[Footnote 93: One French ship had left the fleet, disabled.]
NAVAL OPERATIONS PRECEDING AND DETERMINING THE FALL OF YORKTOWN. CORNWALLIS SURRENDERS
Having now brought the major naval transactions in the West Indies to the eve of the great events which determined the independence of the American States, it is expedient here to resume the thread of operations, both sea and land, on the American continent, so as to bring these also up to the same decisive moment, when the military and naval blended and in mutual support forced the surrender of the British army at Yorktown under Lord Cornwallis.
It has been said that, to support the operations of Cornwallis in the Carolinas, Clinton had begun a series of diversions in the valley of the James River. The first detachment so sent, under General Leslie, had been transferred speedily to South Carolina, to meet the exigencies of Cornwallis’s campaign. The second, of sixteen hundred troops under Benedict Arnold, left New York at the end of December, and began its work on the banks of the James at the end of January, 1781. It advanced to Richmond, nearly a hundred miles from the sea, wasting the country round about, and finding no opposition adequate to check its freedom of movement. Returning down stream, on the 20th it occupied Portsmouth, south of the James River; near the sea, and valuable as a naval station.
Washington urged Commodore des Touches, who by de Ternay’s death had been left in command of the French squadron at Newport, to interrupt these proceedings, by dispatching a strong detachment to Chesapeake Bay; and he asked Rochambeau also to let some troops accompany the naval division, to support the scanty force which he himself could spare to Virginia. It happened, however, that a gale of wind just then had inflicted severe injury upon Arbuthnot’s squadron, three of which had gone to sea from Gardiner’s Bay upon a report that three French ships of the line had left Newport to meet an expected convoy. One seventy-four, the Bedford, was wholly dismasted; another, the Culloden, drove ashore on Long Island and was wrecked. The French ships had returned to port the day before the gale, but the incident indisposed des Touches to risk his vessels at sea at that time. He sent only a sixty-four, with two frigates. These left Newport on February 9th, and entered the Chesapeake, but were unable to reach the British vessels, which, being smaller, withdrew up the Elizabeth River. Arbuthnot, hearing of this expedition, sent orders to some frigates off Charleston to go to the scene. The French division, when leaving the Bay, met one of these, the Romulus, 44, off the Capes, captured her, and returned to Newport on February 25th. On the 8th of March, Arnold reported to Clinton that the Chesapeake was clear of French vessels.