January of 1781
January 1-10, 1781
Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line
Winter inactivity combined with grievances concerning enlistment terms, pay, and food, among other things, culminates in mutiny in the Continental camp located near Princeton, New Jersey. Little is known about how the mutiny is organized. The two leaders are a William Bozar and John Williams. Only two individuals are recorded as having died in the mutiny. The mutineers intend to confront the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne manages to defuse the situation on which the British hope to capitalize. However, almost half the soldiers involved in the mutiny leave the army.
January 17, 1781
Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina
Brigadier General Daniel Morgan of the Continental Army defeats British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion and supporting regulars. The American forces number over 1,000 while those of Tarleton are about 1,000 men. The battle commences early in the morning. The British mistake the repositioning of the Americans as a rout and run into an unexpected volley of concentrated rifle fire causing them to panic and flee the battlefield. The British losses are 100 killed and 229 wounded while an additional 600 are captured. American rifles, scorned by the profession British soldiers, prove devastatingly effective in this engagement. The American losses total only 12 killed and 60 wounded in this lopsided victory that provides a badly needed uplift for Patriot morale at a critical point in the war.
January 20-27, 1781
Mutiny of the New Jersey Line
While in winter quarters at Pompton, New Jersey, these soldiers have the same basic complaints as their compatriots of the Pennsylvania Line. Washington sends a 600-man force commanded by Robert Howe to suppress the mutiny and enforce unconditional surrender. Howe surrounds the Pompton encampment at dawn on the 27th. Sergeant David Gilmore and John Tuttle are tried and immediately executed on the spot by other prominent mutineers serving as an example to the other soldiers.
January 24, 1781
Raid on Georgetown, South Carolina
Patriot commanders Henry Lee and Francis Marion combine their forces and conduct a raid upon Georgetown, which is defended by 200 British soldiers commanded by Colonel Campbell. The Americans manage to arrive at Georgetown undetected but are surprised to discover the British refuse to engage them. Not wishing to take casualties, the Americans parole Campbell and his men.
February of 1781
February 1, 1781
Skirmish at Tarrant’s Tavern (Torrence’s Tavern), North Carolina
Located 10 miles from the Catawba River, this tavern saw Lord Cornwallis’ soldiers led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton engage a group Patriot militia commanded by William Lee Davidson. The British rout the Patriots but the actual losses incurred are still in dispute.
March of 1781
March 1, 1781
Articles of Confederation Are Ratified
The Continental Congress ratifies the Articles of Confederation initially proposed by Richard Henry Lee on June 7, 1776. After a long delay these articles are sent to the individual states for ratification on November 15, 1777. Bickering over land claims between Virginia and Maryland holds up ratification until March 1, 1781. The nation is guided by the Articles of Confederation until the ratification of the Constitution on November 21, 1788.
March 15, 1781
Costly British victory at Guilford Courthouse
British troops win a costly victory over Continentals and militia at Guilford Courthouse, N.C. The battle is part of General Nathanael Greene's strategy of engaging the British on ground of his choosing. Without winning a single clear-cut victory, he will succeed in wearing down the British army through hit-and-run tactics and set-piece battles.
April of 1781
April 15-23, 1781
Fort Watson, South Carolina
Continental General Nathanael Greene detaches Henry Lee to screen his forces against any movement by Lord Cornwallis in the Wilmington area. The threat does not materialize and Lee and Francis Marion combine forces to lay siege to Fort Watson, which is a vital link in the scheme of British communications. Fort Watson is a small, but strong, position defended by a mixed force of 120 British regulars and Loyalists. After a short but sharp skirmish the British surrender. Two Americans are killed and six wounded.
April 25, 1781
Clash at Hobkirk’s Hill (Camden), South Carolina
Concomitant with Lord Cornwallis’ retreat to Wilmington, North Carolina, after the British defeat at Guilford Courthouse, the task of defending South Carolina falls to a young nobleman of Irish ancestry, Lord Francis Rawdon-Hastings, an officer of marked ability. The movement of the Continentals under Nathanael Greene is anticipated by Rawdon whose Loyalist supporters provide information about the Continentals’ movements. A Continental deserter informs Rawdon about the precarious supply situation and Rawdon springs into action. Although outnumbered 1,174 to 800, he manages to surprise Greene and in the ensuing engagement the Continentals panic. Although casualties are approximately the same on each side, the British win a tactical victory. Greene retreats, managing to save his supplies and artillery, while Rawdon and his force fall back upon Charleston.
May of 1781
May 12, 1781
Fort Motte, South Carolina
This position is strategically located where the Congaree and the Wateree form the Santee River and is the principal communications post of the British between Charleston and the interior of the state. A former mansion is fortified and held by a force of British dragoons and infantry comprising over 150 men. Forces commanded by Henry Lee and Francis Marion request that the British surrender, but they refuse. After a siege of only a few days the British surrender and are paroled. The Americans lose two men killed in the process while the British incur no casualties.
May 15, 1781
Engagement at Fort Granby, South Carolina
A 352-man Loyalist force commanded by Major Andrew Maxwell defends a fortified frame building rather eloquently named “Fort Granby.” Maxwell is known more for gathering plunder than any conspicuous military ability. A Patriot force commanded by Henry Lee assaults the position but Maxwell agrees to surrender providing he is allowed to maintain possession of his plunder. After some haggling, Lee agrees to the proposition and Maxwell departs the fort with two wagonloads of personal loot. A valuable position, with ammunition and provisions, falls to the Continentals without the loss of a man.
June of 1781
May 22 - June 19, 1781
Siege of Ninety Six, South Carolina
After Camden, Ninety Six is the most important position in South Carolina. Rawdon’s message to abandon the place is intercepted by the Patriots. Ninety Six is manned by 550 Loyalists, commanded by Colonel John Cruger, and the main defenses are Fort Holmes and the Star Redoubt. The Loyalists have sufficient provisions but little artillery. A Loyalist manages to penetrate Patriot lines and informs them that Rawdon is on his way to succor the beleaguered Loyalists. The Patriots led by Greene are forced to commence an immediate assault. The Americans, unable to breech the defenses, are forced to retreat, and lose over 185 men killed and wounded while British losses are 75 killed and wounded.
July of 1781
July 3, 1781
Action at King’s Bridge, New York
This bridge, isolated at Spuyten Duyvil Creek separating Manhattan and the Bronx, is strategically important for the British in New York City. General Benjamin Lincoln, who calls off a proposed attack when the element of surprise is compromised, commands the Patriot forces.
July 6, 1781
Battle of Green Spring (Jamestown Ford), Virginia
Cornwallis fails to destroy a force of Continentals led by Lafayette. He then abandons Williamsburg and prepares to cross the James River. An advance guard consisting of 900 men led by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne attempts to engage a vastly superior British force of approximately 7,000 soldiers. Upon realizing the size of the British force, the Americans retreat in good order. American loses are 28 killed, 99 wounded, and 12 missing. British losses total 75 killed and wounded.
July 10, 1781
Action at Sharon Springs Swamp, New York
While at Fort Plank, Colonel Marinus Willett observes smoke rising from Currytown located four miles south of his position. He leads a force numbering approximately 150 against a combined Loyalist and Indian band of 300 commanded by John Doxtader. Using superior tactics, Willet draws the enemy into a trap. In the ensuing engagement, 40 Loyalist and Indians die while Patriot losses total five dead and nine wounded or missing.
July 17, 1781
Engagement at Quinby’s Bridge, South Carolina
Patriot General Thomas Sumter leads a force that also has men from Henry Lee, Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”), and Thomas Taylor. The British forces, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Coates, consist of the 19th Regiment and some South Carolina Rangers holding an excellent defensive position. Sumter completely mismanages the attack, and when 700 British reinforcements arrive the next morning, the Americans break off the engagement. Marion, Taylor, and Lee are so disgusted by Sumter’s ineptness that they depart the next day.
August of 1781
August 1, 1781
Cornwallis Establishes Base at Yorktown, Virginia
General Cornwalllis, after unsuccessfully trying to engage Nathanael Green’s forces, decides to rest his troops at the small port of Yorktown on the Chesapeake Bay. This, he believes, will enable him to communicate freely with General Clinton whose army is in New York.
August 4, 1781
Isaac Hayne Is Executed
Patriot militia officer Isaac Hayne is executed by the British. Prior to the war he is a horse breeder and owns an iron works. Hayne is captured at Charleston and paroled, but later the British attempt to have him join the Loyalist militia. Hayne considers the terms of his parole invalidated by this action and once again joins the Patriots. He is again captured but this time hanged as a spy without a trial.
August 6, 1781
Combined Loyalist-Indian Raid on Shell’s Bush, New York
Donald McDonald, leading a combined force of 60 Indians and Loyalists, surprises the Patriots as they work in the fields. Most run to Fort Clayton about five miles away but a German, John Christian Shell (Schell?), and his family make a stand in their blockhouse. McDonald is wounded, captured, and dies the next day, after his leg is amputated. Additionally, Shell and 11 attackers are also killed while another six of their number are wounded in the failed raid.
August 13, 1781
Engagement at Parker’s Ferry, South Carolina
Colonel William Harden commands a detachment of soldiers at Parker’s Ferry located approximately 30 miles from Charleston. Loyalists numbering 450 men commence an uprising and are to be reinforced by 200 dragoons commanded by Major Thomas Fraser. Fraser moves his men undetected until his force falls victim to a Patriot ambush just short of his objective. Three successive volleys of musket fire by the Patriots severely maul the ranks of the dragoons. Only the shortage of ammunition among the Patriots saves the dragoons, who lose half their force in the skirmish.
Sepetmber of 1781
September 5-8, 1781
Battle of the Capes Fought in Waters off Yorktown, Virginia
A French fleet consisting of 29 warships, commanded by Admiral Francois de Grasse, defeats a British squadron composed of 33 warships under the command of Admiral Thomas Graves. The British are forced to retreat, leaving the French in control of the Chesapeake and trapping the British army on the Yorktown Peninsula.
September 6, 1781
Burning and Looting of New London, Connecticut
In order to create a diversion to draw strength from the allied army marching toward Yorktown, British soldiers, commanded by the traitor Benedict Arnold, launch a raid on New London. Here, the Continentals have a large amount of military supplies guarded by only 24 soldiers commanded by Captain Adam Sharpley at Fort Griswold. Loyalists aid Arnold in his assault. Sharpley is forced to retreat and the town is burned by Arnold causing $500,000 in damage. Patriot losses are approximately 240 killed and wounded to about 200 for the British. Numerous Americans are reported to have been bayoneted after their surrender. This is the last major action in the North and produces further Patriot outrage against the blighted reputation of the turncoat Arnold.
September 8, 1781
Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina
After receiving reinforcements, Nathanael Greene resumes offensive action against Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart at Eutaw Springs, located on the banks of the Santee River. Greene commands approximately 2,200 men compared to the less than 2,000 effectives possessed by Stewart. Once again the Patriots fail to display sufficient acumen in combat, losing over 500 men killed or wounded. The British losses are even greater with almost 700 killed, wounded, or missing. This action forces the British to withdraw to Charleston in one of the hardest fought battles and last major engagement of the war in the South. American control of the southern section of the country is virtually assured.
September 28, 1781
Siege of Yorktown Commences
A combined French and Continental army led by George Washington begins the siege of British troops at Yorktown. Cornwallis and his 9,000 men are surrounded by a combined army composed of 17,000 Continental and French soldiers. British supplies dwindle as the French and American artillery continuously fires, day and night, upon the British fortifications.
October of 1781
October 3, 1781
Skirmish at Glouster, Virginia
This is part of the Yorktown Campaign. The British, commanded by Thomas Dundas, are foraging when then encounter French cavalry commanded by General de Choisy. In a short clash 3 Frenchmen are killed and 16 wounded. British losses are unknown but they retreat, leaving the French in command of the field of battle.
October 17, 1781
Cornwallis Proposes Terms of Surrender
Realizing the hopelessness of his situation, Cornwallis proposes terms of surrender to Washington. He will surrender his war material and states that his men will no longer engage in war against the United States or France. Cornwallis also wishes for his officers to retain their side arms and personal baggage.
October 19, 1781
Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown, Virginia
Lord Cornwallis surrenders and over 7,000 British soldiers march off into captivity to the tune “The World Turned Upside Down.” The British are unable to marshal another army in America and this virtually ensures American independence although it will take until November 30, 1782, for the colonists and England to sign a provisional peace treaty.
October 20-30, 1781
Combined British, Loyalist, and Indian Raid Launched in the Mohawk Valley, New York
This force, led by Major John Ross, is nipped in the bud by a combination of lack of Indian interest, muddy roads, and the possibility of encountering Patriot militia commanded by Colonel Marinus Willett. This is the last attempted British offensive in Tryon County.
October 30, 1781
Skirmish at Jerseyfield, New York
Colonel Willett’s Patriots catch up with the retreating force commanded by Major Ross at West Canada Creek. At a point that is fairly deep and wide, shooting breaks out and a number of men on each side are hit. Loyalist leader Walter Butler is mortally wounded and later scalped by an Oneida Indian. Patriots pursue the Loyalists for 20 miles before giving up the chase.
November of 1781
November 7, 1781
Clash at Cloud’s Creek, South Carolina
A force of 300 Loyalists led by William “Bloody Bill” Cunningham assaults a group of 30 Patriots commanded by Captain George Turner, Captain James Butler Sr., and his son James Jr. The Patriots are slaughtered after an impetuous young Butler shoots a Loyalist during negotiations to surrender. All but 2 Patriots are killed in the ensuing massacre.
November 18, 1781
British Evacuation of Wilmington, North Carolina
Major James H. Craig, commanding between 400 and 450 British regulars, who captured the town on February 1, is forced to abandon the town in order to avoid capture by Continental forces moving to reinforce Nathanael Greene after the surrender of Yorktown. Craig takes with him any Loyalists who wish to leave the town.
December of 1781
December 1, 1781
Encounter at Dorchester, South Carolina
After the Battle of Eutaw Springs Nathanael Greene departed the area. British forces are now commanded by Major John Doyle who takes over from a wounded Alexander Stewart. Greene launches an assault at Dorchester located 15 miles northwest of Charleston and defended by 850 men. The British fail to realize that Greene has only 400 men under his command and hastily retreat to Charleston after destroying what they are unable to carry with them. British forces are so concerned about a Patriot attack upon the city that they take the extraordinary step of arming black slaves.
December 28-29, 1781
Engagement at John’s Island, South Carolina
British troops commanded by Major James Henry Craig are posted here outside of Charleston, after they evacuate Wilmington, North Carolina. Henry Lee’s intricate plan of assault is aborted when a column led by Major James Hamilton arrives too late and is unable to cross the Wapoo River, which was only fordable once or twice a month.