"The distress and misery that prevails": General Nathanael Greene about Civilians, 1781
American General Nathanael Greene wrote to his wife Catharine Greene on January 12, 1781. He described some of the difficulties and dangers for civilians in the southern states during the Southern Campaigns of the Revolutionary War.
Camp on the Pedee
General de Portail being released from captivity and on his way to the Northward affords me an opportunity of writing you (which I have done by every conveyance since I came to this Country.) Could I have only a single line in return, to let me know you are well, it would afford me infinite pleasure. Nothing can exceed my anxiety to know your situation, not having heard the least syllable from you since I left Philadelphia.
I have my health exceeding good, being never more hearty in my life; and could I be useful here, and know that you was well, I should not be unhappy.
You can have no idea of the distress and misery that prevails in this quarter. Hundreds of families that formerly livd in great opulence are now reducd to beggary and want. A Gentleman from Georgia was this morning with me, to get assistance to move his wife and family out of the Enemies way. They have been separated for upwards of eight months, during all which time the wife never heard from her husband, nor the husband from his wife. Her distress was so great that she has been obligd to sell all her plate, table linnen and even wearing apparel, to maintain her poor little children. In this situation she was tantalised by the Tories, and insulted by the british Human misery has become a subject for sport and ridicule. With us the difference between Whig and Tory is little more than a division of sentiment; but here they persecute each other with little less than savage fury. When I compare your situation with those miserable people in this quarter, disagreeable as it may be from our long and distant separation, I cannot help feeling thankful that your cup has not a mixture of bitterness like theirs.
A Captain who is now with me and who has just got his family from near the Lines of the Enemy had his Sister murderd a few days since, and seven of her children wounded, the oldest not twelve years of age. The sufferings and distress of the Inhabitants beggars all description, and requires the liveliest imagination to conceive the cruelties and devastations which prevail. I will not pain your humanity by a further relation of, the distresses which rage in this quarter; nor would I have mentioned them at all, but to convince you that you are not the most unhappy of all creation. God grant us a speedy and happy meeting, by giving to the Country peace, liberty and safety.
In your last letter, you wrote me that you had eight new Shirts and Stocks, and several pair of Stockings; which you in-tended to have brought to camp with you. As my stock is small, and the difficulty great in getting any here, I wish you to send me all you have. Please to send them in two equal divisions to the care of Mr Pettit in Philadelphia, but dont send them, unless It is by persons who will undertake to have them safely deliverd. Mr Pettit will take care to have them for-warded to me. I am in want of nothing of the clothing kind but shirts, stocks and stockings, these articles I am in want of and shall be more so before those you send can reach me; which cannot be less than three months. Pray be particular in giving an account of the Children; mention who are at home, and who at nursing, and the healths of all. These little anecdotes are pleasing and afford the most agreeable family feelings. I wish to know where you reside, whether at Greenwich, Coventry or at the farm in Westerly. Where is brother Bill Littlefield, and how does he spend his time? I had a letter from him some time since respecting the family interest to the Eastward; which I am not certain that I ever gave an answer to; but you will please to tell him I think he should go down to Wells (first getting a power of attorney from his father); and make enquiry respecting the situation of the lands and the sentiments and intention of the settlers, after which it will be best to consult with some good able Lawyer or Lawyers, and then take his measures.
Give my kind love to all friends and believe me to be affectionately yours