Nathanael Greene

American general in the American Revolutionary War (1742-1786)

Nathanael Greene (7 August 174219 June 1786) was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, known for his successful command in the Southern Campaign, where he forced British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis to abandon the Carolinas and head for Virginia. When the war began, Greene was a militia private, the lowest rank possible; he emerged from the war with a reputation as George Washington's most gifted and dependable officer.

I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom or sell my life in the attempt.


  • I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom or sell my life in the attempt.
    • As quoted in Conflict of conviction: a reappraisal of Quaker involvement in the American Revolution (1990), by William C. Kashatus, p. 45

Letter to George Washington (May 1776)

Letter to George Washington (21 May 1776), Long Island, New York.
  • From the last accounts from Great Britain, it appears absolutely necessary that there should be an augmentation of the American forces, in consequence of which I suppose there will be several promotions. As I have no desire of quitting the service, I hope the Congress will take no measure that will lay me under the disagreeable necessity of doing it. I have ever found myself exceeding happy under your Excellency's command. I wish my ability to deserve was equal to my inclination to merit.
  • How far I have succeeded in my endeavours, I submit to your Excellency's better judgment. I hope I shall never be more fond of promotion than studious to merit it. Modesty will ever forbid me to apply to that House for any favors. I consider myself immediately under your Excellency's protection, and look up to you for justice.
  • Every man feels himself wounded, where he finds himself neglected, and that in proportion as he is conscious of endeavouring to merit attention. I shall be satisfied with any measure that the Congress shall take, that has not a direct tendency to degrade me in the public estimation. A measure of that sort would sink me in my own esteem, and render me spiritless and uneasy in my situation, and consequently unfit for the service.
  • I wish for nothing more than justice, either upon principle of merit or rank, and will at all times rest satisfied when your Excellency tells me I ought to be. I feel myself strongly attached to the cause, to the Continental Congress, and to your Excellency's person and I should consider it a great misfortune to be deprived of an opportunity of taking an active part in the support of the one, and the promotion of the other.
  • But should any thing take place contrary to my wishes, which might furnish me with sufficient reason of quitting the service, yet I will not do it, until the danger and difficulties appear less than at present.

Letter to George Washington (July 1776)

Letter to George Washington (25 July 1776), Long Island, New York.
  • I have just completed a brigade return for the vacancies in the different regiments. My brigade is so dispersed that it is difficult getting returns seasonably. I should have made this return yesterday, but could not get Colonel Hand's until last evening.
  • The outguards report nothing worthy your Excellency's notice this morning.
  • I am so confined, writing passes, etc., that it is impossible for me to attend to the duties of the day, which, in many instances, prejudices the service. Such a confined situation leaves one no opportunity of viewing things for themselves. It is recommended, by one of the greatest Generals of the age, not only to issue orders, but to see to the execution; for the army being composed of men of indolence, if the commander is not attentive to every individual in the different departments, the machine becomes dislocated, and the progress of business retarded.
  • The science or art of war requires a freedom of thought, and leisure to reflect upon the various incidents that daily occur, which cannot be had where the whole of one's time is engrossed in clerical employments. The time devoted to this employment is not the only injury I feel; but it confines my thoughts as well as engrosses my time. It is like a merchandise of small wares.
  • I must beg leave to recommend to your Excellency's consideration the appointing an officer to write and sign the necessary passes. The person I should wish to be appointed is Lieutenant Bio d get. If it was put in general orders, that passes signed by him should be deemed authentic, as if signed by me, it would leave me at liberty to pursue the more important employments of my station.
  • I hope your Excellency will not think this application results from a lazy habit, or a desire to free myself from business. Far from it. I am never more happy than when I am honorably or usefully employed. If your Excellency thinks I can promote the service as much in this employment as in any other, I shall cheerfully execute the business, without the least murmur.

Letter to George Washington (7 October 1776)

Letter to George Washington (7 October 1776), Fort Lee, New Jersey.
  • By an express from Major Clark, stationed at Dobbs's Ferry, I find the enemy are encamped right opposite, to the number of between three and four thousand; and the Major adds, from their disposition and search after boats, they design to cross the river. A frigate and two transports or provision-ships passed the chevaux-de-frise night before last.
  • They were prodigiously shattered, from the fire of our cannon. The same evening, Colonel Tupper attempted passing the ships with the petiaugres, loaded with flour. The enemy manned several barges, two tenders, and a row-galley, and attacked them. Our people ran the petiaugres ashore, and landed and defended them. The enemy attempted to land several times, but were repulsed. The fire lasted about an hour and a half, and the enemy moved off. Colonel Tupper still thinks he can transport the provision in flat-bottomed boats. A second attempt shall be speedily made. We lost one man, mortally wounded.
  • General Mercer writes me the Virginia troops are coming on. They are now at Trenton. He proposes an attack on Staten Island; but the motions of the enemy are such I think it necessary for them to come forward as fast as possible. On York Island, the enemy have taken possession of the hill, next to Spiten Devil. I think they will not be able to penetrate any farther. There appears to be about fifteen hundred of them.
  • From the enemy's motions, I should be apt to suspect they were retreating from your army, or at least altering their operations. Mr. Lovell, who is at last enlarged from his confinement, reports that Colonel Allen, his fellow prisoner, was informed that transports were getting in readiness to sail, at a moment's warning, sufficient to transport fifteen thousand men.
  • The officers of Colonel Hand's regiment are here, with enlisting orders. The officers of the Pennsylvania regiments think it a grievance (such of them as are commissioned for the new establishment), that officers of other regiments should have the privilege of enlisting their men before they get orders. I have stopped it until I learn your Excellency's pleasure. Governor Ewing is very much opposed to it.

Letter to George Washington (9 October 1776)

Letter to George Washington (9 October 1776), Fort Lee, New Jersey.
  • Your Excellency's letter of the 8th, this moment came to hand. I shall forward the letter to General Stevens by express. The stores at Dobbs's Ferry I had just given orders to the Quartermaster to prepare wagons to remove. I think the enemy will meet with some difficulty in crossing the river at Dobbs's Ferry. However, it is not best to trust too much to the expected difficulties they may meet there.
  • By the letter that will accompany this, and was to have gone last night by Major Mifflin, your Excellency will see what measures I took before your favor came to hand. The passing of the ships up the river is, to be sure, a full proof of the insufficiency of the obstructions in the river to stop the ships from going up; but that garrison employs double the number of men to invest it that we have to occupy it. They must keep troops at King's Bridge, to prevent a communication with the country; and they dare not leave a very small number, for fear our people should attack them.
  • Upon the whole, I cannot help thinking the garrison is of advantage; and I cannot conceive the garrison to be in any great danger. The men can be brought off at any time, but the stores may not be so easily removed; yet I think they can be got off, in spite of them, if matters grow desperate. This post is of no importance only in conjunction with Mount Washington. I was over there last evening. The enemy seem to be disposing matters to besiege the place; but Colonel Morgan thinks it will take them till December expires before they can carry it.
  • If the enemy do not find it an object of importance, they will not trouble themselves about it; if they do, it is open proof they feel an injury from our possessing it. Our giving it up will open a free communication with the country, by the way of King's Bridge, that must be a great advantage to them and injury to us. If the enemy cross the river, I shall follow your Excellency's advice respecting the cattle and -forage. Those measures, however cruel in appearance, were ever my maxims of war, in the defence of a country; in attacking, they would be very improper.
  • I shall collect our whole strength, and watch the motions of the enemy; and pursue such measures, for the future, as circumstances render necessary.
  • As I have your Excellency's permission, I shall order General Stephen on as far as Aquackanock, at least. That is an important pass. I am fortifying it as fast as possible.

Letter to George Washington (24 October 1776)

Letter to George Washington (24 October 1776), Fort Lee, New Jersey.
  • We have collected all the wagons in our power, and sent over. Our people have had extreme hard duty; the common guards, common fatigue, and the extraordinary guards and extraordinary fatigue, for the removal of the stores, and forwarding the provisions, have kept every man on duty.
  • General Putnam requested a party of men to re-enforce them at Mount Washington. I sent between two and three hundred of Colonel Durkee's regiment. Please to inform me whether your Excellency approves thereof.
  • We shall get a sufficient quantity of provisions over to-day for the garrison at Fort Washington. General Mifflin thinks it not advisable to pull the barracks down yet. lie has hopes of our army returning to that ground for winter-quarters. I think this would be running too great a risk to leave them standing in expectation of such an event.
  • There being several strong fortifications in and about King's Bridge, if the enemy should throw in a thousand or fifteen hundred men,, they could cut off our communication effectually; and, as the state of the barracks is, they would find exceeding good cover for the men. But if we were to take the barracks down, if the boards were not removed, it would, in a great measure, deprive them of that advantage. However, I have not had it in my power to do either as yet.
  • I have directed all the wagons that are on the other side to be employed in picking up the scattered boards about the encampments. I believe, from what I saw yesterday in riding over the grounds, they will amount to several thousands. As soon as we have got these together, I purpose to begin upon the barracks. In the mean time, I should be glad to know if your Excellency has any other orders to give respecting the business.
  • I have directed the Commissary and Quartermaster-General of this department to lay in provisions and provender, upon the back road to Philadelphia, for twenty thousand men for three months. The principal magazine will be at Aquackanock. I shall fortify it as soon as possible, and secure that post and the pass at the bridge, which is now repaired and fit for an army to pass over, with the baggage and artillery.
  • I rejoice to hear of the defeat of that vile traitor, Major Rogers, and his party of Tories, though I am exceeding sorry to hear it cost us so brave an officer as Major Greene.

Letter to George Washington (31 October 1776)

Letter to George Washington (31 October 1776), Fort Lee, New Jersey.
  • The enemy have possession of Fort Independence, on the heights above King's Bridge. They made their appearance the night before last. We had got every thing of value away. The bridges are cut down, and I gave Colonel Magaw orders to stop the road between the mountains.
  • I should be glad to know your Excellency's mind about holding all the ground from King's Bridge to the lower lines. If we attempt to hold the ground, the garrison must still be reenforced; but if the garrison is to draw into Mount Washington, and only keep that, the number of troops on the Island is too large.
  • We are not able to determine, with any certainty, whether those troops, that have taken post above King's Bridge, are the same troops or not that were in or about Haerlem. Several days past they clisap-peared from below, all at once, and some little time after about fifty boats, full of men, were seen going up towards Hunt's Point, and that evening the enemy were discovered at Fort Independence. We suspect them to be the same troops that were engaged in the Sunday skirmish.
  • Six officers, belonging to privateers that were taken by the enemy, made their escape last night. They inform me they were taken by the last fleet that came in. They had about six thousand foreign troops on board, one quarter of which had the black scurvy, and died very fast.
  • Seventy sail of transports and ships fell down to Red Hook. They were bound for Rhode Island, and had on board about three thousand troops. They also inform, that after the Sunday action an officer of Distinction was brought into the city, badly wounded.
  • The ships have come up the river to their station again, a little below their lines. Several deserters from Paulus Hook have come over. They all report that General Howe is wounded, as did those from the fleet. It appears to be a prevailing opinion in the land and sea service.
  • I forwarded your Excellency a return of troops at this post, and a copy of a plan for establishing magazines. I could wish to know your pleasure as to the magazines, as soon as possible.
  • The motions of the Grand Army will best deter mine the propriety of endeavouring to hold all the ground from King's Bridge to the lower lines. I shall be as much on the Island of York as possible, so as not to neglect the duties of my own department.

Letter to George Washington (July 1778)

Letter to George Washington (21 July 1778)
  • Your Excellency has made me very unhappy. I can submit very patiently to deserved censure; but it wounds my feelings exceedingly to meet with a rebuke for doing what I conceived to be a proper part of my duty, and in the order of things.
  • When I left your Excellency at Haverstraw, you desired me to go forward and reconnoitre the country, and fix upon some proper position to draw the troops together at, I was a stranger to all this part of the country, and could form no judgment of a proper place, until I had thoroughly examined the ground.
  • Croton River was the only place I could find suitable to the purpose, all circumstances being taken into consideration. I wrote your Excellency what I had done, and where I was, that if you had any thing in charge I might receive your orders. I wrote you the reasons for my not waiting upon you in person were, I had many letters to answer, and many matters to regulate in my department, which prevented me from returning. Besides which, it was almost half a day's ride, the weather exceeding hot, and myself not a little fatigued. And here I must observe, that neither my constitution nor strength is equal to constant exercise.
  • As I was a stranger to all the lower country, I thought it absolutely necessary for me to come for ward. A thorough knowledge of the country is not easily obtained; such a one, at least, as is necessary to fix upon the most eligible position for forming a camp. The security of the army, the ease and convenience of the troops, as well as to perform the du ties of my office with a degree of reputation, all conspired to make me wish to fix upon the properest ground for the purpose. This it was impossible for me to do, unless I came on before the troops. And I must confess I saw no objection, as your Excellency had wrote me nothing to the contrary, and what I wrote naturally led to such a measure.
  • I expected you on every hour, and was impatient to get forward that I might be able to give some account of the country when you came up. Before I left Crompond, I desired Mr. Pettit to wait upon you at your arrival, and take your orders, and if there was any thing special to forward it by express.
  • If I had neglected my duty in pursuit of pleasure, or if I had been wanting in respect to your Excellency, I would have put my hand upon my mouth, and been silent upon the occasion; but, as I am not conscious of being chargeable with either the one or the other, I cannot help thinking I have been treated with a degree of severity that I am in no respect deserving. And I would just observe here, that it is impossible for me to do my duty if I am always at head-quarters. I have ever given my attendance there as much as possible, both from a sense of duty and from inclination; but constant attendance is out of my power, unless I neglect all other matters; the propriety of which, and the consequences that will follow, I submit to your Excellency's consideration.
  • Your Excellency well knows how I came into this department. It was by your special request, and you must be sensible there is no other man upon earth would have brought me into the business but you. The distress the department was in, the disgrace that must accompany your operations without a change, and the difficulty of engaging a person capable of conducting the business, together with the hopes of meeting your approbation, and having your full aid and assistance, reconciled me to the undertaking.
  • I flatter myself, when your Excellency takes a, view of the state things were in when I first engaged, and consider the short time we had to make the preparations for the opening campaign, and reflect with what ease and facility you began your march from Valley Forge, and continued it all through the country r notwithstanding we went great part of the way entirely out of the line of preparations, you will do me the justice to say I have not been negligent or inattentive to my duty.
  • I have, in every respect, since I had my appointment, strove to accommodate the business of the department to the plan of jour Excellency's operations. And I can say, with great truth, that ever since I had the honor to serve under you, I have been more attentive to the public interest, and more engaged in the support of your Excellency's character, than ever I was to my own ease, interest, or reputation.
  • I have never solicited you for a furlough to go home to indulge in pleasure, or to improve my interest, which, by the by, I have neglected, going on four years. I have never confined myself to my particular line of duty only. Neither have I ever spared myself, either by night or day, where it has been necessary to promote the public service under your direction. I have never been troublesome to your Excellency, to publish any thing to my advantage, although I think myself as justly entitled as some others, who have been much more fortunate, particularly in the action of the Brandywine.
  • I have never suffered my pleasures to interfere with my duty; and 1 am persuaded I have given too many unequivocal proofs of my attachment to your person and interest, to leave a doubt upon your mind to the contrary. I have always given you my opinion with great candor, and executed your orders with equal fidelity. I do not mean to arrogate to myself more merit than I deserve, or wish to exculpate myself from being chargeable with error, and in some instances negligence. However, I can speak, with a becoming pride, that I have always endeavoured to deserve the public esteem, and your Excellency's approbation.
  • As I came into the Quarter-master's department with reluctance, so I shall leave it with pleasure. Your influence brought me in, and the want of your approbation will induce me to go out. I am very sensible of many deficiens, but this is not so justly chargeable to my intentions, as to the difficult circumstances attending the business. It is almost impossible to get good men for the con ducting all parts of so complex a business. It may,therefore, naturally be expected that many things will wear an unfavorable complexion; but, let who will undertake the business, they will find it very difficult, not to say impossible, to regulate it in such a manner as not to leave a door open for censure, and furnish a handle for reproach.

Letter to George Washington (August 1778)

Letter to George Washington (28 August 1778), Newport, Rhode Island.
  • Your Excellency's favor of the 21st came to hand the evening of the 25th.
  • In my last I communicated to your Excellency the departure of the Count D Estaing with his fleet, for Boston. This disagreeable event has, as I apprehend, ruined all our operations. It struck such a panic among the militia and volunteers, that they began to desert by shoals. The fleet no sooner set sail, than they began to be alarmed for their safety. This mis fortune damped the hopes of our army, and gave new spirits to that of the enemy.
  • We had a very respectable force, as to numbers; between eight and nine thousand, rank and file, upon the ground; but of these we attempted to select a particular corps to possess ourselves of the enemy's lines, partly by force, and partly by stratagem; but w r e could not make up the necessary number that was thought sufficient to warrant the attempt, which was five thousand, including the Continental and State troops. This body was to consist of men, who had been in actual service before, not less than nine months. However, the men were not to be had, and, if they could have been found, there was more against it than for it. Colonel Laurens was to have opened the passage by landing within the enemy's lines, and getting possession of a redoubt at the head of Easton's beach. If we had failed in the attempt, the whole party must have fallen a sacrifice, for their situation would have been such that there was no possibility of getting off.
  • I shall inclose your Excellency a plan of the enemy's works, and of their strength, from the best ac counts we are able to get. They have never been out of their lines since the siege began, till, night be fore last, Colonel Bruce came out with one hundred and fifty men, to take off a small picket of ours, posted at the neck of Easton's beach. He partly succeeded in the attempt, by the carelessness of the old guard. He came over after dark, and lay in ambush, that when the new guard went down to take their post, the enemy came upon their backs before they discovered them, it being very dark. We lost twenty-four privates and two subalterns. Ten of the picket got off.
  • Our strength is now reduced from nine thousand to between four and five thousand. All our heavy cannon on garrison carriages, and heavy and superfluous stores of every kind, are removed to the main, and to the north end of the Island, where we intend to intrench and attempt to hold it, and wait the chance of events. General Hancock is gone to Boston to forward the repairs of the fleet, and to prepare the mind of the Count for a speedy return. How far he will succeed, I cannot pretend to say. I think it a matter of some doubt yet, whether the enemy will reenforce, or take off this garrison. If they expect a superior fleet from Europe, they will reenforce ; but, if not, they will remove the garrison.
  • Your Excellency may rest assured, that I have done every thing in my power to cultivate and promote a good understanding, both with the Count and the Marquis, and flatter myself that I am upon very good terms with them both. The Marquis's great thirst for glory, and national attachment, often run him into errors. However, he did every thing to prevail on the Admiral to cooperate with us, that man could do. People censure the Admiral with great freedom, and many are imprudent enough to reproach the nation through the Admiral.
  • General Sullivan very imprudently issued something like a censure in general orders. Indeed, it was an absolute censure. It opened the mouths of the army in very clamorous strains. The General was obliged to explain it away in a few days. The fermentation seems to be now subsiding, and all things appear as if they would go smoothly on. The Marquis is going to Boston, also, to hasten the Count's return, and, if possible, to get the Erench troops to join the land forces here, which will more effectually interest the Count in the success of the expedition.
  • Five sail of British ships have got into Newport within two days past. We have heard nor seen no thing of the fleet of transports your Excellency mentioned, in your letter to General Sullivan of the 23d. If they arrive with a large reenforcement, our expedition is at an end, unless it is by way of blockade, and that will depend upon the French fleet's being superior to that of the British, General Sullivan has done every thing that could be expected, and had the fleet cooperated with us as was at first intended, and agreeably to the original plan of the expedition, we must have been successful.
  • I wish it was in my power to confirm General Sullivan's prediction of the 17th, but I cannot flatter my self with such an agreeable issue. I am sensible he is in common very sanguine, but his expectations were not ill-founded in the present case. We had every reason to hope for success, from our numbers, and from the enemy's fears. Indeed, General Pigot was heard to say, the garrison must fall, unless they were speedily relieved by a British fleet. *If we could have made a landing upon the south part of the town, two days would have put us in complete possession of it. Nothing was wanting to effect this, but the cooperation of the fleet and French forces. The disappointment is vexatious and truly mortifying. The garrison was so important, and the reduction so certain, that I cannot with patience think of the event. The French ship that was missing has got into Boston. The rest of the fleet have not got there yet, or at least we have no accounts of their arrival.
  • We are very anxious to learn the condition of Lord Howe's fleet. The French seventy-four that has got into Boston had an engagement with a British sixty-four. The Captain and Lieutenant of the former were both wounded; one lost a leg, the other an arm.
  • Our troops are in pretty good health, and well furnished with provisions, and every thing necessary for carrying on the expedition.
  • Our approaches were pushed on with great spirit, while we had any hopes of the fleet cooperating with us; but the people lost all relish for digging, after that. People are very anxious to hear the issue of General Lee's trial. Various are the conjectures; but everybody agrees he is not acquitted.
  • August olst. Camp Tiverton. I wrote the foregoing, and intended to have sent it by the express that went off in the morning, but while I was writing, I was informed the express was gone; and the change of situation and round of events that have since taken place, have prevented my forwarding what I had wrote, as matters seemed to be coming to a crisis.
  • On the evening of the 29th, the army fell back to the north end of the Island. The next morning, the enemy advanced upon us in two columns upon the east and west road. Our light troops, commanded by Colonel Livingston and Colonel Laurens, attacked the heads of the columns about seven o'clock in the morning, but were beat back they were reinforced with a regiment upon each road. The enemy still proved too strong. General Sullivan formed the army in order of battle, and resolved to wait their approach upon the ground we were encamped on, and sent orders to the light troops to fall back. The enemy came up and formed upon Quaker Hill, a very strong piece of ground, within about one mile and a quarter of our line. We were well posted, with strong works in our rear, and a strong redoubt in front, partly upon the right of the line.
  • In this position a warm cannonade commenced, and lasted for several hours, with continual skirmishes in front of both lines. About two o'clock the enemy began to advance in force upon our right, as if they intended to dislodge us from the advanced redoubt. I had the command of the right wing. After advancing four regiments, and finding the enemy still gaining ground, I advanced with two more regiments of regular troops, and a brigade of militia, and at the same time General Sullivan ordered Colonel Livings ton, with the light troops under his command, to advance.
  • We soon put the enemy to the rout, and I had the pleasure to see them run in worse disorder than they did at the battle of Monniouth. Our troops behaved with great spirit; and the brigade of militia, under the command of General Lovell, advanced with great resolution and in good order, and stood the fire of the enemy with great firmness. Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston, Colonel Jackson, and Colonel Henry B. Livingston, did themselves great honor in the transactions of the day; but it's not in my power to do justice to Colonel Laurens, who acted both the General and the partisan. His command of regular troops was small, but he did every thing possible to be done by their numbers. He had two most excellent officers with him, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry and Major Talbot.
  • The enemy fell back to their strong ground, and the day terminated with a cannonade and skirmishes. Both armies continued in their position all day yesterday, cannonading each other every now and then. Last night we effected a very good retreat, without the loss of men or stores.
  • We have not collected an account of the killed and wounded, but we judge our loss amounts to between two and three hundred, and that of the enemy, to much more.
  • We are going to be posted all round the shores as a guard upon them, and in that state to wait for the return of the fleet, which, by the by, I think will not be in a hurry. It is reported that Lord Howe arrived last night with his fleet and the re enforcement mentioned in your Excellency's letter to General Sullivan. If the report is true, we got off the island in very good season.
  • The Marquis went to Boston the day before the action, and did not return until last night, just as we were leaving the Island. He went to wait upon the Admiral, to learn his further intentions, and to get him to return again and complete the expedition, if possible.
  • I observe your Excellency thinks the enemy design to evacuate New York. If they should, I think they will Newport also; but I am persuaded they will do neither for the present.
  • I would write your Excellency a more particular account of the battle and retreat, but I imagine General Sullivan and Colonel Laurens have done it already, and I am myself very much unwell. I have had no sleep for three nights and days, being severely afflicted with the asthma.

Letter to George Washington (September 1778)

Letter to George Washington (16 September 1778), Boston, Massachusetts.
  • The growing extravagance of the people, and the increasing demand for the article of forage in this quarter, have become a very alarming affair. Hay is from sixty to eighty dollars a ton, and upon the rise.* Corn is ten dollars a bushel, and oats four; and every thing else, that will answer for forage, in that proportion. Carting is nine shillings a mile by the ton, and people much dissatisfied with the price. I have represented to the States of Rhode Island and Connecticut the absolute necessity of legislative interposition, to settle the prices of things upon some reasonable footing, of all such articles and services as are necessary for the use of the public in my department. I am going to do the same to the Council of this State. What effect it will have, I cannot say; but, if there is not something done to check the extravagance of the people, there are no funds in the universe that will equal the expense.
  • The late affray that happened in this place, between the people of the town and those of the fleet, has been found to originate from a parcel of soldiers belonging to the Convention troops, and a party of British sailors which were engaged on board a privateer. The secret enemies to our cause, and the British officers in the neighbourhood of this place, are endeavouring to sow the seeds of discord as much as possible between the inhabitants of the place and the French belonging to the fleet. The French officers are well satisfied this is the state of the case, and it fills them with double resentment against the British. The Admiral and all the French officers are now upon an exceeding good footing with the gentlemen of the town. General Hancock takes unwearied pains to promote a good understanding with the French officers. His house is full from morning till night.
  • I had a letter from the Marquis, day before yester day. He writes me he is endeavouring to represent every thing in the most favorable colors to the Court of France, in order to wipe away the prejudices that the letters of some of the more indiscreet may make upon that Court, All the French officers are extravagantly fond of your Excellency; but the Admiral more so than any of the rest. They all speak of you with the highest reverence and respect. General Hancock made the Admiral a present of your picture. He was going to receive it on board the fleet by the firing a royal salute. But General Hancock thought it might furnish a handle for some of the speculative politicians to remark the danger of characters becoming too important. He therefore dissuaded the Admiral from carrying the matter into execution.
  • I find, by your Excellency's letter to General Sullivan, that you expect the enemy are going to evacuate New York, and that it is probable they are coming eastward. I can hardly think they mean to make an attempt upon Boston, notwithstanding the object is important; and, unless they attack Boston,there is no other object worthy their attention in New England. I am rather inclined to think they mean to leave the United States altogether. What they hold here now, they hold at a great risk and expense. But, suppose they actually intend to quit the Continent, they will endeavour to mislead our attention, and that of our allies, until they can get clear of the coast. The Admiral is fortifying for the security of his fleet; but I am told his batteries are all open in the rear, which will be but a poor security against a land force. General Heath thinks there ought to be some Continental troops sent here : but the Council will not turn out the militia; they are so confident the enemy are not coming here. If your Excellency thinks the enemy really design an attack upon Boston, it may not be useless for you to write your opinion to the Council Board, for I suspect they think the General here has taken the alarm without sufficient reasons. The fortifications round this place are very incomplete, and little or nothing doing upon them. I have given General Heath my opinion what parts to take possession of, if the enemy should attempt the place before the Continental army gets up. From four to five hundred troops have arrived at Halifax; their collective strength will make a formidable army.
  • I wish to know your Excellency's pleasure about my returning to camp. I expect Mrs. Greene will be put to bed every day. She is very desirous of my stay until that event; and, as she has set her heart so much upon it, I could wish to gratify her, for fear of some disagreeable consequences, as women sometimes, under such circumstances, receive great injury by being disappointed.
  • General Sullivan granted me leave to come here upon the business of my department. I expect to return in a few days. Major Gibbs is with me, and is going to Portsmouth. This is the third letter I have wrote since I have had a line from your Excellency. Should be glad to hear from you when at leisure.

Letter to George Washington (24 April 1779)

Letter to George Washington (24 April 1779), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Your Excellency's favor of the 22d was delivered to me this afternoon. I am happy to find you have wrote so fully to Congress, upon the disagreeable consequences that may follow from starving the Quarter master's department at this critical season. I wish it may have the desired effect, and rouse their attention; but I must confess I am afraid the stupor is so great, that nothing can alarm their fears, or pro mote a spirit of industry.
  • I had but very little prospect, from my own application, of obtaining the necessary supplies of cash. What additional influence your Excellency's letter will give to my reasons and representation, time only can manifest.
  • The treasury appears to be hard pressed on every side; and the demands of this time are infinitely greater than it is in their power to satisfy with the greatest exertions, upon the present plan of striking money. The truth of the affair is, there has been a great degree of negligence and want of timely attention, to prepare seasonably for the present demands. When I was in town in the winter, I reported to the Treasury Board what I thought would be absolutely necessary for the Quarter-master's department to the 2d of March; not one half of which have we been able to get, although every thing has been urged to induce them to supply our wants.
  • On my arrival here, I laid your Excellency's letter respecting wagoners, before a Committee of Congress. They immediately confirmed it by a resolution, not withstanding they had been hammering upon the business for almost two months, off and on; and finally had put it (before the receipt of your letter) upon a very restrictive plan.
  • The business of financing is in a poor way. There is no plan found, or scheme digested, for mending our money. There are a thousand projects on foot; but none appears to be taken up on a practical footing.
  • There are complaints and murmurings in Congress against the people of this State, and the people of the State complain against the proceedings of Congress. It is said, days and weeks together are spent upon the most trifling disputes in the world; and those generally of a personal nature. What will be the issue of this policy", I know not.
  • I have wrote circular letters to all the deputies in my department on the east side of the Susquehanna, to enlist as many wagoners as they possibly can by the middle of next month; and to have all the pub lic teams forwarded so as to be in camp by that time. I expect our wagon-horses will fall short, as our agents have but a scanty supply of money. However, I will do the best I can.
  • I wish to know whether I must increase the number of pack-horses. Orders have been given for one thousand; but General Sullivan thinks near five hundred more will be wanted. It does not appear so to me; but I am not a good judge of the business. The Board of War are out of lead; and I fear the ammunition will not be ready. This is only conjectural.
  • I wrote your Excellency before, that the Minister of France sets out for camp on Tuesday next. Don Juan will accompany him. There is a French ship just arrived from the West Indies; but I cannot learn that she brings any thing new.
  • I intended to have set out for camp to-morrow, but I believe I shall not be ready until Monday in the forenoon. I have desired Congress to give me leave to resign, as I apprehended a loss of reputation, if I continued in the business. They are not disposed to grant my request at all. But unless they change their system, or publish their approbation upon the present, I shall not remain long in the business. I will not sacrifice my reputation for any consideration whatever. I am willing to serve the public; but I think I have a right to choose that way of performing the service which will be most honorable to myself. I should be willing to serve in the department I am in for a proper consideration, if I could serve without the loss of reputation; but not without.
  • I believe it has been a received opinion, that I was so very fond of the emoluments of the Quarter master's office, that nothing but absolute necessity would induce me to quit it, I will not deny but that the profits are flattering to my fortune, but not less humbling to my military pride; and he who has entertained such sentiments is a stranger to my feelings. While I had a prospect of pleasing your Excellency, the army, and the Congress, the service was agreeable; but if a combination of circumstances changes these prospects, nothing shall induce me to continue in the business, even if the profits were made five times as large as they are.
  • There is a great difference between being raised to an office and descending to one; which is my case. There is also a great difference between serving where you have a fair prospect of honor and laurels, and where you have no prospect of either, let you discharge your duty ever so well. Nobody ever heard of a Quarter-master in history, as such, or in relating any brilliant action. I engaged in this business as well out of compassion to your Excellency as from a regard to the public. I thought your task too great, to be Commander-in-chief and Quarter-master at the same time. Money was not my motive. For you may remember I offered to serve a year unconnected with the accounts, without any additional pay to that which I had as Major-General. However, this proposition was rejected as inadmissible. Then I told the Committee that I would serve upon the same terms that Mr. Cox and Mr. Pettit could be engaged upon; and I have nothing more now, although I have a double share of duty, and am held responsible for all failures.
  • Before I came into the department, your Excellency was obliged often to stand Quarter-master. However capable the principal was of doing his duty, he was hardly ever with you. The line and the staff were at war with each other. The country had been plundered in a way that would now breed a kind of civil war between the staff and the inhabitants. The manner of my engaging in this business, and your Excellency's declaration to the Committee of Congress, that you would stand Quarter-master no longer, are circumstances which I wish may not be forgotten; as I may have occasion, at some future day, to appeal to your Excellency for my own justification. One thing I can say, with truth and sincerity, that I have conducted the business with as much prudence and economy, as if my private fortune had been answerable for the disbursements. And I believe your Excellency will do me the justice to say, the department has cooperated with your measures as far as circumstances were to be governed by me; and this you had reason to apprehend would not have been the case had I not taken direction of the business. And here, in justice to my colleagues, I shall mention that I think them entitled to your Excellency's personal esteem, from the warmth of their wishes, and a desire to promote your ease and convenience.
  • I am more acquainted with Mr. Pettit's mode of doing business than I am with Mr. Cox's; but I think the public under great obligations to the for mer for his method and economy.

Letter to George Washington (26 April 1779)

Letter to George Washington (26 April 1779), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Your Excellency's favor of the 24th I had the honor of receiving last evening. I dined yesterday with the Minister of France, and find him still deter mined to set out for camp to-morrow. He sets out at seven in the morning, and intends lodging at Trenton. On Wednesday, he will be in camp, if no accident attends him; but at what hour, cannot be ascertained, as the place he dines at is not yet determined on. I intend to wait upon him some time this morning, and learn more particularly his stages. Don Juan accompanies him.
  • I thank your Excellency for your generous and obliging offer. Most certain, my inclination leads me to a resignation. My reputation I value more than any advantages of gain; and I consider it in great danger. I wrote your Excellency lengthy upon this subject yesterday, and therefore shall say but little upon it to-day. I intend to write to Congress to day, upon the subject of my apprehensions and determination; and, if they do not give me those kinds of assurances, which are necessary to guard my reputation from malice and detraction. I shall insist upon leaving the business. The politics of Congress are really alarming, and the state of the finances astonishing; where they will end, time only can unfold.
  • Mr. Holker made many inquiries yesterday, respecting the temper and disposition of our army. He seemed desirous to know, whether peace, upon a plan of independence agreeable to the state of the alliance, would be satisfactory ; the fishery to be con fined to the limits of the States. This would well nigh ruin the Eastern States. Upon the whole, I think there have been some overtures made upon the subject of peace. It is said Russia on the part of England, and Spain on the part of France, are to stand mediators. This is merely conjectural. Mr. Jay says the Congress have no official propositions of peace; but I believe it is beyond a doubt there have been debates upon the subject for several days past, particularly with regard to the fishery.
  • I spent last evening with Governor Reed. I took occasion to hint that General Sullivan was to command the western expedition. lie took the alarm at once, and insisted he had no hopes of success, if he was to direct the operations. So deep are the prejudices of human nature. I had several hours conversation with him; and, I believe, satisfied him, as far as is possible, that the appointment was the result of the maturest deliberation. We were in private.
  • If I leave the Quarter-master's department, I should be glad of the South Carolina appointment. How ever, I shall wish to consult your Excellency upon the affair.
  • We have an agreeable piece of intelligence from the eastward; which is, that Colonel Campbell and thirty or forty officers, and six or eight sail of transports, bound to Europe, were taken lately, by a couple of our frigates, and carried into Boston.
  • I had letters, last night, from South Carolina, which indicate a great disgust between the State and the Congress. They think themselves neglected. There is a large number of public vessels now on pay in the harbour, loaded with rice, which want to sail; but the State is so much soured, that they will not grant exclusive privileges to the Continental vessels from the embargo. The express is waiting.

Letter to George Washington (November 1779)

Letter to George Washington (14 November 1779), West Point, New York.
  • Your Excellency undoubtedly has frequently had under consideration a proper position for winter-quarters. It is not always in the power of a General to take a position most favorable to his wishes, on ac count of provision and forage, or to place himself in the most advantageous point of view for covering the country and securing his capital posts. A certainty with respect to provision and forage is an object of the first consideration in taking a position. All inferior evils, of whatever nature, may, in some sort, be remedied by foresight and precaution; but there is no contending with hunger. Therefore, what would be considered only as secondary objects in some cases, become principals here.
  • In the choice of a position, we must pay some regard to the enemy's collected force, and to our divided condition, in which the army must of necessity be cantoned. The enemy now appear to be putting their troops into winter-quarters; but it cannot be supposed they will remain inactive all winter, if we, by the manner of cantoning the army, open to them an opportunity of insulting us to advantage. The mischievous consequences of having our quarters beat up, in the dead of winter, cannot readily be foreseen. That it would be their duty and interest to lay hold of such an opportunity, nobody can deny; and that the character of the General, and many national circumstances, lead to the supposition, must be agreed to. It is necessary, therefore, to take a position which will secure us from a surprise, and have as much force together as possible, to free us from insult. The place where, and the force necessary, to these ends, are the two capital points to decide upon.
  • The command of the North River is an object of such importance, that the force and supplies necessary for this purpose must be had at all events. The force requisite for these garrisons, I suppose, has been very judiciously calculated by General Duportail; and I imagine there cannot be any great variation from his report.
  • Your Excellency will find, after detaching a proper force for this place, a covering party for the State of Connecticut, and the other necessary guards for King's Ferry, stores, and posts of communication, your force will be greatly inferior to that of the enemy; and it will be growing more and more so as the service of the soldiers expires. It will be necessary, therefore, to endeavour to remedy, by the strength of ground, the deficiency of force.
  • I have no doubt but that every State bordering upon the enemy, will apply for a proper force, to protect them against their ravages. To comply with these demands, will hard the safety of the whole army. Divide your force,, and you will fall a prey in every quarter; and, I am persuaded, were you to adopt the plan which would be most flattering to the wishes of the people, it would be so far from affording them that protection and security which they promise themselves, that it would become one of the principal causes of the enemy's making inroads, and committing depredations upon them.
  • There can be but two modes of cantonment, to prevent the enemy from disturbing us in quarters. One is, to keep such a force together as to bid defiance to all their menaces; the other is, to disperse the troops in such a manner as to afford no object. The first is infinitely the most favorable to discipline and economy. To disperse the troops among the inhabitants, will be attended with a certain loss of discipline to the soldiers and a general corruption of manners among the people. They will mutually debauch each other. Besides these disadvantages, the expense and waste of stores will be nearly double, and a great addition to the list of Staff Officers (al ready too numerous from the state of our money) will be found necessary. For these, and many other reasons too obvious to need explanation, dispersing the troops should be avoided at all events.
  • Whatever covering is given to any part of the country, except where the principal force is stationed, should be so calculated as to be able to check the enemy's small ravaging parties, and yet not be an object worthy any considerable movement of theirs.
  • From the representation of both the Commissary-General and the Foragemaster-General, I find your Excellency will be obliged to quarter the troops in New Jersey. The great consumption of forage, that has taken place in this State for five months past, will render it very difficult to provide for this garrison, and the different posts of communication.
  • In cantoning the troops and drawing supplies for their subsistence, it may not be amiss to have an eye to the affair of next campaign. The expense and difficulty of transportation from the Western States, your Excellency is perfectly acquainted with. You are also sensible that the long tract of barren country, through which the supplies must come, will only admit of a certain quantity of transportation; therefore I conceive, that good policy points out the necessity of keeping as many stores in reserve in this State as possible. This is necessary, not only to be prepared for any emergency that may happen from the enemy's turning their force against the Eastern States, but to have a magazine in readiness for a secret purpose, which your Excellency hinted to me a few days since.
  • The further we move our main force to the westward, and still be within supporting distance of this garrison, the better, both for the preservation of the provision and forage of this State, as well as to les sen the general expense of transportation. And the greater stock of provision and forage we can leave in this State, and upon the communications, the less difficulty we shall find in giving support to this place, should the enemy approach it. I should re commend, therefore, to quarter the army as far wesir ward as Morristown or Baskingridge. The country is strong, secure from a surprise, happily situated to receive supplies of provisions and forage, and not very inconvenient for giving protection and cover to the inhabitants. It is true, it is considerably removed from this place. But were we to take a position at Suffern's or Pompton, the consumption of forage would be so great that it would destroy the possibility of keeping up a communication with the Western States, however pressing the necessity, before the grass sea son. Suppose the enemy should move up, early in the spring, and lay siege to West Point, and the supplies of this State prove unequal to our support, should we not be obliged to abandon it to its fate?
  • There is another objection to the Suffern's or Pompton position, which is, the advantage it gives the enemy of dividing our attention, by taking post at King's Ferry. It will be impossible for us to deter mine which is their object, the camp or West Point; and it will be almost as dangerous to expose our camp as these garrisons, especially early in the spring, when we have all our baggage about us, and no possibility of moving it off. If we take a position near Morris, we can always tell, by the motions of the enemy, what is their object; and, having our camp in a secure situation, should they turn their force to wards this place, we can march to its relief in such force as to give certain support, and at the same time leave our camp in perfect security.
  • The fortifications here are so strong, and the garrison will be so numerous, that I think we have but little to fear, either from a surprise or storm; and therefore we have only to guard against an investiture or siege.
  • As the enemy have the advantage of a water transportation, and the spring is the most difficult part of the year for a land conveyance, it is most probable, if they have any designs upon this post, they will commence their operations before the grass season. Will it not be worth while, therefore, to form a small magazine of provision and forage, at or near Mr. Erskine's Iron Works, for the purpose of subsisting the army on their march to this place? And another considerable magazine of provision and forage at Chester or Warwick for the support of this army in whatever position it may take for the relief of this garrison? These magazines should be formed from the westward, in the winter season, when there is the least call for transportation, and the roads the most favorable for the purpose.
  • I imagine there will be great interest made for the eastern troops to be posted on the east side of the North River, to favor their recruiting. These reasons have something plausible in them, but I have my doubts with respect to their truth and reality. Men, when they are near home, are much more influenced by domestic attachments than they are when they are at a great distance. The friends and relations of the soldiers very seldom use their influence to engage them in the service. On the contrary, they commonly make use of every argument to dissuade them from it. I am of opinion, therefore, the further the troops are removed from home, the more favorable it will be to the recruiting service in camp.
  • There is but one reason for cantoning the eastern troops on the east side of the North River; and that is, they are more convenient to receive their State stores. But this is so trifling a consideration, that it ought to have no weight, when it is opposed to so many more important considerations.
  • My present opinion favors the following disposition of the troops for winter-quarters. The garrison here should consist of Patterson's, Learned's, Clinton's, and the North Carolina brigades, which, I believe, will forma force sufficient for the purpose. If the horse is posted in Connecticut, as seems to be thought on, I think the troops coming from Rhode Island, in con junction with the horse, will form a sufficient covering party for the exposed parts of Connecticut and Westchester. I would only wish Clinton's brigade to be here, because it may interest the inhabitants to furnish supplies in the winter, and to encourage the militia to turn out with spirit, should the enemy make a sudden move towards the post. The connection between the army and country will have an influence in both these respects.
  • The Delaware regiment can furnish guards for King's Ferry, and the stores at Ilingwood, should your Excellency think proper to establish a magazine there. I mention this regiment for this service, be cause it seems to be unconnected with any brigades; or, at least, the Maryland brigades are complete with out it.
  • The rest of the troops I would quarter, as before mentioned, somewhere not far distant from Morris or Baskingridge, according as wood and water may favor a position.
  • Should the enemy make any considerable detachments from New York, a larger covering party may be necessary for the State of Connecticut, as I should have more apprehensions of their committing depredations, if they detach, than if they do not; for then they will have nothing left but to play the small game.
  • The earlier the position is fixed upon, the better for quartering the army. I wish your Excellency,therefore, as soon as you have decided in your mind the places and force requisite for each side of the North River, and the garrison for these fortifications, would please to acquaint me therewith, as it will be a more perfect guide to my conduct, in making the preparations for cantoning the army.

Letter to George Washington (January 1780)

Letter to George Washington (January 1780), Morristown, New Jersey.
  • The situation of my department has been, for a long time, peculiarly embarrassed. My greatest solicitude and efforts have scarcely satisfied the common exigencies of the service; and I have the mortification to find that, in spite of all my endeavours, the difficulties are every day increasing.
  • I have repeatedly mentioned to your Excellency, for some months past, that the supplies of money furnished the department were very unequal to the current expenses. I have all along flattered myself that affairs would take a new and more favorable turn. As Congress were deliberating upon the subject of finance, I was led to believe that the schemes and plans they were adopting would afford more ample relief; and have encouraged the agents, under such an expectation, to proceed in the execution of the business. They have been enabled to extend their credit thus far, so as to keep the wheels in motion, hoping not to fail until government could find ways and means for furnishing us with cash more adequate to the demands.
  • But whatever grounds I supposed there were for authorizing such expectations, I now find they were vain and nugatory. The cloud thickens, and the prospects are daily growing darker. There is now no hope of cash. The agents are loaded with heavy debts, and perplexed with half-finished contracts, and the people clamorous for their pay, refusing to proceed in the public business unless their present demands are discharged. The constant run of expenses, incident to the department, presses hard for further credit., or immediate supplies of money. To extend one, is impossible; to obtain the other, we have not the least prospect. I see nothing, therefore, but a general check, if not an absolute stop, to the progress of every branch of business in the whole department, I have little reason to hope that, with the most favorable disposition in the agents, it will be in our power to provide for the occasional demands of the army in their present cantonments; much less, to have in readiness the necessary apparatus, and supplies of different kinds, for putting the army in motion at the opening of the campaign. My apprehensions of a failure in these respects are so strong, and my anxiety for the consequences so great, that I feel it my duty once more to represent to your Excellency our circumstances and prospects. From such a view of our situation, you may be led not to expect more from us than we are able to perform, and may have time to take your measures consequent upon such information.
  • I know not whether government can command such sums of money as are necessary for the current expenses of the nation; but it is a folly to expect that this expensive department can be long supported on credit. A further attempt would only bring ruin and distress upon ourselves, without affording any substantial advantage, either to the public or the army; and, therefore, I think it highly necessary, as all military movements are under your immediate direction, and as the affairs of this department are intimately connected with all the active operations, that you should have a right understanding with Administration, with respect to the support they can give. in executing the measures you may think proper to take. There is no deficiency in the resources of the country. On the contrary, I have authentic reasons to conclude the country is more plentifully stored with every material necessary for the provision and support of an army, than it has been for three years past. The defect lies in a want of proper means to draw them into public use. I cannot see how a remedy will be applied to this evil in the present management of finance. The wretched state in which that is involved, creates obstructions, and an accumulation of expenses in every branch of the department.
  • Hitherto our principal difficulty has arose from a want of proper supplies of money, and from the inefficacy of that which we obtained; but now there appears a scene opening which will introduce new embarrassments. The Congress have recommended to the different States to take upon themselves the furnishing certain species of supplies for our department. The recommendation falls far short of the general detail of the business, the difficulty of ad justing which, between the different agents as well as the different authorities from which they derive their appointments, I am very apprehensive will introduce some jarring interests, many improper disputes, as well as dangerous delays. Few persons, who have not a competent knowledge of this employment, can form any tolerable idea of the arrangements necessary to give despatch and success in discharging the duties of the office, or see the necessity for certain relations and dependencies. The great exertions which are frequently necessary to be made, require the whole machine to be moved by one common interest, and directed to one general end. How far the present measures, recommended to the different States, are calculated to promote these desirable purposes, I cannot pretend to say; but there appears to me such a maze, from the mixed modes adopted by some States, and about to be adopted by others, that I cannot see the channels, through which the business may be conducted, free from disorder and confusion.
  • It would be a folly for me to attempt to change the general disposition of mankind, or to flatter my self with the hopes of a different conduct from those who may be employed in the various branches of the department, than what is known to influence and govern men. If experiments are necessary, I have not the least objections to their being made; but I cannot agree to be responsible for the consequences. If government is distressed, and these expedients are requisite for her relief, my aid shall not be wanting, during my stay in the department, to give them a fair and full operation; but I cannot say that I think they will either answer the expectations of the public, or prove competent to the demands of the army.
  • It cannot be more disagreeable to your Excellency to receive, than it is to me to make, so unfavorable a representation. I have left no steps unattempted, that appeared calculated to put affairs on a more prosperous footing; and I have hoped that every succeeding account would be more promising than the last. I should betray my trust, were I to amuse your Excellency with hopes and encouragements; and I beg that this description of my department may not only be considered as justly drawn, but dictated by motives of duty, and aiming at the advantage of the public.
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