 300 occasionally increased
1st Battalion 200 by mounting the 71st
Tarlton’s Infantry 170 and the 63d Regiments.
Cavalry 170
At Head Quarters 1280
63d British Regt 100 The 63d Regt are
64h do do 320 mounted.
Irish Volunteers 380
Hambleton’s Corps 240
[Inne’s] S.C. Royalists 100
Harrison’s Corps 120
At Camden 1360
Crugher’s and Allen’s Corps 250
At Ninety Six
Major Tenpenny’s detacht 80 This post is said to be
At George Town. reinforced to 300 men.
Hine’s & another Hessian
Regt 650
In Garrison at C. Town and Nelson’s ferry.
Brigade of Guards 720
Watson’s detachment 450 The Dragoon horses were
17th British Regt 100 thrown overboard in a
DuBois Hessian Regt 450 storm coming from
One troop of 17th Drag. 35 Virginia
Hessian Yagers 80 1835.
Under Genl Leslie at Camden
They have near 1400 Milita in Arms at this different posts.
An estimate of the Enemies force advanced with Lord Cornwallis
Genl Leslies brigade of Hessians 1000
Genl Oharas of the Guards 600
Lt Colonel Webster, consisting of
the 23 33 2d & 71st regt 800
Tarlton’s legion-horse 200—foot 300 500
Colonel Hamilton’s N. Carolina loyalists 550
Total 3250.

General Greenes estimates are in some instances too high as you will see by comparing them with mine taken from actual returns.

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