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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).
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TO THE COUNT DE GRASSE.
BeforeYork, 1 October, 1781.
I should have had the honor of acknowledging sooner the note, which your Excellency transmitted by the Marquis de Lafayette, but an expectation of being able to accompany my answer with interesting intelligence induced me to defer it to the present moment. With regard to the station, which your Excellency has determined for the main fleet, the reasons, which you are pleased to communicate, prove that it unites all advantages, and inspire the greatest confidence in the accomplishment of its object.
I have only one proposition to submit to your Excellency on the subject of naval dispositions, and the objects of it are too essential not to be exposed to you in their fullest light. I mean the stationing two or three ships above the enemy’s posts on York River. For want of this only means of completing the investment of their works, the British remain masters of the navigation for twenty-five miles distance above them, and have, by their armed vessels, intercepted supplies of the greatest value on their way to our camp. The loss is redoubled, by diminishing our means and augmenting those of the enemy at a most critical time. We are even necessitated, for the protection of Williamsburg and the magazines in our rear, to leave a post of seven or eight hundred men in that quarter; a diminution of our force that in present circumstances we can but illy support. But, unless this detachment is made, the enemy might in the greatest security land above Queen’s Creek to cover his left flank, and by a very short march effect the most destructive purposes; while the circuitous march which we, from the nature of the country, should be obliged to make, would render it impossible to arrive in time to prevent or punish him. We are besides reduced to the impossibility of concerting measures with the corps of troops at Gloucester, being obliged, in order to communicate with them, to make a circuit of near ninety miles, whereas in the other case it would be both easy and expeditious. But what is a still more decisive consideration is, that Lord Cornwallis has, by the York River, an outlet for his retreat, and that he may, by embracing a leading wind and tide and stealing a march, proceed unmolested to West Point, where, upon debarking his troops, he will have the Pamunky on one flank and the Mattapony on the other; and that finally he may, by mounting the greatest part of his men, and successive forced marches, push his way, with a compact, disciplined army, through a country whose population is too scattered to be collected for sudden opposition, and make it impossible for us to overtake him. Many people are of opinion, that Lord Cornwallis will embrace this as the only means of safety; and it is certain, that, unless the investment is completed as above mentioned, he will have it in his power either now or in a last extremity.
The present position of the fleet and army perfectly secures us against every enterprise on the part of the enemy in James River.
Upon the whole, I can assure your Excellency, that this seems to be the only point in which we are defective. The enemy has already abandoned all their exterior works, and withdrawn himself altogether to the body of the place, and given us great advantages for opening the trenches. The engineers have had a near and satisfactory view of the works, without interruption, and we have most to apprehend Lord Cornwallis’s escape.
For these reasons I earnestly entreat, that your Excellency will be pleased to authorize and enjoin the commanding officer of the ships in York River, to concert measures with me for the purpose above mentioned. In this case an additional ship may be necessary to remain at the mouth of the river. The Experiment and two frigates, if your Excellency thinks proper, would be best calculated for the station above.
If, upon mature examination of the passage, it should appear too great a risk for the ships, I would at least solicit your Excellency, that the vessels might advance higher up the river, and take a more menacing position with respect to the enemy on our right. But I must confess, to your Excellency, that I am so well satisfied by experience, of the little effect of land batteries on vessels passing them with a leading breeze, that, unless the two channels near York should be found impracticable by obstructions, I should have the greatest confidence in the success of this important service.
Your Excellency’s approbation of this measure would supersede the necessity of a defence against fire-ships. But the nature of the river besides renders it physically impossible to form any obstructions of the kind proposed. I entreat your Excellency to accept the sentiments of respectful attachment, with which I have the honor to be, &c.1
[1 ]The attempt to pass up York River was declined by Count de Grasse, not because he thought the works at York and Gloucester would present serious obstacles, but because he believed his large vessels would not be secure in that station. The enemy had a great number of boats and small craft, and with these they could easily bring fire-ships in the night, from which his vessels would be exposed to imminent danger, confined in the narrow channel of a river; especially as he had not in his whole fleet a sufficient number of row-boats and light craft for defence in such a situation, even if they could all be transported up the river in safety. This objection he deemed insuperable, and the project was laid aside. It was revived again, however, a few days afterwards. The passage and the river above York were reconnoitred by a French officer, and, upon his representation, Gount de Grasse agreed to send up some of his vessels, provided General Washington would furnish such a number of row-boats as would protect them from the fire-ships. This was about to be executed when Lord Cornwallis proposed terms of surrender.