Copyright © 2012 by Michael A. Shea - All Rights Reserved

CHAPTER: THE DASH FOR YORKTOWN

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules.”

     After General Horatio Gates humiliating defeat at Camden, South Carolina, Washington replaced him with Major General Nathanael Greene as commander of the remaining southern forces and militia. General Greene, in directing the Southern Campaign, split the Continental Army into two forces: with Brigadier General Daniel Morgan he assigned to the other half. On January 17, 1781, American forces under General Daniel Morgan defeated the British forces led by General Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens. “In hot pursuit, Lord Cornwallis reached the Catawba River just two hours after the American troops had crossed, but a storm made the river impassable. He nearly overtook the Americans again at the Yadkin River, just as they were getting out on the other side, but a torrential rain flooded the river. This happened a third time at the Dan River.” British commander-in-chief Henry Clinton wrote:


Here the royal army was again stopped by a sudden rise of the waters, which had only just fallen (almost miraculously) to let the enemy over, who could not else have eluded Lord Cornwallis’ grasp, so close was he upon their rear.


     The rapid river water level changes which prevented the British troops from attacking the rebel soldiers was an aggravating and very odd coincidence. But to the soldiers in Southern Continental Army, especially for the rear guard being hotly pursued by the British, it was nothing short of a miracle. The remnants of the Southern Continental Army had been saved once again by divine intervention for reasons known only to God. They were saved to fight yet another day, perhaps for plans that would unfold later in the year at Yorktown.


     Reverend William Gordon of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to Washington on God’s hand in the sudden river water level changes in saving the Southern Continental Army. Washington responded:


We have, as you very justly observe, abundant reasons to thank Providence for its many favorable interpositions in our behalf. It has at times been my only dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us.


     The hand of God was also making waves against the British at sea. “In February, 1781, a storm shifted the local naval balance. The British anchorage in Gardiners Bay, at the northern tip of Long Island, was less well protected than the French anchorage in Newport Harbor. Enough British ships were damaged to give the French a numerical advantage until British shipwrights ... could repair their vessels.”


     By March 1st of 1781, the Articles of Confederation had become effective. Washington was desperate in reaching out to Congress and the States for money, and much needed supplies. He vented his frustration in a letter to his stepson, John Parke Custis. He wrote:


In a word, for it is, unnecessary to go into all the reasons the subject will admit of, we have brought a cause which might have been happily terminated years ago by the adoption of proper measures to the verge of ruin by temporary enlistments and a reliance on militia. The sums expended in bounties, waste of arms, consumption of military stores, provisions, camp utensils & ca.; to say nothing of clothing which temporary soldiers are always receiving, and always in want of, are too great for the resources of any nation; ... Does not these things shew then in the most striking point of view the indispensable necessity, the great and good policy of each State’s sending its ablest and best men to Congress? Men who have a perfect understanding of the constitution of their country, of its policy and interests, and of vesting that body with competent powers. Our independence depends upon it …





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