In 1780 the revolt of the thirteen colonies against the mother country entered its sixth year. How much longer it would continue before England tired of the conflict depended less upon internal conditions in America than upon the assistance to be received from France. In considering the kind and quantity of aid to be rendered its ally, it was necessary for the French ministry to give careful thought to the constantly changing economic and military conditions, not only in Europe but in the Far East and the West Indies as well.
The United States needed money, ships, and men in large amount and great number if a decided attempt were to be made to bring the conflict to a successful termination during the year. Of the three essential factors, money and ships ranked first and were of equal importance. Without foreign loans, to be used in paying the Army and purchasing food, supplies, clothing, and munitions, the number of revolutionists willing to continue the hardships of campaign would have decreased almost to the vanishing point. Such opposition to the complete restoration of British sovereignty as might continue would be in the nature of guerrilla warfare. Without ships, no matter how many patriots were kept under arms, success on land would not be so great as to compel a discouraged England to make peace. Should England lose control of the sea and no longer be able to shift her troops at will along the Atlantic coast line, her final defeat would be assured if an allied army of equal strength were put in the field.
At no time was there unanimity of opinion in the French council as to the amount of aid that should be given to their allies. The
ministry favored aggressive action in the conduct of the war, now that the combined fleets of France and Spain were superior to that of England, but whether to engage in major operations in Europe, the West Indies, or the United States was difficult to decide. Necker tried to discourage all projects that were costly and never ceased to warn of the increasing burden of debt. Maurepas had become conservative through age and long service to his government, although his slow pulse was quickened by the youthful enthusiasm of Lafayette. Vergennes favored waging war upon England through the colonies, and in this had the support of the King.
The individual in Europe of most value to the United States at this period was Benjamin Franklin, minister plenipotentiary to the Court of France. The greatness of his character, his instinctive honesty, the confidence inspired in all with whom he became acquainted, and his thorough understanding of America were the qualities which enabled him to render service to his country of incalculable value. Conditions in the colonies were never pictured by him in an exaggerated manner, nor were the embarrassments of Congress and the dire necessities of the Army overdrawn. Officials of government always accorded full value to his statements, and his genius gave a stability to the cause he represented that completely obliterated the inefficiency of some of those associated with him.
Next to Franklin in value and largeness of accomplishment came Lafayette. A voluminous correspondent and earnest conversationalist on subjects which engaged his serious attention, he never permitted a day to pass without making some effort in behalf of the country he loved and the commander he adored. His enthusiasm and perseverance broke down resistance and smothered the objections of those who opposed his views. His position in France would not have been strengthened had his years been doubled. His honorable conduct and experiences in America were gladly acclaimed by his countrymen. The President of Congress had sent
a complimentary letter to the King about the young veteran, giving a full measure of praise for the prudent and spirited conduct which manifestly justified his appointment as major general in the American Army. The president said:
His devotion to his sovereign hath led him in all things to demean himself as an American, acquiring thereby the confidence of these United States, your good and faithful friends and allies, and the affection of their citizens.
In writing to Vergennes before Lafayette's departure, M. Gerard said:
I ought not to terminate this long despatch without rendering to the wisdom and dexterity of the Marquis de la Fayette, in the part he has taken in these discussions, the justice which is due to his merits. He has given most salutary counsels, authorized by his friendship and experience. The Americans strongly solicited his return with the troops, which the King may send. * * * I cannot for, bear saying; that the conduct equally prudent, courageous, and amiable of the Marquis de la Fayette, has made him the idol of the Congress, the Army, and the people of America.
When Lafayette returned to France in the early part of 1779 he joined his family at Versailles and there awaited the outcome of the mediation conducted by his friends with the prime minister to determine what punishment would be inflicted for his disobedience of the King two years before. He was ordered to spend a period of eight days' arrest in the Hotel de Noailles in Paris before presenting himself at court. Shortly after the arrest terminated the King gave him command of his own regiment of dragoons. During the summer an army was assembled on the French coast from Havre to St. Malo which was to be led by the Count de Vaux in an attack on England, and Lafayette was given an appointment on the staff of the commander. The campaign was later abandoned, and in October the army was dispersed. While at Havre Lafayette assailed his friend, the minister for foreign affairs, with countless letters bearing upon the quantity of aid to be given the United States. In one of these many letters to Vergennes he said:
I solemnly affirm, upon my honour, that if half my fortune was spent in sending succours of troops to the Americans, I should believe that, in so doing, I rendered to my country a service more important than this sacrifice.
The French Government finally concluded that the most favorable place to prosecute war against England would be in America, and in the early part of 1780 definite plans were made to send an array and fleet of sufficient size to end the conflict that year. Command of the army was given to Count de Rochambeau, and the fleet was placed under the Chevalier de Ternay. The prime minister remarked in council on one occasion:
It is fortunate for the King, that Lafayette does not take it into his head to strip Versailles of its furniture, to send to his dear Americans; as his Majesty would be unable to refuse it.
The French ministry prepared the instructions for the guidance of Rochambeau with great care, and three of the most essential points reflected the views of Lafayette. One was that the French Army in America would be subject to the orders of General Washington. Another, that when French and American troops were united, the latter would be given the position of honor. The third point was that when French and American officers were united, the Americans of equal grade and the same date of commission should rank the French officers.
The essential features of these instructions, which were signed by Prince de Montbarrey on March 1, 1780, were as follows:
His Majesty, having determined to send a considerable body of troops to America to the assistance of his allies, the United States, has appointed Count de Rochambeau, one of his lieutenant generals, to the command of the twelve battalions of infantry which are to be commanded under his orders by four major generals. This corps, with a proper complement of artillery for sieges and service in the field, is to be in readiness to start from Brest in the first days of April, under the escort of a squadron of six ships of the line, commanded by the Chevalier de Ternay.
In sending such considerable succours to cooperate with General Washington, Commander in chief of the troops of the Congress of the United States of North America, in the military operations which he may determine upon, the intentions of His Majesty are:
Article I. That General Rochambeau should always be under the command of General Washington.
Article II. That all projects and plans for the campaign or for limited expeditions should be decided upon by the American general, with a view to preserve
that harmony which His Majesty hopes to see between the two Commanders in chief, the generals, and the soldiers of the two nations.
Article III. The French troops, being only auxiliaries, will always yield precedence and the right of the line to the American troops.
Article IV. In conformity with the above article, American officers of the same rank and date of commission as French officers, shall take command.
Article V. It is His Majesty's expectation and very positive order to Count de Rochambeau, that he will see to the exact and literal execution of the above four articles.
Article VI. The corps of French troops will retain in all cases full jurisdiction and right of trial over every individual belonging to it.
Article VII. His Majesty, having provided for all the wants of the troops who may be sent from Europe, Congress and General Washington having been previously informed of the intended succours, and the Marquis de Lafayette having been especially charged to give them notice of it and of the moment of their arrival, expects that the strictest orders will have been issued for furnishing the necessary provisions and refreshments of all kinds and the horses required for transporting the French artillery; and that these supplies will be at hand, wherever circumstances may render it advisable for the French troops to land.
Article VIII. His Majesty confides to the prudence of Count de Rochambeau, to his zeal and military talents, and above all to his firmness, the care of maintaining among the French troops the most severe and exact discipline in all respects. Above all it is enjoined upon him to promote by all possible means the greatest harmony and good understanding between the French and the American troops, and all the inhabitants who are either subjects or allies of the Congress of the United States.
Article I. His Majesty desires and orders Count de Rochambeau to retain, as far as circumstances will permit, the French troops collected together in one corps; and to represent to General Washington that it is the King's intention that the French troops shall not be dispersed, except in the case of temporary detachments, which are to rejoin the principal corps within a few days.
Article II. His Majesty intends that the corps of French troops shall keep its own guards and secure its own camps, cantonments, or quarters.
The action of the French Government in assigning to Rochambeau's army the rôle of auxiliaries was a most gracious bit of diplomacy, conducive to flatter the national pride of a sovereign people. Had not this been done the army would have entered
America as an independent allied force, in which case serious complications regarding command could not have been avoided.
Lafayette was ordered to precede the expedition to America, and on the 5th of March instructions of the most confidential nature were given him by Vergennes. Immediately upon landing he was to proceed to headquarters of the army and impart to Washington the secret information that the King, "willing to give the United States a new proof of his affection and of his interest in their security," would send six vessels of the line and 6,000 regular troops of infantry to the United States to take part in the next campaign. The convoy would have orders to land at Rhode Island; and Washington was requested to send letters by French officers to that place and to Block Island, containing information for the expeditionary commanders regarding the position of the English Fleet and Army. If no intelligence should be received from confidential agents located at these points, the convoy would proceed to Boston Harbor.
In case unfavorable winds forced the squadron to the south, it would sail for the capes of Virginia, where another intelligence officer with similar information should be in waiting. Washington was to be informed that the French troops were simply auxiliaries, to act under his orders in all matters except in their internal management. The naval commander was to second by every means in his power all the operations for which his aid was requested. To Washington and his council of war were left all decisions regarding the operations to be undertaken.
After conferring with the American Commander in Chief, Lafayette was to proceed to Congress, "having first ascertained from General Washington how far it will be expedient to open to Congress the secret of our measures." Upon arriving in Philadelphia he was first to see M. de la Luzerne, who had succeeded M. Gerard as minister from France, show him his instructions, communicate all that had passed between General Washington and himself, and take no further steps except in concert with the minister, by whose advice he must be influenced.
Supplementing the foregoing instructions, certain suggestions were offered for the consideration of Washington in determining what operations were most advisable. Two political objectives were proposed: One to drive the British as far as possible from the frontiers, so that the United States would no longer be hemmed in by detachments of the enemy in the Floridas, the Mississippi region, Canada, and Nova Scotia; the other to secure the active assistance of Spain by promising a return of the Floridas to the dominion of their old masters.
The Marquis de Lafayette sailed from France on the 19th of March, 1780, aboard the Hermione and arrived in Boston Harbor on the 26th of April after a passage of 38 days. On the morning of May 10 he reached Army headquarters at Morristown, where a joyful welcome awaited him. After spending four days with Washington he proceeded to Philadelphia to report his return from leave to Congress and to carry out the remainder of his instructions. Congress acknowledged its pleasure in receiving this tender of further services of "so gallant and meritorious an officer" by an appropriate resolution.
The departure of the convoy from the French coast was much delayed, due to changes made in the plans and to other disappointments. Many of the transports assembled at Brest for the expedition were taken by Admiral de Guichen for service in the West Indies, and others that were gathered at Havre and St. Malo to replace them were blockaded in those harbors by an English squadron. It became necessary to divide the army into two detachments, and finally the King ordered Rochambeau to embark at Brest whatever number of troops he could carry. By the 14th of April a force of 5,000 men, together with field and siege artillery detachments, was ready to sail, but was prevented by head winds from going to sea until the 2d of May. The coast of Rhode Island was reached on the 10th of July. The ships were anchored in the harbor, and a post and batteries were established upon Conanicut Island for their protection.
A memorandum for concerting a plan of operations with the French Army was prepared at Washington's headquarters on the 15th of July, and Lafayette was designated to carry it to the French commanders. A letter was addressed to Rochambeau in which Washington sent messages of welcome and expressions of deep appreciation for "this new mark of friendship from his Most Christian Majesty." Complimenting the French commander in chief, Washington said:
Among the obligations we are under to your Prince, I esteem it one of the first, that he has made choice, for the command of his troops, of a Gentleman whose high reputation and happy union of social qualities and military abilities promise me every public advantage and private satisfaction.
This letter contained references to Lafayette of a nature which clearly shows Washington's personal affection for him, and the official estimate of his abilities:
As a General officer, I have the greatest confidence in him; as a friend, he is perfectly acquainted with my sentiments and opinions. He knows all the circumstances of our army and the country at large. All the information he gives, and all the propositions he makes, I entreat you will consider as coming from me.
The proposed plan of operations which Lafayette carried to Newport was for the capture of New York, to be followed immediately by a campaign up the North River. Washington considered this project as the most important which it would be possible for a joint land and sea expedition to undertake at this time. The plan contained the pronouncement:
In any operation, and under all circumstances, a decisive naval superiority is to be considered as a fundamental principle, and the basis upon which every hope of success must ultimately depend.
Unless the allied forces gained control of the navigation of the harbor of New York and of the North River, their land transportation would be great, their expenses enormous, and their progress slow, if not precarious, for want of forage and other means. It was to be clearly understood that if any capital operation were undertaken-
the French fleet and land forces will at all events continue their aid until the success of the enterprise, or until it is mutually determined to abandon it.
As there was no prospect of a superiority of the French Fleet until the arrival of the second division, which was confidently expected at an early date, it was not possible to decide at once on any capital operation. Lafayette, Rochambeau, and De Ternay wrote letters to officials in France urging them to hasten the departure of this division in case it was still held in French ports. Five ships were demanded of M. de Guichen from the fleet in the West Indies, as he had full authority to send reenforcements to Rhode Island.
The many conferences held by Layafette [i.e., Lafayette] with the two commanders during the week commencing July 25 resulted in the decision that as soon as there was information of the arrival either of the second division from France, or the ships from the West Indies, the American Army was to march to Westchester, and the allies were to make preparations for embarking at Newport. If the French Fleet were equal to that of the enemy, it would immediately fight for control of the sea. If it were of superior strength it would immediately take on board the troops at Newport and transport them to the place fixed upon for the landing.
The reception accorded the French troops and the punctiliousness of their conduct were matters of much gratification to Lafayette. He wrote to Washington from Newport on the 31st of July:
You would have been glad the other day to see two hundred and fifty of our drafts, who went to Connanicut Island without provisions and tents, and who were mixed in such a way with the French troops, that every French soldier and officer took an American with him, and divided his bed and his supper in the most friendly manner. The patience and sobriety of our militia are so much admired by the French officers, that two days ago a French colonel called all his officers together to desire them to observe the good examples, which were given to the French soldiers by the American troops. On the other hand the French discipline is such, that chickens and pigs walk between the lines without being disturbed, and that there is in the camp a cornfield, of which not one leaf has been touched.
Admiral Graves arrived in New York Harbor with six ships of the fine and joined Admiral Arbuthnot on the 13th of July, three
days after the French squadron had reached Newport. This junction made the British naval force at New York decidedly superior to that of M. de Ternay, as the armament under Arbuthnot consisted of 4 ships of the line, 3 frigates of 44 guns, and 3 of a smaller size.
On the 19th of the month 4 British vessels appeared of the harbor of Newport, and the next morning as soon as the wind would permit, 3 frigates of the French squadron went in pursuit of them. Two days later 9 or 10 British ships of the line came in sight, with 5 frigates and 4 small vessels. The fleet continued near Block Island, and it was evident that its commander intended to blockade the French squadron. About this time intelligence came from various quarters that Clinton was preparing to proceed from New York with a large part of his army to give battle to the French. The most vigorous efforts were made by the latter to place their camp in a defensible condition. The distance from the Highlands, where Washington's army was at this time, to Newport was too great to permit of any portion of the army arriving in time to be of assistance; and Washington proposed to relieve the pressure upon the French by menacing New York "and even to attack it, if the force remaining there does not exceed what I have reason to believe."
On the 27th of July the British commander completed the embarkation of 6,000 troops at Frogs Neck and that evening sailed for Newport. There had been so much delay in waiting for the transports, however, that Clinton knew a coup de main was no longer possible, as the French would have strengthened their position. Furthermore, the situation of affairs at New York would not permit of a protracted delay in the operations against Newport, lest Washington take advantage of the depleted numbers at the former place and attack before Clinton's return. Under the circumstances there was nothing to do but abandon the enterprise, and Clinton, after proceeding as far as Huntington Bay, turned his ships westward and on the 31st of July disembarked the troops at Whitestone. Admiral Arbuthnot remained off the harbor of Newport
to maintain a blockade of the French Fleet and to intercept the second division. Washington learned on the 19t of August that the British fleet of transports had put back, whereupon he discontinued the advance on New York and halted his army at Peekskill.
Orders were issued at Army headquarters on the 19th of August for the immediate formation of a corps of light infantry to consist of six battalions, each composed of eight companies selected from the different lines of the Army. The battalions were formed into two brigades, one under General Hand and the other under General Poor. Lafayette took command of this corps on the 7th of August, on which day he returned from his mission to Newport.
Uncertain as to whether his next move would be against New York or to the relief of the blockaded French forces, Washington began crossing the North River on the 5th of August for the purpose of establishing the command at Dobbs Ferry, about 10 miles from Kings Bridge. He proposed establishing lines of communication that would save considerable land transportation in case New York became the eventual objective.
The frigate Alliance arrived in Boston from L'Orient on the 16th of August with intelligence that the French squadron and troops, which were to constitute the second division of the expeditionary force, were blockaded in the harbor of Brest by an English fleet. Upon the receipt of this news Washington sent instructions on the 28th of the month for the dismissal of the militia which had been assembled on Rhode Island, as their services to Count de Rochambeau were no longer necessary.
The 12th of September, 1780, marks an important point in the growth of authority delegated to Washington by Congress. On that day he wrote a letter to Count de Guichen in the West Indies, describing conditions in the United States and asking for assistance. The authority to conduct correspondence direct with the representatives of foreign countries had been delegated to the Commander in Chief on the 5th of August. Congress was considering affairs in South Carolina and Georgia at the time and adopted
a resolution looking to the expulsion of the enemy from their several posts in these States. The Commander in Chief was given authority to correspond with the ministers of France and all army and navy officers of the French Government, and with all officers of Spain in the West Indies and Louisiana, for the purpose of arranging any enterprise which he might favor for the expulsion of the enemy from South Carolina and Georgia. The Count de Guichen had sailed for France before Washington's letter arrived, and as his successor could not decipher it, no reenforcements were forwarded from the fleet.
General Washington set out from the headquarters of the Army for Hartford on the 18th of September, to have an interview with Count de Rochambeau and the Chevalier de Ternay. That evening he crossed the Hudson at Kings Ferry, where he was met by General Arnold, who had come down from West Point to greet the Commander in Chief. Washington pursued his journey to Hartford and there met the French general and admiral.
On the return journey he reached Arnold's headquarters at the Robinson house the morning of the 25th. There he learned that an hour or two before his arrival Arnold had departed, leaving word that he would visit the post at West Point. Washington proceeded across the river to inspect the fortifications and found that Arnold had not been to West Point. Upon his return to the Robinson house that afternoon Arnold was still absent. In the meantime a packet had arrived announcing the capture of a John Anderson (Major André), with several interesting and important papers, all in the handwriting of Arnold. Later it was learned that this officer had proceeded down the river, deserting to the enemy. Benjamin Franklin's arraignment of this treacherous act is an awful condemnation of its perpetrator:
Judas sold only one man, Arnold three million. Judas got for his one man thirty pieces of silver, Arnold not a halfpenny a head.
The inactive campaign of 1780 in the North was now drawing to a close.
I hoped, but I hoped in vain
Washington wrote to a personal friend on the 5th of October-
that a prospect was displaying, which would enable me to fix a period to my military pursuits, and restore me to domestic life. The favorable disposition of Spain, the promised succor from France, the combined force in the West Indies, the declaration of Russia (acceded to by other powers of Europe, and humiliating to the naval pride and power of Great Britain), the superiority of France and Spain by sea in Europe, the Irish claims and English disturbances, formed in the aggregate an opinion in my breast, (which is not very susceptible of peaceful dreams,) that the hour of deliverance was not far distant.
In the latter part of September the superiority of the British Fleet, which blockaded the French in the harbor of Newport, was increased by the arrival of Admiral Rodney with 10 ships from the West Indies. It was known that Count de Guichen had returned to European waters without having touched anywhere on the American coast, and the futility of planning any capital operation was apparent. In the latter part of November Washington ordered the Army into winter quarters and repaired to New Windsor, where he established headquarters.
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