Cornwallis: Charles, 1st Marquis, 1738–1805, British general and statesman: surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, October 19, 1781.
From time to time I think about Lord Cornwallis.
Fortunately for me, history provides a bird’s eye view of the end result of almost any type of behavior.
Of course, so can you.
When I mention that I study a British general who’s been dead for well over two hundred and fifty years, you might have chuckled and thought, “What value could that have to my busy scanning of Internet life?”
The value is that Cornwallis had a perfect setup, with perfect conditions, and still managed to bungle it, arriving at an imperfect conclusion. At his disposal was the world’s most powerful and well-trained army—the British Regulars. They carried the best muskets, they manufactured the finest cannon and they certainly had the prettiest uniforms.
Their enemy was ill-prepared, ill-fitted and ill-equipped, and grew up believing that the British could not be defeated.
So at first, Cornwallis just rolled over these local yokels, making them appear to be fools. So sure were the British that they could defeat the American colonists that a decision was made to sub-contract the job out to German mercenary soldiers, called Hessians. “Cocky” would not even begin to describe the thinking of Lord Cornwallis.
But in case you don’t know the story, he lost. Finding out why he lost is what we call “the lesson of history.” It comes in two parts:
- Never underestimate an enemy who has more to gain than you do.
- Always remember that a battle is a fight, not a conversation over who has supremacy.
The Americans had their freedom to gain, so they had more fight. Cornwallis showed up with an army that had little to prove, and therefore had little fight.
I could learn from that. Matter of fact, I think I will.