Affiliate Link

Thomas Jefferson on the Battle of Blandford

To His Excellency General Washington.

Richmond, May 9, 1781.


Since the last letter which I had the honor of addressing to your Excellency, the military movements in this State, except a very late one, have scarcely merited communication.

The enemy, after leaving Williamsburg, came directly up James river and landed at City Point, being the point of land on the southern side of the confluence of Appomatox and James rivers. They marched up to Petersburg, where they were received by Baron Steuben with a body of militia somewhat under one thousand, who, though the enemy were two thousand and three hundred strong, disputed the ground very handsomely, two hours, during which time the enemy gained only one mile, and that by inches. Our troops were then ordered to retire over a bridge, which they did in perfectly good order. Our loss was between sixty and seventy, killed, wounded, and taken. The enemy’s is unknown, but it must be equal to ours; for their own honor they must confess this, as they broke twice and run like sheep, till supported by fresh troops. An inferiority in number obliged our force to withdraw about twelve miles upwards, till more militia should be assembled. The enemy burned all the tobacco in the warehouses at Petersburg, and its, neighborhood. They afterwards proceeded to Osborne’s, where they did the same, and also destroyed the residue of the public armed vessels, and several of private property, and then came to Manchester, which is on the hill opposite this place.

By this time, Major General Marquis Fayette, having been advised of our danger, had, by forced marches, got here with his detachment of Continental troops; and reinforcements of militia having also come in, the enemy finding we were able to meet them on equal footing, thought proper to burn the warehouses and tobacco at Manchester, and retire to Warwick, where they did the same. Ill armed and untried militia, who never before saw the face of an enemy, have, at times, during the course of this war, given occasions of exultation to our enemies; but they afforded us, while at Warwick, a little satisfaction in the same way. Six or eight hundred of their picked men of light-infantry, with General Arnold at their head, having crossed the river from Warwick, fled from a patrole of sixteen horse, every man into his boat as he could, some pushing north, some south, as their fears drove them. Their whole force then proceeded to the Hundred, being the point of land within the confluence of the two rivers, embarked, and fell down the river. Their foremost vessels had got below Burwell’s Ferry on the 6th instant, when on the arrival of a boat from Portsmouth, and a signal given, the whole crowded sail up the river again with a fair wind and tide, and came to anchor at Brandon; there six days’ provision was dealt out to every man; they landed, and had orders to march an hour before day the next morning. We have not yet heard which way they went, or whether they have gone; but having, about the same time, received authentic information that Lord Cornwallis had, on the 1st instant, advanced from Wilmington half way to Halifax, we have no doubt, putting all circumstances together, that these two armies are forming a junction.

We are strengthening our hands with militia, as far as arms, either public or private, can be collected, but cannot arm a force which may face the combined armies of the enemy. It will, therefore, be of very great importance that General Wayne’s forces be pressed on with the utmost despatch. Arms and a naval force, however, are what must ultimately save us. This movement of our enemies we consider as most perilous in its consequences.

Our latest advices from General Greene were of the 26th ult., when he was lying before Camden, the works and garrison of which were much stronger than he had expected to find them.

I have the honor to be, with great respect,
your Excellency’s most obedient, humble servant,
Th: Jefferson,