THE later military movements in Virginia have been so frequently described and in such detail that a further prolonged study would be superfluous; yet a general account of the operations of the war cannot well be excluded from any broad narrative of the Revolution. After Dunmore's expulsion the offensive operations of the Virginia government ended. Its military activities were confined to furnishing supplies and troops for the Continental army, and it made little effort to provide for home defense. Militia organization actually became less efficient as the war progressed. There was need, too, for a mobile and trained militia. Virginia was not invaded for several years, but the Chesapeake was terribly raided by privateers through the entire contest and the Indians were always threatening and occasionally dangerous.
The Indian menace seemed great for a moment in 1776, when both the Creeks and Cherokees were carrying on hostilities against the borders of the Southern colonies. The arrival of a British force at this moment would have made the red men's assistance valuable; the British did not come and the Americans were able to put down the Indians. South Carolina roughly suppressed the Creeks, and the three Southern colonies then turned in concert against the Cherokees who were raiding Virginia as far as the Blue Ridge. Virginia sent out an expedition under Colonel Isaac Christian which traversed the wilderness far into the present State of Tennessee and endured extraordinary hardships. It met with no resistance, however, as the Cherokees were awed by the size of the force, and, after witnessing the destruction of some of their towns, sued for peace. Christian's raid made such an impression on these savages that they remained comparatively quiet for the rest of the war.
The English, absorbed in their efforts to conquer the North, had allowed their allies to be subdued without assistance. And so long as the towns of Philadelphia and New York and the line of the Hudson remained the British objective, little heed was paid to the South. It was only after Burgoyne had surrendered at Saratoga and Howe had evacuated Philadelphia that the new commander-in-chief, Sir Henry Clinton, began to meditate an attack on the prosperous and undefended South. Sooner or later a Southern war would lead to an invasion of Virginia, the chief Southern State and the natural base of supplies for armies operating in the Carolinas. The British harassed the Commonwealth with several severe raids before making it the scene of regular campaigns. Command of the sea gave them the option of selecting any point along the coast for attack, and no country could be more inviting to water expeditions than Virginia, with its deeply indented shore and its numerous broad rivers. In the realization of these facts, Clinton sent an expedition from New York in May, 1779, under Admiral Sir George Collier. The fleet anchored in Hampton Roads on May 9, and Collier, with Matthews, who commanded the troops on board, lost little time in attacking Portsmouth, where the patriots were encamped.
The rulers at Williamsburg had made a hasty attempt to meet the raid by calling out militia and holding two thousand recruits about to be sent to the Continental army. When Collier abandoned Portsmouth, they were sufficiently reassured to forward the recruits to South Carolina along with two troops of horse. The assembly passed a totally ineffective act for raising forty-five hundred volunteers by way of salving its conscience and gave the question little further thought. It did go so far, however, as to ask for a detachment of the French fleet to guard the unprotected Chesapeake waters. If this request had been granted, the State would have escaped losses from privateers and organized raids like Collier's which finally came to endanger the American cause. But the French fleet was kept at Newport, where it accomplished nothing, while Virginia was left open to assaults by forces of any size.
In October, 1780, a British expedition of three thousand men commanded by General Leslie landed at Portsmouth. Leslie was not primarily engaged in raiding, but in establishing communication with Cornwallis in the Carolinas, and his ravages were not widespread. After a stay of about a month at Portsmouth and Suffolk, he sailed for South Carolina to reinforce Cornwallis. Militia in considerable numbers had gathered to oppose him, but according to the customary hand-to-mouth method of the Virginia government it dispersed on the disappearance of the immediate danger. Collier's and Leslie's unopposed occupation of Virginia ports prepared the way for a much more serious enterprise; the State's evident helplessness encouraged the British to push raids into the interior. Clinton chose Benedict Arnold to command the next expedition, which entered the Virginia Capes on December 30, 1780.
Instead of stopping at Portsmouth as the British commanders had done previously, Arnold boldly stood up the James with his force of sixteen hundred men. There was no army to oppose him; the patriots had thrown up earthworks at points along the river, and the cannon at one of these, Hood's, fired on the flotilla, but this feeble resistance ended when Arnold landed troops. The traitor reached Richmond on January 5, 1781. When he had destroyed the military stores and the public buildings at the new Virginia capital, he fell back down the James. One detachment of the expedition, in attempting to ascend the Appomattox to Petersburg, was so vigorously opposed by General Smallwood with a body of militia that it gave up the enterprise. Simcoe's cavalry surprised and dispersed a handful of militia at Charles City Court-House. Arnold was ambushed at Hood's on his way down the river by George Rogers Clark, the Western hero, and suffered a slight loss. All in all, however, this small British expedition met with no opposition worthy of the name.
Arnold established himself at Portsmouth on January 20, 1781. He had come for no flying visit, but for systematic raiding; a reinforcement of two thousand men made him formidable. By this time the Virginia government had managed to bring four thousand militia into the field, pant of the force on the Rappahannock under Weedon, past under Thomas Nelson, Jr., at Williamsburg, and part under Baron Steuben at Cabin Point on the James. There was some prospect of assistance, too, since the presence of Arnold had called the attention of Washington and the French to the Virginia campaign. Desire to capture the traitor, as well as the necessity of preventing the destruction of the State's resources, led to a resolution to send a French fleet to the Chesapeake as a part of a joint military and naval movement. Lafayette was ordered to the head of the Bay with a detachment of the Continental army to be employed in the attempt. The plan of cooperation failed, owing largely to the blundering of the French. A squadron commanded by De Tilly entered Hampton Roads, but because of its small size the commander feared that he would be bottled up by the British fleet. Without attempting any maneuvers, he sailed back to the French base of operations, Newport, Rhode Island. All the same, the opportunity to capture Arnold was too tempting to be lost. The French admiral Destouches brought a second and larger fleet to Virginia with eleven hundred troops on board, commanded by Baron Viomenil, Rochambeau's second in command. Destouches's tardy movements frustrated the plan. The British admiral Arbuthnot reached the Capes ahead of the French and an action between the two fleets resulted in the latter's return to Newport for a second time.
This failure was attended with serious consequences. The militia had assembled in sufficient numbers to be of some service in a joint attack on Portsmouth with the French and Lafayette's Continentals. Colonel Parker was at Suffolk with the Nansemond militia and Lawson at Smithfield with nine hundred infantry and a troop of horse. Muhlenberg occupied Cabin Point with eight hundred infantry and Armand's cavalry legion. On the north side of the James, Nelson had gathered one thousand men. Muhlenberg, who commanded all these forces, aimed to prevent Arnold from escaping south to join Cornwallis by acting in concert with the North Carolina militia, and he might have succeeded if the French had held command of the sea. As it was, the English were reinforced after Destouches's debacle, and the American plan of campaign completely broke down. Instead of taking the offensive against the English, the patriots were not even able to offer a successful defense to a new invasion projected from Portsmouth. The British fleet had brought further troops and another commander, Major-General Phillips. Phillips was a rare specimen of that insolent, overbearing military type which had done so much to prejudice the colonies In the middle of April, 1781, Phillips went up the James River with the best part of his command. The James, which divides Virginia into unequal halves, was the main commercial highway and strategic line of the State. The chief towns were on it or near it, and the largest tobacco warehouses; to hold it was to control the greater part of eastern Virginia. Naturally, then, it was the center of operations for the campaign of 1781, both for Phillips's raid and the more serious movements of Cornwallis later in the year. Phillips turned aside to occupy Williamsburg and then proceeded up the Appomattox. Muhlenberg, with his militia, made some opposition to the British, who entered Petersburg on April 25, 1781, only after a lively brush. The invaders created havoc, burning warehouses at Petersburg and Warwick and the military supply depot at Chesterfield Court-House.
The main British objective was Richmond, where a quantity of stores again had been collected. Baron Steuben was now commanding in Virginia instead of Muhlenberg; he had only a handful of regulars and a small force of militia, but he made such resistance as was possible and succeeded in delaying the enemy's advance. Time was of importance, for Lafayette was rapidly drawing near with his Continentals. Though he had been ordered to Virginia originally for the attack on Portsmouth, which proved abortive, he arrived in season to be of great service in the defensive campaign now really beginning. The British reached Manchester on the south bank of the James opposite Richmond on April 29, just as Lafayette entered the latter place from the north. Phillips had the larger and better force, amounting to twenty-three hundred men, but the crossing of the river under fire was a somewhat hazardous operation and the English general allowed discretion to cool his ardor. He retired down the James to Westover after a raid of exceptional severity, in which Virginia suffered material injury. Lafayette followed along the north bank of the river, too weak to attack, but strong enough to oppose any attempt to cross. His presence was of importance, for it made impossible any wide dispersal of the British force for plundering.
Phillips, who was ailing, returned to Petersburg and died on May 13; Arnold succeeded him in command. The generalissimo in the South, Lord Cornwallis, was advancing from North Carolina to join Arnold and inaugurate a campaign in Virginia. Lafayette, though he longed to prevent the junction, could do nothing with his few troops. He wrote to hasten the movements of Anthony Wayne, detached with a further force of Continentals to aid him, and passed over the James towards Petersburg. The rival artillery carried on a cannonade across the Appomattox, but the Frenchman was in such a dangerous position with the broad James in his rear that he speedily returned to Richmond. He still hoped to be able to attack Arnold before the arrival of Cornwallis; he did not know that the latter had reached Petersburg before Wayne had set out from York, Pennsylvania, on the march southward. The situation of the patriots was now very threatening. Nathanael Greene, the American commander in the Carolinas, had refused to follow Cornwallis into Virginia and had taken the fateful step of marching South; the Old Dominion was left to such defense as might be devised. Cornwallis commanded a considerable and wellappointed army, especially strong in cavalry, while the only American force in the State of any consequence was Lafayette's small detachment of Continentals augmented by militia. The English general began his movements by advancing to the James, which he crossed at Westover. He reached Bottom's Bridge on the Chickahominy on May 28; Lafayette left Richmond on May 27, with the British near at hand. He was in no little danger; the enemy by an energetic use of their cavalry might have held him until the main force could come up. The marquis, appreciating his position, began a rapid retreat northward to join Wayne who was now known to be somewhere near at hand. Cornwallis wheeled in pursuit and paralleled the American line of march for several days, endeavoring to intervene between Lafayette and Wayne and bring the former to battle. On May 28, Lafayette crossed the South Anna and on May 30 crossed the North Anna and was safe. On June 10, Wayne met him on the Rapidan, with one thousand Continentals of the Pennsylvania line.
Cornwallis had given up the pursuit on June 1 and turned his attention elsewhere. He sent Tarleton on a cavalry raid to Charlottesville, whither the Virginia assembly had fled, and Simcoe to Point of Fork on the upper James, where the Virginians had assembled large military stores. Tarleton drove the assembly over the mountains to Staunton, but had no other success; Simcoe succeeded in frightening off Steuben, who guarded Point of Fork, and burned the stores. This was a serious loss for the bankrupt Virginia government. Meanwhile the American army, which had been increased by W Wayne to about four thousand men, was now strong enough to play with the offensive. Lafayette was no longer in danger from a cavalry attack and might even offer battle, provided he had exceptional advantages. At least, he could prevent further British raids of any consequence; Cornwallis must keep his troops well in hand in the face of a formidable foe quite able to cut off, detachments. Cornwallis fell back to the James River west of Richmond as Lafayette in turn advanced; on the latter's approach he turned eastward and passed through Richmond to Williamsburg. Lafayette followed, at first cautiously, but gradually with more boldness. Steuben joined him on June 19 with a militia array, raising his army to five thousand men, of whom two thousand were Continentals. It was too heterogeneous and badly equipped an army, however, to be lightly risked in battle, though as a check and impediment on Cornwallis's movements it was invaluable. The conquest of Virginia was impossible as long as it existed.
Lafayette's vigorous pursuit brought on several severe skirmishes with the British rear-guard. On one occasion Muhlenberg in the American van was set upon by Tarleton, but Lafayette threw his supports briskly forward and the dragoons retired. Anthony Wayne, who commanded the patriot advance, continued to press the British closely, fighting a skirmish at Spencer's Ordinary on June 26. On June 28, Cornwallis reached Williamsburg, where orders from Clinton met him. He was directed to send back part of his army to New York for Clinton's reinforcement and to take up a defensive position with the remainder. He thereupon moved south with the intention of going to Portsmouth; by sending his baggage across the James in advance of his troops he beguiled the Americans into believing that his army had already passed over. Intent on cutting off the rear-guard, Wayne pressed forward across a long causeway through the swamps which line the river near Jamestown. Cornwallis remained perdu until Wayne entered the trap and then confronted him with the whole British army drawn up for battle. For a moment W ayne's danger was very great. His force doubtless would have been overwhelmed, if Lafayette, on reaching the scene of action, had not promptly brought up supports, which were fortunately near at hand. Two battalions of Pennsylvanians created a diversion by charging the British center, thus giving Wayne the chance to withdraw. The affair at Green Spring was a sharply contested engagement, from which the Americans were exceedingly fortunate to escape without heavy loss. Tarleton later accused Cornwallis of sluggishness in not following up his advantage the next morning, and it does seem that the English general let pass an opportunity to dispose of Lafayette and bring his Virginia venture to a successful pause.
As it was, the campaign had been a failure in a strategic sense, though Virginia's economic resources had suffered greatly. Cornwallis established himself at Portsmouth, while Tarleton went off on a brief plundering excursion through southern Virginia more productive of outrages on the inhabitants than of injury to the American cause. Lafayette, with an army still intact and growing, took up a position at Malvern Hill, later famous for the battle fought there in 1862. Virginia could not be called conquered as long as a considerable American force still held the field; the State was weakened by a summer of marching and burning, but its resources were yet large. After a month of constant maneuvering Cornwallis had failed to bring on a battle and now held only the country at the mouth of the James. Indeed, the campaign, with the subsequent surrender, has drawn much hostile criticism on Cornwallis. That he was not a great strategist is true, but he was a competent tactician, and he gave the Americans more trouble than any British general. He organized a disciplined and mobile army with which he marched vast distances and fought a number of engagements, nearly always with success. His invasion of Virginia was inevitable if the British wished to secure their conquests in the South; the patriots in the Carolinas could always count on aid from Virginia, which was sometimes of prime value, as in the King's Mountain expedition. The occupation of Virginia would mean the subjection of North and South Carolina, as well as the possession of an excellent base for an attack on Maryland and Delaware. There were many possibilities involved, and the chief blame for the British downfall should rest with Clinton, who sought to control New York and the South simultaneously with a force entirely too small once the French appeared in the field. The policy of sending out expeditions from New York to attack distant points was feasible only as long as the British held undisputed control of the sea. Loss of sea command would mean the exposure of some outlying detachment to a FrenchAmerican concentration of overpowering size, and this was what occurred. Cornwallis happened to command the smallest and most vulnerable detachment and the blow fell on him.
The moment was an anxious one for the French and American commanders; the play was theirs, but the selection of the proper move was not so easy to determine. Washington had long cherished the idea of an attack on New York, but he now reluctantly abandoned this design. New York was difficult to approach from the sea and was heavily fortified and well garrisoned. He therefore turned towards Cornwallis, who held an exposed position on Chesapeake Bay far from the British bases at New York and Charleston. But a movement against Cornwallis would necessitate the cooperation of the main 'French fleet, then lying off Haiti, with the French-American army on the Hudson, and furthermore the quiescence of Cornwallis himself, who could fall back on Wilmington unless cut off by a land force.
De Grasse, the French admiral in the West Indies, agreed to cooperate and sailed from Haiti to the Chesapeake with twentyeight ships of the line and a large body of troops. In the mean time Cornwallis had moved from Portsmouth to Yorktown on the YorkJames Peninsula, which he considered more accessible to the sea. Lafayette remained at Malvern Hill until Cornwallis's movement to Yorktown caused him to break up camp and advance to the Pamunkey River. De Grasse sailed through the Capes on August 30. By this time Washington was on his way to Virginia, but still distant, and Lafayette was close at hand, but not actually present. It would seem, then, that Cornwallis erred in not attacking the French troops when De Grasse landed them at Jamestown, for his force was much superior. He did consider an attack after the French had joined Lafayette at Williamsburg, but found the venture too risky.
His fate was quickly sealed by the French naval superiority. On September 5, the British admiral Graves reached the Capes with a fleet not much smaller than the French. De Grasse at once put out to sea to meet him, and an indecisive engagement followed, resulting in the crippling of several English vessels. During the action a small French fleet from Newport slipped into Hampton Roads, and when the French and English ships returned to the Chesapeake, Graves found the balance of odds against him; he therefore returned to New York, leaving Cornwallis unrelieved.
But the latter had excellent chances of escape so long as he was blockaded on the land side by no more considerable a force than Lafayette's. His end drew near when Washington arrived at Williamsburg, on September 14, and the allied army landed from the transports which had brought them from the Elk River at the head of Chesapeake Bay. On September 28, Washington moved to the vicinity of Yorktown and the trap had definitely closed on Cornwallis. The Englishman had counted on British sea power until it became too late to escape from the peninsula. The movement against Cornwallis was one of the most brilliant strategical combinations of the eighteenth century. Any one of a number of accidents might have frustrated the plan. If the English fleet had held the sea against De Grasse, Cornwallis would have received succor; if Cornwallis had scented the danger and retreated south, the campaign would have ended fruitlessly. As it was, the cooperation between fleet and army was excellently timed in spite of the immense distances to be covered and the many possible interruptions, such as a sally by Clinton from New York.
With the allied army in position before Yorktown, the surrender was a question of time. There was intrenching to be done and siege cannon to be mounted and redoubts to be taken at the point of the bayonet, but these things were parts of the inevitable military performance preceding a surrender in those days. Cornwallis finally threw up the sponge on October 19, 1781. The war thus closed in reality on Virginia soil. The campaign had proved a critical one, and the French fleet and army were the decisive factors. Owing to the numerical inferiority of the British in the various fields of the war, the loss of this small army, which would not have been greatly felt under ordinary circumstances, secured the independence of America. The Whig Party, now in power in England, would no longer support a struggle which it had always opposed and which it looked on as a hopeless effort to bring back an irreconcilable part of the empire.