Thomas Nelson to Virginia Delegates
Draft (Virginia State Library). Endorsed, “To the Delegates in Congress Octr. 5. 1781.”
Camp before York, Octr. 5. 1781.
Since I last wrote, I have received your Favours of Sepr. 11th & 18th. A variety of Causes conspired to prevent a regular Acknowledgment of them, but as we are now Stationary, & have reduced Matters into some order, I shall venture to promise you, that you shall weekly at least receive the Occurences of this Quarter, which I know must be Objects of anxious curiosity, & I hope will be of very agreeable Importance.
This Evening will complete a Week, since we moved down from Williamsburg. The Enemy very quietly permitted us to invest them, & on the second Night, fearful I suppose of a Storm, evacuated all their Outworks, except one on the Hill above the Creek on the Williamsburg road, which they still hold[.]2 we immediately took Possession of the Works they left, which have been converted into covering Redoubts for the intended Approaches. These Redoubt[s] are about half a Mile from the Town. The Enemy endeavoured to retard these operations by playing on our Men who were at Work from their Batteries, but with very little Effect, having killed in all only six Men.3 We have not returned one Shot.
The Day before yesterday, on the Gloucester side, the Duke de Lauzun attacked with his Cavalry & a Corps of Militia Grenadiers, Tarleton at the Head of six hundred Men, consisting of the Horse of his Legion, & a Body of Infantry. Tarleton was dismounted, & wounded, a major who commanded the Infantry killed, near fifty Men killed & wounded & the whole Party defeated. The Loss on our Side was about 12 killed & wounded. The Duke, his Officers, & the whole of the Men under his Command behaved with so much Gallantry on this Occasion that the Commander in chief thought proper to give them his Thanks in the Orders of Yesterday.4
I am sorry to find that the Agent5 has not established some Means of supplying you with Money, a Matter in which not only your comfortable Subsistence but also the Credit & Interest of the State are concerned. I have been for some time in daily Expectation of seeing him in Camp. The moment he arrives I will urge him to a proper attention to this Business.
I must beg that you will endeavour to secure for this State its Proportion of the clothing lately imported for the continental Army. The Situation we have been in for nearly a Year, has so much put it out of our Power to provide Clothes for our Line, that the few Troops we have now in the Field are not fit to be seen.6
I have the Honour &c.
1. At this time the delegates of Virginia in Congress were JM, Joseph Jones, Theodorick Bland, and Edmund Randolph. Congress had granted Meriwether Smith a leave of absence on 31 August. He was appointed to the committee of the week on 3 September but his name does not appear in the journal thereafter in 1781 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 925, 930).
2. In a letter of 1 October 1781 to the president of Congress, Washington reported that he “marched from Williamsburg with the whole Army, on the 28th and approached within about two Miles of the Enemy.… On the 29th. the American Troops moved forward and took their Ground in front of the Enemys Works on their Left; no Opposition, except a few scattered Shots” (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, 158). Cornwallis’ objective was to strengthen his line of defense by shortening it. Betrayed into overconfidence by Clinton’s announced expectation of having a relief expedition under sail by 5 October, Cornwallis had replied to Clinton on 29 September, “I shall retire this night within the works, and have no doubt, if relief arrives in any reasonable time, York and Gloucester will be both in possession of his Majesty’s troops” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 160, 169). The outwork “above the Creek” was the Fusiliers’ Redoubt, west of Yorktown Creek, at “Nelsons farm” (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 75; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 888). See Pendleton to JM, 8 October 1781, and n. 4.
3. Washington called the casualties in establishing the first parallel “too trifling to mention” (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, 210).
4. After coming to America with Rochambeau in 1780, Armand-Louis Gontaut Biron, Duc de Lauzun, a brigadier of dragoons in the French army, commanded a “legion” made up of both cavalry and infantry. Following the departure of Rochambeau in January 1783, Lauzun was briefly at the head of the French troops remaining in the United States. From May of that year, when he returned home, until he was guillotined a decade later, he held high civil and military positions in France (François Barrière, ed., Mémoires du Duc de Lauzun, Bibliothèque des mémoires, relatifs à l’histoire de France, pendant le 18e siècle, XXV [Paris, 1882], 212–13, 216). The “Militia Grenadiers” were led by Lieutenant Colonel John Francis Mercer of Stafford County. Colonel Tarleton was unhorsed but not wounded. The British “major” killed seems to have been a Lieutenant Moir. Tarleton reported that the British casualties totaled twelve; Lauzun had three of his command killed and sixteen wounded; Mercer’s losses are unknown (Banastre Tarleton, History of Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, pp. 386–89; Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War, II, 334–37; Douglas S. Freeman, George Washington, V, 355). See also Pendleton to JM, 8 October, and n. 6. Washington’s general orders of 4 October 1781, congratulating “the Army upon the brilliant success of the Allied Troops near Gloucester,” are in 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, 171–73.
5. David Ross. He arrived at Nelson’s headquarters on 5 October, but evidently after the governor had written the present letter (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 79). See also Jameson to JM, 29 September 1781, n. 10.