George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Armstrong, 31 August 1780

From John Armstrong

Philada 31st August 1780

Dear General

Since my return to Congress in the latter end of May, few Weeks have passed in which I did not intend the pleasure of writing you—Yet can the fault of Omission I now acknowledge be imputed to no other cause than the progressive langure and infirmity produced by an attention to business often perplexing in it Self, and a tedious debate with the dissolving heat of this City.

At present I know of nothing new, but an account Yesterday brought by a Vessel from the West Indias, that some British Ships of force has lately gone into the road or Port of St Martins & there captured & carried off Several American Vessels—by Steps of this Sort the Dutch may at length be led to more than mere neutrallity.1

Little did I expect a few minutes ago that the nex paragraph Shou’d convey you the melancholy intelligence which it contains, nothing less than an entire defeat & total loss & dispersion of the Southern Army—being confined to my room I have not Seen Genl Gates’s letter, a Copy of wch no doubt the President will Send you2—Mr Burks letter puts the misfortune wholely on the want of a Magazine of provisions, by saying in effect that Genl Gates must either risque that battle or disband his troops, to which he adds there were favourable prognosticks by a Series of Success in the Scirmishing way3—Genl Cornwallis was at the head of three thousand or more with a great Superiority of Horse—The advance guards began in the Night both Armies on the March & both it’s said wishing to gain the Same ground—at day break the line was formed—the Virginia Militia Supported by Armong Corps on the Left, N. Carolina Militia in the Center—part of the Maryld troops on the right & the residue as reserve near the Center—The left wing Militia & Center Suddenly fled & cou’d not be rallied & left the few Continentals Surrounded by Horse & foot—Genl Smalwood is Said to be killed: Baron DeCalb wounded & a prisoner—Genl Gates Said to be pursued fifteen miles—Coll Armong pursued twenty five miles & killed thro’ the failure of his Horses4—Dismal as the best Story may be yet a little time will furnish a more accurate & perhaps better account, as when the express came off there was not a Shadow of an Army any where, nor any Magazines to repair to. I intended adding a few thoughts on the Objects of the Campaign and on the recall of the Committee from Camp but find my fever increasing & must desist—with respect to the last, take not the recall as matter of discouragement,5 but ask what your own consideration may dictate as necessary either of Congress or of a particular State, and if it can be had I think you will receive it. I have with perfect respect the honor to be Your Excellencys Affectionate humbl. Servt

John Armstrong


1Adm. George Rodney wrote Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot on 16 Aug. that “American Privateers” at Saint Martin “had the Insolence to Insult the British Flag for which affront I ordered them to be severely chastised by a Squadron I sent for the purpose, who took them out of the Road of St. Martin’s, the Governor haveing been acquainted that I did not send to molest the Dutch, but to Seize His Majesty’s Pyratical and Rebellious Subjects who had dar’d to insult his Flag” (Rodney of the White Squadron description begins Letter-books and Order-Book of George, Lord Rodney, Admiral of the White Squadron, 1780–1782. 2 vols. New York, 1932. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 65–66. description ends , 1:6–7).

3North Carolina delegate Thomas Burke presumably wrote this unidentified letter.

4Colonel Armand wrote GW from Philadelphia on 7 Oct.: “in the action at Camdon where we lost our Baggages—the Ennemy took the most valuable part of my fortune which was the letters and Certificats your Excellency Had been pleased to reward my Services and Conduct with—Could I Hoppe that the great goodness of your Excellency Could enduce you to repear that lost by a new thestimony of your approbation—I wishes more than Ever to Have an opportunity of deserving it” (ALS, DLC:GW; GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman docketed the letter: “new Certificate transmitted by Colo. Hamilton 29th Octobr”).

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