James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 23 July 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble. James Maddison Jr Esqr Philadelphia.” This letter, with the exception of the last paragraph and complimentary close, is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 137–38.

Caroline, July 23d, 1781

Dear Sir

My last to Mr Jones inform’d you of my return home from a fugitive trip of near two Months,1 which however I spent very agreably among my friends above, after the retreat of Ld Cornwallis2 had quieted the minds of people in that quarter; I found my property here had escaped the Enemy, tho’ some small depredations were committed by my Domestics or neighbours, perhaps both. It is strange that I don’t yet know the present situation of the Enemy, tho’ We hear daily from our Army. One day Ld Cornwallis was on ship board going to England in disgust, the next going or gone to New York to take the command in the room of Sr. Harry who had sailed for England:3 At one time his Infantry were divided, half gone with the light horse to Caroline,4 & the other to Portsmouth. Now we are told the whole Infantry are at Portsmouth, & the Cavalry at Petersburg a few days agoe, on their return from Amelia where they have been plundering; so that nothing certain can be collected from this loose Account—perhaps these may be thrown out for amusement, whilst they mean to draw the Marquis over James River & then come up Rappahannock or Potowmack & ravage easily;5 I should have no thought of their leaving this State, if it were not for an Idea that New York is to be invested by the commander in chief, wch may call this detachment to its defence. We have a loose account of an Action near King’s bridge in which we had the Advantage but no partitlars.6

Augusta is certainly taken, and Genl Green since his retreat, having collected his Various detachments, return’d upon Ld Rawdon—we have a report (not to be relyed on indeed) that they have met & had a warm conflict, in which his Ldship had 300 killed, wounded & taken.7

It is also said that the Spanish Fleet since the Surrender of Pensacola, has been seen at Tybee, supposed to Inland Expeditions against St. Augustine & the Savanah at the same time.8

Our troops from Charles Town are Arrived at James Town & all the privates, tho’ but a few Officers, exchanged—the Ranks muster thin, many having been induced by the usual Artifices of threatning, wheedling and L——y——g to inlist with the Enemy, out of whom they have form’d a fine Regimt. which is gone to the West Indies.9

I believe the Account given in the Pennsylvania Packet of the Reinforcement to Chas Town was just, & that they did not amoun[t] to more than 1500; those it seems were in very Ill humour, and about 60 or 70 soon got killed on their March, the rest became very sickly.10

We shall now listen for Intelligence from yr quarter, as very Interesting events are in Embrio there. What is become of the European Congress? And the Fleets & Armies of our Allies in the West Indies, Cadiz & Brest? &c11

Pray present my complts to Mr Randolph, & tel him I would have accepted his kind offer of correspondence, but Colo Taylor12 will write him & answer his purpose better, let yr other Colleagues know they are always affely remembered by


Edmd Pendleton

1See Pendleton to JM, 28 May, n. 13, and 6 July 1781, and n. 1. Pendleton’s letter to Joseph Jones has not been found.

3Ibid., n. 13. In his two letters of 20 July 1781 to Washington, Lafayette mentioned a captured British officer reporting that both Cornwallis and Tarleton were soon to leave for New York with “the Light Infantry and a regiment of horse” and implying that Cornwallis, “much disappointed in the hopes of command,” might return to England (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 206–8).

4Peter Force’s clerk spelled it “Caroline,” whereas Pendleton most probably wrote “Carolina,” as appears in the text in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. On 9 July, while his headquarters were still at Cobham (Pendleton to JM, 6 July, n. 13), Cornwallis had sent Tarleton and a force of mounted troops to destroy American military stores “between James River and the Dan” as far west as “Prince Edward and Bedford court houses.” According to Lafayette, Tarleton “was disapointed in the stores which he expected to find [in Amelia County], and which had been previously removed,” and “on his precipitate return … [he] suffered some loss from militia light parties” (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 208, 211).

When Tarleton embarked upon his foray, Cornwallis moved his headquarters southeast to Suffolk, along the Nansemond River. There the Dismal Swamp on the east helped to protect his army from attack. By 24 July, after Tarleton rejoined the main force at Suffolk, Cornwallis had carried out his plan of centering his army at Portsmouth (Cornwallis to Clinton, 17 and 24 July 1781, in Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 79–80, 88). Strongly disapproving of this concentration of efforts south of the James River, Clinton directed Cornwallis to shift his forces to the neighborhood of Yorktown and to fortify Old Point Comfort in order still more closely to co-operate with the British men-of-war in Chesapeake Bay (ibid., II, 62–65; Nelson to Virginia Delegates, 26 July 1781, n. 5). Old Point Comfort, on a peninsula at the southeastern tip of Elizabeth City County (now a portion of the city of Hampton), appeared to be an excellent position from which to command Hampton Roads at the mouth of the James.

5Probably Pendleton’s meaning was that the conflicting rumors stemmed from the British themselves in the hope of luring Lafayette to the south side of the James River and thus to open the way for Cornwallis to advance up the Rappahannock or Potomac River. At this time Lafayette’s headquarters were at Malvern Hill, an estate in that day about twelve miles southeast of Richmond and a half mile north of the James River (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 207, 210).

6Pendleton probably had heard an exaggerated account of the American operation, often dignified as the “Battle” of Kings Bridge, on 3 July 1781 (Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds., Public Papers of George Clinton, VII, x–xii, n.). Kings Bridge spanned the Harlem River at the north end of Manhattan Island and was merely one of the objectives designated for capture in the fumbling maneuvers described in JM to Mazzei, 7 July 1781, n. 19.

7For the capitulation of Augusta and the movement of Lord Rawdon’s army to the aid of the British, beleaguered by General Greene in Ninety-Six, see JM to Mazzei, 7 July 1781, nn. 10, 11. In all probability, news had not reached Pendleton of the engagement on 17 July near Monck’s Corner, S.C., where several American detachments under the over-all command of General Thomas Sumter captured 150 British troops, “killed or wounded 100 more, and destroyed or carried off large quantities of stores.” The Americans admitted to the loss of “about forty men, killed and wounded” (Theodore Thayer, Nathanael Greene: Strategist of the American Revolution [New York, 1960], pp. 364–65; Henry B. Dawson, Battles of the United States by Sea and Land [2 vols.; New York, 1858], I, 705–11). Lord Rawdon was not present at this engagement. Broken in health he soon embarked for England, only to be captured at sea by the French and subsequently exchanged (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXIII, 96; Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 54).

8See Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 24 April 1781, nn. 5, 6; JM to Mazzei, 7 July 1781, nn. 11, 21. “Inland” should probably be “intend,” as in the version in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Pendleton’s information about the Spanish fleet off Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River was erroneous. The British had reinforced their garrison in St. Augustine early in April (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 394; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXII, 272), and they continued to hold that post until the close of the war.

9See above, Mathews to Greene, 30 April 1781, nn. 79. By the terms of the cartel of 3 May 1781 for an exchange of prisoners, it was stipulated that “the first delivery of American Prisoners shall embark at Charles Town on or before the 15th. of June, and sail immediately for James Town in James River, where the first delivery of British prisoners shall embark, on or about the first week in July, & sail immediately to the nearest British port” (NA: PCC, No. 172, fol. 141). The Pennsylvania Packet of 10 July noted that “near 900 regular American officers and soldiers were … embarked at Charlestown, to be landed at James town, Virginia, having been exchanged by virtue of the cartel.”

10According to the Pennsylvania Packet of 10 July, the British reinforcements, numbering “no more than 1500 effectives,” disembarked at Charleston early in June. “Lord Rawdon immediately marched those into the country for the relief of Ninety-six, and persons who went with them, some little distance, say, they were in exceeding bad order, many of them fainting at a little distance from the town, others stopping by reason of swelled legs, &c and a party of them were attacked by some of the brave yeomanry of South Carolina, a few were killed, and near one hundred taken prisoners.” On 7 July 1781, in a dispatch to General Clinton, Lord Germain wrote that he had sent to Charleston “Three Regiments and the Thousand British Recruits from Ireland” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 42). In a letter of 17 July to the president of Congress, General Greene reported that the reinforcements amounted to “a little more than 2000 men.” When one regiment mutinied “a few days since,” Greene continued, order was not restored until “near an hundred men were killed and wounded” (NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 193–204).

11See Pendleton to JM, 6 July 1781, n. 19. For Comte de Grasse and the French fleet under his command in the West Indies, see above, Mathews to Greene, 30 April 1781, n. 4. On 16 July, at Cap Français (modern Cap Haitien), Haiti, the Comte de Grasse received an urgent request to come north to co-operate with Washington and Rochambeau against the British and was on his way when Pendleton wrote this letter. At the same time, having failed to take Gibraltar, a combined French and Spanish fleet was outbound from Cadiz, convoying troop transports, to besiege the British in Minorca (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 264–65, 306).

12Edmund Randolph, one of the delegates of Virginia in Congress, and John Taylor of Caroline, a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly.

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