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Letter from Nathanael Greene to Thomas Burke
Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786
April 08, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 273-275

TO GOV. THOS. BURKE FROM GEN. NATH. GREENE.
[From Executive Letter Book.]

Head Quarters Near Dorchester, April 8th, 1782.

Dear Sir:

Your letter of the 5th of March came to hand a few days since.

I am very sorry if anything has been said by Colonel Williams or by anybody else that has made your situation painful. The Col. had no authority from me to say anything on the subject. My advice to you was dictated by the purest motives of private friendship and public good. It was my wish that you should do nothing that should give an opening to reflect on you, either in your private or public capacity.

The measure I advised to, I thought, was founded on justice, and perfectly consistent with the dignity of your public character. That your life was in danger seems to be generally agreed to, and that after you took measures for its security your proposition carried the strongest evidence that it was an act of necessity and not of choice, and that you was willing to do justice to the Enemy’s claims upon you if their operation could be limited to Military propriety. If any censure can happen to you it is from engaging in business before the matter was fully settled between you and General Leslie.

It is very difficult to make people think liberally which renders more delicacy and circumspection necessary. Good intentions are not always a full security against censure because they are not always sufficiently known.

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It has been my wish to serve you, and I have strove all in my power to effect your exchange, nor shall I omit any opportunity consistent with the duty and regard I owe the public at large.

I hope Congress will not interfere in the matter, nor do I believe they will. I know of no instance wherein the Militia have been neglected.

While you was a prisoner all exchanges were suspended owing to the execution of Colonel Haynes.

This Army gave a decisive proof of their sacred regard to the safety and welfare of the Militia when they agreed to embark their lives in additional danger for their security.

The measures which I took on the subject of retaliation, I believe restrained the hand of vengeance from being exercised on many of the unfortunate inhabitants.

While you was a prisoner the affair was before Congress, which put it out of my powers to say anything in particular cases while the business was generally in a state of suspense. But had I been ever so much at liberty, the Enemy had it in their power to treat the Militia different from Continental prisoners, and have always affected to discriminate in order to form an invidious distinction between the regular force and Militia which might generate into discontents.

This they will always have in their power to practice upon us, and it should be our mutual study to defeat its effect by attributing it to its true cause.

I shall not engage for your return contrary to your interest and wishes. Your own feelings must determine your conduct. I will always give you my opinion with candor, but must leave you to act for yourself.

I will acquaint General Leslie that you expect he will answer you relative to your propositions, without which you will not take any steps to render him a just equivalent.

On the subject of the Quarter Master’s Department, I can only say that whatever may be advanced to promote the Continental interests of your State in the business of that Department and which shall be approved by Lieutenant Colonel Carrington, who is at the head of it in the Southern Department, I shall give the necessary vouchers to pass it to the Continental account. Colonel Long should

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get authority from Colonel Carrington as a foundation for his resignation. I wish to have but a just economy observed and no embarrassments shall arise to disable you to take benefit by your advances.

Indeed, if the States will not more effectually assist the Continental interests, it cannot long have an existence.

Similar measures might take place with respect to the Commissary’s Department.

At present, Major Forsyth is at the head of this business, and whatever is receipted for either for consumption in the State for Continental use, or for the Army out of it, shall be passed to your credit.

But supplies ought to be had on equitable terms and in a way the most favorable for promoting the public interest. I am in hopes your State will adopt the plan recommended by Mr. Morris, and enable us to subsist the Army by contracts.

But unless the Tax operates with vigor and decision, between the two modes the Army will starve, and therefore some special powers should be lodged with the Executive to give occasional aid upon emergencies.

I hope to Heaven your Legislatures will adopt some decisive measures for filling up your Continental line.

Short enlistments are the bane of service. By the time men are formed for soldiers their service expires, which makes the composition of our Army unfit for the purpose of Military glory or National security. Besides, which we are never able to have our men decently clad, for no sooner is clothing issued than part of it goes immediately home.

In addition to these reasons nothing is more discouraging to officers than to be always disciplining men without ever having them appear to advantage. Delinquents and non-jurors are a very bad composition to hazard so much upon as we have at stake in this dispute.

It is true that they are better than no force, but far inferior to those who are voluntarily enlisted.

You know our force as it now stands is small compared with the Enemy’s, and you see by the enclosed state of your line, that after May you will have but few men in the field.

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My situation is very critical. I have given all the Southern States seasonable warning, and if they neglect to support me, they must abide the consequences.

I hope I shall not fail in my duty, but superior force will prevail.

It is evident the Enemy mean to prosecute the War, and I wish you not to rest in the shadows of security, but exert yourselves to bring into the field a respectable force, which I will be answerable shall be well employed if put under my command.

Your State, by neglecting me, may bring me into distress, and perhaps disgrace, but that will not mend their situation.

I am told you have a large number of the State troops who are idle. Cannot they be ordered to join this Army until you have time to fill your Continental Line? I wish to hear what measures your Legislature adopt as soon as possible after they are taken.

If any news respecting the Southern Department is contained in the late Packet taken coming from England please to forward me extracts of it.

I am in daily apprehensions now of an attack from the Enemy, and in a few days upwards of three hundred of your line will leave us. What have we not to dread then?

I have the Honor to be
With Esteem,
Your Excellency’s
Most Obedient,
Humble Servant,
NATH. GREENE.