Page images
PDF
EPUB

enemy; and at the same time to have engagements in behalf of the states violated in direct opposi. tion to their own interest, and in a manner derogatory to his personal honour, was enough to have excited storms and tempests in any mind less calm than that of Gen. Washington. He bore this hard trial-with his usual magnanimity, and contented himself with repeating his requisitions to the states; and at the same time urged them by every tie to enable him to fulfil engagements entered into on their account with the commander of the French troops.

That tardiness which at other times had brought the Americans near the brink of ruin, was now the accidental cause of real service. Had they sent forward their recruits for the regular army, and their quotas of militia, as was expected, the siege of New York would have commenced in the latter end of July, or early in August. While the season was wasting away in expectation of these reinforcements, lord Cornwallis, as has been mentioned, fixed himself near the Capes of Virginia. His situation there; the arrival of a reinforcement of three thousand Germans from Europe to New York; the superior strength of their garrison; the failure of the states in filling up their battalions and embodying their militia ; and especially recent intelligence from Count de Grasse, that his des. tination was fixed to the Chesapeak, concurred about the middle of August to make a total change of the plan of the campaign.

The appearance of an intention to attack New York was, nevertheless, kept up. While this de. ception was played off, the allied army crossed the North River, and passed on by the way of Philadelphia through the intermediate country to Yorktown. An attempt to reduce the British force in Virginia promised success with more expedition, and to secure an object of nearly equal importance as the reduction of New York.

While the attack of New York was in serious contemplation, a letter from Gen. Washington, detailing the particulars of the intended operations of the campaign, being intercepted, fell into the hands of Sir Henry Clinton. After the plan was changed, the royal commander was so much under the impression of the intelligence contained in the intercepted letter, that he believed every movement toward Virginia to be a feint calculated to draw off his attention from the defence of New York. Under the influence of this opinion, he bent his whole force to strengthen that post; and suffered the American and French armies to pass him without molestation. When the best opportunity of striking at them was elapsed, then for the first time he was brought to believe, that the allies had fixed on Virginia for the theatre of their combined operations. As truth may be made to answer the purposes of deception, so no feint of attacking New York could have been more successful than the real intention.

In the latter end of August, the American army began their march to Virginia from the neighbourhood of New York. Washington had ad. vanced as far as Chester, before he received the news of the arrival of the fleet commanded by M. de Grasse. The French troops marched at the same time, and for the same place. Gen. Wash

ington and Count Rochambeau with Generals Chastelleux, du Portail, and Knox, proceeded to vişit Count de Grasse on board his ship, the Ville de Paris, and agreed on a plan of operations.

The Count afterward wrote to Washington, that in case a British fleet appeared, “he conceived that he ought to go out and meet them at sea, instead of risking an engagement in a confined situation. This alarmed the General. He sent the Marquis de la Fayette with a letter to dissuade him from the dangerous measure.

This letter, and the persuasions of the Marquis, had the desired effect.

The combined forces proceeded on their way to Yorktown, partly by land, and partly down the Chesapeak. The whole, together with a body of Virginia militia, under the command of Gen. Nelson, rendezvoused at Williamsburg, on the 25th. of September, and in five days after moved down to the investiture of Yorktown. The French fleet at the same time moved to the mouth of York river, and took a position which was calculated to prevent lord Cornwallis either from retreating, or receiving succour by water. Previously to the march from Williamsburg to Yorktown, Washington gave out in general orders as follows; “ If the enemy should be tempted to meet the army on its march, the General particularly enjoins the troops to place their principal reliance on the bayonet, that they may prove the vanity of the boast, which the British make of their particular prowess, in deciding battles with that weapon.”

The works erected for the security of Yorktown on the right, were redoubts and batteries,

with a line of stockade in the rear. A marshy ravine lay in front of the right, over which was placed a large redoubt. The morass extended along the centre, which was defended by a line of stockade, and by batteries. On the left of the centre was à hornwork with a ditch, a row of fraize, and an abbatis. Two redoubts were advanced before the left. The combined forces advanced, and took possession of the ground from which the British had retired. About this time the legion cavalry and mounted infantry passed over the river to Gloucester. Gen. de Choisy invested the British post on that side so fully, as to cut off all communication between it and the country. In the mean time, the royal army was straining every nerve to strengthen their works, and their artillery was constantly employed in impeding the operations of the combined army. On the ninth and tenth of October, the Americans and French opened their batteries. They kept op a brisk and well directed fire from heavy. cannon, from mortars, and howitzers. The shells of the besiegers reached the ships in the harbour; the Charon of forty four guns, and a transport ship, were burned. The besiegers commenced their second parallel two hundred yards from the works of the besieged. Two redoubts which were advanced on the left of the British, greatly impeded the progress of the combined armies. It was therefore proposed to carry them by storm. To excite a spirit of emulation, the reduction of the one was committed to the French, of the other to the Americans. The assailants marched to the assault with unloaded arms ; having passed the

men.

abbatis and palisades, they attacked on all sides, and carried the redoubt in a few minutes, with the loss of eight men killed, and twenty eight wounded.

The French were equally successful on their part. They carried the redoubt assigned to them with rapidity, but lost a considerable number of

These two redoubts were included in the second parallel, and facilitated the subsequent operations of the besiegers.

By this time the batteries of the besiegers were covered with nearly a hundred pieces of heavy ordnance, and the works of the besieged were so damaged that they could scarcely show a single gun. Lord Coruwallis had now no hope left, but from offering terms of capitulation, or attempting an escape. He determined on the latter. This, though less practicable than when first proposed, was not altogether hopeless. Boats were prepared to receive the troops in the night, and to transport them to Gloucester point. After one whole embarkation had crossed, a violent storm of wind and rain dispersed the boats, and frustrated the whole scheme. The royal army, thus weakened by division, was exposed to increased danger. Orders were sent to those who had passed, to recross the river to Yorktown. With the failure of this scheme, the last hope of the British army expired. Longer resistance could answer no good purpose, and might occasion the loss of many valuable lives. Lord Cornwallis therefore wrote a letter to Gen. Washington, requesting a cessation of arms for twenty four hours; and that commissioners might be appointed to digest terms of ca

« PreviousContinue »