George Washington Papers

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

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Richmond Novem. 19th 1780


I am happy in the opportunity of assuring your Excellency that I am receivd and treated with all the marks of respect and attention that I can wish. Your letters has been of singular service; and I am exceedingly obligd to you for the warm manner in which you recommended me to the notice of your friends. Among whom Mr Carey has been very polite and obliging.1

Your weight and influence both with Congress and this state in support of the southern operations will be exceeding important and necessary to my success. I must request therefore in the most earnest manner that your Excellency continue to animate both those bodies, with your opinion and recommendations, to such measures, and such exertions, as will be necessary to give due support to the Southern Army. Without which I am very apprehensive the langour that is too apt to sieze all public bodies, will lull them into a state of false security; and the affairs in the Southern department will and must go to ruin.

It has been my opinion for a long time that personal influence must supply the defects of civil constitution; but I have never been so fully convinced of it as on this Journey. I believe the views and wishes of the great body of the people are entirely with us. But remove the personal influence of a few, and they are a lifeless and inanimate mass; without direction or spirit, to employ the means they possess, for their own security.

I cannot contemplate my own situation without the greatest degree of anxiety. I am far removed from almost all my friends and connection; and have to prosecute a war in a Country in the best state, attended with almost insurmountable difficulties; but doubly so now from the state of our finances and the loss of public credit. How I shall be able to support myself under all these embarassments god only knows. My only consolation is, that if I fail, I hope it will not be accompanied with any peculiar marks of personal disgrace. Censure and reproach ever follow the unfortunate. This I expect if [I] dont succeed; and it is only in the degree not in the entire freedom that I console myself.

The ruin of my family is what hangs most heavy upon my mind. My fortune is small; and misfortune or disgrace to me, must be ruin to them. I beg your Excellency will do me the honor to forward the enclosed letter to Mrs Greene by the first safe conveyance; who is renderd exceeding unhappy at my going to the Southard.2

Mr Custis arrivd in town yesterday; and says Mrs Washington is to set out for the Army this day.3 I am with great esteem & regard Your Excellency Most Obed. humble Ser.

Nath. Greene

N.B. Colonel Scamwell perhaps will be promoted to the rank of brigadier. At least it has been talked of. Should this take place a new Adjutant General will be necessary; and I beg leave to suggest the propriety of giving this appointment to Col. Hambleton. His services may not be less important to your Excellency in your family business; if he only employs a deputy extraordinary; and I am persuaded the appointment will be received with great gratitude, as I am confident it is his wish, by what he said to me before I left Camp.4

ALS, DLC:GW. For his reply, see GW’s second letter to Greene, 13 December.

1For the several letters of introduction GW had written for Greene, including one to Archibald Cary that has not been found, see GW to William Fitzhugh, 22 Oct., and n.1.

2Greene enclosed a letter to his wife, Catharine, written at Richmond on 18 Nov.: “I am now in the capital of Virginia; and should feel my self tolerably easy notwithstanding the difficulties which I foresee I have to contend with, was it not for the distress and anxiety which you are in; the very contemplation of which hangs heavy upon my spirits; and renders my journey melancholy and dull. Nothing can exceed the politeness and hospitality with which I am treated by all ranks of people. I was at his Excellency General Washington seat; and spent a day with Mrs Washington. She enquird very kindly after you; and will write you; which I must beg you to answer. …

“I am well in health; and I hope this will find you and the children so” (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 , 6:482–83; GW forwarded this letter when he wrote Catharine Littlefield Greene on 15 Dec., found at n.3 with the letter referenced in the source note above).

3Greene had met John Parke Custis at Mount Vernon (see Greene to GW, 13 Nov.) For Martha Washington’s travel north to join GW, see Robert Hanson Harrison to GW, 28 Nov., and n.15.

4Greene refers to GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton. Brig. Gen. Edward Hand succeeded Col. Alexander Scammell as adjutant general (see Scammell to GW, 16 Nov., and GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov.). Scammell did not receive promotion to brigadier general.

Letter not found: from Thomas Jefferson, 19 Nov. 1780. GW wrote Jefferson on 9 Dec.: “I have been duly honored with Your Excellency’s severals Letters of the 3d 10th and 19th Novembr.”

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