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Greene, Washington, and Cornwallis (Part 1)


THE Declaration of Independence was not a declaration of Union. The States had to learn by experience that there can be such a thing as too much independence. The lesson cost an immense sum of money, and nearly cost them their emancipation from England; but nothing less than a desperate war against all manner of odds could have hammered it home. The various Governments of the States were as nearly perfect as free governments could be; while the government of the confederacy, as exercised by Congress, was the feeblest, and therefore one of the worst, possible. The States were naturally slow to perceive that this badness of the central Government could only be remedied by their own action in voluntarily entrusting it with greater powers, at the sacrifice, apparently, of some measure of their own independence. The individual citizen was amenable to the Government of his own State, but not to the authority of Congress; and this was a state of things which could not fail to produce essential weakness of the body corporate. Mutual jealousies must be put aside, the best men of the country must take their seats in Congress, and the confederacy must obey their laws, or the whole structure would collapse. Vergennes saw this, but he said that while during the war it was essential that the union of the States should be as nearly perfect as possible, yet afterward "the general federation will have much difficulty in maintaining itself, and will perhaps be replaced by separate confederations. Should this revolution occur, it will weaken the United States, which have not now, and never will have, real and respectable strength except by their union. But it is for themselves alone to make these reflections. We have no right to present them for their consideration, and we have no interest whatever to see America play-the part of a power. Nothing can be more conformable to our political interest than separate acts by which each State shall ratify treaties concluded with France.; because in this way every State will be found separately connected with us, whatever may be the fortune of the general confederation."

Washington comprehended this as clearly as the French diplomat did. "Unless Congress are vested by the several States with powers competent to the great purposes of war," he wrote, "or assume them as a matter of right, and they and the States respectively act with more energy, our cause is lost. By ill timing in the adoption of measures, by delays in their execution, or by jealousies, we incur enormous expenses and derive no benefit from them. One State will comply with the requisition of Congress, another neglects it, a third executes it by halves, and all differ either in the manner, the matter, or so much in the point of time, that we are always working uphill, and are unable to apply our strength or resources to any advantage: I see one head gradually changing into thirteen, one army into thirteen, which, instead of looking up to Congress as the supreme controlling power, consider themselves dependent on their respective States."

Boston supported Washington's argument by its convention of August, 1780. There a beginning toward a real Federal Constitution was made. They resolved "that the union of these States be fixed in a more solid and permanent manner; that the powers of Congress be more clearly ascertained and defined; that the important national concerns of the United States be under the superintefideney and control of one supreme head; that it be recommended to the States to empower their delegates in Congress to confederate with such of the States as will accede to the proposed confederation; -and that they invest their delegates in Congress with powers competent for the government and direction of all those common and national affairs which do not or cannot come within the jurisdiction of the particular States."

This wise proposition came under the notice of Hamilton, who, being of West Indian birth, bad no State prejudices, and whose respect for the virtue of mankind was not so unquestioning as to blind him to the value of measures which might support it. He believed in a strong central power. He advocated a convention of all the States to conclude upon federation. "The sovereign of an empire under one simple form of government has too much power; in an empire composed of federated states, each with a government completely organized within itself, the danger is directly the reverse. Congress should have complete sovereignty in all that relates to war, peace, trade, finance, foreign affairs, armies, fleets, fortifications, coining money, establishing banks, imposing a land tax, poll tax, duties on trade, and the unoccupied lands. It should provide perpetual revenues, productive and easy of collection, which, together with duties, would give it a substantial existence. Where the public good is evidently the object, more may be effected in governments like ours than in any other. Free countries have ever paid the heaviest taxes: the obedience of a free people to general laws, however hard they bear, is ever more perfect than that of slaves to the arbitrary will of a prince: But the idea of an uncontrollable sovereignty in each State will defeat the powers given to Congress, and make our union feeble and precarious." He also urged the appointment of officers of foreign affairs, of war, of the navy, and of the 'treasury ; and wished the army to be placed under the immediate control of Congress.

The time for some sort of reorganization was come as Washington remarked, "We have lived upon expedients till we can live no longer." In May of 1780 there had been a mutiny of Connecticut troops, who bad been ;without pay for nearly a year, and with little food or clothing, and they had only returned to duty at Washington's personal entreaty, reenforced by the appearance of the enemy. In January of the next year some Irish. troops mutinied at Princeton, and were only reduced to obedience by the native-born soldiers of the army. "Human patience has its limits," wrote Lafayette; "no European troops would suffer a tenth part of what the American troops suffer. It takes citizens to support hunger, nakedness, toil, and the total want of pay, which constitute the condition of our soldiers, the hardiest and most patient that are to be found in the world." The women of America made clothes for them; private individuals in towns clubbed together to provide them with food; but nothing like a general organization for their subsistence was forthcoming. Hamilton was sent to France to raise loans, yet America, in proportion to her population, was at that moment richer than France. The republic seemed a form of government destined to fail.

New York had been the first of the States to surrender her claim on unoccupied lands in favor of the union; Virginia followed her example. It was resolved in Congress to vest a power in that body to levy a duty of five per cent on importations; and on the 1st of March, 1781, the assent of the States to this resolution was obtained. Washington then urged upon'some of the most eminent statesmen the expediency of a law by which a refractory or delinquent State might be coerced. "The present temper of the States is friendly to the establishment of a lasting union; the moment should be improved; if suffered to pass away, it may never return; and after gloriously and successfully contending against the usurpations of Britain, we may fall a prey to our own follies and disputes." In consequence of this letter, an amendment to the articles of confederation was introduced in Congress, "to give to the United States full authority to employ their force, as well by sea as by land, -to compel any delinquent State to fulfill its Federal engagements." This amendment was drafted by Madison and approved by Jefferson; but the time for its acceptance had not yet come.

France was coming to the end of her resources for continuing the war, and it was evident that the campaign of 1781 must be the final one. The Jesuits, who had been expelled from France and Spain, made overtures to North to assist him in attacking America on the west, on condition of their being left. free to establish the Catholic religion there; but before North could act upon this suggestion other events intervened. Adams was sent as envoy to Europe to negotiate regarding terms of peace; but as he said of himself, he was better fitted to make war than peace; and he committed various faults of taste and etiquette, among .them that of endeavoring to usurp the place of Franklin as Minister to France. Vergennes suggested that some more amenable person be substituted for him; and associate envoys were later appointed. Six million livres were advanced by France to the States, but much of it was foolishly expended. After much discussion, it finally transpired that America would require to be assured against infringement of her western boundaries, and would demand a share in the fisheries. But, unless the coming campaign showed much better results than the last one, she seemed likely to illustrate the old adage about counting the eggs before they hatch out.

Gates had slighted Morgan in his report of the surrender of Burgoyne, to which Morgan had largely contributed; but after his flight before Cornwallis he, experienced a change of heart, and made him commander of a specially selected corps of cavalry and riflemen. A few days after this Gates was superseded by Greene at Washington's request; Greene having resigned his office as Quartermaster General, when Congress resolved to pay him a salary instead of allowing him to absorb vast commissions while the soldiers starved. Greene had his faults, and they were serious ones; but he was a good soldier, comparatively speaking. Under his control were now placed all the troops in and south of Delaware, subject to the supreme control of Washington. Henry Lee, with three hundred and fifty light cavalry, was detached by Washington for the southern service. Gates had already gathered together twenty-three hundred men.

The first movement of the new campaign was made by the British.. Colonel Cunningham with a hundred and fifty tories and negroes attacked a house in which were some thirty Americans under Colonel Hayes, who, after having been fired on for three hours, the house being in flames, surrendered upon the terms, which were reduced to writing, that they should be treated as prisoners of war until exchanged. But as soon as they marched out, Cunningham hanged Hayes and his second in command to a tree, killed several other prisoners, and bade his men follow his example. One of the tories, who was personally acquainted with many of the Americans, went among the bodies after the massacre, and stabbed with his sword 'those who were 'not yet dead. This is but a typical instance of the manner in which the English conducted the war.

Greene established a "camp of repose" for his army in a fine country at the headwaters of the Pedee; but detached Morgan for minor operations against the enemy. Morgan was at that time the best officer of light cavalry in the world. His successes made Cornwallis uneasy, and he sent Tarleton against him. Morgan was at the moment in a tract where food and forage were unobtainable; and his requests to Greene that he be allowed either to pass into Georgia or rejoin the main army were reused. He was now between the main army of Cornwallis and Tarleton's light horse. Tarleton had twelve hundred men, and on the 16th of January, 1781, was near Cornwallis. Morgan's whole force was about nine hundred, including militia levies. His camp. was at the Cowpens, seven miles west of Broad River and five miles south of the North Carolina boundary, in the northwest corner of the State.

Before dawn on the 17th of January he prepared for battle in a wood without undergrowth, between two brooks, with a little ridge between them, on which, after giving his men their breakfast, he posted his best troops: his scouts having informed him that Tarleton was drawing near. Virginia riflemen, on each wing, adjoined the Maryland light infantry in the center. As reserve were William Washington and his cavalry. Pickens guarded the approaches with volunteers, and a hundred sharpshooters skirmished on the right and left flanks.

Tarleton appeared about eight o'clock, with two regiments in line, artillery in front, himself with two hundred and eighty cavalry in the rear, and two hundred light troops on the flanks. Their charge was met by a heavy fire, first from the skirmishers, then from Pickens's men; and after retiring thirty yards, they formed and fired again, every shot well aimed. At the same time the sharpshooters opened on the British from each flank; they wavered; the Americans charged with the bayonet, and the enemy fled like deer, leaving their arms behind them, and they never rallied. William Washington attacked Tarleton's cavalry, and they too turned and ran, Tarleton betraying great cowardice. The pursuit continued four and twenty miles. Of the British three hundred men were killed and wounded, and ten commissioned officers were killed; five hundred privates and twenty-nine commissioned officers were taken prisoners. In addition there were captured eight hundred muskets, a hundred dragoon horses, thirty-five wagons, two field pieces, and two standards, showing how headlong had been the flight of these English veterans before a force smaller than theirs by onefourth, and without guns. The entire baggage of the British, an enormous train, was destroyed. This battle is worthy of especial notice for the admirable firmness and efficiency of the Americans, who knew their leaders and trusted them. Cornwallis declared that this "unexpected and extraordinary event" would produce incalculable consequences. Morgan, after the ,pursuit was over, crossed Broad River with his prisoners and the captured arms arid thus eluded Cornwallis. The fame of the victory resounded over the whole country, and Morgan received the thanks of Congress and the praises of all. The superiority of American troops, when properly handled, to the best regulars of Europe, was conclusively established. The total loss of killed sixty wounded the Americans was twelve and Cornwallis thought that his best chance of safety lay in pushing forward across North Carolina and Virginia until he could join Clinton on the Chesapeake. In order to march light,, he destroyed his baggage and wagons. Heavy rains made the fords impassable and occasioned delay, and the Americans disputed the crossings and inflicted heavy loss. At the settlement of Salem, inhabited by noncombatant Moravians, he encamped on the 9th of February; the commands of Morgan and Greene effected their junction on the same day at Guilford Court House, twenty-five miles distant. But Morgan, who had been made General, was forced to take leave of absence, being incapacitated by fever and rheumatism. He was never able to return to active duty, and thus America lost one of her ablest and noblest soldiers, in whose record there. was not a flaw.

The American army being still too weak to engage the enemy, Greene accomplished a careful and soldierly retreat into Virginia. The men were in excellent spirits, and Greece approved himself thoroughly competent to take care of them. At Hillsborough in North Carolina, Cornwallis issued a proclamation calling loyalists to his standard, and a large number of them rose accordingly. But Pickens fell upon them and slaughtered them, and Tarleton, appointed to protect them, fled. Cornwallis now tried to force Greene to a general engagement; but the latter avoided it, while awaiting reenforcements. They reached him on the 14th of March, raising his total force to sixteen hundred men, with two thousand militia, thus out numbering the British almost two to one. But Greene himself was nearly worn out from many days' lack of sleep and constant exertion; and after the battle, which was one of the most stubbornly fought of the war, he fainted from sheer exhaustion. The British never fought so well as on this day, and-though they remained on the field at the end, they, lost almost twice as mangy men as the Americans.

The battle took place on the 15th of March, 1781. Greene's army occupied a hill surrounded by smaller hills and covered with forest. He made three lines of battle, one behind another, at such a distance apart that none could support another; and thus Cornwallis would engage three armies, each inferior in numbers to his own. Instead of placing his militia in reserve, as was Washington's rule, he placed them in front. It was this that was one of the main causes of his defeat, since the green troops lost the advantage of their fine position by unsteadiness, whereas the seasoned troops would have held it until Cornwallis's attack was repelled. Cornwallis advanced with the bayonet, and the North Carolina militia fled while the enemy were still a hundred and fifty yards away, hardly firing a shot. The second position was carried with much more difficulty, and with heavy loss. From the third line, the British were beaten back, and Webster, leading the attack, killed. The second battalion of the guards broke through a Maryland regiment, but were in turn hurled back with great slaughter by Colonel Washington, and the first battalion of guards suffered a like fate. But just then a Hessian reserve came up, and drove back the Americans. Two regiments of Virginians were near, and had not yet been used; but Greene, instead of sending them forward and thus retrieving the day, used them to cover his retreat, and left his cannon on the field. But even as it was, Cornwallis, though technically victorious, was actually defeated, and leaving his wounded behind him, began a hasty retreat. He was pursued as far as Deep River, the bridge over which he destroyed after crossing it, and on the 7th of April he arrived with his shattered force at Wilmington. Thence, in opposition to the plans of Clinton, his superior, he left for Virginia.

Greene, meanwhile, crossed into South Carolina, and advanced on Camden. At Hobkirk Hill be was surprised by Rawdon and defeated, each side losing three hundred men. Marion, just before this, bad captured the chief British fort on the Santee by building a high log tower from which the garrison could be picked off by sharpshooters. Camden was made untenable by this capture, and was abandoned on the 10th of May, after being partially destroyed by the retiring British Sumter took Orangeburg the next day, and Marion captured Fort Motte : Nelson's Ferry was evacuated, Fort Granby surrendered with three hundred men, and the garrison of Georgetown retreated to Charleston. The British now held only Augusta and Ninety-Six.

The latter place was besieged on the 22d of May; it was strong and well-fortified and the garrison was commanded by a good officer. Before Greene had made any impression on it, Rawdon started to relieve it; and Greene, forgetting prudence in the desire for success, ordered a storming party to effect a lodgment. There was no breach an the walls, and the attacking force was destroyed, one in three being killed and twice that number wounded. Greene gave up the siege and retreated northward. It was his fate uniformly to just miss success. NinetySix was evacuated, and Rawdon tried to establish a post on the Congaree, but was prevented by Greene and retired to Orangeburg, where he was strongly reenforced; but was hampered by fugitive loyalists with their families. Though stronger in numbers than the Americans, Rawdon fell back without giving battle to Charleston, and sailed for England, after taking prisoner and illegally hanging Isaac Hayne. This act put an ineffaceable stain on his name, which could ill bear the burden. He was taken prisoner by the French on his way home.

The British were now at the junction of the two rivers Congaree and Wateree. They fell back before Greene and made a stand at Eutaw Springs, where, early in the morning of September 8, Greene moved to attack them. Marion and Pickens commanded his wings in front; Sumter led his second line, with Campbell and Othb; William Washington's cavalry was in reserve. The British were routed and many killed; but a party threw themselves into a brick house; and shot down the Americans who brought up cannon against them. Greene rashly ordered Washington to attack another party which had formed in a thick wood; the cavalry could not penetrate it, and Washington was wounded and taken prisoner. Greene had won his first battle and lost his second; the losses in killed and wounded were about five hundred a side; but the Amer. icans also took five hundred prisoners. The best troops on the side of the English were Irishmen; though Ireland owed to the final success of the American cause her own rights in trade and legislation. Greene remained on the field prepared to renew the battle the next day; but the British retreated during the night, leaving their wounded and destroying their arms. "We fight, get beaten, and fight again," he remarked, exactly and tersely describing his operations: in less than a year he had cleared three States of the enemy, with the exception of the towns of Charleston and Savannah. He was rewarded by enormous grants of land and money from the States in question.
Benedict Arnold's first exploit as a traitor in arms against his countrymen was the burning of Richmond, which had refused his offer of clemency if he might seize its stores of tobacco. A plan of Washington's to capture him by a combined movement of a land force and the French fleet failed owing to accidents. Lafayette and Phillips effected a junction about the first of May, 1781, before Richmond; but Phillips died of fever, and reenforcements were delayed by lack of equipment. Cornwallis sent Arnold back to New York, whence Clinton dispatched him against his native State, Connecticut. He plundered and burned New London, and Colonel Ledyard and a hundred and fifty militia surrendered Fort Griswold, across the river, after a brave defense. Bromley, the British commander, ran Ledyard through the body with his sword, and the rest of the garrison was slaughtered, with the exception of forty who were taken prisoners. After this exploit the British decided that they had enough of Arnold, and he retired to England, a stench in all men's nostrils, and died in London at the age of sixty, after seeing his country victorious and prosperous.

Cornwallis had arrived at Petersburg on the 20th of May, and immediately marched against Lafayette, whose youthful inexperience seemed to offer an easy mark. But Lafayette was possessed of an old head on young shoulders, and of a gallant and brave heart. He could not engage Cornwallis with his small force, but he outmaneuvered him, until he was joined by Anthony Wayne; Cornwallis halted at Hanover Court House, and sent out Tarleton in one direction and Simcoe in another. The former captured seven members of the Vrginia Legislature, but just missed Jefferson; Simcoe destroyed stores at Point of Fork. Cornwallis interposed his troops between Lafayette and the Court House at Albemarle, where the magazines were established; but the Frenchman gained them by a secret road and entrenched himself strongly. At Williamaburg, Cornwallis was disconcerted by orders from Clinton to send three thousand men to New York, where an attack from Washington was feared. Washington had no such intention, but had caused dispatches conveying such an impression to fall into the hands of the British. His real purpose was to make an attack on the English force in Virginia with the assistance of the French fleet and army. Cornwallis was forced to comply with his superior's order, but it brought the enmity between the two men to its height. The arrival of troops from England enabled Clinton to countermand the dispatch of Cornwallis's men before it had been accomplished; but the feud remained.

A plan laid by Cornwallis to surprise Wayne by making him suppose that a large body of troops was really but. a small detachment was brought to naught by Wayne's audacity who charged with such assurance that the British hesitated, fancying he must be himself supported by unknown reenforcements; and before the mistake could be discovered, Wayne was actually succored by Lafayette. Cornwallis, after inflicting damage throughout Virginia to the amount of about three million pounds, but failing in all the strictly military aims he had in view, established himself at Yorktown and Gloucester and fortified his army there. The time was now come for the final operation of the war. Clinton had been completely deceived as to Washington's intentions, and of course Cornwallis shared his delusion. The American army was supplied with generosity of Morris, who pledged his credit for nearly a million and a half dollars, and borrowed twenty thousand more from the French General, Rochambeau. Even after the march southward had begun, Clinton, relying on the intercepted dispatch, thought it was but a feint to mislead him. Count de Grasse, with the French fleet, arrived in the Chesapeake from the West Indies the last of August; and a. week later engaged the English fleet and defeated it, allowing opportunity for the transports with the siege artillery to come in. The allied French and American troops, sixteen thousand in number, were meanwhile marching to the same point, received everywhere along the route with acclamations of affection and joy. The whole command was united under Washington, greatly to the credit of French magnanimity. On his way south he rode in advance with Rochambeau and Chastellux in order to have time to spend three days at his home at Mount Vernon, which for six years he had not seen. On the 28th of September the allies encountered the British outposts and drove them in: the siege was begun, and Washington fixed his headquarters under a mulberry tree, and slept with his head pillowed on its outcropping root.

Continue to Chapter 21 Part 2