• Today's Daily Devotion
A Mortifying End
Mortification, not age, drew lines on General Cornwallis’s face in October 1781. Six years had passed since he helped command the British victory on Long Island.

A Mortifying End

Mortification, not age, drew lines on General Cornwallis’s face in October 1781. Six years had passed since he helped command the British victory on Long Island. However, it was a hamlet in Virginia that humbled one of Britain’s most experienced generals.

“I HAVE the mortification to inform your Excellency that I have been forced to give up the Posts of York and Gloucester, and to surrender the troops under my command,” General Cornwallis wrote to General Clinton.

Cornwallis’s loss at Yorktown was the worst military defeat of his life. For weeks he had chased fox Nathanael Greene and his flying force. But it was Cornwallis who found himself surrounded at Yorktown. He explained to Clinton that George Washington and his army arrived on September 30th. Instead of implementing a frontal assault, the Continentals and French began a Charleston-like siege.

“I never saw this post in a very favorable light, but when I found I was to be attacked in it in so unprepared a state, by so powerful an army and artillery, nothing but the hopes of relief would have induced me to attempt its defense,” Cornwallis reminded of his opposition to Clinton’s decision to send him to Yorktown to build a camp.

Anguish and anger poured from his pen. The now humble Cornwallis blamed Clinton for not backing him up. “I would either have endeavored to escape to New York by rapid marches from the Gloucester side, immediately on the arrival of General Washington’s troops,” Cornwallis explained of his reasons for not retreating, “or I would, notwithstanding the disparity of numbers, have attacked them in the open field, where it might have been just possible.”

Cornwallis rejected these options because his military math resulted in a negative answer. He had too much honor to retreat, but too few troops to attack. What frustrated him more than this formula was Clinton’s failure to send reinforcements in a timely manner, something Cornwallis had requested on a number of occasions.

“But being assured by your Excellency’s letters that every possible means would be tried by the navy and army to relieve us, I could not think myself at liberty to venture upon either of those desperate attempts,” wrote Cornwallis, defending his decision.

Cornwallis also praised “the labor and firmness of the soldiers” to defend the post. “Everything was to be expected from the spirit of the troops, but every disadvantage attended their labor,” Cornwallis noted of their supply shortages.

Charles Cornwallis surrendered when the hourglass dropped its last grain of sand. He did not have the supplies or manpower to wait any longer for reinforcements. On October 17th he sent a young drummer boy onto the field to play a song of truce.


God, I surrender my purposes and plans to you, knowing you are the ruler of the sand and sea.

“He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth”

(Psalm 72:8).

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