Chapter 20 – The Yorktown Expedition | France in the Revolution


    About the author

    James Breck Perkins headshot.
    James Breck Perkins

    James Breck Perkins (1847–1910) was an American historian notable for his works on French history. Educated at the University of Rochester, he initially practiced law before shifting to writing and public service. Perkins is best known for his comprehensive studies on the French Regency period, particularly in “France Under the Regency,” which examined Philippe d’Orléans’ governance post-Louis XIV. His other significant works include “France Under Louis XV” and “France in the American Revolution.”



      On the 14th of August the momentous letter of the Comte de Grasse reached Washington’s headquarters. The situation required immediate decision, upon which might depend, and in fact did depend, the result of the war. When the letter arrived de Grasse’s fleet was already under sail, and in two months they would start on their return. But during that brief period the allies would have an army of considerable strength, supported by a preponderance on the sea which they had not before enjoyed during the war. The possibilities were great and the time was exceedingly brief.

      There was no delay in deciding on the course to pursue. For de Grasse to reach New York would consume some of the brief space of time he had at his disposal; there might be trouble at the bar, and there was a certainty of meeting an English army, hardly inferior to that of the allies even after the arrival of de Grasse’s troops. In the mean time, Cornwallis, proceeding in his injudicious campaign in Virginia, and relying on the naval superiority of the English, was placing himself in a position that might be fatal when he should be attacked by a superior army on land, assisted by a powerful fleet at sea. When the critical hour came the decision was quickly made. On the day the letter was received, Washington entered in his diary that the shortness of de Grasse’s stay, the disinclination of the French officers to force the harbor of New York, and the feeble compliance of the states with his demands for men, had compelled him to abandon his idea of taking New York, and he should cooperate with the French in a campaign in Virginia. On the next day a messenger was despatched to La Fayette, urging him to do all in his power to prevent Cornwallis from retreating into the Carolinas (Writings of Washington, Sparkss ed., viii, 134,127.)

      The utmost celerity was required. The soldiers must march or be transported over three hundred and fifty miles, capture a hostile army, and all within two months. Such a march was a formidable undertaking in days when there were no means of rapid communication, and yet, if modern inventions would have rendered the enterprise easier, they would also have prevented its success. It took a long time to go from the Hudson to the James, but the news of Washington’s approach could be kept from the victim in a way that would now be impossible. No telegraph wires informed Cornwallis of the dangers by which he was threatened, and such information as could have been given was delayed by the masterly way in which Washington concealed his purpose from Sir Henry Clinton.

      Clinton had long been convinced that New York was the objective point of Washington’s campaign, and in this he was perfectly correct; if he was slow to discover that changed circumstances had caused a change in the plan, every effort was made to conceal the truth from him. The soldiers were actively engaged in repairing roads that might be required in an advance on New York; at Chatham, near Staten Island, the French were busy erecting large bakeries, apparently to be used in the siege of the city (Washington’s Journal, Aug. 18; Henry P. Johnston, The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis, 88.)

      All, except those favored with Washington’s confidence, were uncertain as to what the next movement would be. In a letter of one of the French officers, on August 15, it is noted: “Those who hoped we were going to Virginia begin to fear they have been
      deceived; the roads below here have been repaired
      towards New York; orders have also been given to
      repair those on the other side towards Staten Island,
      and even to build ovens there . . . What to believe!
      This resembles the scenes at a theatre; the interest and
      uncertainty of the spectators constantly increase.” (Abbe Claude Robin, Nouveau Voyage, etc., 75.)

      The first movement was entirely consistent with an attack upon New York, and did not enlighten Clinton as to Washington’s plans. The allied army was encamped round Dobbs Ferry and White Plains. A change to the other side of the river might well indicate an intention to move toward Staten Island and cooperate with de Grasse when his fleet reached New York from the South. On August 19 the entire French army, about five thousand men, and two thousand American troops marched to King’s Ferry and prepared to cross the Hudson. The remainder of the American forces, some three thousand men, were left under General Heath. His duty was important and difficult; he was, so long as possible, to keep up the illusion that a strong force was before New York, and when that was removed, he must guard against a possible attack from an army much larger than his own (Memoirs of William Heath, Wilson’s ed., 314, 315.)

      King’s Ferry was about eight miles below Peekskill, and Washington declared it to be the best and only passage of the river for his army below the Highlands. At two o’clock in the morning of August 20 the American forces began to cross, and by the night of the 21st they were safely over. It was a more serious undertaking to transport the French army. They were more numerous, they had more baggage, and they had heavy siege-trains. On the 19th rain fell in torrents, and when the French halted for the night half of their wagons were in the rear, stuck in the mud. Not until the 22d were they encamped on the brow of the hill at King’s Ferry overlooking the river(Dubourg’s Journal, Aug. 19-22; Magazine of American History, iv, 306-307.) All the ferry-boats that could be impressed in the cause were kept busy. The weather was fine and the sight was an imposing one. A large number of boats were constantly crossing, bearing French soldiers arrayed in full military attire. They were commanded by the flower of the ancient French nobility, the reading of whose names, as has been said, sounds like a page from the chronicles of Froissart.

      Not until the 26th was the entire army on the west side of the river. Washington superintended the crossing, watching the operation from Verplanck’s Point. He was, wrote one of the officers, ” manifestly elated at the spectacle; he seemed to see a better destiny arising as he watched the French army embarking on this expedition,” (Blanchard’s Journal; Johnston, The Yorktown Campaign, etc., 89.) Weakened as his own army was, and destitute of resources, this joint enterprise promised the great success which was sorely needed.

      Washington’s headquarters were at a stately mansion, which had been the scene of Arnold’s plot for the surrender of West Point, and had gained the opprobrious title of Treason House. It stood on a tableland, overlooking the Hudson for many miles. There he invited Rochambeau to breakfast when the French commander had crossed the Hudson, and on the high land about the house the French troops made their camps as they arrived on the west side of the river.

      No sooner was the crossing completed than the allied armies resumed the march, but their movements were consistent with an advance upon New York. On the 27th the French officers were still debating whether the object was Staten Island or Paulus Hook, opposite New York, where Jersey City now stands. By the 29th the pretence could be sustained no longer, and, turning its back on New York, the army marched with all possible despatch to Philadelphia. From King’s Ferry to Philadelphia was one hundred and thirty miles, and on September 2 the army entered that city.

      The French occupied the right of the position and marched through Somerset Court House, Princeton, and Trenton, moving with rapidity and making about fifteen miles a day. The visitors expressed their approval of the country through which they passed. The roads were good, the foliage rich, the climate exhilarating, existence was a delight on those bracing plains; the farms were large, cattle plentiful, and fruit, especially peaches, were abundant. The land needed manure, but apparently little else was required to make of Jersey an earthly paradise. The country was chiefly inhabited by Dutch, nearly all of whom were rich. The women who brought provisions to camp were adorned with jewelry, and their wagons, driven by themselves, were generally drawn by two or three spirited horses (Dubourg’s Journal, Aug., 1781; Magazine of American History, iv, 376.) Princeton they found a well-built town, pleasantly situated, with a fine college, attended by fifty students. Trenton, though not as pleasant, was a larger place; it contained one hundred houses, while Princeton had only about sixty.

      The level plains of New Jersey seem to have been more agreeable to our visitors than scenery which tourists now come from all the world to view. The taste for the picturesque, and certainly the taste for wild scenery, was little developed in the last century. One of the visitors praises the banks of the Delaware and says, by way of commendation, that they presented nothing of the sombre and savage aspect of the banks of the Hudson (Robin, Nouveau Voyage, etc., 84.)

      The commanding officers had ridden ahead, and on August 30 Washington, accompanied by Rochambeau and Chastellux, entered Philadelphia. They were received with fitting honors. The object of the march had ceased to be a mystery, and the city was excited to an unusual degree of enthusiasm. On Thursday, says the “Packet,” the commander-in-chief, Rochambeau, and their suites, were received by the militia light horse and escorted into the town. They dined with the Superintendent of Finance, and the ships lying in port fired salutes as the toasts were drunk, to the United States and His August Majesty, to the allied armies, and the speedy arrival of the Comte de Grasse (Diary of Morris, Aug. 30; Diplomatic Correspondence, Sparks’s ed, xi, 462; Frank Moores Diary of the American Revolution, 1002.)

      On September 3 the first division of the French army marched through the city, and the second division entered on the following day. It was an inspiring sight; the veteran regiment of Soissonnais, brilliant in pink trimmings and grenadier hats with white plumes floating in the air, astonished, so we are told, and doubtless also delighted the beauties of the town. The soldiers paraded in the presence of Congress, and the President of that body, not versed in the etiquette of the great world, asked if he should return their salute. Being informed that the French King was accustomed to salute his troops with kindness, the President profited by the royal example, for the “Packet ” tells us that he took off his hat and bowed in return for every salute of officers and standards. The soldiers, so the paper continues, presented a most martial and grand appearance, and it adds with the fervor of the period, that the spectators were filled with gratitude to that noble prince, the soldier’s king. “Angels,” wrote the enthusiastic editor, “envy him his acquired glory.” (Dubourg’s Journal; Magazine of American History, iv, 383 and v, 15; Packet, Sept, 1781.)

      On the 5th of September there was a review of the French soldiers that was attended by a great crowd. Twenty thousand people watched the evolutions, which were performed with the utmost precision. The President of Congress was there; but he had not advised with the French about his dress, as he did in regard to the salutes, and he was arrayed in a long black velvet coat, which they found very extraordinary.

      In the evening a great banquet was given by La Luzerne, the French minister. He entertained in princely fashion; covers were laid for eighty guests, and at the dinner there was a diversion that could be provided at few banquets. Hardly were we seated,” writes one of the guests, “when a courier arrived. An unquiet silence prevailed among all the guests. All eyes were fixed on the Chevalier de La Luzerne, each one sought to divine in advance what the news might be. ‘Thirty-six ships of the line,’ he said, ‘commanded by the Comte de Grasse, are in Chesapeake Bay, and three thousand troops have disembarked and are now in communication with the Marquis de La Fayette.” (Robin, Nouveau Voyage, etc., 90; also in Granite Monthly, iv, 425.)

      The toasts were drunk with renewed vigor when the great news was announced, every one was filled with delight, our impatient warriors counted the time when they should be face to face with the enemy.

      Philadelphia was then the largest city in America, and even those accustomed to European capitals found in it much to admire. The population was about forty thousand, the buildings were good, the streets broad and straight, and they were even provided with sidewalks. The shops were numerous and richly supplied. Some of the brick buildings on Market Street were of such proportions that the visitors called them immense (Dubourg’s Journal, Sept. 1, 1781; Magazine of American History, iv, 380.)

      The town was seen at its best. The citizens had been fairly cordial in their treatment of the English army; the intense patriotism which at Boston scowled at invaders, was less pronounced in the City of BrotherIy Love. Still, the prevailing spirit was loyal to the American cause, and the allied army was now greeted with genuine enthusiasm; even those who were not stirred by patriotic fervor were pleased at the good order, the good discipline, and the good clothes of the French allies (Magazine of American History, v, 13-18; Thacher, A Military Journal, etc. [1827 ed.], 264.) The interest was greater because the object of the march was generally understood, and even the boys in the streets knew that Washington and the French soldiers had started to capture Cornwallis. Secrecy was no longer enjoined, as there was no danger of information being transmitted to Yorktown. The news of the arrival of de Grasse’s fleet soon spread through the town; it aroused enthusiasm among the patriotic, and furnished excitement to all.

      Washington and Rochambeau did not wait for all these reviews and dinners, but pushed on, eager to reach the Head of Elk and embark the army for its destination. On September 5 the first division of the French army arrived at Chester. Rochambeau took a boat down the Delaware, and, as he approached, Washington was on the bank waving his hand. The news of de Grasse’s arrival had reached him, and he was aroused to a degree of elation very rare in him. All were impressed by an excitement so unlike his habitual reserve. “He threw off his character as arbiter of his country,” writes the Comte de Deux-Ponts; “a child whose wishes had been satisfied could not have expressed a more lively sensation of pleasure.” The good news was soon known by all, the prospect of capturing Cornwallis excited both officers and privates, and all were sanguine of the result.

      Even at this critical time the need of money threatened to check effective operations, and only from the French could it be obtained. The American treasury was bare of anything except debts and paper currency. The small army which Washington still had under his command was eager for the southern expedition, and well qualified for the work, but it was in serious need both of supplies and money. On the 17th of August Washington wrote Morris, saying it would be necessary to give the American troops destined for southern service a month’s pay in specie. To this Morris replied that he had none to give, and though he would make every exertion, he was not sanguine of success (Writings of Washington, Sparks’s ed., viii, 134; Diplomatic Correspondence, Sparks’s ed., xi, 431.)

      On the 27th Washington wrote again asking that deposits of flour, salt, meat, and rum might be made at the Head of Elk, and entreating that the troops under his command might receive one month’s pay in specie. Part of them, he added, had not been paid anything for a long time, they were going on a disagreeable service, and a little hard money would put them in a proper temper. As was so often the case, the money which the states failed to raise was furnished by their good ally the King of France.

      I made application to the Count de Rochambeau for a loan of twenty thousand hard dollars,” says Robert Morris. “General Washington was extremely desirous that the troops should receive their month’s pay, as great symptoms of discontent had appeared on their passing through the city without it. This affair being considered of great importance, I desired Mr. Gouverneur Morris, my assistant, to accompany me on account of his speaking fluently the French language.”

      The interview was had at Chester, and apparently Gouverneur’s fluency was efficacious, for Rochambeau agreed to supply twenty thousand hard dollars, that were to be repaid by October 1 (Diary of Morris, Sept. 5; Diplomatic Correspondence, Sparks’s ed., xi, 464, 465.) The necessity of the case had stirred Washington to a poetry of expression unusual with him. I cannot leave, he wrote, “without entreating you in the warmest terms to send on a month’s pay at least, with all the expedition possible. I wish it to come on the wings of speed.” (Washington to Robert Morris, Sept. 6, 1781; lbid., 467.)

      The march thus far had been rapid and successful, but difficulties were encountered at the Head of Elk. It was at the mouth of this little river, running into Chesapeake Bay, that Washington expected to put his army on transports and have them carried to Yorktown. This would save a long and severe march through Maryland and Virginia, and with the French fleet in control of Chesapeake Bay, transportation by water would be both easy and safe. Before the expedition was decided on, Washington had written to see what boats could be obtained in case of need, and he had made every effort to have facilities ready. But when the army reached its destination, the means of transportation were lamentably deficient. Washington wrote to persons of influence in the neighborhood, beseeching them to furnish any sort of vessel that would serve the purpose, but few responded. There was nothing to do but to use what could be found; a thousand American soldiers and portions of some of the French regiments were embarked, and the rest of the army proceeded on foot. They pressed on, crossing the Susquehanna and averaging twenty miles a day over a woody country and indifferent roads, and by September 12 were at Baltimore. This city also impressed the French officers very favorably as a commercial town, well built, with straight streets, a feature which drew the attention of those accustomed to the intricate and devious highways of Paris and continental cities. They also noticed here the existence of sidewalks (Dubourg’s Journal, Sept 11, 1781; Magazine of American History, iv, 441.)

      Some of the French officers were too impatient to wait for the ships, and made their way overland from Baltimore to Williamsburg. They found the country monotonous. Indian corn and tobacco were the only crops, and the corn-bread, which was nearly all they had to eat, they unjustly denounced as “the meanest and worst thing in the world.” (Id., Sept., 1781 ; Ibid., 443.)

      The bulk of the army was transported by water. The first detachment, which sailed from the Head of Elk, made its way down Chesapeake Bay without molestation and landed safely on the peninsula. The troubles which the others encountered were relieved at Baltimore. The defeat of the English fleet by de Grasse enabled the French to provide the necessary transportation, and after the withdrawal of Graves, Chesapeake Bay was free from hostile ships and could be traversed with safety. Five frigates with nine transports sailed to Annapolis, and on them most of the army which had marched to Baltimore was speedily embarked. They had a prosperous journey, sailed peaceably into the James River, and landed without opposition. By September 28 the troops had taken their places under Washington’s command, and all was ready for a vigorous siege.

      Washington and Rochambeau did not wait for the embarkment of the army, but pressed on to reach the scene of action. On September 8 they left the Head of Elk, and on the same day reached Baltimore. There Washington received addresses from his admiring fellow citizens; but he did not tarry long.

      They left Baltimore and rode through Virginia, making sixty miles a day, and on the 9th they arrived at Mount Vernon. Washington visited his home for the first time since he had left it on May 4, 1775, to enter the Continental Congress. There he made a brief stay, and entertained the French officers in his stately mansion overlooking the Potomac. His plantation had not suffered from the ravages of war, having been spared by the English. Fond as he was of his estate and the care of it, there was no time to tarry now. On the 12th he and his associates were again on horseback. They rode at top speed, and on the 14th they reached Williamsburg. There Washington assumed command of the allied armies encamped before Yorktown.

      The accuracy with which the different sections of the army and navy formed their union was unusual, and reflected high credit on both the French and the American commanders. It was this which makes the capture of Yorktown a notable military achievement, as well as a momentous political event. The distances which separated the different forces of the expedition would be considerable now, and they were prodigious then. In Juiy de Grasse’s fleet was in the West Indies, anchored off Cape Haytien; the French troops under Saint-Simon were stationed on the island of San Domingo; while the army under Rochambeau and Washington was by the Hudson, and the fleet under Barras was still stationed at Newport. By land and sea these different detachments made their way to the scene of their common action. On August 8 de Grasse sailed from San Domingo, and a month later the French troops of Saint-Simon were landed at Jamestown. On August 25 Barras sailed from Newport, and on September 10 he made his junction in safety with the fleet from the West Indies. On the 19th of August the allied army before New York broke camp, they marched over two hundred miles by land, sailed down the Chesapeake, and on September 23 entered the James River. Not a serious mishap had attended the union of two fleets and two armies, which had been separated by sixteen hundred miles of land and water. The fleet under de Grasse had to come from the West Indies by a sea prolific in storm. The troops made a journey of over three hundred and fifty miles, a large part of it through virgin forests and over primitive highways. The extraordinary accuracy with which the forces from either section assembled at Yorktown assured the success of the enterprise.

      The Comte de Grasse performed his part with great exactitude, and is entitled to a large share of the credit for the capture of Yorktown. He brought an important reinforcement to the forces on land, he prevented the English from relieving Cornwallis; the capture of Yorktown would have been impossible if his fleet had not arrived promptly and remained until the work was done.

      Rochambeau had written in the spring and early summer, describing the needs of the American army and asking for prompt cooperation against the common foe, and de Grasse proceeded with vigor and boldness in the steps he took in answer to these pressing calls for help. No plan of cooperation had been marked out for him; in transporting a body of soldiers from the West Indies to Virginia he acted upon his own responsibility: he had to negotiate with Spaniards who felt no interest in the American allies of France; he had to incur the risk of disapproval from his own government.

      On July 16 he arrived at Cape Haytien and found the letters of Rochambeau and the French minister, stating the importance of prompt aid to the American cause. He at once endeavored to meet these requests to the utmost of his ability. A considerable force of French troops was stationed in San Domingo, but the French government had agreed that they should be at the disposition of Spain and might be utilized for an expedition to Florida. Fortunately, the Spanish admiral was not ready for his Florida campaign and wished to postpone it until winter. De Grasse availed himself of this opportunity, and asked the French governor to lend him these troops for the interim. This was not an altogether simple operation. De Grasse had to incur the risk of severe censure by his own government, if the troops he borrowed were not returned to San Domingo in readiness to embark for Florida whenever the Spanish asked for them. He was, however, able to persuade the governor that these troops could be spared for two or three months.

      He could not obtain the five thousand men that Rochambeau had suggested, but it was decided that thirty-four hundred could be spared from San Domingo until November. They were borrowed from the governor upon the express promise that they should be returned by that time. In the meantime, Spanish ships were to keep guard of the island.

      It was impossible also to obtain the amount of money which Rochambeau had asked for, and it was not easy to obtain any. De Grasse sought, without success, to borrow from some of the merchants at San Domingo, though he offered to pledge his own estate as security for repayment. He then proceeded to Havana to see if he would have any better fortune in raising money there. Seventeen Spanish men-of-war were then lying peaceably at that port.

      But if their fleet remained inert, the Spanish furnished de Grasse four million livres in cash, which was probably more useful than the cooperation of their ships. It supplied the necessities of his fleet and also left a considerable surplus which he gave to his associates in America. The necessary money being provided and the fleet now being off Havana, its destination was at last publicly announced.

      On August 28, after a voyage of twenty-three days, de Grasse’s fleet anchored off the roadstead of Chesapeake Bay, and on September 4 and 6 the troops were landed at Jamestown Island. Cornwallis made no effort to prevent the landing; an enterprising general might have attacked the French in the confusion of disembarking, but the British left them undisturbed, and they joined the forces under La Fayette, who now had an army of seven thousand men.

      La Fayette had been sent in the spring to take charge of the defence of Virginia, and early in May, when Cornwallis came there after his unfortunate campaign against Greene in the Carolinas, he found La Fayette stationed at Richmond with an army of some three thousand men, of whom the majority were raw militia; Cornwallis had high hopes that with his five thousand veterans be could soon trap the young Frenchman. He begged Clinton to send aid from New York, and declared, “The boy cannot escape me.” As Cornwallis advanced, however, the French Fabius retreated and wrote to Washington, “I am not strong enough even to be beaten.” Finally he reached a safe position across the Rapidan, and though Tarleton meanwhile made a very destructive raid, La Fayette was able, by uniting with one thousand troops under General Wayne, to prevent the British from seizing the military stores at Albemarle. Then La Fayette’s force was augmented to some four thousand men and Cornwallis began retreating down the James toward Richmond. Though La Fayette was not strong enough to press him, the earI was anxious to make sure of his supplies and continued his retreat down into York peninsula. Cornwallis placed himself on Malvern Hill to keep watch, and meanwhile French and American allies were hastening to his overthrow.

      Neither on land nor on sea did the French at first meet with any opposition, but on September 5 the English fleet under Graves at last made its appearance. It was too late to prevent the landing of the troops; however, if Graves could defeat the French fleet Cornwallis would be saved and Washington’s expedition would come to naught; a decisive victory at sea would have rendered the capture of Yorktown impossible.

      But while Washington’s army was hastening from the Hudson to meet the French fleet coming from the West Indies, the success of his enterprise was assured and the fate of Cornwallis was settled. Earlier it would have been possible for Cornwallis to retire into the Carolinas, but after the arrival of the French reinforcements, to attempt this would have been a desperate chance. Unless, however, the allies could keep control on the water, relief was sure to come to him, and on the superiority which had so long attended the English navy Cornwallis relied to his ruin.

      Whether Clinton did all he could to assist Cornwallis in his danger was acrimoniously debated between those generals in their life-time, and has been a theme for discussion ever since. Clinton had shown little energy or capacity in the campaign about New York. Cornwallis proceeded on his own judgment in Virginia, and between the two commanders there was abundant jealousy and distrust. Clinton was long deceived by Washington’s manoeuvres, but at last the truth was apparent even to him, and the fleet at New York was at once despatched to the Chesapeake.

      The management of the English fleets in America was as unfortunate as the leadership of the English armies. Rodney was the only admiral who displayed the qualities that had been so common twenty years before, and he at the critical moment was obliged to return to England. Hood took command of the fleet in the West Indies; he was informed of de Grasse’s movements and started in pursuit. His vessels sailed well, perhaps too well, for they lost track of the French squadron and reached Chesapeake Bay three days before de Grasse’s arrival. Not finding the French there, Hood decided that they must have sailed to New York, and thither he accordingly proceeded.

      In the meantime, Admiral Graves had done what he could to render the English fleet stationed in North America useless to the English cause. Guided by motives which no one can comprehend, he took the summer months, when the French and Americans were planning for an expedition in the South, to sail north to Boston. Having reconnoitred Boston to his satisfaction, be then proceeded to Rhode Island and set a watch upon the French ships stationed there under Barras, in order to prevent their escape. This would have been of some service if it had been accomplished; but apparently the watch was not diligent, for Barras and his little fleet made their way out without being noticed, and sailed off to meet de Grasse at Chesapeake Bay.

      Finding that the bird had flown unseen, Graves returned to New York, after some weeks of idle sailing. By this time Clinton had discovered Washington’s plans, and he realized the danger in which Cornwallis would soon be placed. Hood’s vessels had arrived at New York, having missed de Grasse, as Graves had missed Barras; it was evident that the situation was critical and no time could be lost. Graves took command of the united fleets and at once (August 31) sailed south, and on September 5 they made their appearance at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

      There they found the French fleet under de Grasse, and upon its defeat depended the possibility of rescuing the army under Cornwallis. The hostile fleets at once prepared for an engagement. In strength the French had some advantage, having twenty-four ships of the line, carrying seventeen hundred guns and about nineteen thousand seamen, while Graves had nineteen ships of the line and five frigates with about fourteen hundred guns.

      The ships manoeuvred for position, and as the wind finally brought them nearer together, about four o’clock in the afternoon the engagement began, and it lasted with considerable briskness until sunset. The French won no decisive victory, but they reaped the fruits of victory. On neither side did the losses exceed a few hundred men, but several of the English ships were seriously damaged. The French also suffered somewhat; the Diademe, which had been especially exposed, lost one hundred and twenty men, her rigging and sails were shot away, she received one hundred and twenty-five balls in her hull and twelve below the waterline.

      For five days the fleets remained in sight of each other without attempting any further engagement. But the English fleet was seriously crippled and its position did not improve. The Terrible was so injured that the English blew her up; the Irish and the Richmond, separated from the others, were captured, and on the 9th the squadron from Newport under Barras sailed into the Bay. The English were now decidedly inferior in force, and Graves insisted that he could attempt nothing further until his ships had been repaired, and so with his damaged fleet he sailed away to New York (Operations of the French Fleet etc. (Bradford Club Publications, no. 3), 66-75,154-158; Report of Admiral Graves) Perhaps he could have done no more, but his failure sealed the fate of Cornwallis, who was now left without hope of relief, surrounded both on land and sea.

      In order to bring together the armies and fleets which should cooperate in the capture of Yorktown, it was necessary, not only to overcome physical obstacles, but to sacrifice individual ambitions and quiet many heart-burnings. Unless the fleet under de Grasse had been strengthened by the arrival of the fleet commanded by Barras, which had been stationed at Newport, it is not certain that the French could have kept control of Chesapeake Bay and rendered it impossible for any relief to reach Yorktown. Yet it was with much difficulty, and only by the repeated solicitations of Washington and Rochambeau, that Barras at last consented to join an expedition of which, as he justly foresaw, the credit would belong to another, and there would be small opportunity for gaining glory for himself.

      Rochambeau left the French fleet at Newport, under Barras’s command, and there they remained quietly in the harbor until the letter arrived in which de Grasse announced that he was to leave the West Indies and sail for Chesapeake Bay. Perhaps de Grasse hesitated to summon Barras to take part in an expedition of which de Grasse himself would be the commander, and the glory of which would redound chiefly to him. At all events, he wrote Barras that it was for him to decide whether he would join the expedition at Chesapeake Bay, or act on his own account, as might be most advantageous to the common cause.

      Barras was eager to avail himself of the permission thus vaguely given. He had little desire to participate in this expedition as a subordinate; he was now in an independent command, and he sighed for some enterprise the glory of which would be his. It was easy for him to persuade himself that good military judgment coincided with his own desires. On the 12th of August he wrote Rochambeau that de Grasse did not count on him for assistance, and he thought, therefore, that he would sail to Newfoundland. He asked Rochambeau to send a speedy reply, and he would embark as soon as it reached him (Barras to Rochambeau, Aug. 12, 1781; Doniol, v, 522.)

      This letter came as a thunderbolt to Washington and Rochambeau, who were about to begin their march southward. Each of them felt that the expedition to Virginia might decide the fate of the war, and its success could only be insured if the French maintained a superiority on the sea. Yet here was Barras, with a considerable fleet, instead of taking his ships where their assistance might be of vital importance, contemplating a voyage to Newfoundland that would probably be without any result, and by no possibility could have an important result. Nor had Rochambeau the right to give a peremptory order; he commanded the forces on land, Barras commanded the fleet; neither was dependent on the other; joint action could only be secured by the agreement of both commanders.

      Rochambeau sent a letter forthwith, dealing very delicately with his associate, though stating with energy his own opinion and that of Washington. “I confess, my dear Admiral,” he said, “that the project of Newfoundland has a little surprised General Washington and myself.” He then begged Barras to abandon his project. “I beseech you,” he said, “come and join us.” (Rochambeau to Barras, Aug. 15, 1781; Doniol, v, 523.) Washington added a memorandum in his own hand, stating the probability that the English fleet might prove the stronger, if Barras persisted in his purpose not to join de Grasse.

      Barras yielded to these appeals, but very reluctantly. He described the advantages of the Newfoundland expedition, and dwelt on the perils of proceeding to Chesapeake Bay, where de Grasse did not need him (Barras to Rochambeau, Aug. 17; Doniol, v, 524.) But if his acquiescence was sulky, his performance was prompt. He at once sailed from Newport, escaped Graves, who was watching for him with the dull inefficiency that seemed characteristic of the operations of the English in America, and reached the Chesapeake in safety. His union with de Grasse secured the superiority of the French fleet and was another link in the chain which held Cornwallis firmly bound. His action deserves the more commendation because the fate which doubtless Barras anticipated in fact befell him. De Grasse commanded the united fleet; it was engaged in a great historic undertaking which brought honor to the participants at the time, and to the chief actors a prodigious amount of permanent fame. But Barras was not a chief actor; he did his duty faithfully, got small reward at the time, and of the fame for which be longed, absolutely none at all. The names of Rochambeau and de Grasse are familiar to all Americans; even those who know little else of history, can tell who captured Cornwallis. But Barras is not on the list, and his name is unknown; he performed his duty reluctantly but conscientiously, and reaped small reward except from the consciousness of virtue.

      After the arrival of the French recruits, La Fayette had under his command an army of seven thousand men. The French fleet was unopposed, and it could furnish from the marines considerable assistance for a land attack. At that time a man-of-war carried a small army on board, and the entire strength of the fleet was over twenty thousand men.

      The time for utilizing this formidable force was brief, for on the 15th of October de Grasse felt he must start on his return. It was now September, and there was as yet no sign of the troops under Washington or Rochambeau. There was a strong feeling in favor of an immediate attack upon the English under Cornwallis; if this seemed an attempt to gain the glory before their companions in arms could arrive, they had been warned how short was the time, and a great opportunity should not be allowed to escape on a question of etiquette. It was certain that under any circumstances there would not be time for the leisurely movements of a regular siege, and it seemed highly probable that Yorktown could be captured by assault. If the advice of some of the officers had been heeded, the attempt would have been made, and it is by no means certain that it would have failed. The resistance made by Cornwallis when the siege was undertaken was not so determined as to make it clear that he would have repulsed a vigorous assault. Considering the ordinary impetuosity of French tactics, the self-control now exhibited deserves much commendation. De Grasse had written on the day of his arrival at Chesapeake Bay that he hoped to find everything ready for the undertaking they had on hand. Five days passed, and yet there was no sign of the northern army. “Come quickly, my general, come quickly,” one of the officers wrote Rochambeau; “the 15th of October is near . . . I remember that a certain officer, being ordered to reconnoitre a fort, found occasion to capture it. If such a thing should happen to us, I hope you will pardon it.” (Doniol, v, 535-536.)

      But it was finally decided that no assault should be attempted, and this decision was due to the calm and mature judgment which La Fayette displayed in every phase of our Revolutionary War. There was the chance of brilliant success, but there was the possibility of disastrous failure. Even more than by this consideration, La Fayette was controlled by a feeling of loyalty to Washington. He had the opportunity to snatch the glory that afterwards fell to Rochambeau and Washington; but with all his desire for fame, he never tried to obtain it unfairly. His orders were to hold Cornwallis in check until the general-in-chief could arrive. He had no desire to snatch the glory of victory from the one to whom it justly belonged, no wish to hazard the success of his plans by hasty action. “I hope with my own eyes,” he had written Washington in August, “to see you at the head of the combined armies.” (La Fayette to Washington, Aug. 21; Lafayette, Memoires, etc. [ed. 1837], ii, 237-247.) “Thanks to you,” he wrote again on September 1, “I am in a charming position, at the head of a superior body of men; but I am not in such haste as the Comte de Grasse and, having a sure game to play, it would be folly by risking an attack to expose anything to chance.” “Our young General,” wrote Duportail, “has a mature head, and with all his ardor he is able to wait the proper moment and will not gather the fruit until it is ripe.” (Duportail to Rochambeau; Doniol, v, 535.)

      The French officers yielded to La Fayette’s arguments; indeed, he was at the head of the army until Washington’s arrival, and an attack upon Yorktown could only be made by his order; but he convinced his associates that delay was the part of wisdom.

      On the 14th of September the commander-in-chief arrived at Williamsburg. At four o’clock in the afternoon the guns fired a royal salute as the generals approached. Washington and Rochambeau, accompanied by La Fayette, the commander of the American forces, and the Marquis de Saint-Simon, commanding the French, reviewed the two armies drawn up in battalion parade. The French officers then gathered at Saint-Simon’s headquarters and were presented to the American commander-in-chief. An elegant supper was served, attended by all the principal officers; American colonels and French marquises mingled together in good fellowship; the French band played selections from French operas, and at the seemly hour of ten the feast was ended (Butler’s Journal; Historical Magazine, March, 1864,106.) La Fayette’s dream was at last realized, and he saw the united armies of France and America joined in a common enterprise under the command of Washington.

      Washington recognized that success was only possible if the French fleet could hold its ascendancy on the sea; if Cornwallis were reinforced it would be useless to attempt the capture of Yorktown; on the maintenance of de Grasse’s position in Chesapeake Bay rested the hope of victory. As soon, therefore, as Washington had reached Williamsburg, he prepared to visit the French admiral, and arrange with him plans for the capture of Cornwallis’s army. The Comte de Grasse was stationed at Cape Henry, and on September 17 Washington set out with Rochambeau, ChasteIlux, and Knox, and by noon on the following day they reached de Grasse’s flagship, the Ville de Paris. Washington was received with due honors, and the meeting was in all respects cordial. Not only his achievements, but his stately courtesy and perfect tact, peculiarly fitted him to deal with our French allies. The natural brusqueness of some of the American officers was distasteful to those drilled in the elaborate etiquette of the French court and French society, but Washington was as well fitted for it as if he had been to the manner born.

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