Yorktown Naval Operations: August-September 1781
During the first days of September control of the waters of Chesapeake Bay itself was decided before General George Washington and French Lt. General Comte de Rochambeau arrived on the peninsula with their combined force. Having concealed his departure from the West Indies by sailing through the Bahama Channel, Admiral de Grasse arrived off the Virginia Capes on August 26, 1781 and soon after made contact with the Marquis de Lafayette. On September 2, French troops were landed.
After having finally learned of Admiral de Grasse's departure, the British sent fourteen ships-of-the-line under the command of Admiral Samuel Hood. Taking a direct route, Hood actually arrived at Chesapeake Bay on August 25, before de Grasse. Finding the waters unoccupied, Hood continued on to New York. At New York, he met five more ships-of-the-line under Admiral Samuel Graves. By seniority, Graves took command of the entire force and sailed back to Chesapeake Bay on August 31 hoping to intercept Admiral de Barras before he could join de Grasse.
The nineteen ship British fleet under Admiral Graves arrived at Chesapeake on September 5, 1781, and found that Admiral de Grasse had occupied the bay. Troops from the West Indies were being landed, the James and York Rivers were being guarded to blockage Lt. General Charles Cornwallis and Admiral de Barras was expected, having left Newport on August 25, 1781. De Grasse immediately ordered the twenty-four available ships-of-the-line to make preparations. They sailed out of the bay one-by-one at noon. Even though outnumbers, Graves was undeterred. After maneuvering around at a distance from each other, winds actually forced Admiral Graves and the British fleet into an attack on Admiral de Grasse and the French fleet. After about two hours, darkness halted the action. The French lost no ships, while one British ship had to be destroyed, another had to have its mast replaced, while two frigates were eventually captured.
The next two days the two fleets held contact while drifting one hundred miles south. On September 8, the French fleet turn back north. They lost sight of the British fleet on the following day, then bore down on another fleet before losing contact. De Grasse then returned to Chesapeake to find that Admiral de Barras had arrived on September 10 and it was his fleet that they had sighted on the 9th. With the French fleet occupying Chesapeake Bay, General Cornwallis was now cut off from support and escape by sea.
The American Continental Army at Yorktown
The combined Continental and French force under Generals Washington and Rochambeau arrived at Yorktown on September 28, 1781. There were three divisions with two brigades in the American force. Marquis de Lafayette's division included the brigades of Brig. General Peter Muhlenberg and Brig. General Moses Hazen. Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln's division included the brigades of Brig. General James Clinton's New York Regiments and Colonel Elias Dayton, who commanded New Jersey and Rhode Island regiments. Brig. General Baron von Steuben commanded the brigades of Brig. General Anthony Wayne, which included Pennsylvania and Virginia regiments, and Brig. General Modrecai Gist, which included Maryland regiments. 1,700 Virginia militia present. Brig. General Henry Knox commanded a 310-man artillery brigade. Cavalry was 100 men strong while there were 100 sappers and miners.
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