Sunday, February 18, 2024

ARP299 Siege of Yorktown


Last week we covered the naval battle that gave the French Navy control of the waters around Yorktown, Virginia.  The week before that, we covered the march of the armies under Continental General Washington and French General Rochambeau, to confront the British army under General Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Storming Redoubt #10
Washington and Rochambeau arrived in Williamsburg on September 14, 1781. Their respective armies were still marching, several days away.  Washington met with Lafayette, who was already in command of a force there, and received the good news that the French fleet had defeated the British and controlled Chesapeake.  With the combination of French fleets under Admirals de Grasse and de Barras, the French had 36 ships of the line to prevent any British naval interference.

Admiral de Grasse, however, also reminded Washington that the clock was ticking.  The armies had to defeat the British at Yorktown within the month, after which de Grasse was taking his fleet back to the West Indies.  Washington sailed out to meet de Grasse on his flagship the Ville de Paris.  He got the admiral to agree to extend his stay until the end of October, and to send a few ships up the Chesapeake to hurry the arrival of the armies.

British Defenses

In the British camp, General Cornwallis was mindful of the forces arrayed against him.  He sent messages to General Clinton in New York saying that he could hold out for about six weeks, and was anxiously awaiting the promised relief fleet once Admiral Digby arrived in New York from London with additional ships.  Cornwallis had offloaded cannons from several British ships in the Chesapeake, and aligned others so that they could fire on an enemy, if it tried to storm the British defenses at Yorktown.

His position on the high ground covered a line of bluffs.  To his rear was the York River.  Cornwallis had scuttled ships near the bank to prevent the enemy from trying to land ships or moving ship based cannons too close to shore.  Across the river, the British also held Gloucester Point, where Banastre Tarleton had taken command.  The fortified position was initially set up to control ship access to and from the Chesapeake Bay. By this time, it was still held as a possible means of evacuation if the enemy overran Yorktown.  About 1000 of the British army was deployed there, with seven redoubts to protect the soldiers and prevent an enemy advance by land.

Cornwallis had about 8300 soldiers under his command. His army had built a line of defense around the main defenses at Yorktown, anchored by ten redoubts containing cannons, and connected by trenches. It was enough to prevent a direct assault on his position, but would inevitably fall under a slower siege against a much a larger enemy.  Cornwallis had to place his hopes on the Clinton's promise to send a relief fleet.

On September 22, Cornwallis tried to damage the French Navy in the Chesapeake.  The British deployed five fire ships at night, sailing the burning ships into the French fleet, hoping they would catch fire.  Several of the ships got close, but the French Navy managed to avoid them.

The following day, news arrived that British Admiral Digby was expected to arrive in New York any day with ten more ships of the line.  Washington dismissed this intelligence.  Even if true, the French fleet would still outnumber the British.  Admiral de Grasse, however, was more concerned.  He recalled how difficult it was to get his fleet out of the Chesapeake when the British fleet under Admiral Graves  had arrived.  If Graves had been more aggressive, he probably could have defeated the larger French fleet before it could assemble properly. To prevent that risk, de Grasse wanted to withdraw all of his ships out of the Chesapeake and into the open Atlantic.  He even considered sailing up to New York to attack the British fleet there.

Washington would have welcomed a French fleet in New York six months earlier.  However, doing this now would ruin plans for the siege, which relied on French naval cannons for support, and French ships to transport troops across the water.  Washington sailed out to meet with de Grasse again, to dissuade the admiral from leaving.  Fortunately, the fear subsided when it turned out that Digby arrived with only three more ships of the line.  The French fleet would remain in place.  Washington had hoped to use French ships to harass the enemy from the York River, and to gather intelligence on enemy positions.  De Grass, however, refused to risk any ships by bringing them that close to the enemy cannons.

The Siege Begins

By the end of the month, the allies had their soldiers and equipment ready to go.  Rochambeau had marched 5000 French soldiers from Newport, added to the over 3000 that de Grasse had carried from the West Indies.  This meant that France had more than 8000 soldiers ready to fight. Washington had managed to march close to 3000 Continentals from New York, when combined with the Continental forces already in Virginia under Lafayette, Wayne, and von Steuben, he managed to assemble a Continental force of close to 6000. This was more Continentals than Washington had under his command since the battle of Monmouth, three years earlier.  In addition, another 3000 or so of militia assembled to participate.  Among them was Washington’s 25 year old step-son, Jack Custis. 

Washington and Rochambeau at Yorktown
On September 28, the combined armies marched out of Williamsburg to confront the British at Yorktown.  The French army took up the left flank with the Americans on the right, closest to the York River.  The allies agreed on a siege. It would have to be an aggressive one since the French fleet had to leave within a few weeks.  Without the French fleet, the British could either reinforce or evacuate Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown.

On the night of October 5, the Continentals began laying out the lines for a trench about 600 yards from the British lines.  Since this was within artillery range of the enemy, it had to be done quietly and completed before the night was over.  The weather was cloudy, with a steady rain covering their activities.  General Washington personally visited the digging to ensure everything was going according to plan.

The planners then disguised their work before morning.  That following night, the Continentals deployed a group of pickets in front of their lines to block any enemy patrols, then began digging their trenches. To distract the enemy, they lit bonfires on another part of the line.  As hoped, that made the British think the activity was taking place near the fires, and directed their cannon fire there during the night.  Meanwhile the sappers and miners began digging their trenches in the dark and rain. 

By the following morning, the Continentals had dug a trench about 2000 yards long, with four cannon emplacements.  The work continued.  Daylight brought cannon fire as the British were now aware of the enemy trenches.

Colonel Alexander Hamilton commanded a regiment assigned to protect the trenches.  Hamilton had been Washington’s aide for much of the war.  The two had parted on bad terms a few months earlier, and Hamilton had been concerned that Washington would refuse to give him a combat command.  Washington, however, was never one to hold a grudge, and allowed Hamilton to take this position of honor, and danger.

Over the next few days, the Continentals continued their work on the trenches.  In order to prevent being hit by enemy fire, they deployed lookouts to watch for when a British cannon was being lit.  The lookout would call for everyone duck down in the trenches so that the cannonballs would usually simply fly over their heads.

Washington fires the first shot at Yorktown
By October 10, the trenches were completed.  They had placed 41 cannons, howitzers and mortars in the trenches.  These were not just small field cannons.  They included 24 pounders that could obliterate enemy buildings and fortifications. Washington was given the honor of firing the first shot.  According to an American who was being held behind British lines at the time, that first shot crashed into a home killing the British Commissary General as he sat at a dining room table with other officers, including General Cornwallis.

When the allies had arrived, the British pulled back from some of their defensive lines.  Cornwallis did not want to let some of his relatively isolated redoubts become targets for American or French raids.  General Clinton had promised him reinforcements by October 5, so his goal was to keep his army concentrated and rebuff any attacks until help arrived.

By putting his entire army in a relatively small area of about 500 yards by 1200 yards, he created an inviting target for allied artillery.  Cannonballs and shells rained down heavily on the British lines, both day and night, for several days.  As most of the buildings were destroyed, many British soldiers moved down to the shore of the river and tried to dig shallow bunkers in the sand. Cornwallis had a bunker built in the garden next to the house where he was staying, so that he could also take shelter from the unrelenting bombardment.

Cornwallis decided to get rid of the army's horses.  He could not feed them and did not want to allow the enemy to capture them, so he ordered all of the horses slaughtered.  The carcasses were dumped in the York River.  But the tides brought many of the rotting corpses back to shore, where the stink must have become unbearable.

Also with the British were hundreds of escaped slaves.  Cornwallis had allowed them within his lines, as long as they were the slaves of rebels.  As the siege continued, he had to stop feeding them and could not provide them with any shelter from the enemy’s fire.  

Battle Map of Yorktown
Despite all efforts, British forces continued to dwindle, not only from enemy fire, but disease also took its toll.  Food and supplies were running short.  Many of the British cannons had been destroyed by enemy fire.  Everyday, the British commander found the situation becoming increasingly desperate.

Despite French control of the Chesapeake, the British were able to slip smaller boats in and out of Yorktown.  Cornwallis was able to send and receive messages with General Clinton in New York.  On October 9, Cornwallis sent a desperate letter to Clinton that he needed support, now.  He sent reports of the enemy trenches and the near continuous artillery fire.  His letter reported about 70 men killed, then in a postscript a few hours later, noted that the casualty rate had gone up to over 100.  The following day, although his message had not yet reached Clinton, Cornwallis received another letter from Clinton promising to arrive soon with reinforcements.  Clinton told him that Admiral Digby had arrived and that he hoped the relief fleet would depart New York by October 12.

The British still held the smaller fortification on the other side of the York River at Gloucester Point.  The allies deployed a force of French marines and Virginia militia to keep the British there occupied, but did not attempt to storm the position.

The British still had a warship, the Charon, anchored just off shore. The French Navy did not want to get that close to British lines, and allowed the enemy ship to remain.  On the night of October 10, the French army began firing hot shot at the Charon, that is cannonballs heated in a fire so that they would burn the ship when they came into contact.  The fire managed to burn the ship, completely destroying it.

The following night, the Continentals began work on a second line of trenches, this one only a little more than 300 yards from the British lines.  Once again, they completed enough work under the cover of darkness in one night to provide a new defensive trench.

This second trench was a little shorter than the first one because the allies could not dig it all the way to the river. The British had given up most of their redoubts, but still held two redoubts, known as redoubts nine and ten, that blocked further entrenchments.  The allies however, could fire from a closer range, and had increased the total number of artillery pieces to 71.

In the British lines, things seemed to become only more desperate.  Even so, Cornwallis kept up the army’s morale with the hope that reinforcements from New York should be arriving any day.  British cannons still had plenty of ammunition and continued to exchange heavy fire with the enemy.

Assault on Redoubts 9 & 10

Many of the Continental officers who were commanding the men in the trenches, taking considerable enemy fire, argued that the time had come to charge the enemy lines and finish the battle.  Both sides knew that the French fleet was going to leave soon, and both expected a British relief fleet to arrive at any time.  They could not sit around an wait forever.

Taking Redoubt #10
Washington and Rochambeau waited a few days to see if the second set of trenches had any impact on the enemy’s will to fight.  As the fighting continued, they agreed to an assault on Redoubts #9 and #10.

Washington assigned General Lafayette to take Redoubt 10. Rochambeau would assign a French detachment under Baron de Viomenil to take Redoubt 9 at the same time. Given the difficulty of the assault, Viomenil argued that the French should take both redoubts and leave the Continentals out of it. Lafayette took that as an insult to his Continentals and quickly quashed that idea.

For the Continental assault, Lafayette chose Colonel Jean-Joseph Sourbader de Gimat to lead the assault.  The colonel was a fellow Frenchman who had come to America with Lafayette and was serving in the Continental Army. He had served as Lafayette’s aide for many years, but in 1780, took command of an infantry regiment.

Colonel Hamilton was not happy with Lafayette’s choice.  Hamilton and Lafayette had been good friends for many years. Leading the assault on the redoubt was a high profile command that would help any career if it came off successfully Hamilton wanted to lead the assault himself, but Lafayette would not budge.  Hamilton then appeared directly to General Washington.  We don’t know exactly what Hamilton argued with Washington, but for whatever reason, Washington sided with Hamilton and instructed Lafayette to let Hamilton lead the assault.

Another former Washington aide, and friend of Hamilton and Lafayette, Colonel John Laurens, was given the responsibility to move behind the redoubt and cut off any enemy escape.  The First Rhode Island Regiment was chosen to take part in the assault. The regiment was often called the Black regiment because of the high number of African-American soldiers in its ranks.

Washington personally addressed the division.  The men got into position on the evening of October 14, with the plan to lay low until after dark. When they heard the signal from the French artillery, 400 Continentals would rise up and storm Redoubt #10.  Another 400 French soldiers would rise up and storm Redoubt #9.

Sappers would cut through the British abatis.  They would drop bundles of sticks into the trenches around the redoubts.  The attackers would carry ladders to get over the enemy walls.  All of this had to happen under enemy musket and cannon fire.  Lafayette ordered that all guns not be loaded so that a premature fire would not alert the enemy to the attack. The assault would be fought with swords and bayonets.  

Storming Redoubt #10
It was a difficult task, but when the signal came at around 8:00 PM, the attackers rose and stormed the forts.  Both divisions stormed the redoubts and took on the enemy in hand to hand combat.  Once the Continentals entered Redoubt #10, the fight was over in a matter of minutes.  

The Americans managed to storm and take Redoubt #10 first, while the French were still cutting out the abattis in front of Redoubt #9.  Recalling the French commander’s suggestion that the Continentals were not up to the task, Lafayette stood atop the redoubt wall to proclaim that his men had taken the Redoubt and asked how they were doing.  The angry de Viomenil, shouted back he would be there in five minutes.  The French then stormed and took Redoubt #9.

The French managed to capture 120 enemy soldiers in Redoubt #9.  The Americans captured about 70 in Redoubt #10.  By the following morning, both redoubts were incorporated into the Allied lines.

The capture of the Redoubts only made things more desperate for Cornwallis’ army.  Without food to feed them, Cornwallis drove the escaped slaves out of his lines and toward the enemy.  The desperate escapees ended up setting up camp in the middle of the battlefield, between the two lines, unable to continue the protection of the British, and unwilling to return to the slavery that awaited them behind the American lines.

General Henry Knox brought up American Cannons into Redoubt Number 10.  The allied artillery barrage against the British in Yorktown continued its incessant pace, only from a closer range now.

By the morning of October 16, the British position was becoming desperate.  Cornwallis knew that, unless a British relief force arrived soon, he could not continue to defend against the siege.

In a desperate attempt to stop the enemy cannons, Cornwallis ordered Hessian commander Johann Ewald to storm the French artillery and spike their cannons.  The Hessians managed to get to the enemy batteries, but found that the nails they brought to spike the cannons were too large.  Instead, they jammed bayonets into the fuse holes, broke them off, and withdrew.  Unfortunately for the British, the French were able to remove the bayonets and resume their fire.

With the British situation even more desperate, Cornwallis realized that, unless a British relief force arrived within days, he would almost certainly have to surrender.

- - -

Next Episode 300 Surrender at Yorktown 

Previous Episode 298 Battle of the Capes

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Further Reading

Websites

Yorktown Battlefield, History of the Siege: https://www.nps.gov/york/learn/historyculture/history-of-the-siege.htm

Chronology of the Siege of Yorktown: https://www.nps.gov/york/learn/historyculture/siegetimeline.htm

Hatch, Charles E. “Gloucester Point in the Siege of Yorktown 1781.” The William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, vol. 20, no. 2, 1940, pp. 265–84. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1922681

Riley, Edward M. “Yorktown during the Revolution: Part I.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 57, no. 1, 1949, pp. 22–43. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4245601

“Yorktown during the Revolution Part II. The Siege of Yorktown, 1781.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 57, no. 2, 1949, pp. 176–88. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4245618 

Wright, John W. “Notes on the Siege of Yorktown in 1781 with Special Reference to the Conduct of a Siege in the Eighteenth Century.” The William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, vol. 12, no. 4, 1932, pp. 230–50. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1923261

Idzerda, Stanley J. “Indispensable Allies: The French at Yorktown.” The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), vol. 5, no. 4, 1981, pp. 166–77. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40256531

Yorktown, Redoubt No. 10: https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/trail/Redoubt10/index.cfm

Fix Bayonets: The Revolution’s Climactic Assault at Yorktown: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/fix-bayonets-revolutions-climactic-assault-yorktown

Burdick, Kim “What they Saw and Did at Yorktown’s Redoubts 9 and 10” Journal of the American Revolution, April 7,2020: https://allthingsliberty.com/2020/04/what-they-saw-and-did-at-yorktowns-redoubts-9-and-10

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

March to Victory: Washington, Rochambeau and the Yorktown Campaign of 1781,  (army.mil): https://history.army.mil/html/books/rochambeau/CMH_70-104-1.pdf

Johnston, Henry P. The Yorktown Campaign and the surrender of Cornwallis, 1781, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Tarleton, Banastre A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America, London: T. Cadell 1787. 

Rice, Howard C. The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783, Princeton University Press, 1972 (borrow only). 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Burke The Campaign that Won America, Eastern Acorn Press, 1970 (borrow on archive.org). 

Fleming, Thomas Beat the Last Drum;: The siege of Yorktown, 1781, St. Martin’s Press, 1963 (borrow on archive.org

Grainger, John D. The Battle of Yorktown, 1781: A Reassessment, Boydell Press, 2005 
(borrow on Archive.org

Ketchum, Richard M. Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution, Henry Holt and Co. 2004. 

Lumpkin, Henry From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South, Univ of SC Press, 1981 (borrow on archive.org). 

Philbrick, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, Penguin Books, 2019. 

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952. 

Wickwire, Franklin B. Cornwallis and the War of Independence, Houghton Mifflin, 1971 (borrow on archive.org).  

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, February 11, 2024

ARP298 Battle of the Capes


Last week we covered the Continental and French efforts to concentrate their forces on the British Southern army at Yorktown.  In order for that effort to be successful, they had to deny the British Navy control of the waters around Yorktown.

Battle of Virginia Capes
Throughout the war, the British Navy had dominated the waters off the coast of North America.  The Continentals could do little but occasionally pick off isolated ships.  They could not compete directly with the British Navy.  To contest British control of the sea, General Washington had to await the arrival of the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse.  That fleet was in the West Indies and was expected in North America in the fall of 1781.

Admiral de Grasse

Admiral François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse was an experienced 53 year old naval veteran.  He came from old French nobility, tracing his family back nearly 1000 years.  His father, the Marquis de Grasse, served as a captain in the French Army.  Francois Joseph Paul joined the Knights of Malta at age 11, seeing early combat against the Turks and the Moores. At age 16, he joined the French Navy.  During the War of Austrian Succession, de Grasse was taken prisoner by the British for two years.  Upon his return he received promotion to lieutenant and served in the East Indies.  By the end of the Seven Years war, de Grasse had become an experienced naval captain.

Comte de Grasse
When France entered the war with Britain in 1778, de Grasse led fleets at the Battle of Ushant and against the British fleet near Grenada.  He assisted the Americans in the failed siege of Savannah in 1779.  He also served in the West Indies under Admiral d’Estaing.

After his return to France in 1780, de Grasse took some time off to recover from injuries and illness.  In March 1781, he received promotion to admiral and was given command of 23 ships of the line.  His mission was to protect French island colonies in the West Indies and to capture British colonies there.

Almost immediately after his arrival in the West Indies, his fleet contested with the British fleet.  A few months later the French captured the British-controlled island of Tobago.

The mission for de Grasse did not really involve the war in North America.  France’s naval focus was the fight with the British for control of valuable island colonies in the West Indies and elsewhere.  General Rochambeau had been sent to America with the explicit task of supporting, some say propping up, the Continental Army. French Admiral Jacques de Barras provided naval support for Rochambeau in North America.  Admiral de Grasse was focused on other goals that did not involve the sideshow in North America.

That said, late summer and early fall was a bad time for any navy to remain in the West Indies.  That was the height of hurricane season.  Since hurricanes could arrive with little notice and were known to destroy fleets, it made sense to get out of the area during hurricane season.

Knowing this, in June, de Grasse received multiple requests from North America asking for the help of his fleet.  The American privateer Congress brought Continental Major John McLane to de Grasse’s flagship.  Major McLane was tasked by General Washington to convince de Grasse to bring his fleet up to New York and assist a combined Continental and French army with the capture of Manhattan.

McLane was to persuade de Grasse to sail up take New York Harbor and assist the combined Continental and French armies to defeat the British under General Clinton and capture the city of New York.

Some accounts of McLane’s mission indicate he was there to persuade de Grasse to sail up to the Chesapeake. But that appears to be the way it got spun after the fact.  When Washington dispatched McLane, Washington still wanted the fight to come to New York, not Virginia.  However, McLane also brought dispatches from French General Rochambeau to Admiral de Grasse.

Technically, Rochambeau’s letters were supposed to support Washington’s goal of taking New York.  Instead, Rochambeau focused on the goal of capturing the British Army in Virginia, and then suggested perhaps afterwards sailing up to New York to finish the job.  That, of course, was highly unlikely.  Even if the French fleet had the time and ability to fight two such campaigns,  The Continental and French Armies would not have time to be in both locations before the French fleet had to return to the West Indies.

Rochambeau phrased his letters in respectful and diplomatic language.  But reading between the lines, what Rochambeau was telling de Grasse was that Rochambeau was under orders to support whatever Washington wanted to do, but that de Grasse was not.  The admiral should focus on the Chesapeake and ignore the naive General Washington’s hopes to retaking New York.  Certainly, that was what de Grasse took as his strategy after meeting with McLane and after reading Rochambeau’s letters.

In his responses, de Grasse informed Washington and Rochambeau that he would sail for the Chesapeake Bay in August, but would have to be back in the West Indies in October. This gave the allies a pretty narrow window to attack and defeat the British Army in Virginia.

Attack of the Savage

One interesting side note to this story was Major McLane’s return trip to America.  As the privateer Congress sailed up the coast, it came across the British naval ship the Savage, commanded by Captain Charles Stirling.  The Savage was a small British sloop with fourteen 6-pounder canons and a crew of about 125 sailors.  This was the same ship that had sailed up the Potomac River and threatened Mount Vernon a few months earlier.  On its current mission, the Savage was escorting a supply fleet on its way to British occupied Charleston.

The Congress Captures the Savage
When the Savage spotted the Congress, Captain Stirling thought it was a smaller privateer that had been harassing British shipping in the area.  He sailed to engage.  As the ships got closer, Stirling quickly realized his target was much larger.  The Congress had twenty 12-pounders and four 6-pounders.  Its crew of over 200 included a sizable complement of Continental Marines.  Once the British commander realized he was outclassed, he turned his ship away and tried to escape.

The Congress pursued and came within cannon range by late morning.  After another half hour, the ships were close enough for marines to fire their muskets at the enemy ship.  The Savage returned fire at close range. Both ships took heavy damage.  The Congress took so much damage to its rigging, that it had to back off while the crew made quick repairs and resumed battle.  After an hour or so, the Congress pulled alongside the Savage so the marines could board.  As they prepared for the final assault, the British surrendered.

The fighting had been brutal.  The British lost 9 killed and 34 wounded.  The Americans lost 11 killed and 30 wounded.  The Americans took control of the British ship.  They put a prize crew aboard.

The Congress made it back to port, but the Savage struggled.  The prize crew attempted to sail the badly damaged ship north.  After about a week, the British frigate Solebay encountered the Savage.  The British recaptured the ship and took the prize crew as prisoners.

Sailing to Virginia

Back in the West Indies, de Grasse made plans to bring his entire fleet up to the Chesapeake.  He scrambled to collect money, which came primarily in the form of a loan from the Spanish people in Havana, which I described last week.  On August 18, the fleet sailed from Cuba toward Virginia.  About a week into the trip, they encountered three small British Navy ships, which they captured.  

One of the ships was taking Lord Rawdon back to Britain after he left South Carolina.  Recall that Lord Rawdon had been the overall British commander in South Carolina after General Cornwallis moved north.  After losing most of his outposts in South Carolina to General Nathanael Greene's Continentals and South Carolina militia, and also being sick with malaria,  Lord Rawdon hoped to sail home to London.  As a result of his capture at sea, Lord Rawdon became a French prisoner of war, along with the rest of the crews of the three captured ships.

Yorktown Movements
On August 28, the fleet was just outside of the Chesapeake.  A group of loyalists, thinking the fleet was British, rowed out to greet them, and were promptly taken prisoner.  A few days later, on September 1, the fleet offloaded the about 3300 French soldiers under the command of the Marquis de St. Simon that the navy had brought to America.  

During this time, de Grasse noted that the British forces at Yorktown observed their movements, but made no effort to attack them or disrupt the landings.  The Admiral noted “The English general might have prevented us from doing anything, and even repulsed us, had he not despised our small army.  At our first encampment it would have been annihilated if attacked.”  Even being unmolested, it took three days for the army to connect with the Continentals under Lafayette.

Personally, de Grasse was almost killed in a careless accident.  While going ashore, his boat capsized and he could not swim.  Fortunately, the boat capsized near a sand bar which was in about four feet of water. The admiral was able to walk to the shore, although completely soaked.

The remainder of the fleet continued to arrive and position itself over the first few days of September.  They managed to seize several British ships attempting to escape out of the Chesapeake.  On September 3, de Grasse sent four of his ships into the bay, to seek out and capture a number of merchant ships that were still in the bay.

The French Navy had secured the waters around Yorktown, but were still awaiting another French fleet under the Count de Barras.  That smaller fleet had been in Rhode Island, protecting the French camp at Newport. It included eight ships of the line, as well as numerous smaller ships.

De Barras was a friend of the Count d’Estaing, and considered de Grasse a rival. Also, de Barras outranked de Grasse and de Grasse had been given overall command of the operation.  So serving under an officer junior to him was seen as an insult.  As a result, de Barras really had no desire to link up with the de Grasse fleet.  

Washington had originally hoped that de Barras would sail the French Army down to the Chesapeake, but de Barras refused.  His fleet remained in New England as the French and Continental armies marched overland. Rochambeau and Washington had hoped that de Barras would at least transport some of the French heavy artillery that they needed at Yorktown.

The stubbornness of de Barras ended up working in the Americans’ favor.  The British fleet at New York did not sail for the Chesapeake because they were still monitoring the French fleet under de Barras.  That the French fleet remained in New England was evidence to General Clinton that the march toward Yorktown was really just a ruse, and that the enemy forces might still be planning an attack on New York.  Another theory was that the fleet under de Grasse would sail up to Newport before the combined French fleets sailed elsewhere.

It was only after de Barras finally left port in late August, that the British fleet finally left New York.  Even then, the British chased after de Barras, who sailed east into the open Atlantic, rather than sailing south.  The British hoped to capture and defeat this smaller fleet before it could link up with de Grasse’s fleet.  

There was also a second British fleet in the West Indies that had been fighting with the French fleet under de Grasse all spring and summer.  This British fleet was under the command of Admiral George Rodney.  In early August, Rodney sailed for England with part of the fleet, leaving the remainder under the command of Admiral Samuel Hood.  The fleet under Hood arrived at the Chesapeake a few days before de Grasse.  The British admiral had sent instructions to New York to have a frigate meet him there so that they could coordinate a strategy.  His instructions never arrived because the ship carrying them was attacked by privateers.  When Admiral Hood saw no frigate at the Chesapeake, he continued sailing his fleet up to New York. As a result, de Grasse found the Chesapeake virtually uncontested when he arrived a few days later.

Battle of the Capes

On August 31, three days after de Grasse arrived at the Chesapeake, the combined British fleet under Admirals Grave and Hood sailed out of New York.  They took nineteen ships of the line, thinking that they would outnumber and outgun the French fleet which would have left some of their ships in the West Indies.  The British though they would face an enemy fleet of about 14 ships of the line.  In fact, thanks to Spanish cooperation, de Grasse had taken his entire fleet, which included 28 ships of the line.

When the British frigate Solebay spotted the French fleet on the morning of September 5, its captain counted 24 French ships of the line.  The other four were still sailing away from the main fleet in the Chesapeake.  That put the British leaders on notice that they were facing a fleet larger than their own.

Admiral Thomas Graves
Even so, Admiral Graves had the wind on his side, and had time to attack the lead French ships before the rest could get into position and form into a line of battle.  For some reason, he delayed.  Admiral Hood later reported that Graves had about an hour and a half to demolish the French vanguard before the rest of the enemy fleet arrived.  Instead, he adjusted his fleet and waited for the French to approach him.

The French received intelligence of the approaching British fleet only a short time before the fleet was upon them.  They hoped to take them on in battle out in open sea. But unfavorable winds and the tides made it difficult for much of the fleet to get out to the ocean quickly.

By early afternoon, both fleets came into contact and were formed into lines of battle.  Due to some confusion over flag signals, the rear of the fleet under Admiral Hood formed a line behind that of Graves’ ships, rather than the parallel line that Graves expected.  Several of the French ships were still struggling to get out of the bay.  It was not until about 4:15 in the afternoon that the ships came into firing range with one another and began opening up with their cannons.

Within minutes, the lead British ship, the Shrewsbury, suffered heavy damage and was out of the fight.  The next few British ships in line also took damage but returned fire, inflicting heavy damage on the lead French ships.  

After a little over an hour, Hood figured out that he no longer had to remain in the line that he thought was required by Graves’ flag commands, and his portion of the fleet entered the battle.  The damaged lead French ships veered away from the battle, leaving a large number from the center of the line to continue the fight.

By evening, Admiral Graves called off the fight and withdrew.  The French fleet did not pursue.  Graves had intended to renew the fight the following morning, but after getting reports from each of his ships, he reconsidered.  Five of his ships were too badly damaged to continue the fight, one so badly it had to be scuttled. Graves could view the French fleet, only a few miles away, and believed that the enemy had suffered far less damage than his fleet.

Instead, both fleets spent the following day, September 6, repairing their ships and tending to the wounded.  British records later reported 82 killed and 232 wounded.  French records don’t give a detailed breakdown but give a total of 209 casualties.  

Aftermath

That evening, Admiral Graves met with Admiral Hood to discuss the battle and next steps.  Graves was upset that Hood had not entered the battle until very late in the day.  Hood argued that Graves’ flags were effectively orders that he stay in line behind Graves.  While Graves conceded that was what the flag meant, Hood should have used his better judgment.  Hood, however, was used to serving under Admiral Rodney, who would never have tolerated subordinates using their own judgment like that.  

French map showing control of Chesapeake
The result was that Graves’ ships at the front of the line had taken the brunt of the damage.  Hood’s ships in the rear had taken almost none.  In fact, none of the ships in Hoods’ division reported a single casualty.  The British fleet would still have been outnumbered and outgunned, even if several of their ships of the line were not out of commission. At that point, Hood recommended returning to New York, but Graves rejected that plan.

While the two fleets kept in sight of each other, they had moved far enough out to sea that they could not see the mouth of the Chesapeake anymore.  On September 7, Graves sent two British frigates to determine how many additional French ships remained in the Chesapeake.

Over the next couple of days, the two sides continued to drift further out to sea.  Finally, Graves conceded on September 13 that they needed to return to New York to regroup and repair.  

The French fleet under de Grasse returned to the Chesapeake, only to find another fleet guarding the entrance to the bay.  After some moments of concern, de Grasse determined that the fleet was, in fact, the French fleet under de Barras that had arrived from New England.

The French Navy maintained undisputed control of the Chesapeake Bay and of the Atlantic coast of Virginia.  The American and French Armies around Yorktown continued to grow as more regiments arrived from the march from New York and local militia began to turn out in larger numbers. 

Inside the British camp at Yorktown, General Cornwallis finally began to realize the predicament that he faced.  Even so, he believed he could hold out until another British relief force returned to assist his army.  We’ll see how that goes next week, when we cover the Siege of Yorktown

- - -

Next Episode 299 Siege of Yorktown 

Previous Episode 297 March to Yorktown

 Contact me via email at mtroy.history@gmail.com

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

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Further Reading

Websites

François-Joseph-Paul Grasse: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06728a.htm

The American Revolution's Unsung Naval Hero, Part 1: https://hamptonroadsnavalmuseum.blogspot.com/2018/10/le-celebre-comte-de-grasse-part-i.html

Battle of Chesapeake Bay: https://morethannelson.com/battle-chesapeake-bay-5-september-1781

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Johnston, Henry P. The Yorktown Campaign and the surrender of Cornwallis, 1781, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Larrabee, Harold A. Decision at the Chesapeake, New York: C.N. Potter, 1964 (borrow only). 

Rice, Howard C. The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783, Princeton University Press, 1972 (borrow only). 

Shea, John G. The Operations of the French fleet under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2, New York: Bradford Club, 1864 (1971 reprint by De capo Press): 

Warner, Oliver Great Sea Battles, Spring Books 1963 (borrow only) 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Burke The Campaign that Won America, Eastern Acorn Press, 1970 (borrow on archive.org). 

Fleming, Thomas Beat the Last Drum;: The siege of Yorktown, 1781, St. Martin’s Press, 1963 (borrow on archive.org

Grainger, John D. The Battle of Yorktown, 1781: A Reassessment, Boydell Press, 2005 
(borrow on Archive.org

Ketchum, Richard M. Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution, Henry Holt and Co. 2004. 

Lumpkin, Henry From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South, Univ of SC Press, 1981 (borrow on archive.org). 

Philbrick, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, Penguin Books, 2019. 

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

ARP297 March to Yorktown

We last left the main Continental Army under George Washington in Episode 290.  Washington and Rochambeau discussed their options for the 1781 fighting season during the spring.  Washington wanted to attack New York City and force the main British Army under General Clinton to surrender.  Rochambeau wanted to go to Virginia and take out the British southern army under General Cornwallis.  Washington’s goal would have been a more decisive way to end the war.  However, the chances of taking New York seemed much lower.  Washington convinced Rochambeau to probe the defenses in northern Manhattan, but those probes only confirmed Rochambeau’s belief that they could not take the British there.

French Alliance Flag
In August of 1781, Washington received confirmation that the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse was sailing for Virginia.  Washington gave up on his plans for New York and conceded that he would have to follow the French strategy

Washington had already deployed General Lafayette to Virginia to prevent the British from occupying Richmond.  The British forces took a defensive posture along the Chesapeake coast, despite having a larger army created by the combination of the forces that General William Philips led from New York and the army under General Cornwallis from South Carolina.

Washington received confirmation from Lafayette that the British Army was building a defensive position at Yorktown.  Washington knew the area well. In 1777, Virginia General Thomas Nelson had proposed building a monitoring station at Yorktown to track British ships coming and going from the Chesapeake.  Washington advised against it, saying that the narrow Yorktown peninsula could easily be cut off by land and trap any soldiers holding that position.  

Now, in 1781, his enemy was taking that same position.  Washington ordered Lafayette to prevent Cornwallis from gaining any path where he might march by land back down to the Carolinas.  Lafayette did not have enough men to attack Cornwallis’ army successfully, but he could build defenses that would likely  keep the enemy where they were.

Needs of the Army

Washington’s army in August only had a few thousand Continentals.  None of the states had raised their quotas for the 1781 fighting season, so they had little more than the number that had survived on winter encampments from the prior year.  He would also have to leave some portion of his army around New York so that the main British army under Clinton did not go on the offensive. So even if you combined Washington’s army with the Continentals already in Virginia, the British force under Cornwallis would still probably outnumber them by nearly 2-1.  On top of that, Washington was struggling more than ever to feed and supply his army.  The states had gotten tired of supporting an army and refused to come up with the necessary money and supplies to keep even a small army in the field.

Vicomte de Rochambeau

To get even his small army into fighting condition, Washington needed more of everything.  Fortunately, Colonel John Laurens had been successful in his efforts to get the King of France to contribute more to the cause.  In June of 1781, Lauren sailed into Boston with arms and equipment to resupply Washington’s army. This had been made possible through a large gift of cash from the King of France.

In addition to the equipment, however, Washington needed money to pay his soldiers.  The Continentals were promised monthly pay.  A private was entitled to $6.67 per month.  Of course, with inflation, that money literally was not worth the paper it was printed on.  A month’s pay would be worth less than one cent in specie, that is gold or silver.  To add to the insult, Congress had not even bothered to supply the paper money to pay the soldiers for many months.  Washington had begun 1781 with a mutiny because they were not getting what they were promised..  His men, rightfully, felt forgotten and neglected by the rest of the country.  

To forestall mutinies or desertions during this critical campaign, Washington wrote two letters to Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance for the Continental Congress.  Washington pleaded with Morris to come up with one month’s pay for the soldiers in specie to help with morale.

I must entreat you if possible to procure one months pay in specie for the detachment which I have under my command part of those troops have not been paid any thing for a very long time past, and have upon several occasions shewn marks of great discontent—The service they are going upon is disagreeable to the Northern Regiments, but I make no doubt that a douceur of a little hard money would put them in proper temper.

Morris, of course, had no money to give.  He immediately sent letters to the states, pleading that they provide money immediately: 

The Exigencies of the Service require immediate Attention, We are on the Eve of the most Active Operations, and should they be in anywise retarded by the want of necessary Supplies, the most unhappy Consequences may follow. Those who may be justly chargeable with Neglect, will have to Answer for it to their Country, to their Allies, to the present generation, and to all Posterity. I hope, intreat, expect, the utmost possible Efforts on the Part of your State; and I confide in your Excellency’s Prudence and Vigor, to render those Efforts effectual.

Despite the need for money, Washington could not wait for it to arrive.  He believed the French fleet was on its way to the Chesapeake, hoped it would arrive in August.  He has also received word from the fleet’s commander, Admiral de Grasse, that the fleet would only be available until mid-October, when it had to return to the West Indies.  That meant that Washington had a two month window to march his army to Virginia and defeat the British.

New York to Philadelphia

Washington moved his Continental Army into New Jersey in late August.  With him was the French army under Rochambeau that numbered about 5000 men.   Rochambeau's French Army was twice the size of the Continental Army led by Washington.  The armies first marched north to a point where they could cross the Hudson River into New Jersey.  They moved down the western coast of the river, bringing boats with them in hopes of convincing the British in New York that they planned a river crossing into New York to attack the city.

That ruse would not last long since they had to march west toward Pennsylvania.  By the end of August the armies were at Princeton.  They rested there for a couple of days, arriving in Trenton by September 2.  There, the armies crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

When they reached Philadelphia, the army set up camp in the unpopulated area west of town.  This was along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River over to the vacant land where Philadelphia City Hall sits today.  The armies paused there for a few days, marching down Market Street for a grand review by the Congress and the people of Philadelphia. 

Also while in the city, Washington hoped to collect some money to help pay for the Army’s travel expenses and to pay his soldiers.  As usual, Congress had nothing.  Robert Morris ended up going around to his wealthier friends in the city, borrowing money on his own personal credit.  He managed to scrape together about $30,000, which would help to cover some of the costs of moving the army, but not not enough to issue any pay.  Morris even managed to borrow $2000 in specie from General Rochambeau, probably from the French Army payroll.  Morris had to promise to repay by October 1.  Morris’ efforts were also aided by the arrival of Colonel Laurens in late August with some of the money provided by the King of France.

In effect, this was a French campaign.  The French army under Rochambeau was twice as large as the Continental Army.  France was also paying for almost all of the Continental Army’s expenses.  To have any hope of success, these combined armies had to unite with the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse.  The British army at Yorktown was being kept in place by the army under General Lafayette.

On Tuesday, September 4, Washington attended a dinner in Philadelphia hosted by the French Minister Luzerne.  The following morning, the Armies began marching for Head of Elk, Maryland.  At least part of the French army moved down the Delaware River by ship.  But the limits of ships and money forced the Continentals to walk.  Just after leaving Philadelphia, Washington received news that Admiral de Grasse had reached the Chesapeake.

Marching to Yorktown

As Washington had feared, his small army saw a number of desertions on the march.  Morale remained low.

On his arrival at Head of Elk, Washington received some good news.  General Rochambeau had written to Admiral de Grasse months earlier that the campaign was in desperate need of cash.  De Grasse convinced Spanish officials in Havana, Cuba to provide a loan of 500,000 Spanish pesos, which de Grasse carried to America.  Spain also agreed to use its navy to protect French merchant vessels in the West Indies, allowing de Grasse to take more ships with him to Virginia.

Spanish officials had to scramble to collect this massive amount of cash.  Although the Spanish Empire pulled tons of gold and silver out of its mines in Latin America, it did not keep piles of specie on hand in one place.  

The Spanish minister in Havana, Don Francisco Saavedra, worked with officials all across the Spanish Empire, including with Bernardo de Galvez in New Orleans, to come up with the money.  Saavedra was supposed to get the money from mines in Mexico, but the ships had not arrived by the time the French fleet was ready to leave.

The Spanish minister had to call on the people of Havana to lend the money until the treasure ships from Mexico arrived.  The people of Havana quickly responded, allowing the government to raise the necessary cash in just six hours.  The French fleet departed with the needed money and sailed for Virginia.

Confident that he would have the cash necessary to complete the campaign, Washington paused at Head of Elk to do something he had never done before: pay his soldiers for a full month’s pay in hard money.

Sergeant Joseph Plum Martin, who had been with the army since 1776 later wrote about the incident at Head of Elk. 

we each of us received a MONTH’S PAY, in specie, borrowed, as I was informed, by our French officers from the officers in the French army. This was the first that could be called money, which we had received as wages since the year ‘76, or that we ever did receive till the close of the war, or indeed, ever after, as wages.

Another soldier, John Hudson, also wrote: 

I received the only pay that I ever drew for my services during the war, being six French crowns, which were a part of what Robert Morris borrowed on his own credit from the French commander to supply the most urgent necessities of the soldiers. My comrades received the same amount. 

The money did wonders for morale.  

The bad news at Head of Elk was that there were not nearly enough ships to transport the army to Virginia.  About 1000 of the soldiers boarded ships.  The other 6500 or so continued to march overland.  The army made its way to Baltimore, where it once again was received happily by the residents of the town.

Then, Washington had another wartime “first”.  On September 8, he left while much of his army was still marching to Baltimore and rode to his home at Mount Vernon.  This was the first time he had seen his estate since he rode off to the Second Continental Congress in early 1775.  Washington brought with him several of his aides, as well as a few top French officers, including General Rochambeau.  During the years he had been away, Washington had provided instructions for updating the house and the grounds.  This was his first opportunity to see those changes.  But he did not really discuss that.  The leaders spent a couple of days at the plantation, working out some logistical details for the remainder of the campaign.

Planning at Yorktown
The morning of September 12, the group left Mount Vernon, headed for Williamsburg.  A week later, Generals Washington and Rochambeau boarded Admiral de Grasse’s flagship to discuss their military plans.

Although the leaders had arrived, the armies were still marching.  Some were still waiting for ships at Head of Elk.  Others were still marching to Baltimore.  Part of the army was able to board ships at Baltimore.  But the French did not believe the available ships were seaworthy and opted to continue marching overland.  Some of the transport ships arrived at the mouth of the York River on September 22.  Many of the ships continued to arrive over the following days.

There, the combined armies received more reinforcements. In addition to ships and money, Admiral de Grasse brought with him another 3300 French soldiers to join in the fight.  Washington also made contact with the Continental Army under Generals Lafayette, Anthony Wayne, and von Steuben.  The remainder of the army would continue to trickle in over the next few weeks.  

British Reaction

As the French and Continental Armies began marching to Virginia, the British command seemed unconcerned. General Clinton continued to focus on his own  position in New York.  In mid-July, Admiral Graves had taken the British fleet at New York and sailed off in search of a French supply fleet that intelligence reported might be headed for New England.  So Clinton was focused on security concerns of being without the protection of the Navy for a month.

London had not intended Graves to command this important mission.  The naval commander in North America Admiral Arbuthnot had resigned a few weeks earlier and sailed for London. Officials in London deployed Admiral Robert Digby to replace him.  But Arbuthnot was gone, and Digby had not arrived, so Graves served as the temporary commander of the fleet.

Gen. Henry Clinton

The British received reports that the French fleet under de Grasse might be headed for New York.  His local spies still told him that General Washington was focused on efforts to retake New York.  Although Washington had given up on that idea by mid-August, his musings about taking New York over the summer continued to come to Clinton in intelligence reports.

When the British fleet returned on August 16th, Clinton wrote to Admiral Graves suggesting an attack on the very small French presence that remained in Newport, Rhode Island.  Clinton had received intelligence that the fleet under de Grasse was headed for Newport, and thought the British fleet might seize the town again before de Grasse arrived.

Around this same time, the French and American armies left New York to begin their march across New Jersey. By late August, Clinton received intelligence reports telling him that the enemy was marching toward Baltimore.

Several officers under Clinton argued that the British should move into New Jersey and chase down the enemy armies while they were on the march.  Clinton dismissed these proposals, fearing the marches were a ruse to draw them out of Manhattan so that the enemy could attack the city while the bulk of the British army was in New Jersey.

Clinton still believed that Washington could not seriously hope to march to Yorktown.  The British navy could defeat the fleet under de Grasse.  The combined French and British armies did not have the overwhelming force to take Cornwallis’ defenses, and the British could evacuate by sea in the event of an unlikely military defeat.

These beliefs convinced  Clinton remained that Washington’s march was just an attempt to draw the British into New Jersey.  

A small British fleet under Admiral Samuel Hood had also sailed up from the West Indies and found no real enemy naval presence in the Chesapeake.  Hood, however, was concerned that the French fleet under de Grasse might be able to control the waters around Yorktown.  Hood continued on and arrived in New York at the end of August, but found General Clinton and Admiral Graves unconcerned about any possible attack on the British southern army at Yorktown.  Graves was still awaiting the repair of several ships.  Clinton was still concerned that de Grasse might target New York and that the enemy’s march to the south was just a ruse.

Lord Cornwallis

Similarly, in late August, General Cornwallis remained unconcerned.  His army outnumbered his enemy. Cornwallis had a force under his command of between 7000 and 8000 soldiers.  The army he faced, led by Lafayette, Anthony Wayne, and Baron Von Steuben numbered less than 2000, which could grow for short periods with the use of local militia.  But the prior experience with Virginia militia had proven them less than formidable.

Because General Clinton did not believe that Washington and Rochambeau were really headed for Yorktown, he didn’t bother to warn Cornwallis of the approaching armies.  After the arrival of the French fleet, Cornwallis saw his opportunity for an escape by sea limited only if the British fleet could take out the French.  

At this time, in late August, Cornwallis had the numbers to defeat the enemy forces against him.  At the very least, he could have marched out and defeated the smaller continental force against him before the larger combined force under Washington and Rochambeau arrived. That was the strategy that Colonel Banastre Tarleton was urging.  But since Cornwallis was not aware of their imminent arrival, he remained contently behind his defensive lines at Yorktown.  

Even after Cornwallis learned in late September that the larger combined French and Continental armies were assembling against him, he refused to attack.  Instead, he later claimed he expected General Clinton to provide reinforcements before he would engage with the enemy.  Of course, those reinforcements would almost certainly have to arrive by sea in order to arrive in time to be of any use.  That meant that the British fleet would have to defeat the French fleet for control of the Chesapeake.

Next week: we’ll see how that turns out when the British and French fleets do battle for control the Chesapeake.

- - -

Next Episode 298 Battle of the Capes 

Previous Episode 296 Eutaw Springs

 Contact me via email at mtroy.history@gmail.com

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution Podcast 

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American Revolution Podcast Merch!

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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20) or Zelle (send to mtroy1@yahoo.com)


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You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option making monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.

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Further Reading

Websites

National Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association: https://w3r-us.org

Marching to Victory: The Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/marching-victory-washington-rochambeau-national-historic-trail

Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route: https://www.nps.gov/waro/learn/historyculture/washington-rochambeau-revolutionary-route.htm

How the Battle of Yorktown was bankrolled by Spain and France: https://www.statutesandstories.com/blog_html/how-the-battle-of-yorktown-was-bankrolled-by-spain-france

Bankrolling the Battle of Yorktown: https://www.historynet.com/bankrolling-the-battle-of-yorktown

VIDEO: Robert Selig discussed the routes taken by the armies under Washington and Rochambeau:  https://www.c-span.org/video/?327130-1/march-yorktown

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

March to Victory: Washington, Rochambeau and the Yorktown Campaign of 1781 (army.mil).

Baker, William S. Itinerary of General Washington from June 15, 1775, to December 23, 1783, Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Co. 1892. 

Johnston, Henry P. The Yorktown Campaign and the surrender of Cornwallis, 1781, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Rice, Howard C. The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783, Princeton University Press, 1972 (borrow only). 

Tarleton, Banastre A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America, London: T. Cadell 1787. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Burke The Campaign that Won America, Eastern Acorn Press, 1970 (borrow on archive.org). 

Fleming, Thomas Beat the Last Drum;: The siege of Yorktown, 1781, St. Martin’s Press, 1963 (borrow on archive.org

Grainger, John D. The Battle of Yorktown, 1781: A Reassessment, Boydell Press, 2005 
(borrow on Archive.org

Ketchum, Richard M. Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution, Henry Holt and Co. 2004. 

Lumpkin, Henry From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South, Univ of SC Press, 1981 (borrow on archive.org). 

Philbrick, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, Penguin Books, 2019. 

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.