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Chapter Sixteen. Washington, Rochambeau, and the Yorktown Campaign of 1781

Robert A. Selig

Subject History » Military History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00018.x


The year 1781 could not have begun worse for George Washington and the American cause. Unpaid, starving and freezing in their huts in Morristown, New Jersey, the Pennsylvania Line mutinied on New Years’ Day. On 7 January officers negotiated a settlement with their mutinous men and the troops went on furlough until March. Three weeks later, on 20 January, some 200 soldiers of the New Jersey troops quartered in Pompton, New Jersey also refused to obey orders. This time the rebellion was put down by force. As winter turned to spring the Continental Army barely maintained its strength while Charles, Earl Cornwallis, marched almost at will across the southern states. Despairingly Washington wrote on 9 April 1781 to his aide-de-camp Lieutenant-Colonel John Laurens who was about to depart for Paris: “We are at the end of our tether, and … now or never our deliverance must come” (WGW, 21:439). The campaign of 1781 had to produce results, but Washington was well aware that by itself the Continental Army was too weak to take on Crown Forces in New York City, center of British military and political power and Washington's preferred target since the winter of 1776. The nascent United States lacked the three assets indispensable for a successful siege of the city: soldiers, silver and ships. These three assets were vital to any victory that would bolster American morale and fortunes and maybe ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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