He orders Cornwallis' Aide to Camp to Update Him Further That Evening at St. James Palace.
The British strategy in the southern theater during the Revolutionary War hinged on a plan for putting down the rebellion by controlling the southern colonies and then sweeping north to total victory. Savannah was captured in late 1778 and Charleston fell in 1780. Cornwallis, the British commander in the south, planned next...
The British strategy in the southern theater during the Revolutionary War hinged on a plan for putting down the rebellion by controlling the southern colonies and then sweeping north to total victory. Savannah was captured in late 1778 and Charleston fell in 1780. Cornwallis, the British commander in the south, planned next to move his troops through the Carolina backcountry to enlist a strong loyalist militia to support his British regulars.
The Continental Congress, by contrast, had been unfortunate in the selection of commanders in the South. It had chosen Robert Howe and he had lost Savannah. It had chosen Benjamin Lincoln, and he had lost Charleston. In the summer of 1780, near Camden, South Carolina, on August 16, 1780, the British attacked Horatio Gates’ army, which broke and ran in wild confusion. When Gates’ successor was to be chosen the Congress decided to entrust the choice to Washington, who chose Nathaniel Greene. Greene decided to divide his troops, forcing the division of the British. This strategy led to General Daniel Morgan’s victory of Cowpens on January 17, 1781.
By February 14, Greene’s army had outrun Cornwallis and crossed the Dan River into Halifax County, Virginia. After only a week’s encampment there, Greene had sufficient promises and reinforcements on the way to re-cross the river into North Carolina on February 22. Greene continued to pursue Cornwallis and the armies met on March 15, 1781 at the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina, on ground he had himself chosen. Greene did not retain control of the battlefield, and by the standards of the time technically lost, but it was a pyrric victory for Cornwallis, as he lost over a quarter of his men. It is thus considered a major event in the lead-up to the surrender of the British and Cornwallis at Yorktown. Prior to the battle, the British appeared to have successfully reconquered Georgia and South Carolina and had North Carolina within their grasp. In the wake of the battle, Greene moved into South Carolina, while Cornwallis chose to invade Virginia. These decisions allowed Greene to unravel British control of the South, while leading Cornwallis to Yorktown and surrender.
On March 17, in the wake of his "victory," Cornwallis wrote three letters, two to Lord George Germain, the British Secretary of State for the American Colonies, and one to Lord Rawdon, commanding forces in the North, detailing not only his victory at Guilford Court House but his entire Southern strategy. The first letter was meant to be Cornwallis’ assessment of his Southern campaign and covers the entire year to date. The picture he paints is one of loyalists predominance throughout the South and pictures an overall positive disposition of British troops. "My plan for the winter’s campaign was to penetrate into North Carolina, leaving South Carolina in security against any probable attack in my absence… I hoped in my way to be able to destroy or drive out of South Carolina the corps of the enemy commanded by General Morgan…And I likewise hoped, by rapid marches to get between General Greene and Virginia, and by that means force him to fight without receiving any reinforcement from that province; or, failing of that, to oblige him to quit North Carolina with precipitation, and thereby encourage our friends to make good their promises of a general rising, to assist me in re-establishing His Majesty’s government…" The second letter covers the battle at Guilford Court House, which he describes as a "signal victory… over the rebel army commanded by General Greene." He estimates the American forces at no fewer than 7,000 when in reality there were fewer than 4,500. The letter to Lord Rawdon requests additional reinforcements and notifies Rawdon that he intends to send his aide-to-camp, Captain Henry Broderick, to England.
The letters to Lord Germain were given to Broderick, who was also Cornwallis’ nephew, to be delivered personally to the King and Court of St. James, via Germain. The letter to Rawdon, forwarded to the King, would reach London on the 19th of May. The two letters sent to Germain by Cornwallis, which included the official report, arrived at the King’s court in early June and were reviewed by the King. On reading these, he understood Cornwallis’ assessment to be a vindication of his strategy in the colonies, and immediately ordered the letters to be printed in the London Gazette. He then sent for Broderick in this very note, praising Cornwallis and ordering his newly arrived aide to give him further information in person.
Autograph Memorandum, St. James Palace, June 4, 1781. “The letters from Ld. Cornwallis show how well he has conducted his enterprise. I desire Ld. Geo. Germain will direct Capt. Broderick to be here at St. James’s at Seven this Evening that I may hear any thing he has to say in addition.”
The King’s confidence in Cornwallis, bolstered by the latter’s mistaken assessment and misleading statistics, was not well placed. The Battle of Guilford Court House was a major step toward the unraveling of Cornwallis’ army. Within 4 months of George’s note here, Cornwallis w ould surrender to the Franco-American force under Washington and Rochambeau, and the British Parliament would urge George to seek peace with the colonies on their terms.
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