Our game 1750 focuses on events and characters from the 7 Year’s War. Many British officers that would later play major roles in the American Revolution also fought in the 7 Year’s War (with some of the younger officers in the American Revolution going on to fight in other British conflicts of the late 1700’s). There are a few British Generals that I find particularly interesting in terms of their legacies from this era. They fought in multiple wars and had very different results in each of them. Growing up in an American school system, our history books didn’t really address parts of their careers that didn’t deal with American history. Basically they get mentioned within the context of the American Revolution and that’s it. I find that unfortunate because it’s simply very interesting, and really gets me thinking about how many other things were going on in the world outside of North America during that time. One thing I like about the subject of our game is that you get a little greater sense of the worldwide nature of the 7 Year’s War than what most American history books focus on (the French and Indian War fought in North America alone).
If you want to know a lot more about them there’s of course Wikipedia, or even (gasp) books available, but I’ll give you a quick summary here.
Charles Cornwallis was part of many battles in the 7 Year’s War, advancing to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel by the end of it. He was part of the continental forces fighting in Germany between 1757-1762. Fighting under the Duke of Brunswick, he contributed to the lopsided British victory and peace terms at the end of the 7 Year’s War. Had the British and their German allies not had as much success as they did on continental Europe, it’s hard to say how total the colonial victory would have been. In the preceding War of the Austrian Succession, a much stronger French position in continental Europe gave them a better position at the negotiating table. In any event, Cornwallis played his part in this campaign.
This painting depicts the surrender of the British army at Yorktown in 1781 to George Washington. (Washington himself was also involved in the 7 Year’s War, but that’s another story) This is a pretty well known painting as far as U.S. history is concerned. The surrender of the British army at Yorktown effectively marked the end to the American Revolution. Charles Cornwallis was in command of the forces that surrendered.
Most people I know wouldn’t know much about Cornwallis outside of this surrender. If anything, they would know about Cornwallis through the way he was portrayed in The Patriot, trying to keep the main villain under control, or complaining about the quality of his “horse blanket”. They certainly wouldn’t know about his experiences in the 7 Year’s War, nor would they know about the path Cornwallis followed after the disaster at Yorktown in 1781.
This is Charles Cornwallis around 15 years after the Yorktown surrender. In 1786, he had taken command of British forces in India. He had a major role in both the civil and military affairs in India for the following 7 years, notably leading British forces in the Third Anglo-Mysore War from 1789-1792.
This painting depicts Cornwallis taking Sultan Tipu’s sons as hostages, terms of Mysore’s negotiated surrender. Cornwallis was granted the title of Marquess for his performance in this war.
So what’s my point? Basically, looking at American history books, or watching The Patriot, Cornwallis would have been viewed as “The Biggest Loser” of the 1700’s. He surrendered an army of over 7,000 soldiers, the act that ultimately broke military British efforts to retain the 13 colonies. This same person was hugely instrumental in the ongoing rise of British power in the Indian subcontinent. You can’t look back at him and only weigh the Yorktown surrender in judging his performance as a commander. 1781 and 1792 were two incredibly different years in his military career. Furthermore, his performance in the American Revolution or in India also don’t give full credit to his efforts in the 7 Year’s War in Hanover. Having awareness of all of a person’s efforts gives us a much more complete assessment of their impact on history, and it can be very interesting to peel back just a layer or two of history beyond the most basic lessons you learned in school.
PS- I didn’t even cover his HUGE impact on history in terms of leading the British defeat of the Irish rebellion of 1798 (The United Irishmen Rebellion) or leading peace negotiations and signing the Treaty of Amiens with Napoleon Bonaparte at the end of the War of the Second Coalition in 1802. That’s FIVE major conflicts that he had a significant impact on. Remarkable stuff.
This painting is from the United Irishmen Rebellion.
This cartoon is from 1803 after the Treaty of Amiens was signed.