How America Fought Its Wars: Military Strategy from the American Revolution to the Civil War

By Victor Brooks; Robert Hohwald | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Year of Patriot Crisis
and Triumph

King's Mountain to Yorktown

On a crisp October morning in 1780 Sir Henry Clinton sat at the desk in his New York City headquarters and penned an enthusiastic summary of the southern campaign to Lord North. He chronicled the capture of Savannah and Charleston, the rout of American armies at Waxhaws, Camden and Fishing Creek and the defection of numerous rebels to the King's cause insisting "there are few men in South Carolina who are not either our prisoners or in arms with us." Several hundred miles to the south, Lord Charles Cornwallis was planning a new offensive which was expected to consolidate recent British gains in Georgia and South Carolina and encourage new victories in North Carolina which would gather even more Loyalist support. Once the Old North State was secured for the crown, Cornwallis envisioned a march into Virginia to link up with British naval forces and threaten Washington's army from the southern flank.

Cornwallis' strategic plan had considerable merit and could have severely threatened the patriot cause if all elements had fallen into place, but it was based on the erroneous assumption that British conduct in the newly conquered territories would ultimately convince a majority of residents to side with the King. Cornwallis, Clinton, Lord North and Lord Germain all essentially agreed that a policy of conciliation and amnesty would encourage far more Loyalist sentiments among undecided southerners than a policy of terror and reprisal. These men believed that any American who wasn't actively engaged to fighting the King's troops should be considered a potential ally while any sort of massive retribution would simply push the local residents into the rebel camp. On the other hand, a number of prominent British officials totally opposed a policy of coaxing Americans

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