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General Greene to Governour Cooke



Port Constitution, October 11, 1776.

SIR: His Excellency General Washington will transmit you a list of officers to constitute the two regiments to be raised by your State. The most of those officers are gentlemen whose conduct has been approved by those under whom they served. The success of the cause, the defeat of the enemy, the honour of the State, and the reputation of the army, altogether depends upon the establishing a good corps of officers. My little experience has fully convinced me that without more attention is paid by the diferent States in the appointment of the officers, the troops never will answer their expectation. I hope, as every thing that is dear and valuable is at stake, that no popular prejudices, nor family connexions, will influence the House in the election of the officers for the new army. I am sensible that America has as good materials to form an army as any State in the world. But without a good set of officers, the troops will be little better than a lawless banditti, or an ungovernable mob. The Americans possess as much natural bravery as any people upon earth, but habit must form the soldier. He who expects men brought from the tender scenes of domestick life can meet danger and death with a becoming fortitude, is a stranger to the human heart. There is nothing that can get the better of that active principle of self-preservation but a proper sentiment of pride, or being often accustomed to danger. As the principle of pride is not predominant enough in the minds of the common soldiery, the force of habit must be called in to its aid to get the better of our natural fears, ever alarmed at the approach of danger.

There has been, it must be confessed, some shameful conduct in this army this campaign, in a great measure owing to the bad conduct of the officers. I have neither seen nor heard of one instance of cowardice among the old troops where they had good officers to lead them on. In the last action every regiment behaved with a becoming spirit, especially Colonel Hitchcock' s, and Colonel Namun' s. I don' t wish to see an officer in the army but such as have a regard for their reputation, who feels a sentiment of honour, and is ambitious of distinguishing himself. Such will answer the publick expectation, and be an honour to the State that sent him.

Colonel Varnum, from the treatment he has met with from Congress, has taken the resolution of leaving the army.


The Colony are generally acquainted with his abilities, that he stands in no need of recommendation. Perhaps the House may think proper to reeled him, and give him the opportunity to refuse the appointment, as a compliment due to his past services. Colonel Cormvall and Colonel Carey, you observe, are both left out in the General' s arrangement; they were both in the late action, and behaved exceedingly well, but as there is a reduction of regiments, ' tis not possible to accommodate the whole, and there is a preference given by the under officers, though they never have been consulted upon this occasion. His Excellency has put down only such as appears deserving, without consulting them upon the subject, to know whether they would serve or not. The House will appoint such, and so many, of those recommended as they shall think proper, and fill the vacancies of their own choice. But I hope there will be none in the arrangement but men of merit.

The several retreats and evacuations that have taken place this campaign, without doubt has alarmed the fears of the timid and aroused their apprehension of an approaching ruin. The source of these misfortunes have originated from several causes. The strength of the enemy far exceeded the expectations of Congress, the late season that they attempted to call in a reinforcement to our aid, the many delays that took place among the different States in furnishing their proportion, protracted the time of collecting the forces together to such a degree that when the enemy had their whole strength together, ours in different detachments were far inferiour to theirs. With a force inferiour to the enemy in number, with troops that were mostly raw and undisciplined, with young and ignorant officers, what could be expected against old, experienced officers with veteran troops to command, short of what has taken place, especially when you take in the idea of the extent of ground we had to guard, and the assistance the enemy received from their ships, owing to the situation of the posts we occupied ? The Militia has come and gone in such shoals, that his Excellency could never tell scarcely two days together the strength he had at any one post. If the different States complete the establishment agreeable to the resolves of Congress, and the troops come well officered, (for on that the whole depends,) I have not the least doubt in my own mind, but that in a few months we shall be able to seek the enemy instead of they us. I know our men are more than equal to theirs, and were our officers equal to our men, we should have nothing to fear from the best troops in the world. I do not mean to derogate from the worth and merit of all the officers in the army. We have many that are in the service deserving the highest applause, and has served with reputation and honour to themselves and the State that sent them; and I am happy that I have it to say that the Rhode-Island regiments hitherto are amongst this number.

Three of the enemy' s ships passed the chevaux-de-frise, in the North River, and went up to Topan-Bay. Our army are so strongly fortified, and so much out of the command of the shipping, we have little more to fear this campaign. The troops have been and still are exceeding sickly. The same disorder rages in the enemy' s camp as does in ours, but is much more mortal. Nothing new from the Northern army.

I am, with great esteem, your obedient servant,