George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Laurens, 9 April 1781

New Windsor April 9th 1781

My dear Laurens,

Colo. Armand, who was charged with the delivery of many letters to you from the Marquis de la Fayette, imparting to his friends and the Ministry of France your mission; unfortunately arrived at Boston after you had Sailed from that place. By him, I gave you an acct of the revolt of part of the Jersey Troops—Arnolds Expedition to Virginia—Leslies arrival at Charles Town—and such other matters as occurred after your departure.

Since that period, several interesting events have happened; some favourable, others adverse. Among the first may be reckoned Morgans brilliant action with Tarleton—among the latter the advantages gained by Lord Cornwallis over General Greene. The Official accts of these I inclose you. Cornwallis, after the defeat of Tarleton destroyed his Waggons & made a violent effort to recover his prisoners; but failing therein moved equally light & rapidly against General Greene; who (though he had formed a junction with Morgan) was obliged to retreat before him into Virginia—whether from dispair of recovering his prisoners—of bringing Greene to a general Action—or because he conceived his own situation critical, I do not take upon me to determine—but the fact is, that here commenced Cornwalliss retrograde movements; and Greenes advance; from the Roanoke to the place of action.

On the first notice of the storm which happened on the 22d of Jany and its effects, I intimated to the French Genl the possibility and importance of improving the oppertunity in an attempt upon Arnold. When I received a more certn acct of the total loss of the Culloden and dismasting of the Bedford two 74 Gun Ships belonging to the British Fleet at Gardners bay, I immediately put in motion—under comd of the Marqs de la Fayette—(as large a part of my small force here, as I could with prudence detach) to proceed to the head of Elk—and made with all expedition a proposal to the Count de Rochambeau & the Chevalir Destouches for a co-operation in Virginia, with the whole of the fleet of our Allies, and a part of their land force. Before my proposition arrived, in consequence of an application to him from Philadelphia, the Chevr Destouches had sent a Ship of the line and two or three frigates to Chesapeak bay which not only retarded the plan I had proposd (by awaiting their return) but, ultimately, defeated the project, as the enemy in the meantime remasted the Bedford with those taken out of the Culloden & following the French fleet, arrived off the Capes of Virginia before it—where a Naval combat glorious for the French (who were inferior in Ships and Guns) but unprofitable for us who were disappointed of our object was the issue.

The failure of this Expedition, (which was most flattering in the commencement of it) is much to be regretted; because a successful blow in that quarter, would, in all probability, have given a decisive turn to our Affairs in all the Southern States—Because it has been attended with considerable expence on our part, & much inconvenience to the State of Virginia, by assembling its Militia—And because the World are disappointed at not seeing Arnold in Gibbets. above all, because we stood in need of something to keep us a float, till the result of your mission is known for be assured my dear Laurens, that day does not follow night more certainly than it brings with it some additional proof of the impracticality of carrying on the War without the aids you were directed to sollicit. As an honest & candid man—as a man whose all depends on the final and happy termination of the present contest, I assert this—While I give it decisively as my opinion, that without a foreign loan our present force (which is but the remnant of an Army) cannot be kept together this Campaign; much less will it be encreased, & in readiness for another. The observations contained in my letter to you of the 15th of Jany last, are verified every moment—And, if France delays a timely, & powerful aid in this critical posture of our affairs it will avail us nothing should she attempt it hereafter; for we are at this hour, suspended in the Bal[le]—not from choice, but from hard and absolute necessity—for you may rely on it as a fact, that we cannot transport the provisions from the States in which they are assessed to the Army, because we cannot pay the Teamsters—Who will no longer work for Certificates—It is equally certain that our Troops are approaching fast to nakedness & that we have nothing to cloathe them with—That our Hospitals are without Medicines, & our Sick without Nutriment except such as well men eat—That all our public works are at a stand, & the Artificers disbanding. but why need I run into the detail, when it may be declared in a word, that we are at the end of our tether, & that now or never deliverance must come. While Alas! how [easy] would it be to retort the enemys own game upon them if it could be made to comport with the gen. plan of the War to keep a superior Fleet always in these Seas, and France would put us in a conditn to be active by advancing us—money. the ruin of the enemys schemes would then be certain—the bold game they are now playing would be the mean to effect it for they would be reduced to the necessity of concentering their force at capitol points—thereby giving up all the advantages they have gained in the Southern States or be vulnerable every where.

Such of the Pensylvania line as had reassembled, and were Recruited (say about 1000) were ordered the middle of Feby) to join the Southern Army and since the disappointment of our enterprize on Arnold I have directed the detachment under the Comd of the Marqs de la Fayette to proceed thither but how either can march without money or credit, is more than I can tell. With every wish for your success, & safe & speedy return, and with every sentiment of esteem & Affection I am—Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I have this instt recd a Pensyla Paper of the 7th Instt containing later accts than any I have had from Genl Greene—published by Order of Congress. this I also inclose to you—Be so good as to make my best respects to Doctr Franklin.

Large parts of this letter GW indicated should be changed to cipher.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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