United States History and American Revolution: Late 1781

About the United States and American Revolution in late 1781, the Battle of Yorktown, surrender of Cornwallis, and General Nathaneal Greene


Sept. 8 Milestone Battle: Eutaw Springs. During a 10-month Carolinas campaign, Gen. Nathanael Greene had waged a hit-and-run action unique in military annals: He lost all 4 major battles, including Eutaw Springs, but won the war, inflicting heavier losses than he took. The British retreated after every encounter.

Sept. 26 The siege at Yorktown began. Twenty-four days later, Cornwallis surrendered, allegedly to the tune of "The World Turned Upside Down." General O'Hara, acting on behalf of Cornwallis, wanted to turn over his sword to the French general, Count "Popa" de Rochambeau (the French army and navy allied with Washington totaled over 30,000, 3 times the U.S. forces). The count declined, saying the honor belonged to Washington.

Oct. Six prisoners on the prison ship Jersey, anchored in New York's East River, tried to escape. Five died at once. The 6th scrambled back on the ship to hide, and lived to tell of the horrors on board the rotting, demasted hulk. In the 3 1/2 years to follow, over 11,000 seamen died on the Jersey. With over 1,100 jammed below decks at all times, dysentery, smallpox, and other virulent diseases took such a nightly toll that the sentry's morning greeting became a routine "Rebels, turn out your dead!"

Oct. 20 Christopher Ludwick baked and delivered 12,000 loaves of his bread to Cornwallis' troops in accordance with Washington's magnanimous order. The baker-general--appointed in 1777--produced bread so tasty that at the war's end he received a certificate attesting to his patriotism. Following the Hessian defeat at Trenton, Ludwick suggested that the captured Germans, once converted, would "be as good Whigs as any of us." Washington concurred, and put Ludwick in charge of them. The genial baker took 948 wide-eyed Hessians on a beer-and-cake odyssey around Pennsylvania. Many, it's said, left the British for good after their mouth-watering indoctrination tour.

Oct. 22 Lafayette, borrowing a phrase used by French classical drama, wrote to Monsieur de Maurepas: "The play, sir, is over . . . the 5th act has come to an end."

Dec. The Rev. Sam Peters published his General History of Connecticut. His effort gained him a reputation as a teller of tall tales. Said he about a caterpillar invasion along the Connecticut River: They advanced in a phalanx 3 mi. wide and 2 in length, eating everything green in sight for 100 mi. They were over 2" long, with white, thorny bodies, and red throats. Peters mixed actual happenings, wild tirades, and improbable fantasies so thoroughly that many people actually believed that a 4-mi. march of bullfrogs through Windham in 1758 really took place.

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