The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


To General James M. Varnum

Dear Sir

By a letter from Genl Washington which came to hand a few days since I was informed of your being on your way to Congress; which I was happy to hear of.[1] You have the feelings of a Soldier and know the wants of an Army. But you have never been in a Southern Army where distress and difficulties beset you on every side. This department affords a chequered scene. Some times one party is successful and sometimes the other. A few days past, General [Daniel] Morgan gained a complete victory over Lt Colonel Tarlton [Banastre Tarleton]. The particulars are forwarded to Congress; and for further particulars I beg leave to refer you to Major Giles, an old acquaintance of yours, who will have the honor to deliver the despaches to Congress, and doubtless will expect some honorable notice, as every thing is due to his merit.[2] The Baron [Glaubeck] that is mentioned in General Morgans letter is a very deserving young man; and has been serving in the American Army as a volunteer upwards of two years. He is a Capt Lt in the Austrian service, and would be happy to have a brevet commision of a Captain. Any lower rank than that, he cannot accept of, nor does he wish to have any command in America; but continue to serve as a volunteer. Congress will act as they may think proper: I cannot ask any thing of them of this kind; they having refused to give Doc [James] McHenry a Majority after I had made a special request to that effect.[3]
This Army is in a deplorable condition; and notwithstanding this little success, must inevitably fall a prey to the enemy if not better supported, than I can see a prospect of. Dont imagine that Lord Cornwallis is ruined: for depend upon it, the Southern States must fall, unless there is established a well appointed Army for their support, of about 5, or 6000 Infantry, and 800 or a 1000 horse; and those to be well equiptd for active operations. Such a force assisted by the auxillary aid of the Militia, would prove superior to any force the enemy could maintain in the field in this quarter.
There is a great spirit of enterprise prevailing among the Militia of these Southern States; especially with the volunteers. But their mode of going to war is so destructive, as well as uncertain, that it is the greatest folly in the world, to trust the liberties of a people, to such a precarious tenure.
In this command I am obligd to put every thing to the hazard; and contrary to all military propriety am obliged to make detachments that nothing but absolute necessity could authorise or even justify. If they are successful it is well: if not I am ruined. There is no alternative, I must commit myself to fortune, and trust to my friends for support.[4] It is my only wish to be upon an equal footing with Lord Cornwallis; and if I did not give a good account of him, I would agree to be subject to censure.
I shall be happy to hear from you; and wish you to communicate my compliments to Mrs Varnum. I am Sir

Your humble Sr

N Greene

Autograph copy signed (NjP).
    [1.] See Washington's letter of 13 December 1780 (PGNG, 6: 569-70).
    [2.] Regarding the "particulars" of Morgan's victory at Cowpens, see NG to Huntington, this date (PGNG, 7: 185). Edward Giles was Morgan's aide. He and Varnum had both served as officers in Washington's army in 1778 and early 1779. (Heitman, Register) Congress gave "honorable notice" to Giles by brevetting him a major in the Continental army. (JCC, 19: 247)
    [3.] For more on Glaubeck, see note at NG to Washington, 11 January (PGNG, 7: 95-95). Congress brevetted "Baron de Glasbeech" a captain on 9 March. ( JCC, 19: 247) NG had requested a major's commission for James McHenry in a letter to Congress of 30 October 1780 (PGNG, 6: 445). Congress's rejection of the request and its later decision to commission McHenry are discussed at that letter.
    [4.] NG undoubtedly referred to his decision to split his army and to detach Morgan and the cream of his Continental troops westward. (For more on that decision, see headnote at PGNG, 6: 587-89.)