George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 5 September 1781]

5th. The rear of the French army having reached Philadelphia and the Americans having passed it—the Stores having got up & every thing in a tolerable train here; I left this City for the head of Elk to hasten the Embarkation at that place and on my way—(at Chester)—received the agreeable news of the safe arrival of the Count de Grasse in the Bay of Chesapeake with 28 Sail of the line & four frigates—with 3000 land Troops which were to be immediately debarked at James town & form a junction with the American Army under the command of the Marqs. de la Fayette.1

Finding upon my arrival at the head of Elk a great deficiency of Transports, I wrote many letters to Gentn. of Influence on the Eastern shore,2 beseeching them to exert themselves in drawing forth every kind of Vessel which would answer for this purpose and agreed with the Count de Rochambeau that about 1000 American Troops (including the Artillery Regiment) and the Grenadiers & Chasseurs of the Brigade of Bourbonne with the Infantry of Lauzen’s legion should be the first to Embark and that the rest of the Troops should continue their march to Baltimore proceeding thence by Land, or Water according to circumstances. The Cavalry of Lauzen, with the Saddle horses & such teams of both armies as the Qr. Masters thereof might judge necessary to go round by Land to the place of operation.

Judging it highly expedient to be with the army in Virginia as soon as possible, to make the necessary arrangements for the Siege, & to get the Materials prepared for it, I determined to set out for the Camp of the Marqs. de la Fayette without loss of time and accordingly in Company with the Count de Rochambeau who requested to attend me, and the Chevr. de Chastellux set out on the3

1In Philadelphia, GW was engaged in last-minute preparations for the march south (see GW to Lafayette, 2 Sept. 1781, DLC:GW). Between 31 Aug. and 5 Sept. there was also considerable uneasiness about the movements of both the British and French fleets. On 31 Aug., Brig. Gen. David Forman wrote GW from his observation post in Freehold, N.J., that two British squadrons under Admirals Graves and Hood were in process of setting sail from New York City (DLC:GW). Barras’s fleet had sailed from Newport, R.I., on 23 Aug. carrying siege guns and provisions for Yorktown and no word had since been received from him. If he were intercepted by the British fleet before he joined de Grasse in the Chesapeake, the results could be disastrous to the allied campaign in the South.

On 5 Sept., GW informed the president of Congress that he had received a letter from Brig. Gen. Mordecai Gist announcing the arrival of de Grasse’s fleet (DNA:PCC, Item 152). Gist’s letter, dated Baltimore, 4 Sept. 1781, is in DLC:GW. See also David Humphreys to Gist, 5 Sept. 1781 (NN: George Washington Papers, facsimilies and transcripts). By 7 Sept., GW was able to report that the French fleet from Rhode Island was “hourly expected” to join de Grasse’s fleet (“Circular to Gentlemen on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” 7 Sept. 1781, DLC:GW). According to Jonathan Trumbull’s journal, GW had left Philadelphia with his suite and about three miles below Chester met the express from de Grasse. He then returned to Chester to inform Rochambeau and Congress of the French fleet’s arrival (TRUMBULL [1] description begins “Minutes of Occurrences respecting the Siege and Capture of York in Virginia, extracted from the Journal of Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, Secretary to the General, 1781.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 14 (1875-76): 331–38. description ends , 332). Rochambeau had decided to come from Philadelphia to Chester by water. As the ship approached Chester, “We discerned in the distance General Washington, standing on the shore and waving his hat and a white handkerchief joyfully. . . . MM. de Rochambeau and Washington embraced warmly on the shore” (CLOSEN description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , 123).

2GW is referring to his circular letter, dated 7 Sept. 1781, to “Gentlemen on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.” Copies were sent to Christopher Birchead, Robert Goldsborough, James Lloyd Chamberlaine, Richard Barnaby, Nicholas Thomas, John Bracco, and James Hindman (DLC:GW).

3GW made no entries for 6 and 7 Sept., but Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., his aide-de-camp, made notations on these days: “6. Breakfast at Christiana Bridge, where our boats, stores, &c. are brought from Delaware Water through Christiana Creek, debarked and carried a[c]ross by land about 12 miles to the head of Elk. Here they are again embarked up the Elk River and transported down the Chesapeake. The General proceeds to the Head of Elk where the troops and a great part of the stores are arrived and beginning to embark.

“The want of water craft obliges part of the troops to march by land to Baltimore, and eventually as far as An[n]apolis. Many ox and horse teams are sent on by land, the General expecting to find little or no means of land transportation in Virginia. The many rivers and great abundance of water communication almost superceeding the necessity of that convenience.

“7. At Elk writing letters, forwarding troops, stores &c. The country through which we have passed greatly pleased with the prospect of our Expedition” (TRUMBULL [1] description begins “Minutes of Occurrences respecting the Siege and Capture of York in Virginia, extracted from the Journal of Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, Secretary to the General, 1781.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 14 (1875-76): 331–38. description ends , 332–33).

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