American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783
William M. Fowler Jr.
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Most people believe the American Revolution ended in October, 1781, after the battle of Yorktown; in fact the war continued for two more traumatic years. During that time, the Revolution came closer to being lost than at any time in the previous half dozen. The British still held New York, Savannah, Wilmington, and Charleston; the Royal Navy controlled the seas; the states--despite having signed the Articles of Confederation earlier that year--retained their individual sovereignty and, largely bankrupt themselves, refused to send any money in the new nation's interest; members of Congress were in constant disagreement; and the Continental army was on the verge of mutiny.
William Fowler's An American Crisis chronicles these tumultuous and dramatic two years, from Yorktown until the British left New York in November 1783. At their heart was the remarkable speech Gen. George Washington gave to his troops evcamped north of New York in Newburgh, quelling a brewing rebellion that could have overturned the nascent government.
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north to the safety of Fort Niagara. Sullivan’s expedition brought only a momentary respite to the northern frontier. As one of Sullivan’s officers, Major Jeremiah Fogg, wrote, “The nests are destroyed, but the birds are still on the wing,” and in the spring of 1780 Iroquois warriors swept south to take bloody revenge. For the rest of the war upstate New York remained unsettled.51 Having sacrificed so much in the cause of his king, Brant was stunned when he learned that peace was in the offing
intransigent, sought to smooth Congress’s sharp edge of rejection by offering a measure to release General Cornwallis from his parole. The motion brought down a howl of protest. The most virulent objections came from the South Carolinian Edward Rutledge, John’s younger brother. His state had suffered mightily under the rampages of Cornwallis’s army. According to Charles Thomson, Rutledge “inveighed against” the motion “with so much warmth and indignation that it was rejected with a loud and
suffered, he could not vouch that such would be the case again.24 Knox added his voice. He wrote Lincoln, “The expectations of the Army from the drummer to the highest officer are so keen for some pay that I shudder at the idea of them not receiving it.” There would be, he wrote, “convulsions.”25 December 1782 was a month of despair in Philadelphia. It had been a tempestuous time. Rhode Island’s delegate David Howell had been pilloried by his fellow members for breaking confidence and sharing
the army’s tangled logistics. At home, however, he fell out of step with his New York constituency when he insisted on the need to enlarge the powers of Congress at the expense of the states. Defeated for reelection in 1779, he opted to remain in Philadelphia, where he entered into a business partnership with Robert Morris. A notorious rake—“I like only the yielding kiss and that from lips I love”—Morris had shattered and lost his leg in 1780 when, according to rumor, he jumped out of a bedroom
touch hole, the cannon roared and leaped back on its carriage as hundreds of other guns, American and French, followed with a thunderous barrage. General Charles Cornwallis, the British commander who five years before, while pursuing Washington across New Jersey, had boasted that he would “bag the American fox,” was himself brought to ground. The Revolution had not gone well for the British. Initially a colonial rebellion, by 1778 it had spilled into a world war with the entry of the French as