George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 19 November 1780

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Richmond Novr 19th 1780.


I arrived here on the 16th in the evening,1 and found things in such a train as will unavoidably detain me for several days to make some necessary arrangements, which I shall leave Baron Steuben to complete.2

The Enemy below after making every preparation for establishing a permanent post at Portsmouth by fortifying the place strongly, suddenly drew in their advanced parties, evacuated the Town, and embarked their troops, and fell down to Hampton road where they lay when the last accounts came away which was on the 17th. They left shoals of Negro’s on the shore, and all the vessels in the harbour unhurt.3 General’s Muhlenberg and Weedon were in the neighbourhood of the great bridge on the West side of James River with all the Continental force of this State not already marched for the Southern Army and a very considerable body of Militia. The sudden change of measures by the enemy is alltogether unaccountable from any information I am possessed of, and therefore I am persuaded there must be some foreign cause, which must be left for time, and further information, to explain.4

There are no official accounts of the Southern operations since the Enemy’s first retreat of eleven miles from Charlotte. Gouvenor Nash writes Gouvenor Jefferson that Lord Cornwallis was conveyed to Charlestown in a waggon very much indisposed; and there are flying reports which say he is dead.5

Matters here are in the greatest state of confusion imaginable; and the business of government almost at a stand for want of money and public credit. Our prospects with respect to supplies are very discouraging. The Gouvernor says their situation as to cloathing is desperate. Nor is the business of transportation in a much more eligible condition. We can neither march the troops of this State or transport the provisions necessary for their subsistance for want of waggons.6 The Gouvernor is taking measures to collect 100, but the business goes on heavily, having been in hand three weeks and only 18 come in notwithstanding the person commissioned to execute the business has full power to impress all he can find.7

On my arrival at Hillsborough I intend to have all the rivers examined in order to see if I cannot ease this heavy business by water transportation. I shall also recommend it to this State and to N. Carolina to stall-feed a large number of beeves for the support of the Southern army with a view of lightening the transportation. Unless I succeed in these two measures, I am afraid it will be impossible to subsist either in North or South Carolina a sufficient force this winter to prevent the enemy from holding their present possessions and extending their limits. However the spirit of the people is rising, and the Legislatures appear perfectly disposed to give all the aid in their power. Our greatest difficulties will arise from the want of Cloathing, arms, amunition, and the means of transportation. Provisions and forage are plenty in the Country if we can but hit upon measures to collect and convey them to the Army. I think the Legislature will adopt your Excellency’s plan for filling their Regiments for the war. But I foresee very great difficulties in arranging the Officers of the Virginia line, as there are so many prisoners of war, and such great discontent prevailing among them.8

The late draft made in this State for 3500 Men to serve eighteen months has fallen short of 2000 and these for want of cloathing begin to desert in shoals, and those who continue, such is their situation they must be the greatest part of them in the hospitals before the middle of December.9 I am with the greatest respect and regard Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

Nath. Greene

Governor Jefferson has this moment receivd accounts from the Southward, the particulars of which he will enclose your Excellency.10 I have broken the seals of this letter, to make this note, as the Southern dispaches arrivd since I wrote, & as I had mentioned no accounts from the Southward had come to hand since the enemies retreat from Charlotte.11

LS, DLC:GW. Greene wrote the postscript.

1Greene had left Mount Vernon for Richmond on 13 Nov. (see his letter to GW on that date).

2Greene wrote Major General Steuben from Richmond on 20 Nov.: “As the enemy are still in Cheasepeck-Bay, and as it is altogether uncertain whether they mean to leave this State or not, I leave you to take command here. I have such entire confidence in your capacity and experience, that I shall not pretend to give any particular Instructions; but leave you perfectly at liberty to govern yourself as circumstances may render necessary.” The remainder of the letter contained directions for sending troops, supplies, and arms from Virginia (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 , 6:496–98, quote on 496; see also Kapp, Steuben description begins Friedrich Kapp. The Life of Frederick William von Steuben, Major General in the Revolutionary Army. New York, 1859. description ends , 347–53, and Greene to Thomas Jefferson, 20 Nov., 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 , 6:491–94).

3An orderly book from Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie’s expedition recorded in the entry for 17 Nov.: “It is recommended to the off[ice]rs Commanding Corps to take off no Negroes but those that are absolutely Necessary. … Also the Negroes are not to be Victualed as Soldiers, Indian Corn will be Sent on Board the Ships for this purpose” (Newsome, “A British Orderly Book,” description begins A. R. Newsome, ed. “A British Orderly Book, 1780–1781 [presumably Alexander Leslie’s].” North Carolina Historical Review 9 (1932): 57–78, 163–86, 273–98, 366–92. description ends 9:177; see also Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4).

4Greene detailed his consternation when he wrote Brig. Gen. Mordecai Gist from Richmond on 20 Nov.: “The movements of the Enemy are altogether unaccountable. The troops under General Leslie have been embarked for several days, but continue in the mouth of Elizabeth river. Lord Cornwallis having established a garrison at Camden is in the neighbourhood of the Congaree with his Army; and letters from Genl Washington mention that extensive preparations are making at New York for a second embarkation of troops for the Southward.

“These circumstances ought certainly to induce the Southern States to make every exertion; and yet our little Army are cruelly distressed for want of clothing, provision and the means of transportation.

“This State have called into service a large body of Militia and detained their new Levies, who were indeed unable to march being without waggons. They are desirous of doing all in their power, but an invasion, an empty treasury and a want of public credit, are great embarrassments. …

“As soon as you can get waggons, forward all the stores from Baltimore. The horse-furniture is exceedingly wanted, as Cavalry must be our greatest security, ’till we can form a more respectable body of Infantry” (DNA:PCC, item 78; see also n.6 below).

5North Carolina governor Abner Nash apparently had written Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson from New Bern on 5 Nov. to relay intelligence reports of “a very large fleet” near Charleston and that Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis had returned to that place (Jefferson to Samuel Huntington, 19 Nov., in Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:128–29).

Cornwallis was then in good health. During November, he maintained camp at Winnsboro, S.C. (see his several letters to Nisbet Balfour in Saberton, Cornwallis Papers description begins Ian Saberton, ed. The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in The Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War. 6 vols. Uckfield, England, 2010. description ends , 3:59–95).

6Greene elaborated on his concerns when he wrote Q.M. Gen. Timothy Pickering from Richmond on 20 Nov. to relate that his “department in this state is altogether deranged” and to beg for him to forward “one hundred Waggons, forty covered and sixty open” (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 , 6:495–96; see also n.7 below).

7Jefferson had written Brig. Gen. George Weedon for the Virginia Executive Council on 6 Nov. to communicate that the law had “expired under which we have hitherto proceeded to impress waggons and provisions,” and that it had been decided “to recur to the directions of the invasion law which give a standing power to the commanding Officer to authorise any Commissioned Officer to impress every kind of necessary” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:97).

8A new establishment of the Continental army gave preference to enlistments for the war and required a new arrangement of the officers (see General Orders, 1 Nov.; see also Huntington to GW, 26 Oct., n.1).

9The Virginia legislature had passed a law on 12 July to raise 3,000 men to serve in the Continental army until 31 Dec. 1781 (see Jefferson to GW, 2 July, n.4; see also Peter Muhlenberg to GW, 24 Aug.).

10Jefferson’s letter to GW on this date has not been found, but see his letter to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, from Richmond on this date with several “dispatches from the Southward” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:128–29).

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