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Letter from General Lee to the President of Congress



[Read May 14, 1776, and referred to the Committee to whom a former letter from General Lee was referred.]

Williamsburgh, May 7, 1776.

SIR: I find the part I have acted in the business of Mr˙ Eden has given great umbrage to the Council of Maryland. I take the liberty of enclosing to you a copy of my letter to that Board on the occasion. As I hope it will appear to the Congress a full explanation and justification of my conduct, I shall not trouble them any more on the subject.

Five transports with troops are arrived at Cape-Fear; I shall, therefore, set out on Thursday for Wilmington, by the way of Halifax. When we consider, sir, the vast extent of the vulnerable parts of this country; the numerous navigable intersecting waters; the multitude of slaves; that we have not more than five thousand regulars fit for duty in the Province; that of these five thousand, not more than three are properly armed; that to arm them, (defectively as they are,) the Province has been driven to the necessity of disarming the Minute-men, — I say, sir, when these circumstances are considered, I shall appear, I hope, reasonable in entreating the Congress to spare us if possible some battalions, and of those battalions which are best armed. If indeed, our Minute-men were properly furnished with muskets and ammunition; if our rivers were already secured in the manner I propose, I should think myself capable of baffling all their attempts with our present force; but situated as we are, my anxiety for the common safety obliges me to solicit a reinforcement.

A letter from one of your members informs me that five thousand blankets and five thousand pair of shoes are on the road, for the use of this Army. They are much wanted. The


number is, I believe, sufficient. We are, as I observed before, wretchedly in want of medicines, as well as of a director to our Hospital. Doctor McClurg is a very able man, and universally esteemed qualified for the office. The pay of the Regimental Surgeons, established by Congress, is so low that it is in this part of the world (where the common country practice of surgery is singularly lucrative) impossible to find capable men who will accept; but I am in hopes that the Convention will make such additions, out of the Provincial purse, as to enable us to fill the commissions with proper and competent persons. Now I am on the subject of pay, sir, I must beg leave to urge the necessity of considerably increasing that of the Engineers. It is impossible that men qualified for this Important office should be prevailed upon to serve on such miserable terms. You have no American Engineers; they must of course be foreigners; and foreigners expect, in their language, de quoi manger; that is, something which will enable them to eat and drink. Twenty dollars per month will not enable them to eat, drink, and wear linen, or, indeed, any kind of clothes; besides, it must be considered that these gentlemen are obliged, by the nature of their duty, to make more journeys than other officers; that horses must be purchased and fed; that the expenses of travelling are, in the Southern Provinces, very high. From these reasons, and many others, the pay of Engineers ought to be, as it is in all other services, greater than that of other officers. Upon the whole, sir, I really do not think that they ought, or can do with less than forty dollars per month, and rations at least for their horses. On more moderate terms, I am persuaded, you cannot procure men equal to the task. As the corps is distinct and not numerous, this necessary addition of pay will be an expense beneath the consideration of the Congress.

Colonel Richard Henry Lee informs me that it was not the intention of the Congress that Captain Innis' s company should be reduced to make way for Arundel' s, but that they should both be established. I think, sir; it would be a useless expense. Captain Innis, who must, I am sure, be an excellent officer in any other department, professed himself ignorant in this branch. His officers were equally ignorant. Arundel has got possession of the company, and by his activity and knowledge will, I am persuaded, make them fit for service; indeed, to establish an artillery company, Captain, subalterns, and non-commissioned officers, being entirely composed of novices, can answer no end or purpose. It is my opinion, therefore, sir, that, instead of these two companies proposed, the addition of thirty or forty men to Captain Arundel' s, and two subaltern officers, will not only be better, but that it promises more advantage to the service. Now I am on the subject of Captain Arundel, I beg leave to remind the Congress of what I mentioned with respect to his expenses on the road. There is one circumstance, of which, sir, I could wish to be ascertained: Is the expense of the defence of these rivers, (that is, the construction of row-galleys, floating batteries, tenders, &c˙,) to be brought to the account of the Continent, or of the Province? I wish to be ascertained on this head, because if it is at the expense of the latter, I shall regularly propose to the Convention, or Committee of Safety, every scheme which may be attended with expense, before it is entered upon.

If the Quartermaster-General, or his Deputies, when they despatch any teams from Philadelphia with powder, or other necessaries, were to purchase the horses throughout, for the Continental use, instead of hiring them, the saving would be considerable — for in this country the hire is intolerably dear; so great, indeed, that I have ventured to order a number of teams to be purchased.

I have just received a vague return of the forces of North-Carolina, of their powder and cannon. It does not appear that they have of effective regulars, properly armed, more than two thousand; of powder, more than two ton and a half; and as to cannon they are almost totally destitute. As the enemy' s advance guard, if I may so express myself, is actually arrived, I must, I cannot avoid detaching the strongest battalion we have to their assistance; but I own I tremble at the same time at the thoughts of stripping this Province of any part of its inadequate force. I am puzzled how to direct my motions, from the uncertainty of the enemy' s plan; but not dispirited, as I am confident that the Congress will afford me every relief in their power, and am


not in the least diffident of the courage and zeal of the men and officers.

I am, sir, with the greatest respect, your most obedient, humble servant,


To the Honourable John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.

P˙ S. I have as yet heard nothing of Mr˙ Stabler, the Engineer. I ought, in fact, to have at least half a dozen, for we have a variety of posts to throw up, and there is not a man or officer in the Army that knows the difference between a chevaux-de-frise and a cabbage garden. I wish the Congress would indulge me with Mr˙ Smith, whom I know to be an able and active man. Massenbaugh is a treasure. A little hurt in my hand obliges me to write by the pen of my Secretary.