George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 15 September 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Head Quarters New Bridge [N.J.] Septr 15th 1780


I am honored with your letters of the 6th and 8th instant with their inclosures—happy to find that the late disaster in Carolina has no⟨t⟩ been so great as its first features indicated1—This event however, adds itself to many others to exemplify the necessity of an army—the fata⟨l⟩ consequences of depending on Militia. Regular Troops alone are equal to the exigences of modern war, as well for defence as offence, and whenever a substitute is attempted it must prove illusory and ruinous—No Militia will ever acquire the habits necessary to resist a regular force—Even those nearest the seat of War are only valuable as light Troops to be scattered in the woods and plague rather than do serious injury to the Enemy—The firmness requisite for the real business of fighting is only to be attained by a constant course of discipline and service. I have never yet been witness to a single instance that can justify a different opinion; and it is most earnestly to be wished the liberties of America may no longer be trusted in any material degree to so precarious a dependence.

I cannot but remark that it gives me pain to find—the measures pursuing to the Southward still turn upon accumulating large bodies of Militia instead of once for all making a decided effort to have a permanent force. In my ideas of the true system of war to the Southward—the object ought to be to have a good army rather than a large one. Every exertion should be made by North Carolina Virginia Maryland and Delaware to raise a permanent force of Six Thousand men exclusive of Horse and Artillery—These with the occasional aid of the Militia in the vicinity of the scene of action, will not only suffice to prevent the further progress of the Enemy; but, if properly supplied to oblige them to compact their force and relinquish a part of what they may now hold. To expel them from the Country intirely is what we cannot aim at—till we derive more effectual support from abroad; and by attempting too much, instead of going forward, we shall go backward. Could such a force be once on foot it would immediately make an inconceivable change in the face of our affairs—in the opposition to the Enemy, expence, consumption of provision, waste of arms stores &ca—No Magazines can be equal to the demands of an army of Militia—and none ever needed economy more than our⟨s⟩.

Speaking of Magazines, I beg leave to observe that it is of infinite importance to endeavour to establish ample ones in the Southern States—I mean more particularly of provisions, not only with a view to an immediate supply of the Troops there; but also with a view to offensive operations in that quarter. A quantity of salt provision would be of great utility—It is deplorable that if other circumstance suited our wishes we cannot reasonabl⟨y⟩ undertake anything for want of provisions—Here the Country might on an emergency afford temporary supplies for a much larger force than we have, but if we should find it eligible to turn our attention to the Southward, we should in all appearance meet with an insuperable obstacle in the want of a sufficiency of provision for the voyage and for the operations previous to our opening a full communication with the Country—In the course of the present month the army here has had scarcely one third of the established rations of meat; and our distress continues without prospect of relief.2

I have the honor to inform Congress that tomorrow I set out to Hartford to have an interview on the 20th with the Count De Rochambeau and the Chevalier De Ternay—The command of the army, in my absence, devolves on Major General Greene.3

It is with extreme regret, I announce the death of Brigadier General Poor the 9th instant—an officer of distinguished merit—who as a Citizen and a Soldier had every claim to the esteem of his Country.4

I have just seen a resolution of Congress of the 25th of August declaring the invalidity of all certificates not given by the Quarter Master General and Commissary General. As our situation lays us under an absolute necessity of having recourse to these certificates and as the Quarter Master General is not with the Army I have been compelled to direct Colonel Biddle acting Commissary of Forage to continue giving certificates as heretofore for Ten Days or till the arrival of Colonel Pickering—I hope Congress will approve this step, founded on necessity; and will take the necessary measures to authorise the certificates given by Colonel Biddle till the new Quarter Master General joins the army.5 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect & esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obet & hum. Servant

Go: Washington

P.s. Since writing the above I am honored with your letter of the 12th inclosing Resolutions of the 8th & 11th. It is my duty to inform Congress—that considering the composition of our present force and our present prospects, I do not think it expedient to detach to the Southward from this Army—A little time will explain what we have to expect from abroad—this—the result of the intended conference and the measures Congress take to replace the expiring part of this Army will enable me to judge hereafter how far it will be adviseable and practicable to send reinforcements to the Southward.6

G: W—n

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 18 Sept. and referred it “to the committee on his [GW’s] letter of 20 August” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:836).

GW again wrote Huntington from New Bridge on 16 Sept.: “Since closing the letter herewith, I have received a letter from General Forman, of which the inclosed is a Copy. I fear the intelligence is true” (LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the draft and Varick transcript datelines include 10:00 A.M.). For the enclosure, see David Forman to GW, 14 September.

1GW refers to the Battle of Camden (see Horatio Gates to GW, 30 Aug., n.1; see also Huntington to GW, 6 and 8 Sept.).

2For the daily ration, see General Orders, 18 Jan.; see also Johann Kalb to GW, 29 June.

GW had expressed similar views when he wrote South Carolina governor John Rutledge from headquarters in Bergen County on 12 Sept.: “I had the pleasure, a few days ago, of receiving your Excellency’s favor of the 27th Augt from Philadelphia. I am extremely sorry that circumstances did not admit of your intended visit to the Army, as I could, in a personal conference, have entered more minutely into a detail of our Affairs, than I can with safety commit to paper.

“Your Excellency may rest assured, that I am fully impressed with the importance of the southern states, and of course with the necessity of making every effort to expel the enemy from them—The late unlucky affair near Campden renders their situation more precarious, and calls for every exertion to stop, at least, the further progress of the British Army—It is to be wished that the composition of our force in this quarter—our resources—and the present situation of the Fleet and Army of our Ally admitted of an immediate and sufficient detachment, not only to answer the purpose I have just mentioned, but to carry on operations of a more serious and extensive nature. But this not being the case, for reasons which must be obvious to you, let it suffice that your Excellency be informed, that our views tend ultimately to the southward; In the mean time our endeavours, in that quarter, should be directed, rather to checking the progress of the enemy by a permanent, compact and well organized body of Men, than attempting immediately to recover the State of south Carolina, by a numerous Army of Militia, who [besides being inconceivably expensive are] too fluctuating and undisciplined to oppose one composed chiefly of regular troops. I would recommend to you therefore to make use of your influence with the States from Maryland southward to raise without delay at least five thousand Men, for the war if it can be effected, if not for as long a time as possible. These, with the Militia in the Vicinity, would answer the purpose I have last mentioned, and would in proper time make a useful body either to form a diversion in favor of or to cooperate with a force upon the coast.

“I have hinted the outlines of a plan to your Excellency, which for many reasons should be, in general, kept to yourself: You will oblige me by informing yourself as accurately as possible what may be the present resources of the Country as to Meat—Corn—Wheat or Rice and transportation—as I suppose circumstances may have occasioned a considerable change—And if it is possible to form Magazines of either it should be done—especially of salt Meat, which is an Article so essential to military operations, that the States of Virginia and North Carolina should be requested to lay up as soon as the weather will permit at least 4000 Barrels in proportion to their respective Abilities You will also be pleased to endeavour to gain a knowledge of the force of the enemy—the posts they occupy—the nature and state of those posts, and the reinforcements they may probably derive from the people of the Country—As you receive these several intelligences, you will be pleased to communicate them to me—[with your opinion of the best place for debarking Troops in case of an Expedition agt the enemy in the Southern States, and the names of Persons in that Qr whose opinion & advice may be serviceable in such an event]” (DfS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; material on the draft in square brackets as well as the complimentary closing are in GW’s writing). In his reply to GW on 28 Dec., Rutledge wrote that the letter arrived “about the latter End of October” (DLC:GW).

4Congress honored Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor on 14 Oct. (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:924; see also General Orders, 9 Sept., and n.2 to that document).

5GW means a congressional resolution adopted on 23 Aug. (see Nathanael Greene to GW, this date).

6Congress subsequently adopted legislation that replaced the six-month levies with soldiers serving for the duration of the war (see Huntington to GW, 26 Oct., n.1; see also Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 31 Aug., n.3; and Huntington to GW, 12 Sept.).

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