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actions of 1780 and 1781 may well have been embroiled at the best. There appears in the history, at once, a characteristic which appears in the English official documents to this day, which, we should think, would drive crazy any officer on independent command. While the home government affects to superintend, it practically echoes the despatches of its servants in its answers, to just that extent as to reveal to the servant, whoever he may be, that his masters have simply been trying to clear a correspondence-docket, without real opinion in the case, or understanding of it. Admiral A and General B differ on a certain point; from the same station they write home, the Admiral that he considers black to be black, – the General that his impression is that it is white. How depressing to both of them to find, when the answers are received, that each is the invariable echo of the letter!to one, “ I am directed to say, that Her Majesty, &c., &c., &c. entirely agrees with you in the impression that black is to be regarded as black";— to the other, “I am directed to say, that Her Majesty, &c., &c., &c. entirely agrees with you in opinion that black is to be regarded as white.” In these Clinton and Cornwallis despatches, — while it is clear enough that Lord George Germaine favored Cornwallis at heart to the utmost, – it is also clear that he pretended he favored Clinton when he wrote to him. We doubt, however, whether this was so much an intentional duplicity, as the fatuity of pretending to answer letters which he did not understand, and thus virtually approving of two inconsistent plans of operations.
When Cornwallis arrived at Charleston, what was he to do? The English were already masters of that city by its capitulation. There appeared at once the difficulty which Chatham had predicted in the speech which school-boys repeat after him to this day. “ With fifty thousand men,” said he, “ you can ravage the country, waste and destroy as you march; but can you in a territory of two or three thousand miles occupy the places you have passed ?” With four thousand regular troops and his Provincials, Cornwallis was left by Clinton in Charleston on the 5th of June, 1780, to occupy important posts as far distant from each other as Savannah, Augusta, and Georgetown, to repel any efforts of the American generals, and to keep down “ the rising spirit of disaffection.” With this general and wide commission, he went gallantly enough to work, but any one who knows what that country was and is physically, and what it was politically then, must see what a hopeless business he was engaged in. It was not so difficult to beat the armies, but what then? General Greene told the whole story very well two years afterwards, when, in a letter to Washington, he said of the American army, “We fight, get beat, and fight again.” The whole history of the campaign shows that the English generals gained no more by victories than they did by defeats. And Cornwallis himself clearly felt before long, after the first excitement of the thing was over, that the marching and countermarching up and down in the Highlands was a mere case of
"Let's go to the woods,' said Richard to Robin,"
followed by the other refrains of the nursery-song:
6. What to do there?' said Robin to Bobbin,"
“ To shoot at a wren,' said John all alone.” What was worse was, that, granting they got the wren, there followed the question,
“ How shall we get her home ?" To which the only reply was,
" In a cart with six horses.”
It was hard enough for Cornwallis and Rawdon to feed their own soldiers, and to get them over the ground. But what should they do with a great cortége of prisoners, and how get the “carts with six horses” across these rivers, which were never bridged, have never been from that day to this day, and never will be ? In the midst of such difficulties Lord Cornwallis showed himself a vigorous, ready officer, full of resource. He soon gave up his baggage-train and other impediments, and supported himself on the country through which he passed, with all his troops equipped in light marching order,
as light infantry or cavalry.* In this condition, after a good deal of manæuvring to and fro, he and Greene, almost by mutual consent, fought the battle of Guilford Court-House. Lord Cornwallis was successful, so far as holding the field went, but he lost a quarter part of his force, - and there followed this perpetual
“ What to do then ? ” What he did was to march down to the sea-shore again, for new supplies, to Wilmington, at the mouth of the river on whose head-waters he had been engaged so long. The victory was of no practical worth to him, — he was two hundred miles from his nearest support, — and yet he must do something. It is at Wilmington, on the 10th of April, 1781, that he writes to General Phillips, who was now in command of the English forces in Virginia. This is the General Phillips who had been *captured with Burgoyne, and exchanged afterwards.
“Dear PHILLIPS:“I have had a most difficult and dangerous campaign, and was obliged to fight a battle two hundred miles from my communication, against an army seven times my number. The fate of it was long doubtful. We had not a regiment or corps that did not at some time give way; it ended, however, happily, in our completely routing the enemy and taking their cannon. The idea of our friends rising in any number and to any purpose totally failed, as I expected, and here I am, getting rid of my wounded and refitting my troops at Wilmington. I last night heard of the naval action, and your arrival in the Chesapeake. Now, my dear friend, what is our plan? Without one, we cannot succeed, and I assure you that I am quite tired of marching about the country in quest of adventures. If we mean an offensive war in America, we must abandon New York, and bring our whole force into Virginia; we then have a stake to fight for, and a successful battle may give us America. If our plan is defensive, let us quit the Carolinas (which cannot be held defensively while Virginia can be so easily armed against us), and stick to our salt pork at New York, sending now and then a detachment to steal tobacco, &c.
“I daily expect three regiments from Ireland; leaving one of them
* Mr. Kapp, on good German authority, says that the European services borrowed the efficient and extensive use of light infantry, in the last seventy years, from American Revolutionary experience.
VOL. LXVII. — 5TH S. VOL. V. NO. I. 4
at Charlestown, with the addition of the other two and the flank companies, I can come by land to you. But whether after we have joined we shall have a sufficient force for a war of conquest, I should think very doubtful. By a war of conquest, I mean to possess the country sufficiently to overturn the Rebel government, and to establish a militia and some kind of mixed authority of our own.
“If no reinforcement comes, and I am obliged to march with my present force to the upper frontiers of South Carolina, my situation will be truly distressing. If I was to embark from hence, the loss of the upper posts in South Carolina would be inevitable. I have as yet received no orders. If the reinforcements arrive, I shall move from here, where the men will be sickly and the horses starved. If I am sure that you are to remain in the Chesapeake, perhaps I may come directly to you.
" It is very difficult to get any letters conveyed by land on account of the vigilance and severity of the Rebel government. I believe all mine to General Arnold miscarried, and I did not receive one from him. “Most sincerely yours,
We copy the whole of this letter, because it is perhaps the most valuable addition which this volume makes to the documents published seventy-five years ago. Nine tenths of the letters reprinted here are old matter. We must add, that the editor does not seem to know what is important and what unimportant in his American materials.
This private letter shows very clearly what Lord Cornwallis was sighing for, and why he wrote at the same time to England, in a despatch published at the time, “I take the liberty of giving it as my opinion, that a serious attempt upon Virginia would be the most solid plan." Near a week after, still chafing without orders at Wilmington, he resolved, though without reinforcement, to march into Virginia to attempt his junction with General Phillips. From a letter which he wrote to that officer, published at the time, it appears that he was disappointed-out-manæuvred indeed— by General Greene's returning into South Carolina. “My situation is very distressing,” he writes, and concludes to march north, abandoning the district assigned to his own command. Why he did this, the private letter above, to the same officer, shows. He was sick
of marching about in quest of adventures." He thought New York ought to be abandoned, and Virginia made the centre of operations. He had written home to say so, and he knew the cabinet well enough to know he should be supported there. These were his motives for the fatal move. It is easy to see that he was in a distressing condition. It is easy to see that it was difficult for him to decide his course. It might be shown, perhaps, that any other course would have been fatal. But this is certain, that the course he did take, on his own responsibility, was fatal. And his superior officer, Sir Henry Clinton, evidently looked at it from the first with the greatest anxiety.
Lord Cornwallis must have given Sir Henry Clinton some account of his reasons for this step at the time he took it, but his biographer omits the despatch which contained them, and we are left to his after excuses for it and to the new letter which we have copied above. When poor Clinton heard of it he was dismayed, as well he might have been. Lord Cornwallis effected his junction with the English troops in Virginia on the 20th of May. Before this time Clinton had reinforced those troops from New York, without any idea that they were to be reinforced also from South Carolina. When he found that, without any order of his own, his second in command and the largest army he had in the field were in Virginia, he may well have remonstrated. As early as the 2d of March he had written regarding the Virginia detachment, “ If the Admiral delays too long, I shall dread still more fatal consequences.” When he did hear of what Cornwallis had done, he wrote him sharply, but still generously; answered his requisitions for accoutrements and supplies, but asked if he could send him back any troops to New York, which he himself thought threatened. • It would have been a convenience to the reader of history
if Mr. Ross had put any fragments of these letters from Clinton into his book. Lord Cornwallis did not receive this letter, as we learn from his own pamphlet, till the 12th of July, six weeks after it was written. But he received on the 26th of June some later letters from Clinton, asking again for the return of troops, unless he were engaged in new operations,