“BLOODY AND SEVERE”: THE PIVOTAL
SOUTHERN WAR, EARLY 1781
NO YEAR SINCE 1777 had dawned with the flurry of activity that ushered in 1781. On January 2, Benedict Arnold arrived suddenly at Jamestown, Virginia, with a large British invasion force. At about the same moment, Cornwallis's army at Winnsboro, South Carolina, set out to find the rebels under Morgan and Greene.
Arnold's army was the second to raid Virginia within seventy days. In October, at Cornwallis's behest, Clinton had sent off a 2,200-man force under Major General Alexander Leslie to provide a “diversion” for the redcoats fighting further south. Leslie's presence, it was thought, would prevent Virginia from dispatching reinforcements to the Carolinas and it might lead it to recall some units. Leslie's mission was a work in progress. While sowing destruction, he was also to interdict rebel supply lines, inhibiting the shipment of much needed supplies to the Carolinas. According to what occurred in North Carolina, he might even move there to join with Cornwallis. Leslie arrived in Virginia just as autumn's splendorous colors garnished the landscape. After putting his men ashore at Portsmouth, Newport News, and Hampton, the cavalry and light infantry swept the peninsula between the James and York Rivers nearly as far inland as Yorktown, then marauded across the extreme eastern end of Virginia below Cape Henry, pillaging and resettling several families of Loyalists that had sailed with them. The redcoats had no chance to move further inland, as Leslie, in the aftermath of the debacle at King's Mountain, was ordered to join Cornwallis. He sailed in November, only about twenty days after his invasion began, taking with him the recently repatriated Tory families, who would face a bleak future if left behind.1