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affairs of his rural establishment with as much exactness as he did those of the army.
It was a late hour when he arrived at Mount Vernon; where he was joined by his suite at dinner time on the following day and by the Count de Rochambeau in the evening. General Chastellux and his aides-de-camp arrived there on the 11th, and Mount Vernon was now crowded with guests, who were all entertained in the ample style of old Virginian hospitality. On the 12th, tearing himself away once more from the home of his heart, Washington with his military associates continued onward to join Lafayette at Williamsburg.
CORNWALLIS AROUSED TO HIS DANGER-HIS RETREAT TO THE CAROLINAS OUT OFF-STRENGTHENS HIS WORKS-ACTION BETWEEN THE FRENCH AND BRITISH FLEETS-WASHINGTON AND DE ROCHAMBEAU VISIT THE FRENCH FLEET OPERATIONS BEFORE YORKTOWN.
LORD CORNWALLIS had been completely roused from his dream of security by the appearance on the 28th of August, of the fleet of Count de Grasse within the capes of the Delaware. Three French ships of the line and a frigate soon anchored at the mouth of York River. The boats of the fleet were immediately busy conveying three thousand three hundred land forces, under the Marquis de St. Simon, up James River to form the preconcerted junction with those under Lafayette.
Awakened to his danger, Cornwallis, as Washington had foreseen, meditated a retreat to the Carolinas. It was too late. York River was blocked up by French ships; James River was filled with armed vessels covering the transportation of the troops. His lordship reconnoitred Williamsburg; it was too strong to be forced, and Wayne had crossed James River to join his troops to those under the marquis. Seeing his retreat
cut off in every direction, Cornwallis proceeded to strengthen his works; sending off repeated expresses to apprise Sir Henry Clinton of his perilous situation.
The Count de Grasse, eager to return to the West Indies, urged Lafayette to make an immediate attack upon the British army, with the American and French troops under his command, without waiting for the combined force under Washington and Rochambeau, offering to aid him with marines and sailors from the ships. The admiral was seconded by the Marquis de St. Simon. They represented that the works at Yorktown were yet incomplete; and that that place and Gloucester, immediately opposite, might be carried by storm by their superior force. It was a brilliant achievement which they held out to tempt the youthful commander, but he remained undazzled. He would not, for the sake of personal distinction, lavish the lives of the brave men confided to him; but would await the arrival of the combined forces, when success might be attained with little loss, and would leave to Washington the coup de grace; in all probability the closing triumph of the war.
The Count de Grasse had been but a few days anchored within the Chesapeake, and fifteen hundred of his seamen were absent, conveying the troops up James River, when Admiral Graves, who then commanded the British naval force on the American coast, appeared with twenty sail off the capes of Virginia. De Grasse, anxious to protect the squadron of the Count de Barras, which was expected from Rhode Island, and which it was the object of Graves to intercept, immediately slipped his cables and put to sea with twenty-four
1781]. BATTLE OF DE GRASSE AND GRAVES. 351
ships, leaving the rest to blockade York and James Rivers.
Washington received information of the sailing of the fleet from the capes, shortly after his departure from Mount Vernon, and instantly despatched missives, ordering the troops who were embarked at the Head of Elk to stop until the receipt of further intelligence, fearing that the navigation in Chesapeake Bay might not be secure. For two days he remained in anxious uncertainty, until, at Bowling Green, he was relieved by favorable rumors concerning the fleet, which were confirmed on his arriving at Williamsburg on the evening of the 14th.
Admiral Graves, it appeared, on the sallying forth of the French fleet, immediately prepared for action, although he had five ships less than De Grasse. The latter, however, was not disposed to accept the challenge, his force being weakened by the absence of so many of his seamen, employed in transporting troops. His plan was to occupy the enemy by partial actions and skilful manoeuvres, so as to retain his possession of the Chesapeake, and cover the arrival of De Barras.
The vans of the two fleets, and some ships of the centre, engaged about four o'clock in the afternoon of the 7th of September. The conflict soon became animated. Several ships were damaged, and many men killed and wounded on both sides.
De Grasse, who had the advantage of the wind, drew off after sunset; satisfied with the damage done and sustained and not disposed for a general action; nor was the British admiral inclined to push the engagement so near night and on a hostile coast. Among
his ships that had suffered, one had been so severely handled that she was no longer seaworthy and had to be burnt. For four days the fleets remained in sight of each other, repairing damages and manoeuvring; but the French having still the advantage of the wind maintained their prudent policy of avoiding a general engagement. At length De Grasse, learning that De Barras was arrived within the capes, formed a junction with him, and returned with him to his former anchoring ground, with two English frigates which he had captured. Admiral Graves, disappointed in his hope of intercepting De Barras, and finding the Chesapeake guarded by a superior force with which he could not prudently contend; having moreover to encounter the autumnal gales in the battered state of several of his ships, left the coast and bore away for New York. Under convoy of the squadron of De Barras came a fleet of transports, conveying land forces under M. de Choisy with siege artillery and military stores. It should be mentioned to the credit of De Barras that, in his orders from the French minister of marine to come to America, he was left at liberty to make a cruise on the banks of Newfoundland; so as not to be obliged to serve under De Grasse who was his inferior in rank, but whom the minister wished to continue in the command. "But De Barras," writes Lafayette, "nobly took the part of conducting, himself, the artillery from Rhode Island, and of coming with all his vessels and placing himself under the orders of an admiral his junior in service."
* Memoires de Lafayette, t. i. p. 467.