Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
Yorktown

EARLY in 1781, when Clinton learned of Cornwallis's retreat to Wilmington, he little imagined that his subordinate -- headstrong as Sir Henry knew him to be -- would leave the scene of his victories to go to Virginia. Clinton expected that the war in the South would go on and that the loyalty of the people would be put to the final test which would determine whether Great Britain could reclaim the allegiance of Americans anywhere in the revolted colonies. It was still too early, he believed, to write off the great experiment upon which the British had embarked in the South; and he expected that Cornwallis, despite the disappointing turnout of the Loyalists, would retreat to South Carolina where, after re-forming and resting his army, the struggle with Nathanael Greene would be resumed.

It came therefore as a shock to Clinton to find that Cornwallis had brought his army in headlong haste to Virginia with the intention of making that state the principal theater of war. By this maneuver, Clinton exclaimed, Cornwallis had imperiled the entire British military position in the South and doomed to failure the experiment upon which the commander-in-chief rested his hopes of victory. Once again, Great Britain had abandoned her friends to the mercy of their enemies. Cornwallis's action was more censurable than the evacuation of Philadelphia and Boston -- on those occasions, many thousand Loyalists had been evacuated with the British army, whereas the North Carolina Loyalists were abandoned to their fate.

Nor was the commander-in-chief pleased to discover that as a result of Cornwallis's dash northward, Virginia had become the chief battleground of the war. Sir Henry was not disposed to put the British cause to hazard in the Old Dominion: except as a base for British cruisers and a field for

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