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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Nathanael Greene to Thomas Burke
Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786
August 12, 1781
Volume 15, Pages 603-607


Head Quarters on the high Hills of Santee, August 12th, 1781.


I am favored with your Excellency's Letter of the 30th of July with the extracts from Colo. Parker's Letter respecting the Enemy in Virginia, which was the more welcome as I have had no late

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intelligence from the Marquis or any other person in that quarter. As frequent information is of the highest importance in conducting Military operations I wish Governor Nelson may concur with you in measures to establish a proper communication.

Your good opinion of me is flattering to my feelings, and altho' conscious of endeavoring to deserve the public esteem, I am not vain enough to think myself entitled to the compliment or favorable sentiments you say they entertain of me. Whatever may be my abilities, knowledge, or experience in the art of War they can only be made useful as the wise and prudent at the Head of the Civil Department shall concur with me in measures necessary for the safety of the good People of these United States. And it affords me a peculiar pleasure to find your views are directed to those objects which alone can lay a foundation for permanent security. However I do not fully comprehend your plan for establishing a Body of Militia by Monthly drafts to form an efficient force of 2000 Men out of three that are to be drafted for this purpose. The Law to be sure must govern your conduct, but if the Legislature could be brought to draft for a longer time they would feel the inconvenience less, and the benefit more. When the Militia are frequently called into service they get sickly and disgusted with it, much more than when they serve longer periods. The frequent contrasts made by the people between the pleasures and freedom of private life, and the hardships and restraints of the life of a Soldier render it more odious than it really is. The waste of Stores, and the expence as well as depredations committed by the People coming out & returning home, are other objections to short terms of service. These are inconveniences that I dare say have not escaped you. But the Magistrate can no more alter the Laws than a politician can suddenly change the manners and genius of a People. It is our duty to work with such materials as we have, and wait favorable opportunities for removing ill attachments and old prejudices. We cannot force People to think with us. All we can do is to offer reasons to bring about reformations. It is from the impossibility of effecting sudden changes where evils have grown obstinate by long indulgence, that I apprehend you will meet with great difficulty in putting things in a proper train agreeable to your wishes. It is the true interest of all the States to bury as much as possible the lines of partition between each in a military point of view, for if each

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State should confine its force to its own internal security the Enemy would conquer the whole one after another; whereas if the whole force of the several States could be collected to a point the Enemy might be successfully opposed. It is on this account that I wish your Council may leave you at liberty to act upon that extensive scale which appears to be the object of your preparations.

I perfectly agree with you in opinion that the best way of silencing the Tories is by routing the Enemy from Wilmington; for while they have footing there the Tories will receive such encouragement as to keep their hopes and expectations alive; and their incursions will be continued. Nor will it be in your power to crush them with all the force you can raise, as they act in small Parties, and appear in so many different shapes, and have so many hiding places and secret springs of intelligence that you may wear out an Army, and still be unable to subdue them. Strike at the root of the evil by removing the British, and offer these poor deluded Wretches some hopes of forgiveness, and you will feel little injury from this class of People. I have long had it in contemplation to attempt something against Wilmington; but my force and situation has put it out of my power. I shall be happy to aid you in advice or in any other way which may serve to give success to your plan. And it will afford me more pleasure to see the place reduced by an effort of the State than in any other way as it will more effectually damp the hopes of the Enemy, and increase the importance of the natural strength of the Country than any other mode. But in my opinion to render a Militia truly formidable the Laws must oblige every Man to keep a good firelock and accoutrements of every kind fit for Action with a sufficient stock of Ammunition for a severe engagement.

It is from an apprehension of meeting an Enemy in every direction and from great Bodies being suddenly collected that they become formidable to a regular force. Two reasons concur to induce me to wish to see the Militia of America well armed; one is that the Enemy can never conquer the Country whilst we can keep the shadow of a regular force in the field, provided the Militia are well armed, and no general Action can prove totally ruinous, tho' it may bring upon us many misfortunes; the other is that should any Officer prompted by ambition ignorantly attempt any thing against the liberties of the Country, the People may be prepared to

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crush him immediately; and the best security against such a misfortune is to be armed against it; for tho' I am confident no Man will ever be mad enough to attempt anything of the kind yet it would be best to remove the temptation. I have ever considered distinctions between Citizens and Soldiers in free Governments very impolitick and invidious as they lay the latter under a sort of necessity of setting up a separate interest, which may possibly in time lead to some thing disagreeable, whereas by leaving the door open to all in common for honor and emoluments the Soldier is lost in the Citizen, and the Citizen ever ready to become the Soldier when the interest or safety of his Country requires it. This policy produces the two great objects of Government, peace at home, and security from abroad.

Colo. Read has my ready consent to afford your Excellency every assistance in his power; and I will send to your assistance Colo. Koscusiesko, our principal Engineer who is Master of his profession, and will afford you every aid you can wish. But was I to advise in this matter I would recommend very small fortifications, just sufficient to secure the Stores against Parties of Horse who can perform rapid marches. Large Works will be expensive in erecting, expensive to Garrison and if large quantities of Stores are collected in them, they become objects to the Enemy; and if the Country is not able to succour them in time, the Garrison and Stores are lost, and it throws a damp upon the spirits of all the surrounding Country, and affords a great triumph to the Enemy here, and affects our interest in Europe. A number of small Posts judiciously dispersed in different parts of the State will accommodate the service more effectually than one or two larger Posts. This has been thought by the Commander in chief to be the most eligible mode for securing the Stores of the Country; and experience and observation in the progress of the War convinces me his observations were well grounded. I am not for laying in large Magazines, but drawing from the People according as the service may require, the resources of the Country are safest in their hands. It is true this may prove a little oppressive to Individuals at times, but it puts it out of the power of the Enemy to destroy our Resources at one blow, which we have often felt the disagreeable effects of. At Posts, and upon lines of communication there must be small Magazines. And where an Army is of sufficient force to cover a Country considerable Magazines

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may be formed in its rear. But while the Enemy have a superior force great Magazines only put it in the power of the Enemy to subsist their Troops at our expence. The scarcity of Salt will put it out of our power to form large Magazines of Meat if there was no other objection. But the difficulty and expense of transportation render it necessary to subsist the Troops principally upon fresh Provisions; and this mode is not only far less expensive, but it enables an Army to move with more facility; and removes the great inconvenience of a multitude of Carriages, which are necessary for transportation when an Army is subsisted upon salted Provisions. For this purpose it will be necessary to have a great number of Beeves put up to be stall fed after the grass season is over, which may be forwarded to Camp Weekly in droves, according to the consumption of the Troops. This will be found to be by far the cheapest and least oppressive mode of subsisting an Army, and at the same time much better accomodated to the nature of the service of this Country than any other that can be adopted.

I remark with freedom, and submit my observations to your Excellency's consideration with pleasure, being perfectly desirous that you should adopt only such as you may find useful.

Nothing material has happened in this Army since my last. The Enemy are still at McCord's ferry. Lieut. Col. Lee crossed the Santee a few days ago and took 15 Dragoons, and would have brought off near 20 more, which one of his Parties had taken had it not been for a Party of Tories who fired upon them before they had time to secure their Prisoners, and while they were charging the Tories the Prisoners all made their escape except three. There were only 15 of the Dragoons, and upwards of 60 of the Tories.

I have the honor to be with great respect,
Your Excellency's most obt. hble. Servt.,