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To George Washington from Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 7 November 1779

From Major General Benjamin Lincoln

Chas Town [S.C.] Novem: 7th 1779

My Dear General,

I had the honor of your very obliging favor of the 28th of September the last evening—I wish it was in my power to give you such an account of matters in this department, as would afford you some satisfaction in the perusal—but unfortunately for me, and perhaps it may soon be more so for the public, I cannot do it—We remain unsupported by troops, unsupplied wt. many essential articles, and uncovered wt. works—and what adds to the unhappiness, is the little prospect that our affairs will speedily be in a better channel—for, with regard to troops, General Scott is not arrived, nor do I know when he may be expected, for I have not had a line from him since he was ordered this way—but from the best information I can obtain, if he comes at last, he has not more than 400 men now fit for duty—that is all we are encouraged to expect from Virginia,1 which, wt. those here from that State will amount to between six and seven hundred—from No. Carolina we have about one hundred and fifty continental troops—more may not be expected from them, excepting Militia—what number of those may be sent is uncertain, and, indeed, unless they serve for a longer time than the last (vizt three months from the time they entered this State—a time too short either to learn the duty, or to be enured to the fatigues of the Camp) little may be expected from them2—with regard to this State, they have not in their five regiments 700 men fit for duty; and we have no reason to expect that their number will be much augmented, considering the aversion the people have for the service here—or that any permanent force will be brought by them into the field—for after solemn debate in the House of Assembly they resolved that the Militia should not be draughted to fill up the continental battalions, and that the militia when in the field should not be under the continental articles of war;3 and refused on the recommendation of Congress to raise any Black Corps4—The Georgia battalion does not amount to 100 men in the whole, they are not in a capacity to keep that number up—for they have no legislative power in the state—the militia therefore are not properly organised, nor can be—they come out at their own option, and return at their discretion.

Thus sir, You see the state of our force, and our expectations5—we are very deficient, in many necessary articles such as ammunition, tent cloth, blankets, clothes &ca—this arises in a great measure from a large proportion of the Vessels being taken, which were sent out hence for the public, and from others coming to a bad market.

This town, which is the Magazine of the State, and which for that, and many reasons claims the attention of the enemy, and to possess themselves of which is among their first Objects, is in a very defenceless situation—the works about it, begun, are not finished—many more are necessary to be constructed—but from the want of Negroes (the only Labourers in this country) the matter is neglected—they have been sent for into the country—but, from some defect in the law, they are not brought in.

Fort Moultrie, on sullivan’s Island, six miles from the town, supposed to be the key of the harbour, is in a very decayed state, and without a ditch, picquets, or abbatis to it—the repairs of that also is delayed from the same cause—Two floating batteries have been recommended to cover the bar and they would undoubtedly answer the most valuable purpose, as no heavy ship can come over it, unless they take out their guns, or they are so much careened, as they cannot work them—these also, tho’ indispensably necessary to the safety of the harbour, are unprovided—By this short state of affairs you will see what little expectations there are that We shall be able to make any considerable defence, in case any thing serious is attempted here by the enemy. Besides, if they should attack the Town—I think they will attempt to amuse us in the back parts of the country, and keep these people at home—indeed there has been a late attempt to seize our Magazines at ninety six, and Camden—a very considerable number of men got in arms—but their designs were fortunately discovered, and many of them are taken6—yet the combination is alarming, and requires particular attention considering what great proportion of the back-inhabitants of these States are unfriendly, and indifferent to the cause.

I have frequently, and, I think, faithfully, represented these matters to Congress, and to this State, and have endeavored to convince them by every argument in my power that this State also was surely an object, which claimed the attention of Britain, and policy, as it would affect us—and interest would stimulate her to attempt the subjugation of it—We have about one thousand continental troops in this State, and at Augusta in Georgia—The Virginia Dragoons and Infantry are at Augusta—they were sent there on our retreat from before Savannah,7 in order to give confidence to the inhabitants and the Militia of the country, and to be some check on the unfriendly and the Indians—The 2d, 3d, and 5th So. Caroa Battalions, and part of the Artillery are at Sheldon, opposite port Royal ferry, and between thirty and forty miles from the savannah, as a cover to the country while the people take in their crops and remove their stock, which should be done immediately—The 1st and 6th Battalions are at Fort Moultrie, and the No. Carolina troops in this Town.

As soon as it shall become necessary—I mean to collect the continental troops to a point, and to leave the well affected Militia to cover the back part of the country—they will render more service there than in Garrison—The Militia in the vicinity of Chas Town will be called into it’s aid—I have requested the State to provide some secure place—properly supplied with provisions as an Asylum for the aged, the infirm, the Women, and children—that in case of a siege we may have no useless mouths in town, or any circumstance which would induce a more early surrender, or add to the absolutely necessary distresses of a siege.8

I think this Town might be defended against a very formidable attack, if all was done for it’s security which ought to be done—for it is situated on a peninsula—our lines in the rear of it are about half a mile in length, and will soon have in front of them at the distance of a musquet shot a fosse in which the Water will be retained six or seven feet deep by dams—one towards Cooper and the other towards Ashley river—this completed, and the necessary works about the Town finished, and the floating batteries provided—we should not be easily insulted with a proper Garrison—and Magazines.9 I am My Dear General with the warmest sentiments of regard & esteem unalterably yours

B: Lincoln

LS, DLC:GW.

1For recruiting and supply problems that delayed troops under Brig. Gen. Charles Scott being raised in Virginia for service in the southern army, see GW to Scott, 17 Aug., 19 Oct., and 14 December. See also Scott to GW, 10 June and 20 July; GW to Scott, 28 June and 8 July; and Samuel Huntington to Lincoln, 11 Nov., in Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:176–77.

2A letter from Lt. Col. James Thackston to Lincoln written at Halifax, N.C., on 4 Nov. confirmed that substantial reinforcements could not be anticipated from North Carolina (see Allis and Frederick, Benjamin Lincoln Papers, description begins Frederick S. Allis, Jr., ed., and Wayne A. Frederick, assoc. ed. The Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Microfilm Publication: Number 3. Boston, 1967. 13 reels. description ends reel 5).

3For Lincoln’s inability to secure consistent and effective military support from South Carolina officials, see Mattern, Benjamin Lincoln, description begins David B. Mattern. Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution. Columbia, S.C., 1995. description ends 58–65, 78–79.

4For the failed proposal to enlist black troops in South Carolina, see Henry Laurens to GW, 16 March, and n.2 to that document; see also GW to Laurens, 20 March, and Mattern, Benjamin Lincoln, description begins David B. Mattern. Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution. Columbia, S.C., 1995. description ends 90–92.

5Lincoln’s need for troops prompted reassignment of the North Carolina and Virginia lines from the northern department to the southern department (see Huntington to GW, 11 Nov., and GW to Huntington, 29 November. See also GW’s second letter to John Jay, 7 Sept.; Jay to GW, 23 Sept., and n.1 to that document; and JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 15:1087–90, 1093).

6The source of this intelligence has not been identified.

7American and French operations against Savannah, begun in early September, ended following a disastrous repulse on 9 October. For a detailed British summary of these operations, see Augustine Prevost to Lord George Germain, 1 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 17:241–50; see also Henry Laurens to GW, 24 Oct., n.7. Official notice of the defeat at Savannah and the allied withdrawal came to GW in a letter of 10 Nov. from Huntington; see also GW to Huntington, 20 November.

8Lincoln’s appeal, if written, has not been identified.

9GW answered Lincoln from Morristown, N.J., on 27 Feb. 1780. That letter begins: “I have been successively favored with your letters of the 7th of Novr 23d of Decemr and 8th of January last I am extremely happy to find both for the public and you⟨r⟩ sake that your prospects were less gloomy when you wrote the two last than when you wrote the first” (MH). Lincoln’s letter to GW of 8 Jan. is in DLC:GW.

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