Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.



By Judy Leithe

Throughout the northeastern winter of 1780, General Washington’s army struggled due to a lack of the most basic provisions – food and clothing, as well as going for months without pay. Fortunately, there were many soldiers committed to staying with Washington, but these hardships were causing others to leave at the end of their army contracts and, even more distressing, some soldiers were simply deserting in the middle of the night.

In the South, after the British General Cornwallis took control of Charleston, South Carolina, in May of 1780, and continued his march, capturing town after town.

However, in France, a few months earlier, the tireless efforts of U.S. Ambassadors Benjamin Franklin and John Laurens had succeeded in negotiating with the French government for a combination loan and gift of six million livres for military supplies to support the Continental Army. And, on July 11th, a fleet of 32 transport ships, seven heavily armed battleships, two frigates, and two smaller warships, along with 7,000 soldiers, arrived in the bay off of Newport, Rhode Island.

Formal introductions of the two armies were exchanged: first, General Washington inspected the smartly outfitted French troops; then, General Rochambeau viewed the Continental troops. The poorly-clad condition of the American soldiers was noted, but many French officers were surprised by the obvious show of loyalty the Americans had for their General.

NOTE: First-hand observations of the 49-year-old Washington can be summed up in comments made by a member of the French Academy, Chevalier de Chastellux: Washington was… “the greatest and best of men;” “brave without temerity…noble without pride…virtuous without severity.” Most impressive, in Chastellux’s words, was Washington’s implicit submission to the people’s representatives: “This is the seventh year that he has commanded the army and he has obeyed Congress: more than that cannot be said.”-      

        - From Ron Chernow’s book, Washington – A Life

British General Cornwallis and his army were having great successes in the South and he had every expectation of restoring royal authority over its population.

Among Cornwallis’ entourage was twenty-six-year-old, Banastre Tarleton, Commander of the British Light Infantry. His cavalry unit was known as, “Tarleton’s Raiders.” Tarleton had earned the reputation of being a butcher after having American soldiers brutally killed as they lay wounded on the ground, allowing his men to freely attack women and, including, setting fire to a church with all of its congregation locked inside. He seemed indomintable, that is, until he came up against the battle-tested American, Daniel Morgan. (See Article 34.)

In the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781, Tarleton and his dragoons were brilliantly outmaneuvered by Brigadier General Morgan. Tarleton was able to escape, but the Americans inflicted heavy casualties on the British. Winning this battle was a turning point for the Continental Army and the Southern Campaign.

Next week: YORKTOWN