Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Richard Henry Lee, 27 March 1781

From Richard Henry Lee

Williamsburg March 27. 1781

My Dear Sir

I have had an opportunity of conversing with the worthy Baron at this place, and he communicates to me a plan of joining his force with Gen. Greene, or so to cooperate with him as to render a junction of the British force with Cornwallis difficult if not impossible. The Barons plan appears to me to be one of those Master strokes which are productive of great effects, but which if neglected lay the train for much future evil. When the Carthagenian General was all powerful before Rome the genius of Scipio carried him to Carthage. Comparing small things with great, this plan may save Virginia, by a previous defeat of Cornwallis. Besides, the Pennsylva. line is coming on. The Troops of the Marquis may also be so, and with these no great mischief can happen here, whilst a great stroke may be stricken against the capital foe and the planner of all the southern evils which now distress us. I sincerely wish that the Barons plan may be approved. I wish you happy and I am most sincerely yours,

Richard Henry Lee

RC (PHi); addressed, in part: “Honored by Baron Steuben”; endorsed.

For the action of the Council on Steuben’s plan, see TJ to the county lieutenants of Montgomery, &c., 29 Mch. and note; see also Weedon to TJ, 27 Mch. and TJ to Weedon, 31 Mch. The collapse of the expedition against Portsmouth because of the arrival of the British fleet caused Steuben on 27 Mch. to unburden himself to Greene in a longletter outlining his proposal. This letter (Dft: NHi), dated at Williamsburg, reads in part as follows: “You know my dear General that agreeably to your orders I was left in this state to accelerate the resources you expected from hence. The invasion which followed gave me occupation of another nature, but this however was considered only as a secondary object and my attention was never called from the first. It was not till I received Genl. Washington’s orders to prepare for this Expedition that it became a principal Object. I accordingly made the necessary preparations at an amazing Expence and with the utmost trouble. The Marquis then arrived with a great number of French and American Officers and 40 Men. After four Weeks suspense, our Hopes of doing anything are destroyed and the Marquis returns to the Northward, leaving me exposed to nothing but affront, whilst every prospect of Glory was reserved for others. In this situation I think myself authorized to return to the first Object in doing all in my power to execute the first Orders I received from you and to leave the Defence of the State to the Militia under the immediate direction of Government. I shall therefore set out this day for Richmond and intend to make the following proposition to Government which if they refuse I shall without delay form the first detachment of Levies and I must beg you my dear General to send me orders by the first express to Join you. We have now about 4000 militia under Arms and the Enemy with the Reinforcement will have I imagine about 3000 and consequently cannot be prevented from advancing in the Country when they please. Militia alone will ever make but a poor Resistance in Defensive operations. I propose to draw all the Militia together and by forced marches to pass the Roanoke and join you wherever you may direct. If the French are at Cape Fear I don’t doubt Baron Wyominy [Viomesnil] will make some diversion with his 1200 Grenadiers and Light Infantry. In this case I think Cornwallis would be obliged to see his security in Flight and as soon as he begins to retreat part of the Militia may be sent back. If this is approved I will with great pleasure command the Militia, but to carry on a defensive war with militia alone I cannot consent to. I shall hurry to lay this proposition before Government and the next express shall inform you of their determination.”

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