In a world rife with conflict and tension, how does a great power prosecute an irregular war at a great distance within the context of a regional struggle, all within a global competitive environment? The question, so pertinent today, was confronted by the British nearly 250 years ago during the American War for Independence. And the answer, as this book makes plain, is: not the way the British, under Lieutenant General Charles, Earl Cornwallis, went about it in the American South in the years 1778–81. Southern Gambit presents a closely observed, comprehensive account of this failed strategy. Approaching the campaign from the British perspective, this book restores a critical but little-studied chapter to the narrative of the Revolutionary War—and in doing so, it adds detail and depth to our picture of Cornwallis, an outsize figure in the history of the British Empire.

Distinguished scholar of military strategy Stanley D. M. Carpenter outlines the British strategic and operational objectives, devoting particular attention to the strategy of employing Southern Loyalists to help defeat Patriot forces, reestablish royal authority, and tamp down resurgent Patriot activity. Focusing on Cornwallis’s operations in the Carolinas and Virginia leading to the surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, Carpenter reveals the flaws in this approach, most notably a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the war in the South and of the Loyalists’ support. Compounding this was the strategic incoherence of seeking a conventional war against a brilliant, unconventional opponent, and doing so amidst a breakdown in the unity of command.

Ultimately, strategic incoherence, ineffective command and control, and a misreading of the situation contributed to the series of cascading failures of the British effort. Carpenter’s analysis of how and why this happened expands our understanding of British decision-making and operations in the Southern Campaign and their fateful consequences in the War for Independence.

About The Author
Stanley D. M. Carpenter is Professor of Strategy and Policy and Naval War College Command Historian at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. He is the author of Military Leadership in the British Civil Wars, 1642–1651: “The Genius of This Age” and the editor of The English Civil War.

Reviews & Praise
“Writing from the British perspective, Carpenter has given us an incisive new look at Cornwallis’s march to folly in the South. Southern Gambit offers the best explanation of why the earl, the master tactician, came to grief when matched against Nathanael Greene, the master strategist. This is a splendid book.”—Mark Edward Lender, coauthor of Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle

"Stanley Carpenter’s Southern Gambit is a fresh and original reexamination of British operations during the Southern Campaign. Through lively prose and careful and probing analyses, Carpenter has delivered a welcome contribution to our understanding of the American Revolution in the southern colonies.”—Ricardo Herrera, author of For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 17751861

“A marvelous account not only for military history devotees, but also for general Revolutionary War readers.”—The Virginia Gazette

“[Southern Gambit] is a marvelous account not only for military history devotees, but also for general Revolutionary War readers.” – Gazette-Journal

Book Information
30 b&w illus., 8 maps
332 Pages
Hardcover 978-0-8061-6185-3
Paperback 978-0-8061-6738-1
Kindle 978-0-8061-6332-1
e-pub 978-0-8061-6333-8
Published February 2019
Related Interest