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

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

15
“WE HAVE OCCASIONED A GOOD DEAL
OF TERROR”: THE WAR AT SEA

THE NEW American-built Alliance, a thirty-six-gun frigate, eased out of Boston harbor early in January 1779. France was its destination. The Alliance made the Atlantic crossing in the uncommonly rapid time of twenty-six days, but its voyage was not uneventful. Near Newfoundland it almost foundered in a merciless storm that tore off the main topmost. Later, the English among its mixed crew mutinied. Their hope was to take the commandeered vessel and its most famous passenger, General Lafayette, to England, where they hoped to find a hero's welcome and a monetary reward. But the uprising was suppressed, with the help of the sword-wielding Lafayette, and thirty-eight mutineers were clasped in irons. Not a day too soon the lookout spotted Brittany on the western coast of France, and Alliance limped into port at Brest.1

Lafayette had come home in the hope of securing a French army to lead into Canada. Congress had sanctioned his plan, then changed its mind after Washington objected, but its urgent communiqué disapproving another Canadian venture arrived in Boston after the Alliance sailed. It made no difference. Once in France, Lafayette discovered that his government was not interested in participating in an invasion of Canada. Undeterred, he requested a force to lead in retaking Newport, something he and Congress had probably discussed as a fallback to a Canadian venture. France's leaders were not interested in another Rhode Island campaign either. Plans were taking shape at Versailles for an invasion of England. Thirsting for glory, Lafayette, with his sure instinct for adapting, jumped on that bandwagon. He asked for “a corps of 1,500 of the best possible men, that is to say, all Frenchmen,” that he might lead in “attacks on

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