The Papers of General Nathanael Greene

To Governor Abner Nash of North Carolina


I wrote your Excellency at the Island Ford on the 3d of this instant, and informed you of the situation of the enemy and our Army. The distressed state which the latter was in as well as the badness of the roads, deep creeks, and a thousand other difficulties, prevented our forming a junction at the Yadkin as I first intended. Finding Lord Cornwallis pressed hard upon our rear, I orderd our Army to file off to Guilford Court House, where part of it arrivd last evening, the rest has not come up yet.[1]
The Enemy crossed the Yadkin at the Shallow Ford the day before yesterday in the evening, and were encamped the night before last three miles on this side the ford; and I expect they will be at this place by to morrow noon at farthest.[2]
Our force is so unequal to the enemy, as well in numbers as condition that it is the unanimous opinion of a Council of war held this day, that it would be inevitable ruin to the Army and no less ruinous to the American cause to hazard a General action; and therefore have advisd to our crossing the Dan River immediately; which will be carried into execution as soon as possible; and all the Stores have been orderd over the Roanoke accordingly.[3]
Nothing can be more painful than this measure; but a defeat is certain if we come to action; and your Excellency can easily conceive the fatal consequences of having our little Army dispersed small as it is; nor do I know whether it will be in our power to avoid an action, the enemy moves with such rapidity. We have retarded their motions all we could but our force has been so unequal to theirs that they have moved with amazing rapidity.
There are few Militia collected nor can I see the least prospect of collecting any considerable force; and if we could, we have no provision or forage. Col [John] Lutterell's party that was three hundred strong a few days since, are now reduced to Thirty Six as the Colonel reported this morning; and those that have gone have carried off with them all their arms. There is besides these about two hundred militia on the ground; and upwards of two hundred on the march under General Lillington and may join this evening.[4] These are all the Militia we have with us that are armed. There are some Militia in the rear of the enimy, but their numbers are very inconsiderable, nor can I tell whether there is a prospect of their increasing.
Your Excellency must take such steps for the preservation of public Stores and other matters that concerns the interest of the State, as you may think the occasion requires. Should I leave the State, I shall return the moment I find the army in a condition to take the field.
I cannot stop this letter without one observation, which is that I think it an endless task to attempt to arm and equip all your Militia. Such a waste of arms and ammunition as I have seen in different parts of this State, is enough to exhaust all the Arsenals of Europe. Nor ought arms in my opinion to be put into the hands of doubt[ful] characters: for you may depend upon it such will never be useful in the hour of diffi[cul]ty. I am with great respect

your Excellencys most Obdt humble

N Greene

Autograph draft signed (MiU-C).
    [1.] The "Army" was the column commanded by Isaac Huger. As seen in Huger to NG, 8 February (PGNG, 7: 259-260), one of Huger's regiments was trailing the rest of the column. The light infantry had been at Guilford since 6 February. (Kirkwood, Journal, p. 13; Seymour, "Journal," p. 296)
    [2.] After crossing the Yadkin River, the British army camped at Lindsay's Plantation. It marched to the Moravian town of Bethania on 9 February and to nearby Salem the next day. ("British Orderly Book," p. 297; Records of the Moravians, 4: 1675-76) Cornwallis was only about twenty-five miles from Guilford Court House when he chose to stop and reprovision his troops at Salem. He was in a position there to intercept NG's army if it moved toward the upper fords of the Dan River, as he thought it must. (Cornwallis to Germain, 17 March, PRO 30/11/76; Pancake, Destructive War, pp. 166-67)
    [3.] See Proceedings of a Council of War, this date (PGNG, 7: 261-262).
    [4.] As seen at NG to Lillington, 19 February (PGNG, 7: 315-316), the junction never took place.