WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799), President. Letter signed ("Gø:Washington") TO MAJOR GENERAL NATHANAEL GREENE (1742-1786) in Charleston, S.C., text in the hand of Washington's Aide-de-camp Jonathan Trumbull, Newburgh, N.Y., 18 May 1783. 5 pages, 4to, 2 leaves neatly inlaid to larger sheets, red morocco gilt protective case. In superb condition, the paper crisp, the ink dark and fresh.
INDEPENDENCE REALIZED: WASHINGTON SHARES HIS ELATION AT "THE ARRIVAL OF PEACE," AND "THE GLORIOUS & HAPPY ISSUE OF OUR TOILS"
VICTORY SAVORED: "THE PROSPECTS OF PEACE HAVE GIVEN ME MUCH RELIEF; AND WE SHALL, I HOPE, BE ABLE TO QUIT THE FIELD WITHOUT ANY DISGRACEFULL EXCESSES"
A highly important letter to Greene, Washington's trusted commander of the southern army. Here, almost exactly 8 years since he accepted his commission as Commander-in-Chief, Washington expresses with dignified reserve his profound gratification at news of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, ending hostilities and promising American independence. His strong emotions, though, are tempered by the continuing uncertainty about the men under his command and concerns about the seething disaffection among the Continental Army's unpaid officers, resentments that had culminated in March in the narrowly averted crisis of the Newburgh Addresses. In the southern theater, Greene's army had methodically driven the British from their interior outposts back to coastal enclaves like Charleston, only recently evacuated. Greene's victorious men faced the same frustrations--lack of pay, shortage of equipment, uncertainty about their status--that contributed to the near revolt at Newburgh, and Greene had candidly expressed to Washington his fear that a similar rebellion might be ignited among his men. But first, Washington warmly congratulates Greene, sharing the satisfaction, relief and triumph of the nation's victory after eight years' bloody fighting.
"I have been favored with two letters from you...And Yesterday I had the pleasure to receive that of the 20th of April, by your Express boat to Philadelphia. The subjects of the first two are superseded by the Arrival of Peace, --an Event, on which I return you my Congratulations with the utmost sincerity & Cordiality, an Event, to the attainment of which, it is your Happiness, to have contributed a very noble part; the Impression of which is deeply fixed in the Minds of your fellow Citizens -- & the recollection of which, will not be easily obliterated from their gratefull Breasts. Pleasing as the prospect of peace is to me, I feel that it must be very gratefull to you; as it relieves you from a load of Cares, Toil & Anxiety, which I can easily conceive, from the Experience I have had in Situations not dissimilar to yours."
Greene had proposed using naval vessels to transport the demobilized men from Maryland and Pennsylvania back to seaports near their homes, rather than insisting they make a long march overland. There was concern that, during an overland march, illicit foraging might alienate residents along the route. Washington approves Greene's plan and tells him to put it into effect: "The Mode you propose of getting the Troops to the Northward by Water, if it can be effected, I think an eligible one; and that they should be removed as soon as possible, before the extreme heats prevail. But this must be submitted to the Secretary of War, who must form the necessary Arrangements. So must also the Disposition of the Cavalry Horses; an Act of Congress for their Sale, having passed the 17th of April."
"I shall write to Genl [Benjamin] Lincoln on this Subject, and give it my Opinion, that unless Congress should have some particular Reasons against it, that the Troops should be early removed to the Northward; and that their removal, if possible, should be effected by Water. Humanity, as well as Policy, dictates this Measure. It will save the fatigues of a toilsome & sultry March, in the most disagreeable Season; and will bring them to the Northward in the most expeditions, as well as the easiest, & least expensive Manner. It will also prevent the ravages & Distress which the Country, through which they must pass by Land, would probably experience."
Congress, Washington reports, has not specified which units will be reorganized to form a peacetime army and which may be discharged: "The Arrangement of a Peace Establishment, which is now under the Consideration of Congress, prevents my being so explicit on the removal of the Troops as I should otherways be, was I informed of their final Intentions. I should propose however that none of the Pennsylvania or Maryland Troops will be retained to garrison any of the Southern posts, because the Terms of their Inlistments are generally...for the War. Gen Lincoln I hope will be decisive with you...."
The situation of the troops and their near-mutiny, Washington confesses, has caused him considerable apprehension: "I have at times, through the Course of the Winter, had much Anxiety from the Disposition of the Troops in this Department. But the Prospects of Peace have given me much relief; and we shall, I hope, be able to quit the field without any disgracefull Excesses. The principal Uneasiness now remaining, arises from an Anxiety & Impatience in the Minds of the Men [enlisted] for the War, who are impressed with an Idea, that the War is at an End, and that they are entitled to their Discharges. If the definitive Treaty is not too long delayed, I have a hope, that even this Circumstance will pass over with more Ease than has been feared."
Greene, Washington adds, may decide for himself when to return to his home in Rhode Island, and he looks forward to their reunion. "I shall leave it to your own Judgment & discretion to determine, which Circumstances shall admit of your coming to the Northward. I will only add that I shall be extremely happy in an Opportunity to take you by the Hand, and to felicitate you on the glorious & happy Issue of our Toils."
In the end it was not until mid-June that Washington himself--believing his service to the nation ended--composed his prophetic Circular to the States, resigning his commission and predicting that "with our fate will the destiny of unborn millions be involved. At that point he could finally disband the restless armies camped at Newburgh. He had already begun to sign official discharges for those men who had served six or seven years since the outbreak of the war, allowing them, singly and in small groups, to make their way back to the farms, worshops and villages they had left behind at the time of their enlistment in the cause of independence. Published in Writings, ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick, 26:441-443.