George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Steuben, 18 February 1781

From Major General Steuben

Chesterfield Court House [Va.] 18th feby 81


Our affairs to the Southward become every day more Critical, Since I had the Honor of Writing Your Excellency the [  ] Inst.,1 I have recd a Letter from Genl Greene advising me that a Variety of circumstances had combined to oblige him to retire towards the frontiers of Virginia; his letter is dated at Guildford Court House, midway between Salisbury, & Hillsboro, marked in the Map New Garden Meeting house, Cornwallis was at the Moravian Towns.2 This morning the Governor informed me of a report, ‘that Cornwallis was the 14th Inst., on the Roanoke, that Genl Morgan was in his front, and General Greene in his rear.’ In Consequence of this all the Melitia of the Frontiers who have Arms, are order’d to Join Genl Greene immediately.3 I am afraid the number will be small, few except the Rifle men having Arms.

I had positively determined that the detachment of 400 Men should march from hence the 25th, but such is the difficulty of Clothing them that I fear it will be the last of the month before I can get them off.

The Enemy still keep their position at Portsmouth. Genl Muhlenberg is with 1500 Militia a towards Suffolk, and two detachments of 200 Men each are at Cabbin point, and Sandy point, to cover the Communication across the River, as Genl Nelson has 800 Men on the other side.

A few days since 24 Sail of Vessels went out, under Convoy of two frigates, said to be bound to New York for a Reinforcement. The remainder of their Vessels are in Elizabeth River, as nigh Portsmouth as possible.

The day before Yesterday Genl Nelson Advised me of the arrival of three French Ships, at Buck Roe, near Hampton Road One 64 Gun Ship, & two Frigates.4 I immediately dispatched Captn De Ponteir with a letter to the Commanding Officer, to acquaint him with our situation, and know his intentions.

I have also sent Col. Senf a[n] Engineer, & Colo. Harrisson of the Artillery, to put in order a Battery on York River; That in case a superior force of the Enemy should arrive, we may be able to Afford the French Vessells some protection.

General Weedon I ordered to Fredricksberg, to form two Regiments of Militia, ready to cover the Battery’s in case of need.

I am making what little preparation Can be made here, for an Enterprize against Portsmo[uth], provided the French Vessels should be able to Second our movments; but of this I can say nothing till I hear from Monsr Tilly who Commands them.5

My Situation is really very embarrassing. Genl Greenes whole dependance is on this State, Arnolds invasion had already retarded the Drafts for the new Army,6 and now, in the moment I was in expectation of its taking place; the approach of Cornwallis occasions the Militias being called out, and this puts a total stop to the Draft.

I do not learn that Maryland is more forward than this State.

If Cornwallis should continue to push on as rapidly as he has done; or if Arnold should receive a reinforcement of 1500 Men, I fear that this State will not make much more resistance than North ⟨Caro⟩lina has done: every thing here is totally in Confusion. the State is destitute of Arms, and by bad Management, of almost every thing else necessary for their defence.

The Executive power is so confined, that the Governor has it not in his power to procure me 40 Negros to work at Hoods.

In fact My Dear General I fear that without some speedy assistance, our Affairs in this Quarter will go very badly.

I have submitted to the Governor whether it would not be proper to remove the Prisoners from Charlotte Ville.7 I am with the highest sentiments of Respect & Esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

steuben Maj. General

LS, DLC:GW; Df, NHi: Steuben Papers. GW replied to Steuben on 21 March (DLC:GW).

2See Nathanael Greene to Steuben, 10 Feb., 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 , 7:271–73.

The New Garden Meetinghouse, a Quaker house of worship in Guilford County, N.C., was about two miles southwest of Guilford Courthouse.

3See Thomas Jefferson to Steuben, 17 Feb., 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 , 4:644–45.

4For the dispatch of this French squadron from Newport, see Destouches to GW, 7 Feb.; see also Rochambeau to GW, 12 February.

5Armand Le Gardeur, comte de Tilly (1733–1812), entered the French navy in 1750 and was named a chevalier of the royal and military order of Saint-Louis in 1773. He became a captain in 1777, commanding the Concorde in 1778–79 in the fleet of Vice Admiral d’Estaing and the 64-gun Éveillé in the squadron of Rear Admiral Ternay (Captain Destouches after Ternay’s death). He rose to rear admiral in 1791, but he refused the rank of vice admiral in 1792 and retired from the navy.

7See Steuben to Jefferson, this 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 , 4:652.

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