George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 8 November 1780

To Major General Nathanael Greene

Head Quarters Passaic Falls Novr 8th 1780.

Dear Sir

I am favored with your Letter of the 31st of October, & am pleased to find your appointment so agreeable to the veiws and wishes of Congress.1

So fully sensible have I long been of the distressed situation not only of the Army in this quarter, but also at the southward, and of all our great departments,2from the embarrassed state of our finances, that it has been not only a constant subject of representation, in the strongest terms to Congress, and the States individually; but particularly so to the Minister of France at our last interview. And that a foreign loan was absolutely necessary to retreive our Affairs. My ideas therefore must have been exceedingly misapprehended3 by him, or his, by the Baron Steuben.

I entirely approve of your plan for forming a flying Army. And in addition to this (if the Enemy should continue to harrass those parts of Virginia that are intersected with large navigable Rivers) I would recommend the building a number of flat bottomed Boats of as large a construction as can be conveniently transported on Carriages—this I conceive might be of great utility by furnishing the means to take advantage of the Enemy’s situation, in crossing those Rivers which would be otherwise impassable. I have also written to Governor Jefferson on the subject.4

If a spirit of Patriotism or even of true policy animates the Merchants and men of Property in the Southern States a subscription may be attended with success—at least the experiment can do no injury.

General Knox has received directions to send forward the Company of Artillery—An Order will be given for the thousand stand of Arms.

Since writing the above I have received your favor of the 3d Instant.5

Leiut. Colonel Laurens will have heard of his exchange before this time, and is at liberty to go to the Southward if he thinks proper.6

With respect to the power, Congress have invested you with to make exchanges—I should suppose it regarded the Prisoners taken in the Southern Department, on the usual principles, without involving the Convention Troops, or any further Northward—A pretty extensive exchange has just taken place in this quarter.7

It will be impossible from the non arrival of the french Arms, and the scarcity in the eastern States, to furnish those requested by you. Nor do I think the Legion of the Duke Lazune can be detached from the french Army. The fleet of Arbuthnot which still blocks that of France, in the harbor of New Port, effectually prevents the execution of the other plan.8

Our last advices from the Northward mention another incursion of the Enemy from Canada in greater force—in consequence of which the remainder of the York Brigade is ordered thither.9

There are reports that an Embarkation is about to be made at New York. But the accounts are vague and contradictory, and the fact not yet ascertained.10

I have to request you will be pleased to send by a flag of truce the enclosed Letter to Brigadier General Du Portail who is exchanged.11 I am Dear Sir With great regard & esteem Your Most Obedient & very Hble Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, NjMoHP; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW refers to Greene’s appointment as commander of the Continental army in the southern department.

2GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys prepared the draft and initially penned “public affairs” at this place. He struck out those words and wrote “great Departments” above the line.

3Humphreys wrote “palpably mistaken” on the draft manuscript, struck out those words, and inserted “exceedingly misapprehended” above the line.

4Boats remained a problem for Continental army operations in the southern department (see GW to Thomas Jefferson, this date, and Jefferson to GW, 26 Nov.).

6Congress sent Lt. Col. John Laurens to the French court at Versailles (see Laurens to GW, 23 Dec., found at Laurens to GW, 6 Nov., n.2).

8For British determination to prevent the French naval force from leaving Newport, see John Vanderhovan to GW, 6 Nov., n.9.

9Reports of renewed British attacks along the New York frontier proved erroneous (see Philip Schuyler to GW, 31 Oct.–1 Nov.; George Clinton to GW, 5 Nov., and notes 1 and 2 to that document; and William Malcom to GW, 7 Nov.; see also GW to William Heath, 6 Nov., found at GW’s second letter to Clinton, same date, n.1).

10For these largely erroneous reports, see John Jameson to GW, 31 October.

11GW enclosed his letter to Brigadier General Duportail written at headquarters on this date: “I have the pleasure to announce to you, your Exchange for Brigadier General de Gaull of the Convention Troops. Inclosed you have a Certificate of the same, and Sir Henry Clintons passport for your return to Philada. I need not tell you how happy I shall be to see you again with the Army” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the enclosures have not been identified). For the exchange involving Duportail and Brig. Gen. Wilhelm Rudolph von Gall, see GW to Board of War, 31 Oct., and n.2 to that document.

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