Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

18
“SOUTHERN MEANS AND SOUTHERN
EXERTIONS”: HOPE AND DESPAIR,
JUNE–DECEMBER 1780

THE FRENCH ARMY OF 6,500 MEN under General Rochambeau had been expected to make landfall in Rhode Island early in June. Like almost everything else in this war, it arrived late. The French soldiers, resplendent in their distinctive formfitting white uniforms and black hats, did not come ashore until July 15. The huge French task force had slipped undetected through the Royal Navy's Atlantic cordon, and the entire French army was unloaded and its defenses nearly completed before Admiral Arbuthnot was aware of its arrival. Clinton's hopes of assailing the French while they were vulnerable, perhaps driving them away before they established a toehold in America, were dashed. An angry Clinton did nothing that summer, save to ask London to recall Arbuthnot.1

Washington had learned that the French were on the way nearly seventy-five days before they finally arrived. From Lafayette, who had returned to America in April after a sixteen-month absence, Washington had also discovered that Rochambeau had been ordered to permit the American commander to establish the armies' course of action. For Washington, that meant one thing: a joint campaign to retake New York. Since the arrival of the first French fleet under d'Estaing two years earlier, Washington had fixated on New York, intransigently refusing to move his army from its shadow, lest he lose the opportunity to attempt its conquest should another French squadron happen by. Washington now feared that the last chance to win the war might be at hand. With American morale crumbling and its economy shot, by mid-1780 he had come to believe that time was running out. “This is the time for America by one great exertion to put

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