The 800 French Army Troops at Gloucester (1781)

Eight hundred French troops lent by de Grasse to serve at Gloucester (1781) are usually described as ‘marines’ in most Anglophone publications, but these troops were actually detachments from French army regiments. Many French studies correctly note that the 800 were French army troops. One of the few Anglophone publications making the correct identification is Samuel F. Scott’s From Yorktown to Valmy (1998), where on p.70, is stated that the 800 were: “... actually, soldiers from regular infantry regiments who ‘garrisoned’ the ships.” This webpage presents a more detailed description of the 800 as obtained by research of M. Jacques de TRENTINIAN. Much of the data associating the troops with particular army regiments was found in the published journal of Sous-lieutenant Joachim Du Perron, comte de Revel, who was among the 800 infantry lent by de Grasse to Rochambeau.
            Since the time of Louis XIV, the French navy had employed detachments of regular land infantry on board ships as ‘vessel garrison’ and for security at naval installations,
such as harbors, [This ‘naval infantry’ role is similar to that of the US Marines in the Department of the US Navy.] The extensive mission for the Royal French navy required employment of a large number of infantry units in French overseas colonies, which were under the French Navy Ministry. To meet this demand, the French Navy Minister attempted, in 1774, to raise 100 companies of a ‘Corps royal d'infanterte de la Marine’. The goal was far from met in 1779, and the French navy sought to form ‘legions’ of volunteers [Voluntaires étrangers de Marine] that were raised in France for overseas service. The volunteer conscripts were often described as ‘foreigners’ as many were accepted from other European countries to serve in the French navy land army contingents for employment outside of Europe. The number of French naval ‘marines’ and special ‘foreign volunteer legions’ still did not meet the demands of the global deployments during the American War for Independence. The shortfall forced the French navy to continue obtaining detachments from regular Royal Army units in France.

The 800 infantry troops lent by de Grasse to serve at Gloucester (1781) were detachments that had been taken from French Royal Army regiments to augment the French naval establishment’s vessel garrisons in Admiral de Grasse’s fleet. All had embarked aboard their assigned French ships at Brest in 1781, and were still with de Grasse’s fleet at the Battle of the Saintes (1782). Their employment at the Siege of Yorktown, along side other land army forces at Gloucester, was a temporary association with other French land army forces in North America. Their presence explains various references to 10 additional regiments – represented by their detachments – having participated in the Yorktown Campaign. These are not normally mention along with the four French army regiments of Rochambeau’s expedition [which also included Lauzun’s Legion, and detachments of Auxonne Artillery and Engineers], and the three French army regiments under Saint-Simon that came with de Grasse’s fleet.
            The 800 rank-and-file, plus 23 officers, added to the build up of Allied forces at Gloucester that began on 20 September 1781 with General George Weedon assembling nearly 1,200 Virginia Militia – the number of which varied daily. On 24 September, Lauzun’s 300 light cavalrymen, ‘hussars’, arrived – they had traveled overland from the New York and rode directly to Gloucester.[See webpage on: Route of the Hussars of Lauzun's Legion in 1781]. On 28 September, Lauzun’s approximately 300 infantry troops arrived along with the Legion’s commander. They traveled south from New York along the routes taken by the rest of the Allied Infantry, and marched from the Williamsburg area, by West Point, to Gloucester. [The Revolutionary Journal of Baron von Closen, 1780-1783, trans. E.M. Acomb (1958), p.138].
            Concern over the reliability of the militia motivated Washington and Rochambeau to further strengthen the position, and de Grasse was “prevailed upon to release approximately eight hundred” troops to reinforce the allied contingent at Gloucester. The collective size of French forces at that position necessitated the assignment of the French general de Choisy, as the senior general, to command the allied forces at Gloucester on 27 September [Clermont-Crèvecoeur’s Journal as quoted p.56, Rice-Brown, The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army (1972)]. At Rochambeau’s request, de Choisy, personally, met with de Grasse aboard the Ville-de-Paris to request the additional army troops. On 30 September, de Choisy and the 800 army troops, plus officers, disembarked the French ships in longboats, and early in the morning of 1 October landed north of Gloucester Point [pp.120-121, du Perron’s journal]. Upon agreeing to loan his 800 army troops, the “French admiral warned that this was the ‘last sacrifice’ he could make.” [From Yorktown to Valmy
p.70.] [De Grasse’s 29 September 1781 letter to Rochambeau as published by Jean-Henri Doniol, Histoire de la participation de la France à l’éstablissement des Etas-Unis d’Amérique, vol. 5 (of 5 vols. Paris, 1884-1892), p. 550.]

Following chart is based upon data from the journal of Joachim du Perron, comte de Revel, Sous-Lieutenant au Régiment de Monsieur-Infanterie, Journal Particulier d’une Campagne Aux Indies Occidentales (1781-1782), Paris, 1898; with added data [corrected name spellings, etc.] on officers from Colonel Gilbert Bodinier’s Les Officiers de l’Armée Royale, combattants de la guerre d’Indépendance des Etats-Unis De Yorktown à l’an II (SHAT, Château de Vincennes, 1983).


Regiment Detachments

Number of R&F

Assigned Ship

Detachment Commanding Officers

Colonel-général

30

Jason

de Besson, lieut.

Colonel-général

40

Duc-de-Bourgogne

de la Motte, lieut.

Angoumois

 

Duc-de-Bourgogne

de Taschereau, lieut.

de Belmon, s-lieut.

Picardie

75

Ville-de-Paris

de Boishue, cap. *

de Bossard. Lieut. *

de Guingene, lieut.

Bresse

40

Neptune

de Combette, cap.

Brie

75

Hector

de Legge, lieut.

de Sers, s-lieut.

Du Maine

75

Zélé

de Cabrelles, cap

de Vidal, s-lieut.

Du Maine

75

Marseillais

de Tessonet, lieut.

de Nantiat, s-lieut.

La Sarre

30

Conquérant

de Laubanie, cap.

Bourbon

30

Eveillé

de Boquemare, cap.

Monsieur

75

Languedoc

de Saint-Quentin, cap.

du Perron, s-lieut.

Angoumois

75

Northumberland

de Vidart, cap.

La Rouvière, s-lieut.

Angoumois

75

Scipion

Le Grand, lieut.

de Chazelles, s-lieut.

Rohan-Soubise

30

La Provence

de Gardis, lieut.

Total

800

 

23

* Capitaine de Boishue and Lieutenant de Bossard [indicated in the above chart as aboard the Ville-de-Paris ] were lent by de Grasse to serve as de Choisy’s administrative staff [‘major’ and ‘aide-major’] (Du Perron’s Journal, p. 141).


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Page posted as working draft, 27 April 2006; modified 1 May 2006.