George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 13 January 1781

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Camp on Pedee [River, S.C.] January 13th 1781.


Your Excellency’s letter of the 13th of Decemr, this day came to hand.1

It is true, I came to the Southward in expectation of meeting with difficulties but they far exceed what I had any Idea of.

This Country is so extensive and supplies are so difficult to obtain that it is impossible to carry on the war any length of time with the Militia. The waste of stores & consumption of provision and forage must ruin any Nation in the Universe whose revenue is not greater than ours.

A good Army well appointed and supplied consisting of 4 or 5000. Infantry and about 800 or 1000. horse is what is wanted for the defence of this Country, and without which it must be inevitably ruined and lost. With such a force I think the country can be defended with the occasional aid of the Militia, against any force the enemy can maintain in this quarter. Neither they nor we can maintain a great force in this department; unless supplies can be had by a water communication. The Country is so extensive and there is such great barrens, that the natural strength and resources of these States are unequal to the burthen of maintaining a very large force.

The Militia have ravaged this quarter in such a manner that it will be with the greatest difficulty we shall be subsisted. The want of money is a great difficulty we meet with in supporting the Army, but the want of arrangement is no less an evil than that.

We have but a very little force in the field, and two thirds of them are totally unfit for duty; and unless clothing arrives soon I must disband them. I am persuaded unless the States have it in their power to levy equip and support such an Army as I have mentioned these States are inevitably lost.

The detachment which your Excellency mentions as embarking at N. York is arrived at Virginia, as I am this day informed by Baron de Steuben, and are almost as high up James River as Petersburg.2 We have nothing to oppose them there except the Militia and about 400. 18 Months men as rag[g]ed and naked as the Virgia blacks. The enemy in this quarter are making great preparations for an immediate movement. Our troops are in such a wretched condition that we can give them little or no opposition. We will do all in our power but the Soldiers have no spirits and it is impossible they should in their present situation. I wish the enemy would give us a little more time to prepare our selves. However I don’t intend to be drove out of N. Carolina if I can possibly avoid it and if Virginia will furnish the provision I have requested to be deposited upon Roanoke we will hold one corner at all events.

Baron Steuben wrote me that he met with insuperable difficulties in his attempts to arrange the Virginia line. I have written to General Scott at Charles town to collect the wishes and intentions of the Officers in Captivity.3 If there are as many in proportion to their numbers as there are here who wish to go home there will be few left in.

I have had the resolutions of Congress respecting specific supplies and shall make my requisitions accordingly.4

Inclosed is an extract of a letter from Genl Morgan confirming the account given in his former letter,5 an extract of which is enclosed in my Letter written to go by Genl Du Portail who has been detained a few days for want of Horses.6

It is my opinion if the French fleet and Army at Rhode Island could be induced to push into Chesepeak bay they would have it in their power to ruin the fleet and army with General Phillips. The Southern States are in a critical situation and great exertions & some hazard are necessary to save them; this is not only my opinion but General Du Portail’s. I am With great respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

Nath. Greene

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC: Nathanael Greene Papers. GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton docketed the LS: “Nothing particular.” GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Greene on 27 February.

2See Steuben to Greene, 31 Dec. 1780; see also Greene to Steuben, this date, 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 , 7:34, 109–111. Steuben had sent GW the same information (see his letter to GW, 8 Jan. 1781).

3See Steuben to Greene, 15 Dec. 1780, and Greene to Charles Scott, this date, 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 , 6:584–86 and 7:109.

4For this resolution of 4 Nov., see Samuel Huntington to GW, 12 Nov. 1780, n.1; see also Huntington to Greene, 16 Nov. (second letter), 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 , 6:482.

5The enclosed extract of a letter from Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan to Greene, dated “Camp on Pacolet [River, S.C.]” on 4 Jan. 1781, reads: “The account in my last of Lt Colonel Washington’s success at Hammond’s stores is as authentic as any I have been able to collect. It was followed by some small advantages. Genl Cunningham on hearing of Waters’s defeat prepared to evacuate Fort Williams & had just marched out with the last of the Garrison, as a party of about 40 Militia horsemen under Col. Hays, and 10 Dragoons under Mr Simmons arrived with an intention of demanding a surrender. The Enemy’s force was so superior to theirs that they could effect nothing more than the demolition of the Fort” (DLC:GW).

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