George Washington , Clinton, Cornwallis, Lord George Germain, Comte de Rochambeau, Comte de Grasse, Yorktown and Treaty of Paris

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 28th, 2012

Politics 101

British Sea Power allowed the British to Remain in a Hostile Land for the Eight Years of the Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War began in April of 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  For years following these battles George Washington yearned to meet the British in a grand battle and defeat them.  What he got instead was a lot of smaller battles that sent him in retreat.  For despite fighting on the far side of an ocean the British had a large professional army.  A vast merchant marine to supply them whatever they needed.  And the world’s preeminent navy.  The Royal Navy.

That sea power allowed the British to remain in a hostile land for the following 7 years.  Allowed them to remain in New York.  Allowed them to take the war to the South unopposed.  It allowed them to move armies.  And supply armies.  As well as control the world’s sea lanes to maintain their commerce.  The Royal Navy tipped the balance of power well to the side of the British.  And perhaps it was their undoing as well.  Trusting that their naval superiority would always be there.

British generals Clinton (superior in rank and resting comfortably in New York) and Cornwallis (junior in rank and chasing American armies in the South) did not see eye to eye.  Their boss, Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American Department, didn’t help matters.  It was his job to suppress the American rebellion.  But he didn’t understand the country.  Or the people.  Thinking of America in European terms.  He thought the Americans were no match for a professional European army assembled on the field of battle.  And he was right.  But the Americans didn’t fight the war like Europeans.  Which proved to be a great disadvantage for the British.

With the French Fleet heading to Chesapeake Bay Washington Scrapped his Plan to Attack New York

General Burgoyne had a grand strategy to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.  A three-pronged attack that required General Howe (who preceded Clinton) coming up from New York.  Germain approved the plan.  And two of the three prongs proceeded accordingly.  East through the Mohawk Valley.  And south down the upper Hudson valley.  Howe was to come up the Lower Hudson valley and meet the other two prongs around Albany.  But Germain did not order Howe to do so.  So Howe didn’t.  Executing his own plans in Pennsylvania.  Which led to Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga (1777).  And the entry of France into the War (on the condition that the Americans would not make a separate peace with the British).  The Spanish later (allied to the French).  The Dutch, too.  And an armed neutrality of the other powers who did not want to partake in the war and would not submit to the advances of the Royal Navy on the high seas.  Making it difficult to blockade arms and supplies from reaching the Americans.

The first Franco-American actions proved disappointing.  In fact a lot of public sentiment turned against the French.  Especially after they abandoned an offensive action in Rhode Island.  Leaving the Americans to retreat again.  Then Cornwallis moved north.  Toward Virginia.  And there was another window for French cooperation after some action in the West Indies.  And there was a French Army in Newport, Rhode Island, commanded by Comte de Rochambeau, a veteran of the Seven Years’ War.  So he knew a thing or two about fighting the British.  These forces arrived after Clinton pulled his forces out and returned them to New York.  Which is where Washington wanted to attack with this Franco-American force.

Washington and Rochambeau drew up some plans.  The French fleet coming from the West Indies commanded by Comte de Grasse was to support the attack.  However, this was the battle Clinton was waiting for.  And he was ready for it.  Washington tested the New York defenses and found them formidable.  And there was a British fleet in New York Harbor.  Then he got a letter from De Grasse.  Rochambeau had left him some freedom in his orders.  Instead of going to New York he was heading to the Chesapeake Bay.  Where Cornwallis’ army was.  It wasn’t New York but it was still a British army.  And he would have a large French fleet in support.  Washington soon scrapped his New York plans.  And looked to Virginia instead.   

Cornwallis and Burgoyne lost their Armies because the British never Coordinated their Forces in a Unified Plan

Quickly and quietly the Franco-American force moved from around New York towards Virginia.  They were across the Delaware River before Clinton knew where they were going.  Or what they planned to do.  They kept Admiral Graves in the dark as well.  Who kept his British fleet around New York.  Waiting to support the army when the Americans and French launched their attack on New York.  By the time they figured out what Washington and the Franco-America force were up to it was too late.  The French fleet beat them to the Chesapeake Bay.  The superior French fleet repelled the smaller British fleet which returned to New York.  Leaving Cornwallis on his own.  As he faced an enemy that outnumbered him more than two to one.  A force that numbered 5,700 professional Continentals and 7,000 professional French troops.  As well as 3,100 militia.

Cornwallis was entrenched in Yorktown.  With Banastre Tarleton (of Waxhaw Massacre fame) across the York River in Gloucester.  As Cornwallis looked out at the gathering force against him laying siege to his army he saw the French on his right.  And the Americans on his left.  Their trenches slowly moving closer to his.  Across the York the French were closing in on Tarleton.  Soon the American artillery was within effective range.  And George Washington lit the first fuse.  It was over in less than a month.  And included a bayonet charge led by America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Recognizing the seriousness of Cornwallis’ position Clinton sent a fleet to help lift the siege.  But by the time it arrived Cornwallis had already surrendered.

Cornwallis lost his army for the same reason Burgoyne lost his army at Saratoga.  Lord Germain.  Who failed to coordinate his generals in the American Department.  While the Americans did.  For most of the war the British had the superior army and the superior navy.  Yet they could not win.  Because these superior forces were never coordinated together in a unified plan.  Opposition in Parliament forced Germain out of office after the fall of Yorktown.  And called for the resignation of the Prime Minister.  Lord North.  Which he gave.  A first for a British Prime Minister.  The new government would end the war with the Americans with the Treaty of Paris (1783).  Where the Americans did very well.  And conducted separate peace treaties with the Spanish and the Dutch.  As well as the French.  Which the French were not pleased with.  And they did not do as well as the Americans in the peace.  Worse, they would find themselves in their own revolution within a decade.  The American Revolution being a major cause of the French Revolution.  By saddling France with an enormous war debt.  And filling their people with the spirit of liberty.

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Benjamin Franklin, Bon Homme Richard, John Paul Jones, Whitehaven, Dominica, Rhode Island, Count d’Estaing, Anti-French Riots and Serapis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 26th, 2012

Politics 101

The First French Action in the New World that was in Support of their New American Allies was in Rhode Island

The French loved Benjamin Franklin.  He was America personified.  They loved his science.  And his Poor Richard’s Almanac.  In 1779 King Louis XVI of France bought a merchant ship from the French East India Company and gave it to the Americans to use in their common war with Great Britain.  The U.S. captain fittingly named the Duc de Duras the Bon Homme Richard.  Which translates to Good Man Richard.  Richard as in Poor Richard’s Almanac.  To make it a favorite of the French.  Who were already quite enthused by this young American captain.  Who was a Scotsman by birth.  John Paul Jones.  From his actions off (and on) the British coast the previous year.  In the first year of the Franco-American alliance in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

With the French on board Benjamin Franklin wanted to capitalize on this new alliance.  With friendly ports on the far side of the Atlantic Franklin instructed John Paul Jones to harass the British coast.  To bring the war home to the British people.  And that’s exactly what Jones did.  Then in command of the Ranger.  Coming ashore at Whitehaven in April of 1778.  A seaport on the north east coast of England.  His intent was to set fire to the ships and port facilities.  To disrupt British shipping.  He didn’t do the great damage he had hoped.  But it really brought the American Revolutionary War to British soil.  And the British were not amused.  But the French were.

The French were eager to get some payback for their embarrassing defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763).  And to recover some of their lost New World territories.  Beginning in the West Indies.  On the island of Dominica in September of 1778.  The first of a series of victories in the West Indies where the French navy began helping the Americans in their War of Independence.  By taking these islands from the British.  Which helped the Americans by keeping the British busy.  And depriving the Royal Navy of some useful ports.  But these actions benefited the French more than the Americans.  Which was keeping with French interests in joining this war.  Payback for their prior defeats at the hands of the British.  And regaining lost territory.  The first French action in the New World that was in support of their new American allies was in Rhode Island.  In the first Franco-American combined action in the war.  Which didn’t go well.  Or end well.

The French arrive with a Fleet Including some 16 Warships and about 4,000 French Soldiers

1777 ended well for the Americans.  They defeated a British Army at the Battle of Saratoga.  Because of this the French joined in alliance with the Americans in their war against Great Britain.  Valley Forge followed.  Which was pretty horrible.  But Baron von Steuben drilled the Continental Army.  Made them as good as any European Army.  And when General Clinton was moving his army from Philadelphia back to New York in the Spring Washington wanted to go on the offensive.  His chance came at the Battle of Monmouth.  Washington ordered an attack on the rearguard of Clinton’s army.  General Charles Lee hesitated.  Then ordered a retreat.  Which Washington turned around.  As had the British in their retreat to New York.  The Americans and the British then engaged in a long day of attacks and counterattacks.  Stopping only after exhaustion set in.  Von Steuben’s trained Continental Army fought the British Army to a draw.  As impressive a feat as the win at Saratoga.  Perhaps more so.  And so close to a win.  Had Lee followed Washington’s orders perhaps it would have been.  But, alas, it wasn’t.  And in the morning the British were gone.

The French were on their way.  But they did not arrive early enough to prevent Clinton from getting his army across to Manhattan.  But the appearance of the French fleet did paralyze the British into inaction.  The French fleet included some 16 warships and about 4,000 French soldiers.  With some 50,000 British regulars in New York surrounded by a fleet of 100 or so made New York NOT the best place to test the grand Franco-American alliance.  Instead the first test of that grand alliance would be in Newport, Rhode Island.

The plan was to land the French soldiers to join an American force to assault the British forces with the support of the guns of the French fleet.  What happened was a tragic comedy of errors.  A militia force arrived late.  While the Franco-American force was waiting a British naval squadron appeared.  Count d’Estaing, the French naval commander, re-embarked the French troops and prepared for battle.  Then a violent storm blew in.  Scattering the opposing naval forces.  The British then limped back to New York to refit.  And the French limped to Boston to refit.  The American commander was furious at the French.  He published an order condemning the French.  American morale fell.  Militia went home.  The British seeing this decided to attack.  The Americans held their ground.  Fought to another draw.  Then slipped away under the cover of night.  Yet another missed opportunity.

When the Serapis asked the crippled Bon Homme Richard if she was striking her colors Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.” 

The Americans were not amused with the French actions.  Anti-French riots broke out in Boston where the French fleet was refitting.  All the old animosities from the previous war resurfaced.  When the Americans fought alongside the British against the French.  It took the combined efforts of d’Estaing, John Hancock, Nathanael Greene and Alexander Hamilton to maintain the peace between the Franco-American alliance in Boston.  Their counterparts in Charlestown, South Carolina, were not so successful.  Where the French and the Americans fired upon each other with cannon and small arms.  And there was blood.  Dead and wounded.  Not the greatest of beginnings between the grand alliance.

While the French fleet failed to pay any dividends for the Americans some other naval action was.  Harassing the sea lanes between London and the West Indies.  Causing great headaches to British commerce.  Harassing the fisheries off of Nova Scotia.  Capturing enemy ships.  And who was doing all of this damage to the British fleet?  And to British pride?  That Scotsman fighting for America.  John Paul Jones.  Who did not know the meaning of the word ‘surrender’.

In September of 1779 Jones came into contact with a convoy of 40 British merchant ships coming from the Baltic under the protection of the 44-gun Serapis and the 28-gun Countess of Scarborough.  Jones commanded a 4-vessel squadron including the Bon Homme Richard and the Alliance captained by French Captain Pierre Landais.  And engaged.  The battle lasted some three and a half hours.  And into the night.  The Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis rammed into each other yet still continued the fight.  The Alliance fired broadside after broadside into the Bon Homme Richard and yet Jones continued the fight.  When the captain of the Serapis asked the crippled Bon Homme Richard if she was striking her colors (surrendering) Jones reportedly replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.”  And he kept fighting until the captain of the Serapis struck his colors sometime after 10 PM.

Again, not an auspicious start for the Franco-American grand alliance.  But a pretty impressive one for a nearly nonexistent U.S. Navy.

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