George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Nathanael Greene, 6 August 1781

Head Quarters high Hills of Santee August 6th 1781


Governor Rutledge arrived in Camp a few Days since and informed me that a French fleet of 20 sail of the Line, besides Frigates were to be on the coast by the 25th of this month to co-operate with the American Army for disposessing the Enemy of the several posts they hold in the United States; and that there are to come with the fleet from five to ten thousand Troops to facilitate the operations. So great a naval and land force, aided by our own exertions cannot fail if properly directed of totally ruining the Enemy in this Country. As late and full information will be necessary to enable your Excellency to judge what objects to give the preference to as well as what force may be necessary for each, I have taken the earliest opportunity to communicate the fullest intelligence I possess from this quarter. And as you may wish to make many enquiries I have sent the dispatch by one of my Aids Lt Colo. Morris that you might not only be satisfied in all matters respecting our situation, but that you may have a better opportunity of conveying such instructions in return as may be unsafe to write. Major Burnett one of my Aids who is much indisposed set out from this Camp eight or ten Days since for the Northward. By him I wrote fully our situation; and I desired him to give your Excellency such information as I had omitted to mention in my Letter. But as this is a new matter I thought it most adviseable to send Colo. Morris notwithstanding. I have received no Letters from the Marquis for near a Month, and none from your Excellency since the first of June in which you informed me of the preparations making for an attempt upon New York. By this time I suppose the operations are in great forwardness; and if the force from the Islands arrive agreable to the Ministers expectations the reduction of the place must be speedy and certain. New York as a place of Arms, and from the importance of its Harbour, command of supplies, as well as its situation to harrass and distress our People, may be considered as the greatest object on the Continent. And in my opinion every effort should be made for its reduction in preference to all others. If that place was reduced, and the Enemy could not repossess it, I think it would lay the foundation for their evacuating all the possessions in the United States South of it. There could be no Harbour for their Shipping except in Virginia, and no convenient place there for an Army to Winter in, which would necessarily oblige them to quit their possessions in that quarter. The force that the Enemy have in Virginia under Lord Cornwallis, and at Portsmouth from the best information I can get amounts to little more than 5000 Men. The Marquis’s regular force is not more than from two to three; but there is a large Body of Militia in the field and may be increased to almost any number if Arms could be had. Twenty five hundred regular forces to be added to the Marquis’s Army besides what may be expected from Pennsylvania and Virginia would oblige Cornwallis to take a position and fortify himself; and if the supplies to his Army could be cut off by Water which the Fleet may easily effect after the reduction of New York, he would be obliged to surrender in a fortnight or three Weeks at most for want of Provisions; for I believe he has none laid in at any point, nor in expectation of being obliged to act on the defensive. At least I am persuaded he has no apprehension of having his Water communication interrrupted. After the reduction of New York I should suppose the whole french Fleet might enter Chesapeak and all hopes of escaping by Water being removed it would greatly contribute to the speedy surrender of the Enemy from the terror and apprehensions it would raise among the Troops. Chs Town is the greatest object to the southward as well from the strength of its Garrison and dependencies as from the advantages the Enemy derive from the Trade of the place, and the distress it brings upon the People for want of commerce, particularly in the Article of Salt. The place is strong and difficult to approach. Large Shipping can be of no use in the reduction of it. Frigates are the largest size that can enter the Harbour. The Enemy have fortified none of the Islands, nor have they added many Works about the Town. However they have erected too large new Works in front of the old Lines that mount from 20 to 30 pieces of Cannon each. These Works have great command of the Town as well as the Rivers. One other new Work is nearly compleated on the Marsh called Shutes folly on the Harbour side of the Town, and intended to defend the place against Shipping. The Enemy have from the best information I can get in this State about 4000 Infantry and 400 Horse of regular Troops. Besides these they have near one thousand Militia and Tories who adhere to their interest. In addition to this 1000 Sailors and 4 or 500 Negroes may be calculated upon.

Their collective strength will amount in all probability to between 6 and 7000 Men of different Characters; and the militia Tories from their being such exceeding good Marksmen will not be the least useful. Our force in Continental Troops will amount to little more than 1500 Men, from 4 to 500 State Troops belonging to South Carolina, and I imagine from 1500 to 2000 Militia may be raised in North and South Carolina to join in the reduction of Charles Town. A greater force than this cannot be calculated upon, nor am I altogether certain so large a Body of Militia can be kept up during the Seige. But it is possible a much greater can be got out upon so important an occasion, and when things wear so flattering a face. To reduce Chs Town with certainty and with dispatch not less than 10,000 Troops should be added to the force that may be expected here. But if this force cannot be had I should think it should be attempted with less. The Garrison will doubtless have Provisions in plenty, and I believe if we can command the Water our Army may be easily supplyed; provided the operations brought to issue before the 1st of January, or by that time. I have inclosed some Notes respecting the places the most proper for Landing. But General Lincoln and Genl Duportail can give you more particular information respecting this matter. If the operations cannot be carried on in Virginia and here at the same time I think Chs town must have the preference as the greatest object. New York and Charles Town being taken the Enemy will most assuredly leave Virginia should time fail us to effect the reduction of the whole, which I hope will not be the case. All the Stores of every kind necessary for the Seige must come with the Fleet as we have nothing here to prosecute one with. The reduction of Chs Town will naturally produce the surrender of Savannah and Wilmington; especially as there is but little force at either; not more than 400 at one, and 300 at the other. I think Chs Town may be reduced in 30 Days after the Troops effect a Landing and there can be no difficulty in this as the Enemy have no force at any of those places, nor will they venture to detach from Town for the purpose; and it is not impossible if the Enemy should attempt to hold the upper Country a landing may be effected so speedily as to prevent their getting into Town. This would greatly facilitate the reduction of the place as well from the effect it would have upon the spirits of the Garrison as from the diminution of their force.

I suppose the British Fleet on this coast on the arrival of the french fleet will immediately take shelter in New York, and assist in the defence of the place, or run off to the West Indies. The first would be the most desireable, and is what I hope our good Ally will oblige them to do. This would secure a superiority by Sea during the whole Campaign; which may be doubtful should Admiral Rodney follow the french fleet from the West Indies, and effect a junction with their force on this coast. But if the French effect a junction of theirs first and block up the British in New York, so as to prevent a junction of their Shipping, the Enemy will not have it in their power either to raise the seige of the place, or take off the Garrison. But should the British fleet on this Coast even run for the West Indies there is the greatest probability of the two fleets missing each other on their passage, and still leave our Allies Masters of the Sea at least untill New York can be reduced. But what I most wish is that the force our Ally means to employ upon this coast may be superior to the Enemys collective strength, both from the West Indies and on this Coast. This will insure us success at all events.

As your Excellency is doubtless more fully informed respecting the force of both fleets, and of the intentions of our Ally than I am, and also of the probable aid which either may expect from Europe or else where; and as that will altogether govern our operations I shall wait your directions respecting our preparations in this quarter. The Enemy have no fortified Posts in the State except Chs Town, or in Georgia except Savannah. But their Army is upon the Congaree near M. Cords ferry. The distresses of this Country are so great, and their calamities increase so fast for want of Salt and many other Articles, as well as from the ravages of the Enemy, that I wish it may be in our power by the generous exertions of our good Ally to effect something for their relief more than the little temporary respites arising from particular advantages, which is all we can hope or expect from our little force in this Country.

If Lord Cornwallis should find that his situation in Virginia may expose him to the loss of his Army, it is highly probable he will attempt to get back to Chs Town by land or Water; the first I shall endeavor to guard against, and the last I hope our Ally will be able to prevent, by sending a few Frigates into the Bay or stationing them off the Capes.

The Cavalry of Lieutt Colo. Washingtons Corps have taken killed and Wounded near 40 of the Enemys Cavalry since my last, the most considerable attack was made by Captain Watts. He charged a party of twenty odd of the Enemy with an inferior force took 6, killed 3, and wounded 8 or 9 more. The enterprise of our Cavalry equals any thing the World ever produced. With the most perfect respect and esteem I am Your Excellencys most hble servt.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

Index Entries