George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Steuben, 29 January 1781

From Major General Steuben

Richmond Jany 29th 1781


My last informed your Excellency of the Enemys having passed Hoods on their way down the River1—the 12th I marched with 700 Militia to Cabbin point the Continental Troops being too naked to keep the Field had been sent back to Chesterfield Court House.

The 14th the Enemy landed at Hardys ferry 22 Miles below Cabbin point & began their March towards Smithfield—Supposing that Colo. Parker with the Militia of the lower Counties would oppose them in front I detached Maj. Willis with 300 Men & 50 Horse to harrass their rear[.]2 my orders were badly executed & the Enemy enterd smithfield the [  ] without any opposition—Having that day rece[ive]d a reinforcement of 400 Men I detached them under Genl Lawson with orders to march towards Smithfield & act in conjunction with Colo. Parker who I supposed had retired towards Suffolk—on Genl Lawsons approach the Enemy retired from smithfield crossed Nansemond River at sleepy hole and encamped on the opposite bank3—Genl Lawson being joined by the Troops under Colo. Parker occupied Smithfield.

The 19 the Enemy marched to Portsmouth & their Vessells fell down to Hampton Road.

My first care was to open a Communication with Genl Nelson on the other side James River[.] the Boats on the River had been chiefly destroyed—& it cost much trouble to collect a few which I stationed at Allens where in case of danger they might be secured by running up Chippoak Creek.4

Having drawn over 500 Men with which I reinforced Genl Lawson I went on the 19th to Williamsb[ur]g to consult with Genl Nelson on the probability of forcing the Enemy to quit Portsmouth it being not only his Opinion but that of Colo. senf who had surveyed the Ground & every other Officer who knew their situation that it was out of our power I determined on taking a position to prevent their excursions into the Country[.] For this purpose I repaired to smithfield & having reconnoitred & gained every possible information of the ground I made the following disposition.

Colo. Parker with the suffolk Militia is posted at Reddocks Mills, a very Strong pass, with a small advanced Post at Coopers Mills 4 Miles in his front[.] he is to prevent the Enemies parties from coming out & if forced is to fall back on Gen. Lawson.

Genl Lawson is at Mackeys Mills 4 Miles from smithfield—he has under him 2 Regiments consisting of 800 Militia & 2 Compy of Light Infantry 100 Men with Nelsons Horse—a small Detachment from this force is detached to Suffolk to support Parker in case of need and to keep open the communication—Piquets are also kept at Sleepy hole and at the mouth of Nansemond River.

Genl Muhlenberg is at Cabbin point with 2 Regiments consisting of 800 Infantry & Armands Cavalry.

Genl Nelson has 1000 Infantry & some Volunteir Horse at Williamsburg from which he keeps posts along the River to Newports News.

If the Enemy come out in force General Muhlenberg is to support Lawson and to form a Junction & oppose the Enemy if they march out towards South Quay.

In making this Disposition I had in View as a very material object the keeping up as small a number of Militia as possible & therefore reduced the 4000 Men called out to the above number.

The Militia adjacent to the Counties adjacent to the River I have orderd to be relieved by others from the back Country and as a great part of these will bring Rifles with them I have directed the spare Arm⟨s⟩ to be collected and kept on Waggons ready to Arm the Militia of the Vicinity should they be wanted.

I have directed General Weedon to remain at Fredricksburg to collect & keep in readiness 1000 Stand of Arms for the Militia of the Counties adjacent who are not called out & in case the Enemy should embark & move towards Fredrickberg Genl Nelson & Muhlenberg are to march toward the same place—with great respect I am Your Excellencys most Obed. Servt

steuben Maj: General

2John Willis (1740–1816) joined the 2d Virginia Regiment as a first lieutenant in September 1775 and rose to captain in July 1776. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 Sept. 1777 and was not exchanged until 8 Nov. 1780. He became major of the 5th Virginia Regiment in May 1779.

3Sleepy hole was located on the right (east) bank of the Nansemond River about ten miles northeast of Suffolk, Virginia.

4Upper Chippokes Creek in Surry County, Va., enters the south side of the James River about twelve miles west of Jamestown, Virginia. The village of Allen was located near the mouth of the creek.

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