Historical Background for Commemoration of

Count de Rochambeau’s Visit with General George Washington

at Mount Vernon in September 1781

 

On the way to their decisive victory that won American independence at Yorktown, General George Washington and the Count de Rochambeau stopped at Mount Vernon for one full day on September 11, 1781.


         The visit took place as the allied armies were executing the greatest strategic maneuver of the Revolution. General Washington had ridden ahead of his main force to arrive at Mount Vernon on September ninth, while General Rochambeau and the allied commanders' staff arrived one day later. They resumed their march to Yorktown early on the morning of the twelfth. 


         More than six years had passed since George Washington left Mount Vernon to attend the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he was chosen to command the armies of the thirteen colonies: This was his first visit home. While the necessity of forging strategy for the coming campaign left the General little time for a detailed inspection of his beloved estate, we may be sure that he was eager to see the many changes which had been carried out in his absence. Working from Washington's explicit instructions, his Mount Vernon overseer had enlarged the Mansion by adding the large dining room at the north end and the distinctive two story columned piazza on the river front. He had also refined the facade with a classical pediment and cupola on the roof. Meanwhile, the two dependencies on the Mansion courtyard had been rebuilt and several new outbuildings constructed.


         There was time, however, for a dinner in Rochambeau's honor on September eleventh, an event described by Washington's secretary, Jonathan Trumbull, as providing "real exhibitions of -hospitality and princely entertainment." The pressing military situation undoubtedly dominated the conversation. The rapid movement of 4000 French regulars and 2500 American troops approximately 500 miles presented logistical challenges unmatched in the Revolutionary War. Added to the two commanders' concerns was the uncertain outcome of the engagement of the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse and the British fleet off the mouth of the Chesapeake on September the fifth. Washington and Rochambeau would not hear of the French victory in the Battle of the Capes until they joined forces with Major General Lafayette several days later in Williamsburg. Before leaving Mount Vernon, Washington wrote to Lafayette,

 

"We are thus far, My Dear Marquis, on our way to you. . . I hope you will keep Lord Corwallis safe, without provisions or Forage until we arrive. Adieu. . ."



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