He set sail from Brest on March 22, 1781. At age 59 Counte de Grasse looked back over a long and successful career with the French Royal Navy. He was a courageous man and quite daring at times. In some ways he resembled US Grant, a general who would decades later show no hesitation in taking the battle to the enemy.
In charge of 28 warships and 200 merchant ships, the largest fleet ever assembled by the French, he set sail with orders to escort the merchants and their valuable cargo to the Caribbean. These orders also contained a provision “Towards winter detach or lead part of your fleet, as you see fit, to the American coast, coordinating with the American and French ground generals to help them achieve their objectives”.
The journey was not uneventful. On April 29 de Grasse encountered a large British squadron commanded by Admiral Sir Samuel Hood off the French island of Martinique. With the greater force de Grasse subdued his adversary who then fled back to Barbados. He then picked up four more warships at Fort Royal and after provisioning set sail for Santo Domingo arriving in mid July.
De Grasse had previously sent a message to another French naval commander, Count Rochambeau, announcing his intention to sail to the Chesapeake Bay with ALL his forces while leaving his Caribbean location unprotected.
The British had no idea he would do something like this and he intended to keep them in the dark.
He was going “all in” as they say and risking his career and reputation by stretching his orders beyond recognition.
General Washington was overjoyed. He has written shortly before receiving this news in his diary, “In a word-instead of having everything in readiness to take the Field, we have nothing, and instead of having the prospect of a glorious offensive campaign before us, we have a bewildered and gloomy defensive one.”
De Grasse’s move immediately changed the chessboard and Washington’s plans. He would lead his troops swiftly southward. And he would meet de Grasse after a climactic battle.
(to be continued)
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DE GRASSE TO THE RESCUE AT YORKTOWN
Bee, Robert N