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American History
2.10 The War of Independence

When Lord Cornwallis got into Virginia he found Benedict Arnold waiting to help him. Arnold had been a general in the American army; Washington gave him the command of the fort at West Point, on the Hudson River, and trusted him as though he was his brother. Arnold deceived him, and secretly offered to give up the fort to the British. We call a man who is false to his friends and to his country a traitor: it is the most shameful name we can fasten on him. Arnold was a traitor; and if the Americans could have caught him, they would have hanged him; but he was cunning enough to run away and escape to the British. Now he was burning houses and towns in Virginia, and doing all that he could—as a traitor always will—to destroy those who had once been his best friends. He wanted to stay in Virginia and assist Cornwallis; but that general was a brave and honorable man: he despised Arnold, and did not want to have anything to do with him.

A young nobleman named Lafayette had come over from France on purpose to help us against the British. Cornwallis laughed at him and called him a "boy"; but he found that General Lafayette was a "boy" who knew how to fight. The British commander moved toward the seacoast; Lafayette followed him; at length Cornwallis shut himself up with his army in Yorktown.

Washington, with his army, was then near New York City, watching the British there. The French king had done as he agreed, and had sent over warships and soldiers to help us; but so far they had never been able to do much. Now was the chance. Before the British knew what Washington was about, he had sent the French war-ships down to Yorktown to prevent Cornwallis from getting away by sea. Then, with his own army and some French soldiers besides, Washington quickly marched south to attack Yorktown by land.

When he got there he placed his cannon round the town, and began battering it to pieces. For more than a week he kept firing night and day. One house had over a thousand balls go through it. Its walls looked like a sieve. At last Cornwallis could not hold out any longer, and on October 19th, 1781, his army came out and gave themselves up as prisoners.

The Americans formed a line more than a mile long on one side of the road, and the French stood facing them on the other side. The French had on gay clothes, and looked very handsome; the clothes of Washington's men were patched and faded, but their eyes shone with a wonderful light—the light of victory. The British marched out slowly, between the two lines: somehow they found it pleasanter to look at the bright uniforms of the French, than to look at the eyes of the Americans.

People at a distance noticed that the cannon had suddenly stopped firing. They looked at each other, and asked, "What does it mean?" All at once a man appears on horseback. He is riding with all his might toward Philadelphia, where Congress is. As he dashes past, he rises in his stirrups, swings his cap, and shouts with all his might, "Cornwallis is taken! Cornwallis is taken!" Then it was the people's turn to shout; and they made the hills ring with, "Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Poor Lord Fairfax, Washington's old friend, had always stood by the king. He was now over ninety. When he heard the cry, "Cornwallis is taken!" it was too much for the old man. He said to his negro servant, "Come, Joe; carry me to bed, for I'm sure it's high time for me to die."

The Revolutionary War had lasted seven years,—terrible years they were, years of sorrow, suffering, and death,—but now the end had come, and America was free. When the British left New York City, they nailed the British flag to a high pole on the wharf; but a Yankee sailor soon climbed the pole, tore down the flag of England, and hoisted the stars and stripes in its place. That was more than a hundred years ago. Now the English and the Americans have become good friends, and the English people see that the Revolution ended in the way that was best for both of Americans.

When it was clear that there would be no more fighting, Washington went back to Mount Vernon. He hoped to spend the rest of his life there. But the country needed him, and a few years later it chose him the first President of the United States.

Washington was made President in New York City, which was the capital of the United States at that time. A French gentleman who was there tells us how Washington, standing in the presence of thousands of people, placed his hand on the Bible, and solemnly swore that with the help of God he would protect and defend the United States of America.

Washington was elected President twice. When he died many of the people in England and France joined America in mourning for him; for all men honored his memory.

Lafayette came over to visit us many years afterward. He went to Mount Vernon, where Washington was buried. There he went down into the vault, and, kneeling by the side of the coffin, covered his face with his hands, and shed tears of gratitude to think that he had known such a man as Washington, and that Washington had been his friend.

Directions: Answer the following multiple choice questions. Also, answer the following questions on a sheet of paper:
  1. Describe the encounter between Lord Cornwallis and George Washington?
  2. Who was called traitor and why?

Q 1: After the war George Washington went to --------------------
New York
Mount Vernon
New Jersey

Question 2: This question is available to subscribers only!

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