Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

Item of the Day: Narrative of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton (1783)

Full Title: Narrative of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton, K.B. Relative to his Conduct during Part of his Command of the King’s Troops in North America; Particularly to that which respects the unfortunate Issue of the Campaign in 1781. With an Appendix, Containing Copies and Extracts of those Parts of his Correspondence with Lord George Germain, Earl Cornwallis, Rear Admiral Graves, &c. Which are referred to therein. London: Printed for J. Debrett (successor to Mr. Almon) opposite Burlington-house, Piccadilly, 1783.


Being conscious, that during my command in North America, my whole conduct was actuated by the most ardent zeal for the King’s service, and the interests of the public, I was exceedingly mortified, when I returned to England, after a service of seven years in that country, to find that erroneous opinions had gone forth respecting it; and that many persons had, in consequence, admitted impressions to my prejudice. Anxious, therefore, to explain what had been misinterpreted or misrepresented, (as indeed might well be expected, from the publication of Lord C.’s letter of the 20th of Ocotber, without being accompanied by my answer to it) I had proposed taking an opportunity, in the House of Commons, of saying a few words on such parts of my conduct as seemed not to be sufficiently understood: and I flatter myself I should have been able to make it appear, that I acted up to the utmost of my powers, from the beginning to the end of my command; and that none of the misfortunes of the very unfortunate campaign of 1781 can, with the smallest degree of justice, be imputed to me.

But I arrived here so late in the session, that I was advised to defer it; and it was judged that the gracious reception I had just met with from my Sovereign rendered an immediate explanation unnecessary. I was not, however, apprised to what degree the public prejudice had been excited against me else, I should probably have been induced to have taken an earlier opportunity of offering to Parliament what I have to say on the subject. But the late change in public affairs, furnishing so much more important matter for their deliberation, deprived me of the opportunity I thought I should have had: and, as by the present recess it is probable that I may not be able to execute my intentions before a late period, when perhaps peculiar circumstances might force me through delicacy to decline it, I beg leave to lay before the public the following plain Narrative, which will, I trust, remove prejudice and error.

I have much to regret that, when this business was discussed in the House of Lords last session of Parliament, the whole of my correspondence with the late American Minister, Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis, and the Admirals commanding on the West-India and American stations, was not produced, or at least such parts thereof as, being necessary to explain my conduct, might have appeared consistently with state policy. Because the letters which compose that correspondence, being written to the moment as events happened, are certainly the most faithful records of my actions and intentions; and are consequently the clearest, fairest, and most unexceptionable testimonies I can adduce in their support. I hope, therefore, I shall stand exculpated from the necessity of the case, for any impropriety there may be in my annexing to this letter such of them as I may judge most requisite for that purpose. Three of them indeed, will, I presume, be found very material, (Appendix No. IX.) as they contain my answers and observations upon Lord Cornwallis’s letters of the 20th of October and 2d of December on the subject of the unfortunate conclusion of the last campaign in the Chesapeak; —which latter I am sorry to observe, were given to the public, while mine in answer were witheld from it; —I hope without design.

Although I never dared promise myself that any exertions of mine, with my very reduced force (nearly one-third less than that of my predecessor) could bring the war to a happy conclusion; yet I confess that the campaign of 1781 terminated very differently from what I once flattered myself it would; as may appear, by the subjoined extracts of lettes, written in the beginning of that year, and which were transmitted to the Minister. I was led, however, into these hopes, more by the apparent distresses of the enemy than any material success we had met with. . . .



Copy of a Letter from Sir Henry Clinto to Earl Cornwallis, dated New York, 2d and 10th December, 1781

[This letter was not read in the House of Lords.]

My Lord,

As your Lordship is please, in your letter of this day, to revert to the circumstance of your quitting Williamsburg Neck and repassing the James River, so contrary to the intentions I wished to express in my letters of the 11th and 15th of June, and those referred to by them, and which I thought they would have clearly explained. Your Lordship will, I hope, forgive me, if I once more repeat that I am of opinion, if those letters had been properly understood by your Lordship, you would at least have hesitated before you adopted that measure. For I humbly presume it will appear, upon a reperusal of them, that it was my desire to recommend to your Lordship the taking a healthy defensive station, either at Williamsburg or York; and, after keeping what troops you might want for the ample defence of such a post, and sesultory movements by water, so send me such a proportion of the corps (mentioned in a list) as you could spare, taking them in the succession they are there placed. YOur Lordship, on the contrary understood these as conveying a positive order to send me three thousand men, (by which you say your force would have been reduced to about two thousand four hundred rank and file fit for duty; —having, it is presumed, above 1500 sick) and was pleased to tell me, in your anser, that you could not, consisten with my plans, make safe defensive posts at York and Gloucester, (both of which would be necessary for the protection of shipping): and that you should immediately repass James River, and take measures for complying with my requisition.

I own, my Lord, that my opinion of the obvious meaning of the letters referred to, continues still the same; and I am exceedingly sorry to find, by the letter you have now honoured me with, that it differs so widely from your Lordship’s. It is plain, however, we cannot both be in the right. . . .



Filed under American Revolution, Eighteenth century, Great Britain, Military, Posted by Caroline Fuchs