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Thomas Jefferson Describes the Revolutionary War in the South
Digital History ID 145

Author:   Thomas Jefferson


Few Americans realize that much of the Revolution's bitterest fighting took place in the South. To replace the army that had been captured at Charleston, Horatio Gates (1728-1806), the hero of Saratoga assembled raw recruits in Virginia and North Carolina. He then rushed into South Carolina to halt the British advance. Charles, Lord Cornwallis (1738-1805) intercepted Gates' forces outside Camden, South Carolina, and devastated the poorly prepared army.

Buoyed by his victories, Cornwallis advanced toward North Carolina even before he had secured firm control in South Carolina. As soon as Cornwallis forces began to march, rebel guerrilla bands, led by such legendary figures as the "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion (1732-1795), began to attack British loyalists.

In October 1780, an army of frontiersmen defeated one wing of Cornwallis's army at Kings Mountain in northern South Carolina. Without support of his full army, Cornwallis was unable to suppress rebel guerrilla bands, which terrorized British loyalists.

In the fall of 1780, Britain under Benedict Arnold invaded Virginia. Thomas Jefferson was serving as governor of Virginia at the time of the invasion. In January 1781, Britain staged a second invasion, which resulted in the capture and burning of Richmond. Jefferson was forced to move the state government to Charlottesville; the state archives were lost, destroyed, or captured. A side expedition raided Jefferson's home at Monticello. Jefferson's governorship would be marred by this debacle during his last days in office.

Interestingly, Jefferson was so eager to secure Virginia's claims to the Ohio country that he had tried to send part of the Virginia militia to the region a few months earlier. The militia units, however, had mutinied and refused to leave Virginia.


Certain information being received that a considerable Fleet of the Enemy has arrived within our Capes, and have begun their debarkation I have thought proper with advice of the Council of State, to require one fourth of the Militia of your County to repair immediately to Richmond armed & accoutred in the best manner possible. Let every Man bring his own Blanket. It is not necessary that any field Officer should come with them, as field and General Officers will be provided by the Executive. They are to [be] furnished with provisions by impressing it, as directed by the provision Law, giving the persons from whom they take it, a Certificate of the Article, Price and Purpose, and transmitting to me a List of all such Certificates. I am to request that you lose not a Moments Time in the execution of these Orders.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Thomas Jefferson to John Smith

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