This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: French Fleet Coming from Carribean.
Lord Cornwallis took over the southern command after the British army’s crushing victory at Charleston. The U.S. Army in the south had been eliminated but the British were unable to control the territory. Winning battle after battle, the British advanced through the Carolinas into Virginia. Cornwallis camped at the sea-side village Yorktown on the Chesapeake Bay for supplies and reinforcements from the navy. His own account of the surprise appearance of both the main U.S. army and the French army in a letter addressed to Sir Henry Clinton, here follows the complete narrative of Dawson, which covers the final year of the actual War of the American Revolution.
The selections are from:
- Battles of the United States by Sea and Land by Henry B. Dawson published in 1858.
- Report by Lord Cornwallis written in 1781.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
There’s 5.5 installments by Henry B. Dawson and 1.5 installments by Lord Cornwallis. We begin with Henry B. Dawson. He was the above-mentioned Battles book and edited Historical Magazine.
Place: Yorktown, Virginia
The seventh year of the War of the Revolution was productive of great events. Opening with the mutiny of the Pennsylvania line of troops, its progress soon developed the disaffection of the New Jersey line also, and all the skill of General Washington was necessary to maintain that discipline in the army on which the salvation of the country depended. The resources of the country, from the long-continued struggle through which it had passed during six years, had become exhausted; its currency had become depreciated beyond precedent; and the people, weary of the contest, were lukewarm as well as enervated.
At that time, also, the Federal Congress appeared to lack that nerve and decision which had marked the proceedings of the same body earlier in the war; and contenting itself with “recommendations,” without attempting to enforce its requisitions or even to advise the adoption of compulsory measures by the States, it left the troops who were in the field without clothing, provisions, or pay, and indirectly forced upon them those acts of apparent insurrection which, resolved to their first elements, might not improperly have been called “acts of necessity,” and been justified, in charity, as essential to their self-preservation.
So gloomy, indeed, were the prospects of American independence at that time that the interposition of some foreign government was, by general consent, considered absolutely essential; and never were the good qualities of the Commander-in-Chief more nobly displayed than at this period, when, amid the most pressing discouragements, referred to, he urged the States to strengthen the bonds of the confederacy and to renew their efforts for the great final struggle with their haughty and determined enemy.
The enemy, still anxiously seeking to establish his power in the Southern States, had sent General Arnold to Virginia, with a strong detachment of troops, to cooperate with Lord Cornwallis, who was busily engaged, in a series of movements, in measuring his strength and his skill with General Greene; and, soon afterward, a second detachment, under General Phillips, was sent to the same State.
Early in May the Count de Barras arrived from Europe with the welcome intelligence of the approach of reinforcements from France; and that a strong fleet from the West Indies, under Count de Grasse, might be expected in the American waters within a few weeks. In view of these facts a conference between General Washington and the Count de Rochambeau was held at Weathersfield soon afterward, and the plans of the campaign were discussed and determined on.
Among the principal operations proposed was an attack on the city of New York; and in accordance with these plans the allied forces of America and France moved against that city. Every necessary preparation had been made for the commencement of active operations, when, on August 14th, a letter reached General Washington in which the Count de Grasse informed him that the entire French West Indian fleet, with more than three thousand land forces, would shortly sail from Santo Domingo for the Chesapeake, intimating, however, that he could not remain longer than the middle of October, at which time it would be necessary for him to be on his station again. As the limited period which the Count could spend in the service of the allies was not sufficient to warrant the supposition that he could be useful before New York, the entire plan of the campaign was changed; and it was resolved to proceed to Virginia, with the whole of the French troops and as many of the Americans as could be spared from the defense of the posts on the Hudson; and instead of besieging Sir Henry Clinton, in his head-quarters in New York, a movement against Lord Cornwallis and the powerful detachment under his command was resolved on.
At the period in question Lord Cornwallis had moved out of the Carolinas, formed a junction with the force under General Phillips, and had overrun the lower counties of Virginia, until General Lafayette, who had been sent to the State some weeks after, by superior skill and the most active exertions had succeeded in checking his progress. The purpose of the allies was to prevent the escape of Lord Cornwallis from his position near Yorktown; and General Lafayette was ordered to make such a disposition of his army as should be best calculated to effect that purpose. In case this purpose should be defeated, and Lord Cornwallis succeed in effecting a retreat into North Carolina, it was designed to pursue him with sufficient force to overawe him: while the remainder of the armies, at the same time, should proceed, with the French fleet, to Charleston, which was, at the same time, the enemy’s head-quarters in the South.
The marine force of the allies was composed of two fleets — that of Admiral Count de Grasse, then on its way from the West Indies, composed of twenty-six sail of the line and several frigates; and that of Admiral Count de Barras, then at anchor in Newport, composed of eight sail of the line, besides transports and victuallers: their military force embraced the main bodies of the American and French armies, under Generals Washington and Rochambeau, then near New York; the detachment of American troops, under General Lafayette, then in Virginia; and more than three thousand French troops, under General Saint-Simon, who were then on their way from the West Indies with the Count de Grasse.
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