Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: The American Revolution & the European Response

By Charles W. Toth | Go to book overview

"Your timely intervention," wrote a thankful Washington to De Grasse, "has given to America independence and liberty." And when Louis XVI congratulated Rochambeau for bringing peace with his contribution at Yorktown, Rochambeau tried to convince an annoyed monarch that without the contribution of Admiral De Grasse there would have been no victory.

If one subscribes to the traditional assumption that French naval intervention led to Yorktown and the consequent independence of the thirteen colonies, then the military careers of De Grasse and Rochambeau are inextricably interwoven.

"Rien sans la marine prépondérante," wrote the Comte de Rochambeau after his selection to command the French troops in America. Soon after his arrival in Newport in the summer of 1780 Rochambeau was convinced that his first task was to persuade Washington not to risk another Savannah, and he would complain to the French Minister, La Lucerne, that Lafayette was misleading Washington by encouraging an attack against New York without the assistance of the French navy. Yet whatever combined action was agreed upon, Washington was not unaware of the fact that New York could not be turned into another Saratoga without a preponderant naval support. And when Rochambeau convinced De Grasse to leave the West Indies for the Chesapeake, Washington's flexibility as commander in chief is attested to by his remark to Rochambeau. "Your Excellency will be pleased to recall," wrote Washington, "that New York was looked upon as the only practicable object under present circumstances; but should we be able to secure naval superiority, we may find others more practicable and equally advisable."

For Rochambeau the Yorktown campaign proved to be the successful climax to a long military career in the service of his king. Although the career of De Grasse ended tragically in the West Indies in 1782, the Admiral could always find consolation for his contribution to the cause of France at Yorktown. Although no great sea-battle occurred, the naval assistance provided by De Grasse helped to bring an end to the war for independence. Indeed, both De Grasse and Rochambeau not only made a significant contribution but, considering the significance of Yorktown, both were present at the creation.

The following selections by Arnold Whitridge and Charles Lewis are taken from two scholarly and definitive studies, and the only ones in the English language to date.

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