George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 29 June 1781]

29th. Recd. a letter from the Marqs. de la Fayette informing me that Lord Cornwallis after having attempted to surprise the Virginia Assembly at Charlottesville and destroy some Stores at the Forks of James River in which he succeeded partially had returned to Richmond without having effected any valuable purpose by his manoeuvers in Virginia.1 In a private letter he complains heavily of the conduct of the Baron de Steuben whom he observes has rendered himself extremely obnoxious in Virga.2

1Lafayette was referring to the raid by British cavalry leader Banastre Tarleton on Charlottesville, Va., 4 June 1781, and the attack by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe on Point of Fork, at the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers in Virginia, 5 June 1781. At this time the Virginia legislature was meeting in Charlottesville and Thomas Jefferson and the members of the legislature whom he was entertaining at Monticello barely escaped capture. Aside from a few prisoners taken, including seven members of the legislature, the principal result of the raids was the capture by the British of a considerable store of arms and ammunition at Point of Fork and the destruction of a similar store at Charlottesville (TARLETON description begins Banastre Tarleton. A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America. 1787. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1967. description ends , 296–99; SIMCOE description begins John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe’s Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen’s Rangers, Commanded by Lieut. Col. J. G. Simcoe, during the War of the American Revolution . . .. 1844. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 212–23; MALONE [2] description begins Dumas Malone. Jefferson and His Time. 6 vols. Boston, 1948–81. description ends , 1:355–58).

2Lafayette contended that Steuben’s military tactics during the British raids on Point of Fork and Charlottesville had come under so much criticism that “Every man woman and Child in Virginia is Roused against him. They dispute even on his Courage” (Lafayette to GW, 18 June 1781, DLC:GW). Steuben believed that his first priority was preparations for the support of Nathanael Greene in the Carolinas and his policy, unchanged by renewed British military threats in Virginia in May 1781, was to leave the defense of the state to Lafayette. When the two detachments under Simcoe and Tarleton moved up the James in the direction of Point of Fork and Charlottesville, Steuben was still more concerned with protecting the recruits destined for Greene than with guarding the state stores at Point of Fork. On the morning of 4 June, Steuben moved most of his men to positions of safety, leaving only a token force to defend the Fork. For Steuben’s movements at this time, see CHASE description begins Philander Dean Chase. “Baron von Steuben in the War of Independence.” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1972. description ends , 228–46; PALMER description begins John McAuley Palmer. General Von Steuben. New Haven, 1937. description ends , 272–82. On 13 July, GW wrote Lafayette that “What you say in confidence of the conduct of a certain Officer shall be kept a profound secret, and I will contrive means of removing him from the quarter where he is so unpopular” (DLC:GW).

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