Letter from Nathanael Greene to Joseph Reed (1781)

No study questions

Dear Sir

I have been too much engaged since the enemy crossed the Catabaw to keep up my correspondence regularly with you.

I have had the pleasure to receive several letters from you but no opportunity to answer them. To the best of my remembrance the last time I wrote you was at the Pedee just after Tarlton defeat wherein I informed you that notwithstanding that success we had little to hope and much to fear. The operations since has verified my apprehensions. North Carolinia has been as nearly reducd as ever a State was in the universe and escape. Our force was so small and Lord Cornwallises movments were so rapid that we get no reinforcments of Militia and therefore were obligd to retire out of the State. Upon which the spirits of the people sunk and almost all classes of the Inhabitants gave themselves up for lost. They would not believe themselves in danger until they found ruin at their doors. The foolish prejudice of the formidableness of the Militia being a sufficient barrier against any attempts of the enemy, prevented the Legislator from making any exertions equal to their critical and dangerous situation. Experience has convinced them of their false security. It is astonishing to me how these people could place such a confidence in a Militia scattered over the face of the whole Earth and generally destitute of every thing necessary to their own defences. The Militia in the back Country are formidable, the others are not, and all are very ungovernable and difficult to keep together. As they have generally come out 20,000 might be in motion and not 500 in the field.

After crossing the Dan, and collecting a few Virginia Militia, finding the Enemy had erected their Standard at Hillsborough, and the people began to flock to it from all quarters, either for protections or to engage in their service, I determined to recross at all hazards; and it was very fortunate that I did otherwise Lord Cornwallis would have got several thousand recruits. Seven companies were enlisted in one day. Our situation was desperate at the time we recrossed the Dan, our numbers were much inferior to the enemy, and we were without ammunition provisions or Stores of any kind, the whole having retird over the Stanton River. However, I thought it was best to put on a good face and make the most of appearances. Lt Col Lees falling in with the Tories upon the Haw almost put a total stop to their recruiting service. Our numbers were doubtless greatly magnified and pushing on boldly towards Hillsborough led Lord Cornwallis into a belief that I meant to attack him whereever I could find him. The case was widely different: It was certain I could not fight him in a general action without almost certain ruin. To skirmish with him was my only chance. Those happened dayly, and the enemy sufferd considerably. But our Militia coming out principally upon the footing of Volunteers, they file off dayly after every skirmish, and went home to tell the news. In this situation with an inferior force, I kept constantly in the neighbourhood of Lord Cornwallis, until the 6th when he made a rapid push at our Light Infantry, commanded by Col Williams, who very judiciously avoided the blow. This Manoeuver of the enemy obligd me to change my position. Indeed I rarely ever lay more than two days in a place. The Country being much of a wilderness obligd the enemy to guard carefully against a surprize, and rendered it difficult to surprise us. We had few Waggons with us, no baggage, and only Tents enough to secure our Arms in case of a washing rain.

Here has been the field for the exercise of Genius, and an opportunity to practice all the great and little arts of war. Fortunately we have blunderd through without meeting with any capitol Misfortune. On the 11th of this month I formed a junction at the High Rock Ford with a considerable body of Virginia and North Carolinia Militia, and with a Virginia Regiment of 18 Months Men. Our force being now much more considerable than it had been, and upon a more permanent footing, I took the determination of giving the enemy battle, without loss of time and made the necessary dispositions accordingly. The battle was fought at or near Guilford Courthouse, the very place from whence we began our retreat after the light Infantry joined the Army from the Pedee. The battle was long, obstinate, and bloody. We were obligd to give up the ground, and lost our Artillery. But the enemy have been so soundly beaten, that they dare not move towards us since the action; notwithstanding we lay within ten Miles of them for two days. Except the ground and the Artillery they have gained no advantage, on the contrary they are little short of being ruined. The enemies loss in killed and wounded cannot be less than between 6 & 700. Perhaps more. Victory was long doubtful; and had the North Carlonia Militia done their duty it was certain. They had the most advantageous position I ever saw, and left it without making scarcely the shadow of opposition. Their General and field Officers exerted themselves but the Men would not stand. Many threw away their Arms and fled with the utmost precipitation; even before a gun was fird at them. The Virginia Militia behavd nobly and annoyed the enemy greatly. The horse at different times in the course of the day performed wonders. Indeed the horse is our great safe guard, and without them the Militia could not keep the field in this Country. Col Williams who acts as Adjutant General was very active and to this Officer I am greatly indebted for his assistance. Burnet is one of first Young Men I ever saw and will make one of the greatest Military charactors. I am happy in the confidence of this Army and tho unfortunate I lose none of their esteem. Never did an Army labour under so many disadvantages as They; but the fortitude and patience of the Officers and Soldiery rises superior to all difficulties. We have little to eat, less to drink, and lodge in the woods in the midst of smoke. Indeed our fatigue is excessive. I was so much overcome night before last that I fainted.

Our Army is in good spirits; but the Militia are leaving us in great numbers, to return home to kiss their wives and sweet hearts.

I have never felt an easy moment since the enemy crossed the Catabaw until since the defeat of the 15th; but now I am perfectly easy, being perswaded it is out of the enemies power to do us any great injury. Indeed I think they will retire as soon as they can get off their wounded.

My love to your family and all friends.

You will please to accept this short account until I have a better opportunity to write you.

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