Route of the French Army Wagon Train
from Annapolis, Maryland, to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.

When reaching the mid-Atlantic states, the allied march to Yorktown divided into three distinct routes: (1) the route taken by the armies' main forces [covered on 'Rochambeau's Army March, 1781' webpage], (2) the route Washington and Rochambeau took in Virginia to visit Mount Vernon, and (3) The French Wagon Train's route from Annapolis, MD, to Yorktown, VA, which is addressed this webpage. Documents referenced on this page are identified more fully in the Select Bibliography for the French-American Alliance of 1778-83.

The French military maps of the 1781 march to Williamsburg [published in H. Rice and A.S.K. Brown, The American Campaigns of Rochambeau] show no French army 1781 camps after the 34th camp at Baltimore, with dates 12, 13, 14, and 15 September. Ludwig von Closen's Journal describes the course of the main army after Baltimore as follows:

Camp 35, Spurier's Tavern on 14 Sept, about 16 miles from Baltimore, where the Baron de Vioménil received word that ships had arrived in Annapolis to carry the army down Chesapeake Bay.
Camp 36, Scot's House on 16 Sept.
Camp 37, Annapolis, beginning 18 Sept. The main allied army (Americans and French), including the field artillery, sailed from Annapolis on 21 September and arrived in the James River on the 24th. The armies made their 38th camp at Archer's Hope, at the mouth of College Creek [Landing] near Jamestown. On 25 Sept, they camped at Williamsburg.

The French army's wagon train (équipages) did not embark at Annapolis, but proceeded overland to Williamsburg via the route described in a journal kept by one of the French staff officers directing the train, Louis-Alexandre Berthier. Berthier's narrative Itinerary starts with the 21 September journey of the wagon train from Annapolis to the west. His description is divided into numbered 'marches'.
First march from Annapolis to John Easton brothers was 21 September.
Second March was from Easton brothers' plantation to the 'Age House' (near Bladensburg).
Third March was from the Age House to Georgetown on 23 September. Berthier noted that the "Army could camp" there [He was anticipating a later 1782 march back north; when the French Army camped at Bladensburg in July 1782, and near Rock Creek in July 1782.]
Fourth March was from the east bank of the Potomac, at Georgetown, to across the river into Virginia. The French made use of the ferry to cross the Potomac from Georgetown to north of Alexandria, Virginia. There was obviously some fording, as Berthier reported 1 horse and 1 man drowned in the crossing. Berthier described the west bank point of the crossing to be 8 miles north of Alexandria. It took the wagon train two days, 24 and 25 September, to accomplish the crossing. Berthier's notes mention passing an Irishman, Cameron's, house and Scot's Tavern, but he does not say where he stayed the nights of the 24th and 25th.
Fifth March was from Alexandria to Colchester on 26 September. Berthier mentions leaving Alexandria on 26 September (1781). He cites crossing Hunting Creek after 3 miles, and then passing a turn off to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. He mentions passing Pohick Church and a road leading to Posey's Ferry. The wagon train arrived at Colchester after 16 mile march from morning campsite back around Alexandria.
Sixth March: Colchester to Marumsco Creek, 27 Sep. The wagon train departed Colchester 27 September, taking a ferry across the Occoquan River, then camping at Dumfries.
Seventh March: Marumsco Creek to Aquia Run near Peyton's Tavern, 28 Sept.
Eighth March: from Aquia to Fredericksburg, fording the Rappahannock, 29 Sep. [There is an omission in Berthier's journal for 30 September. See note below at *]
Ninth March: from Fredericksburg to Col. Dangerfield's house, 1 Oct.
Tenth March: from Dangerfield's to Bowling Green, 2 Oct.
Eleventh March: from Bolwing Green to Lynch's Tavern, 3 Oct.
Twelfth March: Lynch's Tavern to Hanovertown [not Hanover Courthouse, the present Hanover], 4 Oct.
Thirteenth March: from Hanovertown to Hartfield, 5 Oct.
Fourteenth March: from Hartfield to Byrd's Tavern, 6 Oct.
Fifteenth March: from Byrd's Tavern to Williamsburg, 7 Oct.

*Note: The Editors of the Rice-Brown book address the omission of the 30th September entry as possibly being due to a shortage of horses and wagons, which necessitated two days in executing some of the marches. Berthier's Itinerary notes, summed up the mileage to be 219 miles. However, a later letter [according to the Rice-Brown editors, p.107, v2] by Berthier stated that the march from Annapolis took 17 days to go 230 miles. This would have to count the 30th of September.

The journal Berthier maintained during the wagon train's march reflects the observations and alertness of a professional military officer. Despite the pressure of hastily moving the cumbersome, largely ox-drawn wagons over the difficult trails, Berthier made many brief notes as to the suitability of areas for future campsites should the French army have to march back north over this route. Of course that was to be the case in 1782, when there was time to make map sketches as was done during the early, northern portion of the 1781 march from New York. It is one of these 1782 camp maps that has helped locate the position of the 1781 French military wagon train's camp in Alexandria, VA. See link below to a webpage that discusses the research behind the Virginia Historic Marker for the French Army 1781-82 campsites in Alexandria.

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Page created 9 September 1999; revised 21 February 2001