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Cornwallis soon found it impossible either to overtake Lafayette, or prevent his junction with Wayne; he turned his attention, therefore, to other objects.
Greene, in his passage through Virginia, had urged the importance of removing horses out of the way of the enemy; his caution had been neglected; the consequences were now felt. The great number of fine horses in the stables of Virginia gentlemen, who are noted for their love of the noble animal, had enabled Cornwallis to mount many of his troops in first-rate style. These he employed in scouring the country, and destroying public stores. Tarleton and his legion, it is said, were mounted on race-horses. "Under this cloud of light troops," said Lafayette, "it is difficult to counteract any rapid movements they may choose to take!"
The State legislature had been removed for safety to Charlottesville, where it was assembled for the purpose of levying taxes, and drafting militia. Tarleton, with one hundred and eighty cavalry and seventy mounted infantry, was ordered by Cornwallis to make a dash there, break up the legislature, and carry off members. On his way thither, on the 4th of June, he captured and destroyed a convoy of arms and clothing destined for Greene's army in North Carolina. At another place he surprised several persons of note at the house of a Dr. Walker, but lingered so long breakfasting, that a person mounted on a fleet horse had time to reach Charlottesville before him, and spread the alarm. Tarleton crossed the Rivanna, which washes the hill on which Charlottesville is situated; dispersed a small force collected on the bank, and galloped into the town thinking to capture the whole assembly. Seven alone fell into his hands; the rest had made their escape. No better success attended a party
MARAUDS OF TARLETON.
of horse under Captain McLeod, detached to surprise the Governor (Thomas Jefferson), at his residence in Monticello, about three miles from Charlottesville, where several members of the legislature were his guests. The dragoons were espied winding up the mountain; the guests dispersed; the family was hurried off to the residence of Colonel Carter, six miles distant, while the governor himself made a rapid retreat on horseback to Carter's Mountain.
Having set fire to all the public stores at Charlottesville, Tarleton pushed for the point of Fork at the confluence of the Rivanna and Fluvanna; to aid, if necessary, a detachment of yagers, infantry and hussars, sent under Colonel Simcoe to destroy a great quantity of military stores collected at that post. The Baron Steuben, who was stationed there with five hundred Virginia regulars and a few militia, and had heard of the march of Tarleton, had succeeded in transporting the greater part of the stores, as well as his troops, across the river, and as the water was deep and the boats were all on his side, he might have felt himself secure. The unexpected appearance of Simcoe's infantry, however, designedly spread out on the opposite heights, deceived him into the idea that it was the van of the British army. In his alarm he made a night retreat of thirty miles, leaving the greater part of the stores scattered along the river bank; which were destroyed the next morning by a small detachment of the enemy sent across in canoes.
On the 10th of June, Lafayette was at length gladdened by the arrival of Wayne with about nine hundred of the Pennsylvania line. Thus reinforced, he changed his whole plan, and ventured on the aggressive. Cornwallis had gotten between him and a large deposit of military stores at Albemarle Old Court House. VOL. IV.-13
The marquis, by a rapid march at night, through a road long disused, threw himself between the British army and the stores, and, being joined by a numerous body of mountain militia, took a strong position to dispute the advance of the enemy.
Cornwallis did not think it advisable to pursue this enterprise, especially as he heard Lafayette would soon be joined by forces under Baron Steuben: Yielding easy credence, therefore, to a report that the stores had been removed from Albemarle Court House, he turned his face toward the lower part of Virginia, and made a retrograde march, first to Richmond, and afterwards to Williamsburg.
Lafayette, being joined by Steuben and his forces, had about four thousand men under him, one half of whom were regulars. He now followed the British army at the distance of eighteen or twenty miles, throwing forward his light troops to harass their rear, which was covered by Tarleton and Simcoe with their cavalry and infantry.
Cornwallis arrived at Williamsburg on the 25th, and sent out Simcoe with his rangers and a company of yagers to destroy some boats and stores on the Chickahominy River, and to sweep off the cattle of the neighborhood. Lafayette heard of the ravage, and detached Lieutenant-colonel Butler, of the Pennsylvania line, with a corps of light troops and a body of horse under Major McPherson, to intercept the marauders. As the infantry. could not push on fast enough for the emergency, McPherson took up fifty of them behind fifty of his dragoons, and dashed on. He overtook a company of Simcoe's rangers under Captain Shank, about six miles from Williamsburg, foraging at a farm; a sharp encounter took place; McPherson at the outset was un
SKIRMISH WITH SIMCOE.
horsed and severely hurt. The action continued. Simcoe with his infantry, who had been in the advance convoying a drove of cattle, now engaged in the fight. Butler's riflemen began to arrive, and supported the dragoons. much execution was done on both
It was a desperate melee; sides. Neither knew the
strength of the force they were contending with; but supposed it the advance guard of the opposite army. An alarm gun was fired by the British on a neighboring hill. It was answered by alarm guns at Williamsburg. The Americans supposed the whole British force coming out to assail them, and began to retire. Simcoe, imagining Lafayette to be at hand, likewise drew off, and pursued his march to Williamsburg. Both parties fought well; both had been severely handled; both claimed a victory, though neither gained one. The loss in killed and wounded on both sides was severe for the number engaged; but the statements vary, and were never reconciled. It is certain the result gave great satisfaction to the Americans, and inspired them with redoubled ardor.
An express was received by Cornwallis at Williamsburg which obliged him to change his plans. The movements of Washington in the neighborhood of New York, menacing an attack, had produced the desired effect. Sir Henry Clinton, alarmed for the safety of the place, had written to Cornwallis requiring a part of his troops for its protection. His lordship prepared to comply with this requisition, but as it would leave him too weak to continue at Williamsburg, he set out on the 4th of July for Portsmouth.
Lafayette followed him on the ensuing day, and took post within nine miles of his camp; intending, when the main body of the enemy should have crossed the ford to the island of James
town, to fall upon the rear guard. Cornwallis suspected his design, and prepared to take advantage of it. The wheel carriages, bat horses and baggage, were passed over to the island under the escort of the Queen's rangers; making a great display, as if the main body had crossed; his lordship, however, with the greater part of his forces, remained on the main land, his right covered by ponds, the centre and left by morasses over which a few narrow causeways of logs connected his position with the country, and James Island lay in the rear. His camp was concealed by a skirt of woods, and covered by an outpost.
In the morning of the 6th, as the Americans were advancing, a negro and a dragoon, employed by Tarleton, threw themselves in their way, pretending to be deserters, and informed them that the body of the king's troops had passed James River in the night, leaving nothing behind but the rear guard, composed of the British legion and a detachment of infantry. Persuaded of the fact, Lafayette with his troops crossed the morass on the left of the enemy by a narrow causeway of logs, and halted beyond about sunset. Wayne was detached with a body of riflemen, dragoons and Continental infantry, to make the attack, while the marquis with nine hundred Continentals and some militia stood ready to support him.
Wayne easily routed a patrol of cavalry and drove in the pickets, who had been ordered to give way readily. The outpost which covered the camp defended itself more obstinately; though exceedingly galled by the riflemen. Wayne pushed forward with the Pennsylvania line, eight hundred strong, and three fieldpieces, to attack it; at the first discharge of a cannon more than two thousand of the enemy emerged from their concealment, and he found too late that the whole British line was in battle array