The British naval forces were dispersed while the French forces were concentrated at the key point.
Continuing Yorktown Surrenders,
with a selection from Battles of the United States by Sea and Land by Henry B. Dawson published in 1858. This selection is presented in 5.5 easy five minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Yorktown Surrenders.
Place: Yorktown, Virginia
The main body of the enemy’s force, under Sir Henry Clinton, was in the city of New York and its immediate vicinity; Lord Cornwallis, with his own command and that which, under Generals Phillips and Arnold, had overrun some portions of Virginia, numbering in the aggregate about seven thousand three hundred fifty men, exclusive of seamen and Tories, was occupying the neck of land between the James and York rivers, where General Lafayette was holding him in check; while the Southern army, under Lieutenant-Colonel Balfour, through the successful movements of General Greene, was mostly confined to Charleston and its immediate vicinity. Admiral Rodney, with a large naval force, was leisurely spending his time in securing his portion of the spoils in the West Indies; Sir Samuel Hood, with fifteen sail of the line and six smaller vessels, had been detached by Admiral Rodney to intercept Admiral de Grasse, and to maintain an equality of power in the American waters; and Admiral Graves, with part of his fleet in New York and a part before Newport, caused the enemy to feel perfectly secure in the positions he occupied.
As has been stated, the intelligence from Admiral de Grasse changed the plans of the allies; and, instead of General Clinton and the main body of the enemy in the city of New York, Lord Cornwallis and the combined forces under his command, then at Yorktown, were made the objects of General Washington’s attention. In executing this plan, however, it was necessary to exercise great caution, not only to prevent Sir Henry Clinton from moving to the assistance of Lord Cornwallis, but also to prevent Admiral Graves from joining Sir Samuel Hood, and, by occupying the Chesapeake, keeping open the communication by sea between Yorktown and New York.
For this purpose, on August 19th the New Jersey line and Colonel Hazen’s regiment were sent to New Jersey, by way of Dobbs Ferry, to protect a large number of “ovens” which were ordered to be erected near Springfield and Chatham in that State; and forage and boats, with some efforts to display the same, were also collected on the west side of the Hudson, by which the enemy was led to suppose that an attack was intended from that quarter. Fictitious letters were also written and put in the way of the enemy, by which the deception was confirmed; and Sir Henry Clinton appears to have supposed that Staten Island, or a position near Sandy Hook, to cover the entrance of the French fleet into the harbor, was the real object of the movements, until the allied forces — which had crossed the Hudson, leaving General Heath, with a respectable force, on its eastern bank — had passed the Delaware, and rendered the true object of the movement a matter of obvious certainty.
The body of troops with which General Washington moved to the South embraced all the French auxiliaries, led by Count Rochambeau; the light infantry of the Continental army, led by Colonel Alexander Scammel; detachments of light troops from the Connecticut and New York State troops; the Rhode Island regiment; the regiment known as “Congress’ Own,” under Colonel Hazen; two New York regiments; a detachment of New Jersey troops; and the artillery, under Colonel John Lamb, numbering in the aggregate about two thousand Americans and a strong body of French. It is said that the American troops, who were mostly from New England and the Middle States, marched with reluctance to the southward, showing “strong symptoms of discontent when they passed through Philadelphia,” and becoming reconciled only when an advance of a month’s pay, in specie — which was borrowed from Count Rochambeau for that purpose — was paid to them.
The allies, having thus successfully eluded the watchfulness of the enemy in New York, pressed forward toward Annapolis and the Head of Elk, whither transports had been dispatched from the French fleet to convey them to Virginia; and, on September 25th, the last division reached Williamsburg, where, with General Lafayette and his command, and the auxiliary troops, the entire army had rendezvoused.
In the mean time the enemy, as well as the French auxiliaries, had not been inactive. Lord Cornwallis, vainly expecting reinforcements from New York, had concentrated his army at Yorktown and Gloucester, on opposite sides of the York River, and had been busily employed in throwing up strong works of defense, and preparing to sustain a siege.
Admiral Graves, after a bootless cruise to the eastward for the purpose of intercepting some French storeships, had returned to New York on August 16th or 17th, and since that time had been employed in refitting, taking in stores, etc., in blissful ignorance of the approach of Admiral de Grasse. Admiral Rodney, advised of the movements of the French fleet, had sent “early notice” to the Admiral commanding in America; but his dispatches, which were sent by the Swallow, Captain Wells, never reached Admiral Graves. Sir Samuel Hood’s squadron also had been sent to the northward to check the movements of the French fleet or to strengthen the fleet of Admiral Graves, after touching at the Chesapeake, before the French fleet arrived there, had sailed for New York, and on the afternoon of August 28th had reached that port, and communicated to the Admiral the first intelligence of the movements of the French fleet which he had received. On August 31st the Admiral, with five ships belonging to his own command, and the squadron under Sir Samuel Hood, sailed for the Chesapeake, where he found the French fleet, and on September 5th accepted the invitation to fight which the Admiral de Grasse extended to him; but considered it prudent to return to New York immediately afterward.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history