George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 22 October 1780

To Major General Nathanael Greene

[Preakness, 22 Oct. 1780]


Congress having been pleased by their Resolution of the 5th instant, to authorise me to appoint an Officer to the command of the southern Army in the room of Major Genl Gates ’till an enquiry can be had into his conduct as therein directed, I have thought proper to choose you for this purpose. You will therefore proceed without delay to the southern Army, now in North Carolina, and take the command accordingly.1 Uninformed as I am of the enemy’s force in that quarter, of our own or of the resources which it will be in our power to command for carrying on the War, I can give you no particular instructions but must leave you to govern yourself intirely according to your own prudence and judgment and the circumstances in which you find yourself. I am aware, that the nature of the command, will offer you embarrassments of a singular and complicated nature; but I rely upon your abilities and exertions for every thing your means will enable you to effect. I give you a letter to the Honorable the Congress informing them of your appointment and requesting them to give you such powers and such support as your situation and the good of the service demand. You will take their orders in your way to the Southward.2

I also propose to them to send the Baron de Steuben to the Southward with you; his talents, knowledge of service, zeal and activity will make him very useful to you in all respects and particularly in the formation and regulation of the raw troops, which will principally compose the southern Army. You will give him a command suited to his Rank, besides employing him as Inspector General. If the Congress approve—he will take your orders from Philadelphia.3

I have put Major Lee’s Corps under marching orders, and as soon as he is ready, shall detach him to join you.4

As it is necessary the enquiry into the conduct of Major General Gates should be conducted in the Quarter in which he has acted, where all the Witnesses are, and where alone the requisite information can be obtained; I am to desire as soon as the situation of affairs will possibly permit, you will nominate a Court of Enquiry to examine into his case agreeably to the forementioned Resolve of Congress. Major General the Baron de Steuben will preside at this Court, and the Members will consist of such General and Feild Officers of the Continental troops as were not present at the Battle of Camden, or being present, are not wanted as Witnesses, or are persons to whom Major Genl Gates has no objection. I wish this affair to be conducted with the greatest impartiality and with as much dispatch as circumstances will permit. You will on your arrival at the Army take the sense in writing of the General Officers and other principal Officers concerning the practicability of an immediate enquiry—If they judge it practicable on the principles of these instructions, you will have it carried into execution—If they do not think it can take place immediately you will inform Major General Gates of it and transmit me their determination; and ⟨you⟩ will, from time to time, pursue the same mode, that any delay which may happen may appear, as I am persuaded it will really be, unavoidable. The Court need not consist of more than five, nor must it consist of less than three Members, in all cases there must be three General Officers.5

You will keep me constantly advised of the state of your Affairs and of every material occurrence.

My warmest wishes for your success reputation health and happiness accompany you.

Given at Head Quarters Prekaness the 22d October 1780.

Go: Washington

P.S. Should Genl Gates have any objection to the mode of enquiry which he wishes to make to Congress or to me, you will suspend proceeding in the Affair, ’till he transmits his objection, and you receive further orders.6

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, NjP: De Coppet Collection; Df, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, this date, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy (extract), DNA:PCC, item 171; copy (extract), NHi: Gates Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For the resolution, see Samuel Huntington to GW, 6 Oct., and n.2 to that document; see also GW to Greene, 14 October.

2See GW to Huntington, this date, and n.3 to that document.

4See GW to Henry Lee, Jr., and to the Board of War, both this date and found at Lee to GW, 21 Oct., source note.

5Upon his arrival in Charlotte, N.C., Greene acted upon GW’s instructions to arrange a court of inquiry to investigate Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, but delays kept the court from taking shape (see Proceedings of a Council of War, 5 Dec., and Greene to Gates, 6 Dec., in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:527, 536; see also Greene to GW, 7 Dec., DLC:GW). Congress revoked the resolution requiring the court on 14 Aug. 1782 (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 , 23:465; see also Greene to Gates, 4 Oct. 1781, in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 9:425–26).

6GW wrote Gates from Preakness on this date: “I inclose you a Resolution of Congress of the 5th instant directing me to order a Court of inquiry to be held on your conduct as Commander of the Southern Army, and to appoint an Officer to command that Army in your room untill such inquiry be made—In obedience to this order I have appointed Major General Greene to the command; and I have instructed him respecting the inquiry in the manner which the inclosed extract from his instructions will show. It appeard to me that the business could be no where so properly conducted as with the Army where the transactions which will enter into the inquiry took place, and where every kind of light can with most facility be obtained. I could not however order it immediately to commence; because it is possible the situation of affairs might render it impracticable; but I have endeavoured to take every precaution to prevent delay, if it is not unavoidable. Should you have any objection to the mode proposed, I shall be obliged to you to communicate it to me, with your reasons, in the fullest assurance that it is my aim to execute the orders of Congress in the manner most consistent with justice to the public and to you. In this case General Greene will suspend proceeding ’till I receive your objections and send him further instructions” (LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, NHi: Gates Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Huntington, this date, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, NHi: Gates Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). The enclosed resolution has not been identified, but see n.1 above; the second enclosure contained the penultimate paragraph and postscript of GW’s letter to Greene, this date (see the source note above).

Gates wrote Greene from Charlotte on 4 Dec.: “Conscious throughout the Whole of my Command; of having done all that was in my Power for the Public Good, I am anxious the Enquiry into my Conduct should directly take place” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:523; see also n.5 above).

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