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CORNWALLIS'S PURSUIT OF GREEN.
Court-house, where he was joined by General Huger and his division on the 9th.
Cornwallis was now encamped about twenty-five miles above them, at the old Moravian town of Salem. Greene summoned a council of war (almost the only time he was known to do so), and submitted the question whether or not to offer battle. There was a unanimous vote in the negative. A fourth part of the force was on the sick list, from nakedness and exposure. The official returns gave but two thousand and thirty-six, rank and file, fit for duty. Of these upwards of six hundred were militia.
Cornwallis had from twenty-five hundred to three thousand men, including three hundred cavalry, all thoroughly disciplined and well equipped. It was determined to continue the retreat.
The great object of Greene now was to get across the river Dan, and throw himself into Virginia. With the reinforcements and assistance he might there expect to find, he hoped to effect the salvation of the South, and prevent the dismemberment of the Union. The object of Cornwallis was to get between him and Virginia, force him to a combat before he could receive those reinforcements, or enclose him in between the great rivers on the west, the sea on the east, and the two divisions of the British army under himself and Lord Rawdon on the north and south. His lordship had been informed that the lower part of the Dan, at present, could only be crossed in boats, and that the country could not afford a sufficient number for the passage of Greene's army; he trusted, therefore, to cut him off from the upper part of the river, where alone it was fordable. Greene, however, had provided against such a contingency. Boats had been secured at various places by his agents, and could be collected at a few hours' notice at the lower ferries. Instead, therefore, of striving
with his lordship for the upper fords, Greene shaped his course for Boyd's and Irwin's fords, just above the confluence of the Dan and Staunton rivers which forms the Roanoke, and about seventy miles from Guilford Court-house. This would give him twenty-five miles advantage of Lord Cornwallis at the outset. General Kosciuszko was sent with a party in advance to collect the boats and throw up breastworks at the ferries.
In ordering his march, General Greene took the lead with the main body, the baggage, and stores. General Morgan would have had the command of the rear-guard, composed of seven hundred of the most alert and active troops, cavalry and light infantry; but, being disabled by a violent attack of ague and rheumatism, it was given to Colonel Otho H. Williams (formerly adjutant-general), who had with him Colonels Howard, Washington, and Lee.
This corps, detached some distance in the rear, did infinite service. Being lightly equipped, it could manoeuvre in front of the British line of march, break down bridges, sweep off provisions, and impede its progress in a variety of ways, while the main body moved forward unmolested. It was now that Cornwallis most felt the severity of the blow he had received at the battle of the Cowpens in the loss of his light troops, having so few to cope with the élite corps under Williams.
Great abilities were shown by the commanders on either side in this momentous trial of activity and skill. It was a long and severe march for both armies, through a wild and rough country, thinly peopled, cut up by streams, partly covered by forests, along deep and frozen roads, under drenching rains, without tents at night, and with scanty supplies of provisions. The British suffered the least, for they were well equipped and comfortably
A SEVERE MARCH.
clad; whereas the poor Americans were badly off for clothing, and many of them without shoes. The patriot armies of the Revolution, however, were accustomed in their winter marches to
leave evidences of their hardships in bloody foot-prints.
We forbear to enter into the details of this masterly retreat, the many stratagems and manoeuvres of the covering party to delay and hoodwink the enemy. Tarleton himself bears witness in his narrative, that every measure of the Americans was judiciously designed and vigorously executed. So much had Cornwallis been misinformed at the outset as to the means below of passing the river, and so difficult was it, from want of light troops, to gain information while on the march, that he pushed on in the firm conviction that he was driving the American army into a trap, and would give it a signal blow before it could cross the Dan.
In the mean time, Greene, with the main body, reached the banks of the river, and succeeded in crossing over with ease in the course of a single day at Boyd's and Irwin's ferries, sending back word to Williams, who with his covering party was far in the rear. That intelligent officer encamped, as usual, in the evening, at a wary distance in front of the enemy, but stole a march upon them after dark, leaving his camp fires burning. He pushed on all night, arrived at the ferry in the morning of the 15th, having marched forty miles within the last four and twenty hours; and made such despatch in crossing, that his last troops had landed on the Virginia shore by the time the astonished enemy arrived on the opposite bank. Nothing, according to their own avowal, could surpass the grief and vexation of the British at discovering, on their arrival at Boyd's ferry," that all their toils and exertions had been vain, and that all their hopes were frustrated." *
* Annual Register, 1781.
CORNWALLIS TAKES POST AT HILLSBOROUGH-HIS PROCLAMATION-GREENE RECROSSES THE DAN-COUNTRY SCOURED BY LEE AND PICKENS-AFFAIR WITH COLONEL PYLE-MANOEUVRES OF CORNWALLIS TO BRING GREENE TO ACTION-BATTLE OF GUILFORD COURT-HOUSE-GREENE RETREATS TO TROUBLESOME CREEK-CORNWALLIS MARCHES TOWARD CAPE FEAR-GREENÉ PURSUES HIM IS BROUGHT TO A STAND AT DEEP RIVER-DETERMINES TO FACE ABOUT AND CARRY THE WAR INTO SOUTH CAROLINA-CORNWALLIS MARCHES FOR VIRGINIA.
For a day the two armies lay panting within sight of each other on the opposite banks of the river, which had put an end to the race. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated the day of the crossing, Greene writes: "On the Dan River, almost fatigued to death, having had a retreat to conduct of upwards of two hundred miles, manoeuvring constantly in the face of the enemy to give time for the militia to turn out and get off our stores." And to Washington he writes (Feb. 15), "Lord Cornwallis has been at our heels from day to day ever since we left Guilford, and our movements from thence to this place have been of the most critical kind, having a river in our front and the enemy in our rear. The miserable condition of the troops for clothing has rendered the march the most painful imaginable, many hundred of the soldiers tracking the ground with their bloody feet. Your feelings for the sufferings of the soldier, had you been with us, would
have been severely tried." He concludes by an honorable testimonial in their favor: "Our army are in good spirits, notwithstanding their sufferings and excessive fatigue."
On the 16th, the river began to subside; the enemy might soon be able to cross. Greene prepared for a further retreat by sending forward his baggage on the road to Halifax, and securing the passage of the Staunton. At Halifax he was resolved to make a stand, rather than suffer the enemy to take possession of it without a struggle. Its situation on the Roanoke would make it a strong position for their army, supported by a fleet, and would favor their designs both on Virginia and the Carolinas. With a view to its defence, intrenchments had already been thrown up, under the direction of Kosciuszko.
Lord Cornwallis, however, did not deem it prudent, under present circumstances, to venture into Virginia, where Greene would be sure of powerful reinforcements. North Carolina was in a state of the utmost disorder and confusion; he thought it better to remain in it for a time, and profit by having compelled Greene to abandon it. After giving his troops a day's repose, therefore, he put them once more in motion on the 18th, along the road by which he had pursued Greene. The latter, who was incessantly on the alert, was informed of this retrograde move, by a preconcerted signal; the waving of a white handkerchief, under covert of the opposite bank, by a female patriot.
This changed the game. Lee, with his legion, strengthened by two veteran Maryland companies, and Pickens, with a corps of South Carolina militia, all light troops, were transported across the Dan in the boats, with orders to gain the front of Cornwallis, hover as near as safety would permit, cut off his intercourse with the disaffected parts of the country, and check the rising of the