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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Southern Phase, 1778-1781
Washington Appoints General Nathanael Greene

After General Horatio Gates's severe defeat by British forces at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, Washington appointed former Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene as commander of the Southern Army. According to the following letters written by Washington concerning Greene's appointment, why has Washington appointed Greene to this post? What does Washington say about the military situation in the South and about General Gates?

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Washington to the Continental Congress, October 22, 1780

Sir: I have the honor to inform Congress, that in consequence of their resolution of the 5th: instant, I have appointed Major General Greene to the command of the Southern Army, 'till the enquiry into the conduct of Major Genl. Gates is completed. I inclose a Copy of my instructions to General Greene, by which and a Copy of my letter to Genl. Gates, Congress will perceive the mode I have adopted for the enquiry. I did not perceive any other which could be substituted with equal propriety, but if Congress are of a different opinion, I submit it to them for their further directions.

I beg leave to mention General Greene, upon this occasion, to Congress as an Officer, in whose abilities, fortitude and integrity, from a long and intimate experience of them, I have the most intire confidence. In the command he is going into he will have every disadvantage to struggle with. The confidence and support of Congress, which it will be his ambition to merit, will be essential to his success. The defect of military resources in the southern department, the confusion in which the affairs of it must for some time be, require that the Commanding Officer should be vested with extensive powers. I dare say Congress will take their measures in a manner suited to the exigency. General Greene waits upon them for their orders.

As, in a great measure, a new Army is to be formed to the southward, the presence of the Baron de Steuben will in my opinion be of more essential utility in that quarter than here, where through the ensuing Campaign, we shall have the greatest part of our force raw Recruits, yet as we are organized and in some order, the sub-inspectors will suffice for the purposes of the department. I therefore submit to Congress the propriety of sending the Baron de Steuben to the southern Army, The sooner they are pleased to announce their pleasure on this head the better. I have the honor etc.

Washington to General Nathanael Greene, October 22, 1780

Sir: Congress having been pleased by their resolution of the 5th. instant, to authorise me to appoint an officer to the command of the Southern army in the room of Major General Gates, 'till an inquiry can be had into his conduct as therein directed, I have thought proper to choose you for this purpose. You will therefore proceed without delay to the Southern army, now in North Carolina, and take the command accordingly. Uninformed as I am of the enemy's force in that quarter, of our own, or of the resources which it will be in our power to command for carrying on the war, I can give you no particular instructions but must leave you to govern yourself intirely, according to your own prudence and judgment and the circumstances in which you find yourself. I am aware, that the nature of the command will offer you embarrassments of a singular and complicated nature; but I rely upon your abilities and exertions for every thing your means will enable you to effect. I give you a letter to the Honorable the Congress informing them of your appointment and requesting them to give you such powers and such support as your situation and the good of the service demand. You will take their orders in your way to the Southward.

I also propose to them to send Major General The Baron De Steuben to the Southward with you; his talents, knowledge of service, zeal and activity will make him very useful to you in all respects and particularly in the formation and regulation of the raw troops, which will principally compose the Southern army. You will give him a command suited to his rank; besides employing him as Inspector General. If Congress approve, he will take your orders at Philadelphia.

I have put Major Lee's corps under marching orders, and as soon as he is ready, shall detach him to join you.

As it is necessary the inquiry into the conduct of Major General Gates should be conducted in the quarter in which he has acted, where all the witnesses are, and where alone the requisite information can be obtained, I am to desire, as soon as the situation of affairs will possibly permit, you will nominate a Court of Inquiry to examine into his case, agreebly to the forementioned resolution of Congress. Major General The Baron De Steuben will preside at this Court and the members will consist of such General and field officers of the Continental troops, as were not present at the battle of Campden [sic], or being present, are not wanted as witnesses, or are persons to whom Major General Gates has no objection. I wish this affair to be conducted with the greatest impartiality and with as much dispatch as circumstances will permit. You will, on your arrival at the army, take the sense in writing of The General Officers and other principal officers, concerning the practicability of an immediate inquiry. If they judge it practicable on the principles of these instructions, you will have it carried into execution; if they do not think it can take place immediately you will inform Major General Gates of it and transmit me their determination; and you will from time to time pursue the same mode, that any delay which may happen may appear as I am persuaded it will really be, unavoidable. The Court need not consist of more than five, nor must it consist of less than three members; in all cases there must be three General Officers. You will keep me constantly advised of the state of your affairs and of every material occurrence.

My warmest wishes for your success, reputation, health and happiness accompany you.

P.S. Should General Gates have any objection to the mode of inquiry which he wishes to make to Congress or to me, you will suspend proceeding in the affair, till he transmits his objection, and you receive further orders.
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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. Both documents are from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.