Monday, February 18, 2013


- The Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War, encompassed the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and East Florida which was occupied by the British.

Prior to 1778, southern colonies were mainly Patriot- controlled governing bodies and militias.  In late 1778, the British began their  operations in the south by capturing Savannah, Georgia.  In 1780, they achieved victory over two Continental Armies in both Charleston and one of the worst defeats in U.S. military history, General Horatio Gates, loss at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina.  However, the British were weakened by a large amount of casualties, unlike the Continental Army who's commander replacing General Gates, General Nathanael Greene, used the military strategy of avoidance as well as wearing the British down through casualties.  This strategy was used in the Battle of Cowpens, Battle of Guilford Courthouse and Battle of Kings Mountain.However, it was the victory at the Siege of Yorktown that resulted in the British Army's surrender and ultimately the end of British rule in the Colonies.

In the state of Virginia, there was the Gunpowder Incident of April 20, 1775.  Lord Dunmore who was  the Royal Governor of Virginia, in an effort to keep the Patriot Virginia militia from having necessary supplies,  took stored gunpowder from Williamsburg and had it relocated to a British warship on the James River.  However, Patriot leaders, such as Patrick Henry, caught on to this and would move supplies as Lord Dunmore continued his scouting for supplies.  Toward the end of 1775, Dunmore promised freedom to runaway slaves who would fight for the British and formed what he called his Ethiopian Regiment.  However, the Ethiopian Regiment, along with Dunmore's other troops were defeated at the Battle of Great Bridge , in December of 1775, by the Patriot militia. Dunmore was forced back to his Naval ships and never went back to Virginia.

The British needed to have possession of the port that enabled the shipment of supplies and men, in order to have control in the south.  They began by sending an expedition for the purpose of recruiting Loyalists in North Carolina.  However, late February 1776, the Loyalists that were meeting the expedition from Britain, were defeated in the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge.  

The British then attempted to capture Fort Sullivan, which guarded the Charleston Harbor.  Led by British General Henry Clinton and Admiral Sir Peter Parker, the naval maneuver failed due to poor strategy.  The failure to capture Charleston in 1776, gave room for the port to be used by the American forces until 1780.

Georgia Patriots tried defeating the British that were based in a garrison at Saint Augustine, East Florida.  It was a haven for Loyalists who ran from southern states.  Charles Lee was the first to make this attempt with the Continental Army, but he was recalled to the main army.  Then Georgia Governor Button Gwinnett and Lee's replacement, Robert Howe, made a second attempt in 1777, which also failed.  In the end, tropical diseases and command differences, resulted in the British holding Saint Augustine for the remainder of the war.

With the Continental Army suffering defeat at the Battle of Camden in August of 1780, British Army Officer, Lord Cornwallis, saw the opportunity to acquire Loyalists to add to his force.  However, the Battle of Kings Mountain which occurred on the border with South Carolina,  in October of 1780, resulted in the Patriot militia defeating a large number of Loyalists.  That significant defeat along with interruption of supplies and communications, forced Cornwallis to retreat to South Carolina for the winter.  It was a deciding factor in the Southern Campaign.

January 17, 1781 was another significant, pivotal battle for the Continental Army.  The Battle of Cowpen, under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, a great tactician assigned by General Greene.  It would be a turning point for regaining South Carolina from the hands of the British.  Morgan's forces were veteran's and many had fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain.  His brilliant tactics resulted in exhausting the British lines, more than half fell to the ground, not only from exhaustion but also hunger and what was termed as "combat shock."  The Battle at Cowpens lasted one hour. It has been considered one of the 'most complete victories of the war.'  After the disaster of the Battle of Camden, Cowpens lifted the spirits of the colonists of the South. 

The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse in center).

Cornwallis left his plans in South Carolina and went after General Greene's forces in North Carolina.  Conflicts occurred at Catawba River, February 2, 1781, but Cornwallis finally met up with Greene at Guildford Court House, March 15, 1781, Greensboro, North Carolina.  This battle is commemorated at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.  Greene was defeated, however, he moved into South Carolina breaking up British control of the South.  Cornwallis had moved into Virginia and tried merging with British Major General Phillips and American traitor Benedict Arnold.  That decision would lead Cornwallis to Yorktown and his surrender to Major General George Washington and Lieutenant General Comte de Rochambeau.

Battle of Guilford Courthouse, 15 March 1781
General Nathaniel Greene observed as the veteran en:1st Maryland Regiment threw back a British attack and countered with a bayonet charge. As they reformed their line, William Washington's Light Dragoons raced by to rescue raw troops of the en:5th Maryland Regiment who had buckled under a furious assault of British Grenadiers and Guards
Source: downloaded from Prints and Posters: Soldiers of the American Revolution, Center of Military History. Access date: June 1 2006.

NOTE:  According to the Department of the Army, Lineage and Honors, 116th Infantry (Reproduced in Sawicki 1981, pp. 227-229), 175th Infantry (Reproduced in Sawicki 1982, pp. 343-345) and 198th Signal Battalion, -  "Three current Army National Guard units (116th IN, 175th IN and 198th SIG) are derived from American Units that participated in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.  There are only thirty Army National Guard and active Regular Army units with lineages that go back to the colonial era."

Every year around March 15, the Revolutionary War fighting techniques are demonstrated in period costume.  Also, the movie THE PATRIOT, had it's final battle scene inspired by the battles of Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse. 

When Cornwallis moved into Virginia, General Henry Clinton was assigned making a deep-water port at Yorktown, Virginia.The Continental Army, led by the Marquis de Lafayette, followed Cornwallis.  The French and American armies, known as the Franco-American Alliance,  led the British to believe they were planning to attack New York.  French warships sailed from the West Indies and arrived at Chesapeake Bay the end of August, 1781.  In September, the French naval force defeated a British fleet sent to relieve Cornwallis at the Battle of the Chesapeake.  This cornered Cornwallis from escape by sea.  Washington and Rochambeau began marching with 3,000 American and 4,000 French soldiers, from Newport Rhode Island  to Yorktown, Virginia on August 19, 1781.  It would be known as the 'celebrated march.' When General Washington arrived with the Comte de Rochambeau in late September, 1781, they surrounded Yorktown, Virginia.  The French flanked the left side, American's the right.  Cornwallis was surrounded by army and naval forces.  Cornwallis asked for capitulation terms on  October 17, 1781. 

Si├Ęge de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, c.1836.[21] Rochambeau and Washington giving their last orders before the battle.

October 19, 1781, the official surrender of Cornwallis occurs with the surrender cemermony after two days of negotiations.  Lord Cornwallis does not appear at the ceremony, claiming he is ill.  Congress was notified of the surrender, celebrating for several day.s  Washington's army relocated to New Windsor, New York, remaining until the official end of the war on September 3, 1781 when the Treaty of Paris was signed.

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull, depicting the British surrendering to French (left) and American (right) troops. Oil on canvas, 1820.