Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Close of the Revolution

The atrocities introduced into this country by the Tories and Indians caused General Sullivan to go out against the measly enemy, whip him near Elmira, and destroy the fields of corn and villages in the Genesee country, where the Indian women were engaged in farming while their men-folks attended to the massacre industry.

The weak point with the Americans seemed to be lack of a suitable navy. A navy costs money, and the Colonists were poor. In 1775 they fitted out several swift sailing-vessels, which did good service. Inside of five years they captured over five hundred ships, cruised among the British isles, and it is reported that they captured war-vessels that were tied to the English wharves.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Paul Jones had a method of running his vessel alongside the enemy's, lashing the two together, and then having it out with the crew, generally winning in a canter. His idea in lashing the two ships together was to have one good ship to ride home on. Generally it was the one he captured, while his own, which was rotten, was allowed to go down. This was especially the case in the fight between the Richard and the Serapis, September 23, 1779.

In 1780 the war was renewed in South Carolina. Charleston, after a forty days' siege, was forced to surrender. Gates now took charge of the South, and also gave a sprinting exhibition at Camden, where he was almost wiped off the face of the earth. He had only two troops left at the close of the battle, and they could not keep up with Gates in the retreat. This battle and the retreat overheated Gates and sowed the seeds of heart-disease, from which he never recovered. He should have chosen a more peaceful life, such as the hen-traffic, or the growth of asparagus for the market.

Benedict Arnold has been severely reproached in history, but he was a brave soldier, and possibly serving under Gates, who jealously kept him in the background, had a good deal to do with the little European dicker which so darkened his brilliant career as a soldier.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Unhappy man! He was not well received in England, and, though a brilliant man, was forced to sit in a corner evening after evening and hear the English tell his humorous stories as their own.

The Carolinas were full of Tories, and opposition to English rule was practically abandoned in the South for the time, with the exception of that made in a desultory swamp-warfare by the partisan bands with such leaders as Marion, Sumter, and Pickens.

Two hundred thousand dollars of Continental money was the sum now out. Forty dollars of it would buy one dollar's worth of groceries; but the grocer had to know the customer pretty well, and even then it was more to accommodate than anything else that he sold at that price.

The British flooded the country with a counterfeit that was rather better-looking than the genuine: so that by the time a man had paid six hundred dollars for a pair of boots, and the crooked bills had been picked out and others substituted, it made him feel that starting a republic was a mighty unpopular job.

General Arnold had married a Tory lady, and lived in Philadelphia while recovering from his wounds received at Quebec and Saratoga. He was rather a high roller, and ran behind, so that it is estimated that his bills there per month required a peach-basket-full of currency with which to pay them, as the currency was then quoted. Besides, Gates had worried him, and made him think that patriotism was mostly politics. He was also overbearing, and the people of Philadelphia mobbed him once. He was reprimanded gently by Washington, but Arnold was haughty and yet humiliated. He got command of West Point, a very important place indeed, and then arranged with Clinton to swap it for six thousand three hundred and fifteen pounds and a colonelcy in the English army.

Major Andre was appointed to confer with Arnold, and got off the ship Vulture to make his way to the appointed place, but it was daylight by that time, and the Vulture, having been fired on, dropped down the river. Andre now saw no way for him but to get back to New York; but at Tarrytown he was met by three patriots, who caught his horse by the reins, and, though Andre tried to tip them, he did not succeed. They found papers on his person, among them a copy of Punch, which made them suspicious that he was not an American, and so he was tried and hanged as a spy. This was one of the saddest features of the American Revolution, and should teach us to be careful how we go about in an enemy's country, also to use great care in selecting and subscribing for papers.

In 1781, Greene, who succeeded Gates, took charge of the two thousand ragged and bony troops. January 17 he was attacked at Cowpens by Tarleton. The militia fell back, and the English made a grand charge, supposing victory to be within reach. But the wily and foxy troops turned at thirty yards and gave the undertaking business a boom that will never be forgotten.

Morgan was in command of the Colonial forces. He went on looking for more regulars to kill, but soon ran up against Cornwallis the surrenderer.

General Greene now joined Morgan, and took charge of the retreat. At the Yadkin River they crossed over ahead of Cornwallis, when it began for to rain. When Cornwallis came to the river he found it so swollen and restless that he decided not to cross. Later he crossed higher up, and made for the fords of the Dan at thirty miles a day, to head off the Americans. Greene beat him, however, by a length, and saved his troops.

The writer has seen the place on the Yadkin where Cornwallis decided not to cross. It was one of the pivotal points of the war, and is of about medium height.

A fight followed at Guilford Court-House, where the Americans were driven back, but the enemy got thinned out so noticeably that Cornwallis decided to retreat. He went back to Washington on a Bull Run schedule, without pausing even for feed or water. Cornwallis was greatly agitated, and the coat he wore at the time, and now shown in the Smithsonian Institution, shows distinctly the marks made where the Colonists played checkers on the tail.

The battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, also greatly reduced the British forces at that point.

Arnold conducted a campaign into Virginia, and was very brutal about it, killing a great many people who were strangers to him, and who had never harmed him, not knowing him, as the historian says, from "Adam's off ox."

Cornwallis in this Virginia and Southern trip destroyed ten million dollars' worth of property, and then fortified himself at Yorktown.

Washington decided to besiege Yorktown, and, making a feint to fool Clinton, set out for that place, visiting Mount Vernon en route after an absence of six and a half years, though only stopping two days. Washington was a soldier in the true sense, and, when a lad, was given a little hatchet by his father. George cut down some cherry-trees with this, in order to get the cherries without climbing the trees. One day his father discovered that the trees had been cut down, and spoke of it to the lad.

"Yes," said George, "I did it with my little hatchet; but I would rather cut down a thousand cherry-trees and tell the truth about it than be punished for it."

"Well said, my brave boy!" exclaimed the happy father as he emptied George's toy bank into his pocket in payment for the trees. "You took the words right out of my mouth."

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In speaking of the siege of Yorktown, the historian says, "The most hearty good will prevailed." What more could you expect of a siege than that?

Cornwallis capitulated October 19. It was the most artistic capitulation he had ever given. The troops were arranged in two lines facing each other, British and American with their allies the French under Rochambeau.

People came from all over the country who had heard of Cornwallis and his wonderful genius as a capitulator. They came for miles, and brought their lunches with them; but the general, who felt an unnecessary pique towards Washington, refused to take part in the exercises himself, claiming that by the advice of his physicians he would have to remain in his tent, as they feared that he had over-capitulated himself already. He therefore sent his sword by General O'Hara, and Washington turned it over to Lincoln, who had been obliged to surrender to the English at Charleston.

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The news reached Philadelphia in the night, and when the watchman cried, "Past two o'clock, and Cornwallis is taken!" the people arose and went and prayed and laughed like lunatics, for they regarded the war as virtually ended. The old door-keeper of Congress died of delight. Thanks were returned to Almighty God, and George Washington's nomination was a sure thing.

England decided that whoever counselled war any further was a public enemy, and Lord North, then prime minister, when he heard of the surrender of Cornwallis through a New York paper, exclaimed, "Oh, God! it is all over!"

Washington now showed his sagacity in quelling the fears of the soldiers regarding their back pay. He was invited to become king, but, having had no practice, and fearing that he might run against a coup d'etat or faux pas, he declined, and spoke kindly against taking violent measures.

In 1783, September 3, a treaty of peace was signed in Paris, and Washington, delivering the most successful farewell address ever penned, retired to Mount Vernon, where he began at once to enrich his farm with the suggestions he had received during his absence, and to calmly take up the life that had been interrupted by the tedious and disagreeable war.

The country was free and independent, but, oh, how ignorant it was about the science of government! The author does not wish to be personal when he states that the country at that time did not know enough about affairs to carry water for a circus elephant.

It was heavily in debt, with no power to raise money. New England refused to pay her poll-tax, and a party named Shays directed his hired man to overturn the government; but a felon broke out on his thumb, and before he could put it down the crisis was averted and the country saved.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye