In the mean time preparations for the expedition that was to go to the relief of Washington's army were carried on in France with vigor. The French government was not a military machine that worked with the efficiency of the administration of Frederick II, and yet, with many delays and disappointments, something was accomplished. At first it had been proposed that an army of four thousand men should be sent out under Rochambeau; but when he accepted the command, he justly remonstrated at the smallness of the force. I accept with the liveliest gratitude," wrote the count, the mark of confidence with which his Majesty has honored me ... but yet I venture to suggest ... that a body of four thousand men is soon reduced." It might well happen, he added, that one third of those engaged should be lost in a single engagement. At the battles of Laufeldt, Crevelt, and Klostercamp, he had lost two thirds of the men under his command, and such a contest in America would leave the remainder of the force in sorry shape. A body of twelve battalions, or six thousand men, be wrote the minister, would allow one third to act in the reserve, and though the Americans had asked for only four thousand men, an increase in the number furnished would naturally fill them with the liveliest gratitude (Rochambeau to the King; Doniol, v, 313.)
These suggestions were favorably received, and it was decided to increase the force to eight thousand; but this wise resolution was not entirely carried into effect. In fitting out the expedition for America, as with the proposed invasion of England, the inefficiency of the naval department was manifest. "The watch of M. de Sartine is always slow," said Choiseul of the Minister of the Marine. The required number of soldiers gathered at Brest with commendable despatch, but though the men were ready, the boats on which they should sail were lacking.
The Spanish might have furnished some aid, but they were not inclined to do so. When the resolution to send an army to America was communicated to Madrid, the Spanish ministers manifested a strong desire to have the expedition sent to the southern states, where it might assist Spain in her designs on Florida. Vergennes did not receive this suggestion kindly. The war against England in Europe was conducted on lines by which Spain hoped to gain some advantage, and a large force was occupied in the siege of Gibraltar; but in America the French minister resolved to furnish aid where it would be most advantageous to their American allies. The Spanish, therefore, viewed the expedition with indifference, and the French naval department found it impossible to get together a sufficient number of transports. Seventy-six hundred soldiers were at Brest ready to depart for America, but only five thousand five hundred actually sailed under Rochambeau, and this was entirely due, wrote one of those who took part in the expedition, "to the negligence and incompetency which attend everything in this country." (April 4,1780; Diary and Correpondence of Count Fersen, relating to the Court of France (translated by Miss Wormeley), 22.
The situation was urgent: America needed aid, and delay would increase the danger of an attack from the English fleet. Instead of waiting indefinitely for boats for all the men, it was decided to sail promptly with as many as could be carried. Rochambeau had intended taking horses enough to mount a small body of cavalry, but this plan had to be abandoned; even his own horses he left behind. Not a horse shall be taken, he wrote: "It is with the greatest regret that I separate from two war-horses that I can never replace, but I do not wish to reproach myself that they are occupying the room of twenty men, who otherwise might have embarked." (Rochambeau to Montbarey, Much 27, 1780; Doniol, v, 331.)
The supplies occupied a large amount of space; there was little certainty of obtaining on the other side the articles necessary for the comfort and the efficiency of the men; munitions of war, clothes, tents, supplies of every sort had to be carried with them. The soldiers en route for our country were provided with everything necessary for their sustenance and comfort, with the same care that would now be shown in an expedition about to start for Central Africa. Especial attention had to be given to a sufficient provision of money; this required as careful attention as if the army were to embark for a land whose only currency was beads and cotton cloths, and indeed the currency system of our forefathers was not far superior to that which now prevails in Uganda. American paper money, wrote Rochambeau, had fallen into such disrepute that they must carry French coin to pay the men and to purchase supplies. Everything which the French army needed they must buy; and the count added, with just prevision, that for all they bought in America they would be obliged to pay good prices (Rochambeau to Montbarey; Doniol, v, 315.) The expedition was a costly one, and nearly eight million livres were at once advanced for its needs.
While Rochambeau desired to sail as soon as possible with the men who could embark in the transports, he fully expected that a second detachment would speedily follow and furnish him with the number of soldiers that he had asked and had been promised. In this expectation he was doomed to be disappointed, and the second detachment of his army never crossed the Atlantic.
In all about fifty-five hundred soldiers sailed, whose fortune it was to cooperate in the capture of Yorktown and assist in the establishment of American independence. They were divided into four regiments: Bourbonnais, Soissonnais, Saintonge, and Royal Deux- Ponts. The names of the commanding officers show that members of the most ancient and illustrious French families took part in the struggle of American backwoodsmen for independence. Of the first regiment the colonel was the Marquis de Laval-Montmorency, and the Vicomte de Rochambeau lieutenant-colonel; the Comte de Saint-Maime was colonel of the Soissonnais regiment, and the Vicomte de Noailles lieutenant-colonel; the Saintonge was commanded by the Comte de Custine and the Comte de Charlus; of the Royal Deux-Ponts the Comte Christian Deux-Ponts was colonel and the Vicomte Guillaume Deux-Ponts was lieutenant-colonel. In addition to this was the Legion of Lauzun, consisting of six hundred men, under the Duc de Lauzun, a member of one of the greatest French families, and a man whose reputation for gallantry in love affairs gave him preeminence among the beaux and libertines of the time. Such follies did not prevent his being a brave and efficient soldier, and during two years in America he not only acquitted himself as a good officer, but conducted himself with as much discretion as if he had been a descendant of a governor of Massachusetts instead of a favorite of Louis XIV. The Vicomte d'Arrot and the Comte Dillon served under him, and the fleet was commanded by Admiral Ternay, an officer of long and honorable service (Les Combattants Francais, etc., edited by H. Merou, passim.)
There was much complaint from those assigned to the second division, when at the last moment they found that they were to be left behind. The young French officers were eager for an opportunity for distinction, and those who could not embark were bitterly disappointed. Many efforts were made to obtain an assignment which would secure passage with the first division, but for the most part they were in vain. "These poor young men," wrote Rochambeau, "are very much interested and they are in despair, but the Chevalier Ternay literally does not know where he can put them."
In April the men were on board and ten ships of war and thirty convoys were ready to sail, bearing the soldiers, equipment, and provisions. On the 12th, Rochambeau wrote that as soon as the weather cleared and the north wind blew they would be under way. But there was tedious delay waiting for fair weather. Not until the first of May was the wind favorable, and in the meantime the soldiers wearied of their long detention on board ship and the number of sick was considerable. At last a start was made from Brest, and on May 3 Rochambeau wrote from his ship: "We are sailing by a fair northeast wind . . . and traversing the gulf in the very weather we could desire."
This favorable condition did not long continue. A violent storm scattered the fleet, but they gathered without loss, while the same storm drove into port the English fleet under Admiral Graves, which was intended to check the expedition. Graves was unable to sail again for two weeks, and in the meantime, favored at last by fair winds and undisturbed by the English fleet, the French ships made their way slowly but safely, sailing well to the south and by the Azores, in the hope that the good weather would remain with them, a hope that was not disappointed.
On June 5, five English ships were in sight, but Ternay did not wish to delay his progress by seeking any adventures on the way. "This occasion showed how little taste the commander had for chasing and pursuing vessels one might meet," a disappointed officer entered on his log; "it is a great misfortune." In this the officer was probably mistaken; the voyage was long and perilous at best, and Ternay was resolved it should not be made longer by any pursuit of prizes. On June 11 a sloop was taken, sailing from Halifax, and by this capture they got a cargo of codfish. On the 18th they took a cutter, with no cod, but with the unwelcome news that the English had captured Charleston and taken four thousand prisoners. On the 20th the fleet was south of Bermuda, and there they fell in with some English men-of-war and had a mild engagement. If Ternay had been more adventurous he might have captured one of the English ships, but he allowed her to escape and proceeded on his way (Doniol, v, 342.) On the 4th of July the French were opposite Chesapeake Bay and saw a fleet of eleven sail, merchant-ships under convoy. Greatly to the disgust of some of his followers, Ternay declined to pursue them, and on July 11, after a voyage of seventy days, the entire French fleet anchored safely off Rhode Island. Admiral Ternay had performed his duty with vigilance and ability and with commendable caution; a few days later it would have been possible for the English fleet to interpose a stout resistance; as it was, the French soldiers disembarked at Rhode Island as peacefully as if they had been landing at Brest.
As soon as the French troops were safely landed, Rochambeau reported their arrival to the commander-in-chief. "My master's orders," he wrote Washington on July 12, "place me at the disposal of your excellency. I am arrived full of submission and zeal, and of veneration for yourself and for the talents you have shown in sustaining a war that will be forever memorable." (Rochambeau to Washington, July 12, 1780; Doniol, v, 348.)
On the whole, the French troops reached this side in good condition, though the tedious waiting at Brest and ten weeks spent on the Atlantic had resulted in a long sick-roll. But no serious malady had shown itself, and Rochambeau reported that a three weeks' rest in their comfortable quarters at Rhode Island would put the army in condition for service. General Heath met the French with a thousand men, to insure them a safe landing; as there was no opposition the American contingent was soon allowed to return, but in the mean time the officers met in what General Heath affably called "happy fraternity." The friendly intercourse of soldiers and citizens and the social functions which greeted the new arrivals afforded, so a newspaper declared in the sounding periods in which journals of that day indulged, "a pleasing prospect of the future felicity and grandeur of this country, in alliance with the most polite, powerful and generous nation in the world."
Both the officers and men of Rochambeau's command conducted themselves with a discretion which healed old grievances and prepared the way for effective cooperation. " The French officers of every rank," says a correspondent, "have made themselves agreeable by that politeness which characterizes the French nation." Polite our guests certainly were, and yet, by a most judicious respect for American social usages, they did not attempt to be too polite. This was the peril most to be apprehended, but the officers recognized how broad a gulf at that period divided the social life of Paris and Newport. The Duc de Lauzun, if we may credit current reports or unauthentic autobiography, had in France made love to almost every woman he met. In Newport he was quartered for the winter with Mrs. Deborah Hunter. He was keen enough to recognize the difference between Mrs. Hunter and Madame du Barry.
The citizens of Newport celebrated the arrival of the French fleet with proper festivities. On July 11 all the houses in certain streets were directed to be illuminated, and such other homes as the abilities of the inhabitants would permit, and these illuminations were to be continued until ten of the evening, which was then a late hour for the residents. With laudable prudence, Job Easton, Rob Taylor, and some others were appointed a committee to prevent damage from fire and to preserve the peace of the town. Newspapers had a small circulation, and therefore this resolution of the council was made known to the citizens by beat of drum. To assist those who were ordered to illuminate, but were too poor to furnish lights, the council directed that in such case the lighting should be at the public expense; but, with a judicious thrift characteristic of our forefathers and little practised in modern city governments, the treasurer was ordered to buy one box of candles which must answer the needs of all (Magazine of American History, iii, 433.) If the celebration was economical, it was acceptable to our guests, and many social entertainments and balls were given by the French officers and their American hosts. The Duc de Lauzun gave a great ball, and so did the officers of the Royal Deux-Ponts, and dinners were a frequent mode of entertainment.
The appearance of the French regiments was sufficiently gay to furnish pleasure to the Newport of today , and was a rare spectacle for the Newport of the eighteenth century. The dress of officers and men bore little resemblance to the ragged regimentals of the American army. The uniform of the Deux-Ponts was white; Saintonge white and green; Bourbonnais black and red. All wore cocked hats and their hair was carefully done up in pigtails. The regiment of Soissonnais was especially picturesque, with rose-colored facings to their coats, and grenadier caps adorned with white and rose-colored plumes. The artillery were dressed in blue with red facings.
These well-equipped and well-drilled regiments excited confident hopes of victory in the hearts of American patriots, while the officers, as charming in manners as they were in dress, the representatives of ancient names and historic titles, excited admiration, or even stronger feelings, among the American ladies. There were no multi-millionaires at Newport, few Americans had visited France, and French counts, dukes, and princes were new elements in American society. The French nobility of to-day has lost its ancient power, much of its social prominence, and almost all of its ancient wealth, yet its members are often attractive to young ladies far more experienced in society than the Newport belles of 1778.
Variety was furnished by the visit of a band of Indians. The French were always adroit in dealing with the Indians, and these warriors, mostly Oneidas and Tuscaroras, were much pleased by their reception. General Heath also entertained them, and he says with satisfaction that be gave them a "sumptuous feast"; the Indians showed their appreciation by performing a war dance, which perhaps pleased the French officers as much as the general's dinner (Memoirs of Gen. William Heath, written by himself; Aug. 29, 1780.)
Some of the Indians who had visited Rochambeau at Newport went to West Point, and Dr. Thacher describes them in terms which expressed the views of nine tenths of the New England men of that period. "The army was paraded to be reviewed by General Washington accompanied by a number of Indian chiefs. His Excellency, mounted on his noble bay charger, rode in front . . . Six Indian chiefs followed in his train, appearing as the most disgusting and contemptible of the human race; . . . dressed in a miserable Indian habit; some with a dirty blanket over the shoulders, and others almost naked . . . These bipeds could not refrain from the indulgence of their appetites for rum on this occasion, and some of them fell from their horses on their return to headquarters." (James Thacher, A Military Journal, during the Revolutionary War; Sept. 13, 1780.) Admiration for the noble red man is modern.
The social intercourse between the Americans and their new allies was agreeable, but it was not for dinners and balls, nor to enjoy the smiles of Newport belles, that an army of over five thousand men had been sent across the Atlantic. As soon as the soldiers had fairly recovered from the fatigues and discomforts of their journey, the question of the action to be taken against the English occupied the attention of their leaders. Another French fleet had come to America, but had sailed away, having accomplished no important work, sowing discontent rather than gratitude among those it came to aid. Such a result for the second expedition was as much dreaded by Rochambeau as by Washington, and yet almost a year elapsed before the French army took any active part in the war.
It seemed possible at first that some slight shadow of pique and misunderstanding - the evil which the French ministers had feared when considering the expedition - might hinder its usefulness. Washington reposed the fullest confidence in La Fayette, and it was natural that he should especially rely upon the marquis in dealing with his own countrymen, but La Fayette's eagerness led him to manifest a zeal that, if not undue, was perhaps unfortunate.
A movement against New York naturally suggested itself as the most desirable that could be undertaken. "It seems to me," La Fayette wrote to Rochambeau and Ternay, "that New York is in every respect an object preferable to any other. This city is the pivot on which turn the operations of the enemy, and upon which rest any hopes which the King of England can still entertain . . . In a word, it is clear that an expedition against New York would be the most glorious and the most advantageous to France and America, the most desired by the two nations, and, in a certain sense, the only one that is practicable." (Doniol, v, 356.)
In this and following letters the marquis demonstrated to his own satisfaction the feasibility of such an attack and pressed the measure upon Rochambeau with increasing urgency. After stating Washington's views, he added: "I assure you . . . in my own name that it is important to act in this campaign, that all the troops you hope to receive from France the coming year, as well as all the projects with which you flatter yourself, will not repair the fatal injury resulting from our inaction." (Aug. 9, 1780; Lafayette, Memoires, etc. (1837 ed.), ii, 125.)
Rochambeau was not persuaded by these reasonings, and while he recognized the importance of the capture of New York, he asserted with positiveness that the success of such an attempt was impossible unless the French possessed a decided superiority on the sea. This certainly they did not have, and furthermore the forces under his command, even when united with the small army under Washington, he regarded as entirely unequal to the capture of New York.
Rochambeau confidently expected that he would soon receive additional troops from France. He had been promised that eight thousand men should follow him to America. Nearly eight thousand soldiers gathered at Brest, ready to sail, but a third of the army had been left behind on account of the insufficient number of convoys. Rochambeau sailed with the assurance that the twenty-five hundred men composing the second division of his command would soon follow. For some months their arrival was constantly anticipated; when rumors came of ships seen at sea, the count flattered himself that the long-expected reinforcements would soon be at hand. But the twenty-five hundred men who had gathered at Brest to form part of Rochambeau's army never sailed to America. For a while there was talk of their departure, and preparations for the expedition were carried languidly along, but it was at last announced that the plan of sending them had been, for the present, abandoned. Apparently the explanation of this failure was the inefficiency of the French naval department, of which the war furnished so many illustrations. It was difficult to procure transports, it required energy to secure provisions to equip the fleet for the long journey, and at last the undertaking was abandoned.
Not only did Rochambeau desire to await the arrival of the second division, but he was somewhat nettled at the peremptory zeal with which a youth like La Fayette assumed to direct his movements. The reIations of the two men were friendly, but after all, Rochambeau was a much older officer, and he was the commander of the expedition; he was subject to Washington's orders, but not to those of La Fayette. The marquis, so Rochambeau wrote the French minister, had sent him a despatch twelve pages long, in which, "at the instigation of some foolish heads, he proposes extravagant things, such as taking Long Island and New York without a fleet." (Rochambeau to La Luzerne, Aug. 14, 1780; Doniol, v, 364.) He would in the future, so the count continued, write directly to Washington, whose letters were always judicious, and thus avoid correspondence "with young and ardent persons."
La Fayette's amiability was proof against any rebuff, and secured him the affection of those who were annoyed by an eagerness which sometimes savored of impertinence. Rochambeau remained the sincere friend of the young marquis, who was as ardent in affection as in advice. These feelings are shown in letters that bear little resemblance to the ordinary correspondence between generals in the field. "Permit, my dear marquis," wrote Rochambeau, "an old father to answer you as a son whom he loves and esteems infinitely." After arguing against an attack on New York, he adds: "It is well to believe the French invincible, but I confess to you in secret, after the experience of forty years, there are few soldiers easier to beat when they have lost confidence in their leaders, and this they lose when they are put in perilous positions to please some personal ambition . . . I have spoken of some things that displease me in your last letter; I judge that the warmth of your soul has a little affected the correctness of your judgment . . . But it is always the old father Rochambeau who talks to his dear son whom he loves and will love and esteem to his last breath." (Rochambeau to La Fayette, Aug. 27,1780; Tower, The Marquis de Lafayette, etc., ii, 154.)
Washington had been inclined to allow La Fayette an active part in the negotiations with his countrymen, but, with his usual tact, be felt that his associate wished to receive orders directly from the general-in-chief, and that it was judicious to accede to his request for a personal interview. Rochambeau had been insistent for this, and hostilities were not so active that Washington could not find time for a conference.
It was accordingly agreed that the commanders should meet at Hartford. This town was about equidistant between Newport and Washington's headquarters, and both French and Americans occupied some three days in riding to the rendezvous. Washington was accompanied by La Fayette, Knox, and six aides, of whom Hamilton was one. Rochambeau and Ternay left Newport September 18, accompanied by four French officers, and reached Hartford on the 21st. The French and American commanders met for the first time and each created a favorable impression on the other. If the interview produced no important result, it was valuable because the generals of the two nations conferred in harmony and parted with increased respect for one another. The courtesy and dignity of Washington's bearing corresponded to the idea which the French already entertained of the American commander. "I had time to see this man, illustrious, if not unique, in our century," writes one of the French aides. "He looks a hero. He is very cold, speaks little, but is courteous and frank. A shade of sadness overshadows his countenance, which is not unbecoming and gives him an interesting air." (Fersen to his father, Oct. 16, 1780; Diary and Correspondence of Count Fersen, etc. [translated by Miss Wormeley], 30.)
Washington and his suite arrived first at Hartford and were received with imposing ceremonies. The governor with his guards and his artillery came out to meet the commander-in-chief, and the crowd was enthusiastic. The French officers arrived soon after and they were received with the same formalities. Everybody was civil. "The highest marks of polite respect and attention were mutual," says the Hartford "Courant." Even the bills of the members of the conference were paid by the state, as they found when they came to leave. Judging from the complaints of many officers as to the unconscionable sums they were obliged to pay in their travels, this experience must have been both rare and agreeable.
La Fayette acted as interpreter, as Washington could neither speak nor understand French and Rochambeau was unable to speak English. This difficulty did not interfere with the freedom of the interview, nor with its agreeable character for the participants. The results of the conference illustrated the extreme caution of Washington's character. He was inclined to make an attack upon New York, but when he found the French generals regarded such a movement as premature and ill-advised, he at once acceded to their views. To some extent he may have been convinced by their arguments, but he realized, also, that, although the French contingent was subject to his orders, his authority must be exercised with great discretion. The interview at Hartford, he wrote La Fayette, showed how nominal was the authority which be exercised over the French auxiliaries (Washington to La Fayette, Dec. 14,1780; Writings of Washington, Spark's ed., vii, 322.) This was not strictly correct, for Rochambeau was ordered not only to cooperate with Washington, but to act under his command. He was, however, expected to exercise his own judgment as to the plans of the campaign, and Washington was far too cautious to insist upon the adoption of any course of action which would not receive the hearty cooperation of his associates.
The French government was informed of the difference of opinion between the two generals, and approved the decision of its own officer. "The King approves of your conduct at the conference at Hartford," wrote Segur, "and especially the care you showed not to allow your own views to be controlled by those Washington might hold." (Segur to Rochambeau, Feb. 26, 1781.) Owing to the tact and consideration shown by Washington, the conference was entirely harmonious, and the French officers expressed the utmost admiration of the American commander-in-chief.
As a result of their deliberation Washington, Rochambeau, and Ternay joined in a despatch, asking the French government for further assistance, both in men and money. A memorandum, signed by them, declared that the capture of New York would be the most advantageous operation that could be undertaken; but that for the success of any movement the French must have a superior naval force, while, if they were to undertake the capture of New York City, the allied armies ought to be thirty thousand strong. All, therefore, joined in a memorial to the French government, asking that a naval force might be sent sufficient to insure the success of future operations, that a liberal supply of money be furnished for the necessities of the French army, and that, if possible, their force might be increased to fifteen thousand men (Hartford Conference; Doniol, vi, 404-407.)
While the generals were in conference at Hartford, alarming intelligence hastened their return to their commands. News came that Admiral Rodney, with a fleet of thirty-one ships, had arrived at New York, and in view of this great increase in strength, an immediate attack on the French fleet seemed probable. Washington rode back to the Hudson, to make discoveries more alarming than the arrival of Rodney. On his way from Hartford he held a conference with La Luzerne; from there he went to West Point and was met with the news of Arnold's treachery. Both the American and the French armies were shocked by this blow to the common confidence.
In the meantime the army under Rochambeau rested comfortably at Newport. The troops landed in July, 1780, and there still remained four months of pleasant weather before winter set in, but these were passed in tranquillity. Yet the presence of the army at Newport was by no means without value. La Fayette, when he was arguing for an attack on New York, wrote that a French army at Rhode Island was of no use to America, to which Rochambeau replied, rather tartly, that he had yet to hear that the French at Rhode Island had done the Americans any harm. If they took part in no important movement, at least they rendered valuable service in fostering hearty good-will between the Americans and the allies, and preparing the way for harmonious cooperation in the future.
If the French gained no victories, they escaped any disaster, though with a more enterprising general opposed to them a different result might have ensued. The American army was scattered along the Hudson and in New Jersey. The English had some thirteen thousand men at New York, and their fleet was superior to that of the French, but Rochambeau and his command were left undisturbed (B. F. Stevens, Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives relating to America, no. 730, p. 8.) Owing to the prudent celerity with which Ternay conducted the expedition, the landing at Rhode Island had been unopposed. The fleet which sailed from England under Admiral Graves was driven back to Plymouth by a storm and remained there two weeks. At last they started in pursuit of the French convoy, but they could not recover the time lost; on July 11 the French were at Newport and on the 13th Graves reached Sandy Hook.
The English ships stationed at New York made no endeavor to hinder the French landing, but, upon Graves's arrival, the combined forces at once set sail for Rhode Island. On the 21st of July the English appeared off Newport with a fleet of nineteen men-of-war. In the meantime, the French had been actively engaged in fortifying their position, and the English Admiral decided that it would not be prudent to attack by water, but that he would await the arrival of the land forces under Clinton. Clinton was reported to have ten thousand men with which to begin hostilities, and the allies continued with vigor the work of fortification. The Continental soldiers under Heath and the militia from Rhode Island and Massachusetts engaged in the work with much zeal. Redoubts were built and cannon were put in position; the allied forces numbered some eight thousand men and were ready to give the English a warm reception.
Clinton proceeded with his customary procrastination and vacillation. Six thousand of his soldiers were embarked on transports; they sailed across the Sound, and on July 31 they disembarked at Whitetone. But, in the mean time, their commander had changed his mind. He was informed that the French were strongly intrenched and that Washington was preparing to move against New York; to attack the French successfully and then return to meet the American army, required decision, celerity, and boldness. Clinton possessed none of those qualities, and the idea of an attack on Newport was abandoned.
The English fleet lay outside the harbor ready to intercept any expedition the French might attempt; it did not venture an attack, but, as it was superior in numbers to the French, they could undertake nothing in behalf of their allies. On September 16 Rodney, with thirty-one ships, arrived at New York, and thus reinforced it was thought the English would enter Newport harbor and destroy the French fleet. The English had a large preponderance in force; if the attempt had been made and had proved successful, it would greatly have altered the future of the war. The daring that takes great risks and accomplishes great results had been common in the officers who were inspired by Chatham, but it was not found in the generals and admirals whom George III sent out to fight with his rebellions subjects. In September the English vessels arrived off Newport. Later Rodney won important victories in the West Indies, but he now decided against an attack; presently he returned to New York, and in November sailed back to the Antilles, leaving twelve vessels to strengthen the fleet under Arbuthnot, which continued, from Gardiner's Bay, its watch upon the French. Thus the autumn ended with nothing of importance undertaken by the French and their American allies.
During the winter Washington thought it might be possible to attempt some action jointly with the Spanish. Spain was not indeed an ally of the United States, but she was an ally of France and engaged with her in war with England. The Spanish at this time contemplated sending an expedition from Havana to Florida, and Washington thought this might furnish an opportunity for achieving results important to all combatants. If they would unite with the French and Americans, he wrote Rochambeau, in an attack on Georgia and the Carolinas, this would not only be invaluable to the Americans, but the defeat of the English in the southern states would procure for the Spanish the tranquil possession of Florida. If the scheme met Rochambeau's approval, he desired that a vessel should at once be despatched with the proposition. If you approve, he wrote, there is no time to lose in making your reply (Washington to Rochambeau, Dec. 15, 1780; Writings of Washington, Sparks's ed., vii, 325.)
Washington's judgment was rarely at fault, but he anticipated from Spanish aid advantages that were never realized. Rochambeau knew the Spanish better than the American general. He knew that it was useless to expect cooperation from them; that they would take part in no movement unless the advantages were to be reaped solely by Spain, and that it was impossible for them to realize that Florida could be conquered in Georgia or Carolina. The Spanish commander, he assured Washington, having received orders from his own court, would not disturb them for a single moment in order to cooperate with the allies (Rochambeau to Washington, Dec. 22, 1780; Doniol, v, 398.) The plan was, therefore, abandoned, and Rochambeau fared no better in an endeavor to get assistance from the French fleet in the West Indies.
Thus the year 1781 arrived, and as the winter wore away the Americans and French began to prepare themselves for what it was hoped might prove a decisive campaign. That this could not long be postponed Washington thoroughly realized. The mutinies of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey soldiers had been quelled; but it was impossible that an army should much longer be kept together without money, and, with the best of will, they could not serve indefinitely without food and clothes. Nor was it certain how long Washington could rely upon French assistance. These auxiliaries were not sent here for any definite period; pestilence, defeat, or other discouragement might induce a speedy return to their own land, and if this expedition failed, it was most unlikely that the French King would send another army to assist in an unlucky war waged three thousand miles away.
The French were equally desirous for an active campaign. The responsibility of the result of the war did not rest upon them; but they sighed for activity, they were weary of inaction, and eager to be led against the English. The first movement was made by the French fleet. The English ships in Gardiner's Bay, and between Block Island and Point Judith, kept vigilant watch, but their position was much exposed to bad weather, and a January gale disabled several of Arbuthnot's ships. Encouraged by this, Des Touches, who, owing to Ternay's sudden death, was temporarily in command, resolved to break the monotony of inaction. On March 8 the French fleet, carrying twelve hundred troops, set sail for Chesapeake Bay, to cooperate with La Fayette in his campaign against Arnold. Washington came to Newport in order to view the embarkment. and was received with the formalities of which the French were masters. In the instructions issued at Versailles it was directed that the American general-in-chief should receive the honors of a French marshal, and these were not denied him. Salutes were fired, and the ships and the city were illuminated. Not only did the French show their enthusiasm, but the town council voted to buy candles for the occasion. Thirty boys bearing lighted candles marched before the father of his country. The illumination was not dazzling, but it showed patriotic hearts (Thomas Balch, The French in America, etc., i, 137.)
In the meantime the fleet had sailed away, but it did not accomplish any important results. The French had been slow in getting off; Arbuthnot had time to repair the injuries to his ships, and he sailed in pursuit after an interval of only twenty-four hours. At the mouth of Chesapeake Bay an engagement took place, each side having eight men-of-war. The victory was doubtful. Both sides fought with resolution, and neither gained any marked advantage. But the French vessels had been roughly handled, and Des Touches decided to return to Rhode Island. Twenty days after the French ships had sailed away they were back in port, having gained nothing but experience by their expedition.
Letters were so frequently intercepted that one needed to be discreet in his correspondence, and Washington now became involved in an annoying experience. He wrote Lund Washington, after the return of the Des Touches expedition, that it was unfortunate the French fleet had not undertaken the enterprise when he advised; Arnold's forces would then have been destroyed, while, by reason of the delay, the little squadron sent out had been unable to accomplish anything. The reproach cast upon his associates was not severe, yet it is strange that even this should have been indited by Washington's cautious pen. The penalty for a rare offence was prompt and disagreeable. The letter was intercepted, the English published it in "Rivington's Royal Gazette," and Rochambeau at once sent a communication to Washington, expressing his doubts as to whether such remarks could have been made by him, and sharply criticizing the criticism (Rochambeau to Washington, April 26,1781; Writings of Washington, Sparks's ed., viii, 27-28.)
Washington surely told the truth when he replied that Rochambeau's letter had caused him great pain. He had no copy of the letter, so he wrote; he could not say whether it was correctly published, and probably it was not. But still he must admit that the report was substantially correct; the letter was addressed to a private person in whose discretion he could rely; only by an unlucky accident had the contents become public, and he added, in soothing words, that at that time the causes for the delay in sailing were not known to him; with these explanations, he said in closing, "I leave the matter to your candor." (Washington to Rochambeau, April 30, 1781; Ibidem.)
Rochambeau was too sensible to cherish any rancor; it was certainly indiscreet for the American general to criticize his French associates, and the consciousness of such indiscretion, to a man as rigid as Washington in the scrupulous observance of every propriety, was probably the most disagreeable feature of the episode. It bore no evil fruit, and it is certain that all his subsequent letters could have been intercepted and published in the "Gazette" without danger of wounding the susceptibilities of his allies.
This unsuccessful enterprise was succeeded by movements of far greater importance. The arrival of intelligence from the other side enabled Washington and Rochambeau to form their plans for the campaign of 1781.