Item of the Day: Observations on Mr. Stedman’s History of the American War. (1794)

Full Title: Observations on Mr. Stedman’s History of the American War. By Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton, K. B. London: Printed for J. Debrett, 1794.


[To refute Charles Stedman’s critique of his actions and to defend his tactics during the American Revolution, Sir Henry Clinton published his Observations. Clinton was the British commander-in chief in North America during the war. In October, 1781, Clinton failed to arrive in time to reinforce Cornwallis and his troops in their battle against a combined American and French force at Yorktown. Critics often cite him as being responsible for the British surrender there and for Britain’s ultimate loss of the war. After Yorktown, Clinton resigned his command to Sir Guy Carleton. Both Clinton’s Observations and Stedman’s History of the Origin, Progress and Termination of the American War were published in 1794. The words “a govr. General” appear in manuscript over the printed “the Marquis of Cornwallis” on page ii of the preface, which is found below.]


It has been a fashion with many (owing to what cause I will not pretend to say) to declare, that in losing America, we have neither lost commerce, military character, or consequence. Tho’ I had differed in opinion respecting all these, I know full well that until this country felt some dire misfortune, in consequence of the loss of that, I should meet with few advocates of my opinion. Alas! has not that dire misfortune now befallen us? Notwithstanding the zealous, officer like, and successful exertions of our land and sea chiefs, and their gallant navies and armies, these last are reduced by sickness to a debility the more alarming, as it cannot, I fear, diminish, but must increase. Had we possessed the continent of America, our fleets and armies might have retired to its ports during the hurricanes and sickly season, attended to their sick, recovered and recruited both navy and army, and returned to the West-Indies with the means of further exertion. Where have we now a healthy safe port? Halifax is almost as far as Europe; while in the American ports the tri-coloured flag flies triumphant, and scarcely a British ship is to be seen except as capture. If appearances are so unpromising now we are said to be in alliance with America, how it will happen should we unfortunately add them to the number of our enemies, I need not predict. Altho’ I had received my Sovereign’s fullest approbation of my conduct during the American war, as will appear by my correspondence with his ministers, contained in my narrative, &c published in 1783, and in the following pamphlet, yet, considering every person employed in so important a command as accountable at all times for their conduct, I conceive myself called upon by a recent publication, which has mistated [sic] facts, whether from error, or a desire of courting a govr. General on his return from India, I will not pretend to determine; but at a time when my services were actually called for, and these more than insinuations may make an impression on the public, it is my duty to refute them; I therefore submit the following observations on Mr. Stedman’s History of the American War, to the candid and impartial public, who will, no doubt, give me credit for my forbearance in not troubling them on such a subject until forced into it by an unprovoked attack.H.C.

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Filed under 1790's, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Revolution

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