Nathaniel Greene to Samuel Huntington 4/22/1781
Papers of the Congressional Congress M247 roll 175 vol 2 pg. 39
National Archives & Records Administration
Transcribed by Billy Markland
Camp before Camden
April 22d 1781
In my last I informed your Excellency of Lord Cornwallis's precipitate retreat from deep River, of the situation of our Army for the want of Provisions, and of the Virginia Militia's time of service having expired, which reduced our numbers greatly inferior to the Enemys. Finding that I had not a force to pursue them further, and that our Army could not be subsisted either on the route the Enemy had marched, or in the lower Country, I thought it most adviseable [sic] to push my operations into South Carolina to recover the expiring hopes of the People, to divide with the Enemy the Supplies of the Country, of which they had the entire command, to break up their little posts of communication, and if possible oblige Lord Cornwallis to return to the State for their protection. This last was the great object of the movement and had we a force to prosecute the plan, I persuade myself it would take effect, but for want of which the matter remains doubtful. Upwards of five Months have I been in this department with nothing but the shattered remains of a routed Army, except the addition of Col. Lee's Legion and a couple of small detachments from Virginia, amounting to little more than a Regiment, and those without discipline, or even Officers to command them. In this situation with a temporary aid of Militia, we have been struggling with every unequal force under every possible disadvantage, and surrounded with every kind of distress.
We have run every hazard and been exposed to every danger not only of being beaten, but of being totally ruined. I have been anxiously waiting for succour [sic], but the prospect appears to me to be remote, except the temporary aid of Militia, which is too precarious and uncertain to commence any serious offensive operations upon.
The more I enquire into the natural strength of North and South Carolina, either to form or support an Army, the more I am persuaded they have been greatly over rated. More of the Inhabitants appear in the Kings interest than in ours, and the Country is so extensive and thinly inhabited that it is not easy either to draw any considerable force together, or subsist them when collected. The Militia in our interest can do little more than keep Tories in subjection and in many places not that. These States were in a better condition to make serious exertions last Campaign than this; the well affected last year spent their time and their substance in fruitless exertions, and finding themselves unequal to the conflict and their familys [sic] being exposed and in distress, hundreds and hundreds of the best Whigs have left the Country. Last year it was full of resources, this year it is almost totally exhausted, and the little produce that remains lies so remote, and the means of transportation so difficult to command, that it is next to an impossibility to collect it.
The Enemy have got a firmer footing in the Southern States than is generally expected, Camden, Ninety six, and Augusta cover all the fertile parts of South Carolina and Georgia, and they are laying waste the Country above them, which will effectually secure those posts as no Army can be subsisted in the neighbourhood to operate against them. Below, they have a great many intermediate posts of communications, for the purpose of awing the Country and commanding its supplies. Nor can I see how we are to reduce those capital posts but with a superior Army in the field. I wish Congress not to be deceived respecting the situation of things in the Southern department, and therefore I hope they will excuse the freedom I take. If more effectual support cannot be given than has been, or as I can see any prospect of, I am very apprehensive that the Enemy will hold their ground, not only of the Sea Ports but the interior Country. The conflict may continue for some time longer, and Generals Sumter and Marion deserve great credit for their exertions and perseverance, but their endeavors rather serve to keep the contest alive than lay a foundation for the recovery of the States.
We began our march from deep River on the 7th, and arrived in the neighbourhood of Camden on the 19th. All the Country through which we past is disaffected, and the same Guards and escorts were necessary to collect provisions and forage, as if in an open and avowed Enemies Country.
On our arrival at Camden we took post at [Log?] Town, about half a mile in front of their Works, which upon reconnoitering were found to be much stronger than had been represented, and the garrison much larger. The Town is upon a plane covered on two sides by the River Wateree and Pinetree Creek, the other two sides by a chain of strong Redoubts all nearly of the same size, and independent of each other. Our force was too small either to invest the Town or storm the Works, which obliged us to take a position at a little distance from it.
Before we began our march from deep River I detached Lieut. Col. Lee with his Legion and part of the 2d Maryland Regiment to join General Marion to invest the Enemys posts of communication upon the Santee, and one of their posts is now invested called fort Watson, and must fall if not releived [sic] by a detachment of Lord Cornwallis's Army.
I have been greatly disappointed in the force I expect to operate with me. Fifteen hundred Virginia Militia were called for immediately after the Battle of Gilford [sic], having this present movement in contemplation at the time, and the State gave an order for a greater number than was required, but the busy Season of the Year, and the great distance they have to [move?] prevents their coming to our assistance in time, if not in force. General Sumter also engaged to have 1000 Men in the field by the 18th to operate with us, but the difficulty of collecting the Militia from the disagreeable situation of their Families, has prevented their embodying yet in any considerable force. These disappointments lay us under many disadvantages to say nothing worse. The Country is extremely difficult to operate in, being much cut to pieces by deep Creeks, and impassible morasses; and many parts are covered with such heavy timber and thick under brush as exposes an Army, and particularly detachments to frequent surprises.
The Service has been so severe that it will be absolutely necessary to give the Army some relaxation soon; and therefore I lament the delay which is occasioned at this time for want of sufficient force to invest all the Enemy posts of communication. Our numbers are so reduced by the different Actions and Skirmishes which have happened and by the fatigue and hardship of the Service, that we have but the shadow of an Army remaining; and this we are obliged to divide, to push our operations to any effect, tho' it is attended with danger, and may prove our ruin.
I am extremely mortifyed [sic] at the disappointment, which happened in Virginia in the plan of co-operation against Portsmouth between our good Ally [sic], and the Marquis de la Fayette. Success there would have given us great relief here, and I am persuaded that nothing can recover this Country out of the hands of the Enemy, but a similar plan in the Southern States. At present the Enemy have as full possession of Georgia and almost the whole of South Carolina as they can wish. The last accounts I had from Lord Cornwallis he lay at Wilmington, and his Army it was said was getting very sickly.
I do myself the honor to inclose [sic] Genl. Lillingtons report respecting the Bladen Militia, Genl. Pickens's [sic] report of Major Dunlaps defeat by Col. Clarke, Genl. Marions report of a part of Col. Watsons detachment defeated by Col. Horee [sic].
I have the honor to be with great respect
Most obedt. Humble Servt.