The failure to accomplish anything in the north caused Washington, as the year drew to a close, to turn his thoughts once more toward a combined movement at the south. In pursuance of this idea, he devised a scheme of uniting with the Spaniards in the seizure of Florida, and of advancing thence through Georgia to assail the English in the rear. De Rochambeau did not approve the plan, and it was abandoned; but the idea of a southern movement was still kept steadily in sight. The governing thought now was, not to protect this place or that, but to cast aside everything else in order to strike one great blow which would finish the war. Where he could do this, time alone would show, but if one follows the correspondence closely, it is apparent that Washington’s military instinct turned more and more toward the south.
In that department affairs changed their aspect rapidly. January 17, Morgan won his brilliant victory at the Cowpens, withdrew in good order with his prisoners, and united his army with that of Greene. Cornwallis was terribly disappointed by this unexpected reverse, but he determined to push on, defeat the combined American army, and then join the British forces on the Chesapeake. Greene was too weak to risk a battle, and made a masterly retreat of two hundred miles before Cornwallis, escaping across the Dan only twelve hours ahead of the enemy. The moment the British moved away, Greene recrossed the river and hung upon their rear. For a month he kept in their neighborhood, checking the rising of the Tories, and declining battle. At last he received reinforcements, felt strong enough to stand his ground, and on March 15 the battle of Guilford Court House was fought. It was a sharp and bloody fight; the British had the advantage, and Greene abandoned the field, bringing off his army in good order. Cornwallis, on his part, had suffered so heavily, however, that his victory turned to ashes. On the 18th he was in full retreat, with Greene in hot chase, and it was not until the 28th that he succeeded in getting over the Deep River and escaping to Wilmington. Thence he determined to push on and transfer the seat of war to the Chesapeake. Greene, with the boldness and quickness which showed him to be a soldier of a high order, now dropped the pursuit and turned back to fight the British in detachments and free the southern States. There is no need to follow him in the brilliant operations which ensued, and by which he achieved this result. It is sufficient to say here that he had altered the whole aspect of the war, forced Cornwallis into Virginia within reach of Washington, and begun the work of redeeming the Carolinas.