TO AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
Prepared by M. Jacques de TRENTINIAN
The presentation gives a comprehensive understanding of the diplomatic, economic and military resources implemented by France to help the American patriots obtaining the independence of their new nation. It is a rarely presented comprehensive overview of the robust French involvement in the American struggle for Independence. Most of the historical narratives focus on particular military operations in North America and specific diplomatic initiatives. Such restricted observations fail to grasp the global scope of the conflict and often either ignore or inaccurately portray the decisions made at Versailles.
|Seven years of close cooperation and sacrifices.||
|WHY, WHEN, AND HOW |
WHY? A PREVENTIVE WAR AGAINST AN AGGRESSIVE COMPETITOR|
WHEN? FROM DECEMBER 1775 TO SEPTEMBER 1783
WHAT WAS THE SITUATION IN EUROPE AT THE EVE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION?
When the first news of an armed revolt in the British colonies of America reached France and United Kingdom, the potential impact of the event was quickly assessed by the French government in Versailles.
Louis XVI of France, only 20 years old, and king for one year, has selected a very experienced diplomat, Comte de Vergennes, as a secretary for Foreign affairs.
The new king has learned English by himself, and he is like the enlightened part of the French aristocracy who consider the British parliamentary system with great interest.
But at the same time, the "English" is for France a traditional opponent and has been a growing competitor for almost a century. Against France, Britain has made up for her much smaller population by almost permanent coalitions with other European powers and through an aggressive colonial expansion resting on a strong navy.
WHAT WAS EUROPE MADE OF?
WHILE FRANCE PREPARES FOR A WAR THROUGH DIPLOMACY AND REARMAMENT, A SECRET HELP IS LAUNCHED AND SPONSORED BY HER GOVERNMENT
"…. We will give you a secret one million. We will endeavor to persuade the court of Spain to give you another. With these two millions you shall found a great commercial establishment, and, at your own risk and peril, you shall furnish to America arms and everything else necessary to sustain war. Our arsenals will deliver to you arms and munitions, but you will pay for it. …"
The new Roderique Hortalez company is registered and soon adds to the public financing, a third million Livres investment coming from private French firms.
Arriving in France July 1776, Congress' envoy Silas Deane is introduced to Beaumarchais. He requests arms and every necessary articles of clothing, for 30,000 men. These demands are reinforced six months later when Benjamin Franklin comes to Paris as chief of the American delegation. The famous, and already very popular as a scientist, Franklin will greatly contribute to better understanding between senior individuals in charge of the two nations.
Results are soon realized:
Officers: By secret royal decision, by self initiative, or through American delegates' recruitment, a little over 100 officers (including some foreigners) are enrolled in American service, most of them dispatched from France.
AT THE END OF 1777, FRANCE HAS COMPLETED HER ARMAMENT AND IS READY TO ENTER IN ACTIVE WAR. BRITAIN IS NOT.
THE WAR IS INITIALLY LIMITED TO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN.
Meanwhile, Admiral d'Estaing is dispatched from Toulon to America with 12 ships of the line and Conrad Gerard as an ambassador.
THE CONTINENTAL WAR HAS TURNED TO THE SOUTH.
Britain is now ready:
France, with 66 ships of the line, feels the necessity to complement her forces with an ally to challenge the British.
TO ACHIEVE OVERALL SUCCESS, MILITARY ACTION MUST BE SUPPLEMENTED BY DIPLOMACY
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER MAIN POWERS IN EUROPE?
EXTENSION TO A MULTI-CONTINENTAL WAR
In the West Indies France must consolidate the territorial gains achieved by Governor marquis de Bouillé and comte d'Estaing (including the capture of Dominica, Saint Vincent and Grenada) the recapture of Saint Martin and Saint Bartholomew, and protect the other French possessions in the Caribbean.
The French Navy brings reinforcements and three times defeats British admiral Rodney's attempts against the islands.
In North America for the first years of the conflict, Congress was opposed to having any French soldiers landing in America. But in the fall of 1779, the insufficient capacity of the Continental army added to grave financial issues induces Congress to cease excluding this possibility.
Sailing towards an undisclosed destination, nine warships and 24 transports, manned by 5,000 sailors, leave Brest harbor in Spring 1780: 6,000 soldiers, officers and military engineers have embarked with armament, including 32 heavy siege pieces and 32 field cannons, plus their carriages and limbers, the munitions, powder, equipments and supplies for months of campaigning.
After seventy days of lengthy crossing, the convoy reaches Newport (RI), disembarks and fortifies the city. About 700 soldiers and 1,200 sailors must be taken care in hospitals for a few weeks.
George Washington and General de Rochambeau, who is placed under Washington's order by the King's decision, decide to wait upon further French reinforcement before launching an offensive campaign.
AT THE SAME TIME THE SITUATION KEEPS CHANGING IN EUROPE AND OVERSEAS.
Britain declares war on the United Provinces (The Netherlands) to prevent them entering the League of Neutrality.
From France, naval operations are launched by French government to remove the pressure on the allied forces in the Dutch colonies and in America:
ALLIED COMBINED CAMPAIGN
Meeting at Wethersfield, Connecticut, Washington and Rochambeau prepare a joint operation against New York. However, marching to Virginia is not excluded.
Rochambeau requests de Grasse's naval intervention including field reinforcements and subsidies. He suggests to the admiral that he might prefer sailing to Virginia rather than to New York.
"There are two points at which an offensive can be made against the enemy; the Chesapeake Bay and New York. The southwesterly winds and the state of defense in Virginia will have you probably preferring the Chesapeake, and this is where we think you may be able to render the greatest service; whereas, you will need only two days to come from there to New York. In any case it is essential that you send, well in advance, a frigate to inform Barras where you are to come and also General Washington."
What is De Grasse's response ?:
Washington orders the allied armies toward Virginia, and Barras sails the Newport French fleet toward the Chesapeake. Ovens are set up in New Jersey to deceive the British upon the allied intentions.
Land and naval armies are now converging towards Virginia, while Lord Cornwallis and his army have been ordered to prepare a departure for New York. His regiments dig themselves on both sides of the York River, at Yorktown, with a detachment at Gloucester Point.
On August 30, 1781, de Grasse enters the Chesapeake bay; and prepares landing the regiments he brought from the Caribbean. The longboats and their 1,800 sailors row up the James River.
Five days later, 19 British sails appear off the Bay. They are in situation to intercept the Newport squadron that is bringing the siege artillery.
De Grasse orders his fleet to rush out of the bay, without their longboats and slipping their anchor cables.
The British fleet of Graves and Hood is engaged in a heavy cannonade. Suffering 4 ships of the line badly damaged and one sunk. The British fleet returns to New York after three days.
When de Grasse returns to the Bay, Barras has arrived. The siege artillery is sailed up the James River.
French frigates and transports are dispatched by de Grasse up the Chesapeake to fetch most of the allied infantry and equipment at Annapolis, and transport them to Williamsburg.
Altogether, 9,000 Americans and 36,000 French (sailors and soldiers) are now gathered around Yorktown to front Cornwallis forces of 8,250 soldiers and sailors. On October 7, all land forces are investing Yorktown.
The French chief engineer of the Continental Army, General du Portail, commands the combined military engineers. Successive parallel trench lines are dug and the heavy artillery is positioned to execute the siege.
After a week of intense shelling, two strong British redoubts still hold key points in the British defense. Rochambeau's second in command, Major General Viomenil leads the French task force that storms Redoubt 9, while American forces under La Fayette and Hamilton storm the other British redoubt.