History of the Loyalists: Operations Connected with the Yorktown Campaign

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History of the Loyalists: Operations Connected with the Yorktown Campaign
James Hannay
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HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS OPERATIONS CONNECTED WITH THE YORKTOWN CAMPAIGN. Repulse of Lafayette—Cornwallis Occupies Yorktown and Gloucester, and Is Blockaded by the French Fleet. BY JAMES HANNAY. CHAPTER XXXVII. When General Phillips took possession of Petersburg he was very ill with a fever and he died there on the 13th of May. Lafayette, who had been foiled in his attempt to occupy that place, had his army on the opposite side of the river and cannonaded the British camp from an eminence called Archer's Hill. The house in which General Phillips lay dying was a particular object of his attention. A flag was sent across the river to inform Lafayette that General Phillips was dying in one of the houses which was being cannonaded, but this only caused the chivalrous Frenchman to direct more cannon to be turned against it. It seemed as if his contact with the Americans had eradicated any traces of humanity and decency that had originally existed in his nature. The same characteristics of savage cruelty and vindictiveness still exist, and in the last decade of the 19th century the newspapers are filled with daily records of outrages and lynching and the burning of negroes at the stake, a proof that the American people are not yet civilized, and that many of them are probably incapable of civilization. The British forces in Virginia, now being united under Lord Cornwallis, a very active campaign commenced. Lord Cornwallis advanced from Petersburg to James' river, which he crossed at Westover. Information was obtained that Lafayette had abandoned Richmond and crossed the Chickahemany. At the same time word was received that Baron Steuben had gone to Point of Fork to rover a continental magazine, consisting of cannon, small arms and accoutrements. The Virginia assembly was IN SESSION AT CHARLOTTEVILLE, and Tarleton was sent with 180 dragoons and 70 mounted infantry to capture them, while Simcoe with the Queen's Rangers was ordered to advance against Steuben. Most of the members of the legislature succeeded in escaping, only seven of them being captured; a great deal of property was, however, destroyed. Simcoe chased Steuben across the James’ River and compelled him to beat a hasty retreat, and the stores, which he could not carry away with him in his flight, were destroyed. Lafayette was now reinforced by General Wayne with 800 continentals and some militia, and followed the British down James’ River, where a junction was effected with Baron Steuben. Lafayette’s army new numbered upwards of 4,000 and was hourly increasing. Colonel Simcoe with the Queen’s Rangers and a company of Yaegers was on the Chickahomany destroying stores and collecting boats and cattle, when Lafayette made an attempt to capture them by sending Col. Butler with 700 light troops a body of continental infantry and 120 horsemen against them. Simcoe had reached Spencer's ordinary on his way back to Williamsburg when Butler attacked him, but this gallant Loyalist corps, though greatly outnumbered, easily repulsed the Americans, who were obliged to fall back, a number of the Americans being made prisoners. The rangers lost in this affair 33 in killed and wounded. CLINTON DEMANDS MORE TROOPS. At this time Sir Henry Clinton, in New York, became alarmed in regard to his ability to defend that place. In consequence of information he had received from intercepted letters written by Washington, in which a plan for attacking New York by the combined French and American armies, was disclosed. American historians say that these letters were written by Washington for the express purpose of deceiving Clinton. At all events they had the effect of causing the latter to make a requisition upon Cornwallis, for a portion of the troops under his command to assist in the defense of New York. Clinton recommended that Cornwallis take up a defensive position, at some place such as Williamsburg or Yorktown and to send to him at New York, the 2nd battalion of light infantry, the 43rd regiment two battalions of Anspach, the Queen's Rangers both cavalry and infantry and a proportion of artillery. Cornwallis, thinking himself too weak after this requisition to maintain his position at Williamsburg determined to retire to Portsmouth, where he could embark the troops, which were to be sent to New York. On the 4th of July he marched to Jamestown Island, the Queen’s Rangers forming the vanguard of the army in crossing over to the Island that evening. Lafayette was in the vicinity, and was preparing to fall on the rear of the army of Lord Cornwallis, when the main body should have crossed over to the island. Cornwallis suspected that design and prepared for it, encamping the greater part of his army on the mainland as compactly at possible and sheltered from view by the pine forests. Lafayette was deceived and made an attack, which ended in his total defeat, with a loss of 300 men and two pieces of cannon. The army of Lafayette might have been completely destroyed if Lord Cornwallis had followed up the victory, but be considered that his prompt arrival at Portsmouth for the purpose of sending the troops which Clinton asked for was of greater importance than the pursuit of Lafayette. He accordingly proceeded TO CROSS THE JAMES RIVER, and by easy marches reached Portsmouth, where the army encamped in front of the redoubts which covered the town. Prior to the arrival of the main army Cornwallis had detached a part of the corps intended for embarkation to Portsmouth, but before they sailed an express arrived from Clinton, ordering the British troops not to pass the James river, and desiring Lord Cornwallis to regain Williamsburg Neck, in case he had quitted it, in order to secure old Port Comfort or Hampton Roads, as a station for line of battle ships. Unfortunately the James River had already been passed. In a letter written by Clinton to Cornwallis on the 15 h of July the latter is censured for taking that step, although Clinton's previous orders would certainly seem to have required it. In this letter Cornwallis was directed to take up some strong position on the Chesapeake in order to carry on the war in Virginia and Maryland. His engineers decided that Yorktown and Gloucester were the most eligible for the offensive and defensive operations, and for the protection of any fleet that might co-operate with the army. Lord Cornwallis agreed with the men of the engineers and subsequently two battalions of light infantry, the Queen's Rangers, and some regiments of the line sailed up York River. On the 22nd of August the whole of the British army numbering somewhat less than 7,000 men was concentrated at Yorktown and Gloucester. Cornwallis immediately commenced fortifying both points; he constructed a line of works completely around Yorktown, and also extended a line of entrenchments across the peninsula of Gloucester in the rear of that little town. Prior to this time Rechambeau with the French troops under his command, joined Washing at Dobb's ferry, and a plan was formed to attack the city of New York. This, however, could not be carried out. Soon afterwards Washington received dispatches informing him that the French admiral, Count de Grassee, with a fleet of from 25 to 29 ships of the line and 3,200 land troops was to sail from the West Indies for the Chesapeake on the 13th August. De Grasse desired that Washington should be ready to co-operate with him on his arrival as he intended to return to the West Indies by the middle of October. Washington now, with an army of 12,000 men, French and Americans, crossed the North river and MARCHED TO VIRGINIA. Count de Grasse, with 28 sail of line of battle ships, arrived in the Chesapeake on the last day of August, 1781. At Cape Henry an officer sent by Lafayette gave him full information respecting the situation of the two armies of Virginia. De Grasse immediately dispatched four ships of the line and several frigates to blockade the mouth of the York river and to convey the land forces he had with him so that they might effect a junction with Lafayette. Cornwallis was soon fairly caught in a trap, from which he could only be released by large reinforcements from New York or by the aid of a British fleet powerful enough to drive de Grasse away. No assistance came from New York and Admiral Rodney, who commanded the fleet in the West Indies, instead of coming north himself with his whole force to attack de Grasse, sent Sir Samuel Hood north with only 14 sails. Hood joined Admiral Graves at Sandy Hook on the 28th of August, but the latter had only five ships fit for service. Admiral Graves, with 19 sail, left New York on the same day that de Grasse arrived in the Chesapeake. On the 5th of September the British fleet was seen off Cape Charles and an indecisive action took place between it and the French, in which several ships on both sides were considerably damaged. For several days the hostile fleets were in sight of each ether, but the British were not strong enough to effect any substantial result. deGrasse was further strengthened by the arrival of deBarras with eight French line of battle ships from Rhode Island and a considerable land force. This union of the French fleets, gave deGrasse 36 line of battle ships against 19 British under Admiral Graves, and as the latter found that he had no chance of breaking the blockade, and feared the effect of the equinoctial gales on that coast he bore away for New York and Cornwallis and his army were left to their fate.