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1781.] VISIT TO THE FLEET OF DE GRASSE. 353
From Williamsburg, Washington sent forward Count Fersen, one of the aides-de-camp of De Rochambeau, to hurry on the French troops with all possible dispatch. He wrote to the same purport to General Lincoln: "Every day we now lose," said he, "is comparatively an age; as soon as it is in our power with safety we ought to take our position near the enemy. Hurry on then, my dear Sir, with your troops on the wings of speed. The want of our men and stores is now all that retards our immediate operations. Lord Cornwallis is improving every moment to the best advantage; and every day that is given him to make his preparations may cost us many lives to encounter them."
It was with great satisfaction Washington learned that Admiral de Barras had anticipated his wishes, in sending transports and prize vessels up the bay to assist in bringing on the French troops. In the mean time he with Count de Rochambeau was desirous of having an interview with the admiral on board of his ship, provided he could send some fast sailing cutter to receive them. A small ship, the Queen Charlotte, was furnished by the admiral for the purpose. It had been captured on its voyage from Charleston to New York, having Lord Rawdon on board, and had been commodiously fitted up for his lordship's reception.
On board of this vessel Washington and De Rochambeau, with the Chevalier de Chastellux and Generals Knox and Duportail, embarked on the 18th, and proceeding down James River, came the next morning in sight of the French fleet riding at anchor in Lynn
Haven Bay, just under the point of Cape Henry. About noon they got along side of the admiral's ship the Ville de Paris, and were received on board with great ceremony and naval and military parade. Admiral de Grasse was a tall, fine-looking man, plain in his address and prompt in the discharge of business. A plan of co-operation was soon arranged to be carried into effect on the arrival of the American and French armies from the north, which were actually on their way down the Chesapeake from the Head of Elk. Business being despatched dinner was served, after which they were conducted throughout the ship and received the visits of the officers of the fleet, almost all of whom came on board.
About sunset Washington and his companions took their leave of the admiral and returned on board of their own little ship; when the yards of all the ships of the fleet were manned and a parting salute was thundered from the Ville de Paris. Owing to storms and contrary winds and to other adverse circumstances the party did not reach Williamsburg until the 22d, when intelligence was received that threatened to disconcert all the plans formed in the recent council on board ship. Admiral Digby, it appeared, had arrived in New York with six ships of the line and a reinforcement of troops. This intelligence Washington instantly transmitted to the Count de Grasse by one of the Count de Rochambeau's aides-de-camp. De Grasse in reply expressed great concern, observing that the position of affairs was changed by the arrival of Digby. "The enemy," writes he, "is now nearly equal to us in strength, and it would be imprudent in me to place
1781.] THREATENED DEPARTURE OF THE FLEET. 355
myself in a situation that would prevent my attacking them should they attempt to afford succor.' He proposed, therefore, to leave two vessels at the mouth of York River, and the corvettes and frigates in James River, which, with the French troops on shore, would be sufficient assistance; and to put to sea with the rest, either to intercept the enemy and fight them where there was good sea room, or to blockade them in New York should they not have sailed.
On reading this letter, Washington dreaded that the present plan of co-operation might likewise fall through, and the fruits of all his schemes and combinations be lost when within his reach. With the assistance of the fleet the reduction of Yorktown was demonstrably certain, and the surrender of the garrison must go far to terminate the war; whereas the departure of the ships, by leaving an opening for succor to the enemy, might frustrate these brilliant prospects and involve the whole enterprise in ruin and disgrace. Even a momentary absence of the French fleet might enable Cornwallis to evacuate Yorktown and effect a retreat, with the loss merely of his baggage and artillery and perhaps a few soldiers. These and other considerations were urged in a letter to the count, remonstrating against his putting to sea. Lafayette was the bearer of the letter, and seconded it with so many particulars respecting the situation of the armies, and argued the case so earnestly and eloquently, that the count consented to remain. It was, furthermore, determined in a council of war of his officers, that a large part of the fleet should anchor in York River; four or five vessels be stationed so as to
pass up and down James River, and a battery for cannon and mortars be erected with the aid of the allied troops on Point Comfort.
By the 25th the American and French troops were mostly arrived and encamped near Williamsburg, and preparations were made for the decisive blow.
Yorktown, as has already been noted, is situated on the south side of York River, immediately opposite Gloucester Point. Cornwallis had fortified the town by seven redoubts and six batteries on the land side, connected by intrenchments; and there was a line of batteries along the river. The town was flanked on each side by deep ravines and creeks emptying into York River; their heads, in front of the town, being not more than half a mile apart. . The enemy had availed themselves of these natural defences, in the arrangement of extensive outworks, with redoubts strengthened by abatis; field-works mounted with cannon, and trees cut down and left with the branches pointed outward.
Gloucester Point had likewise been fortified. batteries, with those of Yorktown, commanded the intervening river. Ships of war were likewise stationed on it, protected by the guns of the forts, and the channel was obstructed by sunken vessels.
The defence of Gloucester Point was confided to Lieutenant Colonel Dundas, with six or seven hundred men. The enemy's main army was encamped about Yorktown within the range of the outer redoubts and field-works.
Washington and his staff bivouacked that night on the ground in the open air. He slept under a mul