Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, Volume One
Henry Lee



THE determination of the mind, to relinquish the soft scenes of tranquil life for the rough adventures of war, is generally attended with the conviction that the act is laudable; and with a wish, that its honorable exertions should be faithfully transmitted to posterity. These sentiments lead to the cultivation of virtue; and the effect of the one is magnified by the accomplishment of the other. In usefulness to society, the degree is inconsiderable between the conduct of him who performs great achievements, and of him who records them; for short must be the remembrance, circumscribed the influence, of patriotic exertions and heroic exploits, unless the patient historian retrieves them from oblivion, and holds them up conspicuously to future ages. “Sæpè audivi, says Sallust, Q. Maximum, P. Scipionem, præterea civitatis nostræ præclaros viros, solitos ita dicere, cùm majorum imagines intuerentur, vehementissimè sibi animum ad virtutem accendi. Scilicet non ceram illam, neque figuram tantam vim in sese habere; sed memoriâ rerum gestarum eam flammam egregiis viris in pectore crescere, neque priùs sedari, quàm virtus eorum famam atque gloriam adæquaverit.”[note 1]—Sall. Bell. Jugur.

Regretting, as we all do, that not one of the chief actors in our camp or cabinet, and indeed very few of our fellow citizens, have attempted to unfold the rise, or to illustrate the progress and termination of our revolution, I have been led to this my undertaking with a hope of contributing, in some degree, to repair the effects of this much lamented indifference. With this view, I am about to write memoirs of the southern campaigns, being that part of the war with which I am best acquainted, and which in its progress and issue materially contributed to our final success, and to the enlargement of our military fame. Desirous of investing the reader with a full and clear understanding of the operations to be described, I shall commence these memoirs at the beginning of the third year of the war; for the principal events which occurred thereafter, laid the foundation of the change in the enemy’s conduct, and turned the tide and fury of the conflict from the north to the south.

When I engaged in this undertaking, many of my military comrades, capable and willing to contribute their aid to the fulfilment of my design, were living; whose minute knowledge of various scenes, all of which they saw, in some of which they led, would have rendered it peculiarly interesting and valuable. After postponing, as is common to man, what for various reasons ought not to have been delayed, I have experienced in my progress abundant cause for self-reproach; since in many instances, I have been deprived of this important assistance, which no effort or application has been able fully to supply. Discouraged by this privation, I should, though reluctantly, have receded from my purpose, had not the injurious consequences of my dilatoriness been repaired in a measure by the animated and friendly exertions of the few survivors among my martial companions. To these individuals I owe a heavy debt of personal gratitude; and should the following sheets be deemed worthy of general approbation, to their ready and unwearied assistance, more than to the author’s care and diligence, may be justly ascribed the pleasing result. I have, neyerdieless, been compelled to abridge considerably my first design; not having been able to obtain the documents necessary to its full accomplishment.

It was my intention to present the public, not with a narrative of the southern operations only, but with the life of major general Greene, our distinguished leader. The two subjects appeared to be closely connected; and the latter is strongly claimed by my intimate knowledge of the military plans and measures of that illustrious man, by the homage due to his superior virtue, and the grateful remembrance, which I hold in common with all who served under him, of his benignity and justice.

Apprehending that longer delay might eventuate in leaving altogether unexecuted my design, I resolved for the present to confine myself to these memoirs, deferring to some future day, or to more adequate abilities, the completion of my original plan.

Return to Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department