Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, Volume Two
Henry Lee


IT has been before observed, that the British cabinet, despairing of the subjugation of the United States, had changed its plan of operations, in the expectation of wresting from the Union its richest though weakest section.

In pursuance of this system, the breaking up of Virginia was deemed of primary importance, and to this object sir Henry Clinton devoted all his disposable force. It will be remembered, that general Mathews, with a small detachment, in 1779, laid waste all the seaboard of the state; destroying, or transporting to New York, an immense quantity of naval and military stores, besides private property; and that a subsequent expedition under major general Leslie had taken place, which was soon abandoned, in consequence of the derangement which occurred in the plans of lord Cornwallis by the fall of lieutenant colonel Ferguson.

The British commander in chief, pursuing steadily this favorite object, prepared, as soon as it was practicable, a third expedition for that devoted country. It consisted only of one thousand six hundred men, and was placed under the direction of brigadier general Arnold; who, preferring wealth with ignominy, to poverty with honor, had lately deserted from the service of his country, having been detected in the infamous attempt to betray West Point, with the care of which fortress he was then entrusted. The object being devastation and plunder, sir Henry Clinton could not have made a more appropriate selection: but when we consider the nice feelings inherent in soldiership, he ran no inconsiderable risk of alienating the affections of his army, by honoring a traitor with the command of British troops. Mortifying as was this appointment to many, it seems that the British officers determined to submit in silence, lest their opposition might delay, if not prevent, an expedition deemed necessary by their commander in chief. Arnold, foul with treason to his country, and with treachery to his friend, escaped from the probable consequence of a well digested plan laid by Washington for his seizure, which had advanced almost to the point of consummation, when he removed from his quarters to prepare for the expedition to Virginia. He was accidentally withdrawn from surrounding conspirators, ready, on the night of that very day, to have seized his person, conveyed him across the North river to Hoboken, where they would have been met by a detachment of dragoons, for the purpose of conveying the traitor to headquarters. Thomas Jefferson still continued at the head of the government: a gentleman who had taken an early and distinguished part in the revolution, highly respected for his literary accomplishments, and as highly esteemed for his amiability and modesty. General Greene, when passing to the south through Richmond, had left, as has been mentioned, major general baron Steuben in command in Virginia.

Early in December, the governor was informed, by letter from the commander in chief, of the preparations in New York for an expedition to the south; but neither the governor nor the baron seems to have acted under this communication, presuming, probably, that the detachment making ready in New York was destined for South Carolina, to reinforce the British force under lord Cornwallis. It would appear, that a due recollection of the preceding attempts upon Virginia, with the knowledge that as long as that state could hold safe its resources, so long would resistance in the south be maintained, ought to have admonished the governor and the general to prepare, at once, means to meet the invasion, should it be directed against that quarter. General Arnold’s preparations were slow; for the British had not yet relinquished their apprehensions that the count de Terney, commanding the French squadron at Rhode Island, would receive from the West Indies a reinforcement that would give him such a naval superiority as to endanger any maritime expedition of theirs. In November this apprehension ceased, and about the middle of the next month the convoy with the expedition left the Hook. After a tedious passage, it reached the Chesapeak on the 30th, when was felt the fatal effect of omitting timely preparations to defend the country. The governor detached general Nelson to the coast, as soon as he was informed of the entrance of the enemy into the bay, for the purpose of bringing the militia into the field; while baron Steuben, believing Petersburg, the depot for the southern army, to be the object, hastened his continental force, about two hundred recruits, to that town. Arnold, embarking his troops in the lighter vessels, proceeded up James river, and on the fourth of January approached City Point, situated at the confluence of the Appomatox with James river. It was now evident, and, indeed, a little reflection would have before demonstrated, that the lower country was not the primary object with the enemy. Mathews, in his incursion, had deprived the state of the contents of her arsenals in that quarter; and had our ability permitted their renewal, prudence would have forbidden the collection of articles of value in spots so accessible to the enemy. As soon, therefore, as the governor and general learned that the squadron had cast anchor in Hampton Road, (however hope may heretofore have prevailed over vigilance, on the receipt of general Washington’s letter in the first week in December, communicating the readiness of a body of troops in New York to embark, believed to be destined for the south,) due reflection would have shown, that Richmond or Petersburg, or both, was the probable destination of this small armament, the suddenness of whose approach, more than its force, could give to it efficacy. It is true that the honorable and continued efforts to uphold the states to its south, had exhausted much of the resources of Virginia; yet she possessed enough, more than enough, to have sustained the struggle for their restoration, and to have crushed any predatory adventure like that directed by Arnold. But unfortunately we were unprepared, and efforts to make ready commenced after the enemy was knocking at our doors. The government, which does not prepare in time, doubles the power of its adversary, and sports with the lives of its citizens; for to recover lost ground, when the required force becomes ready, compels resort to hazardous enterprise, sometimes ruinous by disappointment, always debilitating by the prodigal waste of resources.

Upon this occasion, the celerity of the enemy’s advance, however unequivocally it exemplified the first, gave no opportunity for the illustration of the last part of the observation.

On the fourth of January, Arnold debarked at Westover, the seat of Mrs. Byrd, relict of colonel Byrd, the honorable associate of Washington, in defence of the frontiers of Virginia against the Indian enemy, then guided and aided by France. This step, though indecisive, from the facility with which the conveyance derived from naval co-operation admitted to withdraw to the southern banks of the river, in case Petersburg had been his principal object, gave serious alarm to the governor and general. Now, for the first time, they discovered that the seat of government was to receive a visit from Arnold; and now they ascertained, that although general Nelson had been sent below, and the militia commandants had been summoned to furnish aid from above, yet the postponement of commencing preparations on the receipt of the letter of advice from general Washington, to the hour of the enemy’s arrival in Chesapeak bay, had left them, the archives of the state, its reputation, and all the military stores deposited in the magazines of the metropolis, at the mercy of a small corps conducted by a traitor, who, feeling the rope about his neck tightening in every step he advanced, would have hastened to his naval asylum the moment he saw the probability of adequate resistance. Yet for the want of due preparation on the part of the invaded state, nine hundred British troops, with Arnold at their head, dared to leave their ships, and advance to Richmond, twenty-five miles distant from their place of safety. It will scarcely be credited by posterity, that the governor of the oldest state in the Union, and the most populous, (taking for our calculation the ratio established by the present constitution of the United States to designate the number of representatives allowed to each state,) should have been driven out of its metropolis, and forced to secure personal safety by flight, and its archives, with all its munitions and stores, yielded to the will of the invader, with the exception of a few, which accident, more than precaution, saved from the common lot. Incredible as the narrative will appear, it is nevertheless true.

On the fifth of January, Arnold entered Richmond, untouched by the small collection of militia detached to interrupt his advance; and on the following day lieutenant colonel Simcoe, one of the best officers in the British army, proceeded at the head of his corps of rangers, horse and foot, supported by a detachment from the line, to Westham, where was the only cannon foundery in the state, which, with its various appurtenances and their respective contents, he destroyed. Here, unluckily, the public stores removed from Richmond in the perturbation excited by the novel appearance of British battalions, had been deposited: the last spot which ought to have been selected; as the most common reflection ought to have suggested the probability that the enemy in Richmond, safe as he was, would never retire until he had destroyed an important military establishment so near as Westham. Making it a place of additional deposit, was therefore increasing the inducement to destroy it.

Simcoe having fully executed his mission, undisturbed by even a single shot, returned to Richmond, where devastation had been extended under Arnold’s direction, until even his greedy appetite was cloyed, and his revengeful heart sated. Having spread desolation all around, the brigadier decamped, and on the 7th returned to Westover, without meeting even the semblance of resistance. Our militia were now assembling: brave men, always willing to do their duty, never brought to understand how best to execute it, never properly equipped, or judiciously conducted.

Some few unfortunately assembled at Charles City courthouse, in conformity to orders from government, not more than eight or nine miles from Westover. Simcoe hearing of it, put his corps in motion and soon dispersed them, happily with very little loss, in conquence of the impatience of the enemy, who omitted some of those precautions necessary to secure complete success. The object was trivial, or this superior soldier would have conducted his enterprise with the proper forecast and circumspection.[note 1] Nothing remaining to be done, Arnold reimbarked on the 10th, and descending the river, landed detachments occasionally, for the purpose of destroying whatever could be discovered worthy of his attention. At Smithfield, and at Mackay’s mill, were found some public stores; these shared the fate of those in Richmond and at Westham. On the 20th, the British detachment reached Portsmouth, where general Arnold commenced defences indicating the intention of rendering it a permanent station.

Major general Steuben, having under him the indefatigable patriot and soldier general Nelson, had by this time drawn together a considerable body of militia, inconsequence of the exertion of the governor. With all who were armed[note 2] the baron followed Arnold; and at Hood’s, lieutenant colonel Clarke (an officer in the Virginia line, taken at Charleston, and lately exchanged) by a well concerted stratagem allured Simcoe to pursue a small party exposed to view, with the expectation of drawing him into an ambuscade, prepared for his reception. Judiciously as was the scheme contrived, it was marred in the execution, by the precipitation with which the militia abandoned their post, after discharging one fire. Simcoe lost a few men, and deeming pursuit useless, retired to the squadron.

Recurring to the past scene, we find that the British general entered the Chesapeak on the 30th of December; that he took possession of Richmond on the 5th of January, ninety miles from Hampton Roads, destroying all the public stores there and at Westham, with such private property as was useful in war; that he reached Portsmouth on the 20th, spreading devastation as he descended the river, wherever any object invited his attention; and that during this daring and destructive expedition, he never was seriously opposed at any one point.

What must posterity think of their ancestors, when they read these truths! Had not the war demonstrated beyond doubt that the present generation possessed its share of courage and love of country, we should have been pronounced destitute of these distinguished characteristics. There was, in lact, no deficiency of inclination or zeal (unequal as was the contest) in our militia to advance upon the foe; but there was a fatal destitution of arrangement, of military apparatus, and of system.

Abounding in the finest horses, and our citizens among the best riders in the world, no regular corps of horse had been provided for state defence; although the face of our country, intersected in every quarter with navigable rivers unprotected by floating batteries and undefended by forts, manifested the propriety of resorting to this species of defence, as better calculated than any other within our command, to curb the desultory plundering incursions, under which we had so often and severely suffered.

One single legionary corps of three hundred horse and three hundred musketry, with a battalion of mounted riflemen, accompanied by a battalion of infantry, under a soldier of genius, would have been amply sufficient to preserve the state from its past insults and injuries; and as this body might have been, when necessary, conveyed with the despatch of horse, by double mounting, it would in some degree have diminished the disadvantage we labored under from the facility and ubiquity of our navigation. Such a force might readily have been made up by drafts from the militia, and, being devoted to local defence, many would have enlisted themselves to avoid more distant service.

Throughout the state were interspersed officers, bred under Washington, compelled to turn away from the field of battle, because our diminished number of rank and file rendered a proportionate diminution in the higher grades incumbent: they were devoted to the great cause for which they had fought, and with alacrity would have rallied around the standards of their country, whenever summoned by government. Out of such materials, in the manner suggested, the commonwealth might have been held untouched, and our military stores, so much wanted, and so hard to obtain, would have been secured.

Indeed when known in New York, that such means of defence were provided, no attempt like that entrusted to Arnold would have been projected; and sir Henry Clinton, not having it in his power to spare large divisions of his force, these injurious and debasing incursions would not have taken place. Never in the course of the war was a more alluring opportunity presented for honorable enterprise, with so fair a prospect of success.

Had the governor fortunately prepared, on receipt of general Washington’s letter early in December, six or seven hundred militia of those most convenient to Richmond and Petersburg, being the only two places within the state possessing objects which could attract the British armament, well directed efforts against Arnold, as soon as he approached Rockets’, would have saved Richmond and Westham; and might have terminated in the capture of the traitor and the destruction of his detachment.

The position at Rockets’ is strong, and peculiarly adapted for militia: the enemy’s right flank being exposed, as soon as his front crossed the creek, to a sudden assault from the main force posted along the rivulet and upon the heights, while the houses in front gave defences from which it would not be very easy to dislodge an inferior force determined to do its duty. Opposition in this quarter would have stopped the invader. The country through which he must retreat presents three points where he might have been successively and advantageously assailed. The first at Four Mile creek, where the ground not only affords powerful aid to the assailant, but is exactly suitable to the Americans, who understood passing with facility through mud, water, and thick brush, fighting from covert to covert; whereas the enemy would never feel himself safe, unless in close order and unison of action, neither of which could long be preserved when attacked in such a position.

The next is, as you pass from Richmond, at Pleasant’s mills, and the last, more advantageous than either, is close under Malvern hills, the north margin of the creek which intersects the road.

A discriminating officer, with inferior force, availing himself with dexterity of the advantages which in many places the country affords between Richmond and Westover, against a retreating foe, could hardly fail to bring him to submission.

But we were unprepared for resistance; and inviting as was the moment, it passed unseized. Our people in the lower country, finding the metropolis gone, and the enemy unresisted, followed the example of the government, abandoned their habitations, exposed their families to the misery of flight, and left their property at the mercy of the invader. What ills spring from the timidity and impotence of rulers! In them attachment to the common cause is vain and illusory, unless guided in times of difficulty by courage, wisdom, and concert.

This scene of dismay, confusion and destruction took place much about the time that lord Cornwallis again opened the campaign in the south; and during the difficult retreat which soon after ensued, the intelligence of Arnold’s success reached the two armies, deeply afflicting to the one, and highly encouraging to the other. Greene saw the state, on whose resources and ability he relied for supplies and reinforcements, prostrated at the feet of a handful of men, led by a traitor and deserter, while lord Cornwallis anticipated with delight his certain ultimate success, from comparing Arnold and his detachment with himself and his army.

Baron Steuben, not being in a condition to force intrenchments, wisely distributed his militia in the vicinity of the enemy, for the purpose of protecting the country from light incursions, made with a view to collect provisions or to seize plunder. No event occurred in this quarter worthy of notice, general Arnold continuing to adhere to his position in Portsmouth, and baron Steuben never having force sufficient to drive him from it.

Congress and the commander in chief, not less surprised than mortified at the tidings from Virginia, bestowed their immediate attention upon that quarter. The Virginia delegation, deploring the situation of its country, pressed the chevalier La Luzerne, minister plenipotentiary from his most christian majesty, to interpose his good offices with the commander of the French fleet at Rhode Island, for the purpose of inducing him to detach an adequate naval force to the Chesapeak, conceiving that such co-operation was alone wanting to restore the tarnished fame of the state, and to punish the base invader. Washington, participating in the feelings of the delegation, and urged by the duty of his station, took measures forthwith to assist the invaded state. He addressed himself to count Rochambeau, commanding the land forces of his most christian majesty, and to Monsieur Destouches, admiral of his squadron in the American seas, urging them to seize the present moment for inflicting a severe blow on the common enemy. He represented the condition and situation of the British armament in Virginia; and expatiated in fervid terms on the signal good which a prompt movement with the fleet, having on board a small auxiliary force from the army, to the Chesapeak, would certainly produce. He deprecated a naval operation unaided by an adequate detachment from the army, as incapable with the militia of the country to effect the desired object; and pressing cooperating exertions from the general and admiral, he announced his intention, arising from the confidence he felt that they would adopt his proposal, of drawing a corps of twelve hundred men from his army, and detaching it with orders to reach by forced marches the position of the enemy. Providentially, the French possessed at this moment naval superiority; the British having just before suffered severely in a storm off Long Island. The loss of one ship of the line, and the subtraction of two additional ships rendered unfit for service until repaired, gave this advantage. Had the admiral and general adopted at once the plan proposed by Washington, the object might have been effected before the disabled British ships could have been refitted for sea: but for reasons not explained, Monsieur Destouches did not move with his squadron, but despatched a part of it only to the Chesapeak, without a single regiment from the army. The commodore had no sooner reached his place of destination than, discovering his inability to execute the expected service, he hastened back to his admiral. Falling in with a British frigate on his return, he captured her; thus obtaining some little compensation for the otherwise useless expedition. In the meantime general Washington’s detachment, under the marquis de la Fayette, proceeded to the head of Elk, where embarking in bay craft collected for the purpose, the marquis soon reached Annapolis; from which place, in pursuance of the concerted plan, he was to have been taken down the bay, under convoy of Monsieur Destouches.

In all military operations there is a crisis, which once past, can never be recalled. So it was now. We had failed to seize the favorable moment, when in our grasp; it went by, and was irrecoverably lost. Had the suggestion of Washington been adopted in the first instance, the British armament must have fallen, and the American traitor would have expiated upon a gibbet his atrocious crime. So persuaded was Washington that such was now the probable termination to his infamous life, that he instructed the marquis not to admit any stipulation in his surrender for his safety, and forbad, as he had done on a former occasion, the smallest injury to the person of Arnold; his object being to bring him to public punishment, agreeably to the rules and regulations established by congress for the government of the army. The commander in chief was much mortified when he learnt that his proposition to the general and admiral had not been executed, as he was well convinced the propitious opportunity was irretrievably past. His chagrin arose not only from failure in striking his enemy, from failure in vindicating the degraded reputation of Virginia, but also from this second escape of Arnold, whose safe delivery at headquarters engaged his attention from the moment of his desertion. Nevertheless, he concurred with zeal in the late adoption of his proposed plan by the French commanders, and continued the marquis at Annapolis for co-operation. Monsieur Destouches finding, by the return of his commodore, that the contemplated object had not been effected, sailed from Rhode Island with his squadron on the eighth of March, with a suitable detachment from the army, under the count de Viominil. Time had been afforded for the refitment of the two disabled ships belonging to the British fleet, which being accomplished, admiral Arbuthnot put to sea on the tenth, in pursuit of the French fleet, and came up with it on the sixteenth, off the capes of Virginia.

The hostile fleets were not long in view before they engaged. The action was not general, and, like most sea battles, indecisive. After one hour’s combat the fleets separated, each claiming the victory. However well supported might be the title of the French admiral, it cannot be doubted that he entirely failed in the object of the expedition; nor is it less certain that his disappointment resulted from the rencontre that had just taken place, which was followed by the British admiral’s possession of the entrance into the Chesapeak, and by the return of the French fleet to Rhode Island.

Nevertheless congress, the states, and the commander in chief, were considerably elated by the issue of the naval combat; for although the fleet of our ally had not gained any decisive advantage, and had been obliged to abandon its enterprize, still, without superiority of force, it had sustained an equal combat against an enemy whose predominance on the ocean had been long established. Congress complimented Monsieur Destouches with a vote of thanks, expressing their approbation and confidence; while general Washington, with much cordiality and satisfaction, tendered to the admiral his sincere congratulations. So sensible had been sir Henry Clinton of the vulnerable condition of Arnold, that he hastened the embarkation of a considerable body of troops, under major general Phillips (lately exchanged) intended ultimately to cooperate with lord Cornwallis, and now applied to reinforce the detachment in Virginia, as soon as the British fleet should be enabled to put to sea.

Arbuthnot had not long sailed when he was followed by the transports with the armament under Phillips, which, steering directly for the Chesapeak, safely arrived, after a short passage; and, proceeding up Elizabeth river, the troops debarked at Portsmouth, to the great joy of brigadier Arnold, whose apprehensions during the preceding three weeks had been unceasing and excruciating.

The marquis la Fayette was recalled from Annapolis to the head of Elk, whence he was directed to proceed to Virginia, and take upon himself the command of the troops collected and collecting for its protection. The British force, united at Portsmouth, amounted to three thousand five hundred; and, to the great satisfaction of the officers heretofore serving under Arnold, was now placed under the direction of general Phillips. This officer occupied himself in completing the fortifications begun by Arnold, and making such additional defences as the security of the post required. As soon as this was effected, he prepared for offensive operations.

Leaving one thousand men in Portsmouth, he embarked with the residue in vessels selected for the purpose, and proceeded up James river, with a view of consummating the system of destruction so successfully pursued by Arnold during his short expedition.

Although the heavy hand of the enemy had been stretched twice before across this defenceless country, withering every thing it touched; although the difficulty with which our infant nation, without money and without credit, gathered together small quantities of supplies, without which resistance must terminate; and although the state of our interior forbad the hope of effectual opposition, not from the want of means, but from the want of wisely husbanding and wisely applying our resources, proved again and again by severe experience; yet the interval since Arnold’s unopposed visit to the metropolis was passed in inactivity as all preceding periods of quietude had passed. What little remained of the vitals of resistance were still left in the exposed region of the state, instead of being all collected and transported over the Blue ridge, our nearest security. Instead of admonishing our planters of the danger to which their tobacco was exposed in the public warehouses on the navigable rivers, and urging them to keep this valuable resource safe at home for better times, our towns were filled with our staple commodity, ready to be burnt, or to be exported, as might best comport with the enemy’s views.

Indeed, in the language of scripture, “we left undone those things which we ought to have done, and did those things which we ought not to have done,” and well might follow the disgraces and distresses which ensued.

At York Town were deposited some naval stores, and in its harbor were a few public and private vessels. This little assemblage seems first to have engaged the notice of the British general. Having advanced up the river opposite to Williamsburg, the former seat of government, Phillips landed with his troops at Barwell’s ferry, and took possession of this deserted city without opposition; hence he detached to York Town, where destroying our small magazine, he returned to his fleet and proceeded up the river. Reaching City Point, which is situated on the south side of James river, where it receives the Appomatox, the British general again debarked his army.

Petersburg, the great mart of that section of the state which lies south of Appomatox, and of the northern part of North Carolina, stands upon its banks, about twelve miles from City Point; and after the destruction of Norfolk, ranked first among the commercial towns of the state. Its chief export was tobacco, considered our best product, and at this time its warehouses were filled. In addition were some public stores; as this town, being most convenient to the army of Greene, had become necessarily a place of depôt for all imported supplies required for southern operations.

Phillips directed his march to Petersburg, which he soon reached, without opposition, as appeared then to be the habit of Virginia.

All the regular force of this state being under Greene in South Carolina, its defence depended entirely upon the exertions of its executive government, and its militia. Two thousand of this force were now in the field, directed by the baron Steuben, seconded by general Nelson; half of which was stationed on each side of James river. Steuben, not doubting as to Phillips’ object, put himself at the head of the southern division in the vicinity of Petersburg, whose safety he endeavored to effect; but as he was incapable of doing more than merely to preserve appearances, this effort was abortive. Advancing into the town, the British troops fell upon Steuben’s division, well posted, and as usual, willing, but incapable, to resist effectually. A distant cautious rencontre ensued; adroitly managed by the baron, and sharply upheld by his troops. It terminated, as was foreseen, in the retreat of Steuben over the Appomatox, breaking down the bridge after passing it, to prevent pursuit. Phillips, now in quiet possession of the town, pursued the British policy of crushing southern resistance, by destroying the resources of Virginia. The warehouses, stored with tobacco, our best substitute for money, were consumed. Every thing valuable was destroyed; and the wealth of this flourishing town in a few hours disappeared. Pursuing this war of devastation, he crossed the Appomatox, having repaired its bridge; and dividing his superior force, he detached Arnold to Osborne’s, another place of tobacco storage, while he proceeded himself to the court-house of Chesterfield county, which lies opposite to Richmond, between the James and Appomatox rivers. At this latter place was no tobacco, the present chief object of British conquerors; but barracks had been erected, and stores collected there, for the accommodation of our recruits, when assembled at this place to join the southern army. Arnold destroyed tobacco and every thing he found at Osborne’s, as did Phillips the barracks and stores at the court-house. These exploits being performed, the two divisions of the army rejoined on the route to Manchester, a small village south of James river, in view of the metropolis, one of them passing through Warwick, another small village: here was more tobacco, of course more devastation followed.

The tobacco war being finished, our small squadron of armed vessels lying in the river, here very narrow, became the next object of the British detachment. This naval force had been collected for the purpose of co-operating with the French expedition from Newport against Portsmouth, which proved abortive; and among other ills flowing from the abortion, was the loss of this little squadron. The commodore was very politely summoned to surrender, to which summons he bid defiance, and declaring “his determination to defend himself to the last extremity.” Quick two sixes and two grasshoppers were brought to bear upon him; when he as quickly scuttled and set fire to his vessels, escaping with his crew to the northern banks of the river: one way of “holding out to the last extremity,” but not that commonly understood by the term. Reaching Manchester, general Phillips renewed hostility upon tobacco, of which great quantities were found in the warehouses; this village, although in sight of Richmond, being saved by the intervening river from sharing with the metropolis in Arnold’s ravages. Nothing now remained on the south side of James river, below the falls, for British fire; all the tobacco, with all our valuables within reach, were burnt, or conveyed on board ship. It was necessary to cross to Richmond, or to lay aside the torch. The former measure was the one desired, and would have been executed, had not the opportune arrival, on the preceding evening, of the marquis de la Fayette, with his New England regulars, put an insuperable bar to the project. No bridge then united the two shores, and no maritime aid was at hand to accelerate a passage, now to be effected only by the bayonet, covered by adequate and commanding batteries. The British force under Phillips was between three and four thousand, fully adequate of itself to have prepared a bridge of boats, and to have forced its way across; but nature had bestowed upon the north side of the river heights commanding effectually both shores. The marquis, strengthened[note 3] by two thousand militia, presented a respectable force, better appropriated to marches and countermarches, waiting for the assistance which time and opportunity never fail to present, than for the close and stubborn conflicts which defences of posts and resistance to river passages are sure to produce. Had Phillips been in Richmond, and the marquis in Manchester, the river would have been passed with ease. Such is the value of what is called the advantage of ground in war. Relinquishing his design, general Phillips quitted Manchester, marching down the south side of the river to Bermuda Hundred; the only spot in the state which retained the old Anglican term brought over by the first settlers; situated on the south shore of the James, at its confluence with the Appomatox river. Although no tobacco warehouses, with their contents, remained to attract the exertions of British valor, yet various articles presented themselves in this ill-fated district, which, exciting cupidity, could not fail in being taken into safe keeping by this formidable army.

When governments adopt the policy of plunder and conflagration, they owe to the world, as well as to their nation, the justification of such departure from the liberal usage of war. In every condition of things such justification is difficult; in this state of affairs it was impracticable. The subjugation of the weakest portion of the Union, to which alone all the disposable force of Great Britain had been and was devoted, began to be viewed as chimerical even by the British officers. The battle of Guilford had fixed an impression on the condition of the war, which audibly declared the futility even of victory itself. To burn and to destroy, where no hope of effecting the object could exist but with the infatuated, was not less cruel than disgraceful. That the only people in the world, understanding and enjoying political liberty, powerful and enlightened, the brethren of Locke, of Newton, and of Hampden, should encourage, by their example, a return to barbarism, affords a melancholy proof of the inefficacy of the arts and the sciences, the sweets of civilization, nay, even of liberty itself, over passion supported by power. The British nation guided by ministers without talents, disappointment could not but ensue to many of their enterprises; which, embittering the heart instead of correcting the head, produced this baneful system, so destructive to the comfort first of the farmers of Connecticut, now of the planters of Virginia; heaping up a stock of irritation and hate, to be dissipated only by the force of time.

Opposite to Bermuda Hundred is City Point, where Phillips had disembarked when proceeding to Petersburg; the fleet continuing in its harbor, the British general reembarked his army, and fell down the river.

The marquis La Fayette, informed by his light parties of the movement of the enemy, followed cautiously on the north side of the river, until he reached the head waters of the Chickohominy, one of the branches of James river, behind which he took post. Here he learned, by his exploring parties, that the British fleet was reascending the river; when, breaking up from Chickohominy, the marquis hastened back to Richmond.

On his route he was informed, that Phillips was again disembarking his army on the south side of the river; one division at Brandon, the seat of Benjamin Harrison, esq., and the second division at City Point. Persuaded that the enemy’s present object was the possession of Petersburg, for the purpose of meeting lord Cornwallis, whose approach to Halifax was known. La Fayette determined to move by forced marches in that direction. The British general advancing with equal rapidity, and being nearer to Petersburg, reached it first. Phillips had flattered himself, that the powerful advantage derived from the celerity and ease with which his army might be conveyed by water, would enable him to strike decisively the American general, whom he hoped to allure low down the neck formed by the James and Chickohominy. While occupied in the incipient step to this end, he received lord Cornwallis’s despatch, forwarded, as has been before mentioned, when that general commenced his march from Wilmington; and therefore hurried to Petersburg, the designated point of junction. Though young and enterprising, La Fayette was too sagacious to have risked the bold measure of occupying Petersburg, even had he been free to act as his own judgment might direct; but acting, as he did, in a subordinate character, he never could have been induced to violate orders. Major general Greene, commanding in the Southern Department, directed the operations in Virginia as well as in Carolina; and apprehending loss from temerity, he enjoined, first on baron Steuben, and afterwards upon his successor, the preservation of the army, by avoiding general action, and confining his operations to the “petit guerre;” convinced that the steady adherence to such system only could save the South, It is not to be presumed, that, with such instructions from his superior, at the head of a force inferior to that under Phillips, with a few lately raised cavalry, the American general would have hazarded the certain danger awaiting him, from placing himself between Cornwallis and the army under Phillips. But in his difficult situation, it was necessary to preserve appearances, to keep the country in good spirits, as well as to render his soldiers strict in attention to duty, and therefore never so susceptible of discipline as when impressed with the conviction that battle is at hand. Finding the British general in occupation of Petersburg, La Fayette fell back; and recrossing the James river, took a position upon its northern margin, some miles below Richmond. Here he exerted himself to increase the ability of his army, by diminishing his baggage, establishing system and punctuality in its several departments, and introducing throughout rigid discipline. Nor was he unmindful of the peril which awaited the public stores again collected in Richmond, notwithstanding the severe admonition lately received from brigadier Arnold. To their removal he administered all the aid in his power, which was effected in due time, though unhappily not to a proper place.

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