Slike strani

sea; anxious to ensure his capture, he advised that Destouches should send his whole fleet; and that De Rochambeau should embark about a thousand men on board of it, with artillery and apparatus for a siege; engaging, on his own part, to send off immediately a detachment of twelve hundred men to co-operate. "The destruction of the corps under the command of Arnold," writes he, "is of such immense importance to the welfare of the Southern States, that I have resolved to attempt it with the detachment I now send in conjunction with the militia, even if it should not be convenient for your Excellency to detach a part of your force; provided M. Destouches is able to protect our operations by such a disposition of his fleet as will give us the command of the bay, and prevent succors from being sent from New York."

Before the receipt of this letter, the French commanders, acting on their first impulse, had, about the 9th of February, detached M. de Tilly, with a sixty-gun ship and two frigates, to make a dash into the Chesapeake. Washington was apprised of their sailing just as he was preparing to send off the twelve hundred men spoken of in his letter to De Rochambeau. He gave the command of this detachment to Lafayette, instructing him to act in conjunction with the militia and the ships sent by Destouches, against the enemy's corps actually in Virginia. As the case was urgent, he was to suffer no delay, when on the march, for want either of provisions, forage, or waggons, but where ordinary means did not suffice, he was to resort to military impress. "You are to do no act whatever with Arnold," said the letter of instruction, "that directly or by implication may screen him from the punishment due to his treason and desertion, which, if he




should fall into your hands, you will execute in the most summary manner."

Washington wrote at the same time to the Baron Steuben, informing him of the arrangements, and requesting him to be on the alert. "If the fleet should have arrived before this gets to hand," said he, "secrecy will be out of the question; if not, you will conceal your expectations, and only seem to be preparing for defence. Arnold, on the appearance of the fleet, may endeavor to retreat through North Carolina. If you take any measure to obviate this, the precaution will be advisable. Should you be able to capture this detachment with its chief, it will be an event as pleasing as it will be useful."

Lafayette set out on his march on the 22d of February, and Washington was indulging the hope that, scanty as was the naval force sent to the Chesapeake, the combined enterprise might be successful, when, on the 27th, he received a letter from the Count de Rochambeau announcing its failure. De Tilly had made his dash into Chesapeake Bay, but Arnold had been apprised by the British Admiral Arbuthnot of his approach, and had drawn his ships high up Elizabeth River. The water was too shallow for the largest French ships to get within four leagues of him. One of De Tilly's frigates ran aground, and was got off with difficulty, and that commander, seeing that Arnold was out of his reach, and fearing to be himself blockaded should he linger, put to sea and returned to Newport; having captured during his cruise a British frigate of forty-four guns, and two privateers with their prizes.

The French commanders now determined to follow the plan suggested by Washington, and operate in the Chesapeake with their whole fleet and a detachment of land troops, being, as they

said, disposed to risk every thing to hinder Arnold from establishing himself at Portsmouth.

Washington set out for Newport to concert operations with the French commmanders. Before his departure, he wrote to Lafayette, on the 1st of March, giving him intelligence of these intentions, and desiring him to transmit it to the Baron Steuben. "I have received a letter," adds he, "from General Greene, by which it appears that Cornwallis, with twenty-five hundred men, was penetrating the country with very great rapidity, and Greene with a much inferior force retiring before him, having determined to pass the Roanoke. This intelligence, and an apprehension that Arnold may make his escape before the fleet can arrive in the bay, induces me to give you greater latitude than you had in your original instructions. You are at liberty to concert a plan with the French general and naval commander for a descent into North Carolina, to cut off the detachment of the enemy which had ascended Cape Fear River, intercept, if possible, Cornwallis, and relieve General Greene and the Southern States. This, - however, ought to be a secondary object, attempted in case of Arnold's retreat to New York; or in case his reduction should be attended with too much delay. There should be strong reasons to induce a change of our first plan against Arnold if he is still in Virginia.

Washington arrived at Newport on the 6th of March, and found the French fleet ready for sea, the troops eleven hundred strong, commanded by General the Baron de Viomenil, being already embarked.

Washington went immediately on board of the admiral's ship, where he had an interview with the Count de Rochambeau, and arranged the plan of the campaign. Returning on shore he was




received by the inhabitants with enthusiastic demonstrations of affection; and was gratified to perceive the harmony and good will between them and the French army and fleet. Much of this he attributed to the wisdom of the commanders, and the discipline of the troops, but more to magnanimity on the one part, and gratitude on the other; and he hailed it as a happy presage of lasting friendship between the two nations.

On the 8th of March, at ten o'clock at night, he writes to Lafayette: "I have the pleasure to inform you that the whole fleet went out with a fair wind this evening about sunset. We have not heard of any move of the British in Gardiner's Bay. Should we luckily meet with no interruption from them, and Arnold should continue in Virginia, until the arrival of M. Destouches, I flatter myself you will meet with that success which I most ardently wish, not only on the public, but your own


[ocr errors]

The British fleet made sail in pursuit, on the morning of the 10th; as the French had so much the start, it was hoped they would reach Chesapeake Bay before them. Washington felt the present to be a most importart moment. "The success of the expedition now in agitation," said he, "seems to depend upon a naval superiority, and the force of the two fleets is so equal, that we must rather hope for, than entertain an assurance of victory. The attempt, however, made by our allies to dislodge the enemy in Virginia, is a bold one, and should it fail, will nevertheless entitle them to the thanks of the public."

On returning to his head-quarters at New Windsor, Washington on the 20th of March found letters from General Greene, informing him that he had saved all his baggage, artillery, and stores, notwithstanding the hot pursuit of the enemy, and was

now in his turn following them, but that he was greatly in need of reinforcements.

"My regard for the public good, and my inclination to promote your success," writes Washington in reply, "will prompt me to give every assistance, and to make every diversion in your favor. But what can I do if I am not furnished with the means? From what I saw and learned while at the eastward, I am convinced the levies will be late in the field, and I fear far short of the requisition. I most anxiously wait the event of the present operation in Virginia. If attended with success, it may have the happiest influence on our southern affairs, by leaving the forces of Virginia free to act. For while there is an enemy in the heart of a country, you can expect neither men nor supplies from it, in that full and regular manner in which they ought to be given."

In the mean time, Lafayette with his detachment was pressing forward by forced marches for Virginia. Arriving at the Head of Elk on the 3d of March, he halted until he should receive tidings respecting the French fleet. A letter from the Baron Steuben spoke of the preparations he was making, and the facility of taking the fortifications of Portsmouth, "sword in hand." The youthful marquis was not so sanguine as the veteran baron. "Arnold," said he, "has had so much time to prepare, and plays so deep a game; nature has made the position so respectable, and some of the troops under his orders have been in so many actions, that I do not flatter myself to succeed so easily.” On the 7th he received Washington's letter of the 1st, apprising him of the approaching departure of the whole fleet with land forces. Lafayette now conducted his troops by water to Annapolis, and concluding, from the time the ships were to sail, and the winds which hal since prevailed, the French fleet must be

« PrejšnjaNaprej »