Part 7 out of 9
our most sanguine hopes; and as they have twenty regiments in the
continental service, I can only urge, in a still more positive manner,
what I have already had the honour in writing to you.
1. This letter was written in ciphers. It is inserted here exactly as
it was first deciphered at the archives of foreign affairs. To avoid
repetitions, we have not inserted the answers of the minister; these
were written in a tone of confidence and friendship, and accord almost
on every point with the ideas of M. de Lafayette, which were, in a
measure, adopted by the cabinet of Versailles for the approaching
2. The revolt of the Pennsylvanian line is of the 2nd of January. It
was appeased ten days afterwards, and imitated, the 20th of the same
month, by the New Jersey troops.--(See the Letters of Washington at
that period, and the Appendix, No. x, vol. vii.)
3. M. Destouches had replaced in the command of the frigates M. de
Ternay, deceased the 15th December, after a short illness.
TO MADAME DE LAFAYETTE.
New Windsor, in the North River, February 2nd, 1781.
The person who will deliver this to you, my dearest love, is a man I am
much attached to, and whom I wish you to become intimate with. He is
the son of president Laurens, who has been lately established in the
Tower of London;~ he is lieutenant-colonel in our service, and aide-
de-camp to General Washington; he has been sent by congress on a
private mission to the court of France. I knew him well during the two
first campaigns, and his probity, frankness, and patriotism, have
attached me extremely to him. General Washington is very fond of him;
and of all the Americans whom you have hitherto seen, he is the one I
most particularly wish you to receive with kindness. If I were in
France, he should live entirely at my house, and I would introduce him
to all my friends (I have even introduced him to some by letter); and
give him every opportunity in my power of making acquaintance, and of
passing his time agreeably at Versailles; and in my absence, I entreat
you to replace me. Introduce him to Madame d'Ayen, the Marshal de
Mouchy, the Marshal de Noailles, and treat him in every respect as a
friend of the family: he will tell you all that has occurred during our
campaign, the situation in which we are at present placed, and give you
all details relating to myself.
Since my arrival here, my health has not for a moment failed. The air
of this country agrees with me extremely well, and exercise is very
beneficial to me. My exertions during the last campaign did not lead me
into much danger, and in that respect we have not, in truth, much to
boast. The French squadron has remained constantly blockaded in Rhode
Island, and I imagine that the Chevalier Ternay died of grief in
consequence of this event. However this may be, he is positively dead.
He was a very rough and obstinate man, but firm, and clear in all his
views, and, taking all things into consideration, we have sustained a
great loss. The French army has remained at Newport, and although its
presence has been very useful to us, although it has disconcerted some
plans of the enemy which would have been very injurious to us, it might
have done still more good if it had, not been thus blockaded.
Several Frenchmen have passed by head quarters. They have all been
delighted with General Washington, and I perceive with pleasure that he
will be much beloved by the auxiliary troops. Laval and Custine
disputed together during the whole journey, and at each station would
have done much better than the American and English generals, but never
both in the same manner. The viscount and Damas have taken a long
journey on the continent; we have also had the Count des Deux-Ponts,
whom I like very much; M. de Charlus is at present in Philadelphia. I
intend setting out about the 15th, for Rhode Island, and I shall
accompany General Washington during his visit to the French army. When
you recollect how _those poor rebels_ were looked upon in France, when
I came to be hung with them, and when you reflect upon my warm
affection for General Washington, you will conceive how delightful
it will be for me to witness his reception there as generalissimo of
the combined armies of the two nations.
The Americans continue to testify for me the greatest kindness: there
is no proof of affection and confidence which I do not receive each day
from the army and nation. I am serving here in the most agreeable
manner possible. At every campaign I command a separate flying corps,
composed of chosen troops; I experience for the American officers and
soldiers that friendship which arises from having shared with them, for
a length of time, dangers, sufferings, and both good and evil fortune.
We began by struggling together; our affairs have often been at the
lowest possible ebb. It is gratifying to me to crown this work with
them, by giving the European troops a high idea of the soldiers who
have been formed with us. To all these various motives of interest for
the cause and army, are joined my sentiments of regard for General
Washington: amongst his aides-de-camp there is one man I like very
much, and of whom I have often spoken to you; this is Colonel Hamilton.
I depend on Colonel Laurens to give you the details of our campaign. We
remained sufficiently near the English to merit the accusation of
boldness; but they would not take advantage of any of the opportunities
we offered them. We are all in winter quarters in this part of the
country. There is some activity in the south, and I was preparing to go
there; but the wishes of General Washington, and the hope of being
useful to my countrymen, have detained me here. The corps I command
having returned to the regiments, I have established myself at head-
quarters. America made great efforts last summer, and has renewed them
this winter, but in a more durable manner, by only making engagements
for the war, and I trust that none will have cause to be dissatisfied
Arnold, who has now become an English general, landed in Virginia, with
a corps, which appears well pleased to serve under his orders. There is
no accounting for taste; but I do not feel sorry, I own, to see our
enemies rather degrade themselves, by employing one of our generals,
whose talents, even before we knew his treachery, we held in light
estimation: abilities must, in truth, be rare in New York. But whilst
speaking of baseness, Colonel Laurens will tell you of the fine embassy
sent by General Clinton to some mutinous soldiers. He will describe to
you also the details of that mutiny; the means employed to arrest it
with the Pennsylvanians, and also those we employed with the Jersey
troops. This only proves, however, that human patience has its limits,
as no European army would endure the tenth part of such sufferings,
that _citizens_ alone can support nudity, hunger, cold, labour, and the
absolute want of that pay which is necessary to soldiers, who are more
hardy and more patient, I believe, than any others in existence.
Embrace our children a thousand and a thousand times for me; their
father, although a wanderer, is not less tender, not less constantly
occupied with them, and not less happy at receiving news from them. My
heart dwells with peculiar delight on the moment when those dear
children will be presented to me by you, and when we may embrace and
caress them together. Do you think that Anastasia will recollect me?
Embrace tenderly for me my dear and amiable viscountess, Madame du
Roure, my two sisters, de Noailles and d'Ayen, &c. &c.
1. He was detained both as a prisoner of war and a rebel. The 18th of
October, Madame de Lafayette had herself written in his favour to M. de
Vergennes, a letter which is still preserved, in the archives of
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Elk, March the 8th, 1781.
My dear general,--Your letter of the 1st inst. did not come to hand
until last evening, and I hasted to answer to its contents, though I
should, in a few hours, be better able to inform you of my
From what I hear of the difficulties to convoy us down the bay, I very
much apprehend that the winds will not permit any frigate to come up.
Count de Rochambeau thinks his troops equal to the business, and wishes
that they alone may display their zeal and shed their blood for an
expedition which all America has so much at heart. The measures he is
taking may be influenced by laudable motives, but I suspect they are
not entirely free from selfish considerations. God grant this may not
be productive of bad consequences. Baron de Viomenil will also want to
do every thing alone. As to the French troops, their zeal is laudable,
and I wish their chiefs would reserve it for the time when we may co-
operate with an assurance of success.
I heartily feel, my dear general, for the honour of our arms, and think
it would be derogatory to them had not this detachment some share in
the enterprise. This consideration induces me to embark immediately,
and our soldiers will gladly put up with the inconveniences that attend
the scarcity of vessels. We shall have those armed ones (though the
largest has only twelve guns) and with this every body assures us that
we may go without any danger to Annapolis. For my part I am not yet
determined what to do; but if I see no danger to our small fleet in
going to Annapolis, and if I can get Commodore Nicholson to take the
command of it, I shall perhaps proceed in a small boat to Hampton,
where my presence can alone enable me to procure a frigate, and where I
will try to cool the impetuosity or correct the political mistakes of
Whichever determination I take, a great deal must be personally risked,
but I hope to manage things so as to commit no imprudence with the
excellent detachment whose glory is as dear, and whose safety is much
dearer, to me than my own. I have written to General Greene, and will
write to the governors, either to get intelligence or to prepare means
to operate; but (General Greene excepted) I do not give them any hint
of our intentions further than the expedition against Portsmouth.
When a man has delicate games to play, and when chance may influence so
much his success or miscarriage, he must submit to blame in case of
misfortune. But your esteem, my dear general, and your affection, will
not depend upon events. With the highest respect and most tender
1. An instruction of the 20th of February, enjoined to General
Lafayette to take the command of a detachment assembled at Peekskill,
to act in conjunction with the militia, and some vessels of M.
Destouches. He was to proceed by a rapid march to Hampton, on the
Chesapeak bay, to surprise Arnold at Portsmouth: he had orders to
return back immediately if he learnt that the latter had quitted
Virginia, or that the French commander had lost his naval superiority.
M. de Lafayette reached Pompton the 23rd, (from whence he wrote to the
general-in-chief,) Philadelphia the 2nd, and Head-of-Elk the 3rd of
March. Washington, however, had himself repaired to Newport to urge the
departure of M. Destouches, which event he announced in a letter of the
11th. The result of his encounter on the 16th with Admiral Arbuthnot
was to oblige the squadron to return to Newport, and M. de Lafayette to
begin his retreat on the 24th. He spoke himself in the following terms
of the expedition of which this letter treats:--
"Dr. Ramsay and Mr. Marshall speak of the expedition attempted against
Arnold, and the circumstances which caused its failure. Lafayette's
detachment was composed of twelve hundred of those soldiers of light
infantry which had formed, the preceding year, the advance guard of the
army: these were drawn from regiments of the four states of New England
and Jersey. Gordon has truly related that, after conducting them by
water from Head-of-Elk to Annapolis, he went himself in an open canoe
to Elizabethtown to accelerate the preparations. The expedition having
failed, he was obliged to return to Annapolis, where his continental
troops had remained, vainly expecting that the French frigates would
come to escort them. It was a bold and skilful stroke in him to take
advantage of a favourable moment to convoy the American flotilla from
Annapolis to Head-of-Elk, and the detachment had scarcely arrived when
General Washington, announcing to him that General Phillips, with more
than two thousand chosen men, had gone to reinforce Arnold, and take
the command in Virginia, which was to become the centre of active
operations, desired him to defend the state as well and as long as the
weakness of his means allowed.--(Manuscript, No. 2.)
2. Viomenil and Steuben.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
On board the _Dolphin_, March 9th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Here I am at the mouth of Elk River, and the fleet
under my command will proceed to Annapolis, where I am assured they can
go without danger. They are protected by the _Nesbitt_, of twelve guns,
some field-pieces on board the vessel that carries Colonel Stevens, and
we are going to meet an eight-gun and a six-gun-vessel from Baltimore.
With this escort, we may go as far as Annapolis. No vessel of the enemy
ever ventured so far up, and if by chance they should, our force is
superior to any cruizer they have in the bay. At Annapolis we shall
meet Commodore Nicholson, whom I have requested, by a letter, to take
the general command of our fleet, and if there was the least danger, to
proceed farther down. They are to remain at Annapolis until I send them
As to myself, my dear general, I have taken a small boat armed with
swivels, and on board of which I have put thirty soldiers. I will
precede the fleet to Annapolis, where I am to be met by intelligence,
and conformable to the state of things below, will determine my
personal movements and those of the fleet.
With a full conviction that (unless you arrived in time at Rhode
Island) no frigate will be sent to us I think it my duty to the troops
I command, and the country I serve, to overlook some little personal
danger, that I may ask for a frigate myself; and in order to add weight
to my application, I have clapped on board my boat the only son of the
minister of the French Navy, whom I shall take out to speak if
circumstances require it.
Our men were much crowded at first, but I unload the vessels as we go
along, and take possession of every boat that comes in my way.
These are, my dear general, the measures I thought proper to take. The
detachment is, I hope, free from danger, and my caution on this point
has been so far as to be called timidity by every seaman I have
consulted. Captain Martin, of the _Nesbitt_, who has been recommended
by General Gist, makes himself answerable for the safe arrival of the
fleet at Annapolis before to-morrow evening.
I have the honour to be, &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Williamsburg, March the 23rd 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--By former letters your excellency has been acquainted
with my motions, from my arrival at the head of Elk to the time of my
landing at this place. The march of the detachment to Elk had been very
rapid and performed in the best order. Owing to the activity of
Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens, a train of artillery had been provided at
Philadelphia, and notwithstanding some disappointments, namely, that
relating to the want of vessels, no delay should have been imputed to
us in this co-operation. Having received your excellency's letter, by
which the sailing of the French fleet became a matter of certainty, I
determined to transport the detachment to Annapolis, and did it for
many essential reasons. The navigation of the bay is such that the
going in and the going out of Elk River requires a different wind from
those which are fair to go up and down the bay. Our stopping at
Annapolis, and making some preparations on the road to Carolina, might
be of use to deceive the enemy. But above all, I thought, with your
excellency, that it was important, both to the success of the operation
and the honour of our arms, that the detachment should be brought to
cooperate, and from the time when the French were to sail and the winds
that blew for some days, I had no doubt but that our allies were in the
Chesapeak, before we could arrive at Annapolis.
Owing to the good disposition of Commodore Nicholson, whom I requested
to take charge of our small fleet, the detachment was safely lodged in
the harbour of Annapolis; and in the conviction that my presence here
was necessary, not so much for preparations which Baron de Steuben
provided, as for settling our plans with the French, and obtaining an
immediate convoy for the detachment, I thought it better to run some
risk than to neglect anything that could forward the success of the
operation, and the glory of the troops under my command.
On my arrival at this place, I was surprised to hear that no French
fleet had appeared, but attributed it to delays and chances so frequent
in naval matters. My first object was to request that nothing be taken
for this expedition which could have been intended for, or useful to,
the southern army, whose welfare appeared to me more interesting than
our success. My second object has been to examine what had been
prepared, to gather and forward every requisite for a vigorous co-
operation, besides a number of militia amounting to five thousand; I
can assure your excellency that nothing has been wanting to ensure a
As the position of the enemy had not yet been reconnoitred, I went to
General Muhlenberg's camp, near Suffolk, and after he had taken a
position nearer to Portsmouth, we marched down with some troops to view
the enemy's works. This brought on a trifling skirmish; during which we
were able to see something; but the insufficiency of ammunition, which
had been for many days expected, prevented my engaging far enough to
push the enemy's outposts, and our reconnoitring was postponed to the
21st,--when, on the 20th, Major MacPherson, an officer for whom I have
the highest confidence and esteem, sent me word from Hampton, where he
was stationed, that a fleet had come to anchor within the Capes. So far
it was probable that this fleet was that of M. Destouches, that Arnold
himself appeared to be in great confusion, and his vessels,
notwithstanding many signals, durst not, for a long time, venture down.
An officer of the French navy bore down upon them from York, and
nothing could equal my surprise in hearing from Major MacPherson, that
the fleet announced by a former letter certainly belonged to the enemy.
Upon this intelligence, the militia were removed to their former
position, and I requested Baron de Steuben (from whom, out of delicacy,
I would not take the command until the co-operation was begun, or the
continental troops arrived) to take such measures as would put out of
the enemy's reach the several articles that had been prepared. On my
return to this place, I could not hear more particular accounts of the
fleet. Some people think they are coming from Europe; but I believe
them to be the fleet from Gardiner's Bay. They are said to be twelve
sail in all, frigates included. I have sent spies on board and shall
forward their report to head-quarters.
Having certain accounts that the French had sailed on the 8th, with a
favourable wind, I must think that they are coming to this place, or
were beaten in an engagement, or are gone somewhere else. In these
three cases, I think it my duty to stay here until I hear something
more, which must be in a little time. But as your excellency will
certainly recal a detachment composed of the flower of each regiment,
whose loss would be immense to the army under your immediate command,
and as my instructions are to march them back as soon as we lose the
naval superiority in this quarter, I have sent them orders to move at
the first notice which I will send to-morrow or the day after, or upon
a letter from your excellency, which my aide-de-camp is empowered to
Had I not been here upon the spot, I am sure that I should have waited
an immense time before I knew what to think of this fleet, and my
presence at this place was the speediest means of forwarding the
detachment either to Hampton or your excellency's immediate army. By
private letters, we hear that General Greene had, on the 19th, an
engagement with Lord Cornwallis. The honour of keeping the field was
not on our side. The enemy lost more men than we did. General Greene
displayed his usual prudence and abilities, both in making his
dispositions and posting his troops at ten miles from the first field
of battle, where they bid defiance to the enemy, and are in a situation
to check his progress.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
New Windsor, 6th April, 1781.
MY DEAR MARQUIS,--Since my letter to you of yesterday,~ I have
attentively considered of what vast importance it will be to reinforce
General Greene as speedily as possible; more especially as there can be
little doubt that the detachment under General Phillips, if not part of
that now under the command of General Arnold, will ultimately join, or
in some degree co-operate with Lord Cornwallis. I have communicated to
the general officers at present with the army my sentiments on the
subject; and they are unanimously of opinion that the detachment under
your command should proceed and join the southern army. Your being
already three hundred miles advanced, which is nearly half way, is the
reason that operates against any which can be offered in favour of
marching that detachment back. You will therefore, immediately at the
receipt of this, turn the detachment to the southward. Inform General
Greene that you are upon your march to join him, and take his
directions as to your route, when you begin to approach him. Previously
to that, you will be guided by your own judgment, and by the roads on
which you will be most likely to find subsistence for the troops and
horses. It will be well to advise Governor Jefferson of your intended
march through the state of Virginia, or, perhaps, it will answer a good
purpose were you to go forward to Richmond yourself, after putting the
troops in motion, and having made some necessary arrangement for their
You will take with you the light artillery and smallest mortars, with
their stores and the musket cartridges. But let these follow, under a
proper escort, rather than impede the march of the detachment, which
ought to move as expeditiously as possible without injury to them. The
heavy artillery and stores you will leave at some proper and safe
place, if it cannot be conveniently transported to Christiana River,
from whence it will be easily got to Philadelphia. You may leave to the
option of Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens to proceed or not, as he may think
proper; his family is in peculiar circumstances, and he left it with
the expectation of being absent for a short time. Should there be other
officers under similar circumstances, you may make them the same
offers, and they shall be relieved.
I am, my dear marquis, yours, &c.
1. This related merely to the expedition which had lately failed.
Washington deplored its result, which had been occasioned by maritime
events, but he approved and eulogised the conduct of M. de Lafayette.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Elk, April 8th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Your excellency's letters of the 5th and 6th instant
are just come to hand, and before I answer their contents, I beg leave
to give you a summary account of the measures I have lately taken. As
to the part of my conduct you have been acquainted with, I am happy, my
dear general, to find it has met with your approbation.
When the return of the British fleet put it out of doubt that nothing
could be undertaken for the present against Portsmouth, I sent pressing
orders to Annapolis, in order to have everything in readiness, and even
to move the troops by land to the Head-of-Elk. I myself hastened back
to Maryland, but confess I could not resist the ardent desire I had of
seeing your relations, and, above all, your mother, at Fredericksburg.
For that purpose I went some miles out of my way, and, in order to
conciliate my private happiness to duties of a public nature, I
recovered by riding in the night those few hours which I had
consecrated to my satisfaction. I had also the pleasure of seeing Mount
Vernon, and was very unhappy that my duty and my anxiety for the
execution of your orders prevented my paying a visit to Mr. Curtis.~
On my arrival at Annapolis, I found that our preparations were far from
promising a speedy departure. The difficulty of getting wagons and
horses is immense. No boats sufficient to cross over the ferries. The
state is very desirous of keeping us as long as possible, as they were
scared by the apparition of the _Hope_, twenty guns, and the _Monk_,
eighteen guns, who blockaded the harbour, and who (as appeared by
intercepted letters) were determined to oppose our movements.
In these circumstances, I thought it better to continue my preparations
for a journey by land, which, I am told, would have lasted ten days, on
account of ferries, and, in the meanwhile, had two eighteen-pounders
put on board a small sloop, which appeared ridiculous to some, but
proved to be of great service. In the morning of the 6th, Commodore
Nicholson went out with the sloop and another vessel, full of men.
Whether the sound of eighteen pounders, or the fear of being boarded,
operated upon the enemy, I am not able to say; but, after some
manoeuvres, they retreated so far as to render it prudent for us to
sail to this place. Every vessel with troops and stores was sent in the
night by the commodore, to whom I am vastly obliged; and having brought
the rear with the sloop and other vessels, I arrived this morning at
Elk. It is reported that the ships have returned to their stations; if
so, they must have been reinforced; their commander had already applied
for an augmentation of force.
Before I left Annapolis, hearing that General Greene was in want of
ammunition, I took the liberty of leaving for the southern army four
six-pounders, with three hundred rounds each, nearly a hundred thousand
cartridges, and some small matters, which I left to the care of the
governor and General Smallwood, requesting them to have wagons and
horses impressed, to send them to a place of safety, where they must be
by this time. I also wrote to the governor of Virginia, to General
Greene, and the baron. These stores will set off in a few days, under
the care of a detachment, for the Maryland line, commanded by
In consequence of previous orders, everything was in readiness for our
movement. The troops were ordered to march the next morning, and I
expect a sufficiency of vessels is now at Wilmington or Christiana
Creek; so that I am in hopes to join your excellency in a very few
days. Your letter of the 6th, ordering me to the southward, is just
come to hand. Had I been still at Annapolis, or upon the road by land,
and of course with the same means to return that I had to advance, your
commands should have been immediately obeyed; but necessity keeps us
here for some days, and as your letters arrived in two days, your
answer to this must be here before we are in a situation to move.
When your excellency wrote to me, I was supposed to be at Annapolis, or
very near that place, with the means of returning, which makes a great
difference. Another circumstance, still more material, is, that,
instead of joining either Arnold or Phillips (if Phillips be there),
Lord Cornwallis is so disabled as to be forced to a retreat, as appears
from General Greene's letter.
To these considerations I have added this one, which is decisive: that
being fitted only to march twelve miles, part of it in the State of
Delaware, and a part of our provisions being asked for from
Philadelphia, it is impossible to have the necessary apparatus to march
and subsist, or to cross ferries on our way to the southern army, so as
to leave this place under four or five days. As to a transportation
through the bay, we cannot expect the same good luck of frightening an
enemy, who must know how despicable our preparations are; and we must,
at least, wait for the return of look-out boats which, if sent
immediately, will not possibly return under five or six days.
In these circumstances, my dear general, I am going to make every
preparation to march to Virginia, so as to be ready as soon as
possible. I shall keep here the vessels, and will also keep those which
have been ordered to Christiana Creek. This state of suspense will
distract the enemy's conjectures, and put me in a situation to execute
your excellency's orders, which will be here before I can be able to
move with any degree of advantage towards the southward.
Had it been possible to obey to-morrow morning, I would have done it
immediately; but since I am obliged to make preparations, I beg leave
to make these observations, which I should have been allowed to
present, had I been at the meeting of general officers.
The troops I have with me being taken from every northern regiment,
have often (though without mentioning it) been very uneasy at the idea
of joining the southern army. They want clothes; shoes particularly;
they expect to receive clothes and money from their states. This would
be a great disappointment for both officers and men. Both thought at
first they were sent out for a few days, and provided themselves
accordingly; both came cheerfully to this expedition, but both have had
already their fears at the idea of going to the southward. They will
certainly obey, but they will be unhappy, and some will desert.
Had this corps considered themselves as light infantry, destined for
the campaign, to be separated from their regiments, it would be
attended with less inconveniences; and such a corps, in the course of
the campaign, might be brought there without difficulty, particularly
by water, as they would be prepared accordingly.
Supposing the Jersey line were to join the detachment of their troops
at this place, it would hardly make any difference, as we have been but
five days coming from Morristown to the Head-of-Elk.
These considerations, my dear general, I beg you to be convinced, are
not influenced by personal motives. I should most certainly prefer to
be in a situation to attack New York, nor should I like, in an
operation against New York, to see you deprived of the New England
light infantry; but I think with you, that these motives are not to
influence our determination, if this be the best way to help General
By the letters I have received from my two friends, Marquis de Castries
and Count de Vergennes, I am assured that we shall soon get an answer
to our propositions against New York, and am strongly led to hope that,
having a naval superiority, the army under your immediate command will
not remain inactive.
At all events, my dear general, I will use my best endeavours to be
ready to move either way as soon as possible; and have the honour to
be, with the highest respect and affection, &c.
1. Son of Mrs. Washington by a former marriage.
TO COLONEL HAMILTON.
Susquehannah Ferry, 18th April, 1781.
--You are so sensible a fellow, that you can certainly explain to me
what is the matter that New York should be given up; that our letters
to France go for nothing; that when the French are coming, I am going.
This last matter gives great uneasiness to the minister of France. All
this is not comprehensible to me, who, having been long from
head-quarters, have lost the course of intelligence.
Have you left the family, my dear sir? I suppose so. But from love to
the general, for whom you know my affection, I ardently wish it was not
the case. Many, many reasons conspire to this desire of mine; but if
you do leave it, and if I go to exile, come and partake it with me.
1. The 11th of April, Washington renewed, with more detail, his
instructions upon the movement to the south, and General Greene,
desiring to carry the theatre of war into South Carolina, urged General
Lafayette to march upon the capital of Virginia. The latter made his
preparations accordingly, and with great activity, in spite of the
regret he experienced, and the difficulties he encountered. He
deplored, in truth, that long-promised expedition on New York being
abandoned; and he had to combat the repugnance of the troops, who
threatened to become weakened by desertion. This was the subject of
several long letters we have thought proper to suppress. He wrote,
also, frequently, to Colonel Hamilton, and we may see some of those
letters in the life of the latter. We have only inserted this one
letter, which expresses all he felt. Hamilton, at that period, having
had a coolness with Washington, wished to quit his staff; and it was in
reality as an officer of the line that he took part in the siege of
Yorktown.--(See his Life, vol. i., chap. xiii.)
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Baltimore, April 18th, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Every one of my letters were written in so lamentable
a tone, that I am happy to give you a pleasanter prospect. The anxiety
I feel to relieve your mind from a small part of those many solicitudes
and cares which our circumstances conspire to gather upon you, is the
reason of my sending this letter by the chain of communication, and
with a particular recommendation. When I left Susquehannah Ferry, it
was the general opinion that we could not have six hundred men by the
time we should arrive at our destination. This, and the shocking
situation of the men offered the more gloomy prospects, as the board of
war have confessed their total inability to afford us relief. Under
these circumstances, I have employed every personal exertion, and have
the pleasure to inform you that desertion has, I hope, been put to an
On my arrival on this side of the Susquehannah, I made an order for the
troops, wherein I endeavoured to throw a kind of infamy upon desertion,
and to improve every particular affection of theirs. Since then,
desertion has been lessened. Two deserters have been taken up; one of
whom has been hanged to-day, and the other (being an excellent soldier)
will be forgiven, but dismissed from the corps, as well as another
soldier who behaved amiss. To these measures, I have added one which my
feelings for the sufferings of the soldiers, and the peculiarity of
their circumstances, have prompted me to adopt.
The merchants of Baltimore lent me a sum of about 2,000_l_., which will
procure some shirts, linen, overalls, shoes, and a few hats. The ladies
will make up the shirts, and the overalls will be made by the
detachment, so that our soldiers have a chance of being a little more
comfortable. The money is lent upon my credit, and I become security
for the payment of it in two years' time, when, by the French laws, I
may better dispose of my estate. But before that time, I shall use my
influence with the French court, in order to have this sum of money
added to any loan congress may have been able to obtain from them.
In case you are told, my dear general, that my whole baggage has been
taken in the bay, I am sorry I cannot discountenance the report. But
when the mention of papers and maps is made, do not apprehend anything
bad for the papers or maps you have put in my possession. Nothing has
been lost but writing paper and printed maps. The fact is this: when at
York, I had some continental soldiers and my baggage to send up in a
safe barge and an unsafe boat. I, of course, gave the barge to the
soldiers, who easily went to Annapolis. The baggage was put into the
boat, and has not been since heard of. But being aware of the danger; I
took by land with me every article that was, on public accounts, in the
least valuable. By a letter from Baron de Steuben, dated Chesterfield
Court House the 10th of April, I find that General Phillips has at
Portsmouth 1500 or 2000 men added to the force under Arnold. Proper
allowance being made for exaggerations, I apprehend that his whole army
amounts to 2800 men, which obliges me to hasten my march to
Fredericksburg and Richmond, where I expect to receive orders from
The importance of celerity, the desire of lengthening the way home, and
immense delays that would stop me for an age, have determined me to
leave our tents, artillery, &c., under a guard, and with orders to
follow as fast as possible, while the rest of the detachment, by forced
marches, and with impressed wagons and horses, will hasten to
Fredericksburg or Richmond, and by this derange the calculations of the
enemy. We set off to-morrow, and this rapid mode of travelling, added
to my other precautions, will, I hope, keep up our spirits and good
I am, my dear general, &c.
P. S. The word _lessened_ does not convey a sufficient idea of what
experience has proved to be true, to the honour of our excellent
soldiers. It had been announced in general orders, that the detachment
was intended to fight an enemy far superior in number, under
difficulties of every sort. That the general was, for his part,
determined to encounter them, but that such of the soldiers as had an
inclination to abandon him, might dispense with the danger and crime of
desertion, as every one of them who should apply to head-quarters for a
pass to join their corps in the north might be sure to obtain it
1. This letter announces the real commencement of the Virginian
campaign. M. de Lafayette marched upon Richmond, and thus wrote on the
4th of May:--
"The leaving of my artillery appears a strange whim, but had I waited
for it, Richmond had been lost. It is not without trouble I have made
this rapid march. General Phillips has expressed to a flag officer 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 be flew into a violent passion,
and swore vengeance against me and the corps I had brought with me."
The subsequent operations are given in detail, both in the Memoirs, and
in a relation of the campaign; it was, therefore, thought proper to
suppress the greatest part of the letters in which M. de Lafayette gave
an account of them to General Washington. To each of those letters is
usually annexed a copy of his official reports to General Greene.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Alexandria, April 23rd, 1781.
My Dear General,--Great happiness is derived from friendship, and I
experience it particularly in the attachment which unites me to you.
But friendship has its duties, and the man who likes you best, will be
the first to let you know everything in which you may be concerned.
When the enemy came to your house, many negroes deserted to them. This
piece of news did not affect me much, as I little value these matters.
But you cannot conceive how unhappy I have been to hear that Mr. Lund
Washington went on board the enemy's vessels, and consented to give
This being done by the gentleman who, in some measure, represents you
at your house, will certainly have a bad effect, and contrasts with
spirited answers from some neighbours that have had their houses burnt
You will do what you think proper about it, my dear general; but, as
your friend, it was my duty confidentially to mention the
With the help of some wagons and horses, we got, in two days, from the
camp, near Baltimore, to this place. We halted yesterday, and having
made a small bargain for a few pair of shoes, are now marching to
Fredericksburg. No official account from Phillips, but I am told they
are removing stores from Richmond and Petersburg. I am surprised nobody
writes to me, and hope soon to receive intelligence.
Our men are in high spirits. Their honour having been interested in
this affair, they have made a point to come with us; and murmurs, as
well as desertion, are entirely out of fashion. Requesting my best
respects to Mrs. Washington, and my compliments to the family, I have
the honour to be, with those sentiments which you know, &c.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON TO MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
New Windsor, May 4, 1781.
MY DEAR MARQUIS,--The freedom of your communications is an evidence to
me of the sincerity of your attachment, and every fresh instance of
this gives pleasure and adds strength to the bond which unites us in
friendship. In this light I view the intimation respecting the conduct
of Mr. Lund Washington. Some days previous to the receipt of your
letter, which only came to my hands yesterday, I received an account of
this transaction from that gentleman himself, and immediately wrote and
forwarded the answer, of which the enclosed is a copy. This letter,
which was written in the moment of my obtaining the first intimation of
the matter, may be considered as a testimony of my disapprobation of
his conduct, and the transmission of it to you, as a proof of my
friendship; because I wish you to be assured, that no man can condemn
the measure more sincerely than I do.
A false idea, arising from the consideration of his being my steward,
and in that character more the trustee and guardian of my property than
the representative of my honour, has misled his judgment and plunged
him into error, upon the appearance of desertion among my negroes, and
danger to my buildings; for sure I am, that no man is more firmly
opposed to the enemy than he is. From a thorough conviction of this,
and of his integrity, I entrusted every species of my property to his
care, without reservation or fear of his abusing it. The last paragraph
of my letter to him was occasioned by an expression of his fear, that
all the estates convenient to the river would be stripped of their
negroes and moveable property.
I am very happy to find that desertion has ceased, and content has
taken place, in the detachment you command. Before this letter can
reach you, you must have taken your ultimate resolution upon the
proposal contained in my letters of the 21st and 22nd ultimo, and have
made the consequent arrangements. I shall be silent, therefore, on the
subject of them, and only beg, in case you should not return to this
army, and the papers were not lost with your other baggage (on which
event give me leave to express my concern) that you would permit M.
Capitaine to furnish me with copies of the drafts, and the remarks of
the pilots (taken at Colonel Day's) on the entrance of the harbour of
New York. It is possible they may be wanted, and I am not able to
furnish them without your assistance.
Mrs. Washington and the rest of my small family, which, at present,
consists only of Tilghman and Humphreys, join me in cordial
salutations, and, with sentiments of the purest esteem and most
affectionate regard, I remain, my dear marquis, &c.
FROM GENERAL WASHINGTON TO LUND WASHINGTON.
New Windsor, April 30, 1781.
Dear Lund,--I am very sorry to hear of your loss; I am a little sorry
to hear of my own; but that which gives me most concern is, that you
should go on board the enemy's vessels, and furnish them with
refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to
have heard that, in consequence of your non-compliance with their
request, they had burnt my house and laid the plantation in ruins. You
ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have
reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and
making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them, with a view to
prevent a conflagration.
It was not in your power, I acknowledge, to prevent them from sending a
flag on shore, and you did right to meet it; but you should, in the
same instant that the business of it was unfolded, have declared
explicitly, that it was improper for you to yield to the request; after
which, if they had proceeded to help themselves by force, you could but
have submitted, and, being unprovided for defence, this was to be
preferred to a feeble opposition, which only serves as a pretext to
burn and destroy.
I am thoroughly persuaded that you acted from your best judgment, and
believe that your desire to preserve my property, and rescue the
buildings from impending danger, was your governing motive; but to go
on board their vessels, carry them refreshments, commune with a parcel
of plundering scoundrels, and request a favour by asking a surrender of
my negroes, was exceedingly ill judged, and, it is to be feared, will
be unhappy in its consequences, as it will be a precedent for others,
and, may be, become a subject of animadversion.
I have no doubt of the enemy's intention to prosecute the plundering
plan they have begun; and, unless a stop can be put to it by the
arrival of a superior naval force, I have as little doubt of its ending
in the loss of all my negroes, and in the destruction of my houses. But
I am prepared for the event, under the prospect of which, if you could
deposit in a place of safety the most valuable and less bulky articles,
it might be consistent with policy and prudence, and a means of
preserving them hereafter. Such and so many things as are necessary for
common and present use must be retained, and must run their chance
through the fiery trial of this summer. I am sincerely, yours.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp Wilton, on James River, May 17, 1781.
Dear General,--My correspondence with one of the British generals, and
my refusal of a correspondence with the other, may be, perhaps,
misrepresented, I shall therefore give an account of what has passed,
and I hope your excellency and General Greene will approve of my
conduct. On the arrival of our detachment at Richmond, three letters
were brought by a flag, which I have the honour to inclose, and which,
as commander of the troops in this state, it became my duty to answer.
The enclosed letters were successively sent in pursuit of General
Phillips, who received them both with a degree of politeness that
seemed to apologize for his unbecoming style. General Phillips being
dead of a fever, an officer was sent with a passport and letters from
General Arnold. I requested the gentleman to come to my quarters, and
having asked _if General Phillips was dead_,~ to which he answered
in the negative, I made it a pretence not to receive a letter from
General Arnold, which, being dated head-quarters, and directed to the
commanding officer of the American troops, ought to come from the
British general chief in command. I did, however, observe, should any
officers have written to me I should have been happy to receive their
letters. The next day the officer returned with the same passport and
letter, and informed me that he were now at liberty to declare that
Phillips was dead, and Arnold was commander-in-chief of the British
army in Virginia. The high station of General Arnold having obliged me
to an explanation, the enclosed note was sent to the officer of the
flag, and the American officer verbally assured him that were I
requested to put in writing a minute account of my motives, my regard
for the British army was such that I would cheerfully comply with the
Last evening, a flag of ours returned from Petersburg, who had been
sent by the commander of the advanced corps, and happened to be on his
way while the British officer was at our picquets. Inclosed is the note
written by General Arnold, in which he announces his determination of
sending our officers and men to the West Indies.
The British general cannot but perfectly know that I am not to treat of
partial exchanges, and that the fate of the continental prisoners must
be regulated by a superior authority to that with which I am invested.
With the highest respect, I have the honour to be, &c.
1. Gordon places the death of General Phillips on the 13th of May: he
was very ill in his bed, when a cannon ball traversed his bed-room.
General Phillips commanded at Minden the battery whose cannon killed
the father of M. de Lafayette.
FROM GENERAL PHILLIPS TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
British Camp, at Osborn, April 28, 1781.
SIR,--It is a principle of the British army engaged in the present war,
which they esteem as an unfortunate one, to conduct it with every
attention to humanity and the laws of war; and in the necessary
destruction of public stores of every kind, to prevent, as far as
possible, that of private property. I call upon the inhabitants of
Yorktown, Williamsburg, Petersburg, and Chesterfield, for a proof of
the mild treatment they have received from the king's troops; in
particular at Petersburg, when the town was saved by the labour of the
soldiers, which otherwise must have perished by the wilful inactivity
of its inhabitants.
I have now a charge of the deepest nature to make against the American
arms: that of having fired upon the king's troops by a flag of truce
vessel; and, to render the conduct as discordant to the laws of arms,
the flag was flying the whole time at the mast head, seeming to sport
in the violation of the most sacred laws of war.
You are sensible, sir, that I am authorized to inflict the severest
punishment in return for this bad conduct, and that towns and villages
lay at the mercy of the king's troops, and it is to that mercy alone
you can justly appeal for their not being reduced to ashes. The
compassion, and benevolence of disposition, which has marked the
British character in the present contest, still govern the conduct of
the king's officers, and I shall willingly remit the infliction of any
redress we have a right to claim, provided the persons who fired from
the flag of truce vessel are delivered into my possession, and a public
disavowal made by you of their conduct. Should you, sir, refuse this, I
hereby make you answerable for any desolation which may follow in
Your ships of war, and all other vessels, not actually in our
possession in James River, are, however, driven beyond a possibility of
escaping, and are in the predicament and condition of a town blockaded
by land, where it is contrary to the rules of war that any public
stores should be destroyed. I shall therefore demand from you, sir, a
full account of whatever may be destroyed on board vessels or
otherwise, and need not mention to you what the rules of war are in
I am, sir, your most humble servant,
FROM GENERAL PHILLIPS TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Camp at Osborn, April 29th, 1781.
Sir,--When I was at Williamsburg, and at Petersburg, I gave several
inhabitants and country people protections for their persons and
properties. I did this without asking, or even considering, whether
these people were either friends or foes, actuated by no other motive
than that of pure humanity. I understand, from almost undoubted
authority, that several of these persons have been taken up by their
malicious neighbours, and sent to your quarters, where preparations are
making for their being ill treated; a report which I sincerely hope may
be without foundation. I repeat to you, sir, that my protections were
given generally from a wish that, in the destruction of public stores,
as little damage as possible might be done to private property, and to
the persons of individuals; but at any rate, I shall insist upon my
signs manual being held sacred, and I am obliged to declare to you,
sir, that if any persons, under the description I have given, receive
ill treatment, I shall be under the necessity of sending to Petersburg,
and giving that chastisement to the illiberal persecutors of innocent
people, which their conduct shall deserve. And I further declare to
you, sir, should any person be put to death, under the pretence of
their being spies of, or friends to, the British government, I will
make the shores of James River an example of terror to the rest of
Virginia. It is from the violent measures, resolutions of the present
house of delegates, council, and governor of Virginia, that I am
impelled to use this language, which the common temper of my
disposition is hurt at. I shall hope that you, sir, whom I have
understood to be a gentleman of liberal principles, will not
countenance, still less permit to be carried into execution, the
barbarous spirit which seems to prevail in the council of the present
civil power of this colony.
I do assure you, sir, I am extremely inclined to carry on this
unfortunate contest with every degree of humanity, and I will believe
you intend doing the same.
I am, sir, your most obedient humble servant,
TO MAJOR GENERAL PHILLIPS.
American camp, April 30th, 1781.
Sir,--Your letters of the 26th, 28th, and 29th, came yesterday to hand.
The duplicate dated at Petersburg being rather of a private nature, it
has been delivered to Major-General Baron de Steuben. I am sorry the
mode of your request has delayed the civility that had been immediately
From the beginning of this war, which you observe is an unfortunate one
to Great Britain, the proceedings of the British troops have been
hitherto so far from evincing benevolence of disposition, that your
long absence~ from the scene of action is the only way I have to
account for your panegyrics. I give you my honour, sir, that the charge
against a flag vessel shall be strictly inquired into, and in case the
report made to you is better grounded than the contrary one I have
received, you shall obtain every redress in my power, that you have any
right to expect. This complaint I beg leave to consider as the only
part in your letter that requires an answer. Such articles as the
requiring that the persons of spies be held sacred, cannot certainly be
The style of your letters, sir, obliges me to tell you, that should
your future favours be wanting in that regard due to the civil and
military authority in the United States, which cannot but be construed
into a want of respect to the American nation, I shall not think it
consistent with the dignity of an American officer to continue the
I have the honour to be, your most obedient servant,
1. General Phillips had been made prisoner at Saratoga.
TO MAJOR GENERAL PHILLIPS.
May 3rd, 1781.
Sir,--Your assertion relating to the flag vessel was so positive, that
it becomes necessary for me to set you right in this matter. Inclosed I
have the honour to send you some depositions, by which it is clearly
proved that there has been on our side no violation of flags.
I have the honour to be, sir, your humble servant,
NOTE FOR CAPTAIN EMYNE.
May 15th, 1781.
The Major-General Marquis de Lafayette has the honour to present his
compliments to Captain Emyne, and begs him to recollect that, on the
supposition of the death of General Phillips, he said, "that he should
know in that case what to do." From regard to the English army, he had
made use of the most polite pretence for declining all correspondence
with the English general who is at this moment commander-in-chief. But
he now finds himself obliged to give a positive denial. In case any
other English officer should honour him with a letter, he would always
be happy to give the officers every testimony of his esteem.
NOTE FROM GENERAL ARNOLD TO CAPTAIN RAGEDALE.
Brigadier-General Arnold presents his compliments to Captain Ragedale,
and takes the liberty of informing him, that the flag of truce having
been sent by Brigadier-General Nelson, who is not commander-in-chief of
the American army, is an inadmissible act. The letters are accordingly
sent back unopened. If Captain Ragedale thinks proper to leave them
with the servants, a receipt must be given for them.
Brigadier-General Arnold has given orders that the officers lately
taken in that place should be sent to New York; their baggage will
follow soon after them, and all the officers and soldiers of the
American army that shall be taken prisoners in future, shall be sent to
the West Indies, unless a cartel be immediately granted for the
exchange of prisoners, as General Arnold has repeatedly demanded.
Head-quarters, at Petersburg, 17th May, 1781.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Richmond, May 24th, 1781,
MY DEAR GENERAL,--My official letter, a copy of which I send to
congress, will let you know the situation of affairs in this quarter. I
ardently wish my conduct may meet with your approbation. Had I followed
the first impulsion of my temper, I should have risked something more;
but I have been guarding against my own warmth; and this consideration,
that a general defeat, which, with such a proportion of militia, must
be expected, would involve this state and our affairs in ruin, has
rendered me extremely cautious in my movements. Indeed, I am more
embarrassed to move, more crippled in my projects, than we have been in
the northern states. As I am for the present fixed in the command of
the troops in this state, I beg it as a great favour that you will send
me Colonel Gouvion. Should a junction be made with General Greene, he
will act as my aide-de-camp. Had the Pennsylvanians arrived before Lord
Cornwallis, I was determined to attack the enemy, and have no doubt but
what we should have been successful. Their unaccountable delay cannot
be too much lamented, and will make an immense difference to the fate
of this campaign. Should they have arrived time enough to support me in
the reception of Lord Cornwallis's first stroke, I should still have
thought it well enough; but from an answer of General Wayne, received
this day, and dated the 19th, I am afraid that at this moment they have
hardly left Yorktown.
Public stores and private property being removed from Richmond, this
place is a less important object.
I don't believe it would be prudent to expose the troops for the sake
of a few houses, most of which are empty; but I am wavering between two
inconveniences. Were I to fight a battle, I should be cut to pieces,
the militia dispersed, and the arms lost. Were I to decline fighting,
the country would think itself given up. I am therefore determined to
skirmish, but not to engage too far, and particularly to take care
against their immense and excellent body of horse, whom the militia
fear as they would so many wild beasts.
A letter from General Greene to General Sumner is dated 5th May, seven
miles below Camden. The baron is going to him with some recruits, and
will get more in North Carolina. When the Pennsylvanians come, I am
only to keep them a few days, which I will improve as well as I can.
Cavalry is very necessary to us. I wish Lauzun's legion could come. I
am sure he will like to serve with me, and as General Greene gave me
command of the troops in this state, Lauzun might remain with me in
Virginia. If not, Shelden's dragoons might be sent. As to Moylan, I do
not believe he will be ready for a long time.
Were I anyways equal to the enemy, I should be extremely happy in my
present command, but I am not strong enough even to get beaten.
Government in this state has no energy, and laws have no force. But I
hope this assembly will put matters upon a better footing. I had a
great deal of trouble to put the departments in a tolerable train; our
expenses were enormous, and yet we can get nothing. Arrangements for
the present seem to put on a better face, but for this superiority of
the enemy, which will chase us wherever they please. They can overrun
the country, and, until the Pennsylvanians arrive, we are next to
nothing in point of opposition to so large a force. This country begins
to be as familiar to me as Tappan and Bergen. Our soldiers are hitherto
very healthy: I have turned doctor, and regulate their diet. Adieu, my
dear general. Let me hear sometimes from you; your letters are a great
happiness to your affectionate friend, &c.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Camp, 28th June, 1781.
MY DEAR GENERAL,--Inclosed, I have the honour to send you a copy of my
letter to General Greene. The enemy have been so kind as to retire
Twice I gave them a chance of fighting (taking care not to engage
farther than I pleased), but they continued their retrograde motions.
Our numbers are, I think, exaggerated to them, and our seeming boldness
confirms the opinion.
I thought, at first, Lord Cornwallis wanted to get me as low down as
possible, and use his cavalry to advantage. But it appears that he does
not as yet come out, and our position will admit of a partial affair.
His lordship had (exclusive of the reinforcement from Portsmouth, said
to be six hundred) four thousand men, eight hundred of whom were
dragoons, or mounted infantry. Our force is about equal to his, but
only one thousand five hundred regulars and fifty dragoons. Our little
action more particularly marks the retreat of the enemy. From the place
whence he first began to retire to Williamsburg is upwards of one
hundred miles. The old arms at the Point of Fork have been taken out of
the water. The cannon was thrown into the river, undamaged, when they
marched back to Richmond; so that his lordship did us no harm of any
consequence, but lost an immense part of his former conquests, and did
not make any in this state. General Greene only demanded of me to hold
my ground in Virginia. But the movements of Lord Cornwallis may answer
better purposes than that in the political line. Adieu, my dear
general; I don't know but what we shall, in our turn, become the
pursuing enemy; and in the meanwhile, have the honour to be, &c.
1. It was the 20th of May that Lord Cornwallis effected his junction
with the troops of Arnold, whose unexpected opposition re-established
the affairs of the English in Virginia. The war became from that moment
extremely active, and the movements of the two armies very complicated.
M. de Lafayette maintained his position, and experienced no other check
than the loss of some magazines, at the forks of James River, which had
been confided to the care of Baron Steuben. His position was, however,
rather a defensive one, until the period at which that letter was
written, when the English abandoned Richmond. Cornwallis obtained, and
usually by the aid of negroes, the best horses of Virginia. He had
mounted an advance-guard of Tarleton on race-hores, who, like birds of
prey, seized all they met with, so that they had taken many couriers
who were bearers of letters. Cornwallis stopped once during his
retrograde march on Williamsburg; the Americans being close to him, it
was thought an affair would take place, but he continued on his road.
It was before he reached Williamsburg that his rear-guard was attacked
by the advance corps of Lafayette under Colonel Butler. He evacuated
Williamsburg the 4th; Lafayette had done all he could to convince him
that his own forces were more considerable than they really were.
Either the night of, or two nights before, the evacuation of
Williamsburg, a double spy had taken a false order of the day to Lord
Cornwallis,--found, he said, in the camp,--which ordered General
Morgan's division to take a certain position in the line. The fact was,
that General Morgan had arrived in person, but unaccompanied by troops:
Dr. Gordon justly observes, that Lord Cornwallis, from Charlestown to
Williamsburg, had made more than eleven hundred miles, without counting
deviations, which amounts, reckoning those deviations, to five hundred
leagues. The whole march through North Carolina and Virginia, and the
campaign against Lafayette, were effected without tents or equipages,
which confers honour on the activity of Lord Cornwallis, and justifies
the reputation he had acquired, of being the best British general
employed in that war.--(Extract of Manuscript, No. 2.)
EXTRACTS OF SEVERAL LETTERS TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.~
Ambler's Plantation, July 8th, 1781.
The inclosed copy, my dear general, will give you an account of our
affairs in this quarter. Agreeably to your orders I have avoided a
general action, and when Lord Cornwallis's movements indicated that it
was against his interest to fight, I ventured partial engagements. His
lordship seems to have given up the conquest of Virginia. It has been a
great secret that our army was not superior, and was most generally
inferior, to the enemy's numbers. Our returns were swelled up, as
militia returns generally are; but we had very few under arms,
particularly lately, and to conceal the lessening of our numbers, I was
obliged to push on as one who had heartily wished a general engagement.
Our regulars did not exceed one thousand five hundred, the enemy had
four thousand regulars, eight hundred of whom were mounted: they
thought we had eight thousand men. I never encamped in a line, and
there was greater difficulty to come at our numbers.
Malvan Hill, July 20th.
When I went to the southward, you know I had some private objections;
but I became sensible of the necessity there was for the detachment to
go, and I knew that had I returned there was nobody that could lead
them on against their inclination. My entering this state was happily
marked by a service to the capital. Virginia became the grand object of
the enemy, as it was the point to which the ministry tended. I had the
honour to command an army and oppose Lord Cornwallis. When incomparably
inferior to him, fortune was pleased to preserve us; when equal in
numbers, though not in quality of troops, we have also been pretty
lucky. Cornwallis had the disgrace of a retreat, and this state being
recovered, government is properly re-established: The enemy are under
the protection of their works at Portsmouth. It appears an embarkation
is taking place, probably destined to New York. The war in this state
would then become a plundering one, and great manoeuvres be out of the
question. A prudent officer would do our business here, and the baron
is prudent to the utmost. Would it be possible, my dear general, in
case a part of the British troops go to New York, I may be allowed to
join the combined armies?
Malvan Hill, July 20th.
No accounts from the northward, no letter from head quarters. I am
entirely a stranger to every thing that passes out of Virginia; and
Virginian operations being for the present in a state of languor, I
have more time to think of my solitude; in a word, my dear general, I
am home sick, and if I cannot go to head quarters, wish at least to
hear from thence. I am anxious to know your opinion concerning the
Virginian campaign. That the subjugation of this state was the great
object of the ministry is an indisputable fact. I think your diversion
has been of more use to the state than my manoeuvres; but the latter
have been much directed by political views. So long as my lord wished
for an action, not one gun has been fired; the moment he declined it,
we have been skirmishing; but I took care never to commit the army. His
naval superiority, his superiority of horse, of regulars, his thousand
advantages over us, so that I am lucky to have come off safe. I had an
eye upon European negotiations, and made it a point to give his
lordship the disgrace of a retreat.
From every account it appears that a part of the army will embark. The
light infantry, the guards, the 80th regiment, and the Queen's rangers,
are, it is said, destined to New York. Lord Cornwallis, I am told, is
much disappointed in his hopes of command. I cannot find out what he
does with himself. Should he go to England, we are, I think, to rejoice
for it; he is a cold and active man, two dangerous qualities in this
The clothing you have long ago sent to the light infantry is not yet
arrived. I have been obliged to send for it, and expect it in a few
days. These three battalions are the best troops that ever took the
field; my confidence in them is unbounded; they are far superior to any
British troops, and none will ever venture to meet them in equal
numbers. What a pity these men are not employed along with the French
grenadiers; they would do eternal honour to our arms. But their
presence here, I must confess, has saved this state, and, indeed, the
southern part of the continent.
Malvan Hill, July 26th.
I had some days ago the honour to write to your excellency, and
informed you that a detachment from the British army would probably
embark at Portsmouth. The battalions of light infantry and the Queen's
rangers were certainly, and the guards, with one or two British
regiments, were likely to be, ordered upon that service. My conjectures
have proved true, and forty-nine sail have fallen down in Hampton-road,
the departure of which I expect to hear every minute. A British
officer, a prisoner, lately mentioned that Lord Cornwallis himself was
It appears the enemy have some cavalry on board. The conquest of
Virginia, and the establishment of the British power in this state, not
having succeeded to the expectation of the British court, a lesser
number might be sufficient for the present purpose, and two thousand
men easily spared. So that I do not believe the present embarkation is
under that number; so far as a land force can oppose naval operations
and naval superiority, I think the position now occupied by the main
body of our small army affords the best chance to support the several
parts of Virginia.
Malvan Hill, July 30th.
Some expressions in your last favour will, if possible, augment my
vigilance in keeping you well apprised of the enemy's movements.~
There are in Hampton-road thirty transport ships full of troops, most
of them red coats. There are eight or ten brigs which have cavalry on
board, they had excellent winds and yet they are not gone. Some say
they have received advices from New York in a row boat: the escort, as
I mentioned before, is the _Charon_, and several frigates, the last
account says seven. I cannot be positive, and do not even think Lord
Cornwallis has been fully determined.
I have sent, by a safe hand, to call out some militia, mount some
cannon at the passes, and take out of the way every boat which might
serve the enemy to go to North Carolina. You know, my dear general,
that, with a very trifling transportation, they may go by water from
Portsmouth to Wilmington. The only way to shut up that passage is, to
have an army before Portsmouth, and possess the heads of these rivers,
a movement which, unless I was certain of a naval superiority, might
prove ruinous. But should a fleet come in Hampton-road, and should I
get some days' notice, our situation would be very agreeable.
Malvan Hill, July 31.
A correspondent of mine, servant to Lord Cornwallis, writes on the 26th
of July, at Portsmouth, and says his master, Tarleton, and Simcoe, are
still in town, but expect to move. The greatest part of the army is
embarked. My lord's baggage is yet in town. His lordship is so shy of
his papers that my honest friend says he cannot get at them. There is a
large quantity of negroes, but, it seems, no vessels to take them off.
What garrison they leave I do not know: I shall take care at least to
keep them within bounds. . . . Should a French fleet now come in
Hampton Road, the British army would, I think, be ours.
Camp on Pamunkey, August 6.
The embarkation which I thought, and do still think, to have been
destined for New York, was reported to have sailed up the bay, and to
be bound for Baltimore; in consequence of which I wrote to your
excellency, and as I had not indulged myself too near Portsmouth, I was
able to cut across towards Fredericksburg. But, instead of continuing
his voyage up the bay, my lord entered York River, and landed at York
and Gloucester. To the former vessels were added a number of flat-
Our movements have not been precipitate. We were in time to take our
course down Pamunkey River, and shall move to some position where the
several parts of the army will unite. I have some militia in Gloucester
county, some about York. We shall act agreeably to circumstances, but
avoid drawing ourselves into a false movement, which, if cavalry had
command of the rivers, would give the enemy the advantage of us. His
lordship plays so well, that no blunder can be hoped from him to
recover a bad step of ours.
York is surrounded by the river and a morass; the entrance is but
narrow. There is, however, a commanding hill, (at least, I am so
informed,) which, if occupied by the enemy, would much extend their
works. Gloucester is a neck of land projected into the river, and
opposite to York. Their vessels, the biggest of whom is a forty-four,
are between the two towns. Should a fleet come in at this moment, our
affairs would take a very happy turn.
New Kent Mountain, August 11.
Be sure, my dear general, that the pleasure of being with you will make
me happy in any command you may think proper to give me; but for the
present I am of opinion, with you, I had better remain in Virginia, the
more so, as Lord Cornwallis does not choose to leave us, and
circumstances may happen that will furnish me agreeable opportunities
in the command of the Virginian army. I have pretty well understood
you, my dear general, but would be happy in a more minute detail,
which, I am sensible, cannot be entrusted to letters. Would not Gouvion
be a proper ambassador? indeed, at all events, I should be happy to
have him with me; but I think he would perfectly well answer your
purpose; a gentleman in your family could with difficulty be spared.
Should something be ascertained, Count Damas might come, under pretence
to serve with me; it is known he is very much my friend. But, to return
to operations in Virginia, I will tell you, my dear general, that Lord
Cornwallis is entrenching at York and at Gloucester. The sooner we
disturb him, the better; but unless our maritime friends give us help,
we cannot much venture below.
Forks of York River, August 21.
The greater part of the enemy are at York, which they do not as yet
fortify, but are very busy upon Gloucester neck, where they have a
pretty large corps under Colonel Dundas. They have at York a
forty-four gun ship; frigates and vessels are scattered lower down.
There is still a small garrison at Portsmouth. Should they intend to
evacuate, they at least are proceeding with amazing slowness. From the
enemy's preparations, I should infer that they are working for the
protection of one fleet, and for a defence against another; that in
case they hold Portsmouth, the main body would be at York, and a
detached corps upon Gloucester neck to protect the water battery. Their
fortifications are much contracted. From the enemy's caution and
partial movements, I should conclude their intelligence is not very
good, and that they wish to come at an explanation of my intentions and
We have hitherto occupied the forks of York River, thereby looking both
ways. Some militia have prevented the enemy's parties from remaining
any time at or near Williamsburg, and false accounts have given them
some alarms. Another body of militia, under Colonel Ennis, has kept
them pretty close in Gloucester Town, and foraged in their vicinity.
Upon the receipt of your orders, I wrote to the governor, that
intelligence of some plans of the enemy rendered it proper to have some
six hundred militia collected upon Blackwater. I wrote to General
Gregory, near Portsmouth, that I had an account that the enemy intended
to push a detachment to Carolina, which would greatly defeat a scheme
we had there. I have requested General Wayne to move towards the
southward, to be ready to cross James River at Westover. A battalion of
light infantry, and our only hundred dragoons, being in Gloucester
county, I call them my vanguard, and will take my quarters there for
one or two days, while the troops are filing off towards James River.
Our little army will consequently assemble again upon the waters of the
Chickahonimy; and should Jamestown Island thought to be a good place to
junction, we will be in a situation to form it, while we render it more
difficult for the enemy to render a journey to Carolina.~
In the present state of affairs, my dear general, I hope you will come
yourself to Virginia, and that, if the French army moves this way, I
will have, at least, the satisfaction of beholding you myself at the
head of the combined armies. In two days I will write again to your
excellency, and keep you particularly and constantly informed, unless
something is done the very moment (and it will probably be difficult).
Lord Cornwallis must be attacked with pretty great apparatus. But when
a French fleet takes possession of the bay and rivers, and we form a
land force superior to his, that army must, sooner or later, be forced
to surrender, as we may get what reinforcements we please.
Adieu, my dear general; I heartily thank you for having ordered me to
remain in Virginia; it is to your goodness that I am indebted for the
most beautiful prospect which I may ever behold.
1. From Williamsburg, the English retreated towards Portsmouth, near
the mouth of James River, and consequently not far from Chesapeak Bay.
The sea was open to them, and those repeated retrograde movements
seemed to indicate the project of evacuating Virginia. M. de Lafayette,
therefore, when he learnt that they were embarking on board their
ships, never doubted but that their intention was to leave that part of
the country, to repair, in all probability, to New York. But it became
evident, at the same time, that if those naval forces appeared upon the
coast, they would be blockaded without any means of escape. This is
what occasioned their inexplicable and unhoped for retreat upon
Yorktown and Gloucester.
2. The 13th, Washington, who was then at Dobb's Ferry, while
congratulating M. de Lafayette on his success, announced to him the
junction of his army with that of Rochambeau, and that very important
information would be carried to him by a confidential officer. He
recommended to him to concentrate his forces, and obtain means of
corresponding with him. The 15th, he apprised him that the Count de
Grasse intended quitting St. Domingo on the 3rd, with his fleet, to
proceed to the Chesapeak, and prescribed to him to shut out from Lord
Cornwallis all retreat on North Carolina. He added, "You shall hear
further from me." The 30th, he no longer concealed his intention of
marching to the south. But he only announced on the 21st of August that
his troops were actually on their march. While recurring to the
necessity of inclosing the enemy on every side, he ended by saying,
"The particular mode I shall not at this distance attempt to dictate;
your own knowledge of the country, from your long continuance in it,
and the various and extended movements you have made, have given you
great opportunities for observation; of which I am persuaded your
military genius and judgment will lead you to make the best
improvement."--(Letters of Washington, vol. viii.)
3. After the arrival of Lord Cornwallis at York, General Lafayette
asked Colonel Barber for a faithful and intelligent soldier, whom he
could send as a spy into the English camp. Morgan, of the New Jersey
line, was pointed out to him. The general sent for him and proposed to
him the difficult task of going over to the enemy as a deserter and
enrolling in their army. Morgan answered that he was ready to
everything for his country and his general, but to act the part of a
spy was repugnant to all his feelings; he did not fear for his life but
for his name which might be blotted with an eternal stain. He ended,
however, by yielding but on condition, that in case of any misfortune,
the general would make the truth known, and publish all the particulars
of the case in the New Jersey papers. M. de Lafayette promised this
should be done. Morgan then proceeded to the English camp. His mission
was to give advice of the movements of the enemy, and deceive them as
to the projects and resources of the Americans. He had not been long
with the English, when Cornwallis sent for him, and questioned him, in
the presence of Tarleton, upon the means General Lafayette might have
of crossing south of James River. Morgan replied, according to his
private instructions, that he had a sufficient number of boats, on the
first signal, to cross the river, with his whole army. "In that case,"
said Cornwallis to Tarleton, "what I said to you cannot be done;"
alluding, in all probability, to an intended march upon North Carolina.
After the arrival of the French fleet, M. de Lafayette, on his return
from a reconnoitring party, found in his quarters six men dressed in
the English uniform, and a Hessian dressed in green: Morgan was amongst
them, bringing back five deserters and a prisoner: he no longer thought
his services as a spy could be of any use to his country. The next day,
the general offered him, as a recompence, the rank of sergeant. Morgan
thanked him, but declined the offer, saying that he thought himself a
good soldier, but was not certain of being a good sergeant. Other
offers were also refused. "What can I then do for you?" inquired the
general. "I have only one favour to ask," replied Morgan. "During my
absence, my gun has been taken from me; I value it very much, and I
should like to have it back again." Orders were given that the gun
should be found and restored to him: this was the only thing he could
be prevailed on to receive. Mr. Sparks, who published this anecdote,
"says he heard it related, fifty years after it had occurred, by
General Lafayette, who still expressed great admiration for that
soldier's noble feelings and disinterested conduct."--(Washington's
Writings, vol. viii., p. 152.)
TO MADAME DE LAFAYETTE.
Camp, between the branches of York River, August 24, 1781.
The residence of Virginia is anything but favourable to my
correspondence. I do not accuse public affairs of this evil; and as I
find so much time to think of my affection for you, I could doubtless
find some, also, to assure you of it; but there are no opportunities
here of sending letters, and we are obliged to despatch them to
Philadelphia and expose them to many hazards; these dangers, in
addition to those of the sea, and the increased delay they occasion,
must necessarily render the arrival of letters far more difficult. If
you receive a greater number from the French than from the Virginian
army, it would be unjust to imagine that I have been to blame.
Your self-love has, perhaps, been gratified by the part I have been
obliged to act: you may have hoped that I could not be equally awkward
on every theatre; but I should accuse you of an egregious degree of
vanity (for all things being in common between us, there is vanity in
rating me too highly) if you have not trembled for the perils to which
I have been exposed. I am not speaking of cannon balls, but of the more
dangerous master-strokes with which I was threatened by Lord
Cornwallis. It was not prudent in the general to confide to me such a
command. If I had been unfortunate, the public would have called that
partiality an error in his judgment.
To begin, even from the deluge, I must speak to you of that miserable
Portsmouth expedition. General Rochambeau had intended sending a
thousand Frenchmen there, under the Baron de Viomenil. You must have
heard that the French squadron gained a great deal of glory, whilst the
English attained their desired end. Admiral Arbuthnot will since have
informed you that I was blockaded; but, although we were not sailors,
that blockade did not detain us four hours. You will have learnt,
afterwards, that General Phillips having made some preparations at
Portsmouth, we marched in all haste to Richmond, where we arrived
nearly at the same time; but I arrived first. They then came from New
York and Carolina to unite with the Virginian troops; the whole was
commanded by the formidable Lord Cornwallis, who abandoned his first
conquests to fulfil the ministerial plan by the conquest of Virginia.
It was not without some difficulty that we avoided the battle he wished
for; but, after many marches, we became stronger than we were at the
commencement, and we pretended to be stronger than we were; we regained
what we had lost without risking a battle, and, after two trifling
affairs, the hostile army proceeded to Portsmouth, which it has since
evacuated, and whose fortifications we have destroyed. That army is now
in York River, whither they repaired by water. If the naval superiority
which we are so fully expecting should arrive, I shall rejoice at the
campaign closing by the English army's assuming that position.
The French and American troops before New York are under the orders of
the generalissimo. My friend Greene has had great success in Carolina,
and that campaign has taken a far better turn than we had any reason to
expect or hope. _It may perhaps end in a very favourable manner_. It is
said that the British ministry are sending here the Governor of
Virginia; I fancy they have founded rather too many hopes upon the
success of their army. The Pennsylvanians, who were to have joined
them, are at present here with us. But for the virtue, zeal, and
courage of the regular troops who were with me, it would have been
impossible for me to have saved myself. I cannot sufficiently express
my gratitude to those with whom I have undertaken this fatiguing
campaign. The militia have done all they could. I have been well
pleased, with our little army, and only hope it may have been also
pleased with me.
I must speak of my health, which is a monotonous subject,--for I need
only repeat favourable accounts of my own constitution: the sun of
Virginia has a very bad character, and I had received many alarming
predictions; many persons, in truth, have had fevers; but this climate
agrees with me as well as any other, and the only effect fatigue has
upon me is to increase my appetite.
TO M. DE VERGENNES.
Camp, between the branches of York River, August 24th, 1781.
When a person, sir, has Lord Cornwallis in front and is flying through
the sands of Virginia, he must depend upon others to give
circumstantial news of America. Ever since the guidance of this army
has been entrusted to me, I have found myself five hundred miles from
any other troops, and all accounts of the war, of General Washington,
and of congress, are an immense time in reaching me; but you have the
Chevalier de la Luzerne, and you could not have a better informer.
There is only one point on which I cannot depend on any person to speak
for me,--and that is when I am assuring you of the affectionate and
devoted attachment I shall feel for you during the remainder of my
To execute the gigantic project which his court has planned, Lord
Cornwallis was obliged to leave exposed both the Carolinas. General
Greene took ample advantage of this circumstance. It is true that the
hostile army bore on every point upon us, and all depended upon our
having the good luck to avoid a battle: fortune served us well, and
after a few junctions, our little army regained all the ground whose
conquest had occasioned so many sacrifices. In the other states we
manoeuvred rather than fought. Lord Cornwallis has left us Portsmouth,
from whence he communicated with Carolina, and finds himself at present
at York, which would be a very advantageous station for us, if we
possessed a naval superiority: if that should by chance arrive, our
little army would enjoy successes which would amply compensate for this
long and fatiguing campaign: I should not, in that case, regret our
last movements having placed us in our present situation.
I can only speak to you of myself, sir, or of the English army, for all
other accounts will reach you at Versailles almost as soon as they do
me in this remote corner of Virginia. It is reported that you are going
to make peace, but I am not very credulous on this point, and I fancy
that they will at least await the end of this campaign.
This is a large packet, sir, but I do not fear taking advantage of your
kindness, as I well know the full extent; I flatter myself I merit it
as much as it is possible for any person to do so, by the feelings of
confidence and respectful affection with which I remain, &c.
I beg you to present my kind compliments to the Countess de Vergennes,
and to your sons.
TO M. DE MAUREPAS.
Camp, between the branches of the York River, August 24th, 1781.
Whilst I am thus, sir, more than ever separated from the rest of the
world, I am not less occupied with the persons I love, and who honour
me with their kindness and attention. I owe you so much gratitude, and
feel so much attached to you, that I wish to recal sometimes to your
recollection the rebel commander of the little Virginian army.
Interested for me, sir, as I know you are, you would have been alarmed
by the important part my youth has been called upon to act: five
hundred miles from any other corps, and without any resources whatever,
I was placed to oppose the projects of the court of St. James's and the
good fortune of Lord Cornwallis. Until the present moment, we have not
met with any disasters; but, in a time of war, no person can tell what
events may occur on the following day. Lord Cornwallis pursued us
without succeeding in taking us, and after a variety of movements, he
is now in the good York harbour; who knows whether his manoeuvres may
not end by making us prisoners of war?
As I do not know what vessel may bear this despatch, I will neither
dwell upon our projects nor our hopes; the Chevalier de la Luzerne, who
knows every opportunity for France, will inform you of all that passes
here; for my part, I am lost in the sands of Virginia, living only by
my wits, and corresponding with Lord Cornwallis only. This letter, sir,
is merely intended to recal me to your remembrance, and to offer you
the assurance of my respectful and affectionate regard.
Will you permit me, sir, to present my respects to the Countess de
Maurepas and Madame de Flamarens?
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.~
Holt's Forge, 1st Sept., 1781.
My dear General,--From the bottom of my heart I congratulate you upon
the arrival of the French fleet. Some rumours had been spread, and spy
accounts sent out, but no certainty until the admiral's despatches came
to hand. Inclosed I send you his letter, and that of M. de St. Simon,
both of whom I request you will have translated by Tilghman or Gouvion
alone, as there are parts of them personal, which I do not choose to
shew to others. Thanks to you, my dear general, I am in a very charming
situation, and find myself at the head of a beautiful body of troops;
but am not so hasty as the Count de Grasse, and think that, having so
sure a game to play, it would be madness, by the risk of an attack, to
give anything to chance.
It appears Count de Grasse is in a great hurry to return; he makes it a
point to put upon my expressions such constructions as may favour his
plan. They have been pleased to adopt my ideas, as to the sending of
vessels into James River, and forming a junction at Jamestown. I wish
they may also force the passage at York, because then his lordship has
no possibility of escape.
The delay of Count de Grasse's arrival, the movement of the grand army,
and the alarm there was at York, have forced me, for greater security,
to send a part of the troops to the south side, of James River. To-
morrow and the day after will be employed in making dispositions for
covering a landing, which will be done with continentals discumbered of
baggage; and on the 5th, agreeable to the count's desire, a junction
will be made of our troops. I shall then propose to the French general
the taking of a safe position, within ten or twelve miles of York; such
a one as cannot be forced without a much greater loss than we could
And, unless matters are very different from what I think they are, my
opinion is, that we ought to be contented with preventing the enemy's
forages, and fatiguing them by alarming their picquets with militia,
without committing our regulars. Whatever readiness the Marquis de St.
Simon has been pleased to express to Colonel Gimat, respecting his
being under me, I shall do nothing without paying that deference which
is due to age, talents, and experience; but would rather incline to the
cautious line of conduct I have of late adopted. General Portail must
be now with Count de Grasse. He knows your intentions, and our course
will be consulted in our movements.
Lord Cornwallis has still one way to escape; he may land at West Point,
and cross James River, some miles below Point of Fork; but I thought
this part was the most important, as the other route is big with
obstacles. However, to prevent even a _possibility_, I would wish some
ships were above York.
The governor~ was with me when the letters came; he jumped upon a
horse, and posted off to his council. I gave him a memorandum,
demanding provisions of every kind for the fleet and the combined army.
We may depend upon a quantity of cattle, but flour ought to be sent
from Maryland and Pennsylvania. Chevalier d'Annemours, the French
consul, is here, and will take a method to have his countrymen supplied
without starving us.
Upon a particular inquiry of the country, and our circumstances, I hope
you will find we have taken the best precautions to lessen his
lordship's chances to escape; he has a few left, but so very
precarious, that I hardly believe he will make the attempt; if he does,
he must give up ships, artillery, baggage, part of the horses, all the
negroes; he must be certain to lose the third of his army, and run the
greatest risk to lose the whole, without gaining that glory which he
may derive from a brilliant defence.
Adieu, my dear general, the agreeable situation I am in is owing to
your friendship, and is, for that reason, the dearer to your respectful
servant and friend.
1. Washington having finally adopted the project of uniting the land
and sea forces against the army of Cornwallis, which had so fortunately
stationed itself in the position most favourable to a naval attack, it
was still important and difficult to prevent him from reaching
Carolina, and thus ruining the campaign of the allied powers. It was to
attain this end, that Lafayette had despatched troops to the south of
James River, under pretence of dislodging the English from Portsmouth;
this movement had also the good effect of uniting to the corps of the
army the troops and artillery who could escape by Albemarle Sound on
the arrival of the Count de Grasse. With the same view, he detained
troops on the south of James River, on pretence of sending General
Wayne and his Pennsylvanians to the southern army to reinforce General
Greene. No person was in the secret, and the enemy could not,
therefore, be undeceived. It was at that period that he sent them the
pretended deserter, Morgan. In short, after having manoeuvred for
several months to lead his opponent into the spot that would best allow
him to take advantage of a naval co-operation, he manoeuvred at last so
as to prevent his enemy from withdrawing when he became conscious of
his danger. His precautions in this respect were more necessary from
Lord Cornwallis knowing that a large French fleet was expected in North
America. The moment the Count de Grasse arrived, Lafayette marched on
rapidly to Williamsburg, and effected a junction with a corps of three
thousand men belonging to the Marquis de St. Simon. As soon as he
landed at Jamestown, he crossed the river, united Wayne's corps to his
own, and assembled, on the other side of York River, opposite to
Gloucester, a corps of militia. The English army thus found itself
enclosed on every side, and no possible means of safety were left to
Lord Cornwallis but by his undertaking a very perilous enterprise. He
reconnoitred, however, the position of Williamsburg, with the intention
of attacking it. It was a well chosen station: two creeks; or small
rivers, throwing themselves, one into James, the other into York River,
almost enclosed the peninsula on that point; it was necessary to force
two well defended passages; two houses and two public buildings of
Williamsburg, both of stone, were well placed to defend the front.
There were five thousand French and American troops, a large corps of
militia, and a well served campaign artillery. Lord Cornwallis thought
he ought not to hazard an attack. He might have crossed over to
Gloucester, or have ascended York River, the Count de Grasse having
neglected to place vessels above that point, but he must have
abandoned, in that case, his artillery, magazines, and invalids, and
measures had been taken to cut off his road in several places; he
determined, therefore, to await the attack. He might have had, in
truth, the chance of a combat, if Lafayette had yielded to some
tempting solicitations. The Count de Grasse was in a hurry to return;
the idea of waiting for the northern troops and generals was
intolerable to him; he entreated Lafayette to attack the English army;
with the American and French troops that were under his command,
offering, for that purpose, not only the detachments which formed the
garrisons of the ships, but also as many sailors as he should demand.
The Marquis de St. Simon, who although subordinate to Lafayette from
the date of his commission, was much his senior in point of age and
service, joined earnestly in the admiral's request. He represented that
Lord Cornwallis's works were not yet completed, and that an attack of
superior forces would soon, in all probability, take Yorktown, and
afterwards Gloucester. The temptation was great for the young general
of the combined army, who was scarcely four-and-twenty years of age; he
had an unanswerable pretence for taking such a step in the declaration
made by M. de Grasse, that he could not wait for the northern generals
and forces; but this attack, which, if successful, would have been so
brilliant, must necessarily have cost a great deal of blood. Lafayette
would not sacrifice to his personal ambition the soldiers who had been
confided to him; and, refusing the request of the Count de Grasse, he
only endeavoured to persuade him to await the arrival of General
Washington, accompanied by the Generals Rochambeau and Lincoln, seniors
of Lafayette; by this means the reduction of the army of Cornwallis
became a secure and by no means costly operation. (Note extracted from
Manuscript, No. 2.)
2. The governor of Virginia, Nelson.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Williamsburg, September 8, 1781.
My dear General,--I had the honour to write you lately, giving an
account of everything that came within my knowledge. I was every hour
expecting I might be more particular; but if you knew how slowly things
go on in this country; still I have done the best in my power; I have
written and received twenty letters a day from government and from
every department. The governor does what he can: the wheels of his
government are so very rusty that no governor whatever will be able to
set them free again. Time will prove that Jefferson has been too
severely charged. The French troops, my dear general, have landed with
amazing celerity; they have already been wanting flour, meat and salt,
not so much, however, as to be one day without. I have been night and
day the quarter-master collector, and have drawn myself into a violent
head-ache and fever, which will go off with three hours' sleep, the
want of which has occasioned it. This, my dear general, will apologize
to you for not writing with my own hand. The French army is composed of
the most excellent regiments: they have with them a corps of hussars,
which may be of immediate use. The general and all the officers have
cheerfully lived in the same way as our poorly provided American
detachment. I think a letter from you on the subject will have a very
good effect. Last night by leaving our own baggage, and accepting of
our officers' horses, we have been able to move to a position near
Williamsburg: it is covered along the front with ravines; the right
flank is covered by a mill-pond, on the road to Jamestown; the left by
Queen's Creek, small rivulets, and marshes. We have militia still in
front of our right and left, and a good look out on the river. Our
provisions may come to the capital landing. Williamsburg and its strong
buildings are in our front. I have upon the lines General Muhlenberg
with one thousand men, four hundred of whom are Virginian regulars, and
one hundred dragoons. In borrowing White's unequipped horses we may add
one hundred hussars. There is a line of armed ships along James River,
and a small reserve of militia, which may increase every day: there are
in Gloucester county eight hundred militia driving off stock. I had
recommended, with proper delicacy, to Count de Grasse to send some
naval forces up York River; the French armed vessels in Pamunkey are
come down to West Point. No movement of Count de Grasse has as yet
taken place, except some ships below York. Your excellency's letter to
him has been duly forwarded; we are under infinite obligations to the
officers and the men for their zeal.
I entered into these particular accounts, my dear general, in order to
show you that propriety, and not the desire to advance, has dictated
our measures. We will try, if not dangerous, upon a large scale, to
form a good idea of the works; but, unless I am greatly deceived, there
will be madness in attacking them now with our force. Marquis de St.
Simon, Count de Grasse, and General du Portail, agree with me in
opinion; but, should Lord Cornwallis come out against, such a position,
as we have, everybody thinks that he cannot but repent of it; and
should he beat us, he must soon prepare for another battle.
Now, my dear general, I am going to speak to you of the fortifications
at York. Lord Cornwallis is working day and night, and will soon work
himself into a respectable situation: he has taken ashore the greater
part of his sailors; he is picking up whatever provisions he can get. I
am told he has ordered the inhabitants in the vicinity of the town to
come in, and should think they may do him much good. Our present
position will render him cautious, and I think it a great point. No
news as yet in this camp of the fleet of M. le Comte de Barras.~
I will now answer you that part of your letter respecting provisions
for the troops under your immediate command.
With respect to a proper place for the debarkation of your troops, it
is the opinion of the Marquis de St. Simon, and mine, that it must be
in James River, but we have not had an opportunity yet of fixing on the
best spot: it appears, however, that it must be at or near Williamsburg
With the most affectionate regard and esteem, I am; dear general, &c.
1. Marshall speaks of the departure of the Count de Barras for the
Chesapeak, and of his arrival with the artillery of the siege; that the
admiral had received a letter from the minister of the marine, the
Marshal de Castries, who, informing him of the orders given to M. de
Grasse to proceed to the coasts of the United States, left him free to
make a cruise on the banks of Newfoundland, not wishing to oblige
him to serve under his junior, to whom the minister had entrusted the
command. But M. de Barras nobly determined to convey himself and
the artillery to Rhode Island, and to range himself, with all his
under the command of an admiral less ancient than
himself.--Manuscript, No. 2.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.~
Camp before York, October 16, 1781.
My dear General,--Your excellency having personally seen our
dispositions, I shall only give an account of what passed in the
Colonel Gimat's battalion led the van, and was followed by that of
Colonel Hamilton's, who commanded the whole advanced corps; at the same
time, a party of eighty men, under Colonel Laurens, turned the redoubt.
I beg leave to refer your excellency to the report I have received from
Colonel Hamilton, whose well known talents and gallantry were on this
occasion most conspicuous and serviceable. Our obligations to him, to
Colonel Gimat, to Colonel Laurens, and to each and all the officers and
men, are above expression. Not one gun was fired, and the ardour of the
troops did not give time for the sappers to derange them, and, owing to
the conduct of the commanders and the bravery of the men, the redoubt
was stormed with uncommon rapidity.
Colonel Barber's battalion, which was the first in the supporting
column, being detached to the aid of the advance, arrived at the moment
they were getting over the works, and executed their orders with the
utmost alacrity. The colonel was slightly wounded: the rest of the
column under General Muhlenberg and Hazen advanced with admirable
firmness and discipline. Colonel Vose's battalion displayed to the
left, a part of the division successively dressing by him, whilst a
second line was forming columns in the rear. It adds greatly to the
character of the troops that, under the fire of the enemy, they
displayed and took their rank with perfect silence and order. Give me
leave particularly to mention Major Barber, division inspector, who