The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


From Colonel Otho H. Williams

Dear Genl

I wrote you to Day from Harts old Stores where the En{emy} halted this evening.[1] The Express was detain'd 'till I got Coll Lees last report and was not sent off 'till I arriv'd here. I recd yours datd at Dobbins a little before. I had concluded that my Letter from Chambers Mill [not found] wod induce you to order the Army to move very early this morning and was {exceeding}ly concern'd to hear by the Express, before I had time to read your Letter, that you were yet 25 miles from the ferry.[2] My Dr General at Sun Down the Enemy were only 22 miles from you and may be in motion now or will most probably by {3} oClock in the morning. Their Intelligence is good. They manouvred us from our Strong position at {Cha}mbers Mill and then mov'd with great rapidity. They were at Harts Stores in a very short time after I clos'd my Letter there.
I believe it practicable for the Light Troops to remain in the State, but if we file off now it must be by the right. The Van of one of the {Enemy's Columns is not more} than ten miles in my rear and I have reason to believe there may be another on the way to Dixe's. This situation will prevent my taking the upper Country and I think the Enemy too near you for me to quit the interval. Rely on it, my Dr Sir it is possible {for you} to be overtaken before you can cross the Dan even if you had 20 Boats, and your present situation obliges me to lay within reach or Surprizeing distance of the Enemy. I shall use every precaution but cannot help being uneasy.[3]
I conclude you march'd as far to day as you cod and if your Army can make but Eleven miles in a Day you will not be able to pass the ferry in less than two Days more.[4] In less time than that we will be dri{ven in} to your Camp or I must risque the Troops I've the Honor to command and in doing that I risque every thing[.] You know the consequence it will be to the Army and every body knows retreating Troops must suffer in the consequences however hardy they may be in their Opposition.[5]
The G{entlemen of} Cav{alry} assure me their Horses want refreshment exceedingly and our Infantry are so excessively fatigu'd that I'm confident I loose men every Day. We have been all this Day almost in presence of the Enemy but have sustain'd no loss but of Sick and Strollers.
As to Militia, only one Coll and one Captain have joined us and their Spirits wod be better if we were farther from the Enemy.
The Enemy are undoubtedly reinforcing their Cavalry by taking all the best Horses in the Country and perhaps are not so contemptible as we suppose them. I must beg your permission to send my Invalids to pass at Boyds [Ferry] and I will dispose of the rest {of the} Troops according to your future instruct{ions.}[6] I'm confident we may remain in the State but whither it will not be at the risque of our Light Corps and whither we shall not be wasted by continual fatigue you can determine. I {am} Dr Genl

Yr most Obt & Hble Servt

O H Williams

Autograph letter signed (Greene Papers: DLC). The ALS is damaged; portions in curly brackets were taken from a GWG Transcript, CSmH.
    [1.] Williams's letter to NG has not been found.
    [2.] It is not certain which of NG's letters Williams was referring to here.
    [3.] The role of Williams's troops in the retreat to the Dan is discussed at Williams to NG, first letter of 11 February (PGNG, 7: 282). As noted at NG to Jefferson, 10 February (PGNG, 7: 271), NG had six boats available to transport the army across the river.
    [4.] Despite Williams's pessimistic tone, the entire Southern Army, including his own detachment, was safely across the Dan the following night. (See NG to Williams, third letter of 14 February, PGNG, 7: 287.)
    [5.] According to Col. Henry Lee's account of the retreat, at about the time that Williams was writing this letter, Williams's troops discovered campfires in the distance. It was thought at first that they had overtaken NG and would have to turn and sacrifice themselves in a desperate attack on the British to protect the troops with NG. Upon referring to a letter from NG, however, Williams was relieved to discover that NG's men had already marched from the campsite. Williams's troops were so closely pressed by the British, however, that they were unable to stop and use the fires that had been left burning for them. (See Lee, Memoirs, 1: 290-91. Lee gave 11 February as the date of NG's stopping at "Col Mores"—the place from which Williams wrote this letter; but NG, in fact, had written Gen. John Butler from there on this date. See PGNG, 7: 284-285.)
    [6.] For NG's orders, see his first and third letters to Williams of 14 February (PGNG, 7: 287).