Front Page Titles (by Subject) C H A P T E R X X I: A short View of the Forces of the contending Parties • The Generals Washington and Rochambeau meet at Weathersfield • Attack on New York contemplated—The Design relinquished • Combined Armies march toward Virginia • Count de Grasse ar - History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution vol. 2
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C H A P T E R X X I: A short View of the Forces of the contending Parties • The Generals Washington and Rochambeau meet at Weathersfield • Attack on New York contemplated—The Design relinquished • Combined Armies march toward Virginia • Count de Grasse ar - Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution vol. 2 
History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations, in Two Volumes, Foreword by Lester H. Cohen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1994).
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A short View of the Forces of the contending Parties • The Generals Washington and Rochambeau meet at Weathersfield • Attack on New York contemplated—The Design relinquished • Combined Armies march toward Virginia • Count de Grasse arrives in the Chesapeake • Sir Samuel Hood arrives at New York—Sails to the Chesapeake • Naval Action • Lord Cornwallis attempts a Retreat—Disappointed—Offers Terms of Capitulation • Terms of Surrender agreed on • Lord Digby and Sir Henry Clinton arrive too late • Comparative View of the British Commanders • General Exchange of Prisoners
chap. xxi The additional weight of maritime force that appeared in the American seas in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one,1781 was  serious and eventful. In the view of every sagacious eye, this appearance portended events of magnitude, that might hasten to a decision, the long disputed point between Great Britain and the United States. The European nations considered the present period a crisis of expectation, and that the exertions of this year would either extinguish American hopes, or establish their claims as an independent nation.
Before the arrival of admiral Barras, the naval power of Britain in the American waters was much superior to any thing that had yet arrived from abroad, that could give assistance to the United States. The acquisition of strength, by the arrival of a squadron under the command of sir Samuel Hood, might have given an irresistible preponderance to the British flag, had not the count de Grasse fortunately reached the Chesapeake a few days before him.
There was now just reason to expect the most violent naval concussions would take place, between the Bourbon fleets and the still more powerful squadrons of Britain. They were soon to meet near the American shores, where they were destined to dispute the decision of an object, that, from the emulation of power, the long existing jealousies between two potent sovereigns, and the prospect of a new face of affairs from the resistance of America, equally interested the kings of England and France.
 On the part of Britain, their armies were bold, their troops well appointed, and the pride of conquest urged to prompt execution to insure success. The Americans, inured to fatigue, became disciplined from necessity: naturally sanguine and brave, conscious of the justice of their cause, and persuaded of the favor of Heaven, they were ready to engage in defence of their country and their lives, which they were sure would be the certain forfeit if defeated. Both, determined and valorous, and perhaps both equally weary of the contest, they might equally wish for some capital stroke of military prowess, some honorable action, which might lead to equitable and amicable decision.
In this attitude of expectation, hope, and uncertainty, of the two original parties, now combined with the strangers and aliens of different nations, who had adopted the ardor of conquest equal to their employers, nothing less could be anticipated than new scenes of carnage. The auxiliaries on the part of Britain, were the feudal vassals of despotic lords, the mere automatons of German princes, who held them as their hereditary property. The allies of America were Frenchmen, who had long felt the weight of the chains of Le Grand Monarque: they were commanded by polite and erudite officers, who just beheld the dawn of freedom rising on their native land.
 Thus the two armies finally met in the Virginian fields, the germ of the new world, the first British plantation in America; a state dignified for its uniform adherence to, and its early and firm defence of, the natural rights of mankind. Here they were to decide the last stake for the freedom of nations, a game which had been beheld with interest and expectation, by many of the officers before they left Europe, and which might eventually have an extensive influence, to enlighten and free the more enthralled parts of the world.
Previous to the junction of the French and the American armies, general Washington, the count de Rochambeau, and several other distinguished officers, had met and held a conference at Weathersfield, in Connecticut. In consequence of this interview, it was reported and believed for a time, that the combined armies would immediately attempt the reduction of New York. This was a favorite object with the Americans, who generally viewed the dislodgement of the British forces from that stand, as a measure that would expedite relief to every other quarter invested or oppressed by their fleets and armies. Accordingly, great preparations were made, and high expectations indulged through most of the summer, that the army under the immediate command of sir  Henry Clinton, weakened by detachments for the southern service, and no reinforcements yet arriving from England, would soon be driven from the important post of New York.
General Washington had neglected no argument to impress the necessity of immediate and vigorous exertions in all the states, to enable him to act with decision. He urged the expectation of the allied army, commanded by officers of the first abilities, of the highest military character, some of them of the prime nobility of France, and all ambitious of glory and eager for action. The disappointment they would feel if any languor appeared in the United States, was obvious; and every consideration was urged and enforced, that might induce the whole body of the people to aid in facilitating the measures adopted by the military commanders, which could not be executed without union and prompt decision in all the legislatures.
Preparations were accordingly made, and on the sixth of July, the junction of the French and American armies took place at White Plains. They soon after took a nearer position, with every preparation for, and all the appearance of, a formidable attack on the city. But notwithstanding the sanguine hopes of the Americans on this occasion, and the well founded apprehensions  of the British commander in chief, a combination of circumstances prevented an enterprise, which both the army and the people thought was not only designed, but had calculated that it would be effected without much difficulty.
Nor was this less expected by sir Henry Clinton, who had no idea that any system had been formed for the combined armies to move toward Virginia. He had taken every measure to obtain the most correct information: in this he succeeded: the letters of general Washington were intercepted. His dispatches taken by the agents employed for the purpose, were conveyed to New York, by which the British commander obtained intelligence which alarmed his apprehensions for the safety of New York, and led him to forget all danger in any other quarter.
While the mind of the British commander remained in this situation, a sudden reverse took place on the part of America: their measures were disconcerted, their operations slow; and for a time they appeared as indecisive in their determinations, though not so divided in their councils, as the commanders of the British troops. The energies of a few leading characters were not sufficient to control the  many in the several states, who in their present disconnected police must all be consulted.
In spite of the exertions and the zeal of individuals, the requisitions from the respective states came in for some time but slowly. Many of those which were sent on to complete the battalions, were very far from being strong, effective men. Some companies appeared to be a rabble of boys; others, very unfit for immediate service; and the numbers far short of the calculations in the British camp, where imagination had multiplied them almost to a Russian army.
In short, it was found that it was impossible to establish an army at a call, fit for duty at the moment of their entrance in the field. Nor was it less difficult, in the existing circumstances of the infant republic, to provide at once for the exigencies which the magnitude of military enterprise at this time required. The design, if it ever was really intended, of assaulting that post and reducing New York, was a second time relinquished. The apprehensions of sir Henry Clinton, that a similar enterprise would have been attempted the preceding winter, had not continued long, before other objects intervened, which opened new views to both the British and American commanders.
 A different system was adopted from that expected by both sides, on the opening of the summer campaign. This might probably have been owing in part to the information recently given by colonel Laurens, who had lately arrived from France. He had immediately repaired to the southward, and reached the headquarters of the combined army in the month of August. The most interesting part of this intelligence was, that an alliance had been renewed between the emperor of Germany and the king of Great Britain; that the emperor had sent out a considerable reinforcement to the aid of the British commanders in America, and that additional troops were to follow; that this had greatly encouraged the court of Britain, and was not a pleasing circumstance to France.
It yet remains doubtful, whether it was a stroke of generalship, or the necessity of taking new ground, that induced the count de Rochambeau and general Washington, secretly to draw off most of the continental and French troops, at a period when they momently expected orders for an attack on the city of New York. It is success oftener than judgment, that crowns the military character: and as fortune followed their footsteps, few, if any, doubted the superiority of genius that dictated the measure. The movement was sudden, and the march rapid. The combined army crossed the North River on the twenty-fourth of August:  they moved on hastily to Philadelphia; and by a difficult and fatiguing route, reached Williamsburg in Virginia on the fourteenth of September.
Sir Henry Clinton, apprehensive only for New York, had not the smallest suspicion of this manoeuvre. By the address of a few Americans left behind for that purpose, every appearance of an attack on New York was for a time kept up. The deception was so complete, and the manoeuvres of the American commander so judicious, that the British themselves acknowledged, their own was fairly outgeneralled. The illusion was so well calculated for the purpose, that its effects were fully adequate to the design: the British commander continued his diligence in preparing for the reception of the combined armies.
The intelligence, at this time, of an alliance between his Britannic majesty and the emperor of Germany, and the arrival of two or three thousand German troops, gave an exhilaration of spirits to the city, to the soldiers, and to the general, who, from the protraction of the illusion without, had the highest reason to expect, the assault of their works would not much longer be delayed by the Americans. Though general Clinton had received intelligence that  the French squadron had left Rhode Island, he did not yet dream that they were destined to the Chesapeake, or that Washington and Rochambeau had adopted a new system. It was long before he could be persuaded to believe, that they were concentrating their forces, and moving southward, with design effectually to defeat all farther attempts on Virginia, and stop the progress of the British arms in the Carolinas.
It was indeed too long for the interest of the crown of Great Britain, before sir Henry Clinton could prevail with himself to look beyond the defence of New York. But when he found the allied armies had in reality marched toward Virginia, he did not neglect his duty. He countermanded the orders to lord Cornwallis, of sending a part of his troops to New York, and made all possible preparations to support him. He sent on a fresh detachment of troops, and made arrangements to follow them himself, with a hope of being timely enough for the relief of his lordship.
In the mean time, the fortunate arrival of the count de Grasse in the Chesapeake, hastened the decision of important events. A short passage from the West Indies transported the French fleet under his command safely to the Capes of Virginia, where they arrived on the thirtieth of August. No intelligence of his near approach  had reached the British quarters; nor could any thing have been more unexpected to the British naval commander, sir Samuel Hood, who arrived soon after in the Chesapeake, than to find a Gallic squadron of twenty-eight sail lying there in perfect security.
Commodore Hood, who arrived from the West Indies soon after the middle of August, with near twenty sail of the line, joined the squadron under admiral Graves before New York. He was solicitous to have sailed immediately to the Chesapeake, with all the naval strength that was not necessary to be left for the defence of New York. But an unaccountable delay took place, which in his opinion could not be justified; and however it counteracted his inclination, it was too late before he sailed. He did not reach the Chesapeake until the fifth of September, six days after the arrival there of the count de Grasse. The French fleet had not been discovered by the British commander, nor had he gained any intelligence that de Grasse was on the American coast, until the morning of the fifth of September, when the English observed them in full view within Cape Henry.
Nothing could have been more mortifying to a man of the spirit and enterprise of sir Samuel Hood, than to find so respectable a French fleet had arrived in the Chesapeake before him. The  national rivalry, prejudices, and hatred, of the British commanders, and the gallant English seamen, could not be suppressed on such an occasion. These were a strong stimulus to immediate action, which had their full effect. The pride and valor of a renowned British commander could not admit of the smallest delay; and the boldness of English seamen urged all with the utmost alacrity to prepare for an engagement.
The British maritime force that had now arrived, was nearly equal to the French squadron under the count de Grasse. Both fleets immediately moved, and a spirited action ensued: equal gallantry was exhibited, but neither side could boast of victory. The ships on both sides were considerably injured, and one British seventy-four rendered totally unfit for service; to this they set fire themselves. The loss of men was on the usual average of naval action. The English indeed were not beaten, but the French gained a double advantage; for while the count de Grasse remained at a distance, watched by the British navy, he secured the passage of the count de Barras from Rhode Island, and gained to himself the advantage of first blocking up the Chesapeake. The count de Barras brought with him the French troops from Rhode Island, amounting to about three thousand men. These joined the marquis la Fayette, whose numbers had been greatly reduced. This reinforcement  enabled him to support himself by defensive operations, until, in a short time, they were all happily united under the command of the valiant Rochambeau.
The British fleet continued a few days in the Chesapeake. Their ships were much injured; and in a council of war it was determined to be necessary for the whole fleet to return to New York, to refit and prepare for a second expedition. This they had reason to flatter themselves would be more successful, as they were sure of a great acquisition of strength on the arrival of lord Digby, who was hourly expected with a reinforcement from England.
While sir Henry Clinton remained in suspense with regard to the operations in the Chesapeake, his anxiety prompted him to endeavour to obtain immediate intelligence. He had no suspicion that he should receive this by the return of admiral Graves, and the respectable squadron under his command; and before the untoward circumstances which occasioned this had reached New York, his impatience had urged him to send on a gallant officer with letters to lord Cornwallis. Major Cochran executed this business at no small hazard. The British fleet had left the Capes of Virginia before his arrival; but at every risk, he ran through the whole French fleet in an open boat. He landed safely, delivered his dispatches, and  immediately had his head shot off by a cannonball. Thus this unfortunate officer had not a moment to rejoice in the success of his bravery.
After the return of the fleet of New York, it might reasonably have been expected, that sir Henry Clinton would have acted with more decision and energy. Previous to this unfortunate transaction, it had been determined in a council of war, to send five thousand men to the aid of lord Cornwallis. But the spirit of delay still pervaded the mind of the British commander: he thought proper yet further to postpone this wise measure, from a motive which he doubtless considered justifiable. This was, to wait a little longer for the arrival of admiral Digby; whose junction with the forces already in New York, he judged would insure victory over the combination of France and America, both by sea and land.
Flattering letters were again sent on to lord Cornwallis; but promises and distant expectations were far from being adequate to the relief of a mind borne down by disappointment, and the failure of the means of supporting his own military character. He was also sensible, that the dignity of command, and the royal cause, were suffering by delay, indecision, and, as he thought, from less justifiable motives. He was exhorted to hold out till about the twelfth of October, when sir Henry Clinton thought it  probable he might receive assistance, if no unavoidable accident should take place; or at farthest by the middle of November. At the same time, he intimated, that if his lordship should be reduced to the utmost extremity, before the arrival of reinforcements, he himself would endeavour to make a diversion by an attack on Philadelphia, in order to draw off a part of Washington’s army. * These all appeared to lord Cornwallis, very indigested, absurd, and inconsistent ideas. He immediately informed sir Henry Clinton, that he saw no means of forming a junction with him, but by York River, and that no meditated diversion toward Philadelphia, or any where else, could be of any use.
Lord Digby however arrived at New York on the twenty-ninth of September. One of the princes † of the blood had taken this opportunity to visit America, probably with a view of sovereignty over a part, or the whole of the conquered colonies. This was still anticipated at the court of St. James: and perhaps, in the opinion of the royal parents, an American establishment might be very convenient for one of their numerous progeny.
 Lord Digby was several days detained at New York, before arrangements were made for the embarkation of the troops to reinforce lord Cornwallis, and for the sailing of the mighty naval armament for the Chesapeake. In the mean time, sir Henry Clinton busied himself in writing letters full of specious promises, as if artfully designed to buoy up the hopes of lord Cornwallis, by strong assurances that no time should be lost in sending forward a force sufficient for his relief. He informed him, that a fleet under the command of lord Digby, who had recently arrived at New York, would sail for the Chesapeake by the fifth of October; that himself was nearly ready to embark with a large body of troops; and in the most sanguine terms, exhorted his lordship to endeavour to keep his opponents in play, and to hold out against every discouragement, until he should receive the needful assistance, which another British fleet, and the addition of a body of troops headed by himself, would secure.
These flattering assurances and pressing entreaties from the commander in chief, induced lord Cornwallis to evade a general action. It was his opinion, that when the combined troops arrived, he could only attempt the defence of York-Town. He was posted there by general Clinton’s express orders, contrary to his own judgment. He had always (as has been before observed) thought this an ineligible situation,  and far from being long defensible, without much larger reinforcements both by land and sea, than he had reason to expect would arrive seasonably.
His situation had been for some time truly distressing. Embarrassed between his own opinion and the orders of his superior in command, flattered by the promise of timely relief, and that in such force as to enable him to cope with the united armies of France and America, he thought it his duty to wait the result, and not suffer himself to be impelled by contingent circumstances, to risk his army beyond the probability of success. This prevented any advance to action, at the same time that it forbid his endeavouring to retreat from Virginia, until too late, when he had only to wait suspended between hope and fear, the uncertain chances of war. He acknowledged afterwards, that had he seasonably retired toward Carolina, though the attempt would have been difficult, he might have saved his army from their impending fate.
Though the courage and the inclination of lord Cornwallis might prompt him in his present circumstances, to lead out his troops and hazard an engagement in the open field, yet his judgment or his prudence could not justify the risk, while he had the smallest hopes, that a few  days might place him in a situation to combat on more equal terms. His destiny often marked by disappointment, he had at the same time much reason to despair of a successful termination of the campaign, even if the forces from New York should arrive in season. Yet, he observed to sir Henry Clinton, that
if he had no hopes of relief, he should rather risk a general action, than attempt to defend his half-finished works. But, as you say Digby is hourly expected, and promise every exertion to assist me, I do not think myself justified in putting the fate of the war on so desperate an attempt.
The British commander was fully apprised of the difficulties that would attend his armament under existing circumstances, even if the troops from New York should arrive before his fate was decided. The mouth of the river was blocked up by a very large French fleet; the American army in high health and spirits, strengthened by daily recruits, led on by Washington, in whom they had the highest confidence, in conjunction with a fine army of Gallicans, headed by the count de Rochambeau, an officer of courage, experience, and ability, were making rapid advances. On the twenty-eighth of September they had left Williamsburgh, and on the sixth of October they opened their trenches before York-Town.
 His lordship determined however, notwithstanding the choice of difficulties that pressed upon him, to make the best possible defence. His army was worn down by sickness and fatigue, but there was no want of resolution or valor; his officers were intrepid, and his men brave. They acquitted themselves with spirit; and kept their ground from the sixth to the sixteenth of October; when they became convinced, that the abilities and the experience of the count de Rochambeau, the cool equanimity of general Washington, and the vigor and valor of their officers and troops, rendered the united army irresistible in the present situation of their opponents.
Lord Cornwallis had now only to choose between an immediate surrender or an effort to escape, and save a part of his army by flight. He contemplated either a retreat southward, or an endeavour to force his way through the states between Virginia and New York, to join general Clinton. But, equally hazardous, he determined on the last expedient. For this purpose, he with the utmost secrecy, passed in the night of the sixteenth, the greatest part of his army from York-Town to Gloucester, leaving only a detachment behind to capitulate for the town’s people, the sick, and the wounded.
But fortune did not favor the enterprise. It is true the boats had an easy passage, but at the  critical moment of landing his men, his lordship observed, that
the weather suddenly changed from moderate and calm, to a violent storm of rain and wind, that carried the boats down the river, with many of the troops who had not time to disembark. It was soon evident, that the intended passage was impracticable; and the absence of the boats rendered it equally impossible to bring back the troops that had passed, which I had ordered about two in the morning.*
Here the serious mind will naturally reflect, how often the providential interference of the elements defeat what appears to be the most judicious design of the short-sighted creature, man.
The state of lord Cornwallis’s mind at this time, the insurmountable difficulties of his situation previous to his surrender, and the subsequent consequences, may be seen at large in his letter to sir Henry Clinton, dated October twenty-first, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one. *
In this letter he details the circumstances of his disappointment, in the last mode adopted for the safety of his army. It has been observed, that his troops were dispersed by the storm  by which the boats were driven down the river, though some of them returned to York-Town the ensuing day. Desperate as was the situation of the British troops, a feint of resistance was still made, by an order to lieutenant colonel Abercrombie, to sally out with four hundred men, to advance, attack, and spike the cannon of two batteries which were nearly finished. This excursion was executed with spirit and success, but attended with no very important consequences.†
The combined armies of France and America had continued their vigorous operations without the smallest intermission, until prepared for the last assault on the town, which they began at the dawn of the morning after the circumstances above related had taken place. In this hopeless condition, his own works in ruins, most of his troops sick, wounded, or fatigued, and without rational expectation of relief from any quarter, the British commander found it necessary, in order to escape the inevitable consequences  of further resistance, to propose terms of submission.
Lord Cornwallis, confident of the humanity and politeness of his antagonists, made proposals on the seventeenth to the commanders of the combined army, for a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours. This was granted: but toward the expiration of the term, general Washington, in a letter to the British commander, acquainted him, that desirous to spare the farther effusion of blood, he was ready to listen to such terms of surrender as might be admissible; and that he wished, previous to the meeting of any commissioners for that purpose, to have his lordship’s proposals in writing. At the same time he informed lord Cornwallis, that after the delivery of this letter, only two hours of suspension of hostilities would be granted for consideration.
The time limited being thus short, the British commander, without a detail of many particulars, proposed terms of capitulation in a very concise manner.
General Washington, equally perspicuous and decisive, in a few words intimated to his lordship the only terms that would be accepted: that if his proposals were rejected, hostilities would be re-commenced within two hours of the delivery of those terms.
 In consequence of these negociations between the commanders, commissioners were immediately appointed to prepare and digest the articles of capitulation. It is not easy to conceive or to relate the mortification his lordship must have felt, at seeing his troops conquered by superior prowess and good fortune, and laying down their arms at the feet of the victorious Washington. This chagrin was undoubtedly much heightened, by the necessity of submitting to terms imposed in conjunction with the servants of a rival power, whom the kings of Great Britain, and the nation they govern, had viewed for many centuries with hatred and detestation.
The gentlemen appointed on the part of America to draw up the articles of capitulation, were the count de Noailles, a French nobleman who had served as an officer in the defence of the United States for a considerable time, and colonel John Laurens, a distinguished character, a son of the unfortunate ambassador who had been deputed to negociate in behalf of America at the Hague, but at this time was confined in the tower of London, and very severely treated.
The singularity of some circumstances relative to this gentleman, cannot be passed over unnoticed in this place. He was suffering a rigorous imprisonment in England: he had presented a  petition for some amelioration of the severities exercised against him; this was rejected; his veracity disputed by the minister; and his detention justified by lord Mansfield, as legal, politic, and necessary, to prevent the accomplishment of his pernicious projects.*
By a strange concurrence of events, the earl Cornwallis, constable of the tower of London, was now on the point of becoming a prisoner, and submitting to articles of surrender for himself and his army, under the dictation of the son of Mr. Laurens, the same gentleman heretofore alluded to, when an attempt was made by the British administration, to corrupt the integrity of both father and son. By the capitulation, his lordship was reduced to the humiliating condition of a prisoner to the American congress, while the father of colonel Laurens remained shut up in the tower, a prisoner to the captured earl.
However, as soon as circumstances permitted, an interchange of prisoners took place. The noble lord, who with his army fell into the hands of the American commander, was restored to liberty by an exchange for Mr. Laurens, who had long languished in the tower of London. The court of Britain had before rejected  the proposal that Mr. Laurens should be exchanged for general Burgoyne; but they were soon after this glad to receive an officer of equal rank to almost any in the nation, in exchange for the American minister.
A detail of the particular articles of capitulation may not be necessary; for them the reader is referred to the Appendix:* it is enough to observe at present, that the British army was permitted only the same honors of war, that lord Cornwallis had granted the Americans on the surrender of Charleston the preceding year. The officers were allowed their side-arms, but the troops marched with their colors cased, and made their submission to general Lincoln, precisely in the same manner his army had done to the British commander, a few months before.
Here we cannot but pause a moment, to reflect on the vicissitudes of human life, the accidents of war, or rather the designations of Providence, that one day lift to the pinnacle of human triumph, and another, smite the laurel from the brow of the conqueror, and humble the proud victor at the feet of his former prisoner.
 As general Lincoln had recently felt the mortification of yielding himself and his troops into the hands of the royal army, he was selected to conduct the military parade, and receive the submission of the British veterans. This might be thought by some, to wear rather too much the air of triumph; but it was judged a kind of compensation for his own military misfortunes, while it might call into exercise the feelings of benevolence. These ever operate more strongly on the human character from the experience of sufferings, except in such ferocious minds as are actuated only by the principles of revenge.
This was far from being the spirit of Americans; their victories were generally accompanied with so much moderation, that even their enemies acknowledged their generosity. General Burgoyne and others had often done this; and lord Cornwallis now expressed both pleasure and surprise, at the civility, kindness, and attention, shewn by the victor to the vanquished foe. In a letter to sir Henry Clinton, after mentioning the Americans in very handsome terms, his lordship observed, that
he could not describe the delicate sensibility of the French officers on this occasion; and that he hoped their conduct would make an impression in the breast of every British officer, when the fortune of war might again put any  prisoners, either American or French, in the power of that nation.
Thus terminated the efforts of administration to reduce the United States, by first conquering the southern colonies. On the nineteenth of October, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, a second British army yielded themselves prisoners to the confederated states of America. The humiliation of the present captured army, as above observed, was enhanced by the circumstances that made it necessary for the British battalions, to bow beneath the banners of their hereditary enemies of France, in conjunction with the stars of America.* One of these armies, before its capture, had ostentatiously anticipated the conquest of the north; the other had enjoyed the cruel triumph of devastation and spoil, through the warmer latitudes of the south.
With incredible fatigue and fortitude, and no less zeal and havoc, had the British army, and the royal partisans belonging to the American states who had joined them, harassed and spread terror and desolation for many months, from the borders of Georgia to the extremities of Virginia.
 Within five days after the surrender of all the posts that had been held by lord Cornwallis, a British fleet from New York, under the command of lord Digby, with sir Henry Clinton and seven thousand troops on board, entered the bay of Chesapeake in full confidence of success; but to their inexpressible mortification, they had only to appear and retreat.
By the capitulation, all the shipping in the harbor was left to the disposal of the count de Grasse, with the exception only of the Bonetta sloop of war. This was granted to lord Cornwallis to carry his dispatches to New York. It included the liberty of conveying as many of his troops as was convenient, to be exchanged for an equal number of American prisoners. His humanity prompted him to avail himself of this liberty, to ship off, instead of soldiers, the most obnoxious of the loyalists, terrified beyond description at the idea of falling into the hands of their countrymen, against whom they had made every exertion, both by their influence and their arms. After the return of the Bonetta, as stipulated, she also was to be delivered at the order of the French admiral.
The delay of reinforcements both by sea and land, until lord Cornwallis and his army were irretrievably lost, was a misfortune and a neglect that could not easily be excused or forgiven, either by the ministry, the nation, or the numerous  friends of this unfortunate nobleman. Much altercation took place afterwards between sir Henry Clinton and lord Cornwallis, with little satisfaction to the wounded feelings of the last, and as little advantage to the sinking character of the first.
The surrender of lord Cornwallis’s army was an event that produced more conviction in the minds of men, that the American colonies could not be conquered by the arms of Great Britain, than any circumstance that had previously taken place. It was asserted by some British writers at the time, that
this was an event which carried a kind of irresistible conviction with it, even to those who were the least inclined to the admission of so humiliating a truth. When it was seen, that the most distinguished and successful general that had engaged in the royal cause, was obliged to surrender himself and his whole army prisoners of war, the generality even of those who had been the most earnest for the subjugation of America, began now to be convinced, that it was totally impracticable. But those who had a sincere regard for the honor and interests of Great Britain, could not reflect but with the utmost regret, that nearly one hundred millions of money should have been expended, and so many thousand valuable lives lost, in this unhappy contest; in a contest which had produced nothing but the loss of  our American colonies, an accumulation of the public debt, an enormous load of taxes, and a great degree of national dishonor; and which had afforded too much ground for the triumph and exultation of our most inveterate enemies. *
The defence of York-Town and Gloucester had always appeared chimerical to the British commander in Virginia; yet from the printed correspondence afterwards in every hand, he appeared perfectly right in his adherence to the orders of general Clinton, and justifiable in his endeavours to support himself there, until the promised reinforcements should arrive.
No man ever appeared more embarrassed when dangers approached, or more indecisive in many instances of his conduct, through the course of his American command, than sir Henry Clinton. Yet he was not deemed deficient in point of courage; though he never discovered, either in design or execution, those traits of genius or capacity, that mark the great man or the hero.
He had often been mistaken in his calculations, as had most of the British commanders, with regard to the ability, vigor, and valor of  American troops. But combined with an European army, commanded by officers of the first military knowledge and experience, and the numbers that flocked with alacrity to the American standard, as they moved southward, in the fullest confidence in the judgment and abilities of general Washington, were circumstances sufficient to have eradicated those opinions, and to have quickened the movements of the commander at New York, in the same ratio that it awakened the apprehensions of an officer of more judgment in Virginia.
But whatever impression a combination of French and American troops might at that time make on the mind, yet the hereditary hatred of the one, and the affected contempt of the other, had always led the commanders of Albion armies, to hold the haughty language characteristic of the national pride of Britain. After this period, the defeat of their armies and their most renowned officers, taught them a more humble deportment; and more just and modest accents were dictated from the lip of their captured generals.
The comparative military merits of the distinguished British characters that figured and fell in America, may be left to the masters in tactics to decide; but it may not be improper to observe, that the tribute of applause, both for generalship and abilities, may be more justly  attributed to lord Cornwallis than to sir Henry Clinton. Notwithstanding the unfortunate conclusion of his lordship’s southern campaign, he was doubtless a man of understanding, discernment, and military talents, better qualified to act from his own judgment, than as subordinate to general Clinton.
Nothing of the kind could exceed the exhilaration of spirits that appeared throughout America, on the defeat at York-Town and the capture of the British army. The thanks of congress were given, and recorded on their journals, to the count de Rochambeau, general Washington, and the count de Grasse; expressive of the sense they had of their merits, and the high esteem they felt for the services they had rendered to the United States. Public rejoicings were every where displayed by the usual popular exhibitions; thanksgivings were offered at the sacred altars; and the truly religious daily poured out their oraisons of praise, for the interposition of Divine Providence in favor of the American states.
By other descriptions of persons, little less gratitude and devotion was expressed toward Washington, Rochambeau, and the count de Grasse. They were the subjects of their eulogies and their anthems; the admiration of the brave, and the idols of the multitude: and in the complimentary addresses of all, they were  designated the instruments of their salvation, the deliverers from impending ruin, and the protectors from the concomitant evils of protracted war.*
Among the horrors that attend the operations of hostile armies, the situation of those unfortunate men captured by their enemies, is none of the least. There has yet been no attempt in these annals, at a particular description of the sufferings of those victims of misery. The compassionate heart would rather draw a veil over those principles in human nature, which too often prompt to aggravate, rather than to relieve, the afflictions of the wretched, who are thrown into the hands of their enemies by the uncertain chances of war.
In consequence of the capture of lord Cornwallis and his army, and some other decided strokes of success in the southern states, a general exchange of prisoners soon after took place between the hostile parties. There were doubtless  many instances of individual cruelty and unjustifiable rigor exercised toward prisoners who fell into American hands. Impartiality forbids any extenuation of such conduct on either side. It has been alleged by some, that instigated by the shocking inhumanity inflicted on their countrymen, retaliation and summary punishment was in some instances necessary; but this will not excuse a deviation from the laws of benevolence, and is far from being a sufficient plea for the victor to enhance the sufferings of the vanquished.
Yet it must be allowed, that the general treatment of this unhappy class of men by the contending powers, will not bear a comparative survey. Many of the captured Americans were sent to Great Britain, where they were for a time treated with almost every severity short of death. Some of them were transported to the East Indies; others put to menial services on board their ships: but after some time had elapsed, those in general who were conveyed to England, might be deemed happy, when their sufferings were contrasted with those of their countrymen who perished on board the prison ships in America, under the eye of British commanders of renown, and who in many respects were civilized and polite.
No time will wipe off the stigma that is left on the names of Clinton and Howe, when posterity  look over the calculations, and find that during six years of their command in New York, eleven thousand Americans died on board the Jersey, a single prison ship, stationed before that city for the reception of those victims of despair. Nor was the proportion smaller of those who perished in their other jails, dungeons, and prison hulks.
It is true that in England, the language of government held up all the American prisoners as rebels, traitors, insurgents, and pirates; yet this did not prevent the compassionate heart from the exercise of the benign virtues of charity and brotherly kindness. The lenient hand of many individuals was stretched out for their relief: subscriptions were repeatedly set on foot, and very liberal donations made by several characters of high rank; and many well disposed persons exhibited the most generous proofs of compassion to the languid prisoner.
This charitable deportment was not confined within the circle of those, who had either secretly or openly avowed themselves the friends, or had advocated the principles, of the American opposition. For some time before peace took place, more lenient measures were observed by government toward those who were captured and carried to England. They were considered and treated as prisoners of war; compassion was every where extended to the unfortunate  strangers; and the liberal contributions of various classes ameliorated their sufferings in a distant land, where no tender connexions could extend the hand of pity. While their sorrows were thus softened, their brethren in America, in the neighbourhood of parents, children, and the most affectionate partners, not permitted to receive from them the necessary relief, were dying by thousands, amidst famine, filth, and disease.
Great efforts had been made for earlier relief to many of the sufferers of every condition, but without effect. Not even general Burgoyne had yet been exchanged: from the many difficulties that arose with regard to the convention at Saratoga, he was still held on parole as a prisoner. The various delays and equivocations relative to the detention of this gentleman, and the refusal of the minister to exchange him for Mr. Laurens, had induced congress to summon him to return to America, agreeable to his parole. The ill state of health to which this unfortunate officer was reduced, from his fatigue of body in long military services, and his vexation of mind in consequence of the ill treatment of his employers, prevented his compliance with this requisition. General Clinton endeavoured, as far as in his power, to procure his exchange; but as no officer of equal rank was then in the hands of the Americans, it had been stipulated, that one thousand and forty men should be  given for his ransom. This was humorously said by a member of parliament,* to be a fair equivalent—"a quantity of silver for a piece of gold.”
General Burgoyne very justly thought himself highly injured by the treatment of the ministry; but he observed himself in the house of commons, in the beginning of the sessions of the ensuing winter, that he had not complained, though every officer in the army, down to the serjeants, had been exchanged. He said, however, that he acceded to the propriety of this, because he had resigned his commission, and thereby put himself into a situation, which rendered it impossible for him to be of any service to his country in a military capacity. He also observed, that he thought it more proper, that those should be first exchanged, from whose exertions in the field the nation might receive advantage. But, with the spirit of a man of honor and an officer of resolution, he declared, that
sooner than condescend either to seek or to receive the smallest favor, from the hands of men who had heaped the grossest injuries upon his head, he would even return to America, be locked up in the gloomiest dungeon which the congress might assign him, and devote himself as that sacrifice, which his  enemies had long endeavoured to offer up to their resentment.†
General Burgoyne observed, that the circumstances of the Cedars men, which had been the subject of so much altercation, was well known to the ministry; and that he thought all who knew the resolution of congress on that subject, as well as himself, must be convinced, that the conduct of the ministry in this matter was very singular and extraordinary. The determined spirit of that body was so well known, that a second proposition to exchange the Cedais men for him, could be calculated only to delay or prevent his release. He added,
that it was surely singularly hard, that he should be the only one of all the army that had surrendered at Saratoga, who had not been included in the exchange of prisoners, and restored to liberty. It was an injustice beyond all example, that every officer and every man in the army should have received the valuable privilege of freedom, and that he alone, who was commander in chief on that occasion, should still be continued a prisoner.
The dispute in point was concisely this: The British government insisted, that a party of Americans who, some time before the convention  at Saratoga, had been taken at a place called the Cedars, and had made their escape, should still be considered as their prisoners; and offered them as a part of the number stipulated for the exchange of general Burgoyne. This, congress peremptorily refused; and demanded the whole number agreed on, exclusive of the Cedars men, for the release of the British commander from his parole. They did not consider the party at the Cedars, who had been surprised, but not held in duress, as the description of men to be exchanged for a British general.
The mutual charges of breaches of the articles, between congress and the British commander, occasioned a long and grievous captivity to the convention troops. As each side justified their own conduct, and no compromise could be made in the state of things which had long existed, these unfortunate men had been removed by order of congress from Cambridge, and conducted to the interior parts of one of the southern states. There they remained until the auspicious events above related, returned them to the bosom of their country and friends, in lieu of an equal number of Americans, who had many of them languished for as long a period, in the dreary apartments assigned the prisoners in New York, Charleston, and wherever else British head-quarters were established, in any part of the United States.
 The American congress, in a few weeks after the termination of the campaign in Virginia, resolved, that as a preliminary to the discharge of the convention troops, all accounts of expenditures for their support should be immediately settled and discharged. At the same time, they authorised general Washington to set lord Cornwallis at liberty, on condition of the complete liberation of Mr. Laurens. These several proposals and demands were made and received in England in the beginning of the winter, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two.
On the offer of the congress of the United States, immediately to release lord Cornwallis on fair and honorable terms, Mr. Burke, with his usual dexterity of combining and bringing into view, objects the most striking and impressive on the passions of men, observed, that the British ministry had been brought to some sense of justice in a moment;
warned by a star that had arisen, not in the east, but in the west, which had convinced them of the danger of longer persevering in their unmanly, revengeful, and rigid treatment of Mr. Laurens. This was no other than the news arriving, that the son of Mr. Laurens, a brave, worthy, and accomplished officer in the American service, had earl Cornwallis in his custody; and that his treatment of his noble prisoner, was directly the reverse of that experienced by Mr. Laurens’s father, who was then locked up  in that tower, of which lord Cornwallis was the constable.
Mr. Burke, in a very pathetic style, detailed the variety of sufferings, hardships, and injustice, which had been inflicted on Mr. Laurens during his long imprisonment. This, with other instances of severe and injudicious treatment of prisoners, he made the ground-work of a proposed bill, to obviate the difficulties arising from the present mode of exchanging the American prisoners; a mode which, he remarked, was at once disgraceful and inconvenient to the government of the kingdom. He urged, that “motives of humanity, of sound policy, and of common sense, called loudly for a new law, establishing a regulation totally different from the present, which was fundamentally erroneous.” However, Mr. Laurens obtained his release from the circumstances above mentioned, before any new regulation of the British code of laws, relative to prisoners or any other object, took place.
[*]See sir Henry Clinton’s letter to lord Cornwallis, dated Sept. 30, 1781. (Stevens, Campaign, II: 172-173.]
[†]This was prince Henry, the duke of Clarence.
[*]Lord Cornwallis to general Clinton. [Cornwallis to Clinton, October 20, 1781, Stevens, Campaign, II: 205-216. Cornwallis wrote this letter after his capitulation at Yorktown and announced the surrender in the letter. The passage concerning the weather appears at p. 212.]
[*]Appendix, Note No. I.
[†]Several reconnoitering parties on both sides met and skirmished during the siege. In one of these, colonel Scammel, a brave American officer, who was respected and beloved for the excellence of his private character, was captured by some British partisans. He surrendered, and delivered his sword, the usual signal of submission, after which he was mortally wounded by one of the British. He expired after languishing a day or two.
[*]See Parliamentary Debates. [Henry Laurens’s petition to the House of Commons from the Tower of London appears in Cobbett, XXII: 877-878 (December 21, 1781), and in Annual Register (1781), “State Papers,” pp. 322-323. Also see Annual Register (1781), “History of Europe,” pp. 142-143.]
[*]Appendix, Note No. II.
[*]The American standard at this time was ornamented with only thirteen stars.
[*]British Annual Register for one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one. [See Annual Register (1781), “History of Europe,” pp. 119-136; “Humble Address of the Lord-mayor, Aldermen, and Livery of the City of London" to the King, “State Papers,” pp. 320-322.]
[*]The Americans did not soon forget the merits or the services of the count de Grasse. Their gratitude and respect for his memory was exhibited by congress, who generously pensioned four of his hapless daughters, who arrived in the Massachusetts in extreme poverty, after the ruin of their family in the general wreck of nobility, and the destruction of monarchy in France.
[†]Parliamentary Debates. [See Cobbett, XX: 780–803 (May 1779); Burgoyne, Expedition.]