Sunday, February 25, 2024

ARP300 Surrender at Yorktown


Last week, we covered the tightening noose around the British army at Yorktown, Virginia in October of 1781.  The army there under General Cornwallis was getting increasingly desperate, and awaiting a relief force that General Clinton had promised to send from New York.

British Relief Fleet

I suppose “promise” is a strong term.  Clinton promised to do what he could, but sending a relief fleet was still dependent on the arrival of more British Navy ships along with the new Commander of North America, Admiral Robert Digby.

British Surrender at Yorktown
In early September, Admiral Graves, after combining his fleet with Admiral Hood, had sailed with the British fleet to the Chesapeake to take on the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse.  On September 13, before Clinton had received word of that naval battle, he held a council of war to consider what to do next. James Robertson, the Royal Governor of New York, and also a general, recommended loading up another relief fleet to bring men to Yorktown.  Clinton rejected that proposal.  There were not enough ships left to bring supplies.  Adding more soldiers to Yorktown without supplies to feed them might make the situation worse.  The council also discussed the idea of an offensive against Philadelphia, in order get the enemy forces to give up on Virginia and march north again to protect Pennsylvania.  In the end, the council did nothing, but kept waiting for the arrival of Admiral Digby.

The following day, Clinton received notice that the British fleet had been defeated at the Battle of the Capes and that the French controlled the waters around Yorktown.  Clinton’s response was that Cornwallis had assured him that the army had sufficient supplies to hold out until the end of October, giving them time to work on a plan to relieve them without rushing into anything immediately.

He called another council of war to discuss the new information.  The council interviewed several officers who had recently been with Cornwallis in Virginia.  Those officers agreed that the army could hold out for at least three weeks against an army of 20,000 once the siege started.  And at this point the start of the siege was still several weeks away.  So, once again, the council voted to do nothing and wait for Admiral Digby’s arrival.

A few days later, on September 17, Clinton received more detailed information from Admiral Graves, detailing the naval defeat and confirming that the British could not get to Yorktown by sea, and that the fleet was returning to New York for repairs.

Gen. Henry Clinton

Clinton held a third council of war and decided that a relief fleet needed to arrive in Virginia by the end of October, which was still nearly six weeks away.  Rushing back to Virginia without a force of sufficient size would only make things worse.  Two days later, the remainder of the British fleet under Graves limped into New York Harbor.  It would probably take months to repair some of the ships and restore them to a condition where they could return to battle.

Graves had first sailed for Virginia with 19 ships of the line, thinking he would face a French fleet of about 14 ships.  Instead, he faced off against 28 ships of the line.  A few days after Graves returned, Clinton received a note from Cornwallis informing him that French Admiral de Barras had joined Graves. The French had a total of 36 ships of the line in Virginia.  There was no way the British could overpower that fleet anytime soon.  Even if the British could repair the ships quickly and Admiral Digby arrived with his expected three additional ships of the line, that fleet would be nowhere near the size of the enemy fleet in Virginia.

On September 23, the council of war met again, resulting in General Clinton’s letter to Cornwallis, tentatively hoping to send a relief fleet from New York on October 5.  Clinton, however, still had concerns. Given the size of the French Navy, it was not clear that the British relief fleet could even find a place to land a reinforcement army safely nearby, and that they could link up with Cornwallis in Yorktown.  Such an effort might only make the loss even greater.

The following day, September 24, Admiral Digby finally arrived in New York.  Digby confirmed that he did not have any large number of ships arriving anytime soon.  He had brought Prince William, the third son of King George III.  William was serving as a midshipman and was the only member of the royal family ever to visit America up until this point.  While the prince did much for morale, he could not offer much hope of military relief for Yorktown.

By this time General Clinton seemed more preoccupied over being blamed for a loss rather than coming up with a way to extricate Cornwallis and his army.  At yet another council of war, he suggested that Cornwallis might try to escape.  All the other officers at the council thought this was unrealistic.  Clinton also brought up the idea of a diversionary attack against Philadelphia again, which the council also rejected.

Adm. Robert Digby
Admiral Digby offered the ships that he had brought with him to supplement Admiral Graves’ relief fleet. But Digby declined to take command of the fleet himself.  After a couple more ships of the line arrived in New York from Jamaica on October 11, the British fleet was up to 25.  Digby clearly did not want to take command of what he saw as a losing fight.

The plan seemed like a longshot.  The French navy was keeping its distance from Yorktown.  The British hoped to slip into Yorktown and offload an army while the remainder of the navy kept the French fleet away.  This seemed like a longshot, and relied on the enemy making several mistakes. But it was the best they had.  In trying to pull off this action, it was quite possible that the British fleet might be captured or destroyed, leading to a far greater loss than the loss of just Cornwallis’ army.

The British repeatedly pushed back the launch of the relief fleet.  Initially, Clinton had hoped that they could depart on October 5th.  That then pushed back to the 8th, then the 12th, and again to October 17th.  On that date, the relief fleet finally sailed out of the harbor, but then had to wait until the 19th for favorable winds to sail south.

Escape to Gloucester

Clinton still relied on Cornwallis’ assessment that his army could hold out until the end of October.  That assessment proved overly-optimistic.  As we covered last week, the allied forces captured the final British redoubts on October 14 and were bearing down on the main British army inside Yorktown. 

British positions at
Yorktown & Gloucester
We left Cornwallis last week on October 16, trying desperately, and without success, to spike some of the growing number of enemy cannons arrayed against him.  Cornwallis continued to receive notices promising help from New York, but that were frustratingly vague on when or how much help would arrive. That night, Cornwallis determined that his army just needed to make its own escape.  Cornwallis probably would have had a much better chance of succeeding several weeks earlier.  But doing so would have meant abandoning his loyalist allies and possibly getting caught by the enemy on the march. Given Clinton’s promises of reinforcements, Cornwallis had opted to sit tight.  But now, with the enemy on the verge of overrunning his lines and no British fleet in sight, Cornwallis was out of options.

The French fleet still kept its distance, giving the British the ability to cross the York River where they still held an outpost at Gloucester Point.  Overnight, Cornwallis would leave a small portion of his army to keep up fire against the enemy while the bulk of his army crossed the river in small boats to Gloucester.  They would have to abandon most of their cannons and supplies in the crossing.  Once in Gloucester, they could defeat the small French army of about 800 and fight their way north through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to make it back to New York.

You might think that this sounds like a pretty crazy maneuver with no hope of success, and you would be right.  The odds of marching his army over 400 miles through enemy territory with almost no support verged on the impossible.  But Cornwallis saw that as his best hope at this point.

Lord Cornwallis

The British had sixteen large row boats to cross the York River.  It was a dark and cloudy night, which helped shield the British actions from the enemy.  At around 10:00 PM, the first ships began ferrying soldiers from Yorktown to Gloucester Point.

As the night wore on, those storm clouds turned into an actual storm.  Thunder and lightning accompanied a downpour of rain.  Winds blew the water into waves.  Several of the ships capsized, drowning many of the occupants.  The rain also increased the river currents so that several ships were forced downstream into the bay.  By two in the morning, Cornwallis called off the effort, with most of his army still in Yorktown.  The storm subsided in the morning after sunrise, but by then it was too late to do anything.

Cornwallis called his own council of war.  The officers agreed that their fortifications were collapsing.  Enemy fire and disease had decimated their ranks, and those who could fight were too exhausted to fight well.

The Surrender

At 10:00 in the morning on October 17, a British officer marched out of the British lines waving a white handkerchief.  A drummer boy accompanied him, beating out a call for parlay.  The allied guns ceased fire and the officer informed the allies that Cornwallis wanted to discuss surrender.

Gen. Charles O'Hara
General Washington feared that Cornwallis might draw out the negotiations in the hopes that a British relief fleet might still arrive.  Washington demanded that Cornwallis offer terms within two hours.  When the British failed to appear within two hours, the allied cannons resumed fire.  Almost immediately, Cornwallis’ second in command, General Charles O’Hara, appeared on the British lines holding their terms.  Washington reviewed the terms.  Although he found some points that he would dispute, the terms seemed to be part of a good faith to surrender. Washington agreed to maintain the cease fire until the following morning.

The following morning, October 18, four officers: one American, one French, and two British, met in a nearby house owned by a merchant named Augustine Moore, to work out the details of surrender.  The team completed 14 Articles of Capitulation.  The British prisoners would be marched to Winchester, Virginia and Frederick Maryland.  There would be one British officer for every 50 soldiers. 

Other officers would be released on parole and permitted to return to New York or Britain on condition that they would no longer fight until exchanged. The French Navy would carry the officer to New York under a flag of truce.  Sick and wounded prisoners would be provided with care in hospitals.  

The British agreed to turn  over their artillery, arms, supplies and public stores without destroying them.  This included British ships and boats still in the water around Yorktown. At 2:00 pm the following day, the British army would march out of their lines with shouldered armed and color’s cased.  An honored foe would be permitted to fly their colors as they marched out.  But because the British denied this honor to the Continentals who surrendered at Charleston, the Continentals now denied that honor to the British.

French drawing from 1781 of the surrender

Officers were permitted to retain their side-arms.  All officers and soldiers could retain their private property.  Property that had been looted from Americans would be returned.  Loyalists captured with the British army would not be punished by the army, but the Americans insisted that the articles stipulated that they still might be accountable under civil law, meaning that loyalists could be tried, convicted, and executed.

Cornwallis accepted the terms, only requesting that the British Frigate Bonetta, nearby be permitted to carry his dispatches back to New York following the surrender, informing General Clinton of the defeat.  Although not stated, the frigate would also carry a number of loyalists and deserters back to New York. 

The two sides haggled over the terms well into the night.  Washington informed the negotiators that their time was up.  Cornwallis would agree to the articles by the following morning so that the surrender could take place at 2:00 PM as planned.

At noon the following day, October 19th, the French and American Armies assembled in two lines extending more than a mile.  Generals Washington and Rochambeau prepared to take possession of the army under General Cornwallis.

The British second in command, General Charles O’Hara led the British army out from their defenses.  According to some accounts the British band played a tune called The World Turned Upside Down. Some witnesses noted that the British averted their eyes to the French and tried to ignore the Americans.  General Lafayette orders his musicians to play Yankee Doodle. 

Gen. Lincoln Receives Sword from Gen. O'Hara
When General O’Hara reached Washington and Rochambeau, he sent Cornwallis’ apologies and told them the general was not well enough to participate in the surrender ceremony.  General O’Hara then tried to surrender his sword to Rochambeau.  The French general refused it, and pointed the general to Washington.  Because O’Hara was the British army’s second in command, Washington also refused to accept the sword, instead having General Benjamin Lincoln (his own second in command) accept it.  This also was a direct reversal of what had happened a little over a year earlier, when General Lincoln had had to surrender is own sword at Charleston.

While the French soldiers were in dress uniforms, the Americans were in rags, many of them barefoot.  All, however, were on best behavior.  By contrast, many of the British soldiers were clearly upset at their loss.  A great many were thought to be drunk.  When it came time to ground their arms, any of the British soldiers threw them on the ground, hoping to break them. The Hessians didn’t really seem to take the loss personally, and seemed perfectly at ease.

Following the ceremony, the British and Hessians returned to their quarters in Yorktown to await being marched inland over the following days.  

The British surrendered a little over 7000 soldiers.  The army had lost close to 500 killed and wounded in the siege.  Hundreds more were dead or dying from disease.  Smallpox, malaria, and other diseases had swept through the British camp.  The British also turned over thousands of muskets, more than 100 cannons, several ships and boats, and a great deal of other equipment.  The Americans lost a reported 88 killed and 301 wounded, although many more would die from wounds or disease in the coming weeks.  Among those who died of disease was Washington’s stepson, Jack Custis.  The 26 year old volunteer died from camp fever about two weeks after the surrender.

Aftermath

That night, Washington held a dinner for officers from the American, French and British armies. Only one British officer was not invited, Banastre Tarleton had generated too much bad blood to the American officers to put aside their feelings.  There's also very good evidence that Colonel Tarleton, who had killed American prisoners after battles in the past, was very much concerned for his own life and well being and did his best to keep a low profile and out of sight of the victorious Americans.

comte de Rochambeau

The dinner itself resulted in an odd dynamic. The French officers seemed to have much more in common with the British officers. Those two groups seemed to get along much better than either did with the Americans.  The Hessian officer Johann Ewald noted there was a great deal of enmity between the French and American officers.  General Cornwallis failed to attend the dinner, but did feel well enough to visit with French General de Viomenil that evening.

Despite efforts to encourage Admiral de Grasse to engage elsewhere, especially Charleston, the Admiral demurred and returned to the West Indies.  The British prisoners were marched inland.

On October 19, the same day as the surrender, General Clinton personally took command of a relief army aboard the British fleet that sailed out of New York.  The fleet reached the Chesapeake on the 24th.  They had not yet received word of the surrender, but soon realized what had happened and turned around to go back to New York.

On November 4, General Cornwallis, under the terms of his parole, boarded a ship for New York to meet with General Clinton and provide details of the loss of his army.

Following the victory, no one was sure what would happen next.  The war would continue for another two years as both sides tried to figure it out.

Just after the surrender, Washington wrote to General Greene saying “My greatest fear is that Congress viewing this stroke in too important a point of light, may think our work too nearly closed, and will fall into a state of languor and relaxation; to prevent this error, I shall employ every means in my power.”

On his return from Yorktown in November, Washington spent a week at Mount Vernon to mourn the death of his stepson with his wife Martha.  He travelled to Philadelphia where he spent about four months meeting with Congress and top officials, trying to decide next steps for the war. He then returned to his camp outside of New York to continue the standoff with General Clinton.  By spring, he would settle into a home in Newburgh.

The French army under Rochambeau remained in Virginia. The general was undecided whether he could offer more assistance to Washington in New York, or march to South Carolina to assist General Greene.  In the end, his army spent the winter in Williamsburg, before receiving notice the following summer that his army was being recalled. Rochambeau returned to France, while his army was shipped to the West Indies to assist with the war effort there.

Next week, we deal with more consequences of the surrender at Yorktown, as the war in North Carolina comes to an end with the evacuation of Wilmington.

- - -

Next Episode 301 Evacuation of Wilmington (Available March 3, 2024)

Previous Episode 299 Siege of Yorktown

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Further Reading

Websites


Riley, Edward M. “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 

MIDDLETON, RICHARD. “The Clinton–Cornwallis Controversy and Responsibility for the British Surrender at Yorktown.” History, vol. 98, no. 3 (331), 2013, pp. 370–89. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24429518

Hon. Robert Digby: https://morethannelson.com/officer/hon-robert-digby

Articles of Capitulation: https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-source-collections/primary-source-collections/article/articles-of-capitulation-yorktown

World Turned Upside Down lyrics: https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/se1/se14/000027/html/world_upside_down/worldturned.pdf


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.

Stevens, Benjamin (ed) The Campaign in Virginia, 1781: An exact reprint of six rare pamphlets on the Clinton-Cornwallis Controversy, London: Stevens, 1888. 

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

Hallahan, William H. The Day The Revolution Ended: 19 October 1781, Castle Books, 2009

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 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

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

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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

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution Podcast 

 Join American Revolution Podcast on Quora 
 
Discuss the AmRev Podcast on Reddit

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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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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.