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On my arrival at this place, I laid your Excellency's letter before Congress, and addressed them on the business of the Southern department. I am happy to inform you that my appointment is perfectly agreeable to their views and wishes. But I am sorry to acquaint you that, from the best account I can get of the state and condition of the troops in that quarter, nothing is to be expected from them, unless large supplies can be forwarded from the northward. They are altogether without clothing and blankets, and totally unfit for any kind of service. To carry them into the field, in this condition, will only fill the hospitals, and sacrifice the lives of a great many valuable men. Arms are not less wanting than clothing, and wagons as much as either. Men, I believe, may be had, if it was in our power to equip them for the field. But how we shall do this, is difficult for me to imagine. Congress can furnish no money, and the Board of War neither clothing nor other necessaries. Indeed, the prospect is dismal and truly distressing.
I beg your Excellency to urge, unceasingly, the necessity of forwarding supplies for the Southern army, as it will he impossible to carry on a winter campaign without clothing. I have laid before Congress an estimate of our wants; but there is not the shadow of a prospect of their being furnished, unless constant attention is paid to the business. And I am apprehensive, as soon as I am gone, and no one left to urge our wants, they will soon be forgotten.
The late success of the militia against Colonel Ferguson, I am in hopes will be attended with good consequences. It will give a severe check to the Tories, and spirit and confidence to the Whigs. A report prevails this day that Lord Cornwallis has retreated precipitately from Charlotte towards Camden.
The detachment of the enemy, that sailed lately from New York, are landed at Portsmouth, in Virginia ; and it is said the shipping are pushing up the rivers. The troops have taken possession of the great bridge, by which, I am told, they command all the lower counties.
How to employ our little force, if we are attacked both in Virginia and North Carolina at the same time, is difficult to determine. My first object will be to equip a flying army, to consist of about eight hundred horse, and one thousand infantry. This force, with the occasional aid of the militia, will serve to confine the enemy in their limits, and render it difficult for them to subsist in the interior country. I see but little prospect of getting a force to contend with the enemy upon equal grounds, and therefore must make the most of a kind of partisan war, until we can levy and equip a larger force. Such was the difficulty of getting provisions and providing the means of transportation, that General Gates writes, in his last letter, that the army was in the utmost danger of disbanding.
Congress have invested me with the same powers they gave to General Gates, and annexed Maryland and Delaware to the Southern department. The arrangement of the army has taken place, and, I hope, upon a footing which will render it more respectable than it has been, provided the business of finance can be got into some regular order. But that is our weak side ; and I wish our distresses may be painted in their true colors to the Minister of France, as he intimated to Baron Steuben that your Excellency did not appear to be apprehensive of any difficulty from the state of our affairs.
I have made application to the merchants of this city for clothing for the Southern army; but they excused themselves, as having engaged more already than they can perform. I intend to try to put subscriptions on foot in Maryland and Virginia for the purpose of supplying clothing. Whether it will produce any good or not, time only can determine. At any rate I shall have the satisfaction of having done all in my power; and if there is not public spirit enough in the people to defend their liberties, they will deserve to be slaves.
General Knox promised to send forward a company of artillery, if your Excellency approved thereof I wish they may come forward, without loss of time. This State have promised to lend me one thousand stand of arms, upon a promise of their being replaced, which I beg your Excellency to give an order for, as this was the only footing they could be obtained upon. I have the honor to be, &c.,
- Nathanael Greene
- Correspondence of the American Revolution; Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Volume III., Jared Sparks, 1853