<br /> Lee Letter: n151

Washington and Lee University

Sender: George Washington
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir:

The moving state in wch. the Army was, at the time your letter of
the 12th. Ulto.1 came to hand. The junction
of the Allied troops, which was upon the point of being formed; and a
variety of matters which have occurred since that period, consequent of
this junction rather than a disinclination to continue a correspondence
the benefits of which have been in my favor must plead an excuse for my
long silence. Unconscious of having given you just cause to change the
favourable sentiments you have expressed for me. I could not suppose
you had altered them, and as I never suffer reports, unsupported by
proofs, to have weight in my Mind I know no reason why our
correspondence should cease, or become less frequent than heretofore,
excepting, on my part, that as our affairs became more perplexing and
embarrassed the public claimed more of my attention and consequently
left me less leisure for private endulgencies. That this has been the
case in an eminent degree for some time past, a Gentleman as well
acquainted with public affairs as you are, need not be told.

The distresses of Virginia I am but too well acquainted with; but the plan
you have suggested as a relief for it, in my judgment is a greater
proof of your unbounded confidence in me than it is that the means
proposed would be found adequate to the end in view were it practicable
to make the experiment; which, at present, is not; as there are
insuperable obstacles to my removing from the immediate command of the
combined troops; the reasons for this opinion I cannot entrust to
paper; at all times liable to miscarriage, and peculiarly so of late.

I am fully perswaded however (and upon good Military principles) that the
measures I have adopted will give more effectual and speedier relief to
the State of Virginia than if I was to March thither with dictatorial
power at the head of every Man I could draw from hence without leaving
the important posts on the North river quite defenceless, and these
States open to devastation and ravage. When I say this I would be
understood to mean, if I am properly supported (and I have asked no
extraordinary succours) by the States Eastward of Jersey, inclusive. My
present operation and which I have been preparing for with all the zeal
and activity in my power, will, I am morally certain If I am properly
supported produce one of two things, the fall of New York, or a
withdraw of the Troops from Virginia;
excepting a Garrison at Portsmouth, at which place I have no doubt of
the enemys intention to establish a permanent post. A Long land March,
in which we never failed to dissipate half our Men. the difficulty, and
expence of transportation, and other reasons not less powerful but wch.
I dare not commit to writing, decided me in my present plan, and my
hopes, I trust, will not be disappointed.

In half an hours conversation I could, I flatter myself, convince you of
the utility of my measures; but as I have before observed, I dare not
attempt it by letter, because I have already had two or three important
ones intercepted in the Mails the sight of which I am perswaded
occasioned the retrograde movemts. of Lord Cornwallis, and will be the
means of bringing part of his force to New York. to the accomplishment
of one part of my plan.

The fatal policy of short enlistments (the primary cause of all our
misfortunes; the prolongation of the War; and the source of the immense
debt under which we labour) is now shedding its baneful influence upon
our measures and I am laboring under all the disadvantages and evils
which result from them and the want of Men. It can be no News to tell
you, that by the expiration of the terms of enlistment I was left last
Winter with a force so much reduced as to be scarcely able to garrison
West point; but it may be News, and is not less true than surprising to
you, to hear that not half the Men which were required to be with the
Army, as recruits for the Continental Battens., by the first day of
Jany., last are yet arrived; and of those asked by me from the Militia,
not one is come.

But a few words more and I will put an end to this long letter No endeavour
of mine has been wanting to obtain a superiour naval force in these
Seas, nor to employ that which we have, to valuable purposes; how far I
have succeeded in the latter is but too obvious; how far I may see my
wishes accomplished in the former, time must discover.

with great
esteem etc.2

Notes:

1 “Although our correspondence has been long interrupted, I hope that our
friendship never will, notwithstanding the arts of wicked men who
have endeavored to create discord and dissension among the friends of
America. For myself, having little but my good wishes to send you, it
was not worth while to take up your attention a moment with them. The
contents of this letter will I am sure require no apology, because
you always approve that zeal which is employed in the public service,
and has for its object the public good. . . . It would be a thing for
angels to weep over, if the goodly fabric of human freedom, which you
have so well labored to rear, should in one unlucky moment be
levelled with the dust. There is nothing I think more certain, than
that your personal call would bring into immediate exertion the force
and the resources of this State and its neighboring ones, which
directed as it would be will effectually disappoint and baffle the
deep laid schemes of the enemy.” – Richard Henry
Lee to Washington
, Chantilly, June 12, 1781.

In this letter Lee inclosed a copy of one which he had written to James
Lovell, Theodorick Bland, and Joseph Jones, in Congress, in which he
proposed that Washington should “be immediately sent to Virginia,
with 2 or 3000 good Troops. Let Congress, as the head of the federal
union, in this crisis, direct that until the Legislature can convene
and a Governor be appointed, the General be possessed of Dictatorial
powers, and that it be strongly recommended to the Assembly when
convened to continue those powers for 6.8 or 10 months: as the case
may be. And the General may be desired instantly on his arrival in
Virginia to summon the members of both houses to meet where he shall
appoint, to organize and resettle their Government.” These letters
are in the Washington Papers.

2 This draft is indorsed by Washington, with the following note: “In
copying the inclosed some sentences were
transposed, and alterations and corrections made in the direction
which time did not allow me to make in this due sentiments however
were the same.”