Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE COUNT DE GRASSE. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IX (1780-1782)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THE COUNT DE GRASSE. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO THE COUNT DE GRASSE.
Williamsburg, 25 September, 1781.
I cannot conceal from your Excellency the painful anxiety under which I have labored since the receipt of the letter, with which you honored me on the 23d instant. The naval movements, which your Excellency states there as possible, considering the intelligence communicated to you by the Baron de Closen, make it incumbent upon me to represent the consequences that would arise from them, and to urge a perseverance in the plan already agreed upon. Give me leave, in the first place, to repeat to your Excellency, that the enterprise against York, under the protection of your ships, is as certain as any military operation can be rendered by a decisive superiority of strength and means; that it is in fact reducible to calculation; and that the surrender of the British garrison will be so important in itself and its consequences; and that it must necessarily go a great way towards terminating the war, and securing the invaluable objects of it to the allies.
Your Excellency’s departure from the Chesapeake, by affording an opening for the succor of York, which the enemy would instantly avail himself of, would frustrate these brilliant prospects; and the consequence would be, not only the disgrace and loss of renouncing an enterprise, upon which the fairest expectations of the allies have been founded, after the most expensive preparations and uncommon exertions and fatigues, but the disbanding perhaps of the whole army for want of provisions.
The present theatre of the war is totally deficient in means of land transportation, being intersected by large rivers, and its whole dependence for interior communication being upon small vessels. The country has been so much exhausted besides by the ravages of the enemy, and the subsistence of our own army, that our supplies can only be drawn from a distance, and under cover of a fleet mistress of the Chesapeake. I most earnestly entreat your Excellency farther to consider, that, if the present opportunity should be missed, that if you should withdraw your maritime force from the position agreed upon, that no future day can restore to us a similar occasion for striking a decisive blow; that the British will be indefatigable in strengthening their most important maritime points; and that the epoch of an honorable peace will be more remote than ever.
The confidence, with which I feel myself inspired by the energy of character and the naval talents, which so eminently distinguish your Excellency, leaves me no doubt, that, upon a consideration of the consequences, which must follow your departure from the Chesapeake, that your Excellency will determine upon the possible measure, which the dearest interests of the common cause would dictate. I had invariably flattered myself, from the accounts given me by skilful mariners, that your Excellency’s position, moored in the Chesapeake, might be made so respectable as to bid defiance to any attempt on the part of the British fleet, at the same time that it would support the operations of the siege, secure the transportation of our supplies by water, and economize the most precious time by facilitating the debarkation of our heavy artillery and stores conveniently to the trenches in York River. It is to be observed, that the strength of the enemy’s reinforcement announced under Admiral Digby, as we have the intelligence from the British, may not only be exaggerated, but altogether a finesse; and, supposing the account consistent with truth, their total force, it was hoped, would not put them in condition to attack with any prospect of success.
If the stationary position, which had been agreed upon, should be found utterly impracticable, there is an alternative, which however inferior, considered relatively to the support and facility of our land operations, would save our affairs from ruin. This is, to cruise with your fleet within view of the Capes, so as effectually to prevent the entrance of any British vessels.
Upon the whole, I should esteem myself deficient in my duty to the common cause of France and America, if I did not persevere in entreating your Excellency to resume the plans, that have been so happily arranged; and, if invincible maritime reasons prevent, I depend as a last resource upon your Excellency’s pursuing the alternative above mentioned, and rendering the Chesapeake inaccessible to any enemy’s vessel.
However the British admiral may manœuvre, and endeavor to divert your Excellency from the object in view, I can hardly admit a belief, that it can be his serious intention to engage in a general action with a fleet, whose force will be superior, supposing the most flattering accounts for the British to be true; past experience having taught them to engage with caution, even upon equal terms, and forced from them acknowledgments which prove the respect with which they have been inspired. Let me add, Sir, that even a momentary absence of the French fleet may expose us to the loss of the British garrison at York; as in the present state of affairs, Lord Cornwallis might effect the evacuation with the loss of his artillery and baggage, and such a sacrifice of men as his object would evidently justify.
The Marquis de Lafayette, who does me the honor to bear this to your Excellency, will explain many particularities of our situation, which could not well be comprised in a letter. His candor and abilities are well known to your Excellency, and entitle him to the fullest confidence in treating of the most important interests. I have earnestly requested him not to proceed any farther than the Capes,1 for fear of accidents, should your Excellency have put to sea. In this case he will despatch a letter to your Excellency in addition to this. I have the honor to be, &c.2
[1 ]This letter, sustained by the explanations and arguments of the Marquis de Lafayette, produced a change in the schemes of Count de Grasse; and he agreed to remain within the Capes, and blockade the bay during the siege. He laid the matter before a council of war. “The result has been,” said he in his reply, “that the plan I had suggested was the most brilliant and glorious, but it would not fulfil the views we had proposed. It is consequently decided, that a large part of the fleet shall anchor in York River, that four or five vessels shall be stationed so as to pass up and down in James River, and that you shall aid us with the means to erect a battery on Point Comfort, where we can place cannon and mortars. We shall immediately proceed to execute this arrangement, and I hasten to give you notice, that we may act in concert for the advancement of our operations.”
[2 ]“The resolutions that you have taken in our circumstances prove, that a great mind knows how to make personal sacrifices to secure an important general good. Fully sensible of those, which you have made on the present occasion, I flatter myself that the result of the operations, conducted under your auspices, will compensate them by its utility to the common cause. Your Excellency may depend on every assistance, that the allied armies can give, relatively to the battery which you propose at Point Comfort, and that our utmost exertions will be used in hastening the investment of the enemy.”—Washington to Count de Grasse, 27 September, 1781.