The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


To General Thomas Sumter

Dear Sir

I received your letters of the 29th and 31st of January.[2] When I had the pleasure of an interview with you I discoverd nothing mercenary or illiberal in your disposition.[3] On the contrary I was charmed with the spirit of enterprise which I flatter'd myself wou'd be no less beneficial to your Country than honorable to your self. I Still entertain the same sentiments; and I can assure you I shall be equally happy in an opportunity to do justice to your merit as to Genl [Daniel] Morgans. In what respect General Morgans command embarrassed you I am at a loss to Imagine; but I dare say I cou'd explain it to your perfect satisfaction in a few minutes, could I have the happiness to see you. I consider you both as valuable men, as well as brave and good Officers; and I hope the merit of one dont in the least detract from the other.
It is true I wish to see you again in the field; and I have ever considered it a great misfortune that you was wounded on my first coming to the command. I have not time to go more fully into the subject; but we will pospone the matter untill we have the pleasure of meeting. The Inhabitants are sensible of your merit; and the world does you justice.
I agree with you in opinion that if proper measures are taken the enemy may be made apprehensive for their rear. For this purpose I desired General Marion to cross the Santee if possible; and in order to pave the way for this service, I desird Lt Colonel Lee to surprise George Town, that the militia of that quarter might be left more at liberty, to cross the river. Whether General Marion will be able to comply with my wishes I am not informed.[4] Genl Pickens has orders also to raise as many men as he can in the neighbourhood of Ninety Six and Augusta; and it is my ardent wish you shoud embody your Militia as soon as your health will permit.[5] This force I think may be usefully employed against the enemy in South Carolina; and whether it is employed there or with the continental Army when collected, you will have the command of the whole.[6] Great exertions are necessary. The enemy are doing their utmost to effect the entire subjugation of this State; and I am sorry to inform you that the Continental force is so small as well as in such a miserable condition that without greater reinforcements from the Militia than appears in the field at present, they must accomplish their wishes. Another reinforcement is arrived at Wilmington[,] the Corps and Strength I am not well inform'd of. I have got the names and Strength of the Corps of the Enemy under the command of Lord Cornwallis, and think your intelligence on that head is not good, as I am persuaded his force is not less than twenty five hundred Men.[7] We could not prevent the Enemy from crossing the Catabaw. They crossed at the Mcowens Ford, at which place Genl Davidson was posted with the greater part of the Militia under his command, and unfortunately fell in the Skirmish with the Enemy in their crossing.[8] We have been obliged to retire over the Yadkin, as no Militia came to our relief, tho I hear since there are a few hundreds in the rear of the Enemy. The Enemy are in Salisbury, and our Army are moving up on the East side of Pedee and I am in hopes of forming a junction next day after tomorrow, if the enemy dont push us too hard.[9] The loss of General Davidson is a great misfortune at this time.
I staid at one of the places of rendezvous the night after the enemy crossed untill midnight, but not a man appeared; nor did there a single man join us at Salisbury, except a few belonging to South Carolina under the command of Genl Pickens.[10]
You will please to inform me what force you think you can collect and when your health will permit your taking the field.[11] I am sorry your wound continues troublesome. I was in hopes from the account of several people that you would be in the field in a few days. I am sir with esteem

Your Most Obedt humble servt

Nath Greene

[P.S.]
N.B. I have just heard that you are at the head of the Militia in the rear of the Enemy. I wish it may be true.[12]
Letter signed (Sumter Papers: DLC). The LS, which was copied from NG's draft (now at MiU-C), lacks paragraph breaks. NG's original paragraphing has been restored here.
    [1.] As he told Huger in a letter of 5 February (PGNG, 7: 251-252), NG was actually at the Island, or Trading, Ford on the Yadkin on this date; he was not, as he had mistakenly written, at Shallow Ford, almost twenty-five miles upstream.
    [2.] Sumter had written NG two letters on 31 January (PGNG, 7: 230-231).
    [3.] NG was replying to Sumter's letter of 29 January; his "interview" with Sumter had taken place on 8 December 1780, when NG, then with the army at Charlotte, visited Sumter, who was convalescing nearby. (See PGNG, 6: 564n.)
    [4.] Regarding the attack by Gen. Francis Marion and Col. Henry Lee on the post at Georgetown, S.C., see Lee to NG, second letter of 25 January (PGNG, 7: 197-199). Although Marion had sent several parties on raids across the Santee River, he did not move his command across. (See Marion to NG, 31 January, PGNG, 7: 229-230.)
    [5.] See NG to Andrew Pickens, this date (PGNG, 7: 241-242).
    [6.] As seen at NG to Sumter, 9 February (PGNG, 7: 266), Sumter returned to the field on or soon after 9 February. He remained in South Carolina, however, and did not join NG's army. (Gregorie, Sumter, pp. 135-36)
    [7.] In his letter of 29 January, Sumter had claimed that Cornwallis's army numbered no more than 1,600 men. NG later raised his own estimate of the enemy's strength to more than 3,000 men, but 2,500, the number he gave in this letter, was probably more accurate. (See NG to Washington, 15 February, PGNG, 7: 293-295.)
    [8.] On the British crossing of the Yadkin, the engagement at Cowan's Ford, and the death of Gen. William L. Davidson, see NG to Steuben, this date (PGNG, 7: 242-245).
    [9.] The junction took place on 7 and 8 February at Guilford Court House. (See Huger to NG, 8 February, PGNG, 7: 259-260.)
    [10.] As noted at NG to Pickens, this date (PGNG, 7: 241-242), only about thirty militiamen had stayed with Pickens.
    [11.] Sumter's reply has not been found.
    [12.] As seen at NG to Sumter, 9 February (PGNG, 7: 266), the report was false.