Lord Cornwallis sank more deeply into his misery, his mind reliving the debacle of Guilford Courthouse over and over. His well thought out plan had held all the earmarks of a much-needed success, or so it had seemed. But that was not to be.
Rain pounded upon the flimsy material of the tent, rushing off the canvas in torrents—filling crudely dug trenches to overflowing—red mud seeping ceaselessly under sagging sides of the hurriedly erected shelter. A steady drip plopped a slow, monotonous splat into a bucket in the center of the confined structure.
Lord Cornwallis sat with shoulders slumped, watching in morose concentration. His was one of the few tents left after he had burned all excess supplies the previous week in an effort to travel light and fast. He had chased the elusive General Nathanael Greene, or so he had thought at the time, in an attempt at cornering his ragtag army and trouncing them soundly. What with the disasters at Cowpens and King’s Mountain, he needed that decisive win. But Greene, that wily son-of-a-bitch, had set an exhausting pace, luring him ever onward into a cleverly sprung trap of his own.
Cornwallis sank more deeply into his misery, his mind reliving the debacle over and over. His well thought out plan had held all the earmarks of a much-needed success, or so it had seemed. But that was not to be. He had been forced to turn his own artillery and fire into the masses, spewing deadly grapeshot in a killing spree. Yes, he had been the victor at Guilford Courthouse—at least technically. But what a savage price to pay; for grapeshot had no conscience. It killed indiscriminately, taking down everything and everyone in its path.
He shivered; a deep bone-rattling chill caused by far more than the raw weather howling outside. Hunkering down on his cot, he pulled a damp blanket around his shoulders. But even exhaustion would not allow him to sink into the peaceful oblivion of sleep he so desperately sought. The incessant pounding of driving rain set up a cadence reminiscent of a funeral dirge, and he grimaced.
He wished he had a drink—deeply regretting having ordered all the rum casks smashed on the trail to hasten their forced march. Suddenly he recalled a flask he had secreted away in his saddlebags. Rising somewhat unsteadily he searched frantically, and finally locating his sodden leather satchel found what he sought. Unscrewing the cap, he gulped the fiery liquid. Taking another deep swallow, more slowly, he enjoyed the immediate sense of calm and relaxation it brought … albeit it false. But he needed that right now.
As to the state of his army: Good God, only fourteen hundred men left—tired, hungry, and almost without ammunition. He would have to turn towards Wilmington where supplies would be waiting and he could regroup once again. But it was an almost three week march. With another swig from his flask, he began to pace. He needed to think clearly, sort it all out. However, that task he would handle on the morrow. Tonight he wanted only to be numb, senseless, to feel no pain. Draining the last of his flask, he lay down on his cot, and pulling a blanket snugly around him, dropped into an agitated slumber.