Yorktown 'Plan' Legend: 14 August diary entry

Washington's 14, 15, and 16 August Diary Entries

14 August, Washington received de Grasse's 28 July letter. In his diary, Washington begins over three days to record the basic decisions that essentially first described the concept of the Yorktown Campaign. [Fitzpatrick, ed. The Diaries of George Washington 1748-1799, vol.2, 1771-1785.]
[14 August entry from pp.253-4]
"14th      Received dispatched from the Count de Barras4 announcing the intended departure of the Count de Grasse from cape Francois1 with between 25 and 29 Sail of the line and 3200 land Troops on the 3d. Instant for Chesapeak bay and the anxiety of the latter to have every thing in the most perfect readiness to commence our operations in the moment of his arrival as he should be under a necessity from particular engagements with the Spaniards to be in the West Indies by the Middle of October, at the same time intimating his (Barras's) Intentions of enterprizing something against Newfoundland, and against which both Genl. Rochambeau and myself Reminstrated as impolitic and dangerous under the probablility of Rodneys coming up this Coast.
"        Matters having now come to a crisis and a decisive plan to be determined on, I was obliged, from the shortness of Count de Grasse. promised stay on this Coast, the apparent disclination in their Naval Officers to force the harbour of New York and the feeble compliance of the States to my requisitions for Men, hitherto, and little prospect of greater exertion in the future, to give up all idea of attacking New York; and instead thereof to remove the French Troops and a detachment from the American Army to the Head of Elk2 to be transported to Virginia for the purpose of co-operating with the force from the West Indies against the Troops in that State." [See comment 1.]

[15 August entry from pp.254]

"15th      Dispatched a Courier to the Marquis de la Fayette3 with information of this matter, requesting him to be in perfect readiness to second my views and to prevent if possible the Retreat of Cornwallis towards Carolina. He was also directed to Halt the Troops under the Command of General Wayne if they had not made any great progress in their March to join the Southern Army." [See comment 2.]

[16 August entry from p.255]

"16th      Letters from the Marqs. de la Fayette1 and others, inform that Lord Cornwallis with the Troops from Hampton Road, had proceeded up York River and landed at York and Gloucester Towns where they were throwin up Works on the 6th. Inst." [See comment 3]
Editor's notes
[Footnote on p.253]
4. August 8th. Original in the Washington Papers, as above [Library of Congress].

[Footnotes on p.254]

1. Cape François, San Domingo.

2. Head of Elk, at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

3. Letter of August 15th. Original in the Washington Papers, Library of Congress, and printed in Ford, Writings of Washington, vol. 9, p.334.

[Footnote on p.255]

1. August 6th, from Lafayette. Original in Washington Papers, as above, and printed in Sparks, Correspondence of American Revolution, vol. 3, p.366.

Comments on Documents' Significance
1. "Matters having now come to a crisis and a decisive plan to be determined on." says it all! Here is the decision that launched the Campaign to go to Virginia. However, the following two days witnessed further refinements.
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2. Interesting that Lafayette's force was being diminished (Wayne going to join Greene's army further south). Strange that this would be the case if there had been a prior scheme to converge on the Chesapeake! Interesting too, Washington is aware of the danger of Cornwallis withdrawing from the coast --- back towards the Carolinas. Containing the British at the coastal location was essential if the naval component were to be most effective.
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3. "Where on the coast?" is answered here -- the town of York. This is the first Washington or Rochambeau were to know that the British position at this small tobacco shipping port was to be their specific objective, if everything went well. [Return to annotated location in main text.]

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This page created 2 November 2001; revised 10 June 2010.