Book Review: Southern Gambit: Cornwallis and the British March to Yorktown


by Stanley D. M. Carpenter

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019. Pp. xiv, 316. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 080616185X

Britain’s “Southern Strategy” during the American Revolution

Having been defeated in New England and fought to a standstill in the middle colonies, in 1778 the British, under Lord Cornwallis, shifted their effort at defeating the American war for independence to the Southern Colonies. As Prof. Carpenter (Naval War College) cogently argues, this strategy was inherently flawed.

Carpenter identifies several critical errors in British thinking, all of which were essentially premised on the belief that most people in the South were Loyalists suppressed by a Rebel minority. This assumption led the British command to believe that defeating the rebel armies in the southern colonies would allow these Loyalists to emerge, resuming political control over the region, while providing manpower and logistical support to the British and denying such critical resources to the rebellion.

In fact, of course, the British could, and usually did, defeat Patriot regular forces – the Continentals -- in open battle, which gave them temporary control of particular areas, albeit usually subject to the actions of Patriot partisans. But having vastly over-estimated Loyalist numbers, one British troops moved on, the Patriot majority would emerge, and restore revolutionary control over. So, while seeking to crush American resistance, Cornwallis instead found himself running all over the South until cornered at Yorktown. His surrender there in 1781 marked the effective end of the war.

Carpenter handles his material well, mixes political and strategic analysis with some good battle pieces and personality profiles, and Southern Gambit, a volume in the Oklahoma series “Campaigns and Commanders”, is a ‘must’ read for anyone with an interest in the American Revolution or in strategy and operations in a “hybrid” war environment.


Note: Southern Gambit is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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