The War In The South - The American Revolution
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Having failed to subdue either New England or the middle colonies, the British now shifted their main attack to the South. The region was torn by internecine warfare made more ferocious by ruthless guerrillas who often used the guise of war to settle personal grievances. An earlier effort to capture Charleston, South Carolina, in late June of 1776, had ended in a British defeat. The British now determined upon a second drive to seize South Carolina, where considerable loyalist sentiment seemed to promise an easy victory.
The Seizure of Georgia. As a prelude to their southern campaign, the British opened an amphibious assault on Savannah, Georgia. The state of Georgia soon passed into British hands and royal authority was quickly restored. Efforts by American militia to reconquer the lost state ended disastrously when the patriots broke ranks and fled under the disciplined attacks of the redcoats. The British, under the command of Colonel J. M. Prevost, then invaded South Carolina, whose governor offered to neutralize the state if the British would withdraw. Exploiting the obvious weakness of the Carolina militia, the British demanded nothing less than unconditional surrender. The subsequent approach of an American relief force under General Benjamin Lincoln persuaded the daring Prevost to withdraw in a campaign of swift maneuver which bluffed the superior American force. A joint Franco-American effort to recapture Savannah late in 1778 ended in failure after the allies had suffered heavy losses. The way was now clear for Clinton to open an attack in force on Charleston.
British Victories in the Carolinas. In mid-February 1780 the British landed at Beaufort and began a slow, cautious advance on Charleston. The Americans, who permitted themselves to be bottled up in the city, had no recourse but to capitulate, which they did on May 12. The British had won their greatest victory of the war. Sensing that it was "now or never," they began an all-out effort to subdue the entire colony. Tory cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton spread terror through the countryside. At Waxhaws, trapped Americans who had surrendered were put to the bayonet by Tarleton's dragoons. Tory sentiment flared into violence as Carolinians sought revenge for former Whig excesses. Looting, pillaging, and killing swept the Carolina country; the war became a local vendetta.
The Battle of King's Mountain. Meanwhile, the American army was approaching the nadir of its career. Under the leadership of Horatio Gates, the hero of Saratoga, it stumbled hungry and demoralized into the battle of Camden (South Carolina). Although the British were outnumbered, they carried the day when the American militia fled without firing a shot (the mounted Gates outdistancing his own men in a retreat into oblivion). Cornwallis, who had assumed command of the British forces, pressed on into North Carolina where patriots inflicted a sharp defeat on his forces at King's Mountain. His overextended lines were under constant attack from bands of "swamp rats" led by Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter. Nathanael Greene, who had replaced Gates, acknowledged the superior forces of his British opponent by concentrating on a war of hit-and-run. This swift shifting of forces by the Americans finally led Cornwallis to withdraw from North Carolina into Virginia. Even as he withdrew, the Americans won a hard-fought battle with Tarleton at Cowpens. To recoup lost ground, Cornwallis moved to attack Greene at Guilford Courthouse. There he won a Pyrrhic victory that left his army demoralized and himself depressed. Greene launched a reconquest of South Carolina and Georgia. Cornwallis made his way to Virginia, leaving behind him a bloody Carolinawhere the Whigs spiced their reconquest with Tory and British blood.
Withdrawal to Virginia. The Virginia that Cornwallis invaded in the closing weeks of 1780 had been spared the worse excesses of the war. Occasional British attacks on the coastal areas had given the interior little idea of what the conflict was like. Nor had Virginia's governor, Thomas Jefferson, despite strong warnings from Washington, made any real effort to prepare his state for attack - a single ineptness without parallel in his career. The war that had hovered on the edges of Virginia now descended upon it in force.
The Dispute between Cornwallis and Clinton. On January 5, 1781, Benedict Arnold, now serving as a British brigadier general, captured Richmond without opposition. After thoroughly devastating the surrounding countryside and thrusting aside the Virginia militia under Baron von Steuben, Arnold settled at Portsmouth for the winter. Jefferson was heartsore at not having taken "this greatest of all traitors." In May, Cornwallis reached Virginia and soon became embroiled in a major dispute with Clinton. Cornwallis thought the British should concentrate their entire effort on subduing Virginia, and asked his rival Clinton to withdraw from New York and join him in this enterprise. Clinton refused, and Cornwallis prepared to withdraw from the area. When news of these preparations reached Clinton, he countermanded the order and directed Cornwallis to establish a post as a bridgehead in Virginia. Cornwallis selected Yorktown. While the British army dug in around their new base, the British navy lost control of the sea. The end was in sight.
"The World Turned Upside Down." At first the British did not recognize their precarious position. British cavalry rode unimpeded through the Old Dominion's interior. Tarleton's cavalry sent the Virginia legislature in flight from Charlottesville to Staunton and led Jefferson to an undignified surrender of his acting-governorship. But as Washington slowly reinforced his troops under Lafayette, who had joined the American cause in 1777, Cornwallis withdrew from the interior toward the peninsula below Richmond. Consolidating his army at Yorktown and Gloucester, he settled into a defensive position.
The Battle of Yorktown. Washington, now assisted by a French army under the Comte de Rochambeau and by the French West Indian fleet under the Comte de Grasse, relinquished his plan for an attack on New York and settled for a campaign along the Chesapeake. Since the period during which de Grasse would be able to assist such a campaign ended in October, the Americans decided it was expedient to concentrate on Cornwallis. Moving swiftly the allies had, by late September, achieved a two-to-one advantage over the trapped English. Since de Grasse had also achieved naval superiority, the British were sealed off from relief by water. Trapped, seemingly deserted by Clinton, faced with complete disaster, Cornwallis surrendered his army to the besiegers on October 19, 1781. To the strains of "The World Turned Upside Down," the formal surrender was made. Far across the ocean, on November 25, Lord North received news of the capitulation, threw up his arms, and called out time and again, "0 God! it is all over!" Though more than a year would elapse before peace was finally negotiated, the war was over indeed. Freedom had come to the United States.
By this time the Americans realized that the European powers were not inclined to look upon complete independence of all the American colonies as a basis for restoring peace. It should be noted that Vergennes was ready, in the late winter of 1781, to accept peace on the basis of the lines drawn by war. This would have left New York City, Charleston, Savannah, Maine, and much of the Northwest in British hands. The French pressured Congress unsuccessfully to instruct the American delegations at Paris - Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Laurens - to follow the advice of the French king in any peace negotiations.
The Resignation of Lord North. In Britain, the Commons resolved, on March 4, 1782, that the nation should enter into peace negotiations with the United States. Lord North resigned sixteen days later. He was succeeded by Lord Rockingham, a long-time friend of American independence, who appointed as his foreign secretary a man of similar outlook, Charles James Fox. Fox shrewdly estimated that peace negotiations could retrieve lost ground if they resulted in a split between the French and the Americans. But the sudden death of Rockingham frustrated Fox's plans; Lord Shelburne, an opponent of American independence, succeeded to the prime ministership. Negotiations reached a deadlock when Franklin demanded cession of Canada and Shelburne insisted on guarantees of payment of British-held American debts and indemnification of Tories.
American Insistence on Total Independence. Efforts at shaping a settlement were not eased by the unwillingness of the French government to require British acceptance of complete independence for all the former colonies as a pre-condition for negotiations. Only the stubborn persistence of John Jay, ably backed by the forceful John Adams, enabled the American to win this crucial point. The death of illusion rang through John Jay's somber conclusion: "If they [the British] thought they could conquer us, they would again attempt it." The American delegation emphatically insisted that America be accorded the full dignity offered to any other independent people.
The Terms of Peace. In mid-September, the British accepted this demand; and thereupon negotiations proceeded at a rapid pace. Major disputes in the concluding conversations developed only over fisheries and restitution to dispossessed Tories. Compromise resolved both problems; the Americans accepted the "liberty" rather than the "right" to fish off Newfoundland, and agreed to recommend that the various states compensate their Tories. The French and Spanish failure to capture Gibraltar in late September encouraged the British to make concessions in an attempt to break the French-American alliance. Disregarding French instructions, the Americans signed a separate peace treaty - the Treaty of Paris - leaving Vergennes to mull over the speed with which the Americans had learned the devious intricacies of diplomacy. Included in the treaty was a secret provision that, should the British retain West Florida, its boundary was to be farther north than if Spain took control of the region.
The former colonies and the mother country now faced the task of re-establishing a spirit of good relations. The crisp words of John Adams called upon the British to show "that you are sincere in your acknowledgment of American independence." The Americans, on their part, had to prove their capacity to establish a viable state and to prevent any form of external intervention by the powers of Europe.