Overview of the Revolutionary War
A WITTY foreigner, watching the course of the American Revolution, wrote to Benjamin Franklin that Great Britain was undertaking the task "of catching two millions of people in a boundless desert with fifty thousand men." This was a crude and inaccurate way of putting it, but it expresses succinctly the magnitude and difficulty of the campaign that lay before the British generals. They had to contend with an illusive enemy in his own country, constantly strengthened by uprisings of the people in each vicinity where the war was at the minute going on; they were unable to move far from their bases of supplies, which were necessarily the great seaport towns they might capture; they were hampered by lack of real heartiness in the English people for the struggle; and they were selfdeceived as to the assistance they might hope for from Tory sympathizers in this country. When Parliament rather reluctantly authorized the raising of twenty-five thousand men for the war, Great Britain was still forced to obtain most of this number by subsidizing German mercenaries from the small principalities, who were indiscriminately called Hessians by the colonists, and the employment of whom did much to still further provoke bitterness of feeling. At one time in the Revolution Great Britain had over three hundred thousand men in arms, the world over, but of this number not more than one-tenth could be sent to America. But the greatest obstacle to British success lay in the fact that the English leaders, military and civil, constantly underrated the courage, endurance, and earnestness of their opponents. That raw militia could stand their ground against regulars was a hard lesson for the British to learn; that men from civil life could show such aptitude for strategy as did Washington, Schuyler, and Greene, was a revelation to the professional military men the significance of which they grasped only when it was too late.
Above all, the one thing that made the colonists the victors was the indomitable energy, sacrifice, and strategic ability of George Washington. We are so accustomed to think of Washington's moral qualities, that it is only when we come close to the history of the war that we fully recognize how great was his military genius —a genius which justly entitles him to rank with the few truly great soldiers of history, such as Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Robert E. Lee and Von Moltke. Almost alone among the American generals of the Revolution, he was always willing to subordinate his own personal glory to the final success of his deep laid and comprehensive plans. Again and again he risked his standing with Congress, and ran the danger of being superseded by one or another jealous general of lower rank, rather than yield in a particle his deliberate scheme of campaign. Others received the popular honors for brilliant single movements while he waited and planned for the final result. What the main lines of his strategy were we shall endeavor to make clear in the following sketch:
When the news of the running fight from Concord to Lexington spread through the country, the militia hurried from every direction toward Boston. Israel Putnam literally left his plough in the field; John Stark, with his sturdy New Hampshire volunteers, reached the spot in three days; Nathaniel Greene headed fifteen hundred men from Rhode Island; Benedict Arnold led a band of patriots from Connecticut; the more distant colonies showed equal eagerness to aid in the defense of American liberties. Congress displayed deep wisdom in appointing George Washington Commander in Chief, not only because of his personal ability and the trust all men had in him, but because it was politically an astute measure to choose the leader from some other State than Massachusetts. But before Washington could reach the Continental forces, as they soon began to be called, the battle of Bunker Hill had been fought. And before that, even, Ethan Allen, with his Green Mountain Boys, had seized Fort Ticonderoga " in the name of Jehovah and the Continental Congress "-which Congress, by the way, showed momentarily some reluctance to sanction this first step of aggressive warfare. The occupation by Allen and Arnold of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, at the southern end of Lake Champlain, was of great military importance, both because of the large quantities of ammunition stored there, and because these places defended the line of the Hudson River valley against an attack from Canada.
The battle of Bunker Hill, looked at from the strictly military point of view, was a blunder on both sides, astonishing as was its moral effect. The hill, properly named Breed's Hill, but to which the name of Bunker Hill is now forever attached, rises directly back of Charlestown, on a peninsula connected with the main land by a narrow isthmus. The American forces seized this on the night of June 16th, 1775, and worked the night through entrenching themselves as well as they could. With the morning came the British attack. The position might easily have been reduced by seizing the isthmus, and for this reason the Americans had hardly shown military sagacity in their occupation of the hill. But the British chose rather to storm the works from the front. Three times the flower of the English army in battle line swept up the hill; twice they were swept back with terrible loss, repulsed by a fire which was reserved until they were close at hand; the third time they seized the position, but only when the Americans had exhausted their ammunition, and even then only after a severe hand to hand fight. The British loss was over a thousand men; the American loss about four hundred and fifty. When Washington heard of the battle he instantly asked if the New England militia had stood the fire of the British regulars, and when the whole story was told him he exclaimed, "The liberties of the country are safe." The spirit shown then and thereafter by our sturdy patriots is well illustrated by the story (chosen as the subject of one of our pictures) of the minister, who when in one battle there was a lack of wadding for the guns, brought out an armful of hymn books and exclaimed " Give them Watts, boys ! "
The next clash of arms came from Canada. General Montgomery led two thousand of the militia against Montreal, by way of Lake Champlain, and easily captured it (November 12, 1775). Thence he descended the St. Lawrence to Quebec, where he joined forces with Benedict Arnold, who had brought twelve hundred men through the Maine wilderness, and the two Generals attacked the British stronghold of Quebec. The attempt was a failure ; Arnold was wounded, Montgomery was killed, andthough the Americans fought gallantly they were driven back from Canada by superior forces.
Meanwhile the siege of Boston was systematically carried on by Washington, and in the spring of 1776 the American General gained a commanding position by seizing Dorchester Heights (which bore much the same relation to Boston on the South that Breed's Hill did on the North) and General Howe found himself forced to evacuate the city. He sailed with his whole force for Halifax, taking with him great numbers of American sympathizers with British rule, together with their property.
The new Congress met at Philadelphia in May. During the first month of its sessions it became evident that there had been an immense advance in public opinion as to the real issue to be maintained. Several of the colonies had expressed a positive conviction that National independence must be demanded. Virginia had formally instructed her delegates to take that ground, and it was on the motion of Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, seconded by John Adams, of Massachusetts, that Congress proceeded to consider the resolution "That these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved." This bold utterance was adopted on July 2d by all the colonies except New York. The opposition came mainly from Pennsylvania and New York, and was based, not on lack of patriotism, but on a feeling that the time for such an assertion had not yet come, that a stronger central government should first be established, and that attempts should be made to secure a foreign alliance. It should be noticed that the strongest opponents of the measure, John Dickinson and Robert Morris, of Pennsylvania, were among the most patriotic supporters of the Union. To Robert Morris in particular, whose skill as a financier steered the young Nation through many a difficulty, the country owes a special debt of gratitude. The Declaration of Independence, formally adopted two days later, was written mainly by the pen of Thomas Jefferson. It is unique among State papers —a dignified though impassioned, a calm though eloquent, recital of injuries inflicted, demand for redress, and avowal of liberties to be maintained with the sword. Its adoption was hailed, the country through, as the birth of a new Nation. Never before has a country about to appeal to war to decide its fate put upon record so clear-toned and deliberate an assertion of its purposes and its reasons, and thus summoned the world and posterity to witness the justice and righteousness of its cause.
Thus far in the war the engagements between the opposing forces had been of a detached kind not related, that is, to any broad plan of attack or defense. Of the same nature also was the British expedition against South Carolina, led by Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis. Their fleet attacked Charleston, but the fort was so bravely defended by Colonel Moultrie, from his palmetto-log fortifications on Sullivan's Island, that the fleet was forced to abandon the attempt and to return to New York. But the British now saw that it was imperative to enter upon a distinct and extensive plan of campaign. That adopted was sagacious and logical; its failure was due, not to any inherent defect in itself, but to lack of persistency in adhering to it. Washington understood it thoroughly from the first, and bent all his energies to tempting the enemy to diverge from the main object in view. The plan, in brief, was this:
New York City was to be seized and held as a base of supplies and center of operations; from it a stretch of country to the west was to be occupied and held, thus cutting off communication between New York and the New England States on the one side and Pennsylvania and the Southern States on the other. Meanwhile a force was to be pushed down from Canada to the head of the Hudson River, to be met by another force pushed northward up the Hudson. In this way New England would be practically surrounded, and it was thought that its colonies could be reduced one by one, while simultaneously or later an army could march southward upon Philadelphia. The plan was quite feasible, but probably at no time did the British have sufficient force to carry it out in detail. They woefully overestimated, also, the assistance they might receive from the Tories in New York State. And they still more woefully underestimated Washington's ability as a strategist in blocking their schemes.
General Howe, who was now Commander-in-Chief of the British army, drew his forces to a head upon Staten Island, combining there the troops which had sailed from Boston to Halifax, with Clinton's forces which had failed at Charleston, and the Hessians newly arrived. In all he had over thirty thousand soldiers. Washington, who had transferred his headquarters from Boston to the vicinity of New York after the former city had been evacuated by the British, occupied the Brooklyn Heights with about twenty thousand poorly equipped and undrilled colonial troops. To hold that position against the larger forces of regulars seemed a hopeless task; but every point was to be contested. In point of fact, only five thousand of the Americans were engaged in the battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776) against twenty thousand men brought by General Howe from Staten Island. The Americans were driven back after a hotly contested fight. Before Howe could follow up his victory Washington planned and executed one of those extraordinary, rapid movements which so often amazed his enemy; in a single night he withdrew his entire army across the East River into New York in boats, moving so secretly and swiftly that the British first found out what had happened when they saw the deserted camps before them on the following morning. Drawing back through the city Washington made his next stand at Harlem Heights, occupying Fort Washington on the east and Fort Lee on the west side of the Hudson, thus guarding the line of the river while prepared to move southward toward Philadelphia if occasion should require.
In the battle of White Plains the Americans suffered a repulse, but much more dispiriting to Washington was the disarrangement of his plans caused by the interference of Congress. That over-prudent body sent special orders to General Greene, at Fort Washington, to hold it at all odds, while Washington had directed Greene to be ready on the first attack to fall back upon the main army in New Jersey. The result was the capture of Fort Washington, with a loss of three thousand prisoners. To add to the misfortune, General Charles Lee, who commanded a wing of the American army on the east side of the river, absolutely ignored Washington's orders to join him. Lee was a soldier of fortune, vain, ambitious, and volatile, and there is little doubt that his disobedience was due to his hope that Washington was irretrievably ruined and that he might succeed to the command. Gathering his scattered troops together as well as he could, Washington retreated through New Jersey, meeting everywhere with reports that the colonists were in despair, that many had given in their allegiance to the British, that Congress had fled to Baltimore, and that the war was looked on as almost over. In this crisis it was an actual piece of rare good fortune that Charles Lee should be captured by soldiers while spending the night at a tavern away from his camp, for the result was that Lee's forces were free to join Washington's command, and at once did so. Altogether some six thousand men were left in the army, and were drawn into something like coherence on the other side of the Delaware River. General Howe announced that he had now nothing to do but wait the freezing of the Delaware, and then to cross over and "catch Washington and end the war."
But he reckoned without his host. Choosing, as the best time for his bold and sudden movement, Christmas night, when revelry in the camp of the enemy might be hoped to make them careless, Washington crossed the river. Leading in person the division of twenty-five hundred men, which alone succeeded in making the passage over the river, impeded as it was with great blocks of ice, he marched straight upon the Hessian outposts at Trenton and captured them with ease. Still his position was a most precarious one. Cornwallis was at Princeton with the main British army, and marching directly upon the Americans, penned them up, as he thought, between Trenton and the Delaware. It is related that Cornwallis remarked, "At last we have run down the old fox, and we will bag him in the morning." But before morning came Washington had executed another surprising and decisive maneuver. Maintaining a great show of activity at his entrenchments, and keeping campfires brightly burning, he noiselessly led the main body of his army round the flank of the British force and marched straight northward upon Princeton, capturing as he went the British rear guard on its way to Trenton, seizing the British post of supplies at New Brunswick, and in the end securing a strong position on the hills in Northern New Jersey, with Morristown as his headquarters. There he could at last rest for a time, strengthen his army, and take advantage of the prestige which his recent operations had brought him.
Let us turn our attention now to the situation further north. General Burgoyne had advanced southward from Canada through Lake Champlain and had easily captured Ticonderoga. His object was, of course, to advance in the same line to the south until he reached the Hudson River ; but this was a very different matter from what he had supposed it. General Schuyler was in command of the Americans, and showed the highest military skill in opposing Burgoyne's progress, cutting off his supplies and harassing him generally. An expedition to assist Burgoyne had been sent down the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, thence to march eastward to the head of the Hudson, gathering aid as it went from the Indians and Tories. This expedition was an utter failure; at Oriskany the Tories and British were defeated in a fiercely fought battle, in which a greater proportion of those engaged were killed than in any other battle of the war. Disheartened at this, and at the near approach of Benedict Arnold, St. Leger, who was at the head of the expedition, fled in confusion back to Canada. Meanwhile Burgoyne had sent out a detachment to gather supplies. This was utterly routed at Bennington by the Vermont farmers under General Stark.
Through all the country round about the Americans were flocking to arms, their patriotism enforced by their horror at the atrocities committed by Burgoyne's Indian allies and by the danger to their own homes. Practically, Burgoyne was surrounded, and though he fought bravely in the battles of Stillwater (September 19, 1777) and Bemis's Heights (October 7th), he was overmatched. Ten days after the last-named battle he surrendered with all his forces to General Gates, who was now at the head of the American forces in that vicinity and thus received the nominal honor of the result, although it was really due rather to the skill and courage of General Schuyler and General Arnold. Almost six thousand soldiers laid down their arms, and the artillery, small arms, ammunition, clothing, and other military stores which fell into General Gates's hands were immensely valuable. Almost greater than the practical gain of this splendid triumph was that of the respect at once accorded throughout the world to American courage and military capacity.
Surrender of General Burgoyne
General Burgoyne had every right to lay the blame for the mortifying failure of his expedition upon Howe, who had totally failed to carry out his part of the plan of campaign. It was essential to the success of this plan that Howe should have pushed an army up the Hudson to support Burgoyne. In leaving this undone he committed the greatest blunder of the war. Why he acted as he did was for a long while a mystery, but letters brought to light eighty years after the war was over show that he was strongly influenced by the traitorous arguments of his prisoner, Charles Lee, who for a time, at least, had decided to desert the American cause. While in this frame of mind he convinced Howe that there was plenty of time to move upon and seize Philadelphia and still come to Burgoyne's aid in season. Howe should have known Washington's methods better by this time. At first the British General attempted a march through New Jersey, but for nearly three weeks Washington blocked his movements, outmaneuvered him in the fencing for advantage of position, and finally compelled him to withdraw, baffled, to New York. Though no fighting of consequence occurred in this period, it is, from the military standpoint, one of the most interesting of the entire war. The result was that Howe, unwilling to give up his original design, transported his army to the mouth of the Delaware by sea, then decided to make his attempt by way of Chesapeake Bay, and finally, after great delay, landed his forces at the head of that bay, fifty miles from Philadelphia. Washington interposed his army between the enemy and the city and for several weeks delayed its inevitable capture.
In the Battle of Brandywine the Americans put eleven thousand troops in the field against eighteen thousand of the British, and were defeated, though by no means routed (September 11, 1777). After Howe had seized the city he found it necessary to send part of his army to capture the forts on the Delaware River, and this gave the Americans the opportunity of an attack with evenly balanced forces. Unfortunately, the battle of Germantown was, by reason of a heavy fog, changed into a confused conflict, in which some American regiments fired into others, and which ended in the retreat of our forces. Washington drew back and went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. Congress, on the approach of the enemy, had fled to York. Howe had accomplished his immediate object, but at what a cost! The possession of Philadelphia had not appreciably brought nearer the subjugation of the former colonies, while the opportunity to cooperate with Burgoyne had been irretrievably lost, and, as we have seen, a great and notable triumph had been gained by the Americans in his surrender.
The memorable winter which Washington spent at Valley Forge he often described as the darkest of his life. The course of the war had not been altogether discouraging, but he had to contend with the inaction of Congress, with cabals of envious rivals, and with the wretched lack of supplies and food. He writes to Congress that when he wished to draw up his troops to fight, the men were unable to stir on account of hunger, that 2898 men were unfit for duty because they were barefooted and half naked, that "for seven days past there has been little else than a famine in the camp." Meanwhile an intrigue to supersede Washington by Gates was on foot and nearly succeeded. The whole country also was suffering from the depreciated Continental currency and from the lack of power in the general government to lay taxes. What a contrast is there between Washington's position at this time and the enthusiasm with which the whole country flocked to honor him in the autumn of the first year of his Presidency (1789), when he made a journey which was one long series of ovations. An idea of the character of these is given in the accompanying picture of his reception at Trenton, where the date on the triumphal arch recalled that famous Christmas night when he outwitted the British.
But encouragement from abroad was at hand. Perhaps the most important result of Burgoyne's surrender was its influence in procuring us the French Alliance. Already a strong sympathy had been aroused for the American cause in France. The nobility were influenced in no small degree by the sentimental and philosophical agitation for ideal liberty which preceded the brutal reality of the French Revolution. Lafayette, then a mere boy of eighteen, had fitted out a ship with supplies at his own expense, and had laid his services at Washington's command. Our Commissioners to France --John Adams, Arthur Lee, and Benjamin Franklin had labored night and day for the alliance. Franklin, in particular, had, by his shrewd and homely wit, his honesty of purpose and his high patriotism, made a profound impression upon the French people. We read that on one occasion he was made to embrace the role of an Apostle of Liberty at an elegant fete where "the most beautiful of three hundred women was designated to go and place on the philosopher's white locks a crown of laurel, and to give the old man two kisses on his cheeks." Very " French " this, but not without its significance. But after all, the thing which turned the scale with the French Government was the partial success of our armies. France was only too willing, under favoring circumstances, to obtain its revenge upon Great Britain for many recent defeats and slights. So it was that in the beginning of 1778 the independence of the United States was recognized by France and a fleet was, sent to our assistance. During the winter, meanwhile, the thirteen States had adopted in Congress articles of confederation and perpetual union, which were slowly and hesitatingly ratified by the legislatures of the several States.
The news of the reinforcements on their way from France, led Sir Henry Clinton, who had now succeeded Howe in the chief command of the British, to abandon Philadelphia, and mass his forces at New York. This he did in June, 1778, sending part of the troops by sea and the rest northward, through New Jersey. Washington instantly broke camp, followed the enemy, and overtook him at Monmouth Court House. In the battle which followed the forces were equally balanced, each having about fifteen thousand men. The American attack was entrusted to Charles Lee, who had been exchanged, and whose treachery was not suspected. Again Lee disobeyed orders, and directed a retreat at the critical minute of the fight. Had Washington not arrived, the retreat would have been a rout; as it was he turned it into a victory, driving the British from their position, and gained the honors of the day. But had it not been for Lee, this victory might have easily been made a crushing and final defeat for the British army. A court-martial held upon Lee's conduct expelled him from the army. Years later he died a disgraced man, though it is only in our time that the full extent of his dishonor has been understood.
WASHINGTON REPROVING LEE AT MONMOUTH.
The scene of the most important military operations now changes from the Northern to the Southern States. But before speaking of the campaign which ended with Cornwallis's surrender, we may characterize the fighting in the North, which went on in the latter half of the war, as desultory and unsystematic in its nature. The French fleet under Count d'Estaing was unable to cross the New York bar on account of the depth of draught of its greatest ships; and for that reason the attempt to capture New York City was abandoned. Its next attempt was to wrest Rhode Island from the British. This also was defeated, partly because of a storm at a critical moment, partly through a misunderstanding with the American allies. After these two failures, the French fleet sailed to the West Indies to injure British interests there. The assault on the fort at Stony Point by " Mad Anthony " Wayne has importance as a brilliant and thrilling episode, and was of value in strengthening our position on the Hudson River. All along the border the Tories were inciting the Indians to barbarous attacks. The most important and deplorable of these attacks were those which ended in the massacres at Wyoming and Cherry Valley. Reprisals for these atrocities were taken by General Sullivan's expedition, which defeated the Tories and Indians combined, near Elmira, with great slaughter. But all these events, like the British sudden attacks on the Connecticut ports of New Haven, Fairfield, and Norwalk, were, as we have said, rather detached episodes than related parts of a campaign.
We should also note before entering upon the final chapter of the war, that Great Britain had politically receded from her position. Of her own accord she had offered to abrogate the offensive legislation which had provoked the colonies to war. But it was too late; the proposition of peace commissioners sent to America to acknowledge the principle of taxation by colonial assemblies was not for a moment considered. The watchword of America was now Independence, and there was no disposition in any quarter to accept anything less than full recognition of the rights of the United States as a Nation.
The second and last serious and concerted effort by the British to subjugate the American States had as its scene of operations our Southern territory. At first it seemed to succeed. A long series of reverses to the cause of independence were reported from Georgia and South Carolina. The plan formed by Sir Henry Clinton and Cornwallis was, in effect, to begin at the extreme South and overpower one State after another until the army held in reserve about New York could cooperate with that advancing victoriously from the South. Savannah had been captured in 1778, while General Lincoln, who commanded our forces, was twice defeated with great loss once at Brier Creek, in an advance upon Savannah, when his lieutenant, General Ashe, was actually routed with very heavy loss; and once when Savannah had been invested by General Lincoln himself by land, while the French fleet under d'Estaing besieged the city by sea. In a short time Georgia was entirely occupied by the British. They were soon reinforced by Sir Henry Clinton in person, with an army, and the united forces moved upward into South Carolina with thirteen thousand men. Lincoln was driven into Charleston, was there besieged, and (May 12, 1780) was forced to, surrender not only the city but his entire army. A desultory but brilliant guerrilla warfare was carried on at this time by the Southern militia and light cavalry under the dashing leadership of Francis Marion, " the Swamp Fox," and the partisan, Thomas Sumter.
These men were privateers on horseback. Familiar with the tangled swamps and always well mounted, even though in rags themselves, they were the terror of the invaders. At the crack of their rifles the pickets of Cornwallis fled, leaving a score of dead behind. The dreaded cavalry of Tarleton often came back from their raids with many a saddle emptied by the invisible foes. They were here, they were everywhere. Their blows were swift and sure ; their vigilance sleepless. Tarleton had been sent by Cornwallis with a force of seven hundred cavalry to destroy a patriot force in North Carolina, under Buford, which resulted in his utterly destroying about four hundred of the patriots at Waxhaw, the affair being more of a massacre than a battle. Thus the name of Tarleton came to be hated in the South as that of Benedict Arnold was in the North. He was dreaded for his celerity and cruelty. As illustrative of the spirit of the Southern colonists, we may be pardoned for the digression of the following anecdote. The fighting of Marion and his men was much like that of the wild Apaches of the southwest. When hotly pursued by the enemy his command would break up into small parties, and these as they were hard pressed would subdivide, until nearly every patriot was fleeing alone. There could be no successful pursuit, therefore, since the subdivision of the pursuing party weakened it too much.
"We will give fifty pounds to get within reach of the scamp that galloped by here, just ahead of us," exclaimed a lieutenant of Tarleton's cavalry, as he and three other troopers drew up before a farmer, who was hoeing in the field by the roadside. The farmer looked up, leaned on his hoe, took off his old hat and mopping his forehead with his handkerchief looked at the angry soldier and said, ""Fifty pounds is a big lot of money." "So it is in these times, but we'll give it to you in gold, if you'll show us where we can get a chance at the rebel ; did you see him ? " "He was all alone, was he? And he was mounted on a black horse with a white star in his forehead, and he was going like a streak of lightning, wasn't he? " That's the fellow !" exclaimed the questioners, hoping they were about to get the knowledge they wanted.
TARLETON'S LIEUTENANT AND THE FARMER (JACK DAVIS).
"It looked to me like Jack Davis, though he went by so fast that I couldn't get a square look at his face, but he was one of Marion's men, and if I ain't greatly mistaken it was Jack Davis himself."
Then looking up at the four British horsemen, the farmer added, with a quizzical expression " I reckon that there Jack Davis has hit you chaps pretty hard, ain't he ? "
"Never mind about that," replied the lieutenant ; "what we want to know is where we can get a chance at him for just about five minutes."
The farmer put his cotton handkerchief into his hat, which he now slowly replaced, and shook his head : "I don't think he's hiding round here," he said; "when he shot by Jack was going so fast that it didn't look as if he could stop under four or five miles. Strangers, I'd like powerful well to earn that fifty pounds, but I don't think you'll get a chance to squander it on me."
After some further questioning, the lieutenant and his men wheeled their horses and trotted back toward the main body of Tarleton's cavalry. The farmer plied his hoe for several minutes, gradually working his way toward the stretch of woods some fifty yards from the roadside. Reaching the margin of the field, he stepped in among the trees, hastily took off his clothing, tied it up in a bundle, shoved it under a flat rock from beneath which he drew a suit no better in quality, but showing a faint semblance to a uniform. Putting it on and then plunging still deeper into the woods, he soon reached a dimly-marked track, which he followed only a short distance, when a gentle whinney fell upon his ear. The next moment he vaulted on the back of a bony but blooded horse, marked by a beautiful star in his forehead. The satin skin of the steed shone as though he had been traveling hard, and his rider allowed him to walk along the path for a couple of miles, when he entered an open space where, near a spring, Francis Marion and fully two hundred men were encamped. They were eating, smoking and chatting as though no such horror as war was known.
You understand, of course, that the farmer that leaned on his hoe by
the roadside and talked to Tarleton's lieutenant about Jack Davis
and his exploits was Jack Davis himself.
North Carolina was now in danger, and it was to be defended by the overrated General Gates, whose campaign was marked by every indication of military incapacity. His attacks were invariably made recklessly, and his positions were ill-chosen. At Camden he was utterly and disgracefully defeated by Lord Cornwallis (August 16, 1780). It seemed now as if the British forces could easily hold the territory already won and could advance safely into Virginia. This was, indeed, one of the darkest periods in the history of our war, and even Washington was inclined to despair.
To add to the feeling of despondency came the news of Benedict Arnold's infamous treachery. In the early part of the war he had served, not merely with credit but with the highest distinction. Ambitious and passionate by temper, he had justly been indignant at the slights put upon him by the promotion over his head of several officers who were far less entitled than he to such a reward. He had also, perhaps, been treated with undue severity in his trial by court-martial on charges relating to his accounts and matters of discipline. No doubt he was greatly influenced by his marriage to a lady of great beauty, who was in intimate relations with many of the leading Tories. It is more than probable, still further, that he believed the cause of American independence could never be won. But neither explanations nor fancied wrongs in the least mitigate the baseness of his conduct. He deliberately planned to be put in command of West Point, with the distinct intention of handing it over to the British in return for thirty thousand dollars in money and a command in the British army. It was almost an accident that the emissary between Arnold and Clinton, Major Andre was captured by Paulding and his rough but incorruptible fellows. Andre's personal charm and youth created a feeling of sympathy for him, but it cannot be for a moment denied that he was justly tried and executed, in accordance, with the law of nations. Had Arnold's attempt succeeded, it is more than likely that the blow dealt our cause would have been fatal. His subsequent service in the British army only deepened the feeling of loathing with which his name was heard by Americans; while even his new allies distrusted and despised him, and at one time Cornwallis positively refused to act in concert with him.
A bright and cheering contrast to this dark episode is that of the glorious victories at sea won by John Paul Jones, who not only devastated British commerce, but, in a desperately fought naval battle, captured two British men-of-war, the "Serapis" and the "Countess of Scarborough," and carried the new American flag into foreign ports with the prestige of having swept everything before him on the high seas. Here was laid the foundation of that reputation for intrepidity and gallantry at sea which the American navy so well sustained in our second war with Great Britain.
As the year 1780 advanced, the campaign in the South began to assume a more favorable aspect. General Greene was placed in command of the American army and at once began a series of rapid and confusing movements, now attacking the enemy in front, now cutting off his communications in the rear, but always scheming for the advantage of position, and usually obtaining it. He was aided ably by "Light Horse Harry" Lee and by General Morgan. Even before his campaign began the British had suffered a serious defeat at King's Mountain, just over the line between North and South Carolina, where a body of southern and western backwoodsmen had cut to pieces and finally captured a British detachment of twelve hundred men. Greene followed up this victory by sending Morgan to attack one wing of Cornwallis's army at Cowpens, near by King's Mountain, where again a large body of the enemy were captured with a very slight loss on the part of the Americans. Less decisive was the battle of Guilford Court House (March 15, 1781), which was contested with great persistency and courage by both armies. At the end of the day the British held the field, but the position was too perilous for Cornwallis to maintain long, and he retreated forthwith to the coast. General Greene continued to seize one position after another, driving the scattered bodies of the British through South Carolina and finally meeting them face to face at Eutaw Springs, where another equally contested battle took place; in which, as at Guilford, the British claimed the honors of the day, but which also resulted in their ultimately giving away before the Americans and entrenching themselves in Charleston. Now, indeed, the British were to move into Virginia, not as they had originally planned, but because the more southern States were no longer tenable. It seemed almost as if Greene were deliberately driving them northward, so that in the end they might be between two American armies. But they made a strong stand at Yorktown, in which a small British army under Benedict Arnold was already in possession and had been opposed by Lafayette.
Washington, who had been watching the course of events with the keen eye of the master strategist, saw that the time had come for a decisive blow. The French fleet was sent to the Chesapeake, and found little difficulty in reducing the British force and approaching Yorktown by sea. Washington's own army had been lying along the Hudson, centered at West Point, ready to meet any movement by Sir Henry Clinton's army at New York. Now Washington moved southward down the Hudson into the upper part of New Jersey. It was universally believed that he was about to attack the British at New York. Even his own officers shared this belief. But with a rapidity that seems astonishing, and with the utmost skill in handling his forces, Washington led them swiftly on, still in the line toward the south, and before Clinton had grasped his intention he was well on his way to Virginia. Cornwallis was now assailed both by land and by sea; he occupied a peninsula, from which he could not escape except by forcing a road through Washington's united army of sixteen thousand men. The city of Yorktown was bombarded for three weeks. An American officer writes: "The whole peninsula trembles under the incessant thunderings of our infernal machines." General Rochambeau who had been placed in command of the French forces in America, actively cooperated with Washington. The meeting of the two great commanders forms the subject of one of our illustrations.
Good soldier and good general as Cornwallis was, escape was impossible. On October 19, 1781, he suffered the humiliation of a formal surrender of his army of over seven thousand men, with two hundred and forty cannon, twenty-eight regimental standards, and vast quantities of military stores and provisions (See ARTICLES OF CAPITULATION). When Lord North, the English Minister, heard of the surrender, we are told, he paced the floor in deep distress, and cried, " 0 God, it is all over ! "And so it was, in fact. The cause of American independence had practically been won. Hostilities, it is true, continued in a feeble and half-hearted way, and it was not until September, 1783, that the Treaty of Peace secured by John Jay, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin was actually signed —a treaty which was not only honorable to us, but which, in the frontier boundaries adopted, was more advantageous than even our French allies were inclined to approve, giving us as it did the territory westward to the Mississippi and southward to Florida. Great Britain as a nation had become heartily sick and tired of her attempt to coerce her former colonies. As the war progressed she had managed to involve herself in hostilities not only with France, but with Spain and Holland, and even with the native princes of India. Lord North's Ministry fell, the star of the younger Pitt arose into the ascendency, and George the Third's attempt to establish a purely personal rule at home and abroad was defeated beyond redemption.
As we read of the scanty recognition given by the American States to the soldiers who had fought their battles; as we learn that it was only Washington's commanding influence that restrained these soldiers, half starved and half paid, from compelling that recognition from Congress by force; as we perceive how many and serious were the problems of finance and of government distracting the State Legislatures; as, in short, we see the political disintegration and chaotic condition of affairs in the newly born Nation, we recognize the fact that the struggle which had just ended so triumphantly was but the prelude to another, more peaceful but not less vital, struggle that for the founding of a strong, coherent, and truly National Government. The latter struggle began before the Revolution was over and lasted until, in 1787, by mutual concession and mutual compromise was formed the Constitution of the United States.
Site Copyright 2003-2014 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,
Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.