George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Steuben, 11 January 1781

From Major General Steuben

Camp near Hood’s [Va.] 11th Jany 1781


I had the honor to address your Excellency the 8th inst., giving you a detail of what had passed down to that date.1

The Enemy laying Still at Westover the 9th, and some Vessels which had lain at the mouth of the Appamatox dropping down that Day to their Fleet, I thought it Evident they had no design against Petersburg, and therefore ordered the few Militia who were assembled there to march to Prince George Court House,2 and went there myself that I might be more at hand to prepare against any Movement of the Enemy The 10th in the morning, I was informed they were Embarking their Troops, & on reconnoitring them myself from Coggins Point, I found their Embarkation Compleated, & the Vessels preparing to sail.3

It had been found impracticable to remount the Cannon at Hood’s, or to prepare any Obstruction to their passing that place. Of this, however, the Enemy were ignorant, and thinking it very probable they would land a party to examine those Works before they attempted to pass, I ordered 300 Infantry & about 30 Horse under Colo. Clark, to lay in Ambush to receive them—About 12 o’clock, the Fleet got under Way, and at 4 o’clock I Saw them from Hood’s come to within Cannon shot, at Dusk they landed Troops from 18 Boats, Deserters say 500, who immediately attacked a Small Piquet we had, and pursued them to within 40 paces of the Ambuscade; when our Troops gave them a fire, but on their returning it & charging Bayonets, the Militia immediately fled—After throwing the Cannon into the River, the Enemy returned to their Ships, which at Day light were 5 miles below.4

I ordered 300 Infantry & 2 Troops of Horse down to Cabbin point, & Encamped with the remainder about 500 Men, at this place.5

As an Attempt might be made at Williamsburg, and as Genl Nelson had only 400 Men, I ordered 560 Militia who were on their Way to join me, to cross the River & reinforce him.

The next great Object for the Enemy being Hunters Works and the stores at Fredericksburg,6 I wrote the Governor to Countermand the Militia from that Quarter.7 General Weedon had already advanced with about 350, as far as Hanover Court House, before he received the Governor’s Letter. It is left with him to return or not, according as he, from his Knowledge of the force that can be collected, may think necessary.8

I cannot yet form any Judgment of the future Operations of the Enemy; should they mean to pillage Williamsburg, Nelson’s Corps may harass, but cannot prevent them, If they take possession of Norfolk, I Shall collect what force is necessary & endeavour to keep them en Echec,9 or if they Should go into Potowmack, I shall immediately march to form a Junction with the Militia under General Weedon, & cover Fredericksburg.

The Militia are coming in from all Quarters, but without Arms, for which they apply to me. I have delivered about 500 we had belonging to the Continent. those of the state were So scattered in removing them on the Alarm, that their Officers cannot collect them again—The Troops have neither Tents nor Camp kettles.

It is impossible to describe the Situation I am in, in want of every thing & nothing can be got from the state, rather for want of Arrangement than any thing else.10 I am with the greatest Respect sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient & most humble Servant

steuben Maj: Gener⟨al⟩


2Prince George Court House (now Hopewell, Va.), situated on the south bank of the Appomattox River near its junction with the James River, was about eight miles northeast of Petersburg and twelve miles west of Hood’s Point.

3Coggins Point, a small cape on the south shore of the James River about nine miles east of Hopewell, Va., is directly opposite the site of Westover plantation.

4After receiving intelligence of the movement of Lt. Col. Jonathan Clark’s detachment, British brigadier general Benedict Arnold ordered a detachment of about 600 men put ashore to attack them. Firing from their ambuscade positions, Clark’s men inflicted heavy casualties on the provincial regiment leading the British advance. After reorganizing his column, Arnold ordered a pursuit, but, hindered by the darkness and wooded country, he soon ordered a retreat to the river (see the entry for 10 Jan. in Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 269–72, and Arnold to Henry Clinton, 21 Jan., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 20:40–43).

5Cabin Point, a locale in Surry County, Va., is about twenty miles east of Petersburg and about five miles inland from the James River.

6Steuben refers to the ironworks of James Hunter, Sr., at Falmouth, Virginia.

7See Steuben to Thomas Jefferson, 9 Jan., 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 , 4:327–28.

8See Jefferson to George Weedon, 10 Jan., 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 , 4:335–36; see also Jefferson to Steuben, same date, 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 , 4:332–33.

9In the sense used by Steuben, the French word echec means to keep an army at bay.

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