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Cornwallis, Lord Charles 1738-1805

Military officer; born in London, Dec. 31, 1738; was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and entered the army as captain when twenty years of age. In the House of Lords he opposed the measures that caused the war with the Americans; yet he accepted the commission of major-general and the command of an expedition against the Carolinas under Sir Peter Parker in 1776. He commanded the reserves of the British in the battle on Long Island in August; was outgeneralled by Washington at Princeton; was with Howe on the Brandywine and in the capture of Philadelphia, when he returned to England, but soon came back; was at the capture of Charleston in May, 1780; was commander of the British troops in the Carolinas that year; defeated Gates near Camden in August; fought Greene at Guildford Court-house early in 1781; invaded Virginia, and finally took post at and fortified Yorktown, on the York River, and there surrendered his army to the American and French forces in October, 1781. He was appointed governor-general and commander-in-chief in India in 1786; and was victorious in war there in 1791-92, compelling Tippoo Saib to cede, as the price of peace, half his dominions to the British crown. He returned to England in 1793; was created a marquis; and appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1798. He negotiated the treaty of Amiens in 1802, and was governor-general of India in 1805. He died at Ghazipoor, India, Oct. 5, 1805.

In 1776 Sir Henry Clinton waited long [372] on the Cape Fear River for the arrival of Sir Peter Parker's fleet with Cornwallis and a reinforcement of troops. They came early in May and soon prepared to make an attack on Charleston. Clinton received, by the fleet, instructions from his King to issue a proclamation of pardon to “all but principal instigators and abettors of the rebellion, to dissolve the provincial congresses and committees of safety, to restore the administration of justice, and to arrest the persons and destroy the property of all who should refuse to give satisfactory tests of their obedience.” He was expressly ordered to “seize the persons and destroy the property of persistent rebels whenever it could be done with effect.” When the British forces were about to leave the North Carolina coast, Clinton sent Lord Cornwallis, at the instigation of Governor Martin, to burn the house of Hooper, a delegate in the Continental Congress, and to burn and ravage the plantation of Gen. Robert Howe. Cornwallis landed in Brunswick county with about 900 men.

Lord Cornwallis (from an English print).

and proceeded to his assigned work. In this ignoble expedition—his first in America—he lost two men killed and one taken prisoner. Clinton, in a proclamation (May 5), invited the people to “appease the vengeance of an incensed nation” by submission, and offered pardon to all, excepting General Howe and Cornelius Harnett.

Howe sent Cornwallis in November, 1777, with a strong body of troops, by way of Chester, to Billingsport to clear the New Jersey banks of the Delaware. Washington immediately sent General Greene with a division across the river to oppose the movement. Cornwallis was reinforced by five British battalions front New York, while expected reinforcements from the northern army were still delayed through the bad conduct of General Gates. The consequence was the forced abandonment of Fort Mercer, at Red Bank, and the levelling of its ramparts by the British troops. The leaders of both armies recrossed the Delaware, Cornwallis to Philadelphia and Greene to the camp of Washington.

Lord Cornwallis was left in chief command of about 4,000 troops when, in the summer of 1780. Sir Henry Clinton departed for New York. The earl, for the purpose of rooting out all signs of rebellion, sought, by cruel acts, to completely subdue the people through fear. He issued proclamations and instructions which encouraged hostility towards every patriot; and under these instructions his agents and the Tories committed many crimes. Tarleton and his legion spread terror in many districts. A quartermaster of his command entered the house of Samuel Wyley, near Camden, and cut him in pieces with his sword, because he had served as a, volunteer in defence of Charleston. Because the Presbyterians generally supported the American cause, they were specially singled out for persecution. Huck, a captain of the British militia, burned the library and dwelling of a Presbyterian clergyman in the upper part of South Carolina; and also burned every Bible in which the Scottish translation of the Psalms was found. Prisoners who had been paroled at Charleston were subjects of perpetual persecution under the immediate observation of Cornwallis, unless they would exchange their paroles for oaths of allegiance. An active officer was deputed to visit every district in the State, and procure, on the spot, [373] lists of its militia. Any Carolinian thereafter taken in arms might be sentenced to death for desertion and “bearing arms against his country.” Cornwallis never regarded a deserter, or any whom a courtmartial sentenced to death, as an object

Cornwallis's Cave.

of mercy. His lieutenant, Lord Rawdon, was particularly hard on deserters from his Irish regiment. “I will give the inhabitants,” he proclaimed, “10 guineas for the head of any deserter belonging to the volunteers of Ireland, and 5 guineas only if they bring him in alive.” To punish Sumter, who had commanded a Continental regiment, a British detachment turned his wife out-of-doors and burned his dwelling-house. These proceedings, and others equally atrocious, were approved by Cornwallis, who tried to crush out every vestige of independence in the State by requiring every able-bodied man to join the British army and take an active part in the re-establishment of royal rule. All who refused were treated as “rebels.” Then, under instructions from Minister Germaine, he determined to establish a system of terrorism that should wipe out every semblance of revolt in that State. He put military despotism in the place of civil law. He ordered all militia-men who had served in loyalist corps and were afterwards found in arms against the King to be hanged without mercy; and in this way many perished. He gave Tory leaders full license to execute these orders, and instantly murders and plunderings and the scourge of the torch everywhere prevailed. Property was wantonly destroyed by fire and violence; the chastity of women was set at naught; and Whigs, both men and women, cultivated and tenderly reared, were treated by the ravenous Tory wolves as legitimate prey to their worst passions. These measures created revolt and a thirst for vengeance, and when the partisan leaders appeared they instantly found hundreds of followers. Cornwallis soon found South Carolina too hot for him, and he was driven through North Carolina into Virginia.

After the battle at Guilford Courthouse (q. v.) Cornwallis marched towards the seaboard, satisfied that he could no longer hold the Carolinas. He arrived at Wilmington April 7, 1781, then garrisoned by a small force under Major Craig, where he remained long enough to rest and recruit his shattered army. Apprised of Greene's march on Camden, and hoping to draw him away from Lord Rawdon, the earl marched into Virginia and joined the forces of Phillips and Arnold at Petersburg. So ended British rule in the Carolinas forever. He left Wilmington April 25, crossed the Roanoke at Halifax, and reached Petersburg May 20. Four days afterwards he entered upon his destructive career in Virginia.

A few days after he reached Williamsburg, Cornwallis received an order from Sir Henry Clinton to send 3,000 of his troops to New York, then menaced by the allied (Americans and French) armies. Clinton also directed the earl to take a defensive position in Virginia. Satisfied that after he should send away so large a part of his army he could not cope with Lafayette and his associates, Cornwallis determined to cross the James River and make his way to Portsmouth. This movement was hastened by the boldness of the American troops, who were pressing close upon him, showing much strength and great activity. On July 6 a detachment sent out by Wayne to capture a British field-piece boldly resisted a large portion of Cornwallis's army, as the former fell back to Lafayette's main army near the Green Spring Plantation, where a sharp skirmish occurred, in which the marquis had a horse shot under him and each party lost about 100 men. Cornwallis then hastened across the James (July 9) and marched to Portsmouth. Disliking that [374] situation, the earl proceeded to Yorktown, on the York River, and on a high and healthful plain he established a fortified camp. At Gloucester Point, on the opposite side of the river, he cast up strong military works, and while Lafayette took up a strong position on Malvern Hill and awaited further developments, Cornwallis spent many anxious days in expectation of reinforcements by sea. In August, however, the Count de Grasse arrived off the coast of Virginia with a powerful French fleet, and Washington took advantage of this good fortune, and suddenly moved his army from the Hudson to the James, and invested Yorktown with an overwhelming force.

Finding escape impossible, and further resistance futile, Cornwallis sent a flag to

Mrs. Moore's House.

Washington, with a request that hostilities should be suspended for twenty-four hours, and that commissioners should be appointed on both sides to meet at Mrs. Moore's house, on the right of the American lines, to arrange terms for the surrender of the post and the British army. Commissioners were accordingly appointed, the Americans being Col. John Laurens and Viscount de Noailles (a kinsman of Lafayette), and the British Lieutenant-Colonel Dundas and Major Ross. The terms agreed upon were honorable to both parties, and were signed on Oct. 19, 1781. They provided for the surrender of Cornwallis as a prisoner of war, with all his troops, and all public property as spoils of victory. All slaves and plunder found in possession of the British might be reclaimed by their owners; otherwise private property was to be respected. The loyalists were abandoned to the mercy or resentment of their countrymen. Such were the general terms; but Cornwallis was allowed to send away persons most obnoxious to the Whigs in the vessel that carried despatches to Clinton.

Late in the afternoon of Oct. 19, the surrender of the British troops took place. Washington and Rochambeau were at the head of their respective troops, on horseback. The field of surrender was about half a mile from the British lines. A vast multitude of people, equal in numbers to the troops to be humiliated, was present at the impressive ceremony. Cornwallis, it was said, feigned sickness, and did not appear, but sent his sword by General O'Hara to act as his representative. That officer led the vanquished troops out of their intrenchments, with their colors cased, and marched them between the two columns of the allied forces. When he arrived at their head he approached Washington to hand him the earl's sword, when the commander-in-chief directed him to General Lincoln as his representative. It was a proud moment for Lincoln, who, the previous year, had been compelled to make a humiliating surrender to the royal troops at Charleston. He led the vanquished army to the place chosen for the surrender of their arms, and then received from O'Hara the sword of Cornwallis, which was politely returned to him to be restored to the earl. The surrender of the colors of the vanquished army, twenty-eight in number, now took place. Twenty-eight British captains, each bearing a flag in a case, were drawn up in line. Opposite to them, at a distance of six paces, twenty-eight American sergeants were placed in line to receive the colors. The interesting ceremony was conducted by an ensign (Robert Wilson), then only eighteen years of age. The troops then laid down their arms. The whole number surrendered was about 7,000. To these must be added 2,000 sailors, 1,800 negroes, and 1,500 Tories, making the total number of prisoners 12,300. The British lost, in killed, wounded, and [375]

One of the articles of capitulation, with Cornwallis's signature.

[376] missing, during the siege 550 men. The Americans lost about 300. The spoils were nearly 8,000 muskets, seventy-five brass and 160 iron cannon, and a large quantity of munitions of war and military stores. The French furnished for gaining this victory thirty-seven ships of the line and 7,000 men. The Americans furnished 9,000 troops, of which number 5,500 were regulars. On the day after the surrender Washington, in general orders, expressed full approbation of the conduct of the allied armies; and, that every soldier might participate in the general joy and thanksgiving, he ordered every one under arrest or in confinement to be set at liberty; and, as the following day would be the Sabbath, he closed his orders by directing divine service to be performed in the several brigades on the morrow.

News of the surrender, which reached England, by way of France, Nov. 25, 1781, gave a stunning blow to the British ministry and the Tory party in Great Britain. It was clearly perceived that final disseverance of the colonies from the mother-country was inevitable; that war could no longer serve a useful purpose, and that humanity and sound policy counselled peace. The King and his ministers were astounded. “Lord North received the intelligence,” said Lord George Germaine, “as he would have taken a cannon-ball in his breast; for he opened his arms, exclaiming wildly as he paced up and down the apartment a few minutes, ‘O God! it is all over.’ ” In deepest consternation he repeated these words many times. The stubborn King was amazed and struck dumb for a few minutes; then, recovering his equanimity, he wrote, in view of a proposition in the Parliament to give up the contest and allow the independence of the colonies, “No difficulties can get me to consent to the getting of peace at the expense of a separation from America.”

The city of London petitioned the King to “put an end to the unnatural and unfortunate war” ; and in Parliament a great change in sentiment was immediately visible. Late in February, General Conway moved an address to the King in favor of peace. A warm debate ensued. Lord North defended the royal policy, because it maintained British rights and was just. “Good God!” exclaimed Burke, “are we yet to be told of the rights for which we went to war? O excellent rights! O valuable rights! Valuable you should be, for we have paid dear in parting with you. O valuable rights! that have cost Britain thirteen provinces, four islands, 100,000 men, and more than £ 70,000,000 ($350,000,000) of money.” At the beginning of March Conway's proposition was adopted. Lord North, who, under the inspiration of the King, had misled the nation for twelve years, was relieved from office, and he and his fellow-ministers were succeeded by friends of peace. The King stormed, but was compelled to yield. Parliament resolved to end the war, and the King acquiesced with reluctance. Early in May (1782) Sir Guy Carleton arrived in New York, bearing propositions to Congress for reconciliation, and Richard Oswald, a London merchant, was sent to Paris as a diplomatic agent to confer with Franklin on the subject of a treaty of peace.

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