The Papers of General Nathanael Greene

From General James M. Varnum


I have been honored with your Letter of the 24 Jany last.
You know I am not much elated at good News or depressed at bad. I acknowledge my Breast was warmed with the most lively Emotion at knowing your great Success.[1] An Instance so brilliant in all its parts has not occurred to my Knowledge during the War. Your real Friends feel for you much. While they know you have Enemies, they are certain you dont deserve so ill a Fate. Your Enemies are not personal, but political. The Number is small. I find however, they very readily condemn in you, what they would extol in your Predecessor as the Result of uncommon Wisdom and Fortitude. I dont mean your military Conduct, but political Sentiments respecting the Nature of Armies in this Country.[2] My most serious Assiduity is now exerted to convince every Body, that your late Success was the Result of Skill, and not of Force, that we must soon hear of your retiring, & that you must be upon the defensive 'till we can give you Magasines and regular Troops. But, my good Friend, our civil Condition is very similar to your military one, only you have one Advantage, wch is Credit, derived from Victory. We are obliged to begin every Thing anew. In an Intervall between the laying aside of old, & introducing new Systems there must be a political Pause; And this Pause will injure your Department more than any other. Congress have no Money.[3] I am one of a Committee upon the Affairs of the Southern Department.[4] I hope you will Derive some Advantage from our Measures. We have pretty good Authority that on the Night of the Twenty second last, a Brittish seventy four was stranded on Montauge Point [Montauk Point, Long Island], and another dismasted.[5] Should that be true, the French Squadron will be superior to the British; In which Case, Arnold may be dislodged from Virginia, and Provisions and Men may be sent you by Water, as well as Arms and Amunition.[6] For I am determined to get you the Pennsylvania Line, if possible; For I dont think the great Knife has been ground lately.[7] You have heard of the Mutiny of that Line. The Consequence has been that most of them have been discharged, & the remainder furloughed. However, about a Thousand of them will be assembled at their Regimental Rendesvous in about two Weeks.[8] I inclose you a political Account of that Insurrection; As it was written by your Friend, it will give you some Amusement.[9]
Congress have agreed to appoint a Superindendant of Finance, a Secretary of War, A Secry of Marine, & Secry of Foreign Affairs. This arrangement will knock up many useless Boards, & direct our executive Business to certain Points. It will create a Responsibility in the respective great Departments & prevent Infinity of Confusion.[10]
Congress have called upon the States to vest their willfull Powers to levy and collect Duties upon Importations and Prise Goods. Should this Measure succeed, you will perceive our System aided by increasing Vigor, and public Credit rear its Head amidst surrounding Disgrace.[11] We are now upon the great Subject of Revenue. And as our Plans increase, I will let you know it.[12] I am extremely happy in this City, being honored with every kind of polite and generous Attention.
A Few days since I had the Honor of a Letter from your good Lady in which I am so happy as to find she, and the little ones, are well. I have wrote Her your Success, and have endeavored to fortify her Mind against any Reverse of Fortune that succeed thro' your great Inequality in Force and Magasines to Lord Cornwallace. I have requested to address her Letters to me, wch I can send by pretty certain Conveyances.[13]
Maryland, I am very certain, have acceded to the Confederation; & the Ancient Dominion have graciously ceded to Congress their Lands North West of the Ohio; & I suppose will soon include the Island of Japan, and that Tract of Country extending from the [portion damaged] Calmuck Tartar down to the Black Sea.[14]
God bless you. Let me hear from you often. I wont be in Debt.

Adiu my good Friend

J M Varnum

Autograph letter signed (NjP).
    [1.] The news was the American victory at Cowpens. (See Morgan to NG, 19 January, PGNG, 7: 152-161)
    [2.] NG's enemies had presumably condemned his criticism of the use of militia by the southern states.
    [3.] The adoption of the Articles of Confederation was undoubtedly the reason for the "Pause."
    [4.] Congress on 8 February had appointed a committee consisting of Varnum, Thomas Burke, and Thomas Bee to consider NG's letter to Samuel Huntington of 24 January. (PGNG, 7: 185; JCC, 19: 129) The next day Congress ordered the committee to "take into consideration the state and condition of the southern army, and report ways and means of supplying their wants." (JCC 19:133) This committee seems to have been replaced by one appointed on 13 February to confer with Benjamin Harrison, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, who had come to seek assistance for his state and the Southern Department. (JCC 19:142, 176; see also note at NG to Harrison, 20 January, PGNG, 7: 162-163.)
    [5.] Varnum's report was correct. Learning that a French ship of the line and two frigates had left Newport, R.I., Adm. Thomas Graves had sent three British ships of the line in pursuit. The British squadron ran into a hurricane, and the Culloden, which carried seventy-four guns, was driven ashore on Long Island and destroyed; the Bedford and the America were badly damaged. (Clinton, American Rebellion, pp. 249-50 and n)
    [6.] An attempt was made to exploit the British loss, but the first sortie that the French dispatched from Newport was too weak to force the surrender of Benedict Arnold's detachment in Virginia. (See note at Steuben to NG, 22 February, PGNG, 7: 333-334.) By 8 March, when a larger French flotilla sailed for Virginia, the British fleet had recovered from the effects of the storm. It was able to turn back the French after an indecisive battle outside of Chesapeake Bay on 16 March. (Clinton, American Rebellion, p. 251n; Kennett, French Forces, pp. 98-100)
    [7.] Congress voted on 20 February to transfer the Pennsylvania line to the Southern Department. (JCC, 19: 177) It is not known what role Varnum played in the adoption of that resolution.
    [8.] On the mutiny in the Pennsylvania line, see Madison to NG, 13 January (PGNG, 7: 116-118).
    [9.] The "political Account" may have been one that appeared in the 24 January issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, which favorably described the role of NG's friend, President Joseph Reed, in negotiating with the mutineers. (For a less charitable opinion of the negotiations, see, for example, Howe to NG, 2 February, PGNG, 7: 237-239.)
    [10.] Congress had established the post of secretary of foreign affairs on 10 January. (JCC, 19: 42-43) The other three executive departments were created on 7 February. (Ibid., pp. 126-28) After establishing the posts, Congress was slow to fill them, and it was not until 30 October that the last department head was named. (Burnett, Congress, p. 492; Cornell to NG, 23 January, PGNG, 7: 176-177.)
    [11.] On 3 February, Congress had called on the states to "vest a power in Congress, to levy for the use of the United States, a duty of five per cent. ad valorum." (JCC, 19: 112-13) In the end, the proposal was not approved. (See note at Cornell to NG, 23 January, PGNG, 7: 176-177.)
    [12.] Congress continued to work on the "Subject of Revenue" until 23 March, when it enacted the year's assessment on the states. (JCC, 19: 299)
    [13.] The letter from Catharine Greene has not been found. (Varnum's reply is printed in Smith, Letters, 16: 703.)
    [14.] On Maryland's ratification of the Articles of Confederation and the cession to the national government of its western land claims by the "Ancient Dominion," Virginia, see note at Sharpe to NG, 30 January (PGNG, 7: 223-224). The Calmucks are a Mongolian people who live at the northwest corner of the Caspian Sea. (OED) Varnum was clearly lampooning the extent of Virginia's claims.