Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIV
The Revolution Falters

AMERICANS' assumption that the war was as good as won was rudely shattered in 1779-1780 by the British conquest of Georgia and South Carolina and the destruction of two American armies, each as large as the force that Burgoyne had surrendered at Saratoga. By shifting their attack from the North to the South, the enemy, in short, not only revived the American war but scored successes that brought the patriot cause to the verge of disaster.

The allied failure at Savannah in 1779 and D'Estaing's subsequent return to France opened the way for a large-scale British attack upon the Southern states. In December 1779, with Georgia firmly in British grasp and with the French fleet no longer menacing their lines of communication, a great fleet and army left New York. Their destination was Charleston, South Carolina -- hardly a place of happy memory to British soldiers and sailors.

To Englishmen, the South seemed to be the most vulnerable part of the United States -- had Lord North possessed Winston Churchill's gift of felicity of phrase, he might have called the South "the soft underbelly of the rebellion." Weakened by the presence of thousands of black slaves in their midst and powerful tribes of Indians on their frontiers, and possessed of a disproportionately small share of the war material that made the North formidable, the South invited, attack by the enemy. Relying largely upon militia, Southerners had neglected, even to a greater degree than had Northerners, to recruit troops for the Continental army. Because militia were notoriously unwilling to fight beyond the borders of their state, it seemed likely that each state in the South could be conquered singly. Moreover, the social system of the country -- great planters opposed by the small farmers of the uplands -- afforded hope to the British

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