Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

. (page 118 of 126)
Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 118 of 126)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

will probably outlive that of good men ;
for nations, like individuals, are more con
stant in hate than in love.

The marauding expedition to Connect
icut, however, as we have seen, utterly
failed in its object, since Washington was
not for a moment stayed in his course by
these outrages, but pressed forward to

On the return of Admiral Graves from
the coast of Virginia to New York, Count
de Barras, at the request of Lafayette, de
spatched transports up the Chesapeake to
bring down the allied troops which, it will
be remembered, were detained at Annap
olis and the Head of Elk for the want of
vessels. Meanwhile, in the even

ing, Washington and Rocharn-

Sept. 14.

beau, with their respective attendants, on
their way from Mount Vernon, arrived at
the quarters of Lafayette, at Williams-
burg, twelve miles above Yorktown.

Admiral De Grasse had been so impa
tient of delay, that, with St. Simon, who
commanded his land-force, he urged La
fayette to co-operate with him in an at
tack on Lord Cornwallis before the arri
val of Washington and Rochambeau, and
thus secure a victory for the republicans
and imperishable renown for himself. But
the young marquis, with a generous and
humane spirit, repressed his natural ardor
for glory, and declined the proposition ol
the count; for he saw that such an at-

* Sec page 274 of this volume. " To Arnold," says Hor
ace Walpole, " no countenance was denied by the king or
ministers. The public, more equitable, despised him."




tempt, even if successful, would involve
a great sacrifice of life. He perceived,
moreover, that a victory at this crisis of
the war would in all probability give a,
finishing blow to the contest. Yet, with
characteristic magnanimity, he resolved
to leave that victory to be achieved and
all honors to be won by Washington !

As soon, however, as the commanders-
in-chief of the allied land-forces arrived,
Count de Grasse solicited an interview.
Washington, therefore, accompanied by
Rochambeau, Chastellux, Gener
als Knox and Du Portail, sailed
from Williamsburg in the Queen Char
lotte for the Ville de Paris, the magnifi
cent flag-ship of De Grasse, then lying in
Lynn-Haven bay. They were received
on board at noon the next day, when the
admiral, a tall, fine-looking man, heartily
embraced Washington, with the exclama
tion, in broken English, "My dear little gen
eral!" This adjective, applied to the stal
wart form of Washington (who was over
six feet in height, and weighed at this pe
riod upward of two hundred pounds), was
quite ludicrous ; and, while the polite and
courteous Frenchmen concealed their feel
ings, the fat sides of jolly Knox, it is said,
shook with his laughter.*

A council of war was now held
on board the flag-ship, and meas
ures were immediately concerted for re
ducing Earl Cornwallis in Yorktown with
the utmost promptness, on the arrival of
the allied army, as the French admiral
declared that he could not remain long
or the station. All the arrangements hav
ing been completed in a satisfactory man-

* Custis s Recollections of Washington.

Sept, 18,

ner, Washington and his companions re
turned to Williamsburg.

The last division of the allies finally
reached the general rendezvous
at V/illiamsburg. The march of
this army through a fertile country, from
the banks of the Hudson to central Vir
ginia, a distance of more than five hun
dred miles, was remarkable for its order
and discipline. "It was at a season," re
marks Ramsay, " when the most delicious
productions of nature, growing on and
near the public highways, presented both
opportunity and temptation to gratify the
appetite. Yet so complete was its disci
pline, that in this long march scarcely an
instance could be produced of an apple or
a peach being taken without the consent
of the inhabitants." The French were
particularly scrupulous. At Rhode island,
" the Indians," writes De Rochambeau, in
his narrative, " expressed their astonish
ment at nothing but to see still laden with
fruit the trees that overhung the tents
which the soldiers had occupied for three

In the meantime, news arrived which
threatened to frustrate all Washington s
plans. Graves at New York had been re
inforced by Admiral Digby, with six ships-
of-the-line. De Grasse, confident that ev
ery effort would now be made for the re
lief of Cornwallis, and that the combined
fleet might soon be expected off the Ches
apeake, wrote to Washington that, in or
der to meet Graves and Digby, he should
put to sea with all his fleet, excepting a
few frigates which he would leave behind
to blockade York river. Fearful lest in
the absence of the French, the English




might slip into their places, and thus wrest
Earl Cornwallis from his grasp, Washing
ton earnestly besonght De Grasse not to
leave the Chesapeake. The French ad

miral, by the joint entreaties of the Amer
ican chief and Lafayette, was finally per
suaded to remain, and the siege of York
town was begun without delay.


Advance of the Allied Force. Washington and De Rochambeau before Yorktown. A Bivouac. Position of the Amen
cans. Position of the French. Despatch from Sir Henry Clinton. Concentration of the British Force. Confidence
of Lord Cornwallis. Labor on the Works. Description of the Defences. The Besiegers take Possession of the Out
works. A Skirmish. Death of Colonel Scamme!. De Lauzun s Legion. Conflict with Colonel Tarleton. Search)
of Forage. Dead Horses. Tarleton unhorsed. His Retreat. Investment of Yorktown. The French. Their Troops
and Position. The Americans and their Position. Governor Nelson s Patriotism. Coolness of Washington. The
Breaking Ground. The First Parallel. Gener 1 Lincoln has the Honor. Opening Fire. Washington at the Guns.
The Cannonade. First Salutation to Cormv;illis. Hot Shot. Fire among the Ships. A Sublime Spectacle. The
Second Parallel. Redoubled Fury. Assault on the Redoubts. Rivalry of the French and Americans. Colonel Al
exander Hamilton in the Van. Fall of the Redoubts. " D Auvergne sans Tache." The British Fire. Washington
in Danger. " Billy, my Horse!" Desperate Situation of Cornwallis. No Relief. Sortie of the Guards. Bold Ex
pedient of his Lordship. Its Failure. Propositions to surrender. Capitulation of Yorktown. Close of the War.


Sept, 28,

AT length, the combined armies,
numbering twelve thousand strong,
under Washington and De Rochambeau,
moved by different roads from their en
campment near Williamsburg. General
de Choise, with the duke de Lauzun and
his legion, the marines from De Barras s
fleet, arid a brigade of Virginia
militia, under General Weedon,
proceeded to invest Gloucester ; and the
main allied forces, marching to the right,
posted themselves toward evening with
in two miles of the outer works at York-
town. Washington remained upon the
ground with his staff during the whole
night, sleeping under the cover of a mul
berry-tree, and resting his head upon its
root for a pillow.

Early the next morning, the besiegers
cautiously closed in toward the outer

Sept, 29,

works : the Americans, forming the right
wing, taking their post on the east side ;
and the French, forming the left, taking

O 7 o

theirs on the west. The British pickets
and some squads of horse slowly retired
as they approached, but not a gun was

In the evening, an express arrived in
the British camp with despatch
es from Sir Henry Clinton atNew
York, dated on the 24th of September, in
forming Lord Cornwallis that, at a coun
cil of war held that day, it was resolved
to send upward of five thousand troops,
with a fleet, to the relief of his lordship ;
and that, as Admiral Digby had just ar
rived at New York with a squadron of
twenty-three ships, the reinforcements for
Yorktown might be expected to sail by
the 5th of October. That night, the earl



[PART n.

withdrew his army from the outer works,
and concentrated it within his fortifica
tions nearer the town, where he confident
ly awaited the issue of the siege. In his
reply to Sir Henry Clinton, he boastfully
declares : "I have ventured, these last two
days, to look General Washington s whole
force in the face in the position on the
outside of my works, and have the pleas
ure to assure your excellency that there
is but one irish throughout the army, which is,
that the enemy would advance I shall re
treat this night within the works; and
have no doubt, if relief arrives in any rea
sonable time, York and Gloucester will be
both in possession of his majesty s troops."
Lord Cornwallis had been diligent in
the construction of his works, which were
extensive, though not entirely complete.
Seven redoubts and six batteries, connect
ed by in trench men ts, surrounded York-
town on the land-side ; while field-works
stretched beyond, with redoubts and abat-
ti-s along the ravines, the creeks, and the
York river. Gloucester Point, situated on
the tongue of land on the northern and
opposite side to Yorktown, was also forti
fied, and occupied by Colonel Tarleton
and Lieutenant-Colonel Dundas, with a
detachment of six or seven hundred men.
The communication between the two posts
was commanded by batteries on either
side, and also by the small British squad
ron at anchor, under the land-guns, in the
river, which, although only a mile wide
at this point, was of sufficient depth for
the largest vessels.

Sept, 30.

Next morning, the besiegers
hastened to possess themselves
of the outworks, which had been impru

dently abandoned by his lordship, accord
ing to some military critics; but, in his
own opinion, tl e fortifications were too
extensive and too weak to be held by his
comparatively small force of little more
than seven thousand men. As a detach
ment of American light-infantry, with a
few French troops, were proceeding to
take possession of the abandoned field-
works, Colonel Alexander Scamrnel ad
vanced to reconnoitre, and was attacked
by a small party of Hessians. Finding
himself outnumbered, he surrendered, but
was shot, though not instantly killed, and
carried into Yorktown, whence he was al
lowed, at the request of Washington, to
be conveyed to Williamsburg, where he
died. An active and spirited officer, his
loss was universally mourned by his com
rades, and particularly by the command-
er-in-chief, whom he had served as an aid-

While the main body of the allies was
investing Yorktown, the forces under the
duke de Lauzun and General de Choise
had proceeded across the river, to keep
watch on Dundas and Tarleton at Glou
cester Point, A collision soon occurred.
Forage had become so scarce with the en
emy, that they were obliged to kill their
horses in great numbers, the carcasses of
which were "almost continually floating
clown the river." Dundas determined, in
spite of the vigilance of his enemy, to
make a bold push for relief, and accord
ingly sallied out with a part of his garri
son to forage the country adjoining. He
had succeeded in gathering a good sup
ply of Indian corn, and was returning to
the post with his wagons and horses laden


with the spoil, when De Lauzun and a
party of French hussars suddenly sprang
upon him. Colonel Tarleton,with his dra
goons, formed the rear-guard of the Brit
ish, and, coming to the rescue, a severe
struggle ensued, in which the loss of the
French was two officers and fourteen pri
vates, and that of the enemy one officer
and eleven men. Tarleton was unhorsed
in the engagement, and obliged to sound
a retreat, but soon mounted again, and
renewed the conflict- when, seeing De
Choise coming up with a reinforcement,
he retired within his works at Gloucester.
Yorktown was now complete
ly invested by the allies, whose
lines, with the French on the left and the
Americans on the right, extended around
the southern and land-side of the town in
a semicircle, at a distance of nearly two
miles from the British works, and with
each extremity resting upon York river.
The French wing, under the general com
mand of De Rochambeau, was composed
of the West-India regiments, under the
marquis de St. Simon, and the French
light-infantry, under the baron de Viome-

o / *

nil, assisted by Montmorenci, Deuxports,
Custine, and other Frenchmen of rank
and military experience. The American
wing, under the command of General Lin
coln, was composed of the Virginia, Mary
land, and Pennsylvania troops, command
ed by the baron Steuben ; the New-York,
Rhode-Island, and New-Jersey brigades,
including the sappers and miners, under
GeneralJames Clinton, of New York; and
the light-infantry, under Lafayette. The
French artillery was posted in the centre,
near the quarters of Washington and Ro

chambeau. On the right, across a marsh,
was the American artillery, under General
Knox, assisted by Colonel Lamb and oth
er skilful officers. The count De Grasse,
with his fleet, remained below, in Lynn-
Haven bay, to beat off any naval force
that might come to the aid of the British

Governor Nelson, of Virginia, had also
brought into the field a goodly number
of the state militia, who might have failed
in their duty to their country on that occa
sion, had it not been for the generous pa
triotism of their commander. The treas
ury of the state was empty, and the mi
litia were threatening to disband for want
of pay, when " Nelson learned that an old
Scotchman, named R , had a consid
erable sum in gold, which like most other
moneyed persons of that period, he kept
carefully concealed. The governor wait
ed upon the man of gold, a rara avis in
those times, and begged and prayed for

a loan on behalf of the state. R was

inexorable, saying, l l ken nacthing o your
goovernment, but if ye ivutt liae Ihe siller for
yourset) general, dell tak me but every bawlec
of it is at your service / Nelson accepted
the offer, and obtained on his own bond,
and by his own personal influence, a loan
for the state of Virginia, when that promi
nent state had neither a coin in her treas
ury nor credit to obtain one. The gov
ernor received the gold, and quickly did
its circulation give a new and cheering
aspect to our destinies at that momentous
period. And now," continues Mr. Custis,
" it would be naturally asked, Who paid
the bond and its accumulated interest ?
Posterity would answer, A grateful and



[PART n.

admiring country, surely. Say, rather,
the impoverished family of the patriot"*

The erection of two redoubts
Oct 2t

during the night, by the Ameri
cans, drew upon them a heavy cannonade
from the enemy next morning. While
the chaplain, Mr. Evans, was standing by
the side of Washington, a ball struck the
ground so near as to throw the sand upon
his hat. Removing it from his head, the
parson exclaimed, in great agitation, "See
here, general !" " Mr. Evans," quietly an
swered the chief, "you had better carry
that home, and show it to your wife and

After a delay of several days in land
ing the heavy artillery and military stores
from the French ships, the allied armies
began to break ground, as the town was
now fully invested. Upon Major-General
Lincoln devolved the honor of opening

the first parallel. Under cover

of a dark and stormy night, he
silently advanced to the ground with a
large detachment. The armed troops led
the way, followed by the working-parties
bearing fascines and intrenching-tools on
their shoulders, horses drawing cannon,
and wagons loaded with bags filled with
sand for constructing breastworks. Un
disturbed by the foe, the troops worked
laboriously that night; and, before day
light, they had nearly completed the first
parallel line of almost two miles in length,
besides laying the foundations of two re
doubts within six hundred yards of the
enemy s works.

On the afternoon of the third

day, several batteries of eighteen

* Recollections of Washington, p. 337.

Oct. 6,

Oct. 9,

and twenty-four pounders were prepared
to open upon the town, " when his excel
lency General Washington put the match
to the first gun, and a furious discharge
of cannon and mortars immediately fol
lowed," giving Earl Cornwallis his first
salutation.* This cannonade was contin
ued through the niucht, and ear-

Oct, 10.
ly the next morning the rrench

opened three batteries upon the enemy.
For eight hours the roar of the big guns
was continuous, and hundreds of bomb
shells and round-shot were hurled upon
the British work. So tremendous was the
bombardment, that very soon the cannon
of the besieged were nearly silenced. At
night the French discharged red-hot shot
at the British squadron lying at anchor
in the river, setting fire to the Charon, a
forty-four gun ship, and to three trans
ports. The Hash and thundering of the
artillery, the burning of the vessels, the
plunge of the balls into the river, followed
by great spouts of water, produced, we
can well believe, as a spectator declares,
" one of the most sublime and magnificent
spectacles which can be imagined."

Throughout the night the allies kept
up their cannonade, and the next morn-

iim another British vessel was

Oct. 11,

set on hre by a red-hot ball, and

was consumed. From the 9th to the 16th
the siege continued; and in the meantime
the French and Americans increased the
number of their batteries, and maintained
a tremendous and incessant firing," du
ring which Lafayette, Hamilton, Laurens.
Ogden, Gibbs, Stevens, Carrington, and
other American officers, as well as many

* Timelier.




Oct. 14,

of their French comrades, distinguished
themselves by their bravery.

On the night of the llth, the second
parallel was opened, and batteries were
erected within three hundred yards of the
British works. Both besiegers and be
sieged now began to fire with redoubled
fury. The enemy uncovered new embra
sures, and were thus enabled to return a
more effective cannonade. Two of their
advance-redoubts flanked the second par
allel, and so greatly annoyed the working-
parties of the besiegers, that it was deter
mined to take them by assault.

Two detachments were accord
ingly marched out in the even
ing, one composed of American light-in
fantry, under Lafayette, to attack the re
doubt on the left; and the other of French
grenadiers and chasseurs, commanded by
the baron de Viornenil, to assail the re
doubt on the right of the British lines.
The advanced corps of the American de
tachment was led by Colonel Alexander
Hamilton, long the favorite aid-de-camp
of the commander-in-chief, but now re
stored to his rank and duty in the line.*

* In the February preceding, General Sullivan had rec
ommended the appointment of Colonel Hamilton as secre
tary of the treasury. " It was at this time," savs Lossing,
" that a misunderstanding occurred between Washington
and Colonel Hamilton, which caused the withdrawal of the
latter from the military family of the commander-in-chief
According to Hamilton s account, the rupture was caused
by his being charged with disrespect by Washington. He
was passing Washington on the stairs, when the general told
Colonel Hamilton that he wished to speak to him. The
latter answered that he would wait upon him immediately.
He went below, delivered a message to one of the aids, and
stopped a minute on his way back, to converse with Lafay
ette on matters of business. The general met Hamilton at
the head of the stairs, and said, Colonel Hamilton, you
have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten min
utes. I must tell you, sir, you treat me with disrespect.
Hamilton replied, I am not conscious of it, sir ; but, since


Lafayette had, in the first instance, hon
ored his own aid, Colonel Gimat, by giv
ing him the command. Hamilton, how
ever, had insisted that, as it was his tour
of duty, he was entitled to the position.
Upon referring the question to Washing
ton, he decided in favor of his former aid-
de-camp ; and it was finally agreed that
Gimat s should take the advance of Ham
ilton s battalion, but that the latter officer
should take the precedence in command.
At a given signal, the detachments ad
vanced to the assault. The Americans
made an impetuous rush for the redoubt
on their side, pulling up the abattis with
their hands, knocking down the palisades,
leaping over the ditch, and scrambling up
the walls into the enemy s works. Ham
ilton was the first on the parapet avail
ing himself, however, of the aid of one of
his soldiers, upon whose shoulder, as the
man knelt, the little colonel stepped, and
was thus raised to the requisite height
for mounting. Not a gun was fired, and
the redoubt was taken by the push of the
bayonet alone. The assault was so rap
idly effected, that the loss of the Ameri
cans was trifling, amounting only to nine
killed and thirty-two wounded. Major
Campbell, in command, with seventeen of
his garrison, were taken prisoners. Eight

you have thought it necessary to tell me so, we part. Wash
ington rejoined, Very well, sir, if it be your choice. In
less than an hour afterward, one of Washington s aids wait
ed upon Hamilton with a tender of reconciliation. This the
offended young gentleman would not accept. He seems, by
his letter of explanation to General Schuyler, to have been
anxious to leave his position in Washington s family, and
have the command of a regiment. In that letter he says,
I was always determined, if there should ever happen a
breach between us, never to consent to an accommodation.
This is the key to the whole matter. The affront, of itself,
was too slight to have caused the rupture."




were killed in the heat of the assault, but
not a man was touched after he ceased to
resist. A New-Hampshire captain threat
ened to shoot Campbell, in revenge for
the death of Colonel Scammel, who was
from his native state ; but Colonel Ham
ilton interposed, and saved the major s

" As the Americans were mounting the
redoubt," says Custis, "Lieutenant-Colo
nel Laurens, aid-de-camp to the command-
er-in-chief, appeared suddenly on their
flank, at the head of two companies. Up
on Major Fish* hailing him with ( Why,
Laurens, what brought you here ? the he
ro replied, I had nothing to do at head
quarters, and so came here to see what
you all were about. Bravest among the
brave, this Bayard of his age and country
rushed with the foremost into the works,
making with his own hand Major Camp
bell, the British commandant, a prisoner-
of-war. The cry of the Americans as they
mounted to the assault was, Remember
New London ! But here, as at Stony
Point, notwithstanding the provocation
to retaliate was justified by the inhuman
massacres of Paoli and Fort Gris wold, mer
cy perched triumphant on our country s

The French were not so expeditious in
their assault. They were determined to
do the thing according to the most ap
proved rules of art, and would not ad
vance till their pioneers had "regularly"
cut down the nbattis. In the meantime,
they were exposed to a galling fire. The
marquis de Lafayette, with the Ameri-

* Major Nicholas Fish, of the New York line, and father
of Hamilton Fish, late governor of the state of New York.

cans, having accomplished his duty, sent
Major Barbour, his aid, to inform De Vio-
menil that " he was in his redoubt, and to
ask the baron where lie was." Barbour
found the French commander, while his
pioneers were "systematically" clearing
away the abattis, waiting to begin the as
sault. " Tell the marquis," he said, in an
swer to Lafayette s message, "that I am
not in mine, hit will be in five minutes /"

The assault, once begun, was made with
a gallant dash. The regiment of the Gati-
nais, mindful of the promise of De Ro-
chambeau, fought with great spirit. The
French general, who had formerly served
as colonel of the D Auversme regiment,

o o "

out of which the Gatinais had been formed,
had promised them to get back from the
king their old name of " D Auvcrgne sans
tache" if they proved themselves worthy
of it on that night. The name was re
stored. The loss of the French was con
siderable. Count de Deuxponts received
a wound, and Count Charles de Lameth
was shot by a musket-ball which passed
through both his knees ; while nearly a
hundred of the privates were either killed
or w r ounded.

The British kept up an incessant can

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 118 of 126)