John William Kaye.

Lives of Indian officers : illustrative of the history of the civil and military service of India (Volume 1) online

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up Christmas somewhat freely, and the American General
found them in a helpless state of drunkenness or sleep. Corh-
wallis had by this time put his troops into winter-quarters,
and, believing that the operations of the season were at an
end, was meditating a visit to England, when news of the
enemy's success reached him at New York, and he at once
abandoned his design. Starting on New Year's-day from
New York, he reached Prince-town on the same evening,
took command of the British troops in Jersey, and advanced
to give battle to the enemy. Before nightfall on the 2nd he
had reached Trenton. The Americans evacuated the place,
and bivouacked on the opposite bank of a creek which ran
through the town. The night was spent by the two Generals
in reflections of a very opposite character. Cornwallis was
thinking how best to bring on a general action next morning,
whilst Washington, clearly seeing that the odds were greatly
against him, and victory hopeless, determined to escape under
cover of the night. He could not recross the Delaware, for a
thaw had set in, so doubled back towards Prince-town, hoping
to get into the rear of Cornwallis's army ; but in the thick fog
of the January morning he had the mischance to fall in with a
body of British troops, who gave him battle, and, in spite of
their inferiority of numbers, threw the American battalions
into confusion, and inflicted a severe chastisement upon them.
There were but two English regiments, and neither was nume-
rically strong ; so the advantage gained at the outset was not
followed up, and before Cornwallis could proceed to their sup-
port, the enemy had made good their retreat, had crossed the
Millstone river, and destroyed the bridge in their rear. It is
not necessary to pursue the narrative. The winter was ren-
dered disastrous to the King's party by the activity of Wash-
ington and the paralysis which had fallen upon Howe. Corn-
wallis received the especial thanks of his Sovereign ; but he
felt that there could not be a worse field of distinction than
that which lay before him in the American provinces.*

* I read with much pleasure your applauds the ability and conduct which

commendation of Lord Cornwallis's ser- his Lordship displayed, &c. &c. Lord

vices during the campaign, and I am to George Germain to Sir W. Howe, March

acquaint you that the King very much 3, 1777. Cornwallis Correspondence.


But the time had passed for him to proceed to England 177778.
during that winter; so the year 1777, almost to its close, saw
Lord Cornwallis in the command of his division. Of the h'ttle
that was done well during that year, he did the greater part.
Sir William Howe was an easy, good-natured, popular man ;
but his qualities were rather of a social than a military cha-
racter, and excessive sloth was the characteristic of the Bri-
tish army under his command. It was his habit to move
too late and to halt too early for any useful purpose. The
military annalists are continually reciting the successes which
were within the reach of the British troops, but which were
always abandoned just at the point of attainment. It is ad-
mitted, however, that Lord Cornwallis was more prompt and
rapid in his movements than the other British Generals, and
it appears that when there was real work to be done he was
ever the man to be sent to the front. He did the work well,
too as far as he was permitted to do it. One instance will
suffice to show the quality of the General. In the burning
month of June, it seemed to the English Commander that
circumstances were favourable for an attack on Washington's
force ; and Cornwallis was sent forward, in command of the
van of the British army, to give him battle. He had not
marched far before he fell in with the leading columns of the
American army. No orders were now needed from higher
authority, so Cornwallis flung himself upon the enemy with
so much impetuosity that they staggered at the first onset,
and were soon in a state of inextricable confusion. Leaving
behind them their guns and their killed and wounded, they
fled in disorder from the field.

But the winter came round again, and Cornwallis, disap-
pointed in the preceding year, was now eager to return to
England. Sir William Howe sent him home with a commis-
sion to communicate with the King's Government regard-
ing the general history and conduct of the war. On the 18th
of January, 1788, he disembarked from the Brilliant, and
hastened to embrace his wife and children. The joy of meet-
ing even then was clouded by the thought of the coming
separation. Brief was the time of absence allowed to him,
and there was much in that little time to be done. The
months of February and March and the earlier weeks of
April passed rapidly away in the transaction of business with


1778. the King's Ministers, in attendance at the House of Lords,
and in sweet communion with his family. The prospect before
him was not cheering. His sentiments were unchanged. He
had heard with reverential sorrow the dying voice of Chatham
lifted up in a last despairing effort to save his unhappy
country from an ignominious peace; but he did not the less
deprecate the causes of the war, or disapprove of the manner
in which it was conducted. He had seen everything going
wrong, when there was only an undisciplined militia to be
coerced by the best troops of the King, and now France was
lending her aid to the cause of American Independence. It
was true that General Howe, who had done so much to favour
the triumph of the rebels, was about to resign the command of
the King's forces in America. But the General's place was
to be filled by one whom he did not like so well as a man, and
whom he did not trust much more as a commander. So he
went to the place of embarkation, at the end of the third week
of April, in a state of sore depression of spirit, with nothing
but the one abiding sense of his duty as a soldier to sustain

Death of Lady His wife and children accompanied him to Portsmouth.
The parting was very painful, and Lady Cornwallis went
back to Culford utterly weighed down by the burden of her
grief. She had lived in strict retirement during the first
absence of her lord, and now she relapsed into her old soli-
tary ways, grieving and pining as one without hope, until her
health gave way beneath the unceasing weight of her sorrow,
and she said that she was dying of a broken heart. In this
piteous state, a strange fancy seized her. She desired that a
thorn-tree might be planted over her grave in the family vault
at Culford, just above the spot where her poor broken heart
would be laid, thus emblematising the fate of one whom the
" pricking briars and grieving thorns" had torn and pierced
in the tenderest parts of her humanity. This was to be her
epitaph. Not a word was to be graven on her tomb.

In the mean while Lord Cornwallis had rejoined the King's
army in America. He found that Sir Henry Clinton was on
the point of evacuating Philadelphia, and that there was small
chance of his ever being able to co-operate harmoniously with
his chief. He was now second in command, and he held a


dormant commission to succeed, in the event of Clinton's 1779.
death or retirement, to the chief command of all the forces.
It is not very clear what was the main cause of that disagree-
ment, which in time ripened into a bitter feud between the
two Generals ; but Cornwallis had been only a very few weeks
in America when his position was so unbearable that he wrote
to the Secretary of State, begging him to lay a humble re-
quest before his Majesty that he might be permitted to return
to England. The request was not granted. His services
could not be dispensed with at such a time; so he went on
his work. But the official answer of the King's Government
had scarcely been received, when tidings reached Cornwallis
that his wife was dying. The year was then far spent, and
the army was going into winter-quarters ; so he determined
to resign his command, and to set his face again towards Eng-
land. The necessary permission was obtained from Clinton ;*
and, in a state of extreme anxiety and depression, Cornwallis
put himself on board ship. In the middle of the month of
December he reached Culford. His wife was still alive ; but
all hope of her recovery had gone. It was now too late even
for his presence to save. She survived her husband's return
for two months, and then passed away to her rest.f

Then a great change descended upon the character, and in-
fluenced all the after-career of Lord Cornwallis. It is not to
be doubted that the bent of his natural affections was towards
a quiet domestic life, and it is probable that, if this great cala-
mity had not fallen upon him, he would have endeavoured to
detach himself from the public service. But all now was
changed. That which had been a burden became a relief to
him. He turned to the excitements of active life to fill the

* Clinton put the best gloss upon the which she had expressed to be buried

matter that he could. " The Army being with_a thorn-tree planted over her heart

now in winter-quarters," he wrote to the was complied with, and no name was

Secretary of State, "and the defences engraved on the slab which marked the

of the different posts assigned, I have place in the vault at Culford where her

consented that Lieutenant-General Earl remains were interred. Mr. Ross adds,

Cornwallis should return to England, that " the thorn-tree was necessarily

where his knowledge of the country and removed in March, 1855, in consequence

our circumstances may during this sea- of alterations in the church : it was

son be as serviceable as I have found his carefully replanted in the churchyard,

experience and activity during the cam- but did not live more than three years

paign." afterwards." Cornwallis Correspond-

f Lady Cornwallis died on the 16th ence, Ross.
of February, 1779. The morbid fancy


177980. void that was left in his heart and to appease its cravings.
After a brief interval of mournful retirement, he looked the
world again in the face, and tendered his services to the King
for re-employment in America.

The offer was eagerly accepted, and again Lord Cornwallis
was appointed second in command and provisional Com-
mander-in-Chief in America, He was now forty years of
age, in the very vigour of his manhood ; and if he was not
stirred by any strong impulses of ambition, there was not one
of the King's servants who was sustained by a higher and
more enduring sense of duty. Duty, indeed, was now every-
thing to Cornwallis. The wreck of his domestic happiness
had endeared his work to him, and that which had before been
submission to a hard necessity, now became, in the changed
circumstances of his life, a welcome relief from the pressure
of a great sorrow. Perhaps even certain painful peculiarities
in his situation were not without their uses in distracting his
mind, and breaking in upon the monotony of his distress.
Rupture with How it happened I cannot very distinctly explain, but the
Clinton. King's Ministers had assuredly placed him in a position which

rendered a conflict with Sir Henry Clinton sooner or later in-
evitable. As second in command, with a provisional commis-
sion to succeed to the chiefship of the army, it was not easy
altogether to keep clear of jealousies and rivalries ; but as the
King's Government had authorised him to correspond directly
with them, as though he held altogether an independent com-
mand, there was a vagueness about the limits of authority,
which was sure to create perplexity and to excite antagonism
between the two Generals. It is probable that Clinton foresaw
this, for he asked permission to resign. If there were, how-
ever, any bitterness of feeling in his mind, he veiled it with
becoming courtesy. " I must beg leave," he wrote to Lord
George Germain, " to express how happy I am made by the
return of Lord Cornwallis to this country. His Lordship's
indefatigable zeal, his knowledge of the country, his pro-
fessional ability, and the high estimation in which he is held
by this army must naturally give me the warmest confidence
of efficacious support from him in every undertaking which
opportunity may prompt, and our circumstances allow. But
his presence affords to me another source of satisfaction. When


there is upon the spot an officer every way so well qualified 1780.
to have the interests of the country entrusted to him, I should
hope I might without difficulty be removed from a station
which nobody acquainted with its conditions will suppose to
have sat lightly upon me." His resignation was not ac-
cepted ; and the two Generals were left, to be drifted, by the
first tide of hostile circumstances, into deadly collision.

But at no time did Lord Cornwallis dispute the superior
authority of Sir Henry Clinton, or fail publicly to recognise
that officer as his chief. He had not long returned to America,
when, having heard that Clinton proposed to carry Charleston
by assault, he offered his services to him, and sought permis-
sion to accompany the stormers. " If you find," he wrote, " that
the enemy are obstinately bent on standing a siege, I shall
take it as a favour if you will let me be of the party. I can
be with you in eight hours from your sending to me. I should
be happy to attend my old friends, the Grenadiers and Light
Infantry, and perhaps you may think that on an occasion of
that sort you cannot have too many officers. I can only say
that, unless you see any inconvenience to the service, it is my
hearty wish to attend you on that occasion. As it may not be
proper to commit to writing, if you should approve of it, your
saying ' Your Lordship will take a ride at such an hour' will be
sufficient." It may be doubted whether it was the duty of
Lord Cornwallis, holding such a commission as he held, to
volunteer for a storming party ; but it is very difficult to blame
a soldier who thus for a time forgets his rank, and sinks the
officer in the soldier.

But Charleston was not carried by assault ; and there was The battle of
General's, not Subaltern's, work to be done by Cornwallis. On Camden -
the 12th of May, the American General, Lincoln, surrendered ;
and early in the following month Clinton moved to the north-
ward, whilst Cornwallis took the command in South Carolina,
with his head-quarters at Charleston. Whilst he was debating
in his mind the course of future operations, news came that a
strong body of the enemy, under General Gates, were ad-
vancing to attack the British troops posted at Camden ; so he
hastened to join the army, and placed himself at its head. It
was plain that the Americans were in far greater force, but he
at once resolved to give them battle. On the morning of the


1780. 16th of August, Cornwallis and Gates found themselves within
reach of each other. The English General commenced the
attack, and, after a sharp conflict, totally defeated the enemy,
and took their guns, ammunition, and baggage. " In short,"
wrote the English General, " there never was a more complete
victory." But victories, in those days, however complete, did
not lead to much. After the battle of Camden, Cornwallis
determined to execute the design, which he had previously
formed, of advancing into North Carolina. But he had not
proceeded farther than Charlotte-town, when he found that the
situation of affairs was such as to preclude all hope of the suc-
cess of offensive operations. There was a scarcity of carriage ;
there was a scarcity of stores ; and, worse than all, there was
such a scarcity of active loyalty in North Carolina, that even
the most sanguine of generals could have seen but little bright-
ness in the prospect before him. The militia of so-called
" loyalists," raised in America, were not to be trusted. They
were as likely as not to forsake the standard of King George
in a critical moment, and go over bodily to his enemies. The
people who would have remained true to the parent State
were disheartened by the want of vigour with which the war
had been prosecuted by the King's Government, and found
that there was no safety for them except in adhesion to the
"rebel" cause. Whilst things were in this state, a serious
disaster occurred to a detachment of loyalists under Major
Ferguson, which dispelled all doubt upon the subject of the
comparative strength of the two parties in North Carolina ; so,
as it was now the month of October, Cornwallis determined to
take up a defensive position, and to place his army in winter-
quarters. He had himself fallen sick ; a severe fever had
seized him ; and he was incapacitated for a while for service in
the field.

During the winter months, Lord Cornwallis remained in-
active, with his forces, atWynnesborough ; but the advance into
North Carolina had been deferred, not abandoned, and his
mind was busy with the thought of the coming campaign. The
new year found him with restored health and renewed eager-
ness for action. It was scarcely, indeed, a week old, when he
wrote to Sir Henry Clinton that he w r as ready to begin his
march. But the new campaign rose, as the old had set, in a


cloud of disaster. A force of all arms, sent forward under 1781.
Colonel Tarleton " to strike a blow at General Morgan," re-
ceived itself such a blow from the American, that it reeled and
staggered, and was so sore-stricken that it never recovered
again. At the first onset the enemy's line gave way, and re-
tired ; but when the King's troops went in pursuit, the
" rebels" faced about, and delivered such a sharp fire that both
our Infantry and our Cavalry were thrown into confusion,
and were soon in a state of panic flight. The Artillery, after
the fashion of that branch of the service, stood to their guns,
and surrendered them only with their lives.

This disaster at Cowpens was as serious as it was unexpected ; Battle of
and, although it incited Cornwallis to redouble his exertions,
he never wholly recovered from its effects. When the news
reached him, he pushed forward with all possible despatch,
hoping to overtake Morgan ; but the American General had a
clear start, and was not to be caught. So Cornwallis planted
the King's standard at Hillsborough ; but, forage and pro-
visions being scarce in the neighbourhood, he crossed the Haw
River about the end of February, and posted himself at Alle-
manse Creek. There, at the beginning of March, he gained
tidings of the movements of the enemy under General Greene,
and was eager to give them battle. On the 14th, the welcome
news came that the enemy had advanced to Guildford, some
twelve miles from the British camp. The following morning
saw the army under Cornwallis pushing forward to meet the
American forces, or to attack them in their encampments.
They were soon in sight of each other. An hour after noon
the action commenced. The country, bounded by extensive
woods, was unfavourable to open fighting, and afforded little
scope for any complicated generalship. But the simple dis-
positions of Cornwallis were admirable, and the English troops,
among which, conspicuous for their gallantry, were the Guards,
covered themselves with glory. They were greatly outmatched
in numbers.* The American General had chosen his ground,
had disencumbered himself of his baggage, and had ample time

* In a letter to General Phillips, given on the morning of March 15, shows that

in Mr. Ross's work, Lord Cornwallis he had nearly two thousand men, and

says that the enemy were " seven times the enemy had about seven thousand,
his number." But his "present state,"



1781 - to concert his plans before the English had come within reach
of his guns. In short, everything was against the English
Commander. But his own coolness and confidence in the
face of these heavy odds, and the unflinching courage of his
men, made inferiority of numbers and disadvantages of position
matters only of small account. Throughout the long series of
military operations which preceded the disruption of the Ame-
rican colonies from the parent State, no battle was better
fought by the English, no victory was more triumphantly ac-
complished, than that which crowned this action at Guildford.
The Americans, disastrously beaten at all points, fled from the
field of battle, and when, at a distance of eighteen miles from
the scene, Greene was able to rally his disordered troops, he
found that he had few except his Kegulars with him. The
American historians admit that this was a signal illustration of
the steadfastness and courage of the English troops when
effectively commanded ; whilst the English annalists of the war
relate that nothing grander was seen at Crecy, Poictiers, or
Agincourt.* In this action Cornwallis was wounded ; but he
would not suffer his name to appear in the list of casualties.

But it was one of the sad and sickening circumstances of
this unhappy war, that when the King's troops gained a
victory and they were victorious in well-nigh every pitched
battle they could never turn IfTto account. In effect, it was
commonly more like a defeat. Regarding it solely in its
military aspects, no success could have been more complete
than that which crowned the day's hard fighting at Guildford ;
but it hurt the British more than the Americans. So shattered
and sore-spent was Cornwallis's little army after that unequal
contest, that to follow up the victory was impossible ; nay, to
fall back and refit was necessary. There was no forage in the

* Stedman, after describing in glowing by the British troops on that memorable
terms the victory of Guildford, says : day. The battles of Crecy, of Poictiers,
" History, perhaps, does not furnish an and of Agincourt the glory of our own
instance of a battle gained under all the country and the admiration of ages
disadvantages which the British troops, had in each of them, either from parti-
assisted by a regiment of Hessians and cular local situation or other fortunate
some Yagers, had to contend against at and favourable circumstances, something
Onildford Court House. Nor is there, in a degree to counterbalance the supe-
perhaps, in the records of history, an in- riority of numbers ; here, time, place,
stance of a battle fought with more de- and numbers, all 'united against the
terminal perseverance than was shown British."


neighbourhood ; there was no shelter. The troops were with- 1731.
out provisions, and the people in the vicinity were afraid to
supply them. Having done the best he could, therefore, for
his wounded, which was but little, he determined to fall back
to a more desirable resting-place. Three days after the battle
he marched out from Guildford. But he could find no con-
venient halting-place nearer than Wilmington ; so there he
planted his army on the 7th of April, and in no very sanguine
mood began to meditate the future of the war.

The prospects before him were anything but cheering. If Prospects of
it were true in tfiis instance that those who were not with the war '
him were against him, nearly the whole population of the
American colonies was now arrayed against King George.
There was but little loyalty left in the country, and that little
was afraid to betray itself. The colonists who would have sup-
ported the King's cause by passive submission, if not by active
assistance, were weary of waiting for the deliverance they ex-
pected ; and as his enemies were waxing stronger and stronger
every day, and with increased strength gathering increased
bitterness, it had become absolute ruin to be on the King's
side. But, hopeless as was the issue, the King's Generals
were constrained to continue the war as best they could ; and
to Cornwallis it seemed best to carry it into Virginia. u If,"
he wrote to Lord George Germaine, " it should appear to be
the interest of Great Britain to maintain what she already
possesses, and to push the war in the Southern Provinces, I
take the liberty of giving it as my opinion that a serious at-
tempt on Virginia would be the most solid plan, because suc-
cessful operations might not only be attended with important
consequences there, but would tend to the security of South
Carolina, and ultimately to the submission of North Carolina,"
And there were immediate considerations which rendered it
expedient that he should put his plans into execution without
any loss of time. " My situation here is very distressing," he

Online LibraryJohn William KayeLives of Indian officers : illustrative of the history of the civil and military service of India (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 51)