British General Charles Earl Cornwallis
The Southern Campaign: 1780-1781
On December 2, 1780, Maj. General Nathanael Greene had arrived and took command of the Continental forces from Maj. General Horatio Gates. He immediately split his army, sending the smaller, more mobile force southwest under Brig. General Daniel Morgan. Lt. General Charles Cornwallis recognized the tactic and sent Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton after Morgan, but Tarleton was outmaneuvered and defeated by Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781.
General Greene now reunited the Continental army and began to retreat back north to avoid a confrontation with Cornwallis' main force. Cornwallis pursued him furiously through the rain and over muddy roads, even burning his baggage train in a futile effort to catch Greene in what has become known as the "Race to the Dan River."on the Virginia-North Carolina border. Greene had prepared boats to cross the swollen river and successfully escaped Cornwallis' reach. Cornwallis himself retreated south and entered winter quarters.
General Greene returned south in early March when he felt his troops were ready to face the British. After pursuing Greene for nearly three weeks, Cornwallis finally met Greene on the traditional battlefield at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina on March 15, 1781. Greene had chosen the ground and used it to gain the early advantage on the field, but British experience began to turn the tide. General Greene, having already inflicted heavy casualties on Cornwallis, chose to withdraw and keep his force intact. Cornwallis thus technically won the battle, but at such a high cost that he was unable to pursue Greene.
Between the pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse and his voluntary destruction of his supply train, Cornwallis' army was weakened beyond effectiveness.In May 1781, Cornwallis gave up on the Carolinas and sailed north to Virginia. That decision was a blatant disregard for Lt. General Sir Henry Clinton's orders to maintain control of Charleston, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia above all else. Cornwallis, though, was now determined to face and defeat General George Washington himself, capturing Virginia and ending the war. On July 6, 1781, General Cornwallis missed an opportunity to thoroughly crush the Marquis de Lafayette and General Anthony Wayne's forces in his victory at Green Spring, Virginia..
General Cornwallis then was ordered by General Clinton to establish a post along the coast for supplying the Royal Navy. Cornwallis chose Yorktown. In late August, the long awaited French fleet commanded by Admiral de Grasse arrived and blockcaded Chesapeake Bay. At the same time, Washington slipped away from General Clinton in New York and marched south. On October 9, 1781, the bombardment of Yorktown began and Cornwallis was forced to surrend on October 17, 1781. He was so mortified that he sent his second-in-command, Brig. General Charles O'Hara, to present his sword in surrender. The Battle of Yorktown was the last major engagement of the Revolutionary War.
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