Route of the Hussars of Lauzun's Legion in 1781

Changes to the webpages at the Expédition Particulière website are necessary due to recent research conducted by Dr. Robert Selig, leading scholar on the NPS studies examining the Washington-Rochambeau Route that was part of the 1781 Yorktown Campaign in the American Revolution. For some time, it was assumed that the French military wagon train, which went overland the entire route from New York to Virginia, had been escorted by the only mounted force in the French expeditionary army – the hussars of the Lauzun Legion –, which also had to make the trek overland.
However, Dr. Selig has recently examined the unpublished papers of Colonel vicomte René Marie de Darrot, who commanded the hussars, and was able to determine a point where the march of the French hussars became separate from that of the French wagon train.

Brief Background:

18 August 1781. The French army in North America began it's epic strategic march south. Their march was part of the movement of the French and American allied forces to dramatically shift their main theater of operations from New York to engage the British in Viriginia. It was a complex and arduousness undertaking, as the many military units marched in separate formations, but as part of a coordinated plan. The varied traces of the march -- known collectivley as the 'Washington-Rochambeau Route', named from the respective allied commanders -- is described in various webpages noted at the bottom of this page. This page focuses on the route taken by the French mounted units -- light cavalry forces called 'hussars'.

8 September. Lauzun's Legion (infantry and mounted hussars) reached Head of Elk with the rest of the French forces. Here the French infantry grenadiers and chasseurs, approximately 220 officers and men, embarked on ships for College Landing, VA.

9 September. The hussars, which were assigned to the artillery (including the cannonier Compagnie of Lauzun of 7 officers and 101 NCOs and cannoniers) and the French wagon train left Head of Elk proceeding with their overland march south. [The transport of the field artillery that accompanied the allied infantry units on the march south remains in doubt at this point. It is known that much -- if not all -- was placed on boats at Head of Elk. Some accounts suggest that a few pieces may have continued with the overland marching elements.]

10th September. Hussars accompanied the wagons and the artillery to Bald Friar Ford [Ferry??], MD, crossed the Susquehannah River, and bivouaced near Poplar Grove [at the intersection of modern US 1 and MD SR 136].

11 and 13 September. Hussars rode south [on MD SR 161] through Darlington to [via MD SR 155] and on to what is now 'Churchville', called 'Lower Cross Roads' in the eighteenth century. From there, they turned south [on MD SR 136] toward Bush, where they joined up with the infantry. [This period of 3 days is being researched for further details.]

14 September. Darrot's command of some 250 hussars accompanied the wagons and the artillery to Whitemarsh. Then they pushed on to Baltimore, and slighty further south to Snowden's Iron Works.

At Baltimore, comte de Vioménil, Rochambeau's second in command and commander of the all the French forces undertaking the march south, decided to send the hussars ahead of the main army; evidently still planning to follow overland with the other French troops and wagon train.
14 September was the same day that Washington and Rochambeau reached Williamsburg. The commanders assessed the situtation, and took action on the 16th to re-direct the route of the hussars.
16 Sep Rochambeau sent a dispatch (see Doniol Vol V page 541) to vicomte Darrot, wherein Rochambeau states that the circumstances require that Brigadier General George Weeden, encamped at Gloucester Court House, needed to be reinforced. The dispatch stated that General Washington intended for the hussars to separate from the route being taken by the train and go directly to Gloucester. The train was to continue on to Williamsburg. It appears that Rochambeau anticipated that the dispatch would be received by Darrot at, or near, Bowling Green (VA). [See later, comments for 19 September.]

It was not until 17 September that Vioménil, commander of the march, would learn that the French admiral de Grasse had dispatched ships up the Chesapeake to transport the army down to the Williamsburg and Yorktown area. On 18 September, Vioménil would redirect the route of his infantry units, and have them camp at Scott's Plantation, known today's as Belvoir, near Crownsville about 7 miles from the center of Annapolis.

Hussars route south from Maryland:

15 September. The hussars proceeded to Georgetown [then part of MD] and crossed the Potomac River They camped at an unknown location (very possibly in or near Alexandria, VA) on the right bank [west bank at this point] of the Potomac.

From Georgetown,MD, to Bowling Green, VA, the hussars and the wagon train followed the same route in 1781, albeit at different times.

16 September. The hussars rode further south to Pohick ['Powhick'] and camped near today's Pohick Church.

17 September. Hussars continued on a path that generally traces the modern US 1 from Pohick to about four miles past Dumfries, crossing the Occoquan River in the process. That night they camped roughly near to what is today the entrance to the Marine Corps Quantico Reservation.

18 September. Hussars continued south [on US 1], crossed the Rappahannock River near Falmouth. They passed Fredericksburg, probably to its east, and camped just south of the town. [22 miles]

19 September: Rest day. During this time, contact was made with couriers from Washington's and Rochambeau's headquarters at Williamsburg. It is quite likely that it is here where Darrot received Rochambeau's 16 Sep dispatch directing that the hussars to proceed to the Gloucester area, across the river from Yorktown, rather than join the main army at Williamsburg..

20 September. Hussars rode south and camped near the home of 'Colonel Bayley', about three miles past Bowling Green [on VA SR 301].

21 September. Hussars [turned onto modern VA SR 721] and continued southeast. They camped in the vicinity of today's St. Stephen's Church [at the intersection of modern VA SR 721 and US 360].

22 September. Hussars camped at King and Queen Court House.

23 September. Hussars rode 18 miles from King and Queen CH to 'New's Tavern', which is estimated to have been located in or near modern Shacklefords [on modern VA SR 14].

24 September. Hussars reached Gloucester Court House and encamped. [?? Question here as to possible confusion with above -- part of the same question]

The foregoing text has been taken from Dr Robert Selig's informal and unpublished notes of September 2003. These notes were based upon his examination of the unpublished Darrot papers, which are part of the Lafayette-Leclerc Papers, MS 31.17, at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF), in Williamsburg, Virginia. "In the absence of an eyewitness or first-hand account it is assumed that the hussars followed this itinerary." Contents of this page are also based upon information extracted from Dr. Selig's Rochambeau's Cavalry: Lauzun's Legion in Connecticut (2000, Connecticut Historical Commission).

Another valuable contribution to this page has been M. Jacques de TRENTINIAN's finding Rochambeau's 16 September 1781 dispatch to Darrot in Henri Doniol's Histoire de la participation de la France à l'éstablissement des Etat-Unis d'Amèrique, Correspondance diplomatique et documents (5 vols., Paris, 1886-1892).

Following images are for consideration to go with text [to be added later] that explains French directives prescribing the new uniforms for Lauzun's legion on 5 March 1780. The March ordonnance made Lauzun's legion from the second legion of the Volontaires-étrangèrs de la Marine that had been created by a September 1778 ordonnance.
The Volontaires-étrangèrs de la Marine created in September 1778 consisted of only 3 legions of an originally planed 8 to be under the colonel Duc de Lauzun. As the duke's special unit was being formed and equipped, he was assigned to lead a special military expedition in January 1779 that captured Senegal.
During the Duke's deployment, the First and Third legions of his Volontaires-étrangèrs de la Marine were deployed outside of France. The First legion went to the West Indies, where it was mostly employed in Grenada; and until the end of the war was called ‘Lauzun's Legion'. A few men of this unit came with Saint-Simon and de Grasse to Yorktown in 1781. The Third legion was dispatched to the Indian Ocean (Ile de France, now Maurile island) while Lauzun was in India.
Upon Lauzun's return to France in April 1780, only the Second Legion remained at the duke's direct disposal. This Legion was part of the vanguard for the planed landing in England in 1779. This Legion became ‘Volontaires étrangers de Lauzun' and on March 1780 was made part of the Expédition particulière. Before deploying to North America, this legion incorporated a few fusiliers from the Volontaires de Nassau. However, there was no space for these in Ternay's naval convoy to Rhode Island; and these were later deployed to the West Indies where they participated in recapturing Dutch possessions that the British seized in Guyana. So, Légion de Lauzun that came to America as part of Rochambeau's expedition was essentially the Second Legion des Volontaires étrangers de la marine.
The March 1780 ordonnance called for Lauzun's Legion infantry units to adopt the dress of the Volontaires-Etrangèrs de la Marine. However, the hussars were to wear the uniform of the compagnie générale [headquarters company for the organization that was established in 1778]. Though the color and style of the uniform of the companie générale is known, that does not necessarily mean that all the hussars, in fact, wore it in America during 1780-1783.

These images depict an array of possible examples.

Hypothetical flag with Lauzn's arms. No images of the standards or guidons used by Lauzun Legion or its hussars are known. Assumption here is that as with most propritory units, they exhibited the 'owner's' personal coat of arms in some manner.

Following are some of Dr. Selig's published works related to Lauzun's Legion:

  • Rochambeau's Cavalry: Lauzun's Legion in Connecticut 1780-1781. The Winter Quarters of Lauzun's Legion in Lebanon and its March Through the State in 1781. Rochambeau's Conferences in Hartford and Wethersfield. Historic and Architectural Survey Connecticut Historical Commission (Hartford: State of Connecticut, 2000).
    This is an approximately 150-page research report on the winter quarters of Lauzun's Legion in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1780/81, their march to New York in the summer of 1781, and the two conferences between George Washington and the comte de Rochambeau in Hartford in September 1780 and in Wethersfield in May 1781.
  • "The duc de Lauzun and his Légion, Rochambeau's most troublesome, colorful soldiers " Colonial Williamsburg. The Journal of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Vol. 21, No. 6, December/January 2000, pp. 56-63. Also at

Relate webpage links:

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Page created 14 September 2003; revised 11 June 2006.