Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

By John Ferling | Go to book overview
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19
CHOICES, 1781

““WEARE BANKRUPT with a mutinous army,” Congressman James Lovell reported on the second day of 1781.1 At that very moment British naval and land forces—the help that Cornwal lis had requested from Clinton to facilitate his planned invasion of North Carolina —were launching a raid on Virginia. Far away in France, Foreign Minister Vergennes, frustrated with a war that was going nowhere, was willing to consider a way out, some means of quitting the war on honorable and satisfactory terms for his nation, if not for his American ally. An uncharacteristically exuberant mood prevailed in Great Britain, which only recently had learned of Camden. Hope was widespread that the guerrillas in Georgia and South Carolina could not hold out forever, especially if North Carolina and Virginia were reconquered. Not everyone in England was sanguine, but North's ministry had retained its majority in elections during the autumn, the first contest for Parliament since before the war. Perhaps most observers, like Samuel Johnson, read into the outcome that “As to the American war, the sense of the nation is with the ministry.”2 The foreboding that had gripped England in 1777 as Burgoyne plunged south of Ticonderoga was not present as Cornwallis prepared to move into North Carolina. Not everyone expected that he would succeed, but hardly anyone feared a calamity.3

If the mood in Britain had grown more positive, morale in America had sunk to its lowest ebb. Arthur Lee, returning home in mid-1780 for the first time since before the war, could scarcely believe what he found. Many Americans had come to believe that an accommodation short of independence might become an “inevitable necessity.” More than a few feared that it was only a matter of time

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