Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Timeline
Timeline Home Page
The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Southern Phase, 1778-1781
Washington to General Benjamin Lincoln, July 30, 1779

In late December 1778, the British occupied Savannah, Georgia; a month later they occupied Augusta. To counter British moves in the South, Southern delegates to Congress urged General Benjamin Lincoln's appointment to command Continental forces in that department. Subsequently, Lincoln wrote Washington concerning the sad state of affairs in the south. In the following letter from Washington to Lincoln, how does Washington assess the situation in the South? Besides the South, what other strategic concerns influenced Washington's views?

View the original document from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

My Dear Sir: Some days since Major Rice delivered me your letter of the 5th of June last. I am sorry to hear that Col Laurens received a wound, so soon after his arrival with you; as it prevented his following the dictates of his zeal and rendering the service for which he is qualified, at a moment very interesting to his country and to his own feelings. But I am happy to hear that it was slight and that it will not be long an obstacle to his wishes. I sincerely sympathize with you, my Dear Sir, in the disagreeable aspect of our affairs to the Southward, and in the embarrassments to which your situation must necessarily expose you. Had it been possible to have afforded you any succours from the army under my command; you may be assured, that public and personal motives would have equally induced me to do it. But you are not unacquainted with the insufficiency of our means every where, and the States in general seem to have been for some time past in a profound sleep. They have been amusing themselves with idle dreams of peace; and have scarcely made any exertions for the war. 'Till within a fortnight this army has scarcely received a single recruit, though a large part of it dissolved in the course of the last winter and spring by the expiration of the term of service for which the men were engaged. We have now a prospect of a thousand or fifteen hundred levies, at enormous bounties, for nine months from the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut which make up our whole expectations of reinforcements. Inferior in strength to the enemy we have been able to do little more, than to take care of ourselves and guard the communication of this River, which is supposed to be the main object of Sir Harry Clinton's [Clinton had replaced Howe after Saratoga] operations and is certainly the point in which we are most essentially vulnerable. The other day we were fortunate enough to strike a pretty important stroke against one of the posts they had established at Kings ferry; by which the garrison of six hundred men with fifteen pieces of artillery and a quantity of stores fell into our hands; and, what made it more agreeable, at the expence of less than an hundred men, on our part, killed and wounded; of which not above thirty will be finally lost to the service. You will no doubt have seen the particulars in the public papers before this gets to hand. This event had a good effect upon the army and country and has some what disconcerted the enemy. They withdrew the detachment which had been ravaging, and burning on the coast of Connecticut, and have since remained inactive extending along from East Chester to the North River. They have repossessed Stoney point with about fourteen hundred men and are industriously repairing the works, which were evacuated and destroyed by us from an inability to hold possession. Had it not been for some accidental delays, the opposite post at Verplanks point, would probably also have fallen into our hands; and this I believed would have prevented a reestablishment of the enemy at Kings ferry. But, on accounts of those delays, they had time to march up in force to the relief of the post, and our troops employed there were obliged, in prudence, to retire.

The enemy have as yet received no reinforcemint this Campaign. Lord Cornwallis is lately arrived from England; and it is said a fleet with seven thousand men sailed a few days before him. But for this I know no sufficient authority, and our European advices have been so parsimonious and vague, that I cannot venture to hazard an opinion. Our Army is principally at this post for its immediate security and to prosecute with vigor the works necessary to put it in such a state of defence as will give it security with its own garrison and leave the rest of the army at liberty to operate with confidence elsewhere. I am mortified that the levies from Virginia have met with so many obstructions. Could they have arrived before the period you assign for the dissolution of your present force, they would have been a valuable acquisition. I hope they may not arrive too late. We have accounts of a late attack made by you on the enemy at Stono, which did not end so happily as might have been wished; but we have some subsequent rumours of a more agreeable complexion, which we wish may prove true; but which we are afraid to believe, from the disappointment we experienced on a recent occasion. These accounts are, that a detachment sent by you from Charlestown had taken possession of James Island, the troops upon which had been drawn off to reinforce Provost at the time of your attack, and that you were in a fair way of interrupting by the help of your gallies the communication of the enemy on the main with their shipping. With my best wishes for your health and success etc.
top of page

View the original document from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.