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Engagement near Jamestown, Va.

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

July 8.—Lafayette and Wayne are leading the British in Virginia through a very intricate path. The latest operation is that of Wayne, with a handful of Pennsylvanians, frightening the whole of Cornwallis’s army of “undaunted Britons.” The Tories say it is onlyanother version of the deceit and unfairness practised by the little Frenchman last May:”1—Cornwallis having encamped near Jamestown, in Virginia, the Marquis Lafayette sent General Wayne, with the Pennsylvania line, to take their station within a small distance of the British army, and watch their motions. About three hundred riflemen occupied the ground between General Wayne and Lord Cornwallis, who were directed to scatter themselves in the woods, without order, and annoy the enemy’s camp. This they did with such effect, that a small party was sent out against them, to dislodge them; each side continuing to reinforce, at length the whole of General Wayne’s division were engaged; they drove the advance detachment back to their lines, and, without stopping there, attacked the whole British army, drawn up in order of battle, and charged them with their bayonets. The action was obstinate for the little time it lasted, but the disproportion of numbers was too great. The marquis arrived, in person, time enough to order a retreat, and to bring off the Pennsylvania troops before they were surrounded, which the enemy were endeavoring to effect, being able greatly to outflank them. Cornwallis did not pursue them more than half a mile in the retreat, apprehending that the rest of the Americans were near enough to support them, and not choosing to risk a general engagement. The Americans lost two field-pieces, which could not be brought off, all the horses belonging to them being killed. Captain Savage did great execution with a third field-piece under his command, situated in such a manner as to rake, with grape shot, a solid column of the enemy on their march, with which he cut lanes through them, and repeatedly drove them back with the utmost confusion. The riflemen and light-infantry were of great service, and gave the British some well-directed and very heavy fires. The whole of the American troops which were engaged that day, did not amount to more than eleven hundred. Wayne’s division lost one hundred and seven privates and non-commissioned officers, killed, wounded, and missing, and twelve commissioned officers, among the last, Captain Stakes, wounded in the leg, and Captain Cunningham, in the foot, both slightly. The Americans suffered no loss of any consequence, except in General Wayne’s division.

The British, immediately after the action, which ended about nine o’clock in the evening, crossed James River. The whole army were crossed over in the morning, excepting a part of their light-horse, for which they had boats ready to bring them over instantly, in case of an emergency. Saturday afternoon, or evening, they crossed also.

Those of the wounded Americans who were left on the field, to the number of about twenty-five, were treated by the British with more humanity than usual, and were left behind.

Cornwallis, finding among the killed and wounded none but the Pennsylvania line, and from that circumstance, and the information of his prisoners, having learned that only that line, with a few riflemen and light-infantry, had been in the action, found greater cause of chagrin that such a handful of men should have made so spirited an attack upon his army, than of exultation for having repulsed them.

It is said a part of the British troops are embarking for New York, that a garrison will be left at Portsmouth, and the rest probably go to the southward. The marquis is moving up James River.2

 

1 Letter from Colonel Alexander Scammel, dated King’s ferry, New York, August 20.
2 Extract of a letter from a gentleman in Captain Moor’s troop of light dragoons, dated Holt’s Forge, New Kent county, July 11; in the New Jersey Gazette, August 8. The same writer, in concluding his letter, says:—”I had the pleasure of seeing the marquis in a most amiable point of view, visiting the wounded officers and soldiers, going from man to man, examining into their situation, their attendance, their wants, and giving every possible care that all things necessary should be furnished—a conduct which, while it does honor to the humanity and goodness of his heart, cannot fail to engage him the affections of the soldiery, and endear the name of La Fayette to every American.”

 

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