The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


To an Unidentified Person

"I am here in my camp of repose, improving the discipline and spirits of my men, and the opportunity for looking about me. I am well satisfied with the movement, for it has answered thus far all the purposes for which I intended it. It makes the most of my inferior force, for it compels my adversary to divide his, and holds him in doubt as to his own line of conduct. He cannot leave [Gen. Daniel] Morgan behind him to come at me, or his posts of Ninety-Six and Augusta would be exposed. And he cannot chase Morgan far, or prosecute his views upon Virginia, while I am here with the whole country open before me. I am as near to Charleston as he is, and as near to Hillsborough as I was at Charlotte; so that I am in no danger of being cut off from my reinforcements, while an uncertainty as to my future designs has made it necessary to leave a large detachment of the enemy's late reinforcements in Charleston, and move the rest up on this side the Wateree. But although there is nothing to obstruct my march to Charleston, I am far from having such a design in contemplation in the present relative positions and strength of the two armies. It would be putting it in the power of my enemy to compel me to fight him. At present, my operations must be in the country where the rivers are fordable, and to guard against the chance of not being able to choose my ground, [Col. Thaddeus] Kosciusko is employed in building flat-bottomed boats to be transported with the army, if ever I shall be able to command the means of transporting them. I am now at the falls of the Pedee, and the region of my future operations must be above the falls of the rivers, until I can control the movements of my adversary. Below the falls, all through this country from the Alleghany to the seacoast, and from the Chesapeake to Georgia, the country is champaign, and presenting no passes that can be held by an inferior force. Below the falls, the rivers are deep, and their banks are covered with impassable swamps, across which, at long intervals, roads have been constructed which afford the only avenues of retreat. I cannot venture to get entangled among the difficulties they present until I can turn upon my enemy and fight him when I please.[2]
"I find the difficulties of subsisting an army far beyond all anticipation. Even here, where the inhabitants are generally well disposed, they will not gather in their crops from the field, because depositing their grain in their barns exposes it to be seized by their friends, or burnt by their enemies. It is hard to stand so much in need of friends, and be compelled to subsist ourselves by means so well calculated to convert our friends into enemies. But we have not a shilling of money, and must collect subsistence by force, or disband. I have had an opportunity of learning the force of the loyalists in these states, and the parts of the country in which they reside, and their numbers and zeal present a formidable obstacle to our future measures. On the other hand, the whig population has been greatly reduced by the numbers that have fled from the distress that friends and foes have heaped upon them. The enemy are now recruiting in all parts of this state, and the command of gold, aided by the public distress and loyal feeling, has been too successful in promoting the project of making one conquest the stepping-stone to another. At present they are in possession of all the fertile and populous parts of South Carolina, and until circumstances will admit of my penetrating into the heart of the country to meet and fight him, we shall have to operate in a country that has been exhausted and depopulated by the swarms of mounted militia that have rather been impoverishing than defending the country.
"Yet I should feel no apprehension for the event, had I a prospect of being supported by a permanent force. But North Carolina has not a man on foot, and Virginia only a few raw and naked troops, and those enlisted for a short time. The fine troops of Maryland and Delaware, enlisted for the war, are now reduced comparatively to a handful, and General [Mordecai] Gist gives me no hope of an early reinforcement from that quarter. North Carolina seems disposed to assist us, but her councils are so distracted that I cannot hope much from her efforts. The whigs will not serve unless the tories are compelled, and the tories are too strong to be driven, or if forced to take the field, will run away, desert, or betray us. Virginia, without money and without credit, I fear can do little more; and in both states, militia substitutes are too much in demand, to leave materials for enlisting an army, except for very limited periods. Hence their troops will be for ever fluctuating, and will scarcely have acquired discipline sufficient to give reputation or confidence to their officers, before they must be discharged, greatly to the disgust of the troops enlisted for the war."
Reprinted from Johnson, Greene, 1: 350-52.
    [1.] The excerpt is undated. The dates assigned by the editors correspond to the time NG spent at the Southern Army's "camp of repose."
    [2.] For more on NG's decision to split the Southern Army, see headnote at PGNG, 6: 587-89.