There is something to be said for teaching everything to somebody, as compared with the modern notion of teaching nothing, and the same sort of nothing, to everybody. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

The Surrender of Cornwallis

Retreating from the Carolinas, Cornwallis marched into Virginia to take the place of Arnold, whom the British had been watching closely, lest he should betray them, too. Clinton now bade Cornwallis keep near the coast, so that he could embark quickly and come to the rescue of New York, in case Washington should suddenly attack it:

The fact was, though, that Washington had no intention of doing anything of the sort. On the contrary, he had laid his plans to catch Cornwallis in Virginia, where he had sent Lafayette some time before. As he did not wish Clinton to suspect this plan, Washington wrote letters saying he meant to take New York, and cleverly contrived that they should accidentally fall into British hands. After reading them, Clinton felt so sure he knew all about the American plans that he did not stir.

There was no telegraph in those days, and it was a great surprise to Cornwallis when the French fleet, under De Grasse suddenly appeared in Chesapeake Bay. Thus, even before Clinton suspected the Americans' intentions, Cornwallis was hemmed in at Yorktown between Lafayette's troops and De Grasse's fleet, and Washington was rapidly marching southward to help them.

Hoping to check Washington's advance, or even force him to come back, Clinton now sent Arnold into Connecticut, where, as we have seen, he burned New London. This base deed so angered a lady whose guest he had once been, that she tried to shoot him, we are told, and would have done so, had not her gun missed fire.

Arnold, and the British officers with him, proved very cruel all through this campaign; and when one of them seized Fort Griswold, near New London, he haughtily demanded, "Who commands here?" "I did," courteously answered the American officer, coming forward to surrender his sword, "but you do now." The British officer took the weapon, ran it through its owner, and coolly bade his men kill all the garrison in the same way.

Although the news of pillage, burning, and murder was carried to Washington as quickly as possible, he did not—as Clinton perhaps expected—turn around to defend Connecticut, but kept steadily on. As he marched by, all good Americans wildly cheered him, crying: "Long live Washington! He is going to catch Cornwallis in his mouse trap!" Indeed, such was the faith people had in him that an old patriot, coming into the room where he was dining, raised his arms to heaven and solemnly cried, like Simeon in the Bible: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."

On his way to Yorktown, Washington paid a flying visit to his home at Mount Vernon, which he had not seen since he left it to attend the Continental Congress six years before. There he learned that it would have been burned to the ground, had not his steward bribed some British soldiers to let it stand. When Washington heard this, he gravely said that he would rather lose all he had, than save it by making friends with his country's foes.'

Reaching Yorktown,—where Cornwallis had once boasted that he would soon capture "that boy," as he scornfully termed Lafayette,—Washington found all his orders so well carried out that the bombarding of the city could begin without further delay. The French fleet and American army worked together to such good purpose that before long it became plain that Cornwallis would have to yield. During this siege a gentleman carefully pointed out his own house, advising Washington to batter it down first with his cannon; for he thought that Cornwallis must have selected it for his headquarters, because it was the best in town.

Washington, who was never wounded in any battle, stood on a height directing the movements of his troops. He was in such an exposed place that some of his aids, hoping to make him change his position, ventured to remark that they were in great danger. "If you think so," answered Washington, quietly, "you are at liberty to step back." But as he did not move, the others bravely stood their ground.

A moment later a ball struck a cannon only a few feet off, and General Knox impulsively cried, "My dear general, we can't spare you yet!" and tried to drag him away. But Washington carelessly remarked, "It's a spent ball," and stood there like a rock until he saw the redoubt taken. Then he joyfully exclaimed: "The work is done, and well done!"

Washington was right; the work was done, and the patriots' troubles nearly over. Cornwallis, finding himself unable to escape or receive help, was forced to surrender on the 19th of October, 1781. But his pride was so hurt at having to give up his sword, that he pretended illness, and sent one of his officers to carry it to Washington. The latter, remembering how the British had tried to shame General Lincoln at the surrender of Charleston, therefore bade the British officer deliver it to Lincoln.

Surrender of Cornwallis

The next day, when the British troops marched out of Yorktown between the French and American armies, their bands dolefully played: "The World Turned Upside Down." Washington, ever considerate of people's feelings, had given strict orders that his soldiers should not jeer at the enemy, or make any unkind remarks. This order was obeyed, but Lafayette, seeing that the British—who had made such unmerciful fun of him—did not even look up, suddenly bade his band strike up "Yankee Doodle." At this hated sound the British all started, and Lafayette had the boyish satisfaction of knowing that they had seen him heading part of the forces which had conquered them.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell