OCTOBER 19 = The End of TWO Great Armies

 “Sir, I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each side to meet at Mr. Moore’s house to settle terms for the surrender of the posts at York and Gloucester.”

Thus wrote British General Cornwallis to George Washington on Oct. 17,1781 in proposing the surrender of his army to the allied American and French armies. The surrender took place on this date, October 19, 1781. “Lord” Cornwallis, saying he was “too ill” to attend the ceremony sent his subordinate, General O’Hara to surrender his sword for him. General O’Hara mistakenly approached the Comte de Rochembeau, commander of the French forces in America. But Rochembeau politely waved O’Hara off and indicated General George Washington. Washington had his subordinate, General Benjamin Lincoln accept Cornwallis’ sword on his behalf. The war would sputter on for some time after this event, but this was the surrender of the last major British fighting force in America (outside of British occupied New York City) and effectively marked the end of British contesting of American independence.

The French Depart Moscow Laden With Booty

“In this column of 140,000 human beings and 50,000 horses (some) still bore some resemblance to the tremendous military organization which had conquered the world. But the rest – a frightening proportion of the whole – looked like a horde of Tartars after a successful raid: a jumble of carriages, wagons, rich coaches, and carts of all sorts, four or five abreast, and seeming to stretch on forever. Here were the trophies – Russian, Turkish, and Persian flags – and the gigantic cross of Ivan the Great; there, a flock of long-bearded Russian peasants driving our plunder of which they were a part, and soldiers wheeling barrows loaded with everything they had been able to pile on them. These foolish creatures would not be able to hold out to the end of the first day, but their senseless greed had closed their eyes to the fact that two thousand miles and many battles lay between them and their destination.” 

Phillipe de Segur Describes the Retreat

This was the bizarre scene as described by Phillipe-Paul de Segur in his memoir of Napoleon’s Russian campaign as the French Army began it’s long and disastrous retreat from Russia in departing Moscow on this date, Oct. 19, 1812. “The Grande Armee” had invaded Russia in June of 1812, The total number of men whom Napoleon took into this has been estimated at nearly a half million men. They moved on three fronts, but in the main body in the center there were approximately a quarter million. The Russians kept withdrawing into the interior of their vast country, largely because they were looking for a suitable place to give battle. This had the unintentional, but decisive effect of drawing the French way beyond any sustainable supply route. On September 7, at Borodino they finally gave Napoleon the large battle he had sought. It ended with the French holding the field, so it could technically be called a victory. But it had cost him a great many casualties. By the time he reached Moscow, Napoleon’s army had dwindled to 100,000, most of the losses coming as a result of

disease and fatigue as opposed to casualties in battle. He found the Russian capital deserted, and fires shortly broke out all over the city. He attempted to remain in the smoldering ruins, but found the Czar – Alexander I who was in St. Petersburg – unwilling to respond to his overtures for meetings. Thus he was obliged to retrace his invasion route, as staying in a ruined Moscow over the cruel Russian winter would have been impossible. This brought about the scene which Segur described above as the invaders attempted to leave with their loot. But the Russian winter which they were attempting to flee would catch up with them (above). By the time they returned to French held territory, fewer than 35,000 men would remain.

 

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Sources: 

 by Bruce Lancaster; American Heritage Publ. Co., 1971

“Napoleon’s Russian Campaign”  by Count Philippe-Paul de Segur, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1958.

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