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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Nathanael Greene to George Washington
Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786
December 07, 1780
Volume 15, Pages 173-175

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[From the Washington Papers, No. 44, P 120.]

Camp Charlotte, December 7th, 1780.


I arrived at this place on the 2d of this Instant, General Gates having reached this some days before me with a part of the troops under his command, the rest being on their march to Hillsborough. General Smallwood was below this, about fifteen miles towards the Waxhaws, where he had been for a considerable time before General Gates marched from Hillsborough. On my arrival I sent for him, but he was gone towards Cambden in pursuit of a party of tories, and did not arrive in camp till the night before last. Immediately I called a council respecting the practicability of holding a council of enquiry upon Genl. Gates' conduct during his command in this department. The questions stated to the council, and the answers of the members, are enclosed in the papers from No. 1 to 5. I wrote your Excellency at Richmond that I should leave the Baron de Stenben to take command in Virginia, which I accordingly did, and to endeavour, if possible, to make an arrangement of that line, since which I have not heard from him nor whether the enemy have left Chesepeak bay or not. As I passed through Petersburg an Express arrived from below with intelligence that the enemy had returned but having heard nothing further of the matter conclude the report must have been premature.

To give your Excellency an Idea of the state and condition of this army, if it deserves the name of one, I enclose you an extract of a letter wrote by Genl. Gates to the Board of War, No. 6. Nothing can be more wretched and distressing than the condition of the troops, starving with cold and hunger, without tents and camp equipage. Those of the Virginia line are literally naked, and a great part totally unfit for any kind of duty, and must remain so untill clothing can be had from the Northward. I have written to Governor Jefferson not to send forward any more untill they are well clothed and properly equiped.

As I expected, so I find the great bodies of Militia that have been in the field and the manner in which they came out, being

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all on horse back, had laid waste all the country in such a manner that I am really afraid it will be impossible to subsist the few troops we have, and if we can be subsisted at all, it must be by moving to the provisions, for they have no way of bringing it to the army.

I have desired the Board of War of this State not to call out any more Militia untill we can be better satisfied about the means of subsistance for the regular troops and the Militia from Virginia.

Lord Cornwallis lies with his principal force at a place called Wynnsborough, about half way between Camden and Ninety-Six, at both of which places the enemy have a post and are strongly fortifyed. At Camden they have seven redoubts, at Ninety-Six not more than three, but they are very strong. Part, if not the whole, of the embarkation mentioned in your Excellency's letter of the 8th ulto. as taking place at New York have arrived at Charlestown, and it is said Lord Cornwallis is preparing for some movement.

I have parties exploring the Dan, Yadkin and Catawba rivers, and am not without hopes we shall be able to assist the army by water transportation. It is next to impossible to get a sufficiency of waggons to draw provisions and forage the very great distance we are obliged to fetch it to feed the army.

The inhabitants of this country live too remote from one another to be animated into great exertions; and the people appear, notwithstanding their danger, very intent upon their private affairs.

Enclosed, No. 7 and 8, are the reports of General Sumpter's last action and Lt. Col. Washington's stratagem, by which he took Col. Kingley and his party.

I find when the Baron Steuben comes forward there will be a difficulty between him and General Smallwood. The latter declares he never will submit to the command of the former, and insists upon having his commission dated back to as early a period as he had a right to promotion. When that was, I know not, as I know of no principles of promotion from Brigadiers to Majors General except their seniority or special merit. What is best to be done in the affair? Before I order the Baron to come forward, I wish your Excellency's advice in the

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matter. I fear our army is always to be convulsed by extraordinary claims and special appointments. They are exceedingly good men. It is a pity a dispute should arise between them, so injurious to the service as it must be.

My Ideas respecting the power given by Congress for exchanging prisoners of war in this department perfectly corresponds with your Excellency's. I had no Idea that it extended to the Convention troops, and by my enquiry only meant to learn your advice, so that my conduct might correspond with your views.

All the prisoners taken by Col. Campbell and others have been dismissed, paroled and enlisted in the Militia Service for three months, except about 130. Thus we have lost by this folly (not to say anything worse) of those who had them in charge upwards of six hundred men. I am told Lord Cornwallis has lately made a proposition to General Smallwood for exchanging all the prisoners in North and S. Carolina. If it is upon terms that are just and equal, I shall avail myself of it, For a great number of prisoners is a heavy weight upon our hands.

I am too little informed of the resources still left in this country, and of the Enemy's designs, to tell what disposition to make or how to dispose of the little force we have in the field. I shall do the best I can and keep your Excellency constantly advised of my situation.

General Gates sets out to-morrow for the Northward. Many officers think very favourably of his conduct, and that whenever an enquiry takes place he will honorably acquit himself.

I am, with great esteem and regard,
Your Excellency's most Obedient Humble Servant,
His Excellency General Washington.