Battles of the American Revolution - 1781
Late in 1780 Major General Nathanael Greene had replaced General Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Continental Army and had divided his new command into smaller forces designed to spread out the fighting and give him time to rebuild the army. Greene placed Brigadier General Daniel Morgan in charge of one of these armies and British General Charles Cornwallis set out to trap Morgan. Just before the British caught up with him, Morgan prepared for battle in a cattle-grazing area known as the Cowpens in northern South Carolina. On Jan. 17, 1781, Morgan's sharpshooting riflemen quickly killed or captured nearly all the onrushing redcoats.
The patriot victory at Cowpens enraged Cornwallis, and he pursued Morgan with even greater determination. Greene rushed to join Morgan, hoping to crush Cornwallis' weakened force. On March 15, 1781, a bloody exchange occurred at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. Although Cornwallis drove Greene from the battlefield, the British had taken a battering. Cornwallis halted the chase after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He moved to Wilmington, N.C., where he gave his exhausted army a brief rest.
Greene challenged British posts in South Carolina during the spring of 1781. The patriots fought several small battles but failed to win clear victories. Yet the fact that a rebel army moved freely about the countryside proved that Britain did not control the Carolinas.
The fighting in the Revolutionary War centered in Virginia during 1781. In January, the traitor Benedict Arnold began conducting raids in Virginia for the British, who had made him a brigadier general. Arnold's troops set fire to crops, military supplies, and other patriot property. General Washington sent Lafayette with a force of Continentals to rally Virginia's militia and go after Arnold. But Lafayette had too few troops to stop Arnold.
Cornwallis rushed into Virginia in the spring of 1781 and made it his new base in the campaign to conquer the South. However, Cornwallis had violated Britain's Southern strategy by failing to gain control of North and South Carolina before advancing northward. General Clinton believed that the Southern campaign was therefore doomed. He also feared an American attack on his base at New York City. Clinton ordered Cornwallis to adopt a defensive position along the Virginia coast and prepare to send his troops north. Cornwallis moved to Yorktown, which lay along Chesapeake Bay. Here, the last major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought as French and American forces cooperated to deliver a crushing defeat to British forces under Cornwallis.
About 5,500 French soldiers had reached America in July 1780. They were led by Lieutenant General Jean Rochambeau. Washington still hoped to drive the British from New York City in a combined operation with the French. In August 1781, however, Washington learned that a large French fleet under Admiral Francois de Grasse was headed toward Virginia. De Grasse planned to block Chesapeake Bay and prevent Cornwallis from escaping by sea. Washington and Rochambeau rushed their forces southward to trap Cornwallis on land. A British naval force sailed from New York City and battled de Grasse at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in early September. But after several days, the British ships returned to New York for repairs.
By late September 1781, Cornwallis knew that he was in trouble. A combined French and American force of about 18,000 soldiers and sailors surrounded him at Yorktown. The soldiers slowly and steadily closed in on the trapped British troops. Cornwallis made a desperate attempt to ferry his forces across the York River to safety on the night of October 16. But a storm drove them back. Cornwallis asked for surrender terms the next day.
The surrender at Yorktown took place on Oct. 19, 1781. More than 8,000 men laid down their arms as a British band reportedly played a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down." They represented about a fourth of Britain's military force in America.
Britain's defeat at Yorktown did not end the Revolutionary War. The fighting dragged on in some areas for two more years. However, British leaders feared they might lose other parts of Britain's empire if they continued the war in America. Cornwallis' defeat at Yorktown brought a new group of British ministers to power early in 1782. They began peace talks with the Americans.
All rights reserved. For details and contact information:
See License Agreement, Copyright Notice.