Saint-Simon's Contribution to Yorktown Victory of 1781
Saint-Simon's Contribution to Yorktown Victory of 1781
Pictured above is the 18 October 2011 commemoration of a replacement wayside display that marks the 2 September 1781 landing of approximately 3000 French troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Claude-Anne-Montbleru, Marquis de Saint-Simon. These French troops were transported to Virginia from their Carribean base by transports in Admiral de Grasse's fleet, which entered the Chesapeake Bay 31 August 1781. The Marquis de Saint-Simon's division played a significant role in assisting Lafayette's small American force to contain Cornwallis at Yorktown until the arrival of Washington's and Rochambeau on 14 September 1781. This division contributed further to the successful siege when positioned on the Allied far left flank.
An earlier display had been removed to prepare for the 2007 Jamestown Island celebration. The small, 18 October 2011 unveiling took place in the vicinity of College Creek on the Virginia Colonial Parkway, toward Jamestown Settlement. The location is near the site of the landing of the French force on 2 September 1781.
The above depicted morning ceremony shows several uniformed French and American military re-enactors. In the center front are: M. Patrick de Saint-Simon, a French descendant of the Marquis de Saint-Simon; Colonial Park Superintendent P. Daniel Smith; and Dr. Robert A. Selig, project historian for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route (W3R) National Historic Trail (here wearing the uniform of a French Army Commissary-General).

In the afternoon of 18 October 2011, the Colonial National Park's Yorktown Visitors' Center conducted a special program that provided background and further details relating to the Marquis de Saint-Simon and the strategic role his French forces played in the war.
  • Most accounts of the 1781 Yorktown siege begin only with the arrival of Generals George Washington and the comte de Rochambeau in Williamsburg on 14 September 1781. Events prior to that, if covered, usually only mention the arrival of around 2,200 men in American Continental Army, and some militia forces, commanded by Major General. Marquis de Lafayette and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne that gathered in the vicinity of Williamsburg on 4 September; and then describe the the Battle off the Capes on 5 September. The general narratives fail to stress that without the additional French forces and the Marquis de Saint-Simon's immediate willingness to serve under Lafayette [though Saint-Simon out ranked Lafayette in the French military] Cornwallis would not have been confined to Yorktown.
  • The presentation also addressed another important aspect: to explain that the French global strategy placed priority on maintaining hold of its economically valuable islands in the Caribbean, where France operated in alliance with Spain. Essentially the significant French military and naval depoyments to the Caribbean supported two separate alliances against the British. While the Bourbon Compact called for allied action between France Spain, it did not go so far as to commit Spain to the military support of the American rebels. However, the Spanish authorities were most cooperative in supporting the diversion of French forces deployed to the Western hemisphere to assit the American rebels. The French had deployed considerably large number of military forces to the Caribbean at a very early stage in the war. These military resources were used for several temporary deployments to fight in the engagements in the American rebel colonies and adjacent Spanish colonies. French troops stationed in the Caribbean were with French Admiral the Comte d'Estaing's failed attempt to besiege Savannah, GA, in September-October 1779. General Bernardo de Galvez, Spanish Governor of Louisiana, employed some Caribbean-based French naval and army detachments along with his own Spanish forces in his successful attacks on British forts along the Gulf Coast.
    Major General Claude-Anne-Montbleru, Marquis de Saint-Simon and his force had been deployed to the West Indies when France entered the war in 1779. He commanded the contingent of three French regiments: Agenais, Gâtinais, and Touraine. These forces were designated to support French and Spain's operations in the West Indies, as well as special excursions to the main North American Continent. Units of the Régiment d'Agenais and Régiment de Touraine were with with D'Estaing's unsuccessful assault at Savannah (1779). All three of the regiments were transported in September 1781 to the Chesapeake by the Count de Grasse.
  • Gilbert BODINER, a leading French scholar on the French military officers who participated in the American War for Independence, lists Major General Marquis de Saint-Simon's full name as: ROUVROY marquis de SAINT-SIMON MONTBLERU (Claude Anne de). The following biographical summary is taken largely from Thomas Balch's The French in America During the War of Independence of the United States, 1777-1783, vol. 2. The 1872 French version was published in Paris; An 1895 English translation was published in Philadelphia. The following is an edited and free transcription of the latter.
    Saint-simon (Claude-Anne-Montbleru, Marquis de), born in 1740 at La Faye, near Ruffec. He was the son of Louis-Gabriel de Saint-Simon, of the branch of the family of Montbleru. After attending of the Military School of Strasburg he went into the regiment of Auvergne. At the age of eighteen, he was appointed lieutenant-chief-of-brigade in the guards of King Stanislas. Soon making colonel, he commanded in 1771 the regiment of Poitou; and in 1775 that of Touraine, with which he left in 1779 for the French Caribbean. He was serving in the Windward Islands when the war with England broke out. In August 1781, The Marquis de Saint-Simon embarked with about three thousand five hundred men of his regiments from Saint Domingo as part of the Admiral de Grasse's fleet to join Major General Lafayette, who was commanding an American Army in the general area of Williamsburg. Lafayette's force was opposing a larger British army under Lieutenant General Cornwallis, who had taken a position at the town of 'York' [Yorktown]. Admiral de Grasse's French fleet arrived 31 August, and transported Saint-Simon's force up the James River, disembarking them near Jamestown on 2 September. With the arrival of Saint-Simon's regiments the allied forces in Virginia outnumbered those under Cornwallis. Both de Grasse and Saint-Simon were impatient to initiate a siege, as they were also committed to future Caribbean campaigns with the Spanish in the forthcoming months. However, Lafayette and the Louis Duportail – both French volunteers in the American service – convinced their compatriots to await the arrival of generals George Washington and Rochambeau, as well as the Allied armies moving down the Chesapeake Bay from the north. The Marquis de Saint-Simon easily agreed, and clearly stated his intend to serve under Lafayette – though within the French military system, Saint-Simon held a more senior rank.
    By 4 September, Lafayette and Saint-Simon moved with their troops into positions in, and around, Williamsburg. The more favorable balance of forces encouraged a further gathering of Virginia militia. Finally, on 14 September, Washington and Rochambeau arrived and were received with hastily arranged informal reviews of the French and American troops. Saint-Simon held a formal reception for the Allied Commanders at his quarters. It was late that night that news came of de Grasse's return back into the bay after successfully engaging and driving away a British fleet. Further, it was confirmed that Admiral de Barras' French squadron had arrived from Rhode Island with the French siege artillery. French transports were deployed up the Chesapeake to retreive French and American forces that had held up their move south awaiting -- mainly around the area of Annapolis, MD -- the outcome of the naval battle off the Virginia Capes. By 26 September, allied artillery and infantry troops from northern holding stations along of the Chesapeake Bay had arrived and disembark at Archer's Hope, near Williamsburg. On 28 September, American and French armies marched from Williamsburg to take up siege positions outside of Yorktown. The Marquis de Saint-Simon was given command of the far left flank of the allied siege lines, as the French and American allies began digging siege trenches to the south of the British defenses. On the 17th of October, the Marquis de Sain-Simon was lightly wounded during an artillery exchange, but he remained at his post. After the 19 October surrender, the marquis returned to the Antilles with Count de Grasse early the following month.
    In 1789, Saint-Simon served in the States General as deputy from Angoumois. During the French Revolution, he chose to defend the privileges of the nobility and respect of royalty. In 1790, he left for Spain, was appointed in 1793 marichal de camp colonel of the royal legion of the émigrés, and fought against the armies of Revolutionary France. He received two gunshot wounds, one at Irun, the other at Argensu. In 1796, he was appointed captain-general of old Castille. When the French besieged Madrid, in 1808, he defended the town; was taken prisoner and condemned to death. He obtained a delay of execution, followed by a commutation of his sentence. He was confined in the citadel of Besancon, and freed in 1814. Louis XVIII declared that he had "done well for the house of Bourbon" and revoked the sentence. Saint-Simon returned to Spain, where he was made duke and grandee of Spain. He did not occupy himself further with politics, and died at Madrid in 1819.
    The Marquis de Saint-Simon wrote Journal des campagnes de l'Amérique depuis le 5 juillet 1781 jusqu'au 12 avril 1782. This is the basis for material that is in "A Neglected French Collaborator in the Victory of yorktown, Claude-Anne Marquis de Saint-Simon (1740-1819)" in Journal des Américanistes, 1931, p.245; By Harold A. Larrabee, Ph.D. professor of Philosophy, Union College, Schenectady, NY. See: to down load.
    The Marquis de Saint-Simon should not be confused with his brother, the Baron: Claude de Rouvroy, Baron de Saint-Simon, who was born born in 1775 at La Faye, and died 1811 in Paris. The Baron de Saint-Simon served in this older brother's command and participated as a captain in the Touraine Regiment during the Yorktown Campaign of 1781.
    The Marquis de Saint-Simon should not be confused with the Comte: Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, who was born in Paris, 17 Oct., 1760, and died there, 19 May, 1825. At an early age, Henri showed some disdain for tradition and convential social constraints; at thirteen he refused to make his first Communion and was punished by imprisonment at Saint Lazare, whence he escaped. During the American War of Independence he followed his relative, the Marquis de Saint-Simon, to America, took part in the Siege of Yorktown. Later, he was on the admiral de Grasse's ship, the Ville de Paris, and was taken as prisoner to Jamaica, where he remained until the Peace of Versailles in 1783.
    The above 'Saint-Simon' individuals all belonged to the larger family of Louis de Rouvroy, Duke de Saint-Simon (1675-1755), author of the famous Memoirs relating to the Court of Louis XIV.

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Return to Expédition Particulère website pages:
'Yorktown Campaign (1781)'.
'Lafayette's Virginia Campaign (1781)'.
'World War Context of the American Revolution'
'Second Battle of the Virginia Capes (1781)'.
'Perspective on the French-American Alliance'.
'West Indies Score Card During the American War for Independence'.
'Spain's Contribution to the American War for Independence'.
'Expédition Particulère' Main Page.

Page posted 7 November, revised 10 November 2011.