The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

Time Line: The American Revolution
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January 1, the Pennsylvania Continentals mutiny. Washington orders the New Jersey Continentals to march to position themselves between the mutinying troops and the British on Staten Island. Nonetheless, British General Henry Clinton learns of the mutiny and on January 3 gets messengers through to the Pennsylvania Continentals. But the mutineers turn the messengers over to Congress and they are hung as British spies.

January 3, Washington writes Anthony Wayne with news of the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Continentals. He worries that if Congress removes itself from Philadelphia, apart from the "indignity," it may provoke the mutineers to "wreak their vengeance upon the persons and properties of the citizens,...." In his January 7 letter to Henry Knox, Washington gives him instructions on where and how to obtain the supplies and necessities that he hopes will appease the mutineers. Washington describes to Knox the "alarming crisis to which our affairs have arrived by a too long neglect of measures essential to the existence of an Army,...." (See below on the mutiny of the New Jersey Continentals January 20) George Washington to Anthony Wayne, January 3, 1781 | George Washington to Henry Knox, January 7, 1781

January 5, Benedict Arnold invades Richmond, Virginia, and Governor Thomas Jefferson and government officials are forced to flee.

January 16-17, General Daniel Morgan and Lieutenant Colonel William Washington defeat British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton's Legion at Cowpens, South Carolina. Tarleton escapes and is pursued unsuccessfully by William Washington and a company on horseback. The expression "Tarleton's Quarter," used by American soldiers during War, refers to the British officer's practice of not giving any, even in surrender. (William Washington is a cousin of George Washington.)

January-March, Nathanael Greene (who took command of the Southern Army at Charlotte, North Carolina, December 2, 1780) leads General Charles Cornwallis and his forces on a chase through South and North Carolina.
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis
[between 1900 and 1912] 1 transparency.
Trumbull, John, 1756-1843, artist.
from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Reproduction #: LC-D415-50235(color glass transparency)
Greene's path avoids engagements that he cannot win, exhausts Cornwallis and his army, and dangerously lengthens their supply lines. January - February, Greene and Cornwallis race to the Dan River on the Virginia border, with Cornwallis failing to catch up in time to cut off Greene and Colonel Otho Williams and their forces. February 14, Greene and Williams cross the Dan River into Virginia. Washington's March 21 letter to Greene congratulates him on saving his baggage "notwithstanding the hot pursuit of the Enemy," and assures him that his "Retreat before Lord Cornwallis is highly applauded by all Ranks and reflects much honor on your military Abilities." George Washington to Nathanael Greene, March 21, 1781

January 20, the New Jersey Continentals mutiny. Washington, fearing the total dissolution of the Army, urges severe measures. He is less excusing of this mutiny because, as he writes in a circular letter to the New England state governors, Congress has been working to redress the Continental Army's grievances. Washington orders Robert Howe from West Point to suppress the mutiny and to execute the most extreme ringleaders. Howe forms a court martial that sentences three leaders to be shot by twelve of their fellow mutineers. Two are executed and one pardoned. On January 27, Washington writes the Congressional committee formed to respond to the soldiers' grievances that "having punished guilt and supported authority, it now becomes proper to do justice" and urges the committee to provide the much needed redress. George Washington to the Committee for Resolving the Grievances of the New Jersey Line, January 27, 1781

March 1, the Articles of Confederation are ratified by Maryland, the last state to ratify, and can now go into effect. The Articles had been sent to the states for ratification in 1777.

May 21-22, Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French army in Rhode Island, meet in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and agree to appeal to Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, to come north for a combined operation.

May 24, British General Charles Cornwallis encamps with troops on the Virginia plantation of William Byrd.

June 4, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton nearly captures Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Jefferson, governor of Virginia, and other state officials flee to the Shenandoah Valley.

July 6, the French army and its commander Rochambeau, join Washington and his army at Dobb's Ferry, New York. Washington plans a combined assault on the British on Manhattan Island. August 14, he learns that the French fleet, consisting of 34 warships with transports carrying 3200 troops will be arriving in the Chesapeake from the West Indies under the command of Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, and will be available for a combined effort until October 19.

September 18, Washington, Rochambeau, and de Grasse, meet on the Ville de Paris at Hampton Roads. September 28, their combined forces are arranged for battle against British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown.

October 14, the Americans and French begin bombarding Yorktown. October 16, Cornwallis orders about 1,000 of his troops to attempt an escape across the York River.

October 17, Cornwallis offers a white flag and negotiations for surrender begin at Moore House in Yorktown.

October 19, Cornwallis's army surrenders. Washington asks Benjamin Lincoln to receive the surrender. Lincoln had been forced to surrender to British General Henry Clinton at Charleston May 13, 1780. Cornwallis, who is reportedly ill, designates Brigadier General Charles O 'Hara to perform the formal surrender in his place. Tradition has it that as the British lay down their arms, their army band played an old Scottish tune adapted to the nursery rhyme, "The World Turned Upside Down."

October 19, a British fleet leaves New York harbor to come to the aid of Cornwallis in Virginia. Having arrived too late, the fleet hovers about the area for a few days and returns home October 28-30.

October 25, Washington's general orders declare that free blacks in the area in the wake of the battle of Yorktown should be left to go where they please, while slaves who have followed the British army must be returned to their owners. But the confusion of war allows some slaves an opportunity to gain their freedom in a variety of ways. Some slaves represent themselves as free, while others offer themselves as servants to French and American officers. Washington's general orders indicate that there were difficulties in returning slaves to their pre-war status. George Washington, General Orders, October 25, 1781

November 5 John Parke ("Jacky") Custis, Washington's stepson, dies of camp fever at Yorktown.

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