George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 20 February 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport. February 20th 1781.


I received yesterday your Excellency’s Letter of the 15th inst.1 I immediately sent it to the chevalier Destouches, who sends me this moment his answer which is joined to this Letter.2

It is most certain that the Ch. De La Luzerne, at the requisition of Congress and of the Governor of Virginia, had only asked from Mr Destouches the Assistance of Some Frigates, and of one ship of the Line, and had not mentioned any transporting of Troops, that Mr Destouches has done all in his power to send off with all possible Speed this little Squadron.3 It is likewise most certain that he is now less Strong than the English who had been reinforced by the return of the America in good order, and the masting of the Bedford, and that Mr Destouches is weak’n’d in proportion of the Detachment which has been asked for Virginia.

If he had sooner received your Excellency’s last plan, perhaps he would have been decided to go out with his whole fleet, Your Excellency may be assured that your orders for the detachment of 1000. men would have been executed by the Land army, and tho’, (within a road entirely open, when it is deprived of all the navy artillery, which now defends it, but which is necessary for the armament of the Ships) I had perhaps remained here exposed with all the convoy of Transports, the greatest part of which could not pass the Bar at Providence, Yet nevertheless, we would have assumed a fierce countenance, and we would have endeavoured if we had been attacked to have the honor of it.

The news of Count D’Estaing’s success over the fleet of Admiral Hood are yet arrived here by a schooner that on the 1st of this month set sail from Cape François. the private Letters say it is very Sure.4 I sincerely congratulate your Excellency upon General Morgan’s success against the Van guard of Cornwallis’s army,5 and I always expect to have the pleasure of seeing you here as soon as your affairs will permit.6 I am with respect and personal attachment, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most obedient and most humble Servant

le cte de rochambeau

I regret very much that your Excellency’s Letter did not arrive before the Departure of the detachment, which The Chr Destouches has thought necessary to send Speedily to Virginia, but certainly it will fill the object, if Arnold is too well entrenched, of hindering him from making any further motions, or plundering up into the rivers. Till now, those in Gardner’s bay seem not to have been advised of the going out of this little squadron.7

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8.

4These reports were false (see Rochambeau to GW, 18 Feb., n.1).

5For Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan’s victory at the Battle of Cowpens, see Nathanael Greene to GW, 24 Jan. (first letter), n.3.

6For GW’s departure for Newport, see his letter to Rochambeau of 2 March.

7Only on 17 Feb. did the British commanders become aware of the sailing of the French ships. On that date, British major Frederick Mackenzie, stationed in New York City, wrote in his diary: “Mr William Brenton a Native and Inhabitant of Rhode Island, came in at 12 o’Clock last night express from Gardner’s bay. He came off from Rhode Island in a Canoe 8 days ago with very material intelligence from a confidential person there (Dr Halliburton) to the Admiral and General. ’Tis said the account he brings is, that The French have detached a ship of the line and some frigates, with about 1500 troops to the Chesapeak to attack Arnold, and intend going with a greater force immediately.

“In consequence of the intelligence he brought, transports are ordered for the immediate reception of 3000 Troops, and the following Corps, vizt The Light Infantry, The British and Hessian Grenadiers, the 42d, and the 76th Regiments, received orders this afternoon to be in readiness to embark on the shortest notice.” In his entry of 18 Feb., Mackenzie added: “The Light Infantry, 76th, & Prince Hereditaire only, are to Embark. The rest are ordered as a deception. Those to embark amount to about 2000 men. The 57th received orders this day, to be in readiness to move on the shortest notice” (Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:472–74).

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