George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Abner Nash, 6 October 1780

From Abner Nash

Newbern [N.C.] October 6th 1780


Confiding that your Excellency was constantly made acquainted with whatever related to the Military Affairs of this & the neighbouring State of So. Carolina, I thought it unnecessary to increase your trouble by opening a direct correspondence with you myself as Governor of this State, But Sir the distresses of this Country and the dangers we are now exposed to, in consequence of the defeat of our Army under Genl Gates in Augt last,1 oblige me in point of Duty to address my Self to your Excellency, who I know has an equal concern for the safety of every part of the united States I am to acquaint you Sir that for want of an early knowledge of the requisition of Congress for specific supplies,2 added to the bad crops of Grain made in this state for two years past, the Army under Baron D. Kelb & our Militia in the begining of the prest Campaign Suffered the greatest hardships & were subsisted with the greatest difficulty3—this difficulty however at length was over come by our Armys having made their March good to Pee Dee River about the begining of August—here Sir they fortunately recovered from the Enemy one of the most fertile & plentiful Settlements in the southern States & obliged them in turn to take post in the barren wretched Country of Cambden where they were very soon reduced to short allowance—South Carolina in the meantime, incouraged by this Successful advance of our Army, was revolting from their late Masters in all quarters & in great numbers—the Militia of the two states had had nine several Skirmishes with the Enemy & had been successful in every one, in short the Enemy’s destruction was inevitable had not the General determined unfortunately for us, to risk the fate of the Campaign & with it the two Carolinas on the Event of a single Battle—I think I am justified in saying he put all to risk I have mentioned because no previous effectual measures were taken to save the baggage nor do I learn that any place was assigned for the Army to retreat to in case of misfortune, which in my opinion might have been reasonably expected; our men by hard marches & bad living were Sickly & weak & much the greater part of the Army were militia who had never been in action; on the other hand, the Enemy, whose numbers by the bye were unknown, were fresh and had the sure advantage of engaging us when & where they pleased, of course they chose their ground & time to good Effect—the action no sooner commenced than as might have been dreaded, the center & left wing of the Line, composed of Militia, and a great part of these Rifle men, got into confusion & fled away—at this point of time had the Regulars been ordered to retreat to Rugelys Mill five miles in their Rear possibly all might have been saved—one hundred men there I am told would have defended the pass agt the whole British force—but it was not done & the Enemy having nothing to oppose them on our Left of course turned it & the General might well suppose, as it seems he did, that they were all cut off, however by the Supr bravery of those excellent Troops they at length extricated themselves from their difficulties & after making great havock among the Enemy came off in tolerable good order & with less loss than could have been expected, but Sir the loss of these brave men was not our greatest loss—we had expended upwards of 25,000,000 of Dollars on this army, we had drained every sourse & exausted every fund in purchasing Tents Waggons Horses Armes Amunition provisions Spirits Sugar Coffee Camp Equipage of every kind in short everything appertaining to an army & in a single half Hour all is compleatly lost & the army in a manner anihilated, for the Militia fled chiefly to their respective homes spreading terror wherever they went & the Regulars of course continued retreating on after their General until they at length eventually collected at Hillsborough 240 miles from the place of action where the General arrived the third day after the action leaving all the Country behind open to the incursion & ravage of the Enemy—at this place Sir the Regular Troops now remain inactive & useless for want of Tents Clothes & other necessarys whilst the Enemy are now making the most alarming advances into the richest & strongest part of this State—My last Letter from Genl Davidson, who for the prest commands the Militia to the Westwards, dated the 26, ult. Says this day at 11. OClock, the Enemy marched in force into Charlotte, his army retreating & meaning to take post on the North Side of the Yadkin4 & Sir I am to remark to you that from the yadkin to within abt 20 miles of Hillsborough the inhabitants are chiefly disaffected to our Governmt so that if our Militia shall not be able to hold their post on the yadkin, a river fordable any where, their further retreat will not only be difficult & precarious, but the Enemys Army will inevitably Swell & grow more formidable & in such a case what have we to expect but that Genl Gates will retreat with the shattered remains of his regular Army over the Roanoke wch he is now within about thirty miles of; this Sir is a true picture of our present deranged & feble condition, the effects of the unfortunate affair of the 16th of Augt. I have acquainted congress with our defenceless state and of the fatal consequences to the united States of loosing North Carolina—I have told them in plain terms that our funds are exausted that our Militia are without tents badly armed & dispirited for want of regular troops to form a proper basis of defence—that the unsetled state we are in, will render precarious any dependence on us for a sufft supply of provisions & have urged them in the strongest terms I am capable of to afford us some timely aid,5 And Sir I also beg leave earnestly to call your Excellencys attention towards the effectual defence of this part of the united States—I know Sir both You and Congress know the importance of these So. States and I acknowledge you had made what seemed a very sufft provision not only for our defence but for the recovery of at least the upper parts of So. Carolina, but Sir unfortunately for us we have lost all advantage from the former Aid & the force of our Militia is also weakened & reduced by the intire loss of our Field equipage & our incapacity to repair the loss—to give your Excellency some Idea of the cruelties practised by the Enemy over those who fall into their power, I inclose to you a Copy of Ld Cornwallis’s Orders to an officer commanding at a seperate post6—if you desire of me Sir a continuation of intelligence from this pt of America, I shall be happy during my continuance in office in obeying Yr orders7 and am with the highest respect & esteem Sir Yr Excellencys Most obt & very Hble Servt

A: Nash

ALS, DLC:GW. GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “recd 4 Novemr” on the docket.

1Nash refers to the Battle of Camden (see Horatio Gates to GW, 30 Aug., n.1).

2For this quota, see Circular to the States, 2 June, n.1.

4See William Lee Davidson to Nash, 26 Sept. (Nc: Governors’ Papers).

5See Nash to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, on this date (DNA:PCC, item 72). Congress read Nash’s letter on 31 October. On the same date, Congress acknowledged “the pressing emergency of our southern affairs” and resolved to send “a reinforcement of cavalry” under Maj. Henry Lee, Jr. (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 , 18:997).

6For Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis’s orders to Lt. Col. Nisbet Balfour, dated August, see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 26 Sept., n.1.

7In his reply to Nash on 6 Nov., GW requested intelligence and explained encouraging military prospects (DLC:GW).

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