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Chelsea Curtis Fraser



From State to State with rapid stride,

His troops had marched before, sir,

Till quite elate with martial pride,

He thought all dangers o'er, sir.


I. Cornwallis Chases but Does Not Catch.

As a member of the British Parliament just prior to the war, Lord Charles Cornwallis had personally opposed the measure of opening up hostilities with America. But when, a little later, he was asked to command a regiment sent to the new country, he made no objection and forthwith set off across the seas.

Whatever his reason for standing by the Colonists when the question of war was brought up, one thing seems certain, to judge from the man's later unenviable reputation,—he could not have been actuated by any kindly motives for the Provincials. No sooner did he take up arms in America than he began to institute and support measures whereby the Tories were enabled to practice many despicable and cruel atrocities upon their patriotic neighbors without risk of punishment to themselves. So Cornwallis, though a capable military man, soon came to be much dis- liked by the Americans. Even his own men grew to have little regard for him, owing to the severe and inexorable punishments he meted out to them for slight transgressions.

In the invasion of the South by Cornwallis, as in the invasion of the North by Burgoyne, the first serious blow which the enemy felt was delivered by the militia. After his great victory over Gates, Cornwallis remained nearly a month at Camden resting his troops.

By the middle of September, 1780, he had started on his march to North Carolina. He expected to realize here an easy conquest. But his reception in that State was anything but hospitable. Bands of yeomen lurked about every woodland road, cut off his foraging parties, slew his couriers, and captured his dispatches. To use his own words, Lord Cornwallis began to think he had "walked into a hornet's nest."

On October 7th, at King's Mountain, on a high ridge midway between the two Carolinas, the British were assailed and badly defeated. Cornwallis then fell back upon Winnesborough, to await reinforcements.

At this time the army of the South, which it was now sought to restore, needed a new commander-in-chief more than anything else. In every campaign since the beginning of the war, Greene had been Washington's right arm, as it were. For strength, indefatigable industry, and breadth of intelligence, as well as for unselfish devotion to the public service, he was scarcely inferior to Washington himself.

Therefore, when Congress, on October 5th, called upon Washington to name a successor to Gates, he immediately appointed Greene, who arrived at Charlotte, South Carolina, and took command on December 2nd.

The Southern army, though weak in numbers, was splendidly well officered. Among the leaders was William Washington, of Virginia, a distant cousin of the commander-in-chief and a commissioned lieutenant-colonel.

Although he had insufficient men to cope with Cornwallis as a unit, Greene conceived the fact that he might divide his force and cause the British chief a lot of trouble. This was done. The larger division—a little over one thousand strong—he led in person to Cheraw Hill, on the Pedee River, where he cooperated with Marion and from which base they kept up a series of rapid movements which not only annoyed Cornwallis greatly, but also threatened his communications with the coast. The other division—about nine hundred men—went westward under Morgan, Lieutenant-Colonel Washington accompanying. They were to threaten the important British inland posts in conjunction with the mountain militia of the State.

Thus worried and menaced upon both his flanks, Cornwallis hardly knew which way to turn. In his dilemma he finally decided to divide his own forces. With his main body of about two thousand he advanced into North Carolina, hoping to draw Greene after him. At the same time he sent Tarleton, with the rest of his army of slightly more than a thousand men, to look up Morgan and invite a conflict.

In thus sending Tarleton after a man of Morgan's powerful caliber, Cornwallis blundered badly. Morgan cunningly retreated as his enemy approached him, coaxing him on. Finally the veteran American woodsman-soldier took up a position on a grazing-grounds known as the Cowpens, a few miles from King's Mountain. On the morning of January 17th the two divisions clashed. By daring and skilful maneuvering Colonel Washington and Pickens encompassed both flanks of the British, resulting in most of Tarleton's command being captured and the remainder taking to flight.

Greene now conceived the brilliant scheme of drawing Cornwallis far enough northward to place him under disadvantageous circumstances and then give him final battle. In carrying this out, he put his main army under General Huger with orders to push northward, while he himself, taking only a sergeant's guard of dragoons, with all possible speed rode a hundred and fifty miles across the country and put himself at the head of Morgan's force, which Cornwallis was now pursuing.

For the next ten days a most exciting game of strategy was kept up between the two foe commanders. Greene adroitly worked northward, ever keeping close to Cornwallis, but never allowing the British leader to really involve him in battle. In his anxiety to catch up with his prize, Cornwallis destroyed most of his heavy baggage in an effort to accelerate his own ponderous movements. But still he did not seem to be able to overtake the agile Americans ahead, who gradually converged toward the point where they planned to join their main body.

Greene's plan worked out perfectly. On the 9th of February he reached the point desired—Guilford Court-House—and there to his joy found the main army awaiting his coming. But Greene was sure that his combined force was still too weak to risk the final battle with the British. Therefore, when Cornwallis came up, the Americans retreated.

Once more the astute American leader led poor Cornwallis a will-o'-the-wisp chase, marching and counter-marching, and foiling every attempt to bring him at bay. At length, on March 14th, he had been reinforced to the extent of possessing an army of some four thousand men. He at once returned to Guilford Court-House, and the next day, on the 15th, the well-known battle of that name took place. Cornwallis was afterward sorry that he had been so desirous of getting into this conflict, for matters went against him, and, after fighting desperately for three days, he was forced to abandon his wounded and make all haste for Wilmington, where he hoped for aid from the British fleet.

When the British commander arrived at Wilmington he debated for a while whether to send his troops by boat back to Charleston and begin his work all over again, or march into Virginia, where a fresh opportunity seemed to present itself. As the first-named step would be a confession of defeat, he decided upon the latter.

Sir Henry Clinton had just sent General Phillips down into Virginia with a force which, if combined with that of Cornwallis, would amount to more than five thousand men. With this army, Cornwallis told himself, it might be possible to strike the Americans there a mighty blow. Afterward he could invade the Carolinas, this time from the north.

Influenced by such considerations, Lord Cornwallis started from Wilmington on April 25th. On May 10th, at Petersburg, Virginia, he affected a junction with the forces of Phillips and Arnold—Benedict Arnold only a brief while ago the beloved and honored of all Americans, now, as a traitor, the hated and despised of all the enemy.

At this time the youthful Lafayette, but twenty-three years of age, whom Washington had sent to watch the movements of Arnold, was stationed at Richmond. With him was a little army of three thousand men, two-thirds of which were raw militia.

Lafayette has never been considered a great general, for though a noble and interesting character, he was in no wise a man of original genius such as every military strategist needs must be; but he had much good sense and a strong capacity for learning. Kind of heart to a degree, he had all of the boy's wholesome enthusiasm and buoyancy of spirits.

At first Cornwallis, unwilling to risk his army without an overwhelming force, applied to Clinton to abandon New York and send all available British to Virginia and make the conquering of the State a sure thing. In this Clinton wisely refused, whereupon Cornwallis cast aside his fears and determined to begin his new operations by crushing Lafayette forthwith.

"The boy cannot escape me," said Cornwallis grimly.

But the young Frenchman, whose name will ever be dear to future generations of Americans, as it is to-day, was more formidable than the British Earl fancied. When Cornwallis advanced upon Richmond, Lafayette adopted the tactics of Greene, which had lately proved the undoing of the British chief, and skillfully retreated. Unable to even deal him a blow, Cornwallis finally gave up the chase, and retreated down the James River to Richmond.

But he did not remain here long, finding the people much more hostile than he had anticipated. Thinking it more prudent to get closer to his base of operations, and there obtain reinforcements be-fore continuing his invasion, he crossed the Chickahominy a little above White Oak Swamp, and marched down the York peninsula as far as Williamsburg.

Cornwallis was closely followed by Lafayette, who had received reinforcements which brought his army to more than five thousand men. On July 6th two portions of the opposing armies engaged in a sharp but brief conflict at Green Spring, in which the Americans were repulsed with a loss of one hundred and forty-five men.

During the first week of August Cornwallis entered Yorktown, adding the garrison of Portsmouth to his forces so that they now numbered seven thousand. Lafayette then occupied Malvern Hill, near the junction of the James and Appomattox Rivers, and here awaited further developments.

Throughout this little game of chess, "the boy" had shown no mean skill, proving himself a worthy antagonist for the ablest British general, who now began to have greater respect for his abilities.

And yet a far greater commander than either the youthful Frenchman or the middle-aged Englishman was now to enter unexpectedly upon the scene. The various settings of the great disaster for the British were all prepared. Only a master hand was required to make them function.

II. Surrender of Cornwallis

The retreat of Cornwallis upon Yorktown was based entirely upon the assumption that he could still depend upon the British naval supremacy which all along had been complete and unchallenged. He realized as well as anybody could that the safety of his position depended wholly upon the ability of the war craft of his own country to control the Virginia waters. One thing he did not know, else he never would have allowed himself to occupy his present quarters. This was that there was a strong likelihood of the French taking a prominent part in altering the waterway war checkerboard.

As early as the 22nd of May, General George Washington had held a conference with Rochambeau, and it was decided that a combined attack should be made upon New York (then in the hands of the enemy) by the French and American armies. In order to make this attack successful, they saw that it would be necessary to have the assistance of a strong fleet, and they thought that at last they knew where to put their hands upon just what they wanted.

The naval war between France and England in the West Indies had now raged, with varying fortune, for a matter of two years, or ever since the French government had declared a state of hostilities to exist between herself and Great Britain. Bent on gaining greater victories, France had exerted herself in preparing additional ships, and early in the spring of the present year had sent out a magnificent fleet of twenty-eight ships-of-the-line and six frigates, which carried seventeen hundred guns and about twenty thousand men.

This fine flotilla was commanded by Count de Grasse, one of the ablest French admirals. It was intended to take from England the great island of Jamaica; but as the need for naval co-operation along the North American coast had been strongly urged upon the French ministry, de Grasse was ordered to communicate with Washington and Rochambeau, and to avail himself of the earliest opportunity of acting in concert with them.

News traveled at a snail's pace in those days compared to its lightning rapidity at the present time. It was in April, a full month after Greene's exploit of elbowing Cornwallis up into Virginia, before Washington received the report of it. At once Washington began to secretly consider the possibility of leaving a small force to guard the Hudson while he should take the bulk of his army southward in an effort to overwhelm Cornwallis. He spoke of this to Rochambeau, which resulted in a dispatch being sent to de Grasse, giving him the choice of sailing either for the Hudson or Chesapeake when he should arrive.

Thus matters stood until the middle of August —Washington undecided, but grasping all the elements of the problem, and ready to strike New York, close at hand, or to hurl his army four hundred miles into Virginia, if either demand should suddenly arise.

On August 14th a message came from de Grasse stating that he was just starting from the West Indies for Chesapeake Bay. Added to this good news came another bit of welcome information—this time from Lafayette—disclosing the fact that Cornwallis had established himself at Yorktown, with the young French leader close by.

Upon receipt of this pleasing information, Washington's master mind, picturing Cornwallis surrounded on three sides by deep water, with a narrow neck of land in front, quickly finished the arrangement of his plans. He must have realized that the supreme moment of his military career had all but come—the moment when he would have a golden chance to prove that the trust of his countrymen in his ability to carry them through their troubles was not misplaced. It would only be a short time now—a very, very short time—when Cornwallis would rue the day he settled in Yorktown!

He had everything in readiness. Only the arrival of de Grasse himself was needed to complete matters. In July the army of Rochambeau had marched through Connecticut and joined him on the Hudson. He felt that he could afford to leave West Point with a comparatively small force, as the fortress was so strong it could be conquered only by a very long siege; and he had planned his march so as to blind Sir Henry Clinton entirely. The latter was anxiously looking out for an attack upon New York; therefore, it would be an easy matter for Washington to take his army more than half way through New Jersey without even arousing suspicion, as such a movement would be sure to be interpreted as preliminary to occupation of Staten Island, from whence to attack New York.

Every detail of his scheme was thus carefully worked out by Washington. The forthcoming events justified his keen foresight.

On the 19th of August, just five days after the receipt of the dispatch from de Grasse, Washington's army crossed the Hudson at King's Ferry, and began its march. Lord Stirling was left with a small force at Saratoga, while General Heath remained at West Point with four thousand men.

With Washington went two thousand Continentals and four thousand French. It was the only time during the war that French and American troops marched together, except on the occasion of the disastrous attack upon Savannah.

None save Washington and Rochambeau knew whither they were going. The fact is that Washington guarded the secret so preciously that not until New Brunswick was passed did even the general staff officers know their destination was other than Staten Island.

When the army reached Philadelphia, and marched through the streets, there was an outburst of exulting hope. The plan could no longer be concealed. Congress, for the first time, was informed of it, and the hearts of the people, already elated at the news of Greene's career in the south, felt wonderfully lightened. It seemed that every window along the thoroughfare was filled with fair ladies. These threw fresh flowers upon the dusty soldiers as they passed, while the sidewalks were crowded with men, women and children, all of whom made the welkin ring with their glad shouts, anticipating the great deliverance which seemed so close at hand.

The column of soldiers, in the loose order adapted to its swift march, was close to two miles long. First came the war-worn Americans, clad in their plain homespun which spoke eloquently of the meager resources of a country so new that it had not yet attained the dignity of a government. Closely following were the gallant Frenchmen, their gorgeous trappings contrasting sharply with the rough, nondescript garments of the valiant men they had come so far to help—elaborate uniforms which it was no hardship to provide by a government which at that time took three-fourths of the earnings of its people in unrighteous taxes.

Parading in Philadelphia only long enough for the president of Congress and other officials to witness the condition of his troops, Washington hurried on southward. At Chester he received word that de Grasse had actually arrived in Chesapeake Bay. At this intelligence the joy of his soldiers, as well as that of the people in the town, knew no bounds. Bands of music played in the streets, every house hoisted its new stars-and-stripes. And as Washington continued his journey all the roadside taverns shouted success to the bold American general and his army.

"Long live Washington!" was the toast of the day. "He has gone to catch Cornwallis in his mouse-trap!"

Swiftly the Americans covered the dusty way. At last, on September 5th, they reached the head of Chesapeake Bay. Embarking in ships, they reached the scene of intended action, near Yorktown, by the 18th.

Meanwhile, everything seemed to be developing perfectly for the success of American arms in the expected battle. On the 31st of August the big French squadron had arrived on the scene. It had been closely followed by Admiral Rodney's fleet of British boats, under the command of Sir Samuel Hood. Hood really out-sailed de Grasse, passing him on the ocean at night without knowing it, and seeing nothing suspicious when he looked in at Chesapeake Bay on August 25th, had sailed on to New York to get instructions from Admiral Graves, who commanded the British naval force in the North.

This was the first intimation Graves had had of the threatened danger. He was greatly alarmed. Assuming chief command, and favored by good winds, he had crowded all sail for the Chesapeake, where he had arrived on the 5th of September—the very day on which Washington's army was embarking at the head of the great bay.

Graves found the French fleet blocking the entrance to the bay. At once he attacked it. The fight was not carried to any great length, but while it lasted was very sharp and bloody. After two hours Admiral Graves withdrew. Three of his ships were badly damaged, and upwards of five hundred of his men had been killed and wounded. After maneuvering for four days, and accomplishing nothing but additional damage to himself, he returned to New York, baffled and despondent, leaving de Grasse in full possession of the Virginia waters.

The toils were thus fast closing around Lord Cornwallis. He knew nothing as yet of Washington's proximity; but there was just a chance that he might discover his peril at any moment, cross the James River, and seek safety in a retreat upon North Carolina.


The surrender of Cornwallis—By John Trumbull.

But young Lafayette forestalled this solitary chance for the "mouse" to escape out of his prepared trap. With his own force increased by the troops of the Marquis de Saint-Simon—which had been sent ashore upon the arrival of the French fleet,—"the boy" came down the peninsula on the 7th of September, and took his stand across the neck of land at Williamsburg, effectually cutting off any possible retreat on the part of the British commander. In brief, the door of the mouse-trap had at last been neatly shut, with the "mouse" still inside!

However, there was still an avenue of escape for Lord Cornwallis. This was not an open one, but one which he might possibly have forced had he possessed the military acumen to attempt it. His force was nearly equal to Lafayette's in numbers, and better in quality, for the latter's contained three thousand militia. The fact is, Cornwallis carefully reconnoitered the American lines, and once seriously thought of trying to break through. But he feared the great slaughter of his men that must inevitably ensue, and having no inkling of Washington's movements, he thought Graves would soon return with sufficient force to put to rout de Grasse's blockading squadron, and thus give him an open avenue for retirement.

So he decided to wait before striking a hazardous blow at Lafayette. It was losing his last chance.

On the 14th, Washington reached Lafayette's headquarters, and took command. On the 18th the northern army began to arrive in detachments. By the 20th it was all concentrated at Williamsburg, more than sixteen thousand strong.

At last every gear and pinion of Washington's elaborate and skillfully-designed little invention for the capture of Lord Cornwallis was in its case and properly assembled. The machine, planned with such rare foresight, and evolved with such consummate military genius, could not help working. It only required to be set going by the same master mind that conceived and executed it.

So, after the American lines had, day by day, been slowly drawn closer and closer about the doomed army in Yorktown, at length, on the 6th of October, the first parallel was opened by General Lincoln. This was followed, on the 11th, by the second parallel, which was opened by Steuben within three hundred yards of the enemy's works.

On the night of the 14th, Alexander Hamilton and the Baron de Viomenil carried two of the British redoubts by storm. The next night the British made a brave but fruitless sortie, returning without a prisoner and without wreaking any particular damage upon the foe.

Washington now had more than seventy heavy cannon playing upon the British defenses. These were well-supplied with ammunition, and manned by tireless, well-trained gunners. Their shots made havoc with the earthworks of the enemy. It was observed by noon of the 16th that these defences were crumbling to pieces very fast. Apparently within twenty-four hours the British would be practically uncovered, and exposed to the full fire of the Americans.

The cannon continued to play upon the remaining fortifications with relentless aim and savagery of destruction. All that afternoon, till darkness put a restraint upon their use, did their big balls go on biting into the planks, sandbags, mortar and earth of the protecting erections of the helpless enemy.

Next day—on the 17th, and the fourth anniversary of Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga,—Cornwallis hoisted the white flag.

The terms of surrender were like those of Lincoln's signing at Charleston. The British soldiers became prisoners of war, subject to the ordinary rules of exchange. The only delicate question arising was that involving the American Loyalists with the British forces, but this point was neatly disposed of by allowing Lord Cornwallis to embark such soldiers as he chose on a ship which would carry them, with news of the catastrophe, to Sir Henry Clinton in New York.

On a little matter of etiquette Washington was more exacting. The practice of playing the enemy's tunes had always been cherished as an inalienable prerogative of British soldiery; and at the surrender of Charleston, in token of humiliation, General Lincoln's army had been expressly forbidden to play any but an American air.

Colonel Laurens, who now conducted the negotiations, directed that Lord Cornwallis's sword should be received by General Lincoln, and that the foe army, on marching out to lay down its arms, should play either a British or a German tune.

There was absolutely no way out of it. And on the 19th of October, Cornwallis's army of slightly more than eight thousand, including nearly a thousand seamen, marched out with colors furled and cased, while the band played a quaint old English melody, of which the significant title was "The World Turned Upside Down!"

The surrender of Cornwallis was the great military surprise of the Revolutionary War. Had any one predicted, eight months before, that Washington on the Hudson and Cornwallis on the Catawba, eight hundred miles apart, would so soon come together and terminate the war on the coast of Virginia, he would have been thought a reckless prophet indeed. For thoroughness of elaboration and promptness of execution, Washington's movement was as remarkable as the march of Napoleon in the autumn of 1805, when he swooped from the shore of the English Channel into Bavaria, and captured the Austrian army at Ulm, about which more is told subsequently in this volume.

Very early one morning during the last week of October, 1781, while it was still dark and the heavens were studded with brilliant stars, a stolid old German, slowly pacing the streets of Philadelphia on his night watch, began shouting:

"Basht dree o'glock, and Gornvallis ish dakendt!"

Light sleepers in the old town sprang out of bed, and threw up their windows for a second hearing, to make certain their ears had not deceived them or they had not been the victims of a wild dream.

But clear enough for understanding, again came the garbled cry of the old night-watchman, and all was excitement.

That forenoon Washington's couriers laid the dispatches before Congress, and after dinner a service of prayer and thanksgiving was held in the Lutheran Church. This over, the remainder of the day and evening was given up to wild rejoicings.

Everywhere, as fast as the wonderful news spread, a great agitation was set up. At New Haven and Cambridge the students sang triumphal hymns and frolicked gaily, and every village green in the country was ablaze with gigantic bonfires stimulated by many a tar-barrel.

Not only this, but the Duke de Lauzun set sail for France in a swift ship, and on the 27th of November all the houses in Paris were brilliantly illuminated, while the aisles of Notre Dame resounded with the Te Deum.