Memoirs, Correspondence and Manuscripts of General Lafayette
Part 9 out of 9
are uneasy about it, as they are so unprovided for the journey. I have,
however, hurried on preparations, and will be able to set off to-morrow
morning. The circumstances of my being ready sooner than I expected,
and a letter from the Governor of Maryland telling that six ships, whom
I take to be plundering vessels, were coming up the Potomac, induces me
not to wait for your Excellency's answer. Not that I pretend to defend
the towns of Alexandria, Baltimore and Annapolis, at a time, or to stop
the depredations of the enemy's parties in a country where their naval
superiority renders it impossible; but because I don't think any
consideration must delay the execution of superior orders, and because,
if the corps was not sent to Southward they would with alacrity march
back thirty or forty miles more to rejoin the grand army.
Having received no particulars of your Excellency's journey to Rhode
Island, but by the paper, a letter from you to Mr. Lund Washington, and
private letters from some friends, I cannot know what change has taken
place in your plans, and am not able to account for the inactivity
which you foresee for the grand army. Letters from Ministers, letters
from my friends, intelligences from other quarters, every thing was
combined to flatter me with the hope that our grand and decisive object
would be in contemplation. I then was not displeased with the
dispositions of the enemy that weakened that place. It is probable that
your Excellency's plans have changed, and you intend to prosecute the
war to the Southward.
I had yesterday the pleasure of dining on board the Hermione, and left
her under sail to go to Rhode Island, where she will probably be the
day after to-morrow. Mr. Delatouche, uncle to captain Latouche, will,
it is said, command the squadron of the second division. I was
conversing with his nephew, on whom he has an entire confidence on the
expedition against New York, and he assured me that his Uncle's plan
would certainly be to take possession of the harbour, and send a force
up the North River, which you know is entirely the thing that you
wanted M. de Vernay to do.
Mr. Delatouche having confidentially told me that he had a great
influence over Mr. Destouches, I observed to him how important it was
for the common cause that the French fleet might have the greatest
possible activity. We were also conversing of the difficulties we
laboured under for transportation, and be told me that the next day
after his arrival at Rhode Island, unless such obstacles occurred as he
could not foresee; Mr. Destouches would make you an offer of the ship
l'Eveille, and the four frigates to carry twelve hundred men to any
part of` continent you might think proper. Those ships are too strong
to be afraid of frigates, and too fast sailers to be in the least
concerned by the fear of a squadron. Thinking that (particularly as
Lord Cornwallis has retreated) our march would take us forty days,
where desertion and sickness, occasioned by want of shoes and every
other necessary, as well as by the heat of the season, would much
reduce our numbers, and that these ships, with the addition of the two
frigates at Philadelphia, armed _en flute_, would in sailing on the 4th
or 5th of May, carry 1500 men to Wilmington, Georgetown, or any place
in the rear of Lord Cornwallis or the neighborhood of General Greene, I
thought it my duty to encourage this idea, which would bring us to the
point of operations sooner than we could arrive by land. It would also
give you the time of forming at Morristown or Trenton, a detachment
well provided, agreeably to the project you had in contemplation after
the return of this corps. The appointment of officers could be made
without affecting the delicacy of the regimental officers, nor the
honor of those already employed. While we would be operating, Mr.
Destouches might keep cruizers off Charleston. These ideas, my dear
General, are only thrown out in consequence of the freedom you have
often ordered me to take. What Mr. Destouches may do is uncertain, and
I did not think myself authorised to express to him the least wish on
that head. It was my duty to relate our difficulties to you, and the
chances I foresaw to see them relieved in some measure; but unless the
bad weather, of which there is now a prospect, makes it impossible, I
will be to-morrow at the ferry at the Susquehannah.
You may have known from Mr. de La Luzerne, that two millions and a half
had been given to Mr. Franklin, and that Marquis de Castries and Count
de Vergennes, were trying to obtain a sum more adequate to our wants.
This, however, the Minister of France has requested me not to mention,
as it was as yet an uncertainty, and would perhaps give
ill-grounded hopes, destructive of the internal efforts we ought to
make. I am told that just before the departure of Mr. Dela Peyrouse,
some dispatches were sent to Brest; but do not think they contain any
thing relating to our operations, as Marquis de Castries writes me that
the determination of the Council upon our letters will be sent by the
ships who is to convoy the expected vessels.
I am very sorry I have not seen the Aid de Camp who had a verbal
message from General Greene. Inclosed I send to your Excellency the
letter I have received on the occasion. Perhaps, did he mean to propose
an expedition towards Cape-fear or Georgetown, which might be made with
the light squadron above mentioned. An additional circumstance is, that
l'Eveille will now be commanded by Mr. de Lombard, captain Latouche's
uncle, who is entirely under that Gentleman's influence.
I write to the board of war to get some shoes and other parts of
clothing. I will this morning speak to the commanding officers of
battalions on our intended journey; but have not yet said any thing to
Colonel Gimat and Major Galvan, because it is possible that new
circumstances may engage you to change your dispositions. Going by
water, if possible, would level most all difficulties; but if I don't
hear from you, I will always proceed on. I have the honor to be, yours
1. See Washington's Letters of 21st of March and 5th and 6th of April.
Sparks' Writ. of Wash. volume 7. pp. 449 and 468, 8469. See
also--Sparks' Writ. of Wash. vol. 8. Appendix No. 1.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Susquehannah ferry April 13th, 1751.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--I received your Excellency's letter relating to
Colonel Gouvion. It would have been very agreeable to me to keep this
officer, your orders have been sent to Philadelphia where he is for the
present. However distant I may be from the scene, I am happy to find
that your Excellency hopes to undertake the grand object we have had in
By a letter just received from the board of War, it seems that
representations of wants have been made which they have mistaken for
objections from me to our journey southward. I have said to some
officers that our proximity to the southern states was the reason which
had induced your Excellency to send this detachment, but I hope I need
not assure you that I never thought of intimating the least idea of
alteration to your Excellency's projects, but such as you would think
of making yourself after your own ideas and intelligences. Perhaps my
letter to the board of War may appear disrespectful or impolite, but
nothing could stop me in an instance where it might be suspected I
objected to your plans, or even differed in opinion. You know me too
perfectly not to think an explanation useless.
It is confidently reported that the second division is arrived in the
capes of Delaware, consisting of nine sail of the line, this was the
number mentioned to me by the Marquis de Castries to be in harbour,
your Excellency would in that case have a brilliant Campaign to the
With the highest and most affectionate respect Yours &c.~
1. See Letters of Wash. of the 11th April. Sparks' Writ. of Wash. vol.
8, p. 11.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Susquehannah ferry April 13th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Had your Excellency's answer to my letter of the 8th,
been forwarded with an equal celerity that your favor of the 6th, I
would have received it before this time, but whatever change my new
situation could make in your Excellency's dispositions, I thought it my
duty in the mean while to obey the positive orders I had received, the
Troops are now crossing the ferry and will with all possible speed
proceed to Richmond.
By a letter received from General Green I find that he is, strongly of
opinion that I must go to the southward, his intention is to carry the
seat of war into South Carolina, there by preventing a junction between
Arnold and Cornwallis, he gives me many excellent reasons to justify
the movement and requests me to make to Richmond, and they will, if
possible, increase my zeal to execute your Excellency's orders.
General Green's opinion is that Lord Cornwallis will fall down towards
Wilmington, his own project is to carry the war into South Carolina.
Under these circumstances a corps of Light Infantry embarked at
Philadelphia on board a light squadron might have been upon the seat of
war in a very short passage.
I cannot help fearing, my dear General, that our campaign will take a
defensive turn which is far from answering our first plans and
expectations. Major McPherson is with me as a volunteer, that officer
has most zealously employed himself and has been most dangerously
exposed in the discovery of a plot made to furnish the enemy with
provisions, he has managed this matter with infinite address, being for
two days and one night with six soldiers who, as well as himself, put
on the air of British, and, in company with a spy who thought them to
be enemy and by a most violent gale of wind, crossed the bay in a small
boat, by which means he was made sensible that a trade of flour is
carried with the enemy from the western shore of Maryland, and saved a
magazine of 800 barrels of continental flour which would otherwise have
fallen into the hands of the enemy. In case we proceed southerly
perhaps will it be possible for General Green to give Mayor McPherson a
command in some detachment; I would be happy if he was recommended to
him by your Excellency. My determination being to go on with rapidity,
unless I am recalled, your Excellency may easily judge of my movements
from the answer I will probably receive in a few hours. Was I to assure
your Excellency that this journey is perfectly agreeable to the Troops,
I would not use that candor which you have so much right to expect, but
their zeal and discipline insure their readiness to obey. I shall do my
utmost to prevent desertion, and unless I was recalled, I shall proceed
with celerity. But I beg your Excellency to remember that experience
has often taught us how much reduced has ever been the number of our
troops from the time of their departure to that of their arrival at the
With the highest and most affectionate respect,
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Susquehannah ferry April 14th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL--Your Excellency's letter of the 11th, has overtaken me
at this place, and having given to you an account of every measure I
thought proper to take, I will only add that I am still at the ferry
where the troops have crossed the river; but the wind blows so high
that it has been impossible to take the waggons over, and I am obliged
to have others impressed on the southern side of the Susquehannah. Your
Excellency mentions the propriety of remaining at the head off Elk
until shoes can be collected, but the prospect I have from the board of
war are not flattering enough to encourage this measure. On the other
side General Green is pressing in his advices, and will soon be so in
his orders to me. I cannot obtain any good account of Phillip's
motions, nor oppose the schemes he may have formed, until I am much
farther advanced; and dissatisfaction and desertion being two greater
evils than any other we have to fear; I am anxious to have rivers,
other countries, and every kind of barrier to stop the inclination of
the men to return home. Many men have already deserted, many more will
I am afraid take the same course, whatever sense of duties, ties of
affection, and severity of discipline may operate, shall be employed by
me, and I wish we might come near the enemy, which is the only means to
put a stop to the spirit of desertion.
Many articles, and indeed every one which compose the apparatus of a
soldier, will be wanting for this detachment. But shoes, linen,
overalls, hunting shirts, shirts, and ammunition will be the necessary
supplies for which I request your Excellency's most pressing orders to
people concerned, and most warm entreaties to the board of war. I wish
it was possible to have the men equiped at once, and this would be a
great saving of expense.
While I am writing to your Excellency the wind rises more and more,
which will much impede our passage for such stores as were to cross
over with the waggons, and the guard appointed to stay with them. At
such a distance from the enemy, I cannot give your Excellency any
account of their movements, but by the last intelligence General
Phillips was still at Portsmouth.
Should the French get a naval superiority, an expedition against
Portsmouth is very practible. These companies, filled up to their
proper number, and some other troops to increase the corps to two
thousand, would with a detachment of artillery from Philladelphia, be
equal to the attack of that post. 3000 militia can with the greatest
ease be collected. In case Duke de Lauzurn's legion arrives, that corps
could come in the fleet; but should the French become superior at sea
the British fleet in Chesapeak would be in danger, and in every case,
if your Excellency thinks of sending any reinforcement this way, (let
it be the Jersey troops or recruits) their coming by water to James or
York river may save an immense trouble and expense.
My heart and every faculty of my mind, have been these last years so
much concerned in the plan of an expedition against * * * that I am
very desirous to hear, by the very first safe opportunity what reasons
can have overthrown the project.
Some disputes that have at first happened between the Jersey and
New-England troops, make me think that these last must be as much as
possible separated from the Pensylvanians.
While I was writing these accounts have been brought to me, that, a
great desertion had taken place last night: nine of the Rhode Island
company, and the best men they had, who have made many campaigns, and
never were suspected, these men say they like better a hundred lashes
than a journey to the south-ward. As long as they had an expedition in
view they were very well satisfied, but the idea of remaining in the
southern states appear to them intolerable, and they are amazingly
averse to the people and climate. I shall do my best, but if this
disposition lasts I am afraid we will be reduced lower than I dare
express. With the highest and most affectionate respect, yours &,c.~
1. See Letters of Washington, of the 21st and 22d April--Sparks' Writ.
of Wash. v. 8., pp. 19, 22.
TO MAJOR GENERAL GREENE.
Hanover Court House, April 28th, 1781.
Sir,--Having received intelligence that General Phillips' army were
preparing at Portsmouth, for offensive operations. I left at Baltimore
every thing that could impede our march, to follow us under a proper
escort, and with about a thousand men, officers included; hastened
towards Richmond which I apprehended would be a principal object with
Being on our way, I have received successive accounts of their
movements. On the 21st, the British troops, commanded by their
Generals, Philips and Arnold, landed at City Point on the south side of
James River. A thousand militia under Maj. General Caroude Stuben and
General Muhlenberg, were posted at Blandford to oppose them, and on the
25th they had an engagement with the enemy; the militia behaved very
gallantly, and our loss, it is said, is about twenty killed and
wounded. The same day, the enemy whose force it is reported to be near
2500 regular troops, marched into Petersburg. Yesterday they moved to
Osburn's, about thirteen miles from Richmond, and after a skirmish with
a corps of militia, destroyed some vessels that had been collected
there, but have not yet attempted to cross the river. Baron de Stuben,
is at the same side, and has removed to Falling Creek Church.
The Continental detachment will in a few hours arrive at this place, 20
miles from Richmond. The enemy are more than double our force in
regular troops and their command of the waters gives them great
With the highest respect, I have the honor to be yours, &c.
TO GENERAL GREENE.
Camp on Pamunkey River, May 3d, 1781.
Sir,--I had lately the honor to inform you of the enemy's movements
towards Richmond, and the forced marches I was making to its defence.
The detachment arrived on the 29th; the British army was thirteen miles
distant on the other side of the river. Petersburg, Chesterfield Court
House, and part of our vessels had fallen into their hands. Our regular
force consisted of 900 men, rank and file; that of the enemy, of 2,300,
at the lowest estimate.
The command of the water, and such a superiority of regular troops,
gave them possession of our shore. There was no crossing for us, but
under a circuit of fifteen miles, and from the number and size of their
boats, their passage over the river was six times quicker than ours.
Richmond being their main object. I determined to defend this capital,
where a quantity of public stores and tobacco was contained. General
Nelson was there, with a corps of militia, and Generals Stuben and
Muhlenberg, higher up on the other side. The same evening, we were by
summons from General Philips, made accountable for the public stores on
board vessels near the town, (which he declared) should certainly fall
into his hands. Next morning the enemy moved to Manchester, opposite
Richmond, where they burnt the ware-houses. Six hundred men ventured on
this side, but were timely recalled, and being charged by a few
dragoons of Major Nelson, flew into their boats with precipitation.
Knowing General Phillip's intention against Richmond, (orders for
attack had been already given) I directed Baron de Stuben to join us,
and collected our force to receive the enemy, but the same night they
retreated to Osburn's, from thence to the neck of land formed by James
River and Appamatox, where they have re-embarked. Col. Pleasant's and
Good's battallions of militia, were sent on each side of the river and
gave annoyance to their troops and boats. The enemy have lost some men
killed, prisoners and deserters. Since the British army landed at City
Point, (some flour excepted at the Court-house) no public property has
been destroyed. Yours &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp near Bottom's Creek, May 4th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--I request you will receive my affectionate
acknowledgements for your kind letters. Every mark of friendship I
receive from you adds to my happiness, as I love you with all the
sincerity and warmth of my heart, and the sentiment I feel for you goes
to the very extent of my affections.
Inclosed I send you, my dear General, two copies of letters to General
Greene, which I also sent to Congress for their information. You will
also find copies of the strange letters I have received from General
Phillips, and the answers which, if he does not behave better, will
break off our correspondence.
The leaving of my artillery appears a strange whim, but had I waited
for it Richmond was lost, and Major Galvan, who has exerted himself to
the utmost, cannot be with us under two days, as he never could obtain
or seize horses for the artillery and ammunition waggons. It is not
without trouble I have made this rapid march. General Phillips has
expressed to an officer on flag, the astonishment he felt at our
celerity, and when on the 30th, as he was going to give the signal to
attack, he reconnoitred our position, Mr. Osburn, who was with him,
says that he flew into a violent passion and swore vengeance against me
and the corps I had brought with me.
I am, however, uneasy, my dear General, and do not know what the public
will think of our conduct. I cannot say in any official letter that no
boats, no waggons, no intelligence, not one spy could be obtained; that
if once I had been manoeuvring with Phillips he had every advantage
over me; that a defeat would have scattered the militia, lost the few
arms we have, and knocked down this handful of Continental troops.
Great deal of mischief had been already done. I did not know but what
the enemy meant to establish a post. Under these circumstances I
thought it better to fight on none but my own grounds and to defeat the
main and most valuable object of the enemy. Had I gone on the other
side, the enemy would have given me the slip and taken Richmond,
leaving nothing to me, but the reputation of a rash unexperienced young
man. Our stores could not be removed.
No orders from General Greene have as yet come to me. I cannot conceive
the reason of his delay in answering my letters. In the meanwhile,
Phillips is my object, and if with a thousand men I can be opposed to
three thousand in this State, I think I am useful to General Greene. In
a former letter he tells me that his object is to divide the enemy, and
having no orders I must be regulated by his opinion.
The enemy are gone down the river. I have detached some militia to
Hoods where I mean to make a fort. Colonel Hennis, with another corps
of militia, is gone towards Williamsburg. His orders are in case the
enemy land there, to annoy them, and in case they mean to establish a
post, he is to disturb them until I arrive. This position is 16 miles
from Richmond, 42 from Williamsburg, 60 from Fredericksburg. I have
sent an officer at Point Comfort, and established a chain of expresses
to know if they appear to turn towards Potomac. Should it be the case,
Fredericksburg will have my attention, having missed Mr. Hunter's works
at Fredericksburg must be their next object as they are the only
support to our operations in the southward. Your first letters, my dear
General, will perhaps tell me something more about your coming this
way. How happy I should be to see you, I hope I need not express. As
you are pleased to give me the choice, I shall frankly tell my wishes.
If you co-operate with the French against the place, you know I wish to
be at head quarters. If something is co-operated in Virginia, I will
find myself very happily situated for the present. In case my
detachment remains in this State I wish not to leave it, as I have a
separate and active command, though it does not promise great glory;
but as you gave me leave to do it, I shall in a few days write to you
more particularly on my private concerns. It is not only on account of
my own situation that I wish the French fleet may come into the bay.
Should they come even without troops, it is ten to one that they will
block up Phillips in some rivers, and then I answer he is ruined. Had I
but ships, my situation would be the most agreeable in the world. Adieu
my dear General, you will make me happy to write me sometimes. With the
highest respect and most tender affection, I have the honor to be,
1. See Letters of Wash. of 31 May.--See Sparks' Writ., v. 8., p. 60.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Richmond, May the 8th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--There is no fighting here unless you have a naval
superiority, or an army mounted upon race-horses. Phillips' plan
against Richmond has been defeated; he was going towards Portsmouth,
and I thought it should be enough for me to oppose him at some
principal points in this State. But now it appears I will have business
to transact with two armies, and this is rather too much.
By letters from North Carolina, I find that Lord Cornwallis, who I had
been assured had sailed from Charleston, is advancing towards Hallifax.
In consequence of letters from the same quarter, General Phillip's has
altered his plans, and returned to a place called Brandon on the south
side of James river, where he landed the night before last. Our
detachment is under march towards the Hallifax road, his command of the
water, enabled him to land where I could not reach him. The brigade at
Petersburg is destroyed, and unless he acts with an uncommon degree of
folly, he will be at Hallifax before me. Each of these armies is more
than the double superior to me. We have no boats, few militia, and less
arms. I will try to do for the best, and hope to deserve your
Nothing can attract my sight from the supplies and reinforcements
destined to General Green's army. While I am going to get beaten by
both armies or each of them seperately, the Baron remains at Richmond
where he hurries the collection of recruits, and every other requisite.
I have forbidden every department to give me any thing that maybe
thought useful to General Greene, and should a battle be expected (an
event which I will try to keep off,) no consideration will prevent our
sending to Carolina 800 recruits who, I hope, may be equiped in a
fortnight. When General Green becomes equal to offensive operations,
this quarter will be relieved. I have written to Wayne, to hasten his
march, but unless I am very hard pushed, shall request him to proceed
south-ward. The militia have been ordered out, but are slow, unarmed,
and not yet used to this business. General Green, from whom I had as
yet no letters, was on the 26th, before Camden, but did not think
himself equal to the storming of the works. My respects, if you please,
to Mr. Washington, and compliments to the family. Most respectfully and
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Welton, north side of James River, May 18th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL.--Having been directed by General Greene to take
command of the troops in Virginia. I have also received orders from
him, that every account from this quarter, be immediately transmitted
to Congress, and to your Excellency; in obedience to which I shall have
the honor to relate our movements, and those of the combined armies of
the enemy. When General Phillips retreated from Richmond, his project
was to stop at Williamsburg, there to collect contributions which he
had imposed, this induced me to take a position between Pamunkey, and
Chikahomany rivers, which equally covered Richmond, and some other
interesting parts of the State, and from where I detached General
Nelson with some militia towards Williamsburg.
Having got as low down as that place, General Phillips seemed to
discover an intention to make a landing, but upon advices received by a
vessel from Portsmouth, the enemy weighed anchor, and with all the sail
they could crowd, hastened up the river, this intelligence made me
apprehensive that the enemy intended to manoeuvre me out of Richmond
where I returned immediately, and again collected our small force,
intelligence was the same day received that Lord Cornwallis (who I had
been assured, to have embarked at Wilmington) was marching through
North Carolina, (this was confirmed by the landing of General Phillips
at Brandon south side of James River.) Apprehending that both armies
would move to meet at a central point, I march towards Petersburg and
intended to have established a communication over Appamatox and James
river, but on the 9th, General Phillips took possession of Petersburgh;
a place where his right flank being covered by James River, his front
by Appamatox, on which the bridges had been destroyed in the first part
of the invasion, and his left not being attackable but by a long
circuit through fords that at this season are very uncertain, I could
not (even with an equal force) have got any chance of fighting him,
unless I had given up this side of James River, and the country from
which reinforcements are expected. It being at the enemy's choice to
force us to an action, which their own position insured them against
our enterprizes, I thought it proper to shift this situation, and
marched the greater part of our troops to this place about ten miles
below Richmond. Letters from General Nash, General Sumner, and General
Jones are positive as to the arrival of Colonel Tarleton, and announce
that of Lord Cornwallis at Halifax. Having received a request from
North Carolina for ammunition, I made a detachment of 500 men under
General Muhlenberg to escort 20,000 cartridges over Appamatox, and to
divert the enemy's attention, Colonel Gimat, with his battalion, and 4
field pieces cannonaded their position from this side of the River. I
hope our ammunition will arrive safe, as before General Muhlenberg
returned he put it in a safe road with proper directions. On the 13th,
General Phillips died and the command devolved on General Arnold.
General Wayne's detachment has not yet been heard of, before he
arrives, it becomes very dangerous to risk any engagement where (as the
British armies being vastly superior to us) we shall certainly be
beaten, and by the loss of arms, the dispersion of militia, and the
difficulty of a junction with General Wayne, we may lose a less
dangerous chance of resistance.
These considerations have induced me to think that with our so very
great inferiority, and with the advantage the enemy have by their
cavalry and naval superiority, there would be much rashness in fighting
them on any but our grounds, and this side of the river, and that an
engagement which I fear will be soon necessary; ought, if possible to
be deferred till the Pensylvanians arrive, whom I have by several
letters requested to hasten to our assistance.
No report has lately come from near Hallifax, though a very active
officer has been sent for that purpose; but every intelligence confirms
that Lord Cornwallis is hourly expected at Petersburg, it is true there
never was such difficulty in getting tolerable intelligence, as there
is in this country, and the immense superiority of the enemy's horses,
render it very precarious to hazard our small parties.
Arnold has received a small reinforcement from Portsmouth.
I am dear General, your most obedient humble servant, Yours &c.
P.S. Injustice to Major Mitchell and Captain Muir, who were taken at
Petersburg, I have the honor to inform your Excellency that they had
been sent to that place on public service. I have requested General
Lawson to collect and take command of the militia south of Appamatox,
local impediments was thrown in the road from Hallifax to Petersburg,
and precautions taken to remove the horses from the enemy's reach.
Should it be possible to get arms, some militia might be brought into
the field, but General Greene and myself labour under the same
disadvantage, the few militia we can with great pains collect arrive
unarmed, and we have not a sufficiency of weapons to put into their
1. See Washington's Letter of the 31st May.--Sparks' Writ. of Wash., v.
8., p. 60.
TO COLONEL HAMILTON.
Richmond, May 23, 1781.
MY DEAR HAMILON,--I have been long complaining that I had nothing to
do, and want of employment was an objection I had to my going to the
southward; but for the present, my dear friend, my complaint is quite
of an opposite nature, and I have so many arrangements to make, so many
difficulties to combat, so many enemies to deal with, that I am much of
a General as will make me a historian of misfortunes, and nail my curse
upon the ruins of what good soldiers are pleased to call the army in
Virginia. There is an age past since I heard from you. I acknowledge
that on my part, I have not written so often as I ought to have done,
but you will excuse this silence in favor of my very embarrassing
circumstances, however remote you may be from your former post of aid-
de-camp, to the Commander-in-chief, I am sure you are nevertheless
acquainted with every transaction at head quarters. My letters have
served to report information, and I shall consequently abstain from
Our forced march saved Richmond. Phillips was going down, and thus far
I am very happy. Phillips' return, his landing at Brandon, south side
of James and Appamatox rivers. Had Phillips marched to Hallifax I was
determined to follow him, and should have risked every thing rather to
omit making a diversion in favor of Greene; but that army took
possession of Petersburg, and obliged me to stick to the side of the
river whence reinforcements are expected. Both armies have formed their
junction of between four and five thousand men. We have no
Continentals; their infantry is near five to one; their cavalry ten to
one. Our militia are not numerous, without arms, and not used to war.
Government wants energy, and there is nothing to enforce the laws.
General Greene has directed me to take command in this State, and I
must tell you by the way, his letter is very polite and affectionate;
it then became my duty to arrange the departments, which I found in the
greatest confusion and relaxation; nothing can be obtained, and yet
expenses are enormous. The Baron and the few new levies we could
collect, are ordered to South Carolina. Is it not strange that General
Wayne's detachment cannot be heard of? They are to go to Carolina; but
should I have them for a few days, I am at liberty to keep them. This
permission I will improve so far as to receive one blow, that being
beat, I may at least be beat with some decency. There are accounts that
Lord Cornwallis is very strong; others make him very weak. In this
country there is no getting good intelligence. I request you will write
me if you approve of my conduct. The command of the waters, the
superiority in cavalry, and the great disproportion of forces, gave the
enemy such advantages that I durst not venture out, and listen to my
fondness for enterprise; to speak truth, I was afraid of myself as much
as of the enemy. Independence has rendered me the more cautious, as I
know my own warmth; but if the Pennsylvanians come, Lord Cornwallis
shall pay something for his victory.
I wish a reinforcement of light infantry to recruit the battallions, or
a detachment under General Huntington, was sent to me. I wish Lawson or
Sheldon were immediately dispatched with some horses. Come here, my
dear friend, and command our artillery in Virginia. I want your advices
and your exertions. If you grant my request, you will vastly oblige
your friend. Yours, &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Richmond, May the 24th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL.--The junction of Lord Cornwallis with the other army
at Petersburg was an event that, from local circumstances, and from
their so great superiority, it was impossible to prevent, it took place
on the 20th, and having lost every hope to operate, a timely stroke in
conjunction with the Pensylvanians, my ideas were confined to defensive
measures. I therefore moved up to Richmond, where precautions were
taken to remove every valuable property, either public or private.
By an officer that was in Halifax after Lord Cornwallis, I hear he has
not left any post at that place, it appears, his sick and wounded
remained at Wilmington, and were reimplaced by that garison. Reports
concerning the numbers are so different, that I cannot trust anything
but my eyes, until such an opportunity offers, this is the order of
march, in which it is said his Lordship crossed Roanoke. Col. Tarlton's
legion, Col. Hamilton's corps, 23d, 71st, 33d, British regiments, 200
tories, an Hessian regiment, the light infantry and guards with six
field pieces. I am told General Leslie and Genl. O'Hara are with him, I
have received successive and repeated accounts, that a British fleet of
transports was arrived at Hampton, they were said to consist of 11
large vessels, and 16 smaller ones, under convoy of three large
frigates. Mr. Day D.Q.M. at Williamsburg, writes that on the 22nd, 12
sail of large ship; a sloop, and schooner got underway opposite James
Town; those ships full of men, and some horses on board the sloop. We
have no accounts of any fleet having sailed from
Yesterday afternoon, we had a heavy rain, which Colonel Tarlton
improved in surprising some militia in Chesterfield County, thirty of
whom fell into his hands.
This morning at 9 o'clock the enemy moved from Peteraburg towards City
Point, and destroyed the bridge they had lately constructed over
Appamatoc. I have just received accounts, that a body of them has
landed at Westover. These are said to be the men who came up the river
from Hampton, previous to which General Arnold had received a small
reinforcement from Portsmouth.
To my great mortification, I have heard this morning, that the
Pensylvanians are not so near as I had been, by every account
positively assured. General Wayne writes me he will hasten to my
support, and I am confident he will not lose time at this critical
moment, but before he arrives, it is impossible that 900 continentals
and 40 horses, with a body of militia by no means so considerable as
they are reported to be, and whom it is so difficult to arm, be with
any advantage opposed to such a superiority of forces, such a number of
cavalry, to which may be added, their very prejudicial command of the
Our handful of men being the point to which militia may be collected,
and the only check, however small it is, that the enemy may have in
this state, it ought, I think, to be managed with a great deal of
prudence as its preservation is so very important to the fate of
operations in Virginia.
With the highest respect. I have the honor to be Yours &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp between Rappahannock and North Anna, June 3rd, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Inclosed you will find the copy of a letter to
General Green. He at first had requested that I would directly write to
you, since which his orders have been different, but he directed me to
forward you copies of my official accounts. So many letters are lost in
their way that I do not care to avoid repetitions.--I heartily wish, my
dear general, my conduct may be approved of, particularly by you. My
circumstances have been peculiar, and in this state I have sometimes
experienced strange disappointments. Two of them, the stores at
Charlottesville, and the delay of the Pennsylvania detachment, have
given me much uneasiness and may be attended with bad consequences.
Your presence, my dear general, would do a great deal, Should these
detachments be increased to three or four thousand, and the French army
come this way, leaving one of our generals at Rhode Island and two or
three about New York and in the Jerseys, you might be very offensive in
this quarter, and there could be, a southern army in Carolina. Your
presence would do immense good, but I would wish you to have a large
force. General Washington, before he personally appears, must be strong
enough to hope success. Adieu, my dear general, with the highest
respect and most tender affection I have the honor to be, Yours,~
P.S. If you persist in the idea to come this way. you may depend upon
about 3000 militia in the field, relieved every two months. Your
presence will induce them to turn out with great spirit.
1. This letter, and the succeeding one to Gen. Greene, was written
while Lafayette was retreating before Lord Cornwallis, and as he was
about to cross the Rapidan to form a junction with Wayne. See the
answers in Sparks's _Writ. of Wash_. v. 3. p. 86.
TO GENERAL GREENE.
Camp between Rappahannock and North Anna, June 3rd, 1781,
SIR,--I have done myself the honor to write you many letters, but least
some of them should have miscarried, which I much apprehend to have
been the case, I shall repeat an account of the late transactions in
The junction of the enemy being made, which for the reasons I have
mentioned it was impossible to prevent, I retired towards Richmond and
waited for Lord Cornwallis's movements, his regular force being so
vastly superior to mine.--Reinforcements from below having still
increased it, and his cavalry being ten to one, I could not think to
bring into action a small body of eight or nine hundred men, that
preserved the shadow of an army and an inconsiderable number of militia
whose defeat was certain and would be attended with a fatal loss of
Lord Cornwallis had at first a project to cross above Richmond, but
desisted from it and landed at Westover, he then proposed to turn our
left flank, but before it was executed we moved by the left to the
forks of Chickahomony,--the enemy advanced twelve miles and we
retreated in the same proportion; they crossed Chickahomony and
advanced on the road to Fredericksburg. We marched in a parallel with
them, keeping the upper part of the country. Our position at Mattapony
church would have much exposed the enemy's flank on their way to
Fredericksburg, but they stopped at Cook's ford on the North Anna
river, where they are for the present.--General Wayne having announced
to me his departure on the 23d, I expected before this time to have
made a junction. We have moved back some distance and are cautious not
to indulge Lord Cornwallis with an action with our present force.--
The intentions of the enemy are not as yet well explained.
Fredericksburg appears to be their object, the more so as a greater
number of troops are said to be gone down than is necessary for the
garrison of Portsmouth.--The public stores have been as well as
possible removed, and every part of Hunter's works that could be taken
out of the way.--It is possible they mean to make a stroke towards
Charlotteville; this I would not be uneasy for, had my repeated
directions been executed, but instead of removing stores from there to
Albemarle old Court House, where Baron de Steuben has collected six
hundred regulars, and where I ordered the militia south of James River
to rendezvous--It appears from a letter I received this evening that
state stores have been contrary to my directions collected there, least
they should mix with the Continentals, but my former letters were so
positive, and my late precautions are so multiplied that. I hope the
precious part of the stores will have been removed to a safer place. I
had also some stores removed from Orange Court House. Dispatches from
the Governor to me have fallen into the enemies' hands; of which I gave
him and the Baron immediate notice.
The report of an insurrection in Hampshire county, and the hurry of
Lord Cornwallis to communicate the copy of a Cartel with you where it
is settled the prisoners will be sent by such a time to Jamestown, are
motives that gave me some suspicions of a project towards the
Convention troops. The number of the rebels is said to be 700--Gen.
Morgan has marched against them; I think the account is pretty well
authenticated tho' it is not official.--Having luckily opened a letter
from the Board of War, to the Governor whereby the Convention troops
are ordered to New England, I sent a copy of it to Col. Wood and
requested an immediate execution of the order. This motive and the
apprehension that I might be interrupted in a junction with Gen. Wayne
have induced me particularly to attend to our re-union, an event that
was indispensable to give us a possibility to protect some part or
other of this state. I was until lately ignorant of your orders, that
the new Continentals and militia under Baron de Steuben be united with
this part of your army, and the Baron intended shortly to march to the
southward.--When united to Gen. Wayne 1 shall be better able to command
my own movements and those of the other troops in this
state.--Had this expected junction taken place sooner, matters would
have been very different.
The enemy must have five hundred men mounted and their Cavalry
increases daily. It is impossible in this country to take horses out of
their way, and the neglect of the inhabitants, dispersion of houses,
and robberies of negroes, (should even the most vigorous measures have
been taken by the Civil authority) would have yet put many horses into
their hands. Under this cloud of light troops it is difficult to
reconnoitre as well as counteract any rapid movements they choose to
make. I have the honor to be with great respect, &c.
TO GENERAL GREENE,
Allen's Creek, 22 miles from Richmond, Jane 18th, 1781.
SIR,--The enemy's position at Cooke's ford enabled them either to
return to James River or to gain our northern communication. The arms
and other precious stores arriving from Philadelphia, the importance of
a junction with Gen. Wayne, and other strong reasons mentioned in my
last, made it my first object to check the further progress of Lord
Cornwallis. Some stores at the forks of James River were under the care
of the major general, the Baron de Steuben, who had five hundred
regulars of the Virginia new levies, and some militia.
Col. Tarlton's legion having pressed for Charlottesville, where the
Assembly were sitting, was disappointed in his purpose by proper
information being given them. One hundred and fifty arms, however, and
a small quantity of powder fell into the enemy's hands.
A detachment under Col. Simcoe said to be four hundred dragoons and
mounted infantry, proceeded to the point of Fork, of which the Baron de
Steuben received notice. Both his men and stores were transported to
the south branch when the Baron marched to Etaunton River. Simcoe threw
over a few men which destroyed what stores had been left. He hazarded a
great deal, but our loss was inconsiderable.
In the meantime the British army was moving to the point of Fork, with
intention to strike our magazines at Albermarle old Court House. Our
force was not equal to their defence, and a delay of our junction would
have answered the views of the enemy. But on the arrival of the
Pennsylvanians we made forced marches towards James River, and on our
gaining the South Anna we found Lord Cornwallis encamped some miles
below the point of Fork. A stolen march through a difficult road gave
us a position upon Michunk Creek, between the enemy and our magazines,
where, agreeable to appointment, we were joined by a body of riflemen.
The next day Lord Cornwallis retired towards Richmond (where he now is)
and was followed by our small army.
I have directed General Steuben to return this way and a junction will
be formed as soon as his distance permits.
With the highest regard, &c., &c.
P. S. The following is an extract of a letter just now received from
James Barron, Commodore, dated Warwick, 9 miles from Hampton, June
"At five o'clock this afternoon anchored in the road from sea, 35 sail
of the enemies' vessels; viz: 24 ships, 10 brigs and one schooner,
which I take to be the fleet that sailed from hence 13 days ago. Only 4
appear to have troops on board."
TO GENERAL GREENE.
Mr. Tyter's plantation, 20 miles from Williamsburg, 27th June, 1781.
SIR,--My letter of the 18th, informed you of the enemy's retrograde
movement to Richmond, where they had made a stop. Our loss at the point
of Fork chiefly consisted of old arms out of repair and some cannon,
most of which have been since recovered.
On the 18th the British Army moved towards us with design as I
apprehend to strike at a detached corps commanded by Gen. Muhlenberg,
upon this the light Infantry and Pennsylvanians marched under Gen.
Wayne when the enemy retired into town. The day following I was joined
by Gen. Steuben's troops, and on the night of the 20th Richmond was
evacuated. Having followed the enemy our light parties fell in with
them near New Kent Court House, the army was still at a distance and
Lord Cornwallis continued his route towards Williamsburg; his rear and
right flank were covered by a large corps commanded by Col. Simcoe. I
pushed forward a detachment under Col. Butler, but notwithstanding a
fatiguing march the colonel reports that he could not have overtaken
them, had not Major McPherson mounted 50 light infantry behind an equal
number of dragoons, which coming up with the enemy charged them within
six miles of Williamsburg; such of the advance corps as could arrive to
their support, composed of riflemen under Major Call and Major Willis
began a smart action. Inclosed is the return of our loss. That of the
enemy is about 60 killed and 100 wounded, including several officers, a
disproportion which the skill of our riflemen easily explains. I am
under great obligations to Col. Butler and the officers and men of the
detachment for their ardor in the pursuit and their conduct in the
action. Gen. Wayne who had marched to the support of Butler, sent down
some troops under Major Hamilton. The whole British army came out to
save Simcoe, and on the arrival of our army upon this ground returned
to Winsburg. The post they occupy at present is strong and under
protection of their shipping, but upwards of one hundred miles from the
point of Fork.
I had the honor to communicate these movements to the executive of the
state that the seat of government might be again re-established in the
capital. Lord Cornwallis has received a reinforcement from Portsmouth.
With the greatest respect I have the honor to be.
TO GENERAL GREENE.
Ambler's Plantation, opposite Jamestown, 8 July, 1781.
SIR,--On the 4th inst. the enemy evacuated Williamsburg where some
stores fell into our hands, and retired to this place under the cannon
of their shipping. Next morning we advanced to Bird's tavern, and a
part of the army took post at Norrel's mill about nine miles from the
The 6th I detached an advanced corps under Gen. Wayne with a view of
reconnoitering the enemy's situation. Their light parties being drawn
in the pickets which lay close to their encampment were gallantly
attacked by some riflemen whose skill was employed to great effect.
Having ascertained that Lord Cornwallis had sent off his baggage under
a proper escort and posted his army in an opened field fortified by the
shipping, I returned to the detachment which I found more generally
engaged. A piece of cannon had been attempted by the van guard under
Major Galvan whose conduct deserves high applause.--Upon this the whole
British army came out and advanced to the thin wood occupied by General
Wayne.--His corps chiefly composed of Pennsylvanians and some light
infantry did not exceed eight hundred men with three field pieces. But
notwithstanding their numbers, at sight of the British the troops ran
to the rencontre. A short skirmish ensued with a close, warm, and well
directed firing, but as the enemy's right and left of course greatly
outflanked ours, I sent General Wayne orders to retire half a mile to
where Col. Vose's and Col. Barber's light infantry battalions had
arrived by a rapid move, and where I directed them to form. In this
position they remained till some hours in the night. The militia under
Gen. Lawson had been advanced, and the continentals were at Norrel's
mill when the enemy retreated during the night to James Island, which
they also evacuated, crossing over to the south side of the river.
Their ground at this place and the island were successively occupied by
General Muhlenberg. Many valuable horses were left on their retreat.
From every account the enemy's loss has been very great and much pains
taken to conceal it. Their light infantry, the brigade of guards and
two British regiments formed the first line, the remainder of the army
the second; the cavalry were drawn up but did not charge.
By the inclosed return you will see what part of Gen. Wayne's
detachment suffered most. The services rendered by the officers make me
happy to think that altho' many were wounded we lost none. Most of the
field officers had their horses killed, and the same accident to every
horse of two field pieces made it impossible to move them, unless men
had been sacrificed. But it is enough for the glory of Gen. Wayne and
the officers and men he commanded to have attacked the whole British
army with a reconnoitering party only, close to their encampment, and
by this severe skirmish hastened their retreat over the river.--
Col. Bowyer of the riflemen is a prisoner.--
I have the honor to be, &e,
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Mrs. Ruffin's, August 20th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL--Independent of the answer to your letter of the 15th,
I have been very particular in a second letter intrusted to Col.
Moriss. But at this moment wish to send you minuted and repeated
accounts of every thing that passes in this quarter.
The enemy have evacuated their forts at Troy, Kemp's Landing, Great
Bridge, and Portsmouth. Their vessels with troops and baggage went
round to York. Some cannon have been left spiked up at Portsmouth; but
I have not yet received proper returns.
I have got some intelligences by the way of this servant I have once
mentioned. A very sensible fellow was with him, and from him as well as
deserters, I hear that they begin fortifying at York. They are even
working by a windmill at which place I understand they will make a fort
and a battery for the defence of the river. I have no doubt but that
something will be done on the land side. The works at Gloster are
finished; they consist of some redoubts across Gloster creek and a
battery of 18 pieces beating the river.
The enemy have 60 sails of vessels into York river, the largest a 50
gun ship and two 36 frigates.--About seven other armed vessels, the
remainder are transports, some of them still loaded and a part of them
very small vessels. It appears they have in that number merchantmen,
some of whom are Dutch prizes. The men of war are very thinly manned.
On board the other vessels there are almost no sailors.
The British army had been sickly at Portsmouth, the air of York begins
to refit them. The whole cavalry have crossed on the Gloster side
yesterday evening, a movement of which I gave repeated accounts to the
militia there; but the light infantry and main body of the militia are
at this place, Gen. Wayne on the road to Westover, and we may form our
junction in one day. I keep parties upon the enemy's lines. The works
at Portsmouth are levelling. The moment I can get returns and plans l
will send them to your Excellency. The evacuation of a post fortified
with much care and great expense will convince the people abroad that
the enemy cannot hold two places at once.--The Maryland troops were to
have set out on Monday last. There is in this quarter an immense want
of clothing of every sort, arms, ammunition, hospital stores, and horse
accoutrements. Should a maritime superiority be expected, I would
propose to have all those matters carried from Philadelphia to the head
The numbers of the British army fit for duty I _at least_ would
estimate at 4500, rank and file. Their sailors I cannot judge but by
intelligences of the number of vessels. In a word this part affords the
greatest number of regulars and the only active army to attack, which
having had no place of defence must be less calculated for it than any
garrison either at New York or in Carolina.
With the highest respect and most sincere affection, &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Holt's Forge, September the 1st, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL.--I am happy to inform your Excellency that Count de
Grasse's fleet is safely arrived in this bay; it consists of 28 ships
of the line with several frigates and convoys a considerable body of
troops under Marquis de St. Simon.--Previous to their arrival such
positions had been taken by our army as to prevent the enemy's
retreating towards Carolina.
In consequence of your Excellency's orders I had the honor to open a
correspondence with the French Generals, and measures have been taken
for a junction of our troops.--
Lord Cornwallis is still on York river and is fortifying himself in a
With the highest respect I have the honor to be,~
1. See answer of Washington, Sparks's Writ. of Wash. v. 8. p. 156.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp Williamsburg, Sept. 8th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL.--Your letter of the 2d September is just come to hand.
Mine of yesterday mentioned that the ships in York river had gone down.
Inclosed is the account of an engagement off the capes. What
disposition has been made for the internal protection of the bay, I do
not know. James river is still guarded, but we have not as yet received
any letter from Count de Grasse relative to his last movements. I
hasten to communicate them as your Excellency will probably think it
safer to keep the troops at the Head of Elks until Count de Grasse
returns. Indeed, unless the greatest part of your force is brought
here, a small addition can do but little more than we do effect. Lord
Cornwallis will in a little time render himself very respectable.
I ardently wish your whole army may be soon brought down to operate.
We will make it our business to reconnoitre the enemy's works and give
you on your arrival the best description of it that is in our power. I
expect the governor this evening and will again urge the necessity of
providing what you have recommended.
By a deserter from York I hear that two British frigates followed the
French fleet and returned after they had seen them out of the capes. A
spy says that two schooners supposed to be French have been seen coming
up York river, but we have nothing so certain as to insure your voyage,
tho' it is probable Count de Grasse will soon return.
I beg leave to request, my dear General, in your answer to the Marquis
de St. Simon you will express your admiration at this celerity of their
landing and your sense of their cheerfulness in submitting to the
difficulties of the first moments. Indeed I would be happy something
might also be said to Congress on the subject.
Your approbation of my conduct emboldens me to request that Gen.
Lincoln will of course take command of the American part of your army;
the division I will have under him may be composed of the troops which
have gone through the fatigues and dangers of the Virginia campaign;
this will be the greatest reward of the services I may have rendered,
as I confess I have the strongest attachment to these troops.
With the highest respect I have the honor to be,~
1. See Letter of Washington, Sparks's Writ. of Wash. v. 8. p. 157. A
plan of operations in Virginia at p. 158.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Williamsburg, 10 Sept. 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Gourion is just arrived, he says you may be on your
way. We hasten to send to the commanding naval officer in the bay.
Hitherto I had no way to write to you by water, but Count de Grasse
being at sea we request the officer he has left to have every
precaution taken for the safety of navigation. It is probable they are
taken, but I would have been too uneasy had I not added this measure to
those that have been probably adopted.
I wrote several letters to you; the surprising speedy landing of the
French troops under the Marquis de St. Simon; our junction at
Williamsburg; the unremitted ardor of the enemy in fortifying at York;
the sailing of Count de Grasse in pursuit of 16 sail of the line, of
the British fleet, were the most principal objects. I added we were
short of flour, might provide cattle enough. I took the liberty to
advise James River as the best to land in, the particular spot referred
to a more particular examination, the result of which we shall send
Excuse the haste that I am in, but the idea of your being in a cutter
leaves me only the time to add that I am, &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp before York, September 30th, 1781.
My Dear General--You have been so often pleased to ask I would give my
opinion on any subject that may occur, that I will this day take the
liberty to mention a few articles.
I am far from laughing at the idea of the enemy's making a retreat. It
is not very probable, but it is not impossible, indeed they have no
other way to escape; and since we cannot get ships at York I would be
still more afraid of a retreat by West Point than any thing else. The
French hussars remaining here, our dragoons and some infantry might be
stationed somewhere near West Point, rather on the north side. I see
the service is much done by details, and to use your permission would
take the liberty to observe that when the siege is once begun it might
be more agreeable to the officers and men to serve as much as possible
by whole battalions. Col. Scamel is taken: his absence I had accounted
for by his being officer of the day. I am very sorry we lose a valuable
officer, but tho' Col. Scamel's being officer of the day has been a
reason for his going in front, I think it would be well to prevent the
officers under the rank of generals or field officers reconnoitering
for the safety of their commands from advancing so near the enemy's
There is a great disproportion between Huntington's and Hamilton's
battalions. Now that Scamel is taken we might have them made equal and
put the eldest of the two Lieutenant Colonels upon the right of the
I have these past days wished for an opportunity to speak with your
Excellency on Count de Grasse's demand relative to Mr. de Barrass's
fleet. This business being soon done, we may think of Charleston, at
least of the harbor or of Savannah. I have long and seriously thought
of this matter but would not be in a hurry to mention it until we knew
how long this will last. However it might be possible to give Count de
Grasse an early hint of it in case you agree with him upon the winterly
departure of the whole fleet for the West Indies. One of my reasons to
wish troops (tho' not in great number) to be sent to Glocester county
by way of West Point is that for the first days it will embarrass any
movement of the enemy up the river or up the country on either side,
and when it is in Glocester county it may be thought advantageous by a
respectable regular force to prevent the enemy's increasing their works
there and giving us the trouble of a second operation, and in the same
time it will keep from York a part of the British forces.
With the highest respect and most sincere affection I have the honor to
1. For a "Plan of the Siege of Yorktown," see Spark's Writ. of Wash.
v.8. p. 186.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
November 29th, 1781
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Inclosed you will find some numbers, a copy of which
I have kept, and which contains some names that may probably occur in
our correspondence. I need not tell you, my dear General, that I will
be happy in giving you every intelligence in my power and reminding you
of the most affectionate friend you can ever have.
The goodness you had to take upon yourself the communicating to the
Virginia army the approbation of Congress appears much better to me
than my writing to the scattered part of the body I had the honor to
command. Give me leave, my dear General, to recall to your memory the
peculiar situation of the troops who being already in Virginia were
deprived of the month's pay given to the others. Should it be possible
to do something for them it would give me great satisfaction.
I will have the honor to write to you from Boston, my dear General, and
would be very sorry to think this is my last letter. Accept however
once more the homage of the respect and of the affection that render me
* * * * *
A SUMMARY OF THE CAMPAIGN OF 1781,
TO SERVE AS EXPLANATION TO THE MAP.
After the combat of MM. Destouches and Arbuthnot, the project on
Portsmouth was abandoned: the French sailed for Rhode Island; the
militia were dismissed, the regular troops proceeded to the north.
Arnold was afterwards reinforced by Major-general Phillips, and the
conquest of Virginia became the true object of the English during this
campaign. The allied army, under the Generals Washington and
Rochambeau, proceeded towards New York; that of General Greene attacked
the posts which had been left in Carolina, both about five hundred
miles from Richmond: Major-general the Marquis de Lafayette was charged
with defending Virginia.
_April_ and _May_.--From preparations made at Portsmouth, he conceives
that the capital was the proposed aim; a forced march of his corps from
Baltimore to Richmond, about two hundred miles; he arrives in the
evening of the 29th of April; the enemy had reached Osborn; the small
corps of militia assemble in the night at Richmond; the next morning
the enemy at Manchester, seeing themselves forestalled, re-embark at
Bermuda Hundred, and re-descend James River.
The Americans at Bottom's Bridge, a detached corps in Williamsburg;
General Phillips receives an _aviso_, and re-ascends the river, landing
at Brandon; second reinforcement from New York; Lord Cornwallis, who
was reported to have embarked at Charlestown, advances through North
The Americans at Osborn, to establish a communication on James and
Appomattox, are forestalled by the march of Phillips to Petersburg, the
10th, at Wilton; the 18th, canonading and reconnoitring, on Petersburg,
which, by assembling on one point, the hostile parties permit a convoy
to file off for Carolina; the 20th, at Richmond; junction of Lord
Cornwallis with the troops of Petersburg; the great disproportion of
the American corps, the impossibility of commanding the navigable
rivers, and the necessity of keeping the important side of James River,
do not allow any opposition.
Having sent a portion of the troops to Portsmouth, Lieutenant-general
Lord Cornwallis selected for himself an army of about five thousand
men, three hundred dragoons, and three hundred light horsemen; crosses
to Westover. The Americans had only about three thousand men, formed of
one thousand two hundred regulars, fifty dragoons, and two thousand
militia. All the important forces had evacuated Richmond; our troops at
Wintson's Bridge; a rapid march of the two corps, the enemies to engage
an action, the Americans to avoid it, and retain the heights of the
country with the communication of Philadelphia, which is equally
necessary to our army and to the existence of that of Carolina.
_June_.--The magazines of Fredericksburg are evacuated; the Americans
at Mattapony Church; the enemy at Chesterfield Tavern; heavy rains,
which will render the Rapid Ann impassable; Lord Cornwallis marches to
engage the front; our troops hasten their march, and repair to Racoon
Ford, to await General Wayne, with a regular corps of Pennsylvanians.
Despairing of being able to engage in action, or cut off the
communication between Wayne and Philadelphia, Lord Cornwallis changes
his own purpose,and endeavours to defeat that of the Americans; he
suddenly directs his movements against the great magazines of Albemarle
Court House; a detachment of dragoons strives to carry off the Assembly
of State at Charlottesville, but does not accomplish this end; another
detachment bore upon Point-of-Fork, where General Steuben formed six or
seven hundred recruits; he evacuated that point, and thought he ought
to retire in the direction of Carolina; some objects of slight
importance are destroyed. The passage of the Rapid Ann was necessary,
to avoid being embarrassed by Lord Cornwallis; the communication with
Philadelphia was indispensable. It was impossible to hope, even by
fighting, to prevent the destruction of the magazines before the
junction with the Pennsylvanians. Lafayette takes, therefore, the
resolution of waiting for them, and, as soon as they arrive, regains
the enemy with forced marches.
The 12th, the Americans at Boswell's Tavern; Lord Cornwallis has
reached Elk Island. The common road, which it is necessary for him to
cross to place himself above the enemy, passes at the head of Bird's
Creek; Lord Cornwallis carries thither, his advance-guard, and expects
to fall upon our rear; the Americans repair, during the night, a road
but little known, and, concealing their march, take a position at
Mechunck Creek, where, according to the orders given, they are joined
by six hundred mountaineers. The English general, seeing the magazines
covered, retires to Richmond, and is followed by our army.
Various manoeuvres of the two armies; the Americans are rejoined by
General Steuben, with his recruits; their force then consists of two
thousand regulars, and three thousand two hundred militia. Lord
Cornwallis thinks he must evacuate Richmond; the 20th, the Marquis de
Lafayette follows him, and retains a posture of defence, seeking to
manoeuvre, and avoiding a battle. The enemy retires on Williamsburg,
six miles from that town; their rear-guard is attacked in an
advantageous manner by our advanced corps under Colonel Butler. Station
taken by the Americans at one march from Williamsburg.
_July_.--Various movements, which end by the evacuation of
Williamsburg; the enemy at Jamestown. Our army advances upon them; the
6th, a sharp conflict between the hostile army and our advance-guard
under General Wayne, in front of Green Spring: two pieces of cannon
remain in their hands; but their progress is arrested by a
reinforcement of light infantry; the same night they retire upon James
Island, afterwards to Cobham, on the other side of James River, and
from thence to their works at Portsmouth.
Colonel Tarleton is detached into Amelia County; the generals Morgan
and Wayne march to cut him off; he abandons his project, burns his
wagons, and retires with precipitation. The enemy remaining in
Portsmouth, the American army takes a healthy station upon Malvan Hill,
and reposes after all its labour.
_August_.--The Americans refusing to descend in front of Portsmouth, a
portion of the English army embarks and proceeds by water to Yorktown
and Gloucester. General Lafayette takes a position at the Fork of
Pamunkey and Mattapony River, having a detached corps upon both sides
of York River. The Pennsylvanians and some new levies receive orders to
remain on James River, and think them selves intended for Carolina. An
assembly of militia on Moratie or Roanoke River; the fords and roads
south of James River destroyed on various pretence; movements to occupy
the attention of the enemy. As in the event prepared by Lafayette, the
means of escape would remain to the garrison of Portsmouth, Lafayette
threatened that point. General O'Hara thinks he ought to nail up thirty
pieces of cannon, and join the largest part of the army. The whole was
scarcely united, when the Count de Grasse appears at the entrance of
Chesapeak Bay. General Wayne crosses the river, and places himself in
such a manner as to arrest the enemy's march, if he should attempt to
retreat towards Carolina. The French admiral is waited for at Cape
Henry by an aide-de-camp of Lafayette, to report to him the respective
situations of the land troops, and ask him to make the necessary
movements to cut off all retreat to the enemy. He anchors at Cape
Henry, sends three vessels to York River, and fills James River with
frigates; the Marquis de Saint Simon, with three thousand men, lands at
James Island or Jamestown.
_September_.--The river thus defended, General Wayne receives the order
to cross it; the Marquis de Lafayette marches upon Williamsburg, and
assembles together, in a good position, the combined troops, to the
number of seven thousand three hundred men. He had left one thousand
rive hundred militia in the county of Gloucester, and sends to hasten
some troops coming from the north. This station, which closes all
retreat to Lord Cornwallis, (our advance posts nine miles from York,)
is retained from the 4th to the 28th of September. Lord Cornwallis
reconnoitres the position of Lafayette, and despairs of forcing it.
The 6th September, the Count de Grasse, quitting the defended rivers,
goes out with the remainder of his fleet, pursues Admiral Hood, who had
presented himself, beats him, and sinks the _Terror_; he takes the
_Iris_ and _Richmond_ frigates; the 13th, he joins, in the bay, the
squadron of M. de Barras, which had sailed from Rhode Island, with
eight hundred men and the French artillery: the fleet of the Count de
Grasse consists, at this period, of thirty eight ships of the line.
Admiral de Grasse and General Saint Simon, commanders of the French
under Lafayette, urge him to attack Lord Cornwallis and offer him a
reinforcement from the ship garrisons. He prefers acting on more secure
grounds, and waiting for the troops from the north. General Washington
succeeded in reality, in completely deceiving General Clinton as to his
intentions; he was advancing towards Virginia with an American
detachment, and the army of the Count de Rochambeau embarked at the
head of the Chesapeak; they proceeded upon transports, to Williamsburg.
The 28th, they march upon New York, and the combined army commences
investing it; the 29th, reconnoitring the place; the 30th, the enemy
evacuates the advance posts, and retires into the works of York.
_October_.--The 1st, a new reconnoitre; the 3rd, a skirmish between the
legion of the Duke of Lauzun and that of Tarleton, in which the former
gained the advantage. That legion and eight hundred men from the ships
under M. de Choisy, had joined the militia at Gloucester. The night of
the 6th, the trenches were opened; that of the 11th, the second
parallel. The night of the 14th, the redoubts of the enemy's left were
taken, sword in hand, the one by the grenadiers and French light
horsemen, the other by the light infantrymen of the Americans. The
first directed by the Baron de Viomenil, a field-marshal; the 2nd by
the Marquis de Lafayette. The morning of the 17th, Lord Cornwallis
asked to capitulate; that same evening the firing ceased. The English
Army, reduced to eight thousand men, comprising 900 militia gave
themselves as prisoners of war.
* * * * *
TO THE COUNT DE VERGENNES.
Havre, 18th July, 1779.
SIR,--You ask me for some ideas respecting an expedition to America. As
it is not a fixed plan which you require, nor a memorial addressed in
form to the ministry, it will be the more easy to comply with your
The state of America, and the new measures which the British appear to
be adopting, render this expedition more than ever necessary. Deserted
coasts, ruined ports, commerce checked, fortified posts whence
expeditions are sent, all seem to call for our assistance, both by sea
and land. The smallest effort made now, would have more effect on the
people than a great diversion at a more distant period; but besides the
gratitude of the Americans, and particularly of the oppressed states, a
body of troops would insure us a great superiority on that continent.
In short, sir, without entering into tedious details, you know that my
opinions on this point have never varied, and my knowledge of this
country convinces me, that such an expedition, if well conducted, would
not only succeed in America, but would be of very essential service to
our own country.
Besides the advantage of gaining the affection of the Americans, and
that of concluding a good peace, France should seek to curtail the
means of approaching vengeance. On this account it is extremely
important to take Halifax; but as we should require foreign aid, this
enterprise must be preceded by services rendered to different parts of
the continent; we should then receive assistance, and, under pretext of
invading Canada, we should endeavour to seize Halifax, the magazine and
bulwark of the British navy in the new world.
Well aware that a proposition on a large scale would not be acceded to,
I will diminish, as much as possible, the necessary number of troops. I
will say four thousand men, a thousand of them to be grenadiers and
chasseurs; to whom I will add two hundred dragoons and one hundred
hussars, with the requisite artillery. The infantry should be divided
into full battalions, commanded by lieutenant-colonels. If commissions
of higher rank should be desired for the older officers, you are aware
that the minister of marine has it in his power to bestow such, as when
the expedition returns to Europe, will have no value in the land
service. We want officers who can deny themselves, live frugally,
abstain from all airs, especially a quick, peremptory manner, and who
can relinquish, for one year, the pleasures of Paris. Consequently we
ought to have few colonels and courtiers, whose habits are in no
I would ask, then, for four thousand three hundred men, and, as I am
not writing to the ministry, allow me, for greater ease in speaking, to
suppose myself for a moment the commander of this detachment. You are
sufficiently acquainted with my principles to know that I shall not
court the choice of the king. Although I have commanded, with some
success, a larger body of troops, and I frankly confess I feel myself
capable of leading them, yet my intention is not to put forth my own
claims; but to answer for the actions of a stranger would be a folly,
and as, setting talents apart, it is on the political conduct of the
leader, the confidence of the people and of the American army, that
half the success must depend, I am obliged, reluctantly, to set forth a
character that I know, in order to establish my reasonings upon some
Leaving this digression, I come to the embarkation of these four
thousand three hundred men. As the coasts of Normandy and Brittany have
been much harassed, I should propose sailing from the Island of Aix;
troops and provisions might be obtained in the vicinity. The ports
between Lorient and the channel would furnish transport vessels.~
Lorient has some merchant ships of a pretty large burthen. The caracks
of the channel are still larger, and these vessels have, moreover, guns
of large calibre, which may be of use, either in battle, or in
silencing batteries onshore; besides, they might be ready in a very
short time. I would embark the soldiers, a man to every two tons, and
would admit the dragoons, with their cavalry equipage only. There are
many details I would give if the project be decided upon, but would be
superfluous to mention here. After the experience of Count d'Estaing,
who found himself straitened with biscuit for four months, and flour
for two, I would take the latter, adding biscuit for six months, which
would make in all eight months' provision for the marine and the
troops. As to our escort, that must be decided upon by the marine; but
our transports being armed vessels, three ships of the line, one of
fifty guns for the rivers, three frigates and two cutters, would appear
to me to be more than sufficient. As the expedition is especially a
naval one, the commander of the squadron should be a man of superior
abilities; his character, his patriotism, are important points. I have
never seen M. de Guichen, but the reports I have heard of his worth and
modesty prepossess me strongly in his favour. Being then at the Island
of Aix with our detachment, and the squadron that is to transport it,
the next question is how to act, and our movements must depend entirely
upon circumstances. According to the first project, we were to sail by
the first of September, and by the second to remain here until the last
of January;~ it might, however, be possible to sail in October. This
even appears to me better than remaining until the close of January;
but the different operations are included in the other plan. The
enemy's fleet is to be reinforced, and, as we are assured that four or
five weeks' preparation will be sufficient for the transports and the
troops, there is nothing unreasonable in forming our projects for this
autumn, and even for the month of September.
The advantages of commencing our operations in that month would be,
first, to deprive the enemy of Rhode Island; secure to ourselves, till
spring, a fine island and harbour, and have it in our power to open the
campaign when we please. Secondly, to establish our superiority in
America before the winter negotiations. Thirdly, if peace should be
desired, to place an important post in our side of the balance.
Fourthly, in case the enemy should have extended their forces over any
one of the states, to drive them away with the more ease, as we should
take them by surprise.
A few days before our departure, and not sooner (to prevent the
consequences of an indiscretion), three corvettes should be despatched
to America, with letters to M. de Luzerne, to congress, and to General
Washington. We might write that the king, desiring to serve his allies,
and agreeably to the requests of Dr. Franklin, intends sending some
vessels to America, and, with them, a body of land forces; and that, if
congress is in want of their assistance, they will willingly lend their
aid to General Washington, but otherwise they will proceed to the
Islands: This form will be perfectly appropriate. On any part, I would
write, in my capacity of an American officer, more detailed letters to
congress, and to General Washington. To the latter I would say,
confidentially, that we have almost a _carte blanche_, and unfold my
plans, and request him to make the necessary preparations. It should be
reported at our departure that we are destined as a garrison to one of
the Antilles, while the troops of these islands act on the offensive,
and that, in the summer, we shall be ordered to attempt a revolution in
The squadron sailing before the 10th of September, would arrive at
Sandy Hook, off the coast of Jersey, early in November, one of the
finest months of the year in independent America. Our fleet would then
seem to threaten New York, and we should find, on our arrival, pilots
for different destinations, and the necessary signals and counter
signs.~ If Rhode Island should be the proper point of attack, of
which I have no doubt, we would steer southward towards evening,
and, putting about during the night, land at Block Island, and lay
siege to Newport.
There are some continental troops, who might reach Bristol in a day.
There are militia at Tivertown, who might also be mustered. Greenwich
having also a body of troops, must have flat-bottomed boats; those at
Sledge Ferry would be sent down. All these we should find on the spot.
To escape the inconveniences experienced the last year, the naval
commander should send, without a moment's delay, two frigates, to
occupy the eastern channel, and force the middle one, a thing of
trifling danger. The vessels found there should be destroyed; and as
the enemy usually leave at Conanicut Island a body of from six to
fifteen hundred men, we might easily seize it, and make our land
rendezvous there. If the wind should be favourable, the vessels might
return the same night, or the end of the squadron might join them; all
these manoeuvres, however, will depend on circumstances. Thus much is
certain, that the same wind which brings us to land will enable us to
make ourselves masters of the eastern channel, so as to assist the
Americans at Bristol and Tivertown, and, if possible, to secure the
middle channel; at all events, however, it is easy to effect a landing
in the manner I describe.~
Newport is strongly fortified on the side towards the land, but all the
shore that is behind the town offers great facilities for landing; it
is, besides, too extensive to admit of being defended by batteries.
There the French troops might easily disembark, and, reaching at
day-break the heights which command the town and the enemy's lines,
might seize their outworks and storm all before there, protected, if
necessary, by the fire of the ships. The enemy, scattered and
confounded by these false attacks on both sides of the island, would
suppose that the system of the past year was re-adopted. The bolder
this manoeuvre appears, the more confident we may be of its success.
You are aware, moreover, that in war all depends on the moment; the
details of the attack would be quickly decided on the spot. I need only
say here, that my thorough knowledge of the island leads me to think
that, with the above mentioned number of troops, and a very slender co-
operation on the part of America, I might pledge myself to gain
possession of the island in a few days.~
As soon as we are in possession of the island, we must write to the
state of Rhode Island, offering to resign the place to the national
troops. Unless the state should prefer waiting for the opinion of
General Washington, our offer would be accepted, and we should be
invited to establish ourselves there during the winter. The batteries
upon Goat Island, Brenton's Point and Conanicut Island, would render
the passage of the harbour the more secure to us, particularly with the
aid of our vessels, as the British are not strong enough to attack us
there, and would never attempt it in an unfavourable season. We should
be supported by the country, and although it is said to be difficult to
procure provisions, I should endeavour to preserve our naval stores,
and should obtain more resources than the American army itself.
The same letter that announces to congress our success in Rhode Island,
of which, as far as calculations may be relied on, there is little
doubt, should also mention our proposed voyage to the West Indies, and
inquire whether, our assistance is further needed. Their reply would
open to new fields of service, and, with their consent, we would leave
the sick in a hospital at Greenwich, and the batteries manned by the
militia, and proceed to Virginia. It might be hoped, without
presumption, that James River Point, if still occupied, would yield to
the united efforts of our troops and those of the Virginians. The bay
of Chesapeak would then be free, and that state might bend its whole
force against its western frontiers.~
It is impossible to estimate here the posts which the British occupy in
America. Georgia and Carolina appear to need our assistance, and the
precise operation against Rhode Island must be decided on the spot; but
to give a general idea, it is sufficient to say that the months of
December and January should be employed at the south. As the English
are obliged to station some of their vessels, frigates, merchant ships,
or transports, in each of their ports, they would amount in the whole
to a considerable loss.
In the month of February we would return to Newport, where we might
employ ourselves in interchanges with New York; and the French sailors,
exchanged for soldiers, might be sent under a flag of truce to M.
d'Orvillers. Political interests might be treated of with congress, and
the commander of the detachment go to Philadelphia to make arrangements
with the minister plenipotentiary for the next campaign, and to lay
some proposals before congress and General Washington. I should propose
sending for deputies from the different savage nations, making them
presents, endeavouring to gain them over from the side of the English,
and to revive in their hearts that ancient love of the French nation
which, at some future day, it may be important for us to possess.
It is needless to say here, that if we should wait until the month of
October, the season would be too far advanced to think of Rhode Island,
but the southern operations would be equally practicable, and their
success more certain, as we should take the enemy by surprise.
In that case, instead of proceeding to Newport, we should winter at
Boston, where we should be well received, and provided with every
accommodation. We could open the campaign when we pleased, and might
make preparations beforehand for a great expedition against Rhode
Island, procuring, at the same time, from the inhabitants of the ports
of the north of Boston, and especially that of Marble Head, all the
information they may have acquired about Halifax.
But let us suppose ourselves established at Newport. The campaign opens
by the close of April, and the British will be in no haste to quit New
York. The fear of leaving himself unprotected on our side will prevent
his executing any design against the forts on the North River. It may
even be in our power to assist General Washington in making an attack
on New York. Count d'Estaing, before his departure, thought that he had
discovered the possibility of a passage through the Sound. This
question I leave to naval officers; but, without being one myself, I
know that Long Island might be captured, the troops driven off, and,
whilst General Washington made a diversion on his side, batteries might
be erected that would greatly annoy the garrison of New York. At all
events, preparations should be made to act against Halifax in the month
of June. With the claims which the other expedition would give us, I
will pledge myself that we should be assisted in this by the Americans.
I could find at Boston, and in the northern parts, trust-worthy persons
who could go to Halifax for us, and procure all the necessary
information; the town of Marble Head, in particular, would furnish us
with excellent pilots. The inhabitants of the north of New Hampshire
and Cascobay should be assembled under the command of their general,
Stark, who gained the victory at Bennington, ready to march, if
circumstances require it, by the route of Annapolis. The country is
said to be inhabited by subjects ill affected to British government;
~ some of them have entered into a correspondence with the
Americans, and have given assurances that they will form a party in our
With regard to ourselves, I suppose that we sail the 1st of June, and
that we are accompanied by some continental frigates, and such private
vessels as might be collected in Boston. Congress would undoubtedly
furnish us with as many troops as we should require, and those very
brigades which lately belonged to my division, and whose sole object at
present is to keep the enemy at Rhode Island in check, having no longer
any employment, would be able to join us without impairing the main
army. They would come the more willingly, as the greater part of the
regiments belonging to the northern part of New England would be averse
to crossing the Hudson River, and would prefer a service more
advantageous to their own country.~ We should find at Boston cannon
and mortars. Others, if necessary, might be sent from Springfield, and
the corps of American artillery is tolerably good.
The enemy would suspect our designs the less, as their ideas run wholly
upon an invasion of Canada; the movements of the militia in the north
would be considered as a plan for uniting with us at Sorel, near the
River St. Francis, as we ascended the St. Lawrence: this opinion,
which, with a little address, might be strengthened, would awaken
apprehensions and excite disturbances at Quebec;~ and if a vessel of
war should by chance be at Halifax ready for sea, they would probably
despatch it to the threatened colony.
I have never seen the town of Halifax, but those persons who, before
the war, were in the English service, and had spent most of the time in
garrison, inform me that the great point is, to force to the right and
left the passage of George's Island, and that a landing might be
effected without difficulty, either on the side towards the eastern
battery, in order to seize that battery and Fort Sackville, or, which
appears to be a shorter way, on the side towards the town. The northern
suburb, where the magazines are, is but slightly defended. The basin,
where vessels are repaired, might also be secured. Several officers,
worthy of confidence, have assured me, that Halifax is built in the
form as of an amphitheatre; that all the houses might be cannonaded by
the vessels that had forced the passage, and in that case, the town
would compel the garrison to surrender. As the troops might destroy all
the works on the shore, and the vessels of war easily carry the
batteries on the islands, I am well persuaded, and the accounts of all
who have been there convince me still more, that Halifax would be
unable to withstand the united power of our forces and those of
The idea of a revolution in Canada is gratifying to all good Frenchmen;
and if political considerations condemn it, you will perceive that this
is to be done only by suppressing every impulse of feeling. The
advantages and disadvantages of this scheme demand a full discussion,
into which I will not at present enter. Is it better to leave in the
neighbourhood of the Americans an English colony, the constant source
of fear and jealousy, or to free our oppressed brethren, recover the
fur trade, our intercourse with the Indians, and the profit of our
ancient establishments, with out the expenses and losses formerly
attending them? Shall we throw into the balance of the new world a
fourteenth state, which would be always attached to us, and which, by
its situation, would give us a superiority in the troubles that may, at
some future day, agitate America? Opinions are very much divided on
this topic. I know yours, and my own is not unknown to you; I do not,
therefore, dwell on it, and consider it in no other light than as a
means of deceiving and embarrassing the enemy. If, however, it should
at any time be brought under consideration, it would be necessary to
prepare the people beforehand; and the knowledge which I was obliged to
obtain when a whole army was about to enter that country has enabled me
to form some idea of the means of succeeding there But to return to
Nova Scotia: part of the American troops, who will accompany us, and
such of the inhabitants as take up arms in our favour, might be left
there as a garrison. It would be easy to destroy or take possession of
the English establishments on the banks of Newfoundland, and after this
movement we should direct our course according to circumstances.
Supposing that we could return to Boston or Rhode Island during the
month of September, and that New York had not yet been taken, we might
still be enabled to assist General Washington. Otherwise St. Augustine,
the Bermudas, or some other favourable points of attack, might engage
our attention; on the other hand, if we should be ordered home, we
might reach France in three weeks or a month from the banks of
Newfoundland, and alarm the coasts of Ireland on our way.
If the September plan, which combines all advantages, appears too near
at hand, if it were decided even not to send us in October, it would be
necessary to delay our departure until the end of January. In this
case, as in the former, we should be preceded fifteen days only by
corvettes; we should pass the month of April in the south, attack Rhode
Island to May, and arrive at Halifax the last of June. But you are
aware that the autumn is, on many accounts, the most favourable time
for our departure; at all events, you will not accuse me of favouring
this opinion from interested motives, as a winter at Boston or Newport
is far from equivalent to one spent at Paris.~
These views, in obedience to your request, I have the honour to submit
to your judgment; I do not affect to give them the form of a regular
plan, but you will weigh the different schemes according to
circumstances. I trust that you will receive these remarks with the
greater indulgence, as my American papers, those respecting Halifax
excepted, are at Paris, and, consequently, almost all my references are
made from memory; beside, I did not wish to annoy you with details too
long for a letter, and if you are desirous to converse more freely on
the subject, the impossibility of leaving the port of Havre, at
present, will allow me time to spend three days at Versailles.
I am thoroughly convinced, and I cannot, without violating my
conscience, forbear repeating, that it is highly important for us to
send a body to America. If the United States should object to it, I
think it is our duty to remove their objections, and even to suggest
reasons for it. But on this head you will be anticipated, and Dr.
Franklin is only waiting a favorable occasion to make the propositions.
Even if the operations of the present campaign, with the efforts of
Count d'Estaing or some other fortunate accident should have given
affairs a favorable turn, there will be a sufficient field for us, and
one alone of the, proposed advantages would repay the trouble of
sending the detachment.
A very important point, and one on which I feel obliged to lay the
greatest stress, is the necessity of perfect and inviolable secrecy. It
is unnecessary to trust any person, and even the men who are most
actively employed in fitting out the detachment and the vessel need not
be informed of the precise intentions of government. At farthest, the
secret should be confided to the naval commander, and to the leader of
the land forces, and not even to them before the last moment.
It will certainly be said that the French will be coldly received in
that country, and regarded with a jealous eye in their army. I cannot
deny that the Americans are difficult to be dealt with, especially by
the Frenchmen; but if I were intrusted with the business, or if the
commander chosen by the king, acts with tolerable judgment, I would
pledge my life that all difficulties would be avoided, and that the
French troops would be cordially received.
For my own part, you know my sentiments, and you will never doubt that
my first interest is to serve my country. I hope, for the sake of the
public good, that you will send troops to America. I shall be
considered too young, I presume, to take the command, but I shall
surely be employed. If, in the arrangement of this plan, any one, to
whom my sentiments are less known than to yourself, in proposing for me
either the command or some inferior commission, should assign as a
reason, that I should thereby be induced to serve my country with more
zeal either in council or in action, I took the liberty (putting aside
the minister of the king) to request M. de Vergennes to come forward as
my friend, and to refuse, in my name, favors bestowed from motives so
inconsistent with my character.
I have the honor to be, &c.
1. I hear that you have, at Lorient, three vessels of the
India company, of forty guns and eight hundred tons. These caracks, if
I recollect rightly, are fifty-gun ships, of nine hundred and sixty
tons all number of vessels would be sufficient; they might soon be got
ready, and their force would diminish the required escort. As for
frigates, you will find in readiness, at Lorient, the _Alliance_, the
_Pallas_, and others. However, if you are determined to employ the
vessels which are fitted out, in the expedition against England, it
would be necessary to take ours from St. Malo in preference. (Note from
M. de Lafayette.)
2. Virginia and Carolina would be the scene of our operations during
the months of December and January, and we should pass the remainder of
the winter at Boston. I greatly prefer this project to waiting until
the last of January.
3. To deceive the enemy, pilots might be assembled from different
parts, under pretence of sending them to the Islands, at the request of
the French. This business, as well as the preparations and signals,
might be entrusted to a lieutenant-colonel of the royal corps of
engineers, an officer of great merit at the head of the American corps
of engineers, who, under cover of working to the fortifications of the
Delaware, might remain near Sandy Hook.
4. The frigates or vessels necessary to protect the landing, either
real or pretended, of the Americans, should anchor in those channels.
The enemy would then be obliged either to disperse among the forts, and
thereby to weaken their lines, or else to leave the field open to the
Americans, who, by a diversion upon the lines, would force the enemy to
have them fully manned, and prevent them attending to their rear.
5. It is necessary, however, to consider all the unfortunate
contingencies that may occur. If the expedition to Rhode Island should
be prevented, or if it should not succeed, or if nothing can be
attempted at New York, we ought then to proceed on our expeditions
against Virginia, or Georgia, or Carolina, and winter afterwards at
Boston, leaving Rhode Island to the next season, as proposed in our
plan of sailing in the month of October.
6. If the capture of the Bermudas, or some expedition of the kind,
should be considered necessary, the rest of the winter might be
employed in carrying it into effect.
7. The last time I was at Boston, I saw there a respectable man, a
member of the council in Nova Scotia, who had secretly entered into the
service of General Gates, and who assured us of the favourable
disposition of the inhabitants.
8. General Gates, who is popular in New England, and perfectly
acquainted with Halifax, has often proposed to make an expedition, in
concert, against that town, with French and American troops combined.
9. In the present harassed state of the English, I doubt if they will
have in port any vessel capable of joining the squadron.
10. I have not made any allowance for the diversion in the north, of
which, however, I feel certain, and if the troops should not go to
Annapolis, would, at least, compel a part of the British garrison, and
such of the inhabitants as adhered to the royal party, to remain in the
11. Fifteen hundred or two thousand select troops thrown into America
might aid General Washington, and enable him to act on the offensive,
by supplying him with good heads to his columns, and by uniting the
French with an American division for combined operations. This plan
would be of some use, but it appeared to me that you wished for one
offering results of greater importance.
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