The American Revolutionary War in the South


July 29, 2019
by Patrick H. Hannum Also by this Author


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The American Revolutionary War in the South: A Re-evaluation from a British Perspective in Light of the Cornwallis Papers by Ian Saberton (Grosvenor House Publishing Limited, 2018)

Ian Saberton provides insight and analysis prompted by his extensive research as editor of the Cornwallis Papers in his book appropriately titled, The American Revolutionary War in the South: A Re-evaluation from a British Perspective in Light if the Cornwallis Papers. This text consists of a series of eight short essays, organized into eight chapters, ranging in length from three to twenty-three pages on topics derived from his research and analysis. He addresses the material from a British perspective, and the topics he selected are relevant to those with interest in the southern theater.

His first two chapters are the most substantive, making up nearly half of the narrative. The first addresses the question, “Was the American Revolutionary War in the south winnable by the British?” He concludes it was winnable but required more regular forces under the command of a general who had the temperament to fight a partisan civil war. This strategy would require strategic patience on the part of both the political and military leadership and necessitate the pacification of both Georgia and South Carolina before turning attention to the north. Unfortunately, the British had neither the appropriate leadership, in Clinton and Cornwallis, nor the patience, nor the manpower. A political decision to limit the supply of regular troops in the North American theater necessitated significant local Loyalist militia support that never materialized. Had the British reallocated large numbers of regular troops to the south, their approach may have succeeded in time. Saberton’s position on this topic is consistent with British historian Piers Macksey.

His second chapter reevaluates selected actors and events. He cites a number of previously published works to support his position and provide readers an opportunity to research further and conduct their own analysis. His research also highlights some lesser-known individuals who were key figures in the southern theater, including George Hanger, subject of a recent biography by Saberton.  In this chapter he also considers some key events and appropriately highlights the value of information as a weapon in the hands of the Patriots or Whigs and their effectiveness in using it to their advantage. In his analysis of Gen. George Washington being lucky at Yorktown, I disagree. As a student of the Yorktown Campaign, the key British commanders, Clinton, Cornwallis, Rodney, Graves and Hood were caught off balance during the late summer and early fall of 1781, and they failed to anticipate the actions of the Franco-American allies. Simply stated, they were “out generaled” in the land and maritime campaign that ended at Yorktown. Luck always plays a role in warfare, but Washington, Rochambeau, de Grasse and de Barras designed and executed an effective plan, controlling the timing and tempo of the campaign.

The remaining chapters discuss a number of topics derived from a study of events in the southern theater. These include Cornwallis’s advance from Camden to Charlotte during 1780, British troop strength at Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis’s eventful shipboard passage to England following Yorktown, a summary of conditions in the South Carolina backcountry, a vignette on the American rifleman, and a synopsis on the importance of the Cornwallis Papers. The book is a quick read thanks to the writing skill of the author. However, it is filled with analysis of events and references that provide the reader the ability to research further or accept the thoughtful findings and analysis presented by the author. I found this text helpful in highlighting relevant information accompanied by logical analysis based on primary source information that is documented in the six volumes of the Cornwallis Papers and supported by wide reading and research by the author.


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