George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 9-11 January 1781

To Major General Nathanael Greene

Head Quarters New Windsor Janry 9th[–11] 1781

Dear Sir

I have been duly favored with your Letters of the 7th and 8th of December, together with the Returns of the Army under Your command.1

It is impossible for any one to sympathize more feelingly with you, in the sufferings and distresses of the Troops than I do: and nothing could aggravate my unhappiness so much as the want of ability to remedy or even alleviate the calamities they suffer, and in which we participate but too largely. None of the Cloathing so long expected from France has yet arrived we are compelled therefore to have recourse to the States and the supplies are very inadequate to our wants—Should the French Cloathing be brought in, you may depend upon having a full proportion of it.2 You will be persuaded in the mean time, that I am perfectly sensible, of the innumerable embarrassments and hardships you have to struggle with, in such an exhausted Country, and that I should be happy to be able to afford the wished relief.

The brilliant action of General Sumpter, and the stratagem of Colonel Washington deserve great commendation. it gives me inexpressible pleasure to find that such a spirit of enterprize and intrepidity still prevails.3

I was much surprised that any dispute about rank was like to arise between the Baron Steuben and General Smallwood—Nor can I conceive upon what principles the latter can found his claim of seniority: for if the date of his Commission is to be carried back to any given period previous to his appointment; it may supersede not only that of the Officer now in question, but many others, and indeed derange and throw into confusion the rank of the whole line of Major Generals—But as the services of the Baron may be extrem⟨e⟩ly necessary in Virginia, it may not be amiss for him to continue there, till the principles of Major General Smallwood on the subject are more clearly ascertained, and a decision is made by Congress if the dispute cannot be otherwise determined.4

The preposterous conduct of those concerned in releasing instead of exchanging the Prisoners lately taken to the Southward, is really astonishing. I had entertained hopes that a considerable number of our Prisoners in Charles Town, Might have been obtained for them. In this quarter an extensive exchange has taken place, we have few Officers, and no P⟨riv⟩ates remaining in the hands of the Enemy.5

I advised you on the 2nd Inst. of the sailing of a fleet from New York with about 1600 Troops on board:6 Nothing has been heard respecting it since.

I am extremely sorry to inform you of the defection of the Pennsylvania Line: On the first instant a Mutiny was raised by the Non Commissioned Officers & Soldiers. in attempting to quell it in the first instance several lives were lost. The Mutineers moved off to Prince Town with their Arms & six pieces of Artillery under pretext of marching to Philadelphia in a Body to demand a redress of their grievances—but they cannot be induced by Genl Wayne who has come to them, to pass the Delaware. Their demands are exorbitant & tend to the immediate dissolution of the Line. On the contrary unless they are complied with, there is great danger of their falling to the Enemy, who have sent Emissaries to tamper with them. All reason, authority & personal influence seem to be lost upon them—God only knows what will be the consequence, or what can be done, in this critical delimma. It is however a happy circumstance, that the remainder of the Troops have given no signs of defection, ’tho it is uncertain how far they would act against those in revolt.7 I am Dear Sir With very great regard & esteem Your Most Obedient Humble Servant

Go: Washington

P.S. Janry 11th 7 OClock A.M.

I cannot suffer the Post to depart without adding the favorable intelligence last night recd by Express from Trenton. The Pensylvanians have given an unequivocal & decided Mark of attachment to our cause & detestation of the Enemy’s conduct by delivering up the Negotia⟨tor⟩ sent by Genl Clinton8 to treat with them, together with his guide & papers. A Court Martial is ordered for his trial9—These are favorable indications that the affair may yet be happily settled.

LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, MiU-C: Greene Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW refers to Greene’s letters to him of 7 and 9 Dec. 1780; for the latter, see Greene to GW, 7 Dec., source note.

2The Continental frigate Ariel arrived on 17 Feb., but without the expected uniforms from France (see Edward Hand to GW, 18 Feb.).

3For South Carolina brigadier general Thomas Sumter’s action, see GW to Nathanael Greene, 2 Jan., n.3. For Lt. Col. William Washington’s use of a fake cannon to prompt the surrender of a party of Loyalists, see Greene to GW, 7 Dec. 1780, n.13.

4Maj. Gen. William Smallwood had already left the southern army to return to Maryland (see Greene to Samuel Huntington, 28 Dec. 1780, 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 , 7:7–10).

5For this prisoner exchange, see GW to Abraham Skinner, 8 Nov. 1780.

7See Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to the document; see also GW to Steuben, 9–11 January.

8GW wrote the previous three words on the LS.

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