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To George Washington from Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 23 December 1779

From Major General Benjamin Lincoln

Charlestown [S.C.] Decr 23d, 1779.

My Dear General,

I write by this opportunity rather from a desire to embrace it, than because I have any particular news to communicate.

Since my last1 an exchange of prisoners has taken place, our private soldiers have been all liberated, and but few of our officers remain in the enemy’s hands; among them is Colo. Elbert of the 2d Georgia battalion. The enemy claim a Brigadier for him, he was appointed Brigadier of Militia by a number of the members of the Georgia Assembly, but not by a constitutional house. He is a valuable officer, and his exchange is in every view to be desired.2

Four continental frigates came into port this morning, which is a very great acquisition to our strength, and will, I think, with the other armed vessels here secure our harbor.3 If the works on the land side were completed, I think, we should be pretty safe. A vessel arrived yesterday with stores from Philadelphia, which is a very timely reinforcement.4

The troops occupy the same posts as when I did myself the honor to write you on the 7th ultimo. We received a reinforcement the beginning of this month, from Virginia, of about 300 men, commanded by Colo. Heth. We soon expect some militia from North Carolina, and the remainder of the troops from Virginia.5

For the sake of an airing the enemy have posted most of their troops on the several plantations near Savannah. They yet continue very unhealthy. By the last accounts from the Havannah we learn, that the Spaniards are gone against Pensacola, and that the Natchez up the Mississippi, with the other English settlements on that River, are in the hands of the Spaniards, and 900 prisoners.6 From our latest intelligence General Prevost not only affects to disbelieve these accounts, but it is said at Savannah that the Spaniards have been beaten in two actions, and that all is well in that quarter. Indeed, it appears from his inactivity that he did really believe this account, or that he means to give up the Floridas as lost, for he has not reenforced them unless within a few days past.

It is very evident that he expects every day a reinforcement himself, for, a few nights since, on information that some Ships were in the offing, lodgings were immediately taken for the officers. This circumstance corroborates some others which show what are their expectations.7 I am my dear General, with the greatest esteem &c., &c.

Benjamin Lincoln

Sparks transcript, MH; copy (extract), in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW. The extract consists of the second paragraph of the Sparks transcript. Lincoln’s original letter, which has not been found, came as an enclosure with Samuel Huntington to GW, 7 Feb. 1780 (DLC:GW).

1See Lincoln to GW, 7 Nov., and n.9.

2Col. Samuel Elbert, who held the Georgia militia rank of brigadier general and had been a prisoner since the Battle of Briar Creek, Ga., on 3 March, would not be exchanged until June 1781.

3In his letter to Samuel Huntington written at Charleston, S.C., on 20 Dec., Henry Laurens identified the “four Continental Armed Ships” as “the Boston the Providence the Queen of France & the Ranger” (Laurens Papers, description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends 15:217–19). Congress had ordered three Continental frigates from Boston to Charleston on 10 Nov. (see Huntington to GW, same date, and n.3 to that document).

4A detailed invoice dated “Philadelphia Decr 6th 1779” delineated the “Military Stores” that arrived on 22 Dec. (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). This invoice came with a letter from the Board of War to Lincoln written at Philadelphia on 11 Dec. that contained important information on troops marching south as reinforcements: “The North Carolina Brigade consisting of between 7 & 800 Officers included marched from this City 4 Days ago. They proceed by Water to Petersburg where they are to meet their Waggons & go by the Way of Halifax to Charles Town. The alledged Difficulties in procuring Waggons in Virginia induced us to consent to their going from hence.

“The Virginia Line is ordered on, those excepted whose Times of Service expire by the Middle of March. We do not believe there will be more than 16,00 effectives Rank & File including the Remants of Harrison’s Regiment of Artillery. They go to Williamsburg & there wait ’till it is Time to proceed to Petersburg & meet their Waggons which are to be sent round from hence. Their Route from Petersburg is by the Way of Salisbury to Cambden in South Carolina where the Officer commanding will be directed to obey any Orders lodged for him by you. We suppose the Virginia Troops are on their Way & will speedily arrive at this Place from whence they shall be immediately dispatched. Much Expectation was raized of the Troops going by Water the whole Way under Convoy. But this is now given up & tho’ tedious the March by Land is preferred” (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; see also GW to Thomas Clark, 19 Nov., n.4, and to Huntington, 29 Nov., source note).

5For Continental troops being recruited in Virginia for service in South Carolina, see GW to Charles Scott, 14 Dec., and n.1 to that document.

A letter from Lt. Col. Archibald Lytle to Lincoln written at camp near Camden, S.C., on Tuesday, 4 Jan. 1780, in part reads: “We arrived here some few Days since with part of Two Regiments of Militia from N. Carolina and now wait for the Troops whom We expect Daily I’m in hopes by Friday Next the Two Regiments will consist of Near 800 Men when I propose to begin Our March to Charlestown Without further Orders I shall not Hurry Our March Unless there may appear a Greater Necessity.

“Our State have Omitted to raise continental Troops The Reason My Offering to Serve the Militia” (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).

6The American Journal, and General Advertiser (Providence), in its issue for 24 Feb. 1780, printed an item under the the heading “PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 3” that reads: “By a gentleman from Charlestown, South Carolina, we are informed, that Capt. Millegan, who left the Havanna about the first of December, had arrived at Charlestown, reported, that a packet had arrived to the Governor of Cuba, with an account that the Spaniards had taken Pensacola, where they had made 900 British prisoners besides refugees.” For confirmation of Spanish military successes at Natchez and along the lower Mississippi River Valley, see John Campbell to George Germain, 15 Dec., 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 17:260–67. The British retained control over Pensacola until spring 1781.

7A British expedition departed New York City for Charleston on 26 Dec. (see Anthony Wayne to GW, that date, source note).

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