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The Continental Army, Chapter VII


Thomas Jefferson. The Virginia reorganization actually amounted to only a rearrangement of officers on paper. The sole exception was the 9th Virginia Regiment stationed at Fort Pitt. It regrouped as the 7th Virginia Regiment with just two companies.26

Without the Virginia infantry regiments Greene’s army remained dangerously weak. Washington and Congress had sent him Henry Lee’s 2d Partisan Corps in December 1780, and in February 1781 they decided to shift the Pennsylvania line to his department once it recovered from the mutiny. Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair found the reorganization of the Pennsylvania line unexpectedly difficult. To expedite matters he did not fill the permanent regiments. Instead he formed three provisional regiments, each containing eight forty-men companies. A detachment of the 4th Continental Artillery Regiment with four guns, together with one troop of the 4th Legionary Corps (containing all the men in the corps who had horses) complemented them. After overcoming major financial and logistical problems and crushing a minor mutiny, Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne finally left York, Pennsylvania, with these units in late May. St. Clair stayed to continue recruiting.27

The careful plans of October 1780 for sixty-one regimental equivalents divided into two major commands thus did not materialize. Washington’s Main Army and subsidiary commands in the north lost the services of the 2d Partisan Corps as well as Pennsylvania’s legionary corps, artillery regiment, and 6 infantry regiments when these units moved to the badly depleted Southern Department. The latter never obtained the 7 infantry regiments projected for Georgia and the Carolinas, and it had the services of only 1 of 8 Virginia and 2 of 6 Maryland and Delaware infantry regiments. None of the Pennsylvania troops, moreover, reached the area during the first part of 1781. When they did arrive, Greene’s single artillery regiment amounted to crews for just a handful of fieldpieces; his two legionary corps operated as a small cavalry regiment; and of the two partisan corps, only Lee’s remained fit for combat. On the other hand, the regiments serving in the Continental Army in 1781 contained very experienced cadres. The reorganization left only the most competent officers and produced units with very efficient organizations. During 1781 those troops would engage in the war’s decisive campaigns.

Triumph at Yorktown

The 1781 campaign conclusively demonstrated that the Continental Army had matured into a small but effective military force despite pay and supply problems. Washington and Greene wrested the strategic initiative from the British, adjusting their plans to take advantage of changing circumstances. With French military, naval, and financial support, they caused a major defect in British dispositions and then exploited it to the maximum.

26. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 19:381-82; 20:465; 21:82; Jefferson, Papers, 4:17-18, 349-50, 603-4; 5:111-16, 162-63; 6:30-32; Palmer, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 1:594-96; Gates Papers (Muhlenberg to Gates, 12 Oct 80; Abraham Buford to Gates, 21 Oct and 1 Nov 80; Ebenezer Stevens to Gates, 16 Nov 80; Return of Southern Army, 5 Nov 80); W. A. Irvine, ed., “Affairs at Fort Pitt in 1782,” Historical Magazine, 1st ser. 7 (1863):306-9.
27. JCC, 19:177, 275; Jefferson, Papers, 4:322-24; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 21:272-73, 294, 473-74; 22: 191-92; Smith, St. Clair Papers, 1:544-45, 548-49; Stille, Anthony Wayne, pp. 264-67; Historical Magazine, 1st ser. 6 (1862):337-38; RG 360, National Archives (Keene to Bd of War, 10 Apr 81; St. Clair [to Board of War], 5 Apr 81).


ARTHUR ST. CLAIR (1736-1818) served in the British Army during the French and Indian War and then settled in Pennsylvania. He raised the 2d Pennsylvania Battalion and eventually rose to the rank of major general. He was governor of the Northwest Territory and commander of the United States Army in the decade following the Revolution, suffering defeat at the hands of the Indians in Ohio in 1791. (Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1782.)

The year’s operations began in the Carolinas. General Cornwallis suffered a major setback at Cowpens on 17 January when his light troops under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton engaged the Southern Department’s light troops under Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan. Several experienced contingents of irregulars plus some special militia units composed primarily of Virginia Continental veterans served with Morgan, and he developed tactics which blended their talents with those of his regulars. Deploying the former in a double line of skirmishers, Morgan caused Tarleton to commit his reserve before his troops reached the Continentals. A sharp counterattack broke through the disorganized British line and destroyed Tarleton’s force. Losses in this battle and in an earlier defeat on 7 October at King’s Mountain deprived Cornwallis of most of his light troops.28

Cornwallis chased Greene across the Dan River into Virginia, but the pursuit so debilitated his regiments that they had to withdraw and refit. The pause allowed Greene time to regroup his troops, establish a supply system, and dispatch Henry Lee’s 2d Partisan Corps into South Carolina to assist irregulars in harassing British outposts and lines of communications. By concentrating on quality and mobility, Greene turned the small size of his regular force into a logistical advantage. He called out large militia contingents only shortly before a battle. During the intervals the militia, Lee’s 2d Partisan Corps, and Lt. Col. William Washington’s composite detachment of the 1st and 3d Legionary Corps restricted British reconnaissance and freedom of movement.29

Greene reentered North Carolina and on 15 March fought Cornwallis at Guilford Court House. As at Cowpens, skirmish lines forced the British troops to deploy pre-

28. Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, pp. 230-31; [Banastre] Tarleton, A History of the Campaigns of l 780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America (London: T. Cadell, 1787), pp. 214-22; Gates Papers (Morgan to Will[iam Clajon], 26 Jan 81).
29. Hamilton, Papers, 2:529-31; Jefferson, Papers, 4:288-89; 5:360-62; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 20:321.


maturely, and they suffered heavy casualties. The Continentals punished Cornwallis with accurate artillery and small arms fire, and the Marylanders drove back the elite Guards Brigade in a bayonet charge before Greene broke off the action. British losses of nearly 50 percent crippled Cornwallis’ regiments as fighting units and ruined their morale. Greene then bypassed Cornwallis and moved against the British base at Camden, South Carolina. He gambled that operations in South Carolina would restore patriot morale and deprive the British of logistical support. Cornwallis chose not to follow, hoping to disrupt Greene’s base in Virginia before his own subordinates met defeat.30

In a series of engagements and maneuvers Greene gradually drove Lt. Col. Francis Rawdon and Lt. Col. Alexander Stewart into coastal enclaves. On 8 September he attacked Stewart’s camp at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina. Militia and irregulars led the attack, with the Continentals in reserve. The high number of relatively untrained recruits forced Greene to deploy into line too soon and the attack lost some of its momentum. When terrain and stiffening resistance slowed his advance, Greene committed his reserve in “a brisk charge with trailed Arms, through a heavy cannonade, and a shower of Musket Balls.”31 This maneuver routed the main British body. Broken terrain and casualties among key American officers, however, had disrupted many units, and Stewart was able to rally some of his men. Rather than risk defeat, Greene withdrew. Eutaw Springs left the British incapable of further offensive action in the south. Cornwallis’ gamble that his subordinates could hold the Carolinas and Georgia had failed.

While Greene was beginning his spring offensive, Washington had assembled his army’s light infantry companies. Each now had five sergeants and fifty rank and file. On 19 February 1781 he formed them into three battalions. Lt. Col. Elijah Vose’s battalion contained the companies of the 1st through 8th Massachusetts Regiments. Lt. Col. Jean-Joseph Gimat’s battalion included the remaining 2 Massachusetts companies, the 5 Connecticut companies, and the single Rhode Island company. Lt. Col. Francis Barber’s battalion began with the 2 New Hampshire light companies and the single light company of Hazen’s Canadian Regiment; on 22 February it gained 3 line companies and the 2 light companies from New Jersey. Lafayette took command of this Light Corps on 20 February.32

Benedict Arnold, in his new role as a British brigadier, had begun operating along Virginia’s James River in January 1781. Washington sent Lafayette’s light infantrymen south to trap him in a joint operation with French warships from Newport, Rhode Island. Shallow waters frustrated the first naval expedition, while a superior British squadron drove off a second. Lafayette’s Continentals remained in Virginia, however, even as British reinforcements from New York City and Cornwallis’ column from North Carolina arrived. Although Lafayette could not now defeat the British, Cornwallis lacked the mobility to catch him or to prevent the arrival in Virginia of General Wayne’s Pennsylvanians. Wayne reorganized his provisional units on 14 July into two stronger regiments, and the excess officers returned to Pennsylvania to re-

30. Tarleton, Campaigns, pp. 271-79; Charles O’Hara, “Letters of Charles O’Hara to the Duke of Grafton,” ed. George C. Rogers, South Carolina Historical Magazine 65 (1964):159-66, 173-79.
31. RG 360, National Archives (Greene to Congress, 11 Sep 81).
32. Wright, “Corps of Light Infantry,” American Historical Review, 31:459-61; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 21:169-70, 232-35, 253, 274. Lafayette had already commanded the Light Corps in 1780.

Henry Lee III
HENRY LEE (1756-1818) was a member of Virginia’s prominent Lee family who started his career in the Continental Army as a captain in the 1st Continental Light Dragoon Regiment and went on to raise the 2d partisan Corps. He earned the nickname “Light Horse Harry” while leading the latter unit in operations in the south in 1781. His son, Robert E. Lee, also had a distinguished military career. (Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1782.)

cruit.33 Cornwallis ended the summer by selecting Yorktown as the site for a permanent naval base.

While Greene and Lafayette gradually pressed British troops in the south into a few coastal enclaves, Washington planned a Franco-American offensive to recapture New York City. By June, when he called on General Rochambeau to march his expeditionary corps from Rhode Island, the Main Army and outposts contained eight brigades, Hazen’s regiment, two artillery regiments, the 2d Legionary Corps, and various special units.34 Including the light companies with Lafayette (about 1,300 men), the infantry portion of Washington’s force amounted to 61 field, 623 company, and 118 staff officers; 810 sergeants; 461 drummers and fifers; and 7,854 rank and file. The fact that the regiments remained 120 officers, 295 sergeants, 166 drummers and fifers, and 6,510 rank and file below authorized levels was discouraging. The artillery portion, with 91 officers and 711 men, was short 45 officers and 597 men; Col. Elisha Sheldon’s legion had 23 of 32 officers and 303 of 423 men. Rochambeau’s French corps added over 5,000 experienced, professional troops, in 4 two-battalion infantry regiments, 1 legion, 2 companies of miners, 6 artillery companies, and 1 company of bombardiers. These troops had participated in the important 1778 war games, which had tested the latest French military theories and doctrines. Washington also expected Admiral Francois, Comte de Grasse, to move up from the West Indies with additional troops and a large naval squadron.35

33. John Davis, “Diary of Capt. John Davis, of the Pennsylvania Line,” ed. Joseph A. Waddell, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1 (1893):5-7; Joseph M. Beatty, ed., “Letters From Continental Officers to Doctor Reading Beatty, 1781-1788,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 54 (1930): 159-61; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 21:254-56, 273-74, 421-24.
34. RG 93, National Archives (General Return, Main Army, June 1781). Lesser, Sinews, pp. 204-5, prints a variant of this return.
35. Quimby, Background of Napoleonic Warfare, pp. 233; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 22:86-87, 102-7, 10911, 116-22, 156-58, 207-9; Ludwig von Closen, The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig Von Closen, 1780-1783, trans. Evelyn N. Acomb (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), pp. 4-5, 92, 132.


WILLIAM WASHINGTON (1752-1810) was a cousin of the commander in chief who joined the 3d Virginia Regiment as a captain in 1776 and transferred to the light dragoons in 1777. During Greene’s campaign in the south he was the senior cavalry officer in the field. (Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1781.)

Washington and Rochambeau joined forces at Dobbs Ferry, New York, on 6 July. They were encouraged by the news that the frigate Resolue had reached Philadelphia with arms, clothing, medicines, and two million livres in cash. When word arrived that de Grasse intended to sail to Chesapeake Bay rather than directly to New York, Washington and Rochambeau then decided to attack Cornwallis rather than New York City. Washington took about half of the Main Army and all the French troops south. Maj. Gen. William Heath, assisted by Generals McDougall, Stirling, and Stark, remained behind to secure West Point and the northern frontier. He retained, in addition to various contingents of militia and state troops, the New Hampshire Massachusetts, and Connecticut infantry regiments, the Corps of Invalids, the 3d Continental Artillery Regiment, and the 2d Legionary Corps. Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris and allied logistical staffs, drawing heavily on cash supplied by France, handled the largest and most complex troop movement of the war with skill and dispatch. Washington’s shrewd use of deception obscured the change in plans from the British until they were powerless to intervene.36

De Grasse’s squadron turned back a British relief fleet off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on 5 September, completing the isolation of Cornwallis. Washington opened his headquarters at Williamsburg ten days later and began organizing the allied troops for siege operations. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, the senior American commander, took charge of the Right Wing of the allies. The six brigades of Continentals formed divisions under Lincoln, Lafayette, and Steuben, and formed the first line of the American wing. Virginia militia formed the second line. The Continental force amounted to 41 field, 355 company, and 66 staff officers; 547 sergeants; 272 drummers and fifers, and 6,412 rank and file. The militia contributed another 188 of-

36. Burnett, Letters, 6:208-11; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 22:236-37, 395-97, 401-2, 450-51, 501-2; 23:1112, 19-23, 25n, 33-34, 50-58, 68-72, 75-77, 104-7; RG 360, National Archives (Heath to Congress, 5 Sep 81); Victor L. Johnson, “Robert Morris and the Provisioning of the American Army During the Campaign of 1781,” Pennsylvania History 5 (1938):7-20.


ficers and 3,426 men. Rochambeau commanded the Left Wing, consisting of his own corps and some 3,000 troops from the West Indies under Lt. Gen. Claude Anne, Marquis de Saint-Simon Maublerce.37 The siege itself progressed rapidly and in accord with formal European procedures. Artillery fire crushed Cornwallis’ defenses, and on 19 October his troops marched out of their works and laid down their arms.

Plans to continue the offensive against other British garrisons in the south ended when de Grasse announced that his fleet had to return immediately to the West Indies. Rochambeau’s decision to winter in Virginia allowed the Continentals to split up. General St. Clair took part of them and reinforced Greene, arriving at Round O, South Carolina, on 4 January 1782. His troops consisted of two Delaware companies, the 3d and 4th Maryland Regiments, a provisional Virginia regiment, General Wayne’s two Pennsylvania provisional regiments and a third which arrived at Yorktown after the siege, and all available mounted troopers from the 1st, ad, and 4th Legionary Corps. Greene quickly regrouped the Pennsylvanians into two strong regiments, disbanded the 5th Maryland Regiment to fill the other four from that state, and transferred his own Delaware men to the new companies. Armand’s 1st Partisan Corps had to remain behind in Virginia because it required a more time-consuming reorganization, which began with the transfer of fifty men from the light infantry corps to serve as a cadre.38

The rest of the Continentals, with a few exceptions, marched from Yorktown under Lincoln and joined Heath in the Highlands. On arrival, the Light Corps broke up and the individual companies returned to their regiments for the winter. Hazen’s regiment escorted prisoners to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and remained there as guards.39 Lamb’s artillerymen, initially assisted by the sappers and miners, transported the heavy guns of the siege train and over two hundred captured British pieces to Head of Elk, Maryland. The captured guns were sent to Philadelphia to be overhauled by an artificer company. The field pieces were to accompany the troops to West Point, but Lamb’s regiment camped for the winter at Burlington, New Jersey, with the siege train. It did not resume its march to West Point until August.40

Washington spent the winter at Philadelphia in discussions with Congress. The Continental Army had successfully met the battlefield challenge during 1781. Greene’s army, Lafayette’s contingent, and the Franco-American force had completely altered the course of the war. Yorktown ended British hopes of overrunning the south and left the enemy with only footholds at Savannah, Charleston, and New

37. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 23:134-35, 146-47; RG 93, National Archives (Weekly Return, Main Army, 3 Oct 81).
38. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 23:193-95, 198, 200, 216-17, 248-50, 258, 266-67, 270, 292-99, 309-13, 317-18; RG 360, National Archives (Greene to congress, 23 Jan 82); Steuben Papers (Abstract of Musters for the Southern Army, 1 Apr-19 Sep 82); William Nine, “Extracts From the Papers of General William Irvine,” ed. W. A. Irvine, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 5 (1881):268, 274-7s; Archives of Maryland, 18:429-75; Palmer, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 2:127, 241, 582-85; Kirkwood, Journal and Order Book, pp. 27-30; Tuffin Charles Armand, Marquis de la Rouerie, “Letters of Col. Armand,” New-York Historical Society Collections for 1878, pp. 323-30.
39. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 23:290-91, 293-94, 323-24, 374, 25:110-11; James Thacher, Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army (Hartford: Hurlbut, Williams & Co., 1862), pp. 302-3.
40. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 25:58-59. The convoy for the 1782 move required 114 horses and 200 oxen to move the artillery park’s 39 wagons, 4 traveling forges, 18 howitzers, 16 fieldpieces, and 4 twelve-pounders. Lamb Papers (Knox to Lamb, 2 Nov 81 and 31 Jul 82; Knox to Washington, 30 Jul 82 [copy].)