George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Steuben, 23 February 1781

From Major General Steuben

Virginia Chesterfield Court Ho.
23d Feby 81

My Dear General

My last informed you that I had sent Capt. Depontiere onboard the French Fleet, to know if I could under take anything against Portsmouth and was making the necessary preparations as well for such an enterprize, as for the security of the French Vessells in case of danger.1

For the first object I ordered General Gregory to assemble all the force in his power on the other side the Dismal Swamp, and hold them in readiness to second me, whenever I should be ready:2 a line of Expresses was established, between his Post and Suffolk, by means of which I could have given the necessary advice in less that 24 hours General Muhlenberg advanced, with about 1,000 Men to within 16 Miles of Portsmouth leaving the Posts of Coopers Mill & Suffolk properly guarded to cover his retreat.

General Nelson had orders to hold himself in readiness to march at the first notice—General Weedon forms a corps of 800 Militia at Fredericksburg with orders to march towards Williamsburg: in case of an attack on Portsmouth this Corps was to have marched to Newport’s news. and if the french vessels had been obliged to retire to York River, they were to have coverd the Battery erected at York for the Defence of the Fleet.

Six or seven armed Merchant vessels in James River were to have joined the french vessells and assisted our operation⟨s⟩ all the boats that could be found were collected at Sandy point to transport the troops—Eight 18 pounder⟨s⟩ and two Mortars were preparated Such were my preparations when Mr De Tilley informed me, he was not to remain in the Bay—that his orders were to Cruise between Charles Town and New York, and that he should sail the moment the wind would permit him.

The appearance of these Vessells had much alarmed the Enemy in Portsmouth, and encouraged our Militia; in the night of the 17. General Muhlenberg advanced near Portsmouth, surprized a picket, made 1 serjt & 12 Men prisoners, killd 2 Yagers, and took a waggon and 8 horses—he remained within a Mile and a half all next day but the Enemy kept close in their works.

The departure of the French Vessells, has destroyed all hopes of success, in an attempt on portsmouth.

I have not however, countermanded the preparations, Genl Weedon will march the 2 Regiments towards Richmond, from whence he can be ordered, either down the James River or towards the Roanoke as Circumstances may require.

The cannon, Mortars, and the Battery at york will also be held in readiness, that in case the same, or any other Vessells should arrive, we may be ready to take every advantage they offer.

All this has not diverted my attention one moment from General Greene, my importunities to the Governor have not ceased for the Clothing &c. for the Troops at this place but with all those, I do not think I should have been able to have equipped them these 6 Weeks if a quantity of Stores had not arrived from the Northward—from these I have drawn such Articles, as I was deficient in, and shall thereby be enabled to send off the Detachment, by the 25th Inst.—there will also march with this Detachment (which is 400 R. & file) 500 Militia from the counties of Dinwiddie and chesterfield and perhaps I shall be enabled to furnish two field pieces—I have written to Genl Greene proposing to put myself at the head of this Corps, and wait his orders thereupon.3

Lord Cornwallis is in Virginia, but has not yet crossed the Dan River Genl Greene is near him, but on this side the Dan—The Governor inform⟨s⟩ me, the Militia on the frontiers towards Genl Greene are order’d out by which he will have a Reinforcem⟨ent⟩ of near 2,000 men.4

we have a report here that Colo. Marian is in the vicinity of Charles Town with 1,000, Men, that Genl Sumpter is collecting a force in South Carolina, & many of the Tories changing sides and joining him—1,000 Rifle men, under Colls Cambel and Shelby (the men who defeated Ferguson at K’gs Montain) had crossed the mountains also in order to join Genl Greene.5 I have the honor to be with much esteem your Excellency’s most Obedt Servant

steuben Majr Generl

P.S: je marche demain avec un detachement de 450 hommes de la Ligne de Virginie par Dinwiddie Courthauss ou je joindrai environs 600 Miliciens, Vers Tailers ferry.

peut des jours doivent eclaircir si Lord Cornwallis est un Grand General, ou une grande Bête.


LS, DLC:GW. The postscript, in Steuben’s writing with a docket, in the writing of GW’s aides-de-camp Tench Tilghman and David Humphreys, is in MH: Sparks. GW replied to Steuben on 21 March (DLC:GW).

2Isaac Gregory (c.1737–1800), of North Carolina, served in the general assembly of 1775 and the provincial congresses of 1775 and 1776. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel of militia in September 1775 and a colonel in 1776, Gregory became a brigadier general in May 1779. He was wounded at the Battle of Camden in August 1780. After the war, Gregory was a Federalist member of the 1788 and 1789 constitutional conventions and served in the general assembly until 1795. For more biographical details, see Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography description begins William S. Powell, ed. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. 6 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979–96. description ends , 2:367.

3See Steuben to Nathanael Greene, 22 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 , 7:333–34.

4See Thomas Jefferson to Steuben, 21 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 , 4:682.

5Both colonels William Campbell and Isaac Shelby led regiments of frontier riflemen at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

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