TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
RONDO - STAVE LXV
S T A V E
They skirted down the bank of the Cape Fear, hoping to find food, which the locals refused to provide. They foraged the best they could. The women, more expedient, plundered houses. Not that Cornwallis permitted it, but such the Effects of War. They licked their wounds in Wilmington, none more than the Guards – 379 rank and file – a mere battalion. O’Hara still in command . . . barely. He had collapsed at the Hoskins house after speaking of Elliot. Dr. Rush patched him the best he could. Luckily, the balls had passed clean through him, that, and the rain’s continual washing out on the field those two nights saved his life. He recovered slowly.
Webster, delirious, died at Elizabethtown. Guards officers Home, Maynard, Schultz, and Goodricke dead. Maitland and Swanton may not recover. Howard, his arm shattered, boarded a packet with dispatches for home. He was greeted by his Julia, never to return again and not ever a word of Mrs. M.
MacEachran and Elliot on the mend, Geordie with a Pirate’s scar and Tommy a hole in the back of his head – testament to the legendary Third Line action. So much so, it overshadowed the battle’s extreme right with Norton and 1st battalion in an equally desperate action. But O’Hara was not there and promoted Elliot to sergeant.
With the army on its back, after only 19 days, Cornwallis, like a tippler, chafed for action. What next? He wrote Sir Henry:
I am very anxious to receive your Excellency’s commands, being as yet totally in the dark as to the intended Operations for the Summer. I cannot help expressing my wishes that the Chesapeak may become the Seat of War, even (if necessary) at the expense of abandoning New York. Until Virginia is in a manner subdued, our hold on the Carolinas must be difficult, if not precarious. The rivers in Virginia are advantageous to an invading army; but North Carolina is of all the provinces in America the most difficult to attack (unless material assistance could be got from the inhabitants, the contrary of which I have sufficiently experienced), on account of its great extent of the numberless rivers and creeks and the total want of interior navigation.
I have, &c . . .
And now, to procure another army. He wrote to his friend, General Phillips commanding 4000 with Benedict Arnold in Portsmouth.
I have had the most difficult and dangerous campaign and was obliged to fight a battle 200 miles from any communication, against an enemy seven times my number. We had not a regiment or corps that did not at some Time give way; it ended however happily, in our completely routing the enemy and taking their cannon . . . I am, getting rid of my wounded and refitting my troops at Wilmington. Now my dear friend, what is our plan? Without one we cannot succeed, and I assure you that I am quite tired of marching about the country in quest of adventures. If we mean an offensive war in America, we must abandon New York, and bring our whole force into Virginia; we then have a stake to fight for, and a successful battle may give us America. If our plan is defensive, mixed with desultory expeditions, let us quit the Carolinas and stick to our salt pork at New York, sending now and then a detachment to steal tobacco, &c.
I daily expect three regiments from Ireland: leaving one of them at Charlestown, with the addition of the other two and the flank companies I can come by land to you ; but whether after we have joined we shall have a sufficient force for a war of conquest, I should think very doubtful. If no reinforcement comes, and that I am obliged to march with my present force to the upper frontiers of South Carolina my situation will be truly distressing. If I was to embark from hence, the loss of the upper posts in South Carolina would be inevitable. If the reinforcements arrive, I must move from hence, where the men will be sickly and the horses starved. If I am sure that you are to remain in the Chesapeak, perhaps I may come directly to you.
Most sincerely yours,
And then to Lord Germaine:
M Y L O R D,
I yesterday received dispatches from Sir Henry Clinton, notifying me that Major-General Phillips had been detached Into the Chesapeak with a considerable force, with instructions to co-operate with this army, and to put himself under my orders. This express likewise brought me the disagreeable accounts that the upper posts of South Carolina were in the most imminent danger from an alarming spirit of revolt among many of the people, and by a movement of General Greene’s army.
Although the expresses that I sent from Cross Creek to inform Lord Rawdon of the necessity I was under of coming to this place, and to warn him of the possibility of such and attempt of the enemy, had all miscarried, yet his Lordship was lucky enough to be apprised of Greene’s approach at least six days before he possibly could reach Camden, and I am therefore still induced to the hope, from my opinion of his Lordship’s abilities, and the precautions taken by him that we shall not be so unfortunate as to lose any considerable Corps.
The distance from hence to Camden, the want of forage and the difficulty of passing the Peedee when opposed by the enemy, render it utterly impossible for me to give immediate assistance, and I apprehend a possibility of the utmost hazard to this little corps, without the chance of benefit. For if we are so unlucky as to suffer a severe blow in South Carolina, the spirit of revolt in this province would become very general, and the numerous rebels be encouraged to be more than ever active and violent. This might enable General Greene to hem me in amongst the great rivers, and by cutting off our subsistence render our arms useless. To remain here for transports to carry us off would be a work of time, would lose our cavalry, and be otherwise as ruinous and disgraceful to Britain as most events could be. I have therefore, under so many embarrassing circumstances, resolved to take advantage of General Greene’s having left the back of Virginia open, and march immediately into that province to attempt a junction with General Phillips.
I have the honour to, &c.,
C O R N W A L L I S.
He got them moving on the 25th, no advantage to staying. Fifteen days to Halifax where they rested, his 1400 depleted even more with men sick; the spring always gives rise to fevers, an absolute deadly time of year; in Petersburg, Phillips had fallen deathly ill. Cornwallis would bring him out with six good bottles of claret – they would drink the first night through. So too, he’d rest his men; they deserved some liberties.
He entered Virginia like Moses, freeing every slave, who flocked to him by the thousands. Virginia in panic, they’ll be murdered in their beds. Nothing so crazed as dogs off the leash. Cornwallis now at 4000 with free labour for every officer and man: a subaltern – one Negro and two horses, captains – two Negroes and four horses and so on up the ranks. When they reached Petersburg, every soldier had a servant. Servants had servants; Mulattos, Sacatras, domestic Blacks, Hottentots. A merry, thundering band hunting down livestock for the army, sending the slave owners into the woods screaming. A Tartar cavalcade a Hessian officer called it. Enough runaways to fill a city, in all manner of display – wigs and silk breeches, churchman’s robes and tabs, some completely naked save for an elegant tricorns and banyans whose tails dragged in the dust. A pack train miles long with every sort of luxury, wagons full of furniture and household items, riding tack, farm tools, women’s gowns and corsets, barrels of liquor – as festive a march as could be had. But there were those who set themselves apart from the Foolery. Men that watched and carried guns. As the Foolery, itself, was part sham.
Upon reaching Petersburg, Benedict Arnold received Cornwallis; General Phillips dead. Lord Charles took command. Reinforcements arrived from New York. At last, he had an army again, 7000. But in Virginia, he had again come under Clinton. He read Sir Henry’s orders to Phillips: fortify and establish a naval base at Portsmouth and conduct raids. Ugh, that will never do. After all the fighting he’d experienced and with first-hand knowledge of the South, the Crown should keep as few posts as possible. Keep a large army, like he had now. Sir Henry hadn’t a clue. He knows nothing of hard campaigning. Enough with rall knowying Loyalists, worthless lot; the British Regular is inevitably alone at the sign of Trouble. Wage an Offensive War, he replied to Sir Henry. Virginia is the only colony where they can do it.
He departed Petersburg after four days, sending General Leslie with the Anspachers and the 17th Foot to Portsmouth to keep Clinton happy, then raced off on a Seek and Destroy of the Marquis de Lafayette who had Virginia’s only sizable force.