May 2, 2016 by crew
For those late to the party, our previous parts are linked below.
- Part One – The Shot Heard Round the World
- Part Two – Initial Battles & Campaigns
- Part Three – The Central Theatre
- Part Four – War in the North
But for now, let’s close out wargaming retrospective on this amazingly complex and influential conflict.
Under Southern Skies
The Crown’s Perspective
Well, it was only so long before the French entered the war against us. Orders came down to start shifting our efforts down to the southern colonies of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. We wanted to be in a better position against the French in the Caribbean, and we were told the colonists in the south would be on our side for a change.
At first, the new strategy seemed to work well. In late 1778, we took the port city of Savannah, Georgia in a seaborne invasion, and won a series of battles as the rebels tried to take it back. Then the French and Americans tried a joint siege to our new city in 1779, a siege which we broke rather handily, I might add.
But the real blow came in 1780, when General Sir Henry Clinton (our commander at Monmouth) mounted an expedition against Charleston, South Carolina. We won again, resulting in the surrender of an entire rebel army, over 5,000 in all, as well as their largest southern city. This would be the largest single American defeat of the war.
As rebel survivors fled from Charleston, our cavalry raced out after them. One such unit was Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s “British Legion.” These dragoons covered a distance of over 100 miles in 54 hours, and caught up with a column of rebels at a place called Waxhaws. After a brief but ferocious fight, the rebels surrendered.
During the surrender, however, Tarleton’s horse was shot from under him. His men, believing he’d been killed, laid into the rebels with sabre and bayonet. The rebels predictably labelled the incident a “massacre” for propaganda reasons. Nonsense, of course, but I will confess that Tarleton was a commander with no shortage of killing instinct.
After the fall of Charleston, our General Charles Cornwallis was left in command of the south. He set off into the interior of South Carolina, intent on destroying the rebels under the newly-appointed General Horatio Gates. Their first battle was at Camden (August 16th, 1780), where we completely routed a larger rebel force.
A Brother’s War
The Patriot Perspective
What had happened? Weren’t we winning this war? Savannah, Charleston, Waxhaws, Camden, we felt like we were back in New York during that terrible summer of ‘76. Huge numbers of southern Loyalists made things worse, resulting in personal, bitter, and savage fighting between Americans … which was always so much worse.
The British couldn’t usually control these Loyalists, though. Atrocities were horrific, frequent, and committed liberally by both sides. One battle, Kings Mountain (Oct 7th, 1780), was fought almost entirely between opposing American militias. True, it was nice to finally win a battle, but not against our own neighbours and countrymen.
Finally we managed to turn it around. Daniel Morgan, founder of the Virginia Riflemen and hero of Saratoga, finally lured the “Butcher” Tarleton and supporting British units into a Battle at Cowpens, South Carolina (Jan 17th, 1781). We tempted them into a charge with a false retreat, then let them have it with point-blank musketry.
That was the end of the “Tory Legion” as we called them. Cornwallis came after us, of course, but our new general Nathaniel Greene just kept fighting and falling back, fighting and falling back. We lost every battle, but steadily exhausted and wore down the strength of Cornwallis’ Army as we withdrew up into North Carolina.
One such battle was Guildford Courthouse (March 15th, 1781). Again we lost, but not before Cornwallis lost a further quarter of his army and even had to use artillery on his own men. Hundreds of years later, Nathaniel Greene’s defensive campaign in the Carolinas is still seen as a masterpiece of asymmetrical operational warfare.
The Patriot Perspective
For most of 1781, we led Cornwallis and his redcoats around the Carolinas, sometimes literally in circles. Finally, they gave up the chase and instead headed north to Virginia (against the orders of his superior, General Clinton). Here, Cornwallis hoped to cut communication between the northern and southern colonies.
Bad move. Moving that far north allowed Washington to march down against Cornwallis, along with a sizable force of French troops under General de Rochambeau. Before he knew it, Cornwallis was pinned against the coast at a small Virginia town whose name history would never forget … Yorktown.
So couldn’t the British just be evacuated by their navy, as they’d been from Boston in early 1776? Not this time, since the French fleet from the West Indies under Admiral de Grasse had come up to blockade the British in. Quite a risk, to sail in the Caribbean at the height of hurricane season with all those wooden ships.
When the French fleet defeated the British at the Battle of the Chesapeake Capes (Sept 5, 1781), Cornwallis’ fate was sealed. Now it was just a matter of bombardment, siege works, and steadily tightening the ring by assaulting outlying fortifications. The most important of these were Redoubts “9” and “10” on the southeast perimeter.
World Turned Upside Down
The Crown Perspective
Outnumbered by the combined French and American forces (almost 20,000 in all), we had no choice but to dig in as best we could and hope for help to arrive from New York. The American and French bombardment was ferocious and incessant.
For three weeks this went on, through the rest of September and into October. But when our enemies assaulted and took two of our outer redoubts (No 9 and 10), our defences were well and truly cracked. Direct-fire American guns could now be brought right up to our inner defences and fired straight into Yorktown itself.
Finally, Cornwallis had to surrender on October 19th, 1781. As our units marched out of Yorktown to lay down their arms, legend has it their bands played a song called “The World Turned Upside Down.” Indeed it had been, how else could the most powerful army on earth be surrendering to a third-rate rebellion?
The disaster at Yorktown forced a change in British government. The new Parliament wanted an end to the war in America, so even we fought the French, Spanish, and Dutch around the world, fighting in America came to a close. Against all odds, and despite all the times we SHOULD have won this war, the rebels had somehow prevailed.
A Global Stage
As previously discussed, one of the most dramatic shifts in the American War of Independence was the entry of France into the war on the American side. Immediately this turned the conflict from a colonial, regional issue into a full-scale global war, one that would see furious fighting all around the world.
First, the French and British immediately came to naval blows in the English Channel, bringing the war right to Britain’s doorstep. Intense fighting also erupted as the French struck toward British possessions in the Caribbean like Jamaica, Barbados, and Dominica, islands of immense commercial value that had to be defended.
The British were soon striking back at French possessions in the Caribbean like Guadalupe and Martinique. Given the monetary value of these colonies, it’s easy to see why battles over backwoods American farms were almost forgotten.
Spain joined the war against Great Britain in 1779. This ignited a fight in the Mediterranean as Spain fought to regain control of Gibraltar, lost to Britain in 1704. France was also trying to usurp British control of India (France held colonies here at the time), sparking naval battles, sieges, and land engagements across India.
Finally, war broke out between Britain and the Netherlands in late 1780, when the Dutch refused to stop smuggling arms to the Americans out of St. Eustatius, another island in the Caribbean. Indeed, this war had come a long way since those first shots on the Lexington Green almost six long years ago.
Even after the fighting in America stopped at Yorktown in October 1781, the rest of the “world war” raged for two more years until the British finally won dominance in India at the naval Battle of Trincomalee in late 1782. The Treaty of Paris, finally ending the war and ceding American independence, wasn’t signed until 1783.
Finally, the war was over.
Thus concludes our journey through the American Revolution. Of course there is plenty more to say, in just five short articles there’s no way we could cover everything. We weren’t able to cover the global aspect of the war in nearly enough detail, to say nothing of the “frontier war” in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
Perhaps some of you with knowledge in these areas will share some of your knowledge in the comments below?
As always, we would like thank the Beasts of War team, especially Ben and Lance for helping us publish our material on the site – the links, the layouts, the scheduling, and of course for making our articles look so amazing.
Even more so, we’d like to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy gaming day to read through our ramblings. Your time, patience, and merciful eye are all appreciated, almost as much as your comments below! Let us know what you think, or share any experiences you may have had with 18th Century wargaming.
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"...before he knew it, Cornwallis was pinned against the coast at a small Virginia town whose name history would never forget, Yorktown"
"Even after the fighting in America stopped at Yorktown in October 1781, the rest of the “world war” raged for two more years..."