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

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

24
“MAY WE HAVE PEACE IN OUR TIME”:
PEACE AND DEMOBILIZATION,
1782–1783

THOUGH no one could be certain, most thought Yorktown was so decisive that it would lead to peace negotiations. Even so, some 14,000 redcoats still occupied New York and another 10,000 were divided between Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah. Until peace was made, defenses had to be maintained and opportunities exploited. Washington, for instance, would have liked to follow Yorktown with a siege of Charleston—its seizure “wd infallibly terminate the war at one Stroke,” he said—but de Grasse sailed away at the end of October. Left in limbo, Washington emphasized that by standing on a “most respectable Footing… for War,” the United States could avoid “disgracefull Disasters” and, simultaneously push London toward the peace table. Washington's only concrete move immediately after Yorktown was to order Lafayette, with two thousand men, to join with Greene in South Carolina, but that was frustrated when the young Frenchman requested leave to return home.1 It was a portent that this war was truly winding down.

Washington quickly fell in step with the more relaxed climate that followed Cornwallis's defeat. Already beginning to look toward his personal affairs in the postwar world, he returned to Mount Vernon after Yorktown, where he spent several days tending his business interests. When at last he rode north his destination was not one of the several sites where the Continental army had entered winter quarters, but Philadelphia, where he remained for several weeks. He did not rejoin his army until March, nearly five months after it had departed Yorktown.2

During 1782 it became clear that the British had no intention of actively pursuing the war in the American theater. The House of Commons resolution on

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