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The failure to accomplish anything in the north caused Washington, as the year drew to a close, to turn his thoughts once more toward a combined movement at the south. In pursuance of this idea, he devised a scheme of uniting with the Spaniards in the seizure of Florida, and of advancing thence through Georgia to assail the English in the
De Rochambeau did not approve the plan and it was abandoned; but the idea of a southern movement was still kept steadily in sight. The governing thought now was, not to protect this place or that, but to cast aside everything else in order to strike one great blow which would finish the war.
Where he could do this, time alone would show, but if one follows the correspondence closely, it is apparent that Washington's military instinct turned more and more toward the south.
In that department affairs changed their aspect rapidly. January 17th, Morgan won his brilliant victory at the Cowpens, withdrew in good order with his prisoners, and united his army with that of Greene. Cornwallis was terribly disappointed by this unexpected reverse, but he determined to push on, defeat the combined American army, and then
join the British forces on the Chesapeake. Greene was too weak to risk a battle, and made a masterly retreat of two hundred miles before Cornwallis, escaping across the Dan only twelve hours ahead of
The moment the British moved away, Greene recrossed the river and hung upon their
For a month he kept in their neighborhood, checking the rising of the Tories, and declining battle. At last he received reinforcements, felt strong enough to stand his ground, and on March 15th the battle of Guilford Court House was fought. It was a sharp and bloody fight; the British had the advantage, and Greene abandoned the field, bringing off his army in good order. Cornwallis, on his part, had suffered so heavily, however, that his victory turned to ashes. On the 18th he was in full retreat, with Greene in hot chase, and it was not until the 28th that he succeeded in getting over the Deep River and escaping to Wilmington. Thence he determined to push on and transfer the seat of war to the Chesapeake. Greene, with the boldness and quickness which showed him to be a soldier of a high order, now dropped the pursuit and turned back to fight the British in detachments and free the southern States. There is no need to follow him in the brilliant operations which ensued, and by which he achieved this result. It is sufficient to say here that he had altered the whole aspect of the war, forced Cornwallis into Virginia within reach of Washington, and begun the work of redeeming the Carolinas.
The troops which Cornwallis intended to join had been sent in detachments to Virginia during the winter and spring. The first body had arrived early in January under the command of Arnold, and a general marauding and ravaging took place. A little later General Phillips arrived with reinforcements and took command. On May 13th, General Phillips died, and a week later Cornwallis appeared at Petersburg, assumed control, and sent Arnold back to New York.
Meantime Washington, though relieved by Morgan's and Greene's admirable work, had a most trying and unhappy winter and spring. He sent every man he could spare, and more than he ought to have spared, to Greene, and he stripped himself still further when the invasion of Virginia began. But for the most part he was obliged, from lack of any naval strength, to stand helplessly by and see more and more British troops sent to the south, and witness the ravaging of his native State, without any ability to prevent it. To these grave trials was added a small one, which stung him to the quick. The British came up the Potomac, and Lund Washington, in order to preserve Mount Vernon, gave them refreshments, and treated them in a conciliatory manner. He meant well but acted ill, and Washington wrote:
“It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard that, in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my house and laid the plantation in ruins. You
ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them, with a view to prevent a conflagration.”
What a clear glimpse this little episode gives of the earnestness of the man who wrote these lines. He could not bear the thought that any favor should be shown him on any pretence. He was ready to take his share of the marauding and pillaging with the rest, but he was deeply indignant at the idea that any one representing him should even appear to ask a favor of the British.
Altogether, the spring of 1781 was very trying, for there was nothing so galling to Washington as to be unable to fight. He wanted to get to the south, but he was bound hand and foot by lack of force. Yet the obstacles did not daunt or depress him. He wrote in June that he felt sure of bringing the war to a happy conclusion, and in the division of the British forces he saw his opportunity taking shape. Greene had the southern forces well in hand. Cornwallis was equally removed from Clinton on the north and Rawdon on the south, and had come within reach ; so that if he could but have naval strength he could fall upon Cornwallis with superior force and crush him. In naval matters fortune thus far had dealt hardly with him, yet he could not but feel that a French fleet of sufficient force must soon come. He grasped the situation with a master-hand, and began to
prepare the way. Still he kept his counsel strictly to himself, and set to work to threaten, and if possible to attack, New York, not with much hope of succeeding in any such attempt, but with a view of frightening Clinton and of inducing him either to withdraw troops from Virginia, or at least to withhold reinforcements. As he began his Virginian campaign in this distant and remote fashion at the mouth of the Hudson, he was cheered by news that De Grasse, the French admiral, had sent recruits to Newport, and intended to come himself to the American coast. He at once wrote De Grasse not to determine absolutely to come to New York, hinting that it might prove more advisable to operate to the southward. It required great tact to keep the French fleet where he needed it, and yet not reveal his intentions, and nothing showed Washington's foresight more plainly than the manner in which he made the moves in this campaign, when miles of space and weeks of time separated him from the final object of his plans. To trace this mastery of details, and the skill with which
every point was remembered and covered, would require a long and minute narrative. They can only be indicated here sufficiently to show how exactly each movement fitted in its place, and how all together brought the great result.
Fortified by the good news from De Grasse, Washington had an interview with De Rochambeau, and effected a junction with the French army. Thus strengthened, he opened his cam