Camp on Pedee,
Jan. 19th, 1781
Dear Sir – Your favor of the 15th was delivered me last evening about 12 o’clock. I am surprised that Gen. Sumter should give such an order as that you mention to Col. Hill, nor can I persuade myself but that there must be some mistake in the matter; for though it is the most military to convey orders through the principal to the dependents, as well from propriety as respect, yet this may not always be convenient, or even practicable; and therefore to give a positive order not to obey, was repugnant to reason and common sense. As the head was subject to your orders, consequently the dependents are also. I will write Gen. Sumter on the subject; but it is better to conciliate than aggravate matters, where everything depends so much upon voluntary principles, I wish you to take no notice of the matter, but endeavor to influence his conduct to give you all the aid in his power. Write to him frequently, and consult v.1th him freely. He is a man of great pride and considerable merit, and should not be neglected. If he had given such orders, I am persuaded he will see the impropriety of the matter and correct it in the future, unless personal glory is more the object than public good, which I cannot suppose is the case with him, or any other man who fights in the cause of liberty.
I was informed of Lord Cornwallis’ movement before the receipt of your letter, and agree with you in the opinion that you are the object. And from his making so general a movement, it convinces me he feels a great inconvenience from your force and situation. Gen. Leslie has crossed the Catawba to join him. He would never harness his troops to remove you, if he did not think it an object of some importance; nor would he put his collective force in motion if he had not some respect for your numbers. I am sensible your situation is critical, and requires the most watchful attention to guard against surprise. But I think it is of great importance to keep up a force in that quarter; nor can I persuade myself that the militia alone will answer the same valuable purposes as when joined by the continental troops.
It is not my wish you should come to action unless you have a manifest advantage and a moral certainty of succeeding. Put nothing to the hazard. A retreat may be disagreeable, but it is not disgraceful. Regard not the opinions of the day. It is not our business to risk too much, our affairs are in too critical a situation, and require time and nursing to give them a better tone.
If General Sumpter and you could fix a plan for him to hold the post which you now occupy, and he to be joined by the militia under General Davidson, and you with your force and the Georgia and Virginia militia, to move towards Augusta or into that quarter, I should have no objection, provided you think it wi1l answer any valuable purpose, and can be attempted with a degree of safety. I am unwilling to recall you if it can be avoided, but I had rather recall you than expose you to the hazard of a surprise.
Before we can possibly reach you I imagine the movements of Lord Cornwallis and Colonel Tarleton will be sufficiently explained, and you obliged to take some decisive measures. I shall be perfectly satisfied if you keep clear of misfortune; for though I wish you laurels, I am not “’tilling to expose the common cause to give you an opportunity to acquire them.
As the rivers are subject to sudden and great swells, you must be careful that the enemy do not take a position to gain your rear, where you can neither retreat by your flanks or front. The Pedee rose twentyfive feet last week in thirty hours. I am preparing boats to move always with the army; would one or two be of use to you? They will be put on four wheels, and made to move with little more difficulty than a loaded wagon.
General Davidson is desired to receive orders, and in conjunction with Gen. Sumter, to consult with you a plan for a combined attack upon one of the divisions of Lord Cornwallis’s army, and also respecting your movements into Georgia,
I am, with great esteem, &c.,