James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 19 November 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble James Madison jr Esqr Philadelphia.” The entire letter, with the exception of the complimentary close, appears in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 144. An extract is given in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

Caroline, Novr 19th 1781

Dear Sir

I am now to thank you for yr favr of the 30th past. The Official returns of the Conquest at York make our prisoners much more than was expected,1 and I think prove that Ld Cornwallis2 did not make so brilliant a defence, as his former Military character indicated, however any exertions would probably have been ineffectual to any other purpose than increasing his fame & sacrificing the lives of men on both sides:3 Our other Acquisitions were considerable, & I am inclined to think should have been more so, if the Generosity of our Illustrious General in the terms of the Capitulation, had met a suitable degree of Honor in the Execution on the part of the Enemy.4 As these officers must carry the proof, tho’ not the first tidings of this change in their American Affairs to the Parliament, I anticipate with pleasure the effect it will have on the deliberations, and the long faces which will appear on the Ministerial side of the House, is it possible they can retain a wish & much less coin a plausible reason for continuing such a War?

I find your brood Committee have at length hatched a Report, and tho’ it seems probable from circumstances that it may not be agreed to at present, yet what is the consequence? It will I suppose lie on your table & be ready for all the operations of Intrigue, party and Finesse.5 Our Assembly had not form’d a House when I last heard from Richmond,6 which gives no good presage of the wisdom of the Session; I cordially wish they may disappoint the Omen, & verify the old Adage, by giving proofs of wisdom & stability equal to their slowness.7 I am sure much is required of them at this juncture, particularly to meet this Torrent of unfriendly dealing in a proper manner, without giving hope to the Enemy of a disunion, which might protract the War.

As we have not a confirmation last post of the capture of Rodney’s Fleet, I am afraid it was premature.8

I am told the Count Degrasse has at last sail’d, but hear nothing of the British Fleet, which may be gone out of his way.9

We have a loose Report that Genl Green has had a battle & been defeated in consequence of a considerable reinforcement lately arrived at Charles Town, but it does not come so as to deserve credit, any more than one of a contrary nature, that they have evacuated Charles Town.10 present my Compliments to yr Colleagues.

I am Dr Sr Yr very Affe Servt

Edmd Pendleton

2Although Peter Force’s clerk wrote “Cornwallis’s,” the two other copies of this letter, made independently of each other from the lost original, show the word as it is in the present text.

3With this judgment, Cornwallis agreed. He wrote to Clinton on 20 October 1781: “Under all these circumstances, I thought it would have been wanton and inhuman to the last degree to sacrifice the lives of this small body of gallant soldiers, who had ever behaved with so much fidelity and courage, by exposing them to an assault, which from the numbers and precautions of the enemy could not fail to succeed. I therefore proposed to capitulate” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 213).

4In his correspondence during about the first two weeks after Cornwallis’ surrender, Washington occasionally expressed his belief that the British were withholding some deserters from the American army, horses, and refugee or captured Negro slaves, in violation of the Articles of Capitulation (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, 252, 264–65, 314, 336).

7There are too many relevant adages to permit the confident selection of the one Pendleton had in mind.

9Under orders to return to the West Indies, Grasse refused Washington’s plea to co-operate in operations against Wilmington, N.C., and Charleston, S.C., and sailed from Chesapeake Bay on 6 November (Institut Français de Washington, ed., Correspondence of General Washington and Comte de Grasse, pp. 119–58). For the return of Graves’s ships to New York harbor, see JM to Pendleton, 13 November 1781, n. 2.

10On 8 September 1781 at Eutaw Springs, near the Santee River about fifty miles northwest of Charleston, Greene’s army of approximately 2,400 men had fought an indecisive and exceptionally sanguinary battle against a somewhat smaller force of British soldiers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart. Following this last major engagement of the war, the enemy’s troops in the South, with the exception of contingents of Carolina Loyalists, were confined to their fortifications in and around Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington (Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 826–34; Theodore Thayer, Nathanael Greene, pp. 373–81, 395). From a few days after the battle until 18 November, when he began to move his army toward Charleston, Greene was again encamped on the High Hills of Santee, his dwindling troops ridden by dysentery and fever. Four days earlier the British had evacuated Wilmington (George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 405, 418–19).

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