The first twenty-four signatures to the Declaration that the \'United Colonies\' of America \'are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States\'
The first twenty-four signatures to the Declaration that the 'United Colonies' of America 'are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States'

[Ed. now we enter the final years of the war, when the contributions of the French army and, particularly, the navy, swung matters in favour of the American colonies]

Valley Forge
The force which had captured Philadelphia remained there through the winter, while Washington had the usual difficulty in keeping his troops together at Valley Forge. Howe was recalled, and the chief command was given to Clinton in New York; but with the certainty of French intervention the General could not afford to keep his forces divided. The skill of Admiral Howe successfully carried the troops which had occupied Philadelphia back to New York before the superior French fleet arrived in American waters.

French naval power
The French admiral, D'Estaing, had accomplished his voyage unimpeded. It is very significant of the change which had taken place in the naval situation, that, although this fleet from Toulon was larger than that under Howe's command, the British fleet in home waters could not spare sufficient strength to interfere with it, and was only able to fight a drawn battle with a second French fleet, off Ushant, at the end of July. The actual preponderance was with the French rather than with the British; it was ultimately to be restored to the British only because of their superior seamanship and their superior leading. It may be confidently affirmed that if Howe and D'Estaing had changed places the French fleet would have reached the mouth of the Hudson before the British fleet had got the Philadelphia force back to New York, and New York would have been very seriously in danger of falling.

It is a curious feature of almost all the naval operations throughout the war that the French, although habitually in superior force, always avoided battle, and missed repeated opportunities of crushing smaller British squadrons, while the British commanders were constantly prepared to challenge fleets larger than their own. Thus D'Estaing did not venture to attack Howe in the Hudson, but drew off to the North, and at the end of the year betook himself to the West Indies, which were to be the main scene of the operations of the rival fleets.

At the same time Clinton had to send away a large force from New York to be convoyed by Admiral Hotham to Barbadoes. This would still have left the British commander with a sufficient force to undertake operations against Washington, since he was. no longer menaced by a French fleet; but he was reduced to inaction by orders to despatch another body of troops to the southern colonies under the command of Cornwallis.

Cornwallis was a capable soldier, but he could only overrun the country without securing any grip on it, while for once Washington passed the winter in comparative, security. In fact, when the spring came, his main difficulty lay in restraining Congress from insisting on sending another expedition to Canada. Washington at least was well aware that the British had blundered in diffusing their energies over an extended area, and he had no mind to follow their example.

Moreover, however useful it might have been at an earlier stage to involve Canada in the struggle against Great Britain, now that the Americans were fighting in alliance with France he had no inclination to risk making Canada the reward of French assistance, and renewing the menace of French rivalry which had been removed by the Seven Years' War.

Neither side then made any material progress in the land operations; for while Clinton could not attack Washington, Washington could not attack him in New York, especially as the absence of D'Estaing still left the British in command of the communications by sea. And in the West Indies, while the French amused themselves by capturing islands which they were perfectly certain to lose again the moment the British should acquire a naval predominance, and while for the sake of capturing these islands they neglected opportunities of dealing damaging blows to the British squadrons, the British commanders directed their captures only to points of strategical value, such as Santa Lucia.

For eighteen months, then, after the French intervention, no striking successes fell to either party. On the other hand, in the summer of 1779 Spain too declared war. Her effective share in the operations was for some time limited far the siege of Gibraltar, but the British fleet was now heavily outnumbered. There was no British Mediterranean force to raise the siege of Gibraltar. The French fleet in the West Indies was larger than the British; a combined Franco-Spanish fleet which made a great naval demonstration in the British channel was- very much larger than the British Channel Fleet for defence, though the enemy were satisfied with demonstrating and accomplished nothing further. It was well for the British that co-operation between allied navies offers an even more difficult problem than co-operation between allied armies. Spain made Gibraltar her objective, the French made the West Indies theirs, No attempt was made to concentrate for the purpose of crushing the British Navy in detail.

The result was that by the summer of 1780 the destruction of Great Britain was no nearer. In the northern theatre of war neither Washington nor Clinton could attempt a decisive movement. In the southern theatre Cornwallis had practically put an end to open resistance, though it was clear that upon any withdrawal of forces from that region the insurgents would at once take the field again; but the communication by sea between the northern and southern divisions of the British was uninterrupted. Both French and British had reinforced the squadrons in the West Indies; the French, commanded by Guichen, was still in greater force, but the British Admiral Rodney, on his way out, had thrown reliefs into Gibraltar and had caught two Spanish squadrons separately, capturing one and destroying the other.

In July Washington was reinforced by a strong contingent of French troops under Rochambeau and Lafayette. The substantial addition to his forces was indubitably of great value to the American commander, but did not diminish his personal difficulties, since the Americans were exceedingly jealous of the Frenchmen, and all Washington s diplomacy was constantly needed to prevent an open rupture.

War with Holland
During the ensuing twelve months Britain added yet one more to the circle of her maritime foes by declaring war upon Holland, because Holland joined the Armed Neutrality, a league of the Baltic Powers formed in this year to resist the doctrines of international maritime law maintained by Great Britain, which turned mainly upon the relative rights of belligerents and neutrals. The Dutch, however, being isolated, could not effectively co-operate with the other enemies of Great-Britain. The main results were that Negapatam and Trincomali, two Dutch stations in India and Ceylon, passed into the hands of the British, and there was one obstinate sea-fight off the Dogger Bank (August 1701), in which British and Dutch fought each other with the old grim equality of stubbornness; but though neither side could claim a decisive victory, the Dutch fleet was placed practically hors de combat.

The Benedict Arnold Affair
An incident of the autumn was the treason of Benedict Arnold, the American commander who had made the desperate attempt to capture Quebec in the first year of the war. His correspondence with Clinton was discovered. Arnold made his escape; but a young British officer, Major Andre, who was captured with letters of Arnold concealed on his person, was hanged as a spy in strict accordance with military law, and his fate aroused such deep public sympathy that a monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey, whither his remains were brought for burial many years later.

But the main importance of the twelve months after the midsummer of 1780 lay in the southern theatre, where Cornwallis set out with the object of effecting a junction with the northern force. The apparent subjection of the south was illusory. As Cornwallis progressed from Georgia through the Carolinas there was a series of engagements; Cornwallis was repeatedly in danger of having his communications with the sea cut off; as he moved northward, the detachments left behind to keep the country under control were cooped up in Savannah, Charlestown, and Wilmington; and in August 1781 he was obliged to throw himself into Yorktown at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

The Battle of Yorktown
Almost immediately there followed the decisive blow, so far as the American War was concerned. In April the French Admiral, De Grasse, arrived in the West Indies with twenty-one ships of the line. No corresponding reinforcements came from England, which had been obliged to concentrate on the relief of Gibraltar, strenuously blockaded and periodically bombarded by the Spaniards. Hitherto the French squadron in the North American waters had not been strong enough to sever the communications between New York and the South. But now at last the opportunity presented itself for crushing one of the two British divisions.

By a movement concerted with De Grasse, Washington, having convinced Clinton that he was preparing for a concentrated attack on New York itself, suddenly descended instead upon Yorktown. De Grasse sailed in force from the West Indies for the Chesapeake, for once with a real justification for avoiding an engagement even with an inferior British squadron. The combined French fleet in the Chesapeake greatly outnumbered the combined British squadrons, which attacked it but without success; Yorktown was completely cut off from all assistance, and in October Cornwallis was obliged to surrender. With the capture of Yorktown American independence was no longer a doubtful issue.

The question was rather whether Britain herself would survive. If De Grasse had failed to enter the Chesapeake it is conceivable that the American army would have broken up completely; for if Yorktown had received the relief which was despatched too late from New York, Cornwallis might have inflicted a blow from which it would have been extremely difficult to recover. On this single occasion it can at least be maintained that the French commander was right in staking everything not upon the disabling of the enemy's fleet, but on securing the immediate capture of a vitally important post. The Americans owed their victory to his action, though it had become as impossible for Britain to retain her grip of the colonies as it had been in old days for the Plantagenet to keep his grip on Scotland.

But France had not yet paid her share of the price for America's victory. The next year, 1782, witnessed the final grapple between Britain and the Bourbons.

Naval battles
In February Minorca was lost; in September a last overwhelming attack was planned upon Gibraltar. But the really decisive engagement had already been fought in April. De Grasse, after leaving Yorktown, had again neglected opportunities of bringing the smaller British squadrons in the West Indies to an engagement which ought to have meant their an­nihilation. In February Rodney returned thither with a new squadron, which gave the British a slight superiority in numbers; but a Spanish fleet was intended to form a junction with De Grasse, and if that junction were effected the allied fleet would have more than twice as many ships of the line as the British. The British fleet lay at Santa Lucia and the French fleet at Martinique, when De Grasse set sail for the point of rendezvous in Hayti and Rodney started in pursuit.

As the two fleets passed Dominica the French admiral again missed an opportunity. It was Rodney's business at all costs to prevent the junction; it was De Grasse's business at almost any cost to effect it. The pursuing British van came up with the French fleet, while the rear still lay becalmed under the lee of Dominica. Apparently De Grasse might have brought his whole fleet to bear upon the van, and if he had done so, he having the advantage of the wind, the British must have been seriously crippled. He engaged, however, with only a part of his fleet in order to ensure the escape of a convoy, and then proceeded on his way. But four days later the British again caught him up before he was clear of the group of islands called The Saints.

The victory was won by the manoeuvre which is called breaking the line, the British ships piercing the French line at two points, throwing it into complete disorder, with the rear unable to come to the aid of the van, and capturing five ships of the line, including the flagship, which carried De Grasse himself. This manoeuvre was not part of Rodney's own plan of action, but was a happy inspiration due to a change of wind while the two fleets were running past each other on opposite tacks; and it is held that if Rodney had made full use of his victory he ought to have annihilated the French fleet.

But as it was he made the junc­tion with the Spaniards impossible, and secured a quite decisive' ascendency in the West Indian waters. In September the last furious attack upon Gibraltar was repulsed by the indomitable valour of the besieged, and Sir George Elliott's magnificent defence was followed by a skilful relief effect by Lord Howe. There was no more fear that Gibraltar would be taken. There remains only one belated phase of the var to be dealt with in the account of Indian affairs, to which we shall turn immediately.

End of the War
After the winter of 1781 no one in England believed that it would be possible to refuse the American demand for independence. After Rodney's victory in the West Indies, and the demonstration that Gibraltar was impregnable, the Bourbon Powers could no longer feel any confidence that a continuation of the war would bring them any advantage. As for the British, they had already suffered so severely that they were ready both to concede American independence and to make peace with the Bourbons upon honourable terms.

The preliminaries of peace were agreed upon by all the parties at the beginning of 1783, though the definitive Treaty of Versailles was not signed till the following September. The conclusion of the war brought no very serious changes other than the separation of the thirteen colonies from the mother country and their formation into the United States. In effect there was a general restoration of conquests, except for the retention of Minorca and Florida by Spain.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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