Yorktown Campaign: July-September 1781
The last orders that Lt General Charles Cornwallis received from Lt. General Henry Clinton on July 20, 1781, were to establish defenses at Old Point Comfort and also occupy Yorktown if necessary. Cornwallis found Old Point Comfort indefensible and chose to make Yorktown his main position. He also set up a supporting position across the York River at Gloucester, Vriginia. By August 22, 1781, Cornwallis had moved his entire force to these two positions.
Meanwhile, on August 14, 1781, General George Washington finally received word that the long awaited French fleet under Admiral Comte de Grasse was sailing for the Chesapeake Bay area. The admiral had twenty-nine ships and over 3,000 troops, was expected to arrive in mid-September and would remain until October 15 for combined operations before returning to the West Indies before winter arrived. Washington and Rochambeau now had to quickly move forces from Rhode Island and the New York area to Virginia without alerting either the British fleet or General Clinton. They were also successful in convincing Admiral de Barras to cooperate with de Grasse's operations.
General Washington quickly abandoned his planned operations against General Clinton and New York City to form new operations following Admiral de Grasse's strategy. On August 20, 1781, Washington and 2,500 Continental troops began crossing the Hudson River to Stony Point, New York. The French forces commanded by Lt. General Comte de Rochambeau completed the crossing on August 25. General Clinton observed the movement, but was confident that Admiral de Grasse's fleet would easily be taken care of by the British fleet already commanding the Atlantic coast. Washington did leave Maj. General William Heath with a detachment of forces to first cover his departure and then to withdraw and protect the Hudson Highlands.
General Washington now used his light infantry to feint toward Staten Island, while the entire army stopped at Chatham and Springfield on August 28, 1781 to continue to show like preparing to attack. On August 29, they appeared to be marching to Sandy Hook to meet the French fleet. Finally on August 30, the deception was dropped and they made for Princeton, which the advanced troops reached that same day. They reached Philadelphia on September 1, 1781.
On September 2, 1781, General Washington led his army through Philadelphia. On the same day General Clinton finally realized that Washington was marching to Virginia. Still he was not overly concerned and merely sent a letter to General Cornwallis that told of the movements and also of expected reinforcements. The French troops made and impressive display to the colonists as they made their way through Philadelphia on the 3rd and 4th. On September 5th, after arriving at Chester, Pennsylvania, Washington learned of Admiral de Grasse's arrival in Chesapeake Bay. On September 6, Washington reached Head of Elk, Maryland. Washington now rode ahead with General Rochambeau and their staffs for a visit to his home at Mount Vernon, which he had not seen in six years. They arrived on September 9th and remained there until the 12th.
On September 12, 1781, Washington learned that Admiral de Grasse's fleet had disappeared to confront an approaching British fleet, while he still had no news as to Admiral de Barras' whereabouts. On September 14, 1781, the combined Continental and French force reached the peninsula. On September 15, news arrived that de Grasse had returned and de Barras had been able to get out of Newport and reach Chesapeake without encountering the British fleet. Washington and Rochambeau arrived at Yorktown on September 28, 1781.
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