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


LORD CORNWALLIS, whom we left at Wilmington, in pursuance of his ultimate decision (taken after much consideration) moved on the 25th of April; eighteen days after Greene had advanced upon Cambden. Previous to his march, he communicated to major general Phillips his intention, and his route; designating Petersburg as the place of junction between himself and Phillips. Proceeding towards Halifax, on the Roanoke, the British general preserved (by the rigidness with which he enforced his orders) the country from devastation and private property from spoliation; hoping, by the exercise of his natural moderation and humanity, to give effect to his unremitted exertions to bring all the loyalists of North Carolina into active co-operation with his army. But wisely and perseveringly as he endeavored to realize this favorite object, very partial success followed. The severe chastisement so often experienced by these men, the unceasing vigilance of government, and the success of Greene’s operations in South Carolina, were irresistible in their effect. Happily for themselves, happily for their country, these deluded people adhered to a state of quiescence. In this condition of things, the militia were ordered to the field, and some portions of them actually embodied,—well disposed (as militia always are) to sustain the common cause; but (like militia thus organized always are and ever will be) incapable of executing their wish, or the will of government. Lieutenant colonel Tarleton led, as usual, the advance of Cornwallis, supported by lieutenant colonel Hamilton, (of the North Carolina regiment) well known in that state, and universally esteemed and respected. To the influence and efforts of this officer may, in a great degree, be ascribed the moderation exhibited by these advanced corps[note 29] on their march; alike repugnant to the principles, the temper and habits heretofore displayed. During the tedious progress from Cape Fear to the Roanoke, the enemy met no interruption. Even his foraging parties were undisturbed; and the marauders accompanying his army passed and repassed in security, unless detected and apprehended by British guards and British patrols. A general torpor[note 30] prevailed throughout the country through which the British general took his course; ascribable, not to the languor of the inhabitants, but to the impotency of government. After reaching Halifax, the British army halted. Here the restrained licentiousness of the unprincipled burst out, and shocking outrages were committed upon our unprotected fellow citizens,—disgraceful to British arms, and degrading to the name of man.[note 31]

General Phillips took possession of Petersburg on the 9th of May, extremely ill with a bilious fever, which had afflicted him for several days; and in spite of all medical exertions, it put a period to his life on the 13th; by which event the command of the army devolved upon brigadier Arnold.

Cornwallis leaving Halifax, passed the Roanoke, whence he detached lieutenant colonel Tarleton with his legion to the Meherrion, to hold the fords across that river: lieutenant colonel Simcoe, with his rangers, being at the same time sent forward by general Arnold to the Nottoway, for the like purpose. No interruption was attempted against either detachment: all the force assembled for the protection of the state being with La Fayette in his position near Richmond. Following the advanced corps, Cornwallis passed the Meherrion, then the Nottoway, and on the 20th entered Petersburg.

One month of the best season of the year for military operations, had been nearly expended in the march from Wilmington by one army; while the other, during the like period, occupied itself in the trivial expeditions heretofore described,—as inoperative to effect the great object in view, as they were disgraceful to the British government, and oppressive to individuals.

The union of the two armies gave to the British general a force so far superior to his enemy, as to threaten the destruction of Virginia. Cornwallis did not excel in numbers only; his troops were excellent, with the exception of Arnold’s corps. Exclusive of the garrison of Portsmouth, two battalions of light infantry, the Queen’s rangers (horse and foot) under lieutenant colonel Simcoe, the seventy-sixth and eightieth British regiments, with that of Hesse (called der Prince Hereditaire), two companies of yagers, and Arnold’s American legion, with a well appointed detachment of artillery, composed the force lately under Phillips, and were now united to the tried troops of the South. In addition, a reinforcement was in James river from New York under general Leslie, consisting of the seventeenth and forty-third regiments, British, and two battalions of Anspach. The seventeenth regiment and the Anspach battalions were ordered to Portsmouth, the command of which post was confided to general Leslie, while the forty-third proceeded to join Cornwallis. About this time the British general received a despatch from lord Rawdon, communicating his victory at Hobkick’s hill; and as if nothing should be wanting to stimulate the exertions of his lordship, he was also officially advised of the sailing of a fleet from Cork in Ireland, with three regiments, destined for South Carolina.

The success of Rawdon, and the reinforcement from Ireland, calmed the disquietude heretofore excited in the breast of Cornwallis by general Greene’s return to South Carolina; and reproduced the fallacious hope, that while he prostrated Virginia, Rawdon would maintain undiminished his late conquests.

La Fayette still held his position near Richmond, occasionally strengthened by detachments of militia, brought into the field by the unceasing efforts of governor Jefferson.

Baron Steuben, with six hundred levies, was on the south of James river, proceeding to South Carolina to reinforce Greene; and brigadier Wayne, with the Pennsylvania line, (now reduced to eight or nine hundred) was on his march from the Northern army to unite with La Fayette.

The baron was recalled, and directed to take post at the Point of Fork, the depot of most of our remaining military stores; and general Nelson, with two thousand militia in the field, continued with La Fayette; while general Weedon, of the continental line, (now at home, in consequence of the diminution of our force,) was requested to collect a corps of the militia in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, for the purpose of covering the most important and well conducted manufactory of arms in the state, established at Falmouth, a small village on the north of the Rappahannoc, one mile above Fredericksburg, and under the direction of Mr. John Strode,—a gentleman singularly adapted, by his genius and habits, for its superintendance.

La Fayette’s force, in his camp below Richmond, did not exceed four thousand, of which three fourths were militia. But in conformity to the system adopted by governor Jefferson, continental officers were substituted, in the higher commands, for those of the militia; which, although not very well relished by those who retired, was highly grateful to the soldiers; who, perceiving the perils before them, rejoiced in being led by tried and experienced men. Such will always be the effect of acknowledged danger on the mind of man.

La Fayette selected seven hundred and fifty of his best militia marksmen, and dividing them into three corps of light infantry, of two hundred and fifty each, he placed them respectively under the orders of majors Call, Willis, and Dick, regular officers. This arrangement was judicious, and during the campaign its beneficial effect was often felt.

Could the American general have united to this body of infantry an adequate corps of cavalry, he would have very much increased its utility; but of this species of force he was unfortunately almost destitute, although the two states of Maryland and Virginia furnish horses of the best quality. Only the remnant of Armand’s corps (not more than sixty), and a troop of volunteer dragoons, under captain Carter Page, late of Baylor’s corps, were with him.

Sir Henry Clinton states the force in Virginia, previous to the arrival of lord Cornwallis, to be five thousand three hundred and four. Since his lordship’s assumption of the command, general Leslie (as has been mentioned) joined with three regiments from New York, of which the forty-third was added to the army. The field force under Cornwallis cannot be estimated under eight thousand,—more than double of that acting with his adversary. What added vastly to this superiority was the enemy’s strength in horse. His dragoons were rated at four hundred, to which were united seven or eight hundred mounted infantry. During four days’ halt in Petersburg, which period of rest was necessary to the army from Wilmington, the British general communicated his situation, strength and views to his commander in chief, and gave all requisite directions to the corps of Leslie occupying Portsmouth,—that of Craig, in possession of Wilmington,—and to lord Rawdon, commanding the army of defence in the two southern states. On the 24th of May his lordship moved, taking the route on the south of the Appomattox, with a determination of passing the James river at Westover, the elegant seat of the late colonel Byrd; where he not only could avail himself of maritime aid in the transportation of his army across the river, but might with facility draw to him the forty-third regiment, not yet disembarked. Here general Arnold, having obtained permission to return to New York, left the army. This step has been ascribed to two motives, each of which probably had its influence: the first was a prospect of a very active campaign, in the vicissitudes whereof he might fall into our hands; and the last, his own unpleasant situation among the British officers,—always irksome to him from their objections to his company and control, and now considerably increased by the reluctance of the officers who had served with so much glory and effect in the Carolinas, to receive orders from a traitor.

Nearly three days were occupied in the passage of James river; although unobstructed by any attempt on our side, and although facilitated by every exertion on the part of the British navy, and though all the horses belonging to the army swam the river, more than two miles wide.

As soon as the rear division had passed, the main body proceeded to White Oak swamp, to which place the light troops under Tarleton and Simcoe had moved the day previous. La Fayette, well informed of the enemy’s motions, and prepared for retreat, broke up from his position below Richmond, and fell behind the Chickohominy river, in the direction towards Fredericksburg; for the double purpose of approximating brigadier Wayne, on his march from the north, and of covering the manufactory of arms in the vicinity of Falmouth.

The British general followed with zeal and rapidity, and crossed the Chickohominy at Bottom bridge, manifesting his determination to force La Fayette into battle before his junction with Wayne; which certainly ought to have been his primary object, and might have been effected by his decided superiority in cavalry, augmented by mounted infantry.

La Fayette felt his extreme inferiority, and used every mean in his power to draw to his aid additional reinforcements in horse and foot. To the governor, to Steuben, to Nelson, and to Weedon, he applied with zeal bordering on importunity; and his applications received, as they merited, due respect. But the preparations had been improvidently delayed, and the loss of our military stores at Westham, during Arnold’s invasion, deprived us of the necessary arms and equipments; which, with the removal of families and of property, prevailing now in every direction, very much limited the effect of the various exertions made to comply with his requests.

During the invasion of Leslie, which followed that under Matthews, governor Jefferson (in pursuance of the full powers with which he had been invested by the general assembly) had brought into the field some legionary corps, under the most approved continental officers of the Virginia line.

Brigadier Lawson, (who commanded one of the two brigades of Virginia militia which behaved so handsomely at the battle of Guilford court-house) was at the head of the strongest of these corps, having under him the lieutenant colonels Monroe,[note 32] Bannister and Mercer.[note 33] As soon as Leslie abandoned Virginia to join Cornwallis in South Carolina, Lawson’s corps was disbanded; by which means the horse commanded by Bannister was lost to the state, when our situation now so pressingly required cavalry.

On receiving La Fayette’s request, brigadier Weedon applied to lieutenant colonel Mercer, formerly of Lawson’s legion, and who had served from the first year of the war in the celebrated third regiment of Virginia, until the battle of Monmouth. He was then one of the aids of major general Lee; and believing his general’s suspension from his command both unjust and unwise, he retired from the profession of arms, for which he was well qualified, and in which he had acquired, by severe and active service, considerable proficiency with personal distinction. This gentleman instantly complied with Weedon’s application; and in a few days he raised a troop of dragoons, composed of the youth of the best families in his neighborhood, mounted and equipped at their own expense. With this troop Mercer hastened to the retiring army,—a small but acceptable aid.

La Fayette, adhering to the example and instructions of Greene, continued to retreat; and before Cornwallis reached the Chickohominy, had passed the Pamunkey, the southern branch of York river.

In this position he was overtaken by a detachment of the light troops under lieutenant colonel Tarleton, whose sudden approach compelled him to form his army for battle. Had this movement of Tarleton been intended as a serious operation, it would have been adequately supported, and must have terminated in the destruction or dispersion of the American force; an event full of ill, not only to the suffering state but to the Union.

Wayne and Steuben never could have joined but by crossing the Blue Ridge, and uniting on its western side. Cornwallis seems to have been sure of his meditated victim, if we may judge of his expectation from a paragraph of a letter of his, published in doctor Ramsay’s history of the revolution in South Carolina, wherein he says, “the boy cannot escape me.” Like all soldiers over confident, he contrived to foil himself. The realization of such expectation was not, indeed, difficult; as La Fayette had not preserved, on his retreat, the distance from his enemy claimed by his great inferiority.

He was often not more than twenty miles from the British general, who had at his disposal at least one thousand horse and mounted infantry. Putting one soldier behind each of those mounted, he could by an easy exertion, in any twenty-four hours, have placed two thousand veterans, conducted by skilful and experienced officers, close to his enemy; whose attempt to retreat would have been so embarrassed and delayed as to have given time for the main body to have approached. Then La Fayette’s destruction would have been as easy as inevitable. Why this plain mode of operation was overlooked and neglected by Cornwallis, did then and does still excite the surprise of all intelligent soldiers conversant with the transaction. Lieutenant colonel Mercer, with his small corps of horse, joined La Fayette in this critical situation, and was very instrumental in discovering that the corps under Tarleton was only a large patrole. The communication of this intelligence repressed those afflicting reflections which the evidence of such impending danger could not fail to create in a leader less penetrating and less anxious than was the gallant La Fayette.

Tarleton did not continue long in his front, during which time one of his exploring parties was so fortutunate as to intercept a courier conveying letters from the American general to Greene, Steuben and governor Jefferson. In the letter to Jefferson, the marquis, as lieutenant colonel Tarleton informs us, “prophetically declared, that the British success in Virginia resembled the French invasion and possession of Hanover[note 34] in the preceding war, and was likely to have similar consequences, if the government and the country would exert themselves at the present juncture.”

As soon as the British patrole drew off, La Fayette broke up, and abandoning the protection of Fredericksburg, and the manufactory of arms in its neighbourhood, hastened by forced marches through the western district of Spotsylvania county, across the head waters of the Mattapony, the northern branch of York river, to gain the road on which Wayne was advancing. This unavoidable departure from his original system was executed with indefatigable diligence; nor did he ever again, during his retreat, risk himself within twenty miles of his able foe; so thoroughly had Tarleton’s late approach convinced him of the peril to which he had been exposed.

Cornwallis persevered in pursuit; but finding that the distance between his adversary and himself daily increased, he halted and turned his mind to inferior objects. He had in the preceding campaign experienced the inanity of pursuing Greene; and forgetting his then and present condition, as well as that of Greene and of La Fayette, he determined to struggle no longer to stop the junction of the latter with Wayne, but to employ his force in cowering the mind of the state, and in destroying all its remaining resources for the maintenance of armed resistance.

To this decision he seems to have been led by his conviction that Wayne, united to La Fayette, diminished so little the relative size of himself and his antagonist, as to forbid his inattention to other objects deemed by himself important, while it would increase the chance of striking his meditated blow against both. Two considerations, entitled to weight, supported this decision. The first grew out of the character of Wayne, which, after junction with La Fayette could not but mix itself in the subsequent operations, he being second in command; and the last arose from the increase of difficulty in movement, as well as in the procurement of necessary food for man and horse; which, like the first, invited withdraw from further pursuit at present; turning his attention to the execution of such plans, as would manifest to the inhabitants their defenceless condition, and inflame their passions against those entrusted with their safety, who had thus abandoned them to the enemy.

Although the course adopted by the British general varied materially from that which a just estimate of the conjuncture and of his own superiority seemed to dictate, yet it was supported by cogent considerations.

Cornwallis might have pursued his flying enemy with increased vigor, as has been before explained; and this he ought to have done, especially after being informed by Tarleton of the effect of his approach. Pressing La Fayette by forced marches, his two thousand mounted veterans must have overtaken him before Wayne joined; and in the attempt to overtake, by understanding the situation of Wayne, it is possisible he might have so operated on La Fayette’s anxiety to avoid battle, (by adhering to the intermediate route between Fayette and Wayne) as to have induced the former to fall off to his left, placing himself behind the little mountains of Orange county, and yielding up as well his junction with Wayne, as Wayne and his detachment. This heavy sacrifice would have been justified by the consequent salvation of the army of La Fayette. But should La Fayette’s judgment and intelligence have enabled him to avoid the keen pursuit, and to have made good his junction with Wayne, his united force was still so inadequate, that he must persevere in retreat, when that operation would not only be rendered more difficult than before from his augmentation in force, but from the peculiar character as well of his brave second as of the brave corps under his command.

Wayne had a constitutional attachment to the decision of the sword, and this cast of character had acquired strength from indulgence, as well as from the native temper of the troops he commanded. They were known by the designation of the line of Pennsylvania; whereas they might have been with more propriety called the line of Ireland.

Bold and daring, they were impatient and refractory; and would always prefer an appeal to the bayonet, to a toilsome march.

Restless under the want of food and whiskey; adverse to absence from their baggage; and attached to the pleasures of the table; Wayne and his brigade were more encumbered with wagons than any equal portion of the army.

The general and his soldiers were singularly fitted for close and stubborn action, hand to hand, in the centre of the army; but very little adapted to the prompt and toilsome service to which La Fayette was and must be exposed, so long as the British general continued to press him.

Cornwallis therefore did not miscalculate when he presumed that the junction of Wayne would increase, rather than diminish, his chance of bringing his antagonist to action.

Had the British general pressed forward, determining never to stop until he forced his enemy to the last appeal, La Fayette or Wayne must have fallen if severed from each other; and if united both might have been destroyed. The Rappahannoc lay in their rear: this river must be passed, and was in various points fordable unless swelled by fall of rain. If the American army made good its retreat over the Rappahannoc, it never could reach the Potomac without a blow; and that blow, from the enemy’s vast superiority of horse, must have been fatal.

The destruction of La Fayette being accomplished, the British general had only to take post on the heights above Stafford court-house, with his left resting on the village of Falmouth, to have secured all the plentiful country in his rear between the two rivers, as well as that on the southern margin of the Rappahannoc; and to have established a convenient communication with such portion of his fleet as he might require to be sent up the Potomac.

This course of operations was however happily omitted, and another was adopted, very unlike the adventurous and decisive policy which had heretofore uniformly distinguished lord Cornwallis.

It appears as if sir Henry Clinton had contemplated a move of the Virginia army to the head of the Chesapeak, to which, it seems, he was encouraged by a confidence that in Maryland, in Pennsylvania, and in a portion of Virginia on the upper Potomac, he should find a large body of determined friends.

The evidence which supported such conclusion remains unascertained. As far as American information can be relied upon, we may venture to conclude that the British commander in chief was very much misinformed. Some trifling districts in parts of Maryland, and a small portion of the county of Hampshire in Virginia, was believed to be well affected to Great Britain; but if all the disaffected in both states had been united in any one spot they would have presented but an inconsiderable allurement to the formation of a plan like that supposed to be entertained by sir Henry Clinton.

Whatever might have been the British general’s intelligence and views, it is very evident, from his letters to lord Cornwallis, that he inclined very much to hold his lordship near to Hampton Roads, for the protection of such of the British navy as should be employed within the capes of Virginia, and with the deisgn of pushing solid operations at the head of the Chesapeak, as soon as every apprehension of interruption from the French navy should cease.

Considerations drawn from due respect to the plan of his chief no doubt contributed to turn lord Cornwallis from the splendid prospect before him.

The British general having decided on his course made two considerable detachments from his army while encamped in the county of Hanover, for the purpose of destroying our magazines at the Point of Fork,[note 35] under the protection of baron Steuben with the raw levys under him, and of seizing the governor and the members of the general assembly of the commonwealth convened at Charlotteville, a small town on the western side of the Rivannah, the northern branch of James river.

Lieutenant colonel Simcoe commanded one of these detachments, composed of the Queen’s rangers (horse and foot) and the yagers, amounting to five hundred men; while the other, consisting of the legion and one company of the twenty-third regiment, was placed under the orders of lieutenant colonel Tarleton.

Simcoe was directed to fall upon the baron if practicable; at all events to force him across the Fluvannah, the southern branch of James river, and to destroy our magazines; while Tarleton was charged with the interception of the governor and general assembly, and the destruction of all military stores and other resources necessary for the maintenance of the war on his route.

These enterprising officers took their parts with their accustomed vigor.

Recrossing the North and South Anna branch of the Pamunkey, Simcoe proceeded on the direct route to the Point of Fork, and Tarleton moved on the road to Louisa court-house.

Cornwallis, with the main body, followed on the route of Simcoe.

The former officer conducted his march with the utmost secrecy; and, by detaining as prisoners all whom he overtook, he concealed his advance from the baron. Although unapprised of the intended real attack upon his post, Steuben became acquainted with the movement of Tarleton. In consequence of this information the baron engaged with diligence in removing our stores of every sort to the southern banks of the Fluvannah; which being done, he passed the river with his corps, carrying all the boats to the south side thereof. Simcoe reached the Point of Fork about the conclusion of the baron’s passage over the river, and captured a few of our troops waiting for the return of some of the boats. Chagrined at this disappointment, the British commander determined to recover by stratagem what he had lost by his enemy’s foresight. He encamped on the heights opposite to our camp, and by the number of his fires suggested to the baron the probability that the whole British army was only divided from him by the river. Thus impressed, and knowing that the corps of Tarleton was on his left, Steuben believed himself to be in imminent danger, and decided on saving his corps by the sacrifice of his stores. During the night the baron drew off, and, marching diligently, placed himself thirty miles from his foe. As soon as Simcoe perceived the next morning that the baron had decamped, he detached captain Stevenson with a section of light infantry and cornel Wolsey with four dragoons across the river in canoes: the first to destroy our stores, and the second, by mounting his dragoons on such horses as he could procure, to patrole some miles on the route of the baron to preserve the appearance of continuation of pursuit. Wolsey’s advance had the desired effect. One of the baron’s exploring parties fell in with Wolsey, and presuming that he was the precursor to the light corps, retired precipitately to the baron with information of the occurrence. Our corps was immediately put in motion, and retired still further from the river. Nor would the baron have halted until he reached general Greene, but for orders from Greene directing him to return to Fayette. Most of the arms found were muskets out of repair: they were however destroyed, as were the other military stores, except some brass cannon and mortars, which were mounted on carriages and conveyed to the British headquarters.

Lieutenant colonel Tarleton leaving the neighborhood of Louisa court-house about two in the morning, having rested his corps only three hours, pursued his march with vigor.

Unluckily for Greene’s distressed army, Tarleton overtook twelve wagons laden with clothing, under a weak guard, proceeding south. These were instantly possessed, and burnt. The British lieutenant colonel, knowing that his success depended on his activity, continued his march with diligence; but hearing that some of our influential citizens,—refugees from the lower country,—resided at Dr. Walker’s, and at Mr. John Walker’s, whose houses were near his route, he injudiciously determined to spare the time necessary for the capture of all who might be found at the two houses. Detaching captain Kinlock with one troop for the purpose of securing those at Mr. John Walker’s, he went himself to the doctor’s, where he found Mr. John Simms, of Kanover, brother to Patrick Henry, a member of the senate, with other gentlemen.

Captain Kinlock was equally successful.[note 36] He surprised and took three of our citizens,—Francis Kinlock, a member of congress from South Carolina, and William and Robert Nelson, brothers to general Nelson, all young and active; and who suspecting the approach of parties of the enemy had taken measures for their safety, which by the address and rapid advance of the British captain were rendered unavailing. This waste of time saved the members of the assembly. Before the British cavalry reached Walker’s, Mr. Jouitte, a private gentleman, luckily descried them; and, much to his credit, hastened by a disused road to Charlotteville to alarm the general assembly, believing their capture to be the enemy’s object.

Tarleton spent some time in resting his horses, and in paroling such of his prisoners as he chose to indulge with their paroles. Then resuming his march, he advanced with ardor upon Charlotteville; not doubting, as he had marched seventy miles in twenty-four hours, that his success would be complete.

Nor could he have been disappointed, had he not halted at Walker’s: for active and anxious as was Mr. Jouitte to outstrip the enemy, he would probably have failed but for Tarleton’s occupation with a secondary object; or even if he had been so fortunate as to have preceded the enemy, the few minutes’ notice would have been insufficient to secure a general escape.

As soon as the British van reached the Rivanna, it pressed forward in full charge through the river, followed by the main body. A small guard posted on the western bank was overpowered, and the enemy with concurring celerity fell upon the town. Jouitte had previously arrived, and the assembly adjourning immediately, its members hastened away. A few of these gentlemen were nevertheless taken, as were several officers and soldiers. All our stores at this place, consisting of four hundred pounds of powder, one thousand stand of arms (manufactured in the armory near Falmouth), a quantity of tobacco, and some clothing provided for the Southern army, were destroyed. The British troops taken at Saratoga were cantoned in the neighborhood of this village, and many of the soldiers were permitted to labor for their own emolument in the vicinity of the barracks. Of these twenty joined the British lieutenant colonel in the few hours he continued in Charlotteville.

The attempt to take the governor, who was at his house in sight of the town, failed. Apprised of the approach of the dragoons, he very readily saved himself by taking shelter in an adjacent spar of the mountains.

Lieutenant colonel Tarleton leaving Charlotteville in the afternoon, proceeded down the Rivanna towards the Point of Fork, in the neighborhood whereof lord Cornwallis had arrived with the main body.

La Fayette did not intermit retreat until he passed the Rapidan, the southern branch of the Rappahannoc. In a few days afterwards the corps under Wayne, between eight and nine hundred strong, joined him.

Soon after Tarleton’s return to lord Cornwallis, his corps was reinforced by the seventy-sixth regiment, commanded by major Needham, and the lieutenant colonel received orders to mount the seventy-sixth, and to prepare for another expedition.[note 37] By reference to lord Cornwallis’s instructions, published in Tarleton’s Campaigns, the destruction of our stores at Albemarle Old Court-house, the pursuit and dispersion of the corps of Steuben, and the interception of some light troops believed to be on their march from the army of Greene to reinforce La Fayette, constituted the objects of the intended enterprise. Lieutenant colonel Tarleton was directed, afier completing his expedition, to take the route on the south side of James river to the town of Manchester, where boats would be provided to transport himself and corps across the river to Richmond, to which place the British general intended to proceed.

La Fayette, having effected his junction with Wayne, lost no time in recrossing the Rapidan, and advancing toward his enemy—of whose proceedings he was regularly advised, and whose present position was ascertained. Penetrating into the most prominent of his lordship’s designs, the American general took the resolution of interrupting their execution. With this view he moved towards Albermarle Old Court-house, holding himself convenient to the upper country. Cornwallis, apprized as well of the junction of Wayne as of the direction of La Fayette’s course of march, did not doubt but that the preservation of the stores at Albermarle Old Court-house, and the safety of the corps of Steuben, alike engaged his adversary’s intention. Willing that his antagonist should proceed on his experiment, the British general held back lieutenant colonel Tarleton, who was now ready for the intended expedition, and continued in his position at Jefferson’s plantation, convenient to his adversary’s presumed route, with a detachment to fall upon him in his progress. La Fayette’s discernment and activity baffled completely these views. Turning into a difficult and unfrequented road, which not only shortened his distance to the point in view, but threw him further from the enemy, he crossed the Rivannah before the British general was acquainted with his having reached it; and taking post behind Mechunck’s creek, sat down on the direct route from the British camp to Albermarle Old Court-house. Here he was reinforced by colonel Clarke, one of the heroes of King’s Mountain, with his brave rifle militia. The expedition, for the execution of which Tarleton was prepared, was relinquished; and the British general, drawing in his van corps, fell back on the ensuing day towards Richmond.

Notwithstanding the junction of Wayne, and the succeeding reinforcement under Clarke, the British general continued to possess a decided superiority of force, not only in quality but in number. Steuben was still at a distance from La Fayette, and the destruction of the last would not fail in being followed by that of the first.

What reasons could operate on lord Cornwallis to induce him now to retire, when so many considerations urged his advance, remain unascertained. Certainly he must have acted in obedience to orders which have never yet been fully promulgated.

He was the same general who had attacked Gates at the head of a very superior army, and who afterwards fought Greene, though nearly double his number. In both instances he risked his own destruction, and, although victorious in the issue, was upon both occasions on the threshold of ruin.

Now when victory was certain, when serious injury to himself was impracticable, and when his vast power in horse assured to him the complete improvement of success, he resigns his spirit of enterprise, and permits his inferior foe to enjoy undisturbed repose.

This change in conduct must be ascribed to the interference of his superior; and Cornwallis’ letter of the 26th of May[note 38] to the British commander in chief, satisfactorily evinces that his present operations were intended to be extremely limited, being subordinate to some grand design conceived by sir Henry Clinton to be executed within the year. The retreat of the British general was soon known in the American camp, and La Fayette put his army in motion. Pleasing as was this unexpected turn in the enemy’s course, the American general continued to follow with undiminished circumspection, holding his main body between twenty and thirty miles in the rear of the foe, and exploring his front and flanks with his cavalry and riflemen. Lieutenant colonel Tarleton, with the legion strengthened by the seventy sixth regiment, was charged with the rear and one flank of the retiring army, while its other flank was committed to Simcoe at the head of the queen’s rangers.

Cornwallis, secure from insult or surprise, had the force and views of La Fayette encouraged such attempts, proceeded by slow and convenient marches, without making a single effort to strike his following enemy. On the 15th of June the British general reached Westham, and on the subsequent day he entered Richmond, where he halted.

La Fayette, observing his usual distance, continued to follow in the British rear; and, during the enemy’s halt in Richmond, took a strong position on Allen’s creek, in the county of Goochland, twenty-two miles from Cornwallis, detaching his light troops close to the enemy’s advanced posts—the one at Westham, commanded by Simcoe, and the other at the Meadow Bridge, under the orders of lieutenant colonel Tarleton. On the 18th, Tarleton believing, from the intelligence he had acquired, the position of the corps under brigadier Muhlenbergh—posted some little distance in front and to the left of the main body—vulnerable, made a sudden movement from the Meadow Bridge to beat up his quarters. But, secret as was his advance, the brigadier gained timely information of his approach; and, falling back upon La Fayette, met a detachment under general Wayne sent to his support. As soon as Tarleton discovered the movement of Muhlenbergh, he returned to his post. While engaged in this operation, lieutenant colonel Mercer with his troop of horse passed in the enemy’s rear, and reconnoitred, by order of his general, the position of lord Cornwailis encamped on the heights of Richmond. On his return Mercer fell in with one of Tarleton’s patroles of horse, who were pursued, taken, and safely conveyed to the American camp.

This was the only advantage of the sort as yet obtained by our army during the preceding active operations.

The British general halted but a few days in Richmond, and resumed his march for Portsmouth, in pursuance of sir Henry Chnton’s instructions, as arc plainly to be inferred from the letter of lord Cornwallis of the 26th of May. Taking the direct route to Williamsburgh, and consulting as heretofore, by his mode of march, the ease of his troops, he entered Williamsburgh on the 25th.

La Fayette while in his camp above Richmond was joined by the baron with his corps of levys, about six hundred. This accession of force increased his army to between four and five thousand, of which two thousand one hundred were regulars, and fifteen hundred of these were veteran troops. The residue were composed of different corps of militia, better fitted for service than usual, as most of the higher grades were filled by continental officers. Still we were inferior in numbers to the enemy by a third, and very deficient in cavalry, in which the British general continued to excel. Informed of Cornwallis’ resumption of retreat. La Fayette followed, and passing through Richmond reached on the third evening New Kent court-house, from which place the British general had moved in the morning of the previous day.

From hence the American headquarters were transferred to Tyre’s plantation, twenty miles from Williamsburgh.

During this march no attempt was made by either general to disturb the other; a game of all others the most to be desired by La Fayette, as the campaign was wasting without improvement by his superior foe. While in his camp before Williamsburgh, the British general learnt that we had some boats and stores on the Chickahominy river. Hither he detached lieutenant colonel Simcoe with his corps and the yagers to destroy them. This service was promptly performed: but the American general, having discovered from his exploring parties the march of Simcoe, detached on the 26th lieutenant colonel Butler, of the Pennsylvania line, the renowned second and rival of Morgan at Saratoga. The rifle corps under the majors Call and Willis, and the cavalry, which did not in the whole exceed one hundred and twenty effectives, composed Butler’s van. Major M’Pherson, of Pennsylvania, led this corps; and having mounted some infantry behind the remnant of Armand’s dragoons, overtook Simcoe on his return near Spencer’s plantation, six or seven miles above Williamsburgh. The suddenness of M’Pherson’s attack threw the yagers into confusion; but the Queen’s rangers quickly deployed, and advanced to the support of the yagers.

Call and Willis had now got up to M’Pherson with their riflemen, and the action became fierce. Lieutenant Lollar, at the head of a squadron of Simcoe’s hussars, fell on Armand’s remnant and drove it out of line, making lieutenant Breso and some privates prisoners. Following his blow, Lollar turned upon our riflemen, then pressing upon the Queen’s rangers, and at the same moment captain Ogilvie, of the legion cavalry,—who had been sent that morning from camp with one troop for the collection of forage,—accidentally appeared on our left flank. The rifle corps fell back in confusion upon Butler, drawn up in the rear with his continentals. Satisfied with the repulse of the assailing troops, lieutenant colonel Simcoe began to retire; nor was he further pressed by Butler, as Cornwallis had moved with the main body on hearing the first fire, to shield Simcoe. La Fayette claimed the advantage in this rencontre, and states his enemy’s loss to be sixty killed and one hundred wounded; whereas lord Cornwallis acknowledges the loss of only three officers and thirty privates, killed and wounded. Among the former was lieutenant Jones, a much admired young officer.

What was our loss in killed and wounded does not appear in the report of La Fayette; but three officers and twenty-eight privates were taken.

Here was a second opportunity presented of striking our army, and like the first it was not seized. Nothing was more feasible, as Cornwallis had moved his whole force, than for him to have turned Simcoe’s horse and foot upon Butler. Following close in the rear. La Fayette must have sacrificed this corps, or risked battle. The latter would have taken place, as Wayne had moved to support Butler, and would have reached our advance about the time of the suggested movement upon our light corps.

The British general returned to Williamsburgh, preparing for his passage of James river; and La Fayette resumed his position at Tyre’s plantation, waiting the motions of Cornwallis.

Sir Henry Clinton, from the moment he perused Washington’s letters, imparting to Congress the result of his conference with count Rochambeau, (which had been intercepted by one of the British general’s parties,) seems to have been persuaded that a formidable combined attack upon New York by the allies was not only contemplated, but certain; and as early as the 11th of June, he communicated his conviction of such a measure to earl Cornwallis, and required him to occupy some salubrious situation about Williamsburgh or York Town, calculated for the defensive, and convenient to desultory maritime expeditions up the rivers of Virginia, for the destruction of our remaining stores and resources. As soon as this was accomplished, earl Cornwwallis was ordered to return to sir Henry the Queen’s rangers, the remnant of the seventeenth dragoons, two battalions of light infantry, two of Anspach, the forty-third and seventy-sixth or eightieth regiments.

It appears that subsequent to the issue of this order, the British commander in chief,[note 39] availing himself of water conveyance, contemplated striking at Philadelphia with the corps to be detached by Cornwallis, as it proceeded to New York, for the purpose of destroying the continental supplies collected in that city.

No doubt earl Cornwallis, feeling himself bound to give effect to his general’s views, did not risk any operations which might produce delay in his movement to Portsmouth, which seems to have been the place preferred by himself for the embarkation of the troops demanded; whereas sir Henry Clinton’s instructions pointed out Williamsburgh or York as the place of arms in his judgment best calculated to answer the intended purposes. Certainly lord Cornwallis might and ought to have adopted the plan proposed by Clinton; as it was very easy to have withdrawn the garrison from Portsmouth, a post held contrary to his lordship’s advice; to have brought it up to him either on James or York river, and in the same transports to have forwarded the required corps to New York. Nor would this operation have consumed the time which his passage of James river and move to Portsmouth must spend. He might too have combined with this system the destruction of La Fayette, hitherto omitted, and required from him by the most powerful considerations.

Believing the course originally adopted as that most likely to effect with celerity the object of the commander in chief, Cornwallis, after some deliberation as to its change, persevered.

Halting eight or nine days in Williamsburgh, his lordship decamped on the 4th of July, having, after examining the river at Burwell’s ferry and James City island, decided to pass it at the latter place. On the same evening he reached the island, and the British advance, consisting of the Queen’s rangers under lieutenant colonel Simcoe, passed the river. On the 5th, the wheel carriages of every sort were transported across; as were, on the subsequent day, the baggage and bat horses. Cornwallis meant to have passed with the army on the 7th.

La Fayette did not doubt the intention of his adversary, and was much inclined to fall upon his rear when a major part of the army should have passed or was passing the river. To enable him to manage this delicate manœuvre with accuracy and precision, every effort was essayed by La Fayette’s exploring parties to understand distinctly every step taken by his lordship. Lieutenant colonel Mercer being, among others, employed with his troop of dragoons in this service, made, during the night of the 3d, a circuitous march, and gained by the dawn of day the right flank of the enemy. Mercer discovered that the British general had just moved, and very quickly advised his commander of the event.

La Fayette put his army in motion on the same afternoon, and receding from his former caution, sat down on the evening of the 5th within eight miles of the foe. A dangerous adventure, but in its issue safe, so turned was Cornwallis from his pristine manner.

On the morning of the 6th the American general prepared to advance, believing that the hour was at hand for his meditated blow, as he had been accurately informed of the passage of troops on the 4th, and the continued crossing and recrossing of the boats ever since.

Mercer, with a party of his troop, preceded our army for the purpose of procuring intelligence; and coming suddenly upon the mansion of Greenspring,[note 40] saw a negroe with a knapsack on his back, by whom he was told that lieutenant colonel Tarleton quartered there, and was in the spring-house in the yard; and that lord Cornwallis was at the church, not more than one mile in front. Satisfied, with what he had snatched from the negroe, as well of the danger which awaited his party, as of the proximity of the British army, Mercer turned his horse to retire; when he found himself nearly closed up by brick walls in his rear, and at the same time saw a party of the enemy’s dragoons pressing forward to intercept him. Changing his course, he avoided the brick obstruction, and threw himself at a greater distance from his pursuers. Thus he happily escaped, and in a few minutes rejoined his troop, concealed in a distant wood;—whence he repaired toward the army, to communicate the intelligence to the general.

About eleven o’clock he met him advancing at the head of his troops, prepared for battle, and sanguine in the expectation that he should get up in time to fall upon the remains of the enemy on this side of the river.

The intelligence derived from Mercer produced a pause, and excited doubts as to the conduct to be pursued. At length La Fayette determined to proceed as far as Greenspring, the place which Mercer had visited in the morning, and where he acquired the information just imparted.

On approaching the house we learned that the enemy had moved towards the island; and two intelligent though young dragoons now rejoined, who had been sent to the river with glasses, to attend to the passage of the enemy across it.[note 41] The report of these faithful but inexperienced soldiers concurred in supporting the opinion heretofore entertained; and which, though subdued for a time by Mercer’s intelligence, still existed. In fact, it comported with the inclination of officers and soldiers; and brigadier Wayne, disquieted as he always was by losing a chance of battle, declared his conviction that the intelligence received from lieutenant colonel Mercer applied only to a covering party, which would not fail to escape if our advance was longer delayed.

The American commander, indulging his desire to finish his toilsome and cautious operations by a happy blow, came into the opinion of his gallant second, and began to make his final arrangements for close pursuit.

The British general, sage and experienced, had presumed that the opportunity which his crossing ofJames river could not fail to present, would be seized by his enemy for the indulgence of that ardor natural to the season of youth, and which the enterprising La Fayette never ceased to feel, although he had effectually controlled it. He heard with pleasure that his adversary was drawing near, and took his measures to encourage the adventurous spirit which seemed now to sway him, with the resolution of turning it to his advantage. He held his troops compact, covering as little ground as possible in his march and in his camp; and gave orders for his piquets to fall back with the appearance of alarm and confusion, as soon as they should be seriously struck.

The ground in front of Greenspring, where by this time the whole American army had arrived, is low, wet and sunken, reclaimed by ditches which intersect it in various directions. This sunken ground runs parallel with the house for a considerable distance above and below, and is nearly a quarter of a mile wide. As soon as you pass through it you enter the road from Williamsburgh, on which the enemy marched, and which runs for a considerable distance parallel with the low ground. From the house to the road, across the low ground, a causeway had been formed by the proprietor of Greenspring, and presented the only practicable route for troops. La Fayette must pass along this causeway on his advance upon the island; and every step he proceeded after leaving it, put him more and more in the power of his prepared enemy.

The American general, by design probably, did not move from Greenspring until the hour of three in the afternoon; inasmuch as the remaining part of the evening gave sufficient daylight for the execution of his plan, if only a strong covering party of the enemy should be found on this side of the river; and the quicker darkness approached the more acceptable, should he stumble upon Cornwallis and his army.

The rifle corps under Call and Willis, preceded by a patrole of dragoons, formed our front, and after crossing the low ground, halted in a wood contiguous to the road. The cavalry of Armand and of Mercer, led by major M’Pherson, followed the rifle corps, supported by the continental infantry under Wayne.

Steuben, with the militia, formed the reserve, and continued on the ground at Greenspring, severed from the acting corps by the low ground. This disposition manifests that La Fayette calculated only on meeting with a covering party easy of conquest; as otherwise he would never have interposed the difficult defile[note 42] described between the two divisions of his force.

As soon as the column reached the road, the rifle corps were thrown upon our flanks, and the horse continued to advance on the road.

We had not advanced a mile before our van patrole of horse received a desultory fire from the enemy’s yagers, and fell back upon M’Pherson. This officer communicated the occurrence to the commander, who answered by ordering lieutenant colonel Mercer and himself to leave the cavalry and to take charge of the rifle corps. Mercer led that on the right, and M’Pherson that on the left on the left flank. We very soon approached the enemy’s piquets, which were briskly attacked, and losing some of their men killed, wounded and taken, fell back in confusion upon the legion horse, drawn up in an open field three hundred yards behind the front piquets. Our cavalry now came up; that of Armand joined M’Pherson, and the Virginia troop joined Mercer.

Emboldened by their successful onset, Mercer and M’Pherson continued to advance, and took post in a ditch under cover of a rail fence. From hence was plainly discerned a line of infantry posted on the flanks of the horse. Our rifle corps recommenced fire, and were soon afterwards joined by major Galvan, with a battalion of the continental infantry, who was followed by major Willis, of Connecticut, with another battalion of infantry, and captain Savage with two field pieces. Galvan, Mercer and M’Pherson maintained the conflict with spirit against the enemy, now advancing in body under lieutenant colonel Yorke, supported by three pieces of artillery.

The conflict was keenly maintained for some minutes, when the rifle corps broke. Lieutenant colonel Mercer, having his horse killed, remounted another, and drawing off his troop of dragoons, fell back upon Wayne, who was formed in close order in the adjacent wood. Galvan and Willis, with their light infanfantry, retired soon after the rifle corps dispersed; as did also captain Savage with our two pieces. Cornwallis pressed forward in two lines, his right wing under lieutenant colonel Yorke, pushing the light infantry, while his left under lieutenant colonel Dundas advanced upon Wayne; who never indisposed to try the bayonet, gave orders to charge, which, though often repeated, was from the thickness of the wood and his own close order unexecuted, and the battle continued warmly maintained by a close and hot fire. La Fayette early in the action began to apprehend that the expected covering party would turn out to be the British army, and took his measures to ascertain the fact. He became soon convinced from his own examination that he had been entirely mistaken, and immediately hastened to draw off his troops. Wayne was now closely engaged, and his flanks nearly enveloped. He was ordered to fall back to our second line of continentals, arrayed a half a mile in his rear. This was instantly executed through the favour of a dark night, with the loss of our two field pieces; and Wayne having joined the second line, our whole detachment continuing to retire, recrossed the ravine, and proceeded with the reserve six miles in the rear of Greenspring; where La Fayette, finding the enemy did not pursue, encamped for the night.

We lost of our continentals one hundred and eighteen, in killed, wounded and prisoners, of which ten were officers. Our loss of rifle militia was never ascertained. The British suffered much less, having lost only five officers and seventy privates.

The marquis’s postponement of his march to the evening was in its effect most fortunate. One hour more of the light of day must have produced the most disastrous conclusion. Lord Cornwallis in his official letter, considers one half hour only, to have been enough for his purpose. No pursuit was even attempted on the part of the conqueror, but he returned immediately after the battle closed to his camp. At the break of day lieutenant colonel Tarleton, with his cavalry and some mounted infantry, by the order of the general, followed our army; and captain Champagne, with three companies of light infantry, moved to support him.

After passing the defile in front of Greenspring, Tarleton fell in with one of our patroles of mounted riflemen, which he drove in upon La Fayette, killing some and wounding others. The marquis was still in the position he had taken the night before; and had Cornwallis moved at the same hour with his cavalry, he might have inflicted the heavy blow, from whose crush we had so happily escaped the evening before. But after some consultation, after the action, upon the course to be pursued, he concluded it expedient to pass the river and hasten to Portsmouth, for the purpose of embarking the troops called for by the commander in chief. During the 7th and 8th, the British army crossed to the southern shore; and on the 9th lord Cornwallis detached lieutenant colonel Tarleton, with his cavalry and eighty mounted infantry, to New London in the county of Bedford, adjoining the Blue Ridge, and at least two hundred miles from any possible support. This perilous expedition was planned for the purpose of destroying some collections of stores said to be in that district for the army of Greene, and for the interception of some of the light troops believed to be moving from the southern army to the assistance of La Fayette. Tarleton passed through Petersburg on she 9th, and proceeded with expedition to Prince Edward, where he expected to find our prmcipal magazines. He was disappointed;—all our stores at this place had been for some time forwarded to the South.

Continuing his march, he soon reached Bedford county, where he halted for two days, but met with no stores of any consequence, nor could he learn of the advance of any of the light troops from the South. On the contrary he was informed, that general Greene was before Ninety-Six, pursuing with his whole force the object of his movement into South Carolina.

Turning towards the seaboard, the British officer returned unhurt on the 15th day from his departure, and joined lord Cornwallis in the county of Suffolk; where his lordship, having detached the reinforcement required by the commander in chief to Portsmouth for embarkation, waited for the rejunction of the light corps. As soon as this took place the British general moved to Portsmouth, and encamped with his infantry in front of his works; the cavalry passed Elizabeth river, and were cantoned in the county of Princess Ann, where wholesome and abundant subsistence for man and horse was to be found on every plantation.

La Fayette received, on the day after his repulse, a handsome squadron of dragoons under captain Moore from the town of Baltimore; and retired with most of his army to the forks of York river, having dismissed all his militia.

Thus was concluded the summer campaign of lord Cornwallis in Virginia. For eight or nine weeks he had been engaged in the most active movements, at the head of an army completely fitted for the arduous scenes of war, warmly attached to its general, proud in its knowledge of its own ability, and ready to encounter every danger and difficulty to give success to its operations. The inferiority of La Fayette in number, in quality, in cavalry, in arms and equipment, has been often recurred to and cannot be doubted.

Yet strange when the primary object of the British seneral must have been the annihilation of our army in Virginia, he never struck it in whole or in part, although manœuvring in his face in an open country, and remote from support of every sort except occasional aids of militia.

Such omission on the part of lord Cornwallis is inexplicable. More than once he had fair opportunities to compel battle; and that only was necessary, with his vast superiority, to have produced the ruin of his antagonist.

The American general had great difficulties to surmount, as well as to guard against his formidable foe, pressing him on his retreat. Wayne directing his most efficient aid, was far to his right; and the baron Steuben, with the Virginia levies, was as far on his left. The public stores deposited in several magazines accessible to the enemy; and the great body of the inhabitants below the mountains, flying from their homes with their wives, their children, and the most valuable of their personal property, to seek protection in the mountains. The state authorities, executive and legislative, like the flying inhabitants, driven from the seat of government; chased from Charlottesville; and at length interposing the Blue Ridge between themselves and the enemy to secure a resting place at Staunton. In this period of gloom, of disorder, and of peril, La Fayette was collected and undismayed. With zeal, with courage, and with sagacity, he discharged his arduous duties; and throughout his difficult retreat was never brought even to array but once in order for battle.

Invigorating our counsels by his precepts; dispelling our despondency by his example; and encouraging his troops to submit to their many privations, by the cheerfulness with which he participated in their wants; he imparted the energy of his own mind to the country, and infused his high toned spirit into his army. His efforts were crowned with success; and even the erroneous determination to risk the elite of his force for the purpose of capturing a supposed covering party of the hostile army, when occupied in passing James river, was repaired by the celerity with which he discovered his mistake, and with which he curtailed its ills. To La Fayette, to his able second, general Nelson, to his cavalry, to his rifle corps, to his officers and his soldiers in mass, much praise is due; nor was it withheld by their comrades in arms, by their enemy, and by the nation.

Now, for the first time throughout the war, did ever doubt attach to the merits of the British general. In the North and in the South, in the cabinet and in the field, he stood pre-eminent; the bulwark of Great Britain,—the dread of America.

When in command of mighty means, and in the heart of that state whose prostration he uniformly viewed as the first pre-requisite to the subjugation of the South, that he should content himself with burning tobacco, destroying a portion of our scattered stores, and chasing our governor from hill to hill, and our legislature from town to town, comports neither with his past fame nor with his then duty. The destruction of La Fayette ought to have been his sole object until finished.

To it every other good appertained; and this was certainly in his power during his retreat, and even when he covered himself behind Mechunck’s creek to save the stores at Albermarle old court-house. But admit that this presumption is extravagant; we cannot err when we assert, that by following up the blow at James’ island, he must have renewed the catastrophe of Cambden in the lawns of Greenspring. A second army would have been annihilated; and that too when on its fate hung the safety of Virginia, of the South, if not of the United States.

Had Cornwallis acted as he ever had done until he took command of the hostile army at Petersburg, he would have moved after snatching some refreshment, and a few hours repose; he would have fallen upon the left flank of La Fayette; he would have forced him upon the Chickahominy, which for many miles skirted his right, and compelled him to surrender or to die in the last effort. For some cause not yet clearly known, a very different conduct was pursued; as derogatory to the high fame of this distinguished soldier, as it was in its consequences injurious to his country and destructive to himself and army.

A careful examination ofthe commander in chief and lord Cornwallis’s correspondence exhibits two facts; first, that sir Henry Clinton was very much disposed to pursue, with the army of Virginia, operations at the head of the Chesapeak, in the neighbourhood of Baltimore, or in the Delaware Neck; and secondly, that earl Cornwallis did not accord with his chief in such application of the force under his orders, preferring the destruction of Virginia to any other object. This material difference in view and judgment laid the foundation for that languor in exertion which marks every step of Cornwallis in Virginia, until his manly resolve to take care of his army by crossing York river, when he found Clinton’s promised relief illusory.

Knowing it to be his duty to support, and not to direct, the serious intention expressed by sir Henry Clinton of pressing solid operations in the upper Chesapeak, which we may fairly infer (from his letter written six days after he reached Virginia) were known to his lordship before he left Westover, induced him to adopt a contracted scale of conduct, lest he might delay, if not mar his chief’s design. He found himself now the mere puppet of the commander in chief, and not the carver and executor of his own plans, limited by general principles necessary to secure unity in design and correspondency in execution. This change in official character produced the subsequent change so apparent in his conduct. In his letter (above alluded to) of the 26th of May, dated “Byrd’s plantation, north of James river,” is the following paragraph: “I shall now proceed to dislodge La Fayette from Richmond, and with my light troops destroy any magazines or stores in the neighbourhood, which may have been collected either for his use or for general Greene’s army. From thence I propose to move to the neck of Williamsburgh, which is represented as healthy, and where some subsistence may be procured, and keep myself unengaged from operations which might interpose with your plan of the campaign, until I have the satisfaction of hearing from you.”

It is evident from this letter that it was an answer to instructions found among general Phillips’s papers, delineating the plan of the campaign; or to a letter which met Cornwallis at Petersburg, explaining the views of the commander in chief.

To the tenor of this answer Cornwallis’s conduct corresponded. He did dislodge La Fayette from Richmond; he did destroy all the stores in that neighbourhood, and even some more remote; and he did afterwards return to Williamsburgh.

It is true that he employed some few days in pursuit of La Fayette; but confining himself in point of time, he did not persevere in pressing that object lest it might consume more time than was compatible with the ulterior views of the commander in chief. In sir Henry Clinton’s letter of the 11th of June,[note 43] when comparing the force under Cornwallis and under La Fayette, he says, “I should have hoped you would have quite sufficient force to carry on any operation in Virginia, should that have been advisable at this late season.” The concluding words plainly show that he considered it too late to press operations in Virginia, as they would interfere with what he deemed more important. In this same letter, the British chief communicates the prospect of a combined attack upon New York, and demands a reinforcement from the army in Virginia. “By intercepted letters inclosed to your lordship in my last despatch, you will observe I am threatened with a siege in this post. My present effective force is only ten thousand nine hundred and thirty one: with respect to that the enemy may collect for such an object, it is probable they may amount to at least twenty thousand, besides reinforcements to the French (which from pretty good authority I have reason to expect,) and the numerous militia of the five neighboring provinces. Thus circumstanced, I am persuaded your lordship will be of opinion that the sooner I concentrate my force the better.

“Therefore (unless your lordship, after the receipt of my letter of the 29th of May and 8th of June, should incline to agree with me in opinion, and judge it right to adopt my ideas respecting the move to Baltimore, or the Delaware neck, &c.) I beg leave to recommend it to you, as soon as you have finished the active operations you may now be engaged in, to take a defensive station in any healthy situation you choose (be it at Williamsburgh or York Town); and I would wish, in that case, that after reserving to yourself such troops as you may judge necessary for ample defensive, and desultory movements by water, for the purpose of annoying the enemy’s communications, destroying magazines, &c., the following corps may be sent to me in succession as you can spare them.”

The letters above mentioned, of the 29th May and 8th June, were (as we infer from lord Cornwallis’s correspondence) never received, or probably the confidence they breathe might have induced his lordship to venture to appropriate his time and measures as his own judgment should direct. In which case the army of La Fayette would have experienced a more determined and persevering pursuit.

Conforming his whole conduct to the plan of his commander in chief, he followed his enemy only over the North Anna, a branch of the Pamunkey; and as soon as he completed some secondary objects he fell back to Williamsburgh, and from thence interposed the James river between himself and La Fayette, for the purpose of hastening the required detachment to Clinton; the demand for which was repeated by a letter dated the 28th of June, It results clearly from this cursory review of facts, that lord Cornwallis, from the moment he assumed the command of the army in Virginia (20th of May), considered himself as the mere executor of plans devised by his principal; and that he consequently never ventured to engage in measures, whose execution might in any degree interrupt the completion of sir Henry Clinton’s designs. This control paralized all his efforts, and he no longer displayed that decision and fire which had before marked his military career.

After passing James river, Cornwallis seems to have indulged his natural biass, by detaching lieutenant colonel Tarleton to the county of Bedford. This daring enterprise emanated from his unceasing desire to cramp the exertions of Greene, by destroying all the stores intended to supply the pressing wants of our army in the South; and from his determination never to permit any of Greene’s light troops to join La Fayette, some of whom he now believed were approaching the Dan to reinforce the army in Virginia.

It is very surprising that La Fayette, who had just manifested his anxiety to strike his adversary, even at the risk of the loss of his army, should not have now indulged the same propensity, when the present opportunity so forcibly invited the attempt; which was not only practicable, but exempt from much hazard.

The reinforcement of horse just received under captain Moore, must have augmented his cavalry to two hundred: Tarleton had with him about the same number of dragoons. The bat and other horses with the army, and such as might be readily procured in the neighborhood of the camp, would have enabled La Fayette to mount four or five hundred infantry, two upon a horse. Tarleton had with him but eighty mounted infantry. With this force a skilful officer (and the American general had many) could not have been disappointed in intercepting the British detachment.

But La Fayette contented himself with sending a body of infantry under Brigadier Wayne across James river, whose corps was not fitted to the enterprise, and who therefore could not with his means effect the object, unless lieutenant colonel Tarleton had improvidently thrown himself into his lap.

Sir Henry Clinton, discovering lord Cornwallis’s aversion to the establishment of a post on the Chesapeak, and determined to fix one there, countermanded the move of the reinforcement heretofore required, and repeated his directions for the selection and fortification of a permanent post, convenient for desultory maritime expeditions up the Chesapeak and its numerous rivers, and capable of protecting line of battle ships.

It appears that the British admiral on the American station had experienced the disadvantages which flowed from the navy’s occupying the usual stations during the freezing months, and was consequently anxious of wintering his fleet further south. He says, in his letter to lord Cornwallis, dated 12th July, off Sandy Hook, “That there is no place for great ships, during the freezing months, on this side of the Chesapeak, where the great ships will be in security, and at the same time capable of acting; and in my opinion they had better go to the West Indies, than to be laid up in Halifax during the winter;” and he goes on to recommend Hampton Roads as the proper place.

Earl Cornwallis, yielding further opposition to the will of sir Henry Clinton, sent his engineer and some captains of the navy to examine Old Point Comfort, which appears to have been the site preferred for the intended post, both by the general and admiral.

The report of these officers was unfavourable;[note 44] and lord Cornwallis, coinciding in the same opinion, selected
York and Gloucester, not far above the mouth of York river, instead of Old Point Comfort.

To this place he repaired with the first division of his army; and disembarking it early in August, took possession of both posts. After occupying these, his lordship directed brigadier O’Hara, commanding at Portsmouth, to destroy the works there, and to join him with the rear division of the army. This was done with all convenient despatch, and the whole British force concentrated in the position of York and Gloucester before the 23d. Cornwallis, as soon as he landed the first division of the army, engaged in tracing the lines of the necessary works on both sides of the river; and committing the direction of the post of Gloucester to lieutenant colonel Dundas, continued himself in that of York.

While with zeal and assiduity he pressed forward the completion of his fortifications with his infantry, and at the same time employed his cavalry in collecting cattle and forage, he held his army ready to move upon La Fayette, should he think proper to approach him.

The American general, as soon as he was advised of the possession of the post on York river by the enemy, broke up from his camp on Pamunkey, and recalled Wayne from the southern side of James river, whither he had been detached to intercept Tarleton, and where he had been continued in conformity to the orders of the commander in chief; who, as soon as he decided to turn his force upon the enemy in Virginia, apprized La Fayette of his intention, and commanded him to take measures for the interruption of lord Cornwallis’s retreat, should that general discover the intended blow, and attempt to elude it by gaining North Carolina.

The Queen’s rangers, under Simcoe, held the post of Gloucester; while lieutenant colonel Tarleton, with his legion, occupied the front of that of York. These officers displayed their habitual activity in traversing and foraging the country on both sides of the river, and in dispersing all the militia collected in their neighborhood. They took extensive sweeps in pursuit of their objects; there being no force nearer to Simcoe than a detachment of volunteer militia under lieutenant colonel John Taylor, formerly of Hazen’s regiment, who had established himself near Gloucester courthouse, for the protection of that quarter of the country; and none nearer to Tarleton, than a small body of militia at Chiswell’s Ordinary, on the Fredericksburg road. Taylor baffled every attempt to strike his corps; but the officer at Chiswell’s was not so fortunate. Tarleton fell upon him very unexpectedly, and broke up his post, but with very little loss.

Brigadier Weedon being again called to take command of a portion of the militia, repaired by order to Gloucester court-house, early in September, with several small detachments, where he relieved lieutenant colonel Taylor.

As there were among our militia many soldiers who had served out their terms of inlistment in the army, Weedon judiciously directed those individuals to be thrown into one corps, and placed it under the command of lieutenant colonel Mercer; who had, during the preceding period of the campaign, served with his troop of dragoons in the army of La Fayette. This officer[note 45] selected appropriate characters to the subordinate stations; and making up two hundred effectives, rank and file, he was detached in front of the militia.

Weedon having arranged his corps, advanced to Dixon’s mills about the middle of the month, where he continued; exerting every means in his power to confine the enemy’s foragers to a small circle, the chief object in view on the Gloucester side of the river.

Return to Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department