By David A. Norris Sergeant Joseph Plumb Martin, a sapper in the Continental Army, waited for the signal that would begin the night attack on two enemy-held redoubts. He was so anxious that when he saw the bright planets Venus and Jupiter shining high above, he was ready to spring to his feet, thinking they were the signal. Martin and his advance party were waiting to start hacking through the obstructions protecting the British outworks. Hundreds of French and American troops would then capture the redoubts. And if the redoubts were taken, the siege against the army of Lt. Gen. Earl Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia, would gather momentum. Only a few weeks before, the American cause had been teetering on the edge of failure, mired in setbacks and frustration. Now, General George Washington’s Continental Army was on the verge of potential victory by capturing the largest British field army in North America. The American Revolutionary War had reached a stalemate in the northern colonies by 1778. The British controlled New York City and Philadelphia, but while Redcoat armies made constant forays into the countryside, they could only permanently hold on to heavily fortified bases that could be resupplied by sea. Even worse, France joined with the Continental government against Britain in 1778. Lord George Germain, the British secretary of state for the colonies, decided to try a new approach. He sacked Maj. Gen. William Howe, replacing him with Maj. Gen. Sir Henry


$2 / Month

Subscribe now for only $3.99 $2 a month!

Unlimited Website Access, Thousands of Searchable Articles, Warfare Newsletter, and more.

Back to the issue this appears in