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H. E. Marshall

A Turning Point in the World's History

A FTER nearly four years' fighting the British had utterly failed to subdue the rebel colonies. They had lost one whole army, had poured out treasures of blood and money, and all they had in return was New York and the coast town of Newport. Besides this they were at war with half Europe. For in 1779 Spain declared war against Britain, more indeed from anger against the British than from any love of the Americans. The following year Holland also declared war against Britain, who thus found herself surrounded by foes.

Still, in spite of all, the British stuck doggedly to their task of conquering the Americans. But as Pitt had told them again and again, it was an impossible task. At length, having failed to make any impression in the north they decided to change the seat of war and attack the weaker colonies in the south.

Here for a time they were more successful. Georgia was overrun, then South Carolina, and Charleston, which had made such a brave defence at the beginning of the war, surrendered to the British, with all its stores of food and ammunition.

Things were going badly for the patriots in the south, and Gates, who was still looked upon as a hero, because Burgoyne had surrendered to him, was sent to take command. Now he had a chance to prove of what stuff he was made. He proved it by being utterly defeated at the battle of Camden.

This defeat was a bitter blow. Never since before the battle of Trenton had the patriot cause seemed so much in danger. But the dark days passed, and once more the Americans began to win instead of lose battles. South Carolina was re-conquered, and Cornwallis, who was commander-in-chief of the British army in the south, retired into Virginia, and occupied Yorktown.

Just at this time Washington learned that a French fleet was sailing for Chesapeake Bay, and he determined to make a grand French-American attack on the British in the south. He made his plans very secretly, and leaving General Heath with four thousand men to guard the Hudson, he marched southwards, moving with such quickness that he had reached the Delaware before Clinton in New York knew what he was about. His army now consisted of two thousand Americans, and four thousand French, and this was the only time throughout the war that French and Americans marched together.

On the 6th of October the siege of Yorktown began. It was soon seen that its defences were of no use against the seventy heavy siege guns of the allied army, and the surrender of Cornwallis was only a matter of time—for he was caught in a trap, just as Burgoyne had been. He could not escape to the south, for Lafayette barred the way to the Carolinas. He could not escape by sea, for the French and British fleets had fought a battle at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay, in which the British ships had been so badly damaged that they were obliged to sail to New York to refit. He could not escape to the north or the east, for Washington's army shut him in.

Still for a few days the British made a gallant stand. But their ammunition was running short, their defences were crumbling to bits, and on the 19th of October, almost four years to a day after Burgoyne's surrender to Gates, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington.

Two days later the British soldiers marched out with flags furled, while the bands played a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down." To them indeed the world must have seemed turned upside down, for the all-conquering British had been conquered at last, and that by a nation of farmers unskilled in war. Yet they may have found some comfort in the thought that after all they had been beaten by their equals, by men of their own race.

On either side there was the same grit and endurance, the same love of fair play. But added to that the Americans had fought for a great cause. Their hearts were in it, as the hearts of the British had never been. This was their great advantage. This nerved their arm.

For two years after this Clinton still held New York, but there was no more fighting between the regular armies, and the surrender of Cornwallis may be said to have ended the war. When Lord North heard the news he was distracted with grief. He dashed wildly up and down the room, waving his arms and crying over and over again, "O God, it is all over, it is all over."

As for King George, he would not admit that it was all over, and he swore he would rather give up his crown than acknowledge the States to be free. But at length he, too, had to give way, and the treaty of peace was signed in Paris in November, 1782. This Peace, however, was only a first step, for Europe was still at war, and it was difficult to settle matters. But in September of the following year the real peace was signed, and the United States were acknowledged to be free. By this treaty Florida was given back to Spain, the Mississippi was made the western boundary, and the Great Lakes the northern boundary of the United States.

Thus a new great power came into being, and as an English historian has said, "the world had reached one of the turning points of its history."