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TO COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. IX (1780-1782) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. IX (1780-1782).
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TO COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU.
New Windsor, 15 February, 1781.
The Count de St. Maime1 last evening did me the honor to deliver me your letter of the 3d instant.2 It appears by the report of the naval officer, that the enemy were inferior to the Chevalier Destouches, and, from the situation of the Bedford and the America, would probably remain so for some time. It appears also to have been your Excellency’s expectation, that M. Destouches would either go with his whole fleet, or send a detachment to Chesapeake Bay in quest of Arnold.
There are a variety of positions where Arnold, by putting his vessels under protection of land batteries, may defy a naval attack, and, by collecting the provisions with which the country abounds and raising a few works, may remain in security till the enemy, by repairing their damaged ships, should regain their superiority at sea and come to his relief. Portsmouth, where he was by the last accounts, is particularly favorable to his security in this view. Unless therefore the ships, which M. Destouches may have sent, should by good fortune suddenly fall in with him, embarked and moving from one place to another, they will have little prospect of success.
From these considerations, if the object is judged of sufficient importance, it is in my opinion essential that there should be a coöperation of land and naval forces, and that M. Destouches should protect the expedition with his whole fleet. How far this will be safe or advisable, he can best judge; but it has appeared to me probable, that he would prefer going with his whole fleet, to a separation; as, by making a detachment he would lose his superiority and would give Mr. Arbuthnot an opportunity to escort his disabled ships safe to New York, and follow his detachment with the remainder.
Imagining it to be not unlikely, that he may think it advisable to employ his whole fleet upon the occasion, and that your Excellency would approve a co-operation with a part of your army, the propriety of which, for want of a knowledge of your local situation, I cannot judge; to give the enterprise all possible chance of success, I have put under marching orders a detachment of twelve hundred men, which will proceed in a few days towards the Head of Elk River, there to embark and proceed to a coöperation. I did not delay the march of this detachment till I could hear from M. Destouches and you, as there is not a moment to be lost, if the expedition is to be undertaken; and the inconvenience of moving the troops to no purpose will be small, in comparison with the advantage of gaining time. I should have made it more considerable, could I have spared the troops. It may arrive at its destination of operation in about four weeks from this time.
If the Chevalier Destouches and your Excellency should approve the project of a coöperation, in which the whole fleet shall be employed, it will be desirable that you could embark about a thousand troops on board the ships, and as many pieces of siege artillery, with the necessary apparatus, as you will think proper. This will give a degree of certainty to the enterprise, which will be precarious without it.
Arnold’s force consists of about fifteen hundred men. As these will be in intrenchments, (though not formidable,) an inferior regular force with the militia will find it difficult to reduce them; but, with the addition of the detachments I have proposed to you to send, the affair would soon be terminated. This addition is of importance; but the sending of artillery is absolutely necessary, as it would be productive of too much delay and expense to send heavy pieces with their stores from hence by land at this season.
As by this movement the troops will be exposed to a disagreeable march, and some expense will be incurred, I shall be glad that both inconveniences may cease as soon as possible, if the project is not carried into execution; and I therefore request your Excellency will favor me with an immediate answer. The capture of Arnold and his detachment will be an event particularly agreeable to this country, a great relief to the southern States, and of important utility in our future operations.1
I regret that the present prospect will compel me to postpone setting out for Rhode Island till I hear from you, and will deprive me still longer of the pleasure, for which I impatiently wish, of seeing your Excellency and the army. I am, &c.
February 19th.—The destruction of the corps under the command of Arnold is of such immense importance to the welfare of the southern States, that I have resolved to attempt it with the detachment I now send, in conjunction with the militia, even if it should not be convenient to your Excellency to detach a part of your force, provided M. Destouches is able to protect our operation by such a disposition of his fleet, as will give us the command of the Bay, and prevent succors being sent from New York. By a letter I have just received from Major General the Baron de Steuben, who commands in Virginia, it appears we may expect every thing from the temper of the militia, of which militia are capable; but an additional regular force to that I am sending would no doubt make the success much more prompt and certain. If M. Destouches should send any ships into the Bay, on the principle of a co-operation, it will be necessary that a light frigate should come up to the Head of Elk to protect the passage of the troops across the Bay. I impatiently wait to be favored with your Excellency’s answer on these points. With the truest respect, &c.1
[1 ]M. de Saint Mesme was colonel of the Soissonnais regiment.
[2 ]These advices were from Count de Rochambeau, dated February 3d, hinting at a plan proposed by M. Destouches for despatching three or four vessels of his squadron to the Chesapeake, as mentioned heretofore. The idea appeared in so favorable a light to Washington, that, although he was on the eve of a departure for Newport, he delayed his journey to prepare for sending a detachment of land forces to co-operate with such an expedition.
[1 ]As Count de Rochambeau did not receive this letter till the 19th, which was ten days after the departure of M. de Tilly’s detachment, it was not then practicable for him and M. Destouches to unite in carrying the plan here suggested into effect; more especially as the British blockading squadron had been strengthened by repairing the disabled vessels, and that of M. Destouches was weakened by the absence of three of his ships. In this state of things there would be too great a risk in going to sea with a force so much inferior. Count de Rochambeau wrote, that, if the above plan had come to his hands before the sailing of the detachment to Virginia, it was probable M. Destouches would have determined to go out with his whole fleet, and in that case he should have spared one thousand land troops for the enterprise.
[1 ]When this letter was written, the departure of M. de Tilly’s little squadron for the Chesapeake seems not to have been known, although it took place ten days before; but the intelligence must have come quickly after writing the letter, as it is mentioned in the instructions to Lafayette the next day. M. de Tilly returned to Newport on the 24th of February, having been absent only fifteen days. Near the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay he captured the Romulus, a British frigate of forty-four guns. He also took two privateers, one of eighteen and the other of fourteen guns, sent four prizes to Yorktown, and burnt four others. About five hundred prisoners were taken. Admiral Arbuthnot had sent a messenger to Arnold, giving intelligence of the approach of the French squadron, and had thus put him on his guard. He had withdrawn his frigates, one of forty-four and two others of thirty-two guns each, so high up the Elizabeth River, that they could not be approached by the Eveillé, the largest French vessel; and one of the French frigates, the Surveillante, ran aground in that river, and was got off only by taking out her guns and casks of water. An extract from M. de Tilly’s letter to the Chevalier de la Luzerne will explain his situation and the motives for his return.