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GENERAL LINCOLN had the honor, on the night of the 6th of October, of opening the first parallel before Yorktown. It was within six hundred yards of the enemy; nearly two miles in extent, and the foundations were laid for two redoubts. He had under him a large detachment of French and American troops, and the work was conducted with such silence and
secrecy night of extreme darkness, that the enemy were not aware of it until daylight. A severe cannonade was then opened from the fortifications ; but the men were under cover and continued working ; the greatest emulation and good will prevailing between the officers and soldiers of the allied armies thus engaged.
By the afternoon of the 9th the parallel was completed, and two or three batteries were ready to fire upon the town. “ General Washington put the match to the first gun,” says an observer who was present;
a furious discharge of cannon and mortars immediately followed, and Earl Cornwallis received his first salutation.” *
* Thacher's Military Journal.
Governor Nelson, who had so nobly pledged his own property to raise funds for the public service, gave another proof of his self-sacrificing patriotism on this occasion. He was asked which part of the town could be most effectively cannonaded. He pointed to a large handsome house on a rising ground as the probable head-quarters of the enemy. It proved to be his own.*
The governor had an uncle in the town, very old, and afflicted with the gout. He had been for thirty years secretary under the royal colonial government, and was still called Mr. Secretary Nelson. He had taken no part in the Revolution, unfitted perhaps for the struggle, by his advanced age and his infirmities; and had remained in Yorktown when taken possession of by the English, not having any personal enmity to apprehend from them. He had two sons in Washington's army, who now were in the utmost alarm for his safety. At their request Washington sent in a flag, desiring that their father might be permitted to leave the place. “I was a witness," writes the Count de Chastellux in his Memoirs, “ of the cruel anxiety of one of those young men, as he kept his eyes fixed upon the gate of the town by which the flag would come out. It seemed as if he were awaiting his own sentence in the reply that was to be received. Lord Cornwallis had not the inhumanity to refuse so just a request.'
The appearance of the venerable secretary, his stately person, noble countenance and gray hairs, commanded respect and veneration. “I can never recall
* Given on the authority of Lafayette. Sparks, viii. 201.
without emotion,” writes the susceptible count, “ his arrival at the head-quarters of General Washington. He was seated, his attack of the gout still continuing, and while we stood around him he related with a serene visage, what had been the effect of our bat
His house had received some of the first shots ; one of his negroes had been killed, and the head-quar
, ters of Lord Cornwallis had been so battered that he had been driven out of them.
The cannonade was kept up almost incessantly for three or four days from the batteries above mentioned, and from three others managed by the French. “Being in the trenches every other night and day," writes an observer already quoted, “I have a fine opportunity of witnessing the sublime and stupendous scene which is continually exhibiting. The bomb-shells from the besiegers and the besieged are incessantly crossing each other's path in the air. They are clearly visible in the form of a black ball in the day, but in the night they appear like a fiery meteor with a blazing tail, most beautifully brilliant, ascending majestically from the mortar to a certain altitude, and gradually descending to the spot where they are destined to execute their work of destruction. When a shell falls it whirls round, burrows and excavates the earth to a considerable extent, and, bursting, makes dreadful havoc around.” “Some of our shells, over-reaching the town, are seen to fall into the river, and bursting, throw up columns of water like the spouting monsters of the deep.” * Chastellux, vol. ii. p. 19–23.
The half-finished works of the enemy suffered severely, the guns were dismounted or silenced, and many men killed. The red-hot shot from the French batteries northwest of the town reached the English shipping The Charon, a forty-four gun ship, and three large transports were set on fire by them. The flames ran up the rigging to the tops of the masts. The conflagration, seen in the darkness of the night, with the accompanying flash and thundering of cannon, and soaring and bursting of shells ; and the tremendous explosions of the ships, all presented a scene of mingled magnificence and horror.
On the night of the 11th the second parallel was opened by the Baron Steuben's division within three hundred yards of the works. The British now made new embrasures, and for two or three days kept up a galling fire upon those at work. The latter were still more annoyed by the flanking fire of two redoubts, three hundred yards in front of the British works. As they enfiladed the intrenchments, and were supposed also to command the communication between Yorktown and Gloucester, it was resolved to storm them both, on the night of the 14th ; the one nearest the river by a detachment of Americans commanded by Lafayette; the other by a French detachment led by the Baron de Viomenil. The grenadiers of the regiment of Gatinais were to be at the head of the French detachment. This regiment had been formed out of that of Auvergne, of which De Rochambeau had been colonel, and which, by its brave and honorable conduct had won the appellation of the regiment D'Auvergne sans tache (Auvergne without a stain).
ATTACK ON THE REDOUBTS.
When De Rochambeau assigned the Gatinais grenadiers their post in the attack, he addressed to them a few soldier-like words. “My lads, I have need of this night, and hope you will not forget that we have served together in that brave regiment of Auvergne sans tache.” They instantly replied that if he would promise to get their old name restored to them they would sacrifice themselves to the last man. The promise was given.
In the arrangements for the American assault, Lafayette had given the honor of leading the advance to his own aide-de-camp, Lieutenant-colonel Gimat. This instantly touched the military pride of Hamilton, who exclaimed against it as an unjust preference, it being his tour of duty. The marquis excused himself by alleging that the arrangement had been sanctioned by the commander-in-chief, and could not be changed by him. Hamilton forthwith made a spirited appeal by letter to Washington. The latter, who was ignorant of the circumstances of the case, sent for the marquis, and, finding that it really was Hamilton's tour of duty, directed that he should be reinstated in it, which was done. * It was therefore arranged that Colonel Gimat's battalion should lead the van and be followed by that of Hamilton, and that the latter should command the whole advanced corps.t
About eight o'clock in the evening rockets were sent up as signals for the simultaneous attacks. Hamilton to his great joy led the advance of the Americans. The men, without waiting for the sappers to demolish
* Lee's Memoirs of the War, ii. 342. | Lafayette to Washington. Correspondence of the Rev. iii. 426.