Charles Cornwallis

Stanley Carpenter

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:
Charles Cornwallis

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Charles Cornwallis, second earl and first marquess Cornwallis, was born on 31 December 1738 and died on 5 October 1805. He was from a prominent Suffolk family and educated at Eton and at Clare College, Cambridge. His early military career included service as ensign, 1st Foot Guards; captain, 85th Regiment of Foot; brevet lieutenant-colonel, 12th Regiment of Foot; and colonel, 33rd Regiment of Foot. In Parliament, Cornwallis voted against the Stamp Act and advocated addressing colonial grievances. Arriving in the American colonies in 1776, he participated in the failed Charleston offensive and the New York Campaign; the battles of Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, and Fort Mercer in 1777; and Monmouth Court House in 1778. He was appointed Crown commander charged with executing the British Southern Strategy in 1780, intended to destroy enemy regular forces, suppress irregulars, and retake colonies from Georgia northward to reestablish royal authority. Despite a resounding victory at Camden in August 1780, Cornwallis’s force was unable to completely destroy the enemy regulars and to suppress the irregular partisan bands. Defeats of subordinates (Cowpens, January 1781, and Kings Mountain, October 1780) stripped away his mounted infantry and dragoons and inhibited loyalist support. Nevertheless, Cornwallis pressed on and chased the Continental Army under Nathanael Greene across North Carolina in a winter campaign. Cornwallis finally engaged Greene at Guilford Courthouse in March 1781, winning the field but suffering irreplaceable casualties. Cornwallis advanced into Virginia, hoping to isolate Greene and conduct Chesapeake Bay operations. Owing to a breakdown in command strategic coherence between Clinton in New York, Lord George Germain in London, and Cornwallis, the Virginia campaign evolved into a defensive effort at Yorktown. Seeing the opportunity to trap Cornwallis on the narrow York Peninsula, Washington and the French allies marched to Virginia and besieged Yorktown. The Royal Navy’s failed efforts to rescue the garrison forced Cornwallis to surrender in October 1781. In Britain, Cornwallis and Clinton engaged in a media battle over the Yorktown debacle. Cornwallis emerged the winner; Clinton received official and public blame. Elevated to Knight Companion of the Garter in 1786, Cornwallis became governor-general and commander-in-chief in India (1786–1793), where he instituted civil and military administrative reforms and defeated Tipu Sultan of Mysore, thus assuring British domination. Elevated to marquess, Cornwallis was appointed lord lieutenant and commander-in-chief in Ireland (1798–1801), where he defeated the Wolfe Tone Irish rebellion and French invaders at Ballinamuck in1798. Cornwallis was instrumental in the Act of Union of 1800, leading to the creation of the United Kingdom. He led the British delegation at the Peace of Amiens negotiations with Napoleonic France 1802. In his final service, Cornwallis again took up the governor-generalship of India in 1805, but he died of a fever soon after arrival.

Article.  13191 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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