As a result of the disaster which had befallen the American Army at Camden on the 16th of August, 1780, Congress adopted a resolution on October 5 directing General Washington to hold a court of inquiry on the conduct of General Gates and to appoint his successor. Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, an officer in whom the Commander in Chief had the greatest confidence because of his loyalty, ability, and military capacity, was selected for the command of the southern army. Greene reached the headquarters of General Gates at Charlotte Town on the 2d of December and took command the following day. After two weeks of arduous attention to a multitude of details, report having been received in the meantime of a favorable site for the army on the Peedee, the troops were put under marching orders for that place. The position selected was on the east bank of the river opposite Cheraw Hill, and it was later referred to by Greene as a "camp of repose."
Before leaving Charlotte Town Greene arranged to send Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan with an independent command to operate along the tributaries of the Broad and Pacolet, threatening the post at Ninety Six and the left of the British Army. When Cornwallis received information at Wynnesborough that Morgan was in the field he sent Colonel Tarleton into the district north of Ninety Six to oppose him. Somewhat later Cornwallis completed preparations to renew operations in North Carolina and put his army in motion for that province. Morgan and Tarleton met at the Cowpens on the 17th of January, 1781, and fought one of the most spectacular of the smaller actions of the revolution. Morgan formed the Americans in the usual three lines, the first and second being composed of militia, and the third of the Continental infantry
and dragoons, together with several very excellent militia companies from Virginia.
After the first and second lines had been brushed aside by the British regulars it was observed that the right of the Continentals was outflanked, due to the greater length of Tarleton's line of battle. The flanking company of the Continentals was ordered to change front to the right, in doing which some confusion arose and the company began marching to the rear. Others observing this, and supposing that orders had been given for a retreat, faced their men about and moved to the rear in a steady line. Fortunately the discipline of the command was not broken, and when the order was given to halt, face about, and fire, it was executed with devastating promptness—right into the astonished faces of the closely pursuing British, who fully expected to terminate the battle in another moment by charging with the bayonet. Tarleton's infantry stopped in their tracks; then turned in the greatest confusion and fled from the scene, followed by his cavalry. In the mélée which followed the British suffered heavy losses, and those who were not killed, captured, or wounded were driven in wild disorder from the field. The outcome of the action was one of the most unexpected victories of the war.
Morgan quitted the field of battle and hurried northward with his prisoners, intending to pass the Broad and place as much distance as possible between his detachment and the British Army. As soon as news of the battle reached Greene on the Peedee River, he appointed the eastern bank of the Catawba as a place of rendezvous for the army and Morgan's corps and then hastened in advance of his troops to join the latter. Cornwallis put his army in motion to intercept Morgan before he crossed the Catawba and made a junction with Greene and, in order to expedite his march, destroyed much of his baggage and transportation. Morgan succeeded in passing the Catawba and holding all the fords along the enemy's line of approach. When Cornwallis finally effected a passage of the river on the 19th of February, he found that Morgan's corps was retiring toward the Yadkin.
Greene's army and Morgan's corps came together beyond the Yadkin and retreated into Virginia. Cornwallis closely pursued the retiring foe and was at the heels of the Americans as they approached the Dan River. Greene made his escape across the Dan about 12 miles west of its junction with the Staunton River. Cornwallis reached the south bank of the river the following day; but being unwilling to abandon North Carolina, owing to the confused sate of its affairs, he gave up the pursuit. Resting his troops for a few days, he reversed his march and proceeded in the direction of Hillsboro, the capital of the province. On the 20th of February he issued a proclamation calling on all loyal subjects to repair to the King's standard and aid in restoring the royal government.
Previous to the movement of the British Army from Wynnesborough, Cornwallis directed the commanding officer at Charleston to send a convoy into the Cape Fear for the purpose of establishing a base at Wilmington. The execution of this mission had been intrusted to Major Craig, and it was now Cornwallis's intention to have that officer examine the practicability of establishing a water communication between his garrison at Wilmington and Cross Creek, a settlement about 90 miles further up the Cape Fear River.
When Greene learned of the efforts being made to draw recruits to the British standard, without waiting further for the reenforcements of militia which were necessary to strengthen his army, he recrossed the Dan on the 23d of February and marched toward North Carolina. A position was finally taken near Guilford Court House, on the great highway that passed through Hillsboro and Salisbury. About the 10th of the month a junction was effected with a Continental regiment and two considerable bodies of militia from North Carolina and Virginia, whereupon Greene resolved to attack the enemy without further loss of time.
The quick resumption of an offensive rôle by the American Army came as a surprise to Cornwallis. It would be impossible to subjugate any considerable portion of the province as long as this
army was undefeated, so the implied challenge of Greene's return was accepted and the British proceeded to a point in the forks of Deep River, about a day's march from the Americans. On the 15th of March Greene took a defensive position just west of Guilford Court House, and Cornwallis marched to attack. The British had no difficulty in disposing of the first and second lines of the American Army, but the Continentals, who held the third line, gave the usual amount of trouble. Here the battle was fought with great skill and bravery by both sides, and when it terminated neither party appeared to have been the victor. The British loss in officers and men was so heavy however, that the army was crippled beyond measure, and Cornwallis did not dare to assume an offensive attitude the following day.
Greene made no attempt to renew the action and was content to fall back beyond the Haw River to a position about 12 miles from Guilford Court House. Information was received by Cornwallis about this time that the water route to Cross Creek could not be used for transporting supplies because of the hostility of the inhabitants along its banks; and he decided that the only course left for him to pursue was to march to Wilmington, where he could dispose of the sick and wounded and obtain needed supplies for the army.
The British Army reached Wilmington on the 7th of April, and the exhausted and impoverished troops considered themselves fortunate in being once more on a line of supply. Word was received on the 22d of the month that dispatches from Clinton had arrived at Charleston, bearing information that Phillips had been sent into Virginia to cooperate with Cornwallis and to be under his command. The restored army could no longer enjoy the luxury of repose; but where to lead it was difficult for its commander to decide. Intelligence of the American Army was to the effect that Greene was pointing his course toward South Carolina, with the intention of attacking Rawdon's command at Camden. Should Cornwallis march to Rawdon's relief; should he embark for Charleston; or should he join Phillips in Virginia? Cornwallis knew that
neither the first nor second plan could result in anything decisive. He hoped that the third plan might lead to the termination of the war by a victorious army marching northward from Virginia and effecting a junction with Clinton's army in the vicinity of Philadelphia.
Cornwallis had conducted a winter campaign in order to make good his promise to the loyalists, that he would come to their aid in North Carolina. He was greatly disappointed that so few took service under the King's standard. He was enmeshed in a territory in which it was difficult to conduct operations. The immense extent of the province, its numberless rivers and creeks, the total want of internal water channels; all these things made it impossible to remain long in the heart of the country. Lines of communication back to Camden could not be maintained because of their great length and the poor condition of the roads. The Cape Fear River seemed to offer a water route as far as Cross Creek, but to hold it against partisan troops would but increase his difficulties. To return to Charleston after a year's campaign with nothing but lost territory to show for his efforts would be a disgrace. The decision to march into Virginia, as the most effectual means of employing his troops, was made on the 23d day of April. Cornwallis hoped by joining Phillips that the opulent province of Virginia could be subjugated, and on the 24th of April he sent a dispatch to that officer designating Petersburg as the place of rendezvous for the two armies.
The British Army marched from Wilmington about the 29th of April. Soon conflicting reports were received as to what was occurring in Virginia. By some it was stated that Phillips had proceeded up the James as high as Richmond; by others that he had embarked his troops and sailed from the province. Tarleton was ordered to precede the army in the direction of Halifax with the utmost speed and secure definite intelligence while the main body followed at a more discreet pace. Finally, word came from Tarleton that the British troops had not quitted the James, and Cornwallis hastened to Halifax, where he joined his advance party
on the 13th of May. Tarleton was again pushed ahead to uncover the crossings of the Meherrin and Nottaway, and to effect a junction with any reconnoitering forces which Phillips might send to ad as an escort. Cornwallis's army marched into Petersburg on the morning of the 20th of May, 1781.
With the arrival of Lord Cornwallis at Petersburg a new sphere of activity and military problems entirely different from those encountered in the Carolinas claimed his attention. At first he attempted to keep fully informed as to how Rawdon and Balfour were faring, but as time went on, affairs in the far South faded into indistinct memories of frustrated ambition—quick changes which occurred in Virginia relegated all prior enterprises into the haze of forgetfulness.
The death of General Phillips filled the heart of Cornwallis with great sorrow, and he mourned the loss of a friend who had been dear to him. Numerous letters to Phillips were at hand when Cornwallis reached Petersburg, and they were given immediate and careful consideration. With the assistance of Arnold, he delved into the intricate and varied instructions that Clinton had sent to the several commanders in Virginia, hoping to determine upon the best measures for loyal compliance with the wishes of the commander in chief.
The instructions given to Phillips in New York on the 10th of March were considered first. Next came a letter written on the 14th of March, at which time Arbuthnot was at sea in pursuit of the French Fleet. "God send our old Admiral success!" Clinton wrote. He sent this letter by a schooner, with the admonition that whenever possible he wanted important dispatches sent by vessels of this type, as "they make their passage better than the frigates." In another letter to Phillips dated the 24th of the same month, in which Clinton referred to the success of British arms at Guilford Court House on the 15th, he directed that if Cornwallis did not desire cooperation from the army in Virginia, "and you see no prospect of striking an important stroke elsewhere, I shall
probably request you and General Arnold to return to me, with such troops as I have already named in my instructions."
Other dispatches from the commander in chief addressed to Phillips were delivered to Cornwallis at Petersburg on the 24th of May. One written on the 14th of April gave many details of a very restrictive nature as to the mission of the Virginia army. Clinton wrote that "operations in favour of Lord Cornwallis" had invariably been the chief mission for the Virginia army. The greater part of its strength was not to be employed in establishing and defending a base. Leslie had made choice of Portsmouth during the year before, Clinton said; and Arnold, after first reporting upon it unfavorably, had later declared the works to be so well advanced that he could leave them in safety with a small garrison and conduct the main part of the army up the James River. However, if both Phillips and Arnold now condemned Portsmouth—
it may be right to return to our original object, a station to protect the King's ships, which is capable of being maintained by a garrison of about five or six hundred men; and if Mill Point will answer these purposes without Norfolk, and the corresponding station on the opposite side of the river, I can have no objection.
In another dispatch to Phillips, dated April 26, Clinton commented on a letter written at Wilmington on the 10th of the month, wherein Cornwallis stated a need for reenforcements. Clinton then referred to a suggestion previously made by both Phillips and Arnold that with 2,000 more men their army could strike at Lafayette's corps, take Baltimore, and continue thence in the direction of Philadelphia. He viewed this project with considerable favor, especially as—
the inhabitants of Pennsylvania on both sides of the Susquehannah, York, Lancaster, Chester, and the Peninsula between Chesapeak and Delaware, are represented to me to be friendly.
This ambitious plan continued to engross Clinton's mind, and four days later he decided to undertake a capital operation in the direction of Philadelphia, using his own army and the one in Vir-
ginia. He wrote to Phillips that "if his Lordship proposes no operation to you soon, and you see none that will operate for him directly" before the 1st of June, Phillips was to make the attempt on Philadelphia. In case of failure the army could either retire to Portsmouth or pass the Delaware into the jerseys, in which case Clinton would effect a junction near Mount Holly.
The British commander in chief was in an unenviable position. He did not possess the qualities of leadership necessary to attain success. There was not that unselfish cooperation between the land and sea forces so essential in warfare. "Our Admiral is grown, if possible, more impracticable than ever," he wrote to Phillips. Rumors of his recall were being circulated, and Clinton said that "if the next packet does not satisfy me in this particular, I shall probably retire and leave him to Lord Cornwallis' management."
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