George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 24 January 1781

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Camp Pedee [River, S.C.] January 24th 1781


My public letter will inform your Excellency of the success of the troops under the command of General Morgan.1 The event is glorious; and I am exceeding unhappy that our wretched condition will not permit our improving it to the best advantage. I shall do all I can but our prospects are gloomy. Our force is small and dayly declining. We have no cloathing or provisions but what we collect from day to day; and the enemies late incursion into Virginia I apprehend will cut off our prospects from that quarter.2 I hope your Excellency will repeat your letters to Congress upon the necessity of filling the Army and forming Magazines of provision and forage.3 We never can be fortunate but that it operates to our disadvantage; and above half the pleasure that results from the victory is lost in the apprehension that it will relax the preparations for the support of the war I wish your Excellency to place this event in its true point of light to Congress; that if it stands alone it will be of no consequence; but if properly improvd upon, it may have the most salutary effects.4

What your Excellency mentioned in your last private letter to me is very just: the commanding officer has a collective view of all the difficulties in the different departments.5 But when I was with the Northern Army, I had a pretty good opportunity of knowing the difficulties from being at the head of one of the great departments, and from the confidence which you was pleasd to honor me with. In comparing the difficulties of the Northern service with this of the Southern one bears but a small proportion to the other: whether from the make of the Country, the divisions among the Inhabitants, the difficulty of obtaining supplies or the unequal force we have to contend with. And my spirits would sink under the load, was it not from a perswasion that to what ever straights I may be reducd or however unfortunate I may be, from the hazards I am obligd to run, your Excellency will do justice to my intentions. I have one consolation which is, I have the confidence of the Troops and the good will of the Officers. But the unsettled state of the different lines in point of rank, multiplies our embarassments; nor can I see the least prospect of bringing them to a speedy close.

I hope Baron Stuben writes your Excellency respecting the enemies movements in Virginia, as I have desird him to be very particular, and keep you constantly informed of every material circumstance.6 I beg my respectful compliments to Mrs Washington, and to all the Gentlemen of your family. I am with esteem & regard Your Excellency’s Most Obedt humble Ser.

N. Greene

ALS, DLC:GW. GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “(private)” on the docket. GW replied to Greene on 27 February.

2For this British expedition to Virginia, see Steuben to GW, 8 and 11 Jan.; see also Thomas Jefferson to GW, 10 Jan., and Steuben to GW, 29 January.

3For GW’s appeal to Congress to raise the regular southern army to 6,000 infantry and to establish ample magazines of provisions in the southern states, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 15 Sept. 1780.

4GW wrote Congress along these lines (see GW to Huntington, 17 Feb. 1781).

6See Greene to Steuben, 24 Jan., 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 , 7:186–87.

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