George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 25 February 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport. Feby 25th 1781. 8’ o clock. P.M.


The Letters found on board the Vessels taken by Mr De Tilly, have decided Mr Destouches to follow at full the plan given by your Excellency, and to risk every thing to hinder Arnold from establishing himself at Portsmouth in Virginia.1 Your Excellency has been apprised by my yesternight’s Letter, that our ships could not go into Elizabeth river, there not being water enough for the 64. man of war, that their cruizing has been productive of nothing but the Capture of the romulus, a 44., of two privateers of 18. & 14. guns, and some other transports, one of which was of some consequence, with 500. prisoners, or thereabouts.2 The Letters that have been found on board these ships, give an insight into a project for establishing themselves at Porsmouth, and many Tory families that were returning to their native place, have been taken. Mr Destouches is arming with the greatest diligence the 44. gun ship that he has taken, and he hopes that with the Frigates, it will be able to get up Elizabeth river, Mr Destouches will protect this expedition with his whole fleet. Your Excellency has given me orders to join thereto one 1000. men. I will send 1120.3 all4 my Grenadiers and Chasseurs will be there, which corps shall be commanded by the Baron de Viomenil. I will join to them, four 4. pounders. four 12. pounders and four Obusiers.5 The Navy will furnish the 24 pounders, if necessary, but it is presumed that against earthen intrenchments, the 12. pounders will be Sufficient. As to the Leaving our road and harbour without defense, tho’ I shall have a great many transports to protect and very little artillery of a Long reach, with about 2500. men under arms that I shall have remaining, I’ll do my best to prevent our transports or magazins from receiving any damage. I propose asking the States of Boston6 and rhode-island to send me, for that purpose, 2000. militia to stay here all the time that this expedition may Last. I hope your Excellency will approve of my making use of your name in my demand to the Governors of both these States.7

The great consequence that your Excellency seemed to Lay upon the Establishment of Arnold at Portsmouth has determined Mr Destouches to sacrifice every other object to this one.

It will be of the greatest Importance that your Excellency should send the Speediest orders to the Generals in Virginia to assemble their militia and to act unanimously with Mr Destouches and the Baron de Viomenil, in every thing, at their arrival in James river, and I believe it will be absolutely necessary that your Excellency should directly send An aid-de-camp to carry your orders to them. I answer of the Baron de Viomenil’s activity and Sociability to correspond with them in the most perfect harmony and good understanding. I expect all this armament to be ready, eight days hence, and if the Winds are as favorable as they were at the Departure of the Eveillé, the Expedition will be soon done.8 Mr Destouches will do his best to reunite, by the protection of his fleet, the detachment that your Excellency has sent Upon Elk river, but he says that he cannot answer for it, by reason of the Length.9 1[st] of the way by Land, 2[d] of the Navigation thro’ all the Length of the Bay. I send this Letter to your Excellency by one of my Aids, that you may receive it sooner.10 I am with respect and personal attachment, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most humble and Most obedient Servant

le comte de Rochambeau

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8. GW replied to Rochambeau on 2 March.

2See Rochambeau to GW, 24 Feb., postscript, and n.3 to that document.

3On both of the letter-book copies, this number is 1220.

4The writers of both letter-book copies stated that only half of Rochambeau’s grenadiers and chasseurs were being committed to the expedition.

5An obusier is a howitzer.

6Rochambeau presumably meant Massachusetts.

7For Rochambeau’s request of 27 Feb. to the governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the support of their militia, see Doniol, Histoire description begins Henri Doniol. Histoire de la Participation de la France à l’établissement des États-Unis d’Amérique: Correspondance Diplomatique et Documents. 5 vols. Paris, 1886–92. description ends , 5:424.

8The French warship Éveillé was the flagship of Captain de Tilly’s squadron that Captain Destouches had sent to Chesapeake Bay.

9GW had directed that the division he had detached to Virginia, after its arrival at Head of Elk, Md., travel by transport down Chesapeake Bay (see GW’s second letter to Lafayette, 20 Feb.).

10Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp Ludwig von Closen carried this letter (see GW to Rochambeau, 2 March). Closen wrote in his journal entry for 25 Feb.: “I was very much astonished, at 11 o’clock in the evening, when I was summoned to the General. He told me, in a laughing manner that augured well, that I was to leave the next day at dawn for General Headquarters in New Windsor, and that I would not be sorry for this commission. After receiving my instructions and dispatches, I quickly made arrangements and went to bed, delighted at the prospect of at last seeing General Washington, whom I had heard described so many times as the most interesting man on the Continent. Indeed, I was not at all disappointed in my expectation” (Acomb, Closen Journal description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , 59). Closen arrived at GW’s headquarters on 28 Feb. (see the entry for 26 Feb. in Acomb, Closen Journal description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , 59).

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