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

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

21
“WE ARE SUSPENDED IN THE
BALANCE”: SPRING AND SUMMER 1781

WASHINGTON remained at headquarters in New Windsor, New York, through the dark winter of 1781, anxiously awaiting word of Greene's fate. He had supported Greene's daring strategy of dividing his army, saying that such a tack could be “supported upon just Military Principles.” He continued to caution him “to avoid a general action,” predicting that the defeat of the southern army would be “the most probable consequence of such an event.”1 Washington was fully aware of the “miserable situation” that Greene faced: an army consisting mostly of “raw troops” who were “literally naked,” while the “southern states have not the resources” to supply its needs. France alone could alleviate that problem, Washington sadly acknowledged. France also held the key, he added, to relieving the pressure on the southern army, which was “pressed in all sides,” with Cornwallis menacing it from the south and west, Arnold from the north. From early on, Washington solicited help for the South from Rochambeau and Ternay, pointing to the deficiencies that had resulted from the capture of Lincoln's army and its stores in Charleston, and explaining that it was crucial for the well-being of the postwar United States that it retain Georgia and South Carolina. Clutching at straws, he proposed in December that Ternay seek to persuade the Spanish in Havana to link their Caribbean fleet with his in Newport and, together with the Franco-American armies, the allies could retake Georgia and South Carolina, and liberate Florida.2

Rochambeau and Ternay wanted no part of a scheme laden with diplomatic snares—Spain, they gently reminded Washington, was not an ally of the United States—but their thinking took an unexpected turn when they discovered that a

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