George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Steuben, 20 February 1781

To Major General Steuben

Hd Qrs New Windsor Feby 20th 81

Dr Sir

I have duly received your letters of the 29th of January and 1st of February containing an account of the enemy’s motions ’till that period, and of your dispositions to counteract them. The effect you mention of deranging the measures of the state for succouring General Greene was to be expected—it is however an evil of the most serious nature, and I am persuaded if the enemy continue in the state, as their force is not large, you will do every thing in your power to make the defence of it as little as possible interfere with an object of so much the more importance as the danger is so much the greater—From the picture General Greene gives of his situation everything is to be apprehended, if he is not powerfully supported from Virginia.

The storm mentioned to you in my last has given our allies a temporary superiority, which they have employed by detaching a sixty four and some frigates to Chesapeak Bay.1 These I hope will have arrived before this reaches you. The remainder of the fleet is ready to support this detachment. Convinced that a naval operation alone will probably be ineffectual, and that Militia would be unequal to the reduction of Arnold in his works, I have detached a corps of twelve hundred men from this army chiefly consisting of the light infantry, of course commanded by the Marquis De la Fayette, which will I hope arrive at the Head2 of Elk about the Sixth of March3 to embark there and proceed down4 the bay to Hampton road, or5 the point of operation. This corps will carry with it some heavy artillery but if you can procure any in addition it will be of great importanc⟨e⟩.6

I am to desire you will make such arrangements with respect to the Militia and will take such a position as you judge will be most conducive to the success of the enterprise. The Marquis De la Fayette will open a correspondence with you for this purpose.

When the French squadron appears you will immediately open a correspondence with the officer commanding, acquaintng him with my intentions and your preparation and you will have ready pilots well acquainted with the navigation of the several rivers, to put on board that he may want no assistance of this sort in our power to give. I have requested the Governor to aid you in procuring the pilots, and in every other matter in which his aid may be of use to you.7

If the fleet should have arrived before this gets to hand, secrecy will be out of the question; but if it should not have made its appearance, you will conceal your expectations and only seem to be preparing for defence.

The ships will bring you some arms and stores which had arrived at Providence for the State of Virginia.

Arnold on the appearance of the fleet may endeavour to retreat by land through North Carolina; if you take any measures to obviate this, the precaution will be adviseable. Should we be able to capture this detachment with the chief, it will be an event as pleasing as it will be useful.

All I can recommend with respect to Col. Armand’s corps at present is that you will station it at some proper place to repose and attend to its discipline and equipment. The Quarter Mast⟨er⟩ General is to provide horses. The Colonel himself is gone to France to procure cloaths arms and accoutrements.8 Congress have made no other provision for recruiting the corps than in a resolution of the 2d of January last directing that a sufficient number of volunteers might be drawn from the line to complete the corps, when the state of the regiments would admit of it—not to exceed five from each regiment.9 I am with very great esteem and regard D. Sir Yr Obed. servt.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Steuben replied to GW on 1 March.

2Hamilton inadvertently wrote “Heak.”

3GW wrote the previous three words on the draft. For additional GW emendations, see notes 4 and 5 below.

4GW wrote this word.

5GW wrote the previous three words.

6For GW’s orders for the detachment commander, see his letters to Major General Lafayette of this date [1 and 2].

9For this resolution, see Huntington to GW, 6 Jan., n.2. The resolution allowed up to six, not five, volunteers from each regiment.

Index Entries