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An Army at Mutiny

By January 1781, the American Revolution is now in its sixth year. General George Washington's Continental Army is now professional fighting force as he wanted it to be. However, it is a very unhappy one and it appears a mutiny might begin. Only 3 weeks into the year the troops are in revolt and Washington has to deal with mutiny. His response is to execute the mutineers. The story of the mutiny began on New Year's Day at the main camp for the American army at Morristown, New Jersey. Troops still believed in the cause for independence, but they could no longer stand the conditions. They rarely get pay, they are not clothed well, and they still do not have enough supplies. The soldiers yell at their superior officers but there is nothing they can do. The Continental Congress did not have the right to taxing the citizens at the time so soldiers were not paid well. The continental soldiers pledged to give their lives on the line in exchange for what they thought was a contract in return but the contract is not honored. The American officers watch from their warm quarters as the munity occurs. Some are sympathetic but others do not care for the soldiers' anger. On January 2nd at least one third of the American soldiers fighting for the northern army leave the camp. They march out taking cannons and weapons and begin a march to Philadelphia where the Continental Congress presides. The mutineers get as far as Princeton, New Jersey but Washington sends an army to stop them. An arrangement is made that allows any soldiers who want to leave the army get their pay while others who stay will get supplies. Half of the mutineers leave and the other half stays with the army. Washington begs for money and supplies from congress but it is too little and too late. On January 20th another mutiny begins at Pompton, New Jersey and 200 soldiers march on the Continental Congress but Washington stops them. He orders the execution of the ringleaders by firing squad. With the mutinies put down Washington can only hope his army remains intact.

The Chase Continues

Meanwhile, down south, the chase between the American general Nathaniel Greene and British general Charles Cornwallis continues. Cornwallis will not stop until he can make the Continental Army stand and fight. Instead the rebels have dragged the British further back in the wilderness of the southern colonies. General Greene learned early at battles like New York City and Brandywine that keeping the army away from decisive conflicts is the key to victory. Greene has been leading a chase for months that is trailing all across the south. Cornwallis manages to stay sometimes at least a couple hundred yards away and occasionally the scouting parties of the armies skirmish but the two main armies never meet. Greene's troops are far faster and lighter and the British are heavier and slower so they will need to take desperate measures to keep up with Greene. To lighten his load, Cornwallis orders a massive bonfire built and the trappings of a distinguished British army are thrown in it. Tents, clothing, fine china, and casks of rum are all thrown into the bonfire. It is a fateful decision that Cornwallis will pay for later. Now with the British moving faster Greene only sees one chance for survival. As Cornwallis chases him north through North Carolina to the Virginia border, Greene splits his army. He sends one branch northwest to Dix's Ferry at the Dan River while he sends his main force further north to Taylor's Ferry where Greene has commandeered all the boats to cross the Dan River. Greene's plan works and he moves his entire army, all 2,000 men, across the Dan. The British, realizing the ploy move quickly to river just as the last boats of the American troops leave. The Americans cheer as they can finally rest. They will not stay in Virginia long as Greene just plans to get reinforcements and supplies until he cross the Dan River again into North Carolina to fight Cornwallis.

Aid from France

3,000 miles away in France, Benjamin Franklin continues to court France's King Louis XVI. Franklin continues to ask for more money, supplies, and troops from France to help win the war. In fact, France is going bankrupt funding the American Revolution. Franklin needs to prove to the French that the American cause is a good one and to the Continental Congress that French aid, the key to war, is on its way. Washington has reason to doubt it as he was always confused and disappointed in the French and is worried about the help that the French are giving to him. Unknown to Washington his questions are being answered. Quietly on its own schedule and with its own agenda, the French navy finally makes a move that will change the war. On March 1781 at the eastern coast of France, a shipment is being prepared. The mighty French warship, the Ville de Paris, readies for a long voyage to the Americas. Admiral François-Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse is in charge of the ship and is one of France's most talented generals and one of the greatest glory seekers. De Grasse's mission is in the Caribbean where France's trade interests are, but if the timing is right he plans to visit the Americans. America maybe a pawn in the game between superpowers but the following moves will make new opportunities for all sides.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

On February 22, 1781 General Nathaniel Greene moves his new force from Halifax, Virginia back into North Carolina where he plans to fight the British troops under General Charles Cornwallis. Greene crosses the Dan River again and Cornwallis soon starts chasing him but this time Greene will lead Cornwallis to Guilford Courthouse which has terrain favorable to the Americans. On March 15th the battle begins as Greene places his 4,400 troops on the high ground of Guilford Courthouse with two lines of militia in front and a line of experience continentals behind which is the formation Colonel Daniel Morgan used at the Battle of Cowpens to beat the British. Cornwallis with 1,900 troops, who are weakened from the lack of supplies, orders all his troops forward and will throw all he has left at winning. Cornwallis' men soon breakthrough Greene's militia lines and they charge the American continentals with bayonets. As the new sides engage in bloody bayonet fight, Cornwallis, fearing loss, makes a desperate and brutal decision. He orders the lieutenant in charge of artillery to fire grape shot at the men fighting, both Americans and British. The cannon fire kills as many British as Americans but it is enough to end the fight. Greene orders his troops to retreat as he cannot risk his soldiers.  Cornwallis won the battles, but only by sacrificing his own men. British casualties were 550 dead and wounded and the American casualties were 250. It is a kind of victory that almost feels like a defeat. The months spent chasing Greene has cost Cornwallis dearly and has gained him nothing. Cornwallis decides to take his campaign into Virginia but he leaves the British strategy in tatters just as the Americans and their French allies are about to work together.

A Defensive Strategy

Losses in the south and stalemate in the north has left the British position in the colonies in disarray. Furthermore, public support back in Britain is weakening. By 1781 all of Britain is tired of the war in the colonies which has been very expensive in money and life. King George III and his cabinet might try to look at war differently, but they cannot change the facts, the colonies are showing no sign of surrendering. The British people want the troops to come home otherwise some are afraid the war will go on forever. Across the Atlantic Ocean in the colonies the two commanders fighting for the king have different strategies of war. In New York City the overall British commander, Sir Henry Clinton is more patient to end the war. Clinton is very comfortable in New York City and is well supplied. Clinton most likely wants something to happen that can give him an advantage that he can then act to. Clinton subordinate commander, Lord Charles Cornwallis believes in a quick and swift war against the Americans. Cornwallis keeps moving his forces through Virginia but he is soon given an order from his superior. Clinton, believing in defensive wars, orders Cornwallis to build a protective base along the coast where he can get supplies and reinforcements for his army. Cornwallis takes his men to a small coastal port known as Yorktown. Yorktown is just mainly a tobacco trading port but for some it will be a place of destiny. By July in the Caribbean, France's Admiral de Grasse begins his journey to the colonies as hurricane season comes in the Caribbean. The French navy now turns north with 28 ships, 3,000 French troops, and long awaited money to pay American soldiers, but they also come with a catch. It will be the French, not the Americans who decide where to attack. In de Grasse's mind the British are weakest in Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay at the small port of Yorktown. General George Washington moves all of his forces south to head for Yorktown. At Yorktown, Cornwallis continues have his defenses built around the town but he is feeling that he is at the center of a dangerous trap.

The Siege of Yorktown

On September 5th Admiral de Grasse and his French fleet arrive first to the Chesapeake Bay and takes on the British fleet sent to chase him out. The two navies battle at sea for four days and both sides are badly hurt but it is the British who must give up the bay. General Cornwallis knows that his situation is getting worse and he need more help. In one battle de Grasse captures everything that enters and leaves Yorktown by sea. He decides to send a message to his commander General Henry Clinton in New York City. Clinton promises support to Cornwallis as soon as possible. Cornwallis decides to stay in Yorktown and wait for Clinton to come join him. One by one his routes of escape are cut off. De Grasse's ships slowly move up the York River, General Washington has his Continental Army move to the south of Yorktown, and French troops under General Comte de Rochambeau occupy the north and west of Yorktown. 8,800 American and 7,800 French troops now surround Cornwallis and his 6,000 British troops. Washington presents his plan to the other commanders, which is to launch a massive assault on the port. His European allies disagree because Yorktown is now heavily fortified and Washington would lose a lot of men. General Rochambeau proposes a siege on Yorktown with an artillery bombardment from land and sea. Washington sees the strategy as a better one and on October 6th the siege begins. Cornwallis reports to Clinton that the siege has begun and that the Americans and French have started a bombardment. Cornwallis says that he cannot hope to make a very strong resistance. Slowly the Americans and French move closer to the British defenses and on October 11th the second parallel is dug and the Americans and French now fire at the British from a closer position. As the siege continued Cornwallis had the "bloody" Banister Tarleton try to make an escape route across the York River at Gloucester Point but after a storm Tarleton and his men ended up stuck at the point and was eventually sieged themselves. Still there is no sign of Clinton's reinforcements. On October 14th Washington orders a full scale attack on outer redoubts of the fort, forcing Cornwallis into a smaller position. Cornwallis sends a message to Clinton that his situation is now desperate and that the situation is so bad that he suggests that Clinton should not run great risk in saving him. Cornwallis' letter would not be read as Clinton has already set sail from New York City but the relief effort would not be in time. For six long years Washington fought a war marked more by loss than victory. Finally he wins a great victory against the British and Cornwallis surrenders the troops under his command. Clinton cannot believe what he had done because he set up the end game and then sat idle while it played out. Now the British southern army is lost and possibly the war itself. On October 19, 1781 6,000 British troops surrender to the Americans and British. On this momentous occasion only one person is missing. General Charles Cornwallis does not go the ceremony claiming illness. No doubt he felt worse on this day than any other on his long military career. On October 27, Cornwallis invites Washington to his headquarters to show respect. What the two men discuss is not recorded but they must have had the same opinions on how the war would end.

Birth of a Nation

The two lasts years of the war saw no more big battles but just small skirmishes. After a treaty the thirteen colonies became independent and gained land all the way to the Mississippi River. Great Britain was no doubt a loser in the war for losing some very valuable colonies. The French lost more from this war as they would go into revolution. King Louis XVI had bankrupted the empire by funding the revolution. The Americans would eventually for the United States of America with a democratic republic. George Washington would become its first president of the United States. 25,000 gave their lives for liberty and long after the heroes of the revolution came home other took their place in history.

The Americans:

George Washington: The commander of the American troops was president for two terms, refusing to accept a third. He returned to his home at Mount Vernon and died their two years later at the age of 67.

John Adams: The second president of the United States who helped in peace negotiations in Paris died on Independence Day July 4, 1826.

Benjamin Franklin: The man who got the French to join the war left public life in 1788 due to illness and died two year later at the age of 84. 20,000 people attended his funeral.

Baron von Steuben: The Prussian officer who helped train the Americans at Valley Forge was rewarded for his efforts with several acres of land in upstate New York and he died in 1794.

General Nathaniel Greene: George Washington's favorite general never got to see the inauguration of his commander. He died of sunstroke in 1786 while on a plantation in Georgia.

The British:

King George III: Great Britain's king never able to crush the American rebels went mad and was deemed mentally unfit to rule for the last decade of his reign.

General Sir Henry Clinton: The last British commander of the war returned to Britain after the crushing loss at Yorktown where he received a very cool reception. He spent the last years of his life writing his memoirs.

Brigadier General Benedict Arnold: The traitor of the war landed in London after war where he failed as a businessman. He died a broken man with one last dishonor to his life. Arnold was born without military honors in a grave mistakenly marked with another man's name.

General Charles Cornwallis: He returned to Britain with Benedict Arnold, and they were cheered when they landed in England on 21 January 1782. He eventually became the government-general of the British colony in India in 1805, but on October 5th, shortly after arriving, died of a fever.
The American Revolution ends.

Picture: General Nathaniel Greene

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RD-DD1843 Featured By Owner May 23, 2012
I like the choice of Greene - whose tactics in the South turned the tables on Cornwallis. Washington later supposedly said that had anything happened to him he would have wanted Greene to succeed him as commander in chief.
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