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The morning after the evacuation of Wil. CHAP.VIII. liamsburg, La Fayette changed his position; 1781. and crossing the Chicahominy pushed his best troops within nine miles of the British camp, with the intention of attempting their rear, when the main body should have passed into Jamestown.
Suspecting this design, lord Cornwallis en. camped the greater part of his army on the main land, as compactly as possible, and dis. played a few troops on the island, in such a manner as in appearance, to magnify their numbers. All the intelligence received by La Fayette concurred in the representation that the greater part of the British army had passed over into the island of Jamestown in the night. Believing this to be the fact, he detached some riflemen and militia to harass their out posts, July 6. while he advanced at the head of the continental troops, in order to cut off the rear should the intelligence he had received be well founded.
Every appearance was calculated to countenance the opinion which had been formed. The British light parties were all drawn in, and the piquets, which lay close to the encampment, were forced by the riflemen without much resistance. La Fayette, however, who arrived a little before sunset, determined to reconnoitre the camp, and judge of its strength from his own observation.
CHAP.VIII. It was in a great degree concealed by woods; 1781. but from a tongue of land stretching into the
river at no great distance, he soon perceived the British force to be much more considerable than had been apprehended; and hastened to call off his men. On his return he found Wayne closely engaged.
A piece of artillery had been left but weakly Action near defended, which Wayne determined to seize,
and major Galvan was advanced for that purpose. Scarcely was the attempt made, when he discovered the whole army arranged in order of battle, moving out against him. A retreat was now impossible, and the boldest had become the safest measure. Under this impression, he advanced rapidly, and with his small detachment not exceeding eight hundred men, made a gallant charge on the British line. A warm action ensued which was kept up with great spirit for several minutes; when La Fayette, who had now come up, perceiving Wayne to be out flanked both on the right and left, ordered him to retreat, and form in a line with the light infantry, who were then drawn up about half a mile in his rear; after which the whole American force saved itself behind a morass.
Fortunately for La Fayette, lord Cornwallis did not improve the advantage which he had gained.
Suspecting this to be a stratagem of the CHAP.VIII, American general to draw him into an ambus. 1781. cade; a suspicion equally favoured by the hardiness of the measure, and the time of the attack, lord Cornwallis who still supposed the opposing army to be much stronger than it was in reality, would admit of no pursuit; and in the course of the night, crossed over into the island, whence he soon afterwards proceeded to Portsmouth.
In the American accounts of this action, the militia are not mentioned; nor is there any statement of their loss. The British represent a detachment of them to have been brought into the engagement, but to have been broken and driven off the field at its commencement. It appears from the returns, that one hundred and eighteen of the continental troops, among whom were ten officers, were killed, wounded, or taken; and two pieces of artillery were left on the field, the horses attached to them being killed. The British loss was less considerable.
It is stated, in both killed and wounded, at five officers and about seventy privates.
All active operations were now for a time suspended; and the harassed army of La Fayette was permitted to repose itself.
Although no brilliant service was achieved by this young nobleman, the campaign in Vir. ginia enhanced his military reputation, and
CHAP.VIII. raised him in the general esteem. That with 1781. so decided an inferiority of effective force, and
especially of cavalry, he had been able to keep the field in an open country, and to preserve a great proportion of his military stores, as well as his army; was believed to furnish un. equivocal evidence of the prudence and vigour of his conduct.
State of affairs at the beginning of the year 1781....Su.
perintendant of finances appointed.... Designs of general Washington against New York....Count Rochambeau marches to the North river....Intelligence from the count de Grasse....Plan of operations against lord Cornwallis.... Naval engagement.... The combined ar. mies march for the Chesapeak....Expedition of Arnold against New London.... Yorktown invested....Surrender of lord Cornwallis.
affairs at the
the year 1781.
THE deep gloom which in the commence- State of ment of the year had enveloped the prospects beginning of of America; and which we have seen darkening for a time in the south; was far from being dissipated in the north. The total incom. petency of the political system adopted by the United States, to their own preservation, became every day more and more apparent. At a time when the most vigorous exertions seemed indispensable to the safety of the nation, an irresolute feebleness and backward. ness, were every where manifested, as if each state was fearful of doing too much, and of taking upon itself a larger portion of the common burden than was borne by its neighbour.
The resolutions of congress had called for an army of thirty-seven thousand men to be in camp by the first of January. The requisition had been much too long delayed, and had it even been made in time, it is not probable