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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Henry Clinton to William Phillips
Clinton, Henry, Sir, 1738?-1795
April 26, 1781
Volume 17, Pages 1020-1023


New York, April 26th, 1781.

[Received by Earl Cornwallis at Petersburg, May 24.]

Dear Sir:

Your letters of the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th instant were delivered to me on the 22d by Captain Biggs, of his Majesty's ship Amphithrite.

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And I should have now entered largely into and given a detailed answer (agreeable to your desire) to the several subjects thereof if I had not, from the purport of Lord Cornwallis' letter of the 10th, and yours of the 19th, judged it to be unnecessary at present to give either you or me that trouble.

What you say in your letter of the 15th instant respecting the post at Portsmouth, and the choice of another somewhere else on Elizabeth River, you will find fully answered in mine to you of the 11th, which accompanies this; for (although written above a fortnight since) I had no safe opportunity before the present of sending it to you.

Lord Cornwallis' arrival at Wilmington has considerably changed the complexion of our affairs to the southward, and all operations to the northward must probably give place to those in favor of his Lordship, which at present appears to require our more immediate attention. I know nothing of his Lordship's situation but what I have learnt from his letter to me of the 10th, which you have read; and as I have the strongest reason to believe that he had above three thousand men (exclusive of cavalry and militia) when he entered North Carolina, I am totally at a loss to conjecture how his numbers came to be reduced before the day of action to one thousand three hundred and sixty infantry, except by supposing (as you have done) that he had previously weakened his army by detachments. Of this, however, I shall probably be informed when I receive the copy of his Lordship's letter to the Minister; and I shall most likely be at the same time informed what prospects he may still have of arming the numerous friends we were taught to expect his finding in the districts he has visited in his march to and retreat from Guilford; without whose assistance we shall, I fear, hold those provinces by a very precarious tenure.

I had great hopes before I received Lord Cornwallis' letter that his Lordship would have been in a condition to have spared a considerable part of his army from Carolina for the operations in Chesapeak, but you will observe from it that instead of sending any part of his present force thither, he proposes to detain a part of the reinforcement coming from Europe for his more southern operations, even though they should be defensive. I shall therefore take the opinions of the General officers near me upon the present state of

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our affairs, and I propose afterwards to send you such further detachment from this army as we may judge can be done with tolerable security to this post—at least while we remain superior at sea.

With so large a force as you will then have, I flatter myself that you will be able to make the most effectual exertions, either directly or indirectly, in Lord Cornwallis' favor, as far as your efforts on the shores of the Chesapeak can co-operate with what he may be doing in Carolina. What these, however, may be you, as being upon the spot, must certainly be the best judge, until you either hear further from or see his Lordship.

In yours and Brigadier General Arnold's joint letter you mention that from one thousand six hundred to two thousand more men would enable you to take a post in force at Petersburg; from whence you might break up Mr. Greene's communications with Virginia, and in co-operation with Lord Cornwallis, probably disperse the Rebel army. And that you could, moreover, with this increased strength, attempt Fayette's corps, Baltimore and Annapolis, with great probability of success, and finally attempt Philadelphia, and take post in the lower counties of Delaware, for which you apprehend your force would then be sufficient.

The security of the two Carolinas is certainly an object of the greatest importance, and should at all events be first attended to. Success also against any considerable corps of the enemy, which may be collected anywhere within reach, and the taking or destroying their public stores, magazines, &c., are undoubtedly very important advantages. But there is, in my humble opinion, still another operation which if successful would be most solidly decisive in its consequences, and is therefore well worth our consideration. It is the trying the same experiment (which has hitherto unfortunately not succeeded to the southward) in other districts which have been represented as most friendly to the King's interest. Virginia has been in general looked upon as universally hostile. Maryland has not as yet been tried, but it is supposed to be not quite so much so; but the inhabitants of Pennsylvania, on both sides of the Susquehannah, York, Lancaster, Chester and the Peninsula between Chesapeak and Deleware, are represented to me to be friendly. There or thereabouts I think this experiment should now be tried, but it cannot be done fairly until we have a force sufficient

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not only to go there, but to retain a respectable hold of the country afterwards, should it be judged necessary. I wish that our numbers were competent to the occupying two corresponding stations at Baltimore and Elk river. Agreeable to what I mentioned to you in the conversations we have had together on this subject (to which that you may be able on occasion to refer) I have committed the substance of them to writing, and send them to you enclosed. This I should have done sooner, had I had a safe opportunity before. I have now the greater reason to be convinced that the opinions I then gave you were right, from a conversation I have since had with a very intelligent friend of ours from the country, known to Colonel Simcoe, who goes to you by this opportunity, and will be able to give you the fullest information thereon.

Major General Phillips.