George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, 23 August 1778

From Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens

Camp before Newport [R.I.] 23d August 1778.


I am just returned from a fruitless pursuit of the french Squadron—General Sullivan will inform Your Excellency of the fatal determination of the counts officers in a Council of War—as well as of the several Remonstrances and final solemn protest made by the American Generals1—The Admirals Ship being dismasted fore and aft, at the moment that he had overtaken the british fleet and was promising himself an important victory—another Ship Of the line being in like manner dismantled and a seventy four gun Ship being separated from the Squadron2—all the effects of a most dreadful Storm which Suddenly arose—were regarded as sufficient reasons added to the expectation of Admiral Byrons Arrival—for abandoning the American troops in the midst of a very important expedition—and reducing them to the necessity of making a desperate attack, or a precipitate Retreat—The honor of the french Nation, the honor of the Admiral, the safety of his fleet, and a regard for the new alliance required a different conduct—but the Counts hands were tied—the Cabal of marine officers who wish his destruction because he was introduced from the land Service into their Corps left him it is said, no choice—I cannot however but be of opinion that a solemn protest might by affording a justification for his acting in direct contradiction to the unanimous voice of his officers—have induced him to remain here—he might have been furnished at this place with all the means of refitting which he can expect at Boston—he might have been as well secured against a superior force—and in case he had chosen to fight he wd have been in better condition in still water with dismantled Vessels—where every one knows that with springs upon his cables, he might fight his Artillery as well as if he had masts and Sails—whereas at Sea, in case of a separation from his fleet, the Languedoc may fall a prey to a Vessel of half her force.

As I find that I am detaining the express—and I am sure General Sullivan will have written your Excellency more fully than my present hurry, and confusion of ideas for want of Sleep will permit me to do—I must entreat your Excellencys excuse for closing my letter abruptly. I have the honor to be with the greatest r⟨espect⟩ Your Excellen⟨cy’s⟩ most obedt S⟨ervt⟩

John La⟨urens⟩


1See Maj. Gen. John Sullivan to GW, this date. For a French report of the council of naval captains on 21 Aug., see Doniol, Histoire de la participation de la France, 3:346.

2Vice Admiral d’Estaing’s flagship was the Languedoc, the other dismasted ship was the Marseillais, and the separated ship was the César.

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