Its chief contribution was in destroying british mer

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Its chief contribution was in destroying British mer- chant shipping and thus carrying the war into the wa- ters around the British Isles. More numerous and damaging than ships of the regular American navy were swift privateers. These craft were privately owned armed ships—legalized pi- rates in a sense—specifically authorized by Congress to prey on enemy shipping. Altogether over a thousand American privateers, responding to the call of patrio- tism and profit, sallied forth with about seventy thou- sand men (“sailors of fortune”). They captured some six hundred British prizes, while British warships captured about as many American merchantmen and privateers. Privateering was not an unalloyed asset. It had the unfortunate effect of diverting manpower from the main war effort and involving Americans, including Benedict Arnold, in speculation and graft. But the pri- vateers brought in urgently needed gold, harassed the enemy, and raised American morale by providing vic- tories at a time when victories were few. British ship- ping was so badly riddled by privateers and by the regular American navy that insurance rates skyrock- eted. Merchant ships were compelled to sail in convoy, and British shippers and manufacturers brought in- creasing pressure on Parliament to end the war on hon- orable terms. Yorktown and the Final Curtain One of the darkest periods of the war was 1780–1781, before the last decisive victory. Infl ation of the currency continued at full gallop. The government, virtually bankrupt, declared that it would repay many of its debts at the rate of only 2.5 cents on the dollar. Despair pre- vailed, the sense of unity withered, and mutinous sen- timents infected the army. Meanwhile, the British general Cornwallis was blundering into a trap. After futile operations in Vir- ginia, he had fallen back to Chesapeake Bay at Yorktown to await seaborne supplies and reinforcements. He as- sumed Britain would continue to control the sea. But these few fateful weeks happened to be one of the brief periods during the war when British naval superiority slipped away. The French were now prepared to cooperate en- ergetically in a brilliant stroke. Admiral de Grasse, operating with a powerful fleet in the West Indies, ad- vised the Americans that he was free to join with them in an assault on Cornwallis at Yorktown. Quick to seize this opportunity, General Washington made a swift march of more than three hundred miles to the Chesa- peake from the New York area. Accompanied by Ro- chambeau’s French army, Washington beset the British by land, while de Grasse blockaded them by sea after beating off the British fleet. Completely cornered, Corn- wallis surrendered his entire force of seven thousand men on October 19, 1781, as his band appropriately played “The World Turn’d Upside Down.” The triumph was no less French than American: the French provided essentially all the sea power and about half of the reg- ular troops in the besieging army of some sixteen thou- sand men.
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  • Spring '15
  • Ms. Machian
  • US History, American Revolution, United States Declaration of Independence, Thirteen Colonies, British army

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