Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

Leading Up to Yorktown

Immediately after the settlement of the mutiny of the Pennsylvania. Line, the work of reorganization was begun. Of the 1,250 men discharged by the Commission of Congress, very many reenlisted at once, so that, as Wayne stated confidently, "more than two-thirds of the troops" were immediately enrolled. This matter satisfactorily settled, Wayne wrote to General Washington asking that he be assigned to active field duty, rather than to recruiting. Washington's reply was that active service was then "not possible," although Wayne was excused from the arduous duties of recruiting.

Wayne's return to active service in the field was not long delayed. On February 26, 1781, he was ordered to take a detachment of the Pennsylvania Line, and re-enforce General Greene, then operating in South Carolina. His corps, consisting of six regiments, about eight hundred men, had their rendezvous at York, Pennsylvania, and were expected to march in the near future. From various causes, including not only inclemency of the weather, but also the usual preposterous delays about arming and equipping the soldiers, the detachment did not march until after the middle of May. Even with the lesson of the recent mutiny fresh in their memories, the authorities still insisted in paying off the men in the depreciated, almost worthless currency, against which they had formerly protested so strongly. This excited the fury of certain malcontents, who cried out against it on parade, with the result that, in order to nip the tendency to revolt in the bud, they were immediately tried, sentenced and shot before the assembled troops.

Wayne's corps did not march from York until May 20. By that date Cornwallis had already withdrawn his army from South Carolina, and was proceeding northward, to make a junction with the forces under General Phillips on the James River in Virginia. Wayne was now ordered to re-enforce General Lafayette, then leading the sole American troops m Virginia, and to do his best in heading off the raiding parties constantly sent out by the enemy to prey upon the surrounding country. While engaged upon this duty Wayne and Lafayette were further ordered by General Washington to prevent, if possible, the retreat of Cornwallis into North Carolina. With this double purpose in view, the two generals constantly hung upon the rear of the British, annoying them as much as possible, while avoiding a general engagement, for which they were not in sufficient numbers nor sufficiently well equipped.

The persistent plan of rear-guard fighting was carefully adhered to at all times, the only exception, and the nearest approach to a general engagement, being at Green Spring, where an attack was attempted under an entire misapprehension of the enemy's strength. On July 6 Lafayette learned from his spies that the British were crossing the river, in order to send columns down on both banks on the way to Portsmouth. According to the understanding given him, Lafayette supposed that by far the larger portion of the enemy's forces had crossed to the opposite shore, leaving only a small part exposed to the attacks of the Americans. Wayne was sent at once to reconnoiter the position, with a force of about 800 men, but, on coming up with the enemy, he found that by far the greater force was still opposed to him, and that he was several times outnumbered. In approaching the enemy the small American force had been obliged to cross a marsh, which was passable only by a narrow causeway. Retreat was, therefore, impossible, and nothing remained but to make such showing as they were able until the arrival of re-enforcements from the camp five miles to the rear.

The action began, and continued for some hours, by a constant and "galling" fire of Wayne's riflemen. Finally, at five o'clock in the evening, the British lines began to advance. This was the signal for a spirited attack by Major Galvan, a French officer in the American service, who maintained a gallant fight, until driven back by the British columns. With the arrival of a small detachment of infantry, under Major Willis, at this juncture, a heavy fire was resumed by the Americans, and was continued, until it was evident the British were preparing to surround them. Wayne, perceiving that he was in imminent danger of annihilation or capture, determined on one of the bold moves so characteristic of his military genius. Having by this time been strongly reinforced, he determined to save himself by making a sharp and short attack on the advancing columns, which should throw them into disorder, thus giving him the opportunity to withdraw from the trap and thus prepare for any further movements. Accordingly, within seventy yards of the British lines, he opened a furious attack, with both cannon and musketry, which lasted about fifteen minutes, and served to seriously disconcert his opponents. In the temporary advantage thus gained, be withdrew his troops across the marsh, and reformed on the other side of a piece of woods commanding the only path upon which the British could follow him. Although less spectacular, perhaps, than some of his other notable exploits, this charge served to save his command from envelopment by a force of five times their number, and has been universally praised by military authorities.

After the battle at Green Spring Cornwallis resumed his march to Portsmouth, where he carefully fortified himself, and prepared to make a lengthy stay. Lafayette was afraid, however, that he might use this city as a base for further marauding expeditions, and ordered Wayne to cross the river, and take up a position at a place known as Westover. In this position of vantage he could effectually oppose any attempt to gain the open country in the direction of Norfolk and Petersburg, and, at the same time, would be barred from a retreat into North Carolina.

Thus, these two faithful commanders did their best to carry out the instructions of Washington, but the Commander-in-Chief had other, and even greater objects in view, which included nothing less than the investment and capture of Cornwallis and his entire command. So ably did Washington dissemble his real plans that Sir Henry Clinton was led to suppose that he intended making an attack on New York, backed by the forces under Rochambeau, then stationed at Newport. Accordingly, with singular fatuity, he ably assisted Washington's real objects by ordering Cornwallis to, select the most convenient position near the mouth of the Chesapeake, and there await the cooperation of the British fleet under Admirals Hood and Graves. In giving these commands, he was ignorant, of course, that Washington had information that a powerful French fleet, under Count De Grasse, was on the way from the 'Vest Indies, and would enter Hampton Roads late in August, also that another fleet., under Barras, had sailed from Newport to make a rendezvous at the same time. De Grasse's fleet carried 3,000 troops, while that of Barras brought down the heavy siege guns and full stores for the army. Thus, on the arrival of Washington, on September 2G, after his wonderful march from New Jersey, the investment of Yorktown was already begun. The combined French fleet engaged the British ships outside the month of the Chesapeake, and so disabled them that they could take no further part in the conflict.

There was little opportunity for brilliant and dashing military movements in this affair; nor was any attempted. Wayne's corps was present during the entire period, as a part of the division commanded by Baron von Stenben, taking their part in the daily routine duties of the siege. The situation for Cornwallis was desperate. No resistance was possible that could at all contribute to his relief. Consequently, on the morning of October 19, 1781, he surrendered himself and his entire command prisoners of war.