The Papers of General Nathanael Greene

To Samuel Huntington, President of the Continental Congress


Since I wrote Your Excellency by Major [Edward] Giles the enemy have marched into the Country as high as Beatty's Ford, which is a little below this, in pursuit of General [Daniel] Morgan and the prisoners he had with him.[1] Happily he crossed the Catawba, and immediately after there fell a great rain which swelled the river to such a degree as prevented Lord Cornwallis from crossing. The prisoners are on their march for Virginia and the enemy are still on the other side of the river. They have burned their waggons and are equiping themselves for penetrating the Country. From which I imagine there must be some plan of cooperation in view with G[en]. [Benedict] Arnold either up the Roanoke or by Cape Fear: or they may have an intention of destroying the stores collecting at the Moravian Towns, or disperse the Army.[2]
The fords are so numerous upon this river and our force so small that it will be impossible to prevent their passing: and we can give them but very little annoyance after they have crossed unless a great force comes to our relief. Genl Davidson informed me this evening that notwithstanding he had made use of every argument in his power to draw out the Militia, he had not more than 300 Men; nor had he but very little hopes of getting out a much greater number; and his district is said to contain more good militia than almost all the rest of the State.[3] The people have been so harrassed for eight months past and their domestick matters are in such distress that they will not leave home; and if they do it is for so short a time that they are of no use. Twenty thousand men might be in motion in the manner the Militia come and go and we not have an operating force in the field of five hundred men.
The moment I recieved intelligence that the enemy were penetrating the Country, I put the Army in motion upon the Pedee and leaving it under the command of General [Isaac] Huger, crossed the country to this place with all imaginable haste.[4] I thought I could better direct the motions of the Army for effecting a junction from this situation than by being with it: especially under critical circumstances. Besides I was in hopes a larger body of Militia would have collected that would have required some arrangement. In addition to these reasons provision and forage was to provide as the Magazienes have not been formed agreeable to my requisition on my first coming into the State, nor am I certain that the state of the produce of the Country will admit of it.
The enemy are in force and appear determined to penetrate the Country, nor can I see the least prospect of opposing them with the little force we have, naked and distressed as we are for want of provision & forage. Our numbers are greatly inferior to the enemy's when collected and joined by all the Militia in the field, or that we have even a prospect of getting. The difference in the equipment and discipline of the troops give the enemy such a decided superiority that we cannot hope for any thing but a defeat. And the enemy being with out baggage we cannot avoid an action if we would, especially as we have no place where we can take post for want of provision and forage.[5]
I have made use of every argument in my power to induce the Southern States to take decided measures for affording speedy reinforcements to this Army; but little or nothing is done, and succour appears almost as remote as when I took the command. Whatever Misfortunes may happen to this Army and these States, I hope it will be found I have left nothing unattempted for the security of one and the protection of the other; and Providence has blessed the American Arms in this department with more success than we had reason to expect in our miserable situation. Nothing can save this country but a well appointed army, and I wish conviction may not come too late.
General Morgan has collected near one hundred prisoners by parties sent out for the purpose since he wrote.[6]
I forgot to mention in my last letter that I had appointed Major [Edmund] Hyrne Deputy Commissary Genl of Prisoners for the Southern department; which I hope will meet the approbation of Congress.
I have recieved intelligence that four hundred troops have sailed from Charles Town for Wilmington in N. Carolina.[7]
I have the honor to enclose the copy of a Letter from Lt Colo [Henry] Lee announcing the partial success of an enterprise formed against George Town which does honor to his Corps.[8] I have the honor to be With great respect

Your Excellency's Most Obedient Humble Servant

Nath Greene

Letter signed (PCC, item 172, vol. 1: 49, DNA).
    [1.] See NG to Huntington, 24 January (PGNG, 7: 185).
    [2.] Cornwallis, in a letter to Lord George Germain of 17 March, explained that his plan had been to "penetrate into North Carolina"; he took the "upper" route in order to "destroy" Morgan's corps or drive it out of South Carolina. He also planned "by rapid marches, to get between GenlGreene and Virginia & by that means force him to fight without receiving any reinforcement from that Province, or failing of that, to oblige him to quit North Carolina with precipiatation, & thereby encourage our friends, to make good their promises of a general rising." (PRO 30/11/76) Cornwallis did not intend a "plan of cooperation" with Arnold.
    [3.] When it became clear that Cornwallis was invading North Carolina, Gen.William L. Davidson had issued a call for militia to reinforce the 500 men already serving with him. He offered to credit volunteers with three months'service for six weeks' duty. That appeal brought out an additional 300 troops, the number NG mentioned here. (Davidson, Davidson, pp. 110-11)
    [4.] In "all imaginable haste" was no exaggeration. (See note at Morris to Nash, 28 January, PGNG, 7: 208-209.) Regarding NG's orders to put the army in motion, see ibid.
    [5.] In letters to his officers, NG was far less pessimistic about the chances of stopping Cornwallis. (See NG to Huger and NG to Sumter, both 30 January, PGNG, 7: 219-221 and PGNG, 7: 221.)
    [6.] NG was referring to Morgan's letter of 19 January (PGNG, 7: 152-161), which he had enclosed in his letter to Huntington of 24 January (PGNG, 7: 185).
    [7.] See Henry Lee's first letter of 25 January (PGNG, 7: 197). For more on the British expedition to Wilmington, N.C., see Drayton to NG, 2 February (PGNG, 7: 236-237).
    [8.] NG enclosed Henry Lee's second letter of 25 January (PGNG, 7: 197-199).