Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Nathanael Greene, 10 March 1781

From Nathanael Greene

High Rock ford, March 10th 1781.1

Dr. Sir

I did myself the honor to address your Excellency on the 28th of February. We were soon obliged to change our possition after the departure of my letter by a sudden Manæuvre of the Enemy towards this place. A small skirmish happened in consequence of it near Whitesyls Mill; and as they were chiefly rifle-men who engaged them in it, I make no doubt but the Enemy suffered considerably, tho’ our loss was very trifling.2 The object of the Enemy in this move, I suppose was to intercept our stores moving in that direction, or to surprise and cut off our Light Infantry from the main Body of the Army then advanced upwards of seven Miles. If it was either, they were disappointed; and they being sensible of it have changed their direction, and have retired3 towards Gilford Court House.

My force has never been during any stage of the Campaign equal to any decicive efforts. When the Enemy first took their departure from the Dan, they had every prospect of great reinforcements from the Tories;4 and I reflected that if they were permitted to roam at large in the State that it would indubitably impress the idea of conquest on the minds of the disaffected and perhaps occasion those who were wavering in their sentiments to take an active and decicive part against us. I instantly determined, as the most effectual measure to prevent it, to advance into the State without waiting for those reinforcements that the spirit of the Virginians seemed to promise me at the time. It was necessary to convince the Carolinians that they were not conquered, and by affording immediate protection to their property5 engage the continuance of their confidence and friendship. I trust the efforts that have been made have in a great measure had that effect.

Every Day has filled me with hopes of an augmentation of my force;6 the Militia have flocked in from various quarters,7 but they come and go in such irregular Bodies that I can make no calculations on the strength of my Army or direct any future operations that can ensure me success.8 At this time I have not above 8 or 900 of them in the field, 30 of which only are Carolinians. Notwithstanding there have been upwards of 5000 in motion within the course of 4 Weeks.9 A force fluctuating in this manner can promise but slender hopes of success against an Enemy regulated by discipline and made formidable by the superiority of their numbers.10 Hitherto I have been obliged to practice that by finesse, which I dare not attempt by force. I know the People have been11 in anxious suspence waiting the event of a general action, but let the consequence of censure be what it may, nothing shall hurry me into a measure that is not suggested by prudence or connects with it the interest of the Southern department.12

General Caswell is on his way with a considerable force of the Carolina Militia, and Colo. Campbell with the Virginia Regulars I expect will be up in a few Days.13 When this force arrives I trust I shall be able to mark the limits of the Enemies depredations and at least dispose of the Army in such a manner as to encumber them with a number of Wounded Men.14

I have been very much disappointed in the reinforcement that I expected from Washington County under Colo. Campbell. Only 60 have joined our Army, whereas I had strong expectations of receiving at least one thousand. I cannot pretend to account for this deficiency or direct the steps necessary to find out the cause.

Dft (MiU-C); in the hand of William Pierce, with numerous deletions and corrections; endorsed. Tr (DLC: PCC, No. 71, ii), enclosed in TJ to Huntington, 19 Mch. Tr (DLC: Washington Papers), enclosed in TJ to Washington, 19 Mch. Tr (DLC: TJ Papers). PrC (DLC: TJ Papers); incomplete. Tr (CSmH). The last is the only one of the several copies listed that agrees with the phraseology of Dft (MiU-C) and therefore must have been copied from it. The three Trs and the incomplete PrC all agree with each other except for trivial differences in capitalization, &c.; since the text from which these copies derive was the (missing) RC that came to TJ, it is obvious that Greene made a number of changes in the text after the Dft had been completed. Some of these changes are noted below, along with alterations that took place while Dft was being composed. It seems clear from these alterations that Greene used more than ordinary care in drafting the letter. In the following notes all references to Tr should be understood as including all of the Trs (and the PrC), except Tr (CSmH) which agrees with the present text.

1Tr reads: “Near the High Rock ford, March 10th. 1781” and has the following caption: “Copy of a letter from Genl Greene to Govr Jefferson.”

2Tr differs in phraseology of preceding two sentences and omits reference to the loss sustained by Greene’s army.

3Tr reads: “are now retiring”; this change in tense does not mean that Dft was composed after Tr; see note 13 below.

4Tr reads: “from the Tories of Carolina.”

5“Country” is deleted in Dft and “property” interlined.

6Tr reads: “Every Day has given me hopes of being stronger, but I have been as constantly disappointed.”

7Dft deletes “& seemed to promise everything” and Tr adds at this point: “and seemed to promise me as much as I could wish; but they soon get tired out with difficulties and go and come,” &c.

8Tr reads: “the means of success.”

9Tr reads: “a few Weeks.”

10Tr reads: “A force fluctuating in this Manner can only serve to destroy the Wealth of our Country without promising the most distant hope of success when opposed to an Enemy regulated by discipline,” &c.

11Deleted in Dft: “filled with expectation, & may wonder perhaps that I have not given Cornwallis a blow before this.”

12Tr reads: “… the interest of the department which I have the honor to command.”

13Tr reads: “… I expect will join the Army tomorrow.” It is clear from this change that Greene must have received definite information from Campbell after Dft was written.

14Tr reads: “When this force arrives, I am in hopes to dispose of my Troops in such a manner as to be able to encumber the Enemy with a number of wounded Men.” Greene must have known that Cornwallis had little means of transporting wounded. Actually, the British commander was obliged after the battle of Guilford Court House to leave about seventy of his critically wounded soldiers under protection of a flag of truce and to commend them to Greene’s care (C. L. Ward, The Delaware Continentals, Wilmington, 1941, p. 422). Thus what Greene had hoped would be an additional burden for Cornwallis became one for him.

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