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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 1 March 1782

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Charles Hay.

Virginia In Council March 1st: 1782.

Gentlemen

The resolutions of Congress you inclosed me respecting the beef to be provided by this State, for Genl Greene’s Army,1 is by no means as full as it ought to be, and cannot be complyed with, even if our Circumstances were much more flourishing than they are.

I some time ago forwarded a resolution of our Assembly, forbidding any specific Supplies being furnished by the Executive, unless by special order of Congress, or the Financier;2 the meaning of which is, that the State may get credit for their amount on the money demand made on us; if Congress intend this they must say so in explicit terms. You seem to doubt whether we have furnished the beef demanded from us in the last year; I beg you to calculate the rations of five or six thousand men for a year, to give us some Credit for what has been sent to the Southward; the supply furnished the Continental Army at York,3 and the Support of the Several posts in this State, and you will have all your Doubts on that Subject cleared up.4 True it is the Account is not yet settled, but as the troops have been supported by this State, the fact speaks for itself, and amounts to almost positive proof.5

You are by this time fully informed of our distressed Situation, my late Letters6 being filled with scarce any thing else, notwithstanding which my endeavours to comply with the requisition of Congress if amended, shall not be wanting, and I have hopes of their proving successful, but without the alteration I can not stir a Step.

The Virginia Line in the field is weak, but not quite so much so as you think it is; between four & five hundred men from Cumberland Courthouse, will join the army, before this reaches you, and there are ninety three more on the Eastern Shore—that body of men7 has amounted to nearly double the number they now are, but they have been so banded8 about, and the time of their march so protracted by one means or other, that nearly one half of them are lost; those on the other Side of the Bay have been detained there, without any order from the State that I can hear of, and Colo Febiger now makes such Demands on us, for money & necessaries which he know[s] we have not, that I apprehend their terms of enlistment will expire, before he marches them.9

I have a Letter from Genl. Greene dated the 8th: ulto, all was quiet then and had been so for some time. The Enemy were within their lines of Charlestown and Savannah, and had not been reinforced with more than three hundred men both from Europe & New York.10

A Gentleman of this Town has received a letter of late date from the West Indies, informing him that the French had attempted Brimstone Hill by Storm; that they were repulsed with the loss of seven hundred men, that Hood had been so reinforced as to make him nearly equal to the French Fleet, and that they were in Sight of each other, both seeming determined to fight.11 If this should prove true & the old Count can give him a good Drubbing, it will bring about what we much want—a good Peace. I am &c

Benjamin Harrison.

P S. Inclosed you have a Copy of the resolution of the Assembly.12

3Yorktown, Va.

4On 28 February, in a letter to Harrison, Robert Morris urged that cattle be forwarded speedily to General Greene. Morris added that if he was mistaken in his belief that “a considerable Ballance is due from the State of Virginia on the Requisitions for Specific Supplies,” the value of the cattle would be accounted a part of the state’s quota of 1782 (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 79).

6See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 11 January and 9 February 1782.

7Judging from Harrison’s specific mention later in this paragraph of “those on the other Side of the Bay,” he was referring here to the recruits then at Cumberland Old Court House.

8Harrison probably intended to write “bandied.”

9See Jameson to JM, 26 January 1782, and nn. 1 and 3. For the dearth of money, food, liquor, clothing, and military equipment, handicapping the efforts to recruit soldiers, encouraging their desertion, and retarding the dispatch of Virginia continentals to Greene’s army in South Carolina, see Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 65–95, passim. On 11 February, in a letter to Colonel Christian Febiger, chief continental recruiting officer for Virginia, Harrison stressed that “perfect Oeconomy is absolutely necessary” and added, “I am extremely anxious to hear of the March of the Detachments ordered to the Southward” (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 149). Instead of making a direct reply to a letter from Febiger, the Governor in Council referred the dispatch on 26 February to Colonel William Davies, commissioner of the war office, with a directive to inform Febiger “That the Executive do not think themselves authorized to give any Instructions with respect either to the stay or removal of the troops on the Eastern Shore, they being a part of this States Quota raised for the continental army, are subject to the orders of the commander in chief only” (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 50–51). Unable to accept Harrison’s contention that the contingent on the Eastern Shore enjoyed a special status, Davies on 5 March advised the governor that he considered those troops available for Greene’s use (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 84).

10On 4 March, in acknowledging Greene’s dispatches of 8 and 24 January, Harrison expressed “great Pleasure to find the boasted reinforcements of the Enemy dwindled down to a mere handful of men,” but in response to a plea for reinforcements, Harrison stated that “it is not in my power to send you Aid of militia” and reiterated his complaints concerning the unreasonableness of Febiger’s demands (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 169–70). See JM to Pendleton, 22 January, n. 10; Jameson to JM, 26 January, n. 1; and Pendleton to JM, 11 February 1782, n. 4. In a letter to President John Hanson on 10 February, read in Congress on 13 March, Greene derived from the “very wretched condition” of his troops the lesson that “If we cannot learn to feel for one another’s suffering, and be more ready to succour the distressed, or be brought to it by some co-ercive Power … we cannot long continue a United People” (NA: PCC, No. 172, II, 17, 18).

11A report to this effect, appearing in the Pennsylvania Packet of 2 March as an excerpt from the Royal Gazette of New York City, was false. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 February 1782, n. 5. After Rodney and Hood united their fleets on 25 February, they had more ships and heavier armament than the squadron of Grasse, “the old Count,” who was then fifty-nine years of age.

12The resolution is quoted in n. 2 of Harrison to the Virginia Delegates, 15 January 1782.

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