Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Steuben, 25 February [1781]

From Steuben

Chesterfield Co. Ho. 25th Feby [1781]


[Colo. Meade has return’d from examining into the Affair of the Flag. He has brought the inclosed papers which I send for your inspection.

I do not find sufficient Reasons to Detain Mr. Hare any longer and have therefore sent orders to have him discharged.]1

I have the pleasure to inform your Excellency, that the Detachment has marched from this consisting of 400 Rank and file. They are well armed and tolerably Clothed.

I received last night information that Cornwallis is retreating with as much rapidity as he advanced. His Route is toward Hilsboro. Genl. Greene crossed the Dan the 21st in pursuit of him. In consequence of this, I have countermanded the March of the Troops under Colo. Innes.

General Muhlenburg has orders to keep Arnold close to in Portsmouth.

I sett out this afternoon for Petersburg, perhaps further as circumstances may determine. If Cornwallis should continue to retreat, and it should not be likely for us to come up with him, I shall discharge the Militia order’d from the Counties of Chesterfield and Dinwiddie.

I have given orders long since for the returns your Excellency mentions and have again repeated them.

Dft (NHi); in aide’s hand. Enclosures not identified.

Steuben’s orders to Innes to cross the James were issued 24 Feb. 1781 and countermanded two days later; in the letter of 26 Feb., Steuben directed Innes to make out a militia return and “send it immediately to the Governor that he may take measures to have them properly relieved. In acknowledging the countermanding order on 26 Feb., Innes said that he had “yesterday enclosed the Governor such a Return as you require” (Steuben to Innes, 24 and 26 Feb. 1781; Innes to Steuben, 26 Feb.; Steuben to Nelson, 25 Feb., all in NHi; Innes to TJ, 24 Feb., above). In his orders to Muhlenberg of 25 Feb. Steuben remarked: “The Governor is continually complaining that he cannot receive returns of the number of Militia from each county. I beg you will immediately have proper returns made out, and forward them” (Steuben to Muhlenberg, 26 Feb., NHi; Muhlenberg’s returns were sent on 25 Feb.; see Gamble to TJ, above). As TJ pointed out to Steuben and other military officers more than once, it was quite impossible for the civil authority to regulate its calls upon the counties with any semblance of system unless the military furnished regular returns of militia actually in the field; but the difficulty amounting almost to impossibility of obtaining such returns persisted to the end of his term of office. Cornwallis is retreating: In a letter to Muhlenberg of 25 Feb. Steuben remarked: “I have been sometimes in doubt whether Lord Cornwallis was a Great General or a Madman. His late manoeuvre proves him clearly to be the latter. …” (NHi).

1There is in NHi a one-page sheet with various extracts of letters, of which the part in brackets (supplied) is one; others are from letters of Steuben to TJ, 21 Feb., and TJ to Steuben, 20 and 22 Feb., qq.v.

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