1781: Global Naval Warfare;
also Lafayette vs Cornwallis 

Latest changes: 2014-07-03: note Spanish action in July / 2014-09-25: more on Pensacola / 2015-02-25: various amendments /

Color Codes for the
French Naval Commanders
D'Orvilliers, du Chauffault
de Guichen, Monteil
Ternay, Des Touches, Barras
de Grasse, Vaudreuil
Spanish: Gálvez
d'Estienne-d'Orves, Suffren

1781 January:   British Gen. Benedict Arnold -- traitor to the cause of independence -- invaded Virginia and burned Richmond. In response, Gen. Rochambeau promised to sent 1,200 French troops by sea from his Newport RI base to Virginia, and Gen. Washington ordered 1,200 American troops under American Gen. Lafayette to march from their New York camp to Virginia:
Massachusetts ContinentalsCol. Vose
New Jersey ContinentalsCol. Barber
a light infantry regimentCol. de Gimat (France)
The light infantry was made up of men drawn from various MA, CT, and RI regiments. See March 3.

1781 Jan 05: The French staged an unsuccessful raid on the Jersey Isles. (Great Britain).

1781 Feb 03: The British captured St. Eustatius and Saba from the Dutch (West Indies).

1781 Feb 12:  Fort St. Joseph (near Niles MI) was captured by French Captain Eugene Poure and a force of 120 men raised from the French settlers and Indians in the area of St. Louis. The flag of Spain was raised over the fort because the local Spanish governor at St. Louis provided supplies for the raid in the hoped that the raid would deter an attack from the British post at Detroit. Fort St. Joseph had been built by the French and turned over to the British after the French and Indian War.
An article on the battle of Fort St. Joseph (author: Robert C. Myers) is no longer available at www.serve.com/rbriggs/couriers/3-96/StJo.html

1781 February-March:  Capture of British Transports At the request of George Washington, Admiral Des Touches dispatched a light naval squadron to help Lafayette's efforts in Virginia. The squadron, under CV (capitaine de vaisseau) La Gardeur de Tilly, included ships-of-the-line Éveillé (64 cannon), frigates Gentille (32 cannon) and Surveillante (36 cannon) and captured HMS Romulus (44 cannon), and eight transports. They find British General Benedict Arnold in such a good defensive position that they chose instead to sail back to Newport RI with the captured HMS Romulus.

1781 Mar 01: The Second Continental Congress adopted a revised Articles of Confederation, technically ending its status (since 1777) as a legal body, becoming on March 02 the Third Continental Congress.
1781 Mar 03 - Lafayette's force arrived at Head of Elk MD, where they boarded small sailing transports bound for Richmond VA. See April 25.
1781 Mar 08 - A French squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Des Touches left Newport RI with 1,200 French troops under Major Gen. Viomenil to augment Gen. Lafayette's forces in Virginia.

Destouches' Fleet

Vessel# Guns
Duc de Bourgogne (Destouches)80
Fantasque (hospital ship)'--
8 SotL; 3 frigates608

Unfortunately, on March 16 a British squadron under Vice-admiral Graves and rear-admiral Arbuthnot beat them off at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, so the French troops returned to Newport. This allowed the British to deliver Gen. William Phillips (with 2,000 troops) to take over the command of Gen. Arnold's 1,200 troops and to further ravage Virginia.

Arbuthnot's Fleet included (incomplete list)

Vessel# Guns
London (Graves)90
Rotal Oak(Arbuthnot)74
6 SotL406

1781 Mar 16:   The First Battle off the Virginia Capes (VA) outside the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay -- A French naval squadron under Rear Admiral Des Touches sailed from Newport RI with seven ships-of-the-line and two frigates (556 guns total), planning to force an entry past British naval forces into the Chesapeake Bay (VA) and to eliminate the British naval squadron that was supporting British Gen. Benedict Arnold's raids in Virginia. British Admiral Arbuthnot's squadron of eight ships-of-the-line and three frigates (754 guns total) left New York's harbor to offset the French threat.

All of the British ship bottoms had copper sheathed hulls to reduce the buildup of vegetation. Because they could sail faster than the French fleet -- in which only some ships had copper-sheathed hulls -- they arrived first at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bayt. Turning around, they met the French squadron 15 leagues (38 miles) outside the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The battle resulted in significant damage to both British and French ships, but the British held their ground and blocked the entrance to the Bay, so the French squadron returned to Newport. French casualties were 89 killed, 121 wounded. The British suffered similar casualties.

1781 March: Departures from Brest, France

[Ref. notes from M. Trentinian]
1781 March 22: A squadron of six ships-of-the-lines under the command of Pierre Andre de Suffren de Saint-Tropez departed for South Africa and India. Suffren had been promoted to capitaine de vaisseau in 1772, then chef d’escadre in1781. Note: He is also known as Bailli de Suffren; Baili is a title in the order of Malta. IN 1783 he was promoted to Lieutenant général des armées and in 1784 the title was amended to add "navales". Here we shall call him Admiral Suffren -- using the nearest modern equivalent U.S. rank.
1781 March 22: A fleet under the command of François Joseph Paul de Grasse departed from Brest. His French navy rank was Lieutenant général des armées navales, but here we shall call him Admiral de Grasse -- using the nearest modern equivalent U.S. rank. This fleet was comprised of twenty-two ships-of-the-line, three frigates, and two cutters escorting a convoy of 150 transport ships. They were bound for the Fort de France on Martinique in the Caribbean Sea. On arrival there in May he debarked 4,018 men detached from 43 regiments
[Ref Vaugiraud, major de la flotte Archives Naztionales Marine -B/4/184, folio 163].

Ships already at Martinique joined the two fleets, making twenty-five ships-of-the-line, four frigates, and two cutters escorting a convoy of 148 transport ships. On July 6 he departed for Saint-Domingue [now Haiti]. Arriving there July 16 he debarked 3,602 men detached of 33 different regiments [Ref., per M. Trentinian: Archives Nationales. Marine B4-184, folio 168]
On March 26 a squadron under the command of Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras, left Brest, bound for Boston MA. His French navy rank was D'escadre Lieutenant général des armées navales, but here we shall call him Admiral Barras -- using the nearest modern equivalent U.S. rank. Admiral Barras sailed aboard the frigate Concorde (under Captain de Tanouarn) with the vicomte de Rochambeau, Cromot du Bourg, etc. Admiral Barras had been named to take over the Newport / Boston squadron from its interim commanded, Rear Admiral Des Touches.

The 50-gun ship-of-the-line Sagittaire [Ref. Archives Nationales Marine C6-741], under the command of captain Montluc de La Bourdonnaye, escorted a frigate and a convoy carrying 592 soldiers. Most of the men were replacements for infantrymen who had died of disease in the U.S. during the previous year; some were supplements for the French artillery corps. The main transport in this convoy was the gabarre of 500 tonneaux la Nourrice The other transports were Diane, Dashwood, Stanislas, etc. [Refs., per M. Trentinian: (1) Etat de remplacement arrive de France pour l'armée de M le Comte de Rochambeau; (2) Rice and Brown, note 25 to the Clermont-Crevecoeur Journal, pages 27-28; (3) Archives Nationales Marine C6-685]

During a huge storm the Concorde became separated from the other ships and arrived May 6 in Boston. The Stanislas was captured by a British frigate. The Sagittaire and the remaining transports arrived in Boston on May 8.

1781 March-May:  Pensacola (Florida) held by fewer than 1,500 British, Hessian, and Loyalist soldiers, with 400 Creek and 100 Choctaw warriors as allies. Spanish Field Marshal Bernardo de Gálvez (age 35) led an allied Spanish-French siege, with some 7,000 Spanish and French soldiers and sailors. [Source: "Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World", by David Marley (ABD-CLIO, 1998) Vol. 1, pp 510-513.]

Gen. Galvez' squadron left Havana on Feb 28 1781, and arrived Pensacola on March 9 with 5 warships
San Ramon (ship-of-the-line)74410
Santa Clara (frigate)36290
Santa Cecelia (frigate)36290
Caiman (frigate)20154
San Pio (storeship)18110
and 28 transports with 1,500 soldiers from the Louisiana militia and from several Spanish regiments: Rey, Principe, España, Navarra, Soria, Guadalajara, Hibernia, Aragón, and Flandes

Spanish Admiral Solano's squadron arrived April 19 with 11 ships-of-the-line (size unspecified):
  • San Luis
  • Astuto (ship-of-the-line)
  • San Nicolas (ship-of-the-line)
  • Asis, Paula (ship-of-the-line)
  • Magnanimo (ship-of-the-line)
  • Guerrero (ship-of-the-line)
  • Gallardo (ship-of-the-line)
  • San Gabriel (ship-of-the-line)
  • Dragon (ship-of-the-line)
  • Arrogante (ship-of-the-line)
  • Nuestra Senora de la O (frigate)
  • Mexicana (frigate; to serve as a hospital ship)
  • Pajaro Renombrado (brigantine)
These carried 1,350 crew members as well as 1,600 Spanish troops from the regiments Cataluna, Crown, King, Louisiana, Mallorca, and Toledo.

French Commodore Monteil led a force of four ships-of-the-line and others
  • Palmier 74-gun (ship-of-the-line)
  • Destin (ship-of-the-line)
  • Intrepide (ship-of-the-line)
  • Triton 54-gun (ship-of-the-line)
  • Andromaque 40-gun (frigate)
  • Licorne 22-gun (frigate)
  • Levrette (brigantine)
  • Serpent (cutter)
  • four transports
plus four transports carrying 725 French soldiers from five regiments:
  • Agenois (later fought at Yorktown)
  • Cambresis
  • Gatiniois (later fought at Yorktown; in 1782 it became the Rvazl-Auverge)
  • Orleans
  • Poitou
  • plus artillery: the 52d (La Sarre) and 83d (Angoumois) regiments.
The French ground forces were led by capitaine de vaisseau de Botderu. [SM. Treninian, private communication: Savas and Dameron err in saying that the Marquis de St. Simon led the French forces here.]
See May 10 for the conclusion of this siege.
Washington's Second Front, by Ralph N. Cramer, Sr. [Florida Society SAR] describes the entire campaign.

1781 Apr 25 -- The British force burned Petersburg VA. On April 29 Lafayette's forces arrived in Richmond, deterring its capture. Added to Lafayette's command now were 2,000 militia:
Virginia militia regimentGen. Muhlenberg
Virginia militia regimentGen. Nelson
Virginia militia regimentGen. Weedon
Virginia ContinentalsGen. (von) Steuben
Most of these units later participated in the siege of Yorktown. See May 20.
More about Lafayette in Virginia [McJoynt]
1781 May 10: The allied Spanish-French force captured Pensacola (Florida) from the British. Two days before this an explosion in one of the British powder magazines had killed many of the defenders. The French portion of the allied force immediately left the area to join the French forces at Yorktown, and several months later participated in the siege and victory there.
British: 105 killed and wounded, 1,100 captured, 300 paroled; Indian: unknown; Spanish: 78 killed, 198 wounded (including Gálvez); French: unknown

1781 May 10-12: Lieutenant général des armées navales de Grasse's forces raided British-held St. Lucia (West Indies). Note: This is the same rank as Barras; equivalent to the U.S. rank of Admiral.

1781 May 16: French forces under Commodore Suffren fought the British at Porto Praya, in the Cape Verde islands (mid-Atlantic).
1781 May 20 -- British Gen. Cornwallis moved north with 3,500 men into Virginia and became the senior commander over about 7,000 men. Since Lafayette (with militia supplementing his Continentals) had only 3,700 men he withdrew to the Rapidan River west of Fredricksburg and waited for reinforcements as the British resumed raiding. See June 10.
1781 Jun 2: Lieutenant général des armées navales de Grasse's forces captured Tobago (West Indies) from the British.
1781 June 10 - Gen. Anthony Wayne joined Lafayette with four small regiments (800 men total):
Pennsylvania ContinentalsCol. Butler
Pennsylvania ContinentalsCol. Stewart
Pennsylvania ContinentalsCol. Humpton
(Proctor's) 4th Continental ArtilleryLt.Col.Forrest

By mid-July Lafayette had added 1,500 more men to his army:
600 riflemen; June 13militias of VA, NC, SCGen. William Campbell
450 recruits;June 19Virginia ContinentalsGen. Steuben
180 more by June 23militias of VA, NC, SCGen. William Campbell
perhaps 300Pennsylvania ContinentalsGen. Daniel Morgan

The growing American strength (about 6,000 now) and a request from his superior (Gen. Clinton) to send 3,000 troops back to New York caused Cornwallis to draw back toward Richmond, then Williamsburg, and finally to Yorktown (and Gloucester on the opposite shore), where he had a good port with satisfactory defensive topography.
1781 Jun 11: A convoy of eight vessels accompanied by the 50-gun ship-of-the-line Le Sagittaire arrived at Boston MA with 592 soldiers and two companies (68 men) of artillery for Rochambeau's force. About 190 men were too sick to travel further. The artillery units and 400 of the others were well enough to march to Dedham MA, the next day to Wrenthan MA, and finally to Providence RI, where 200 of the soldiers joined their main units for the march to New York while 200 other soldiers marched to Newport RI to join the garrison under Brigadier Claude Gabriel de Choisy.
1781 Jun-Oct: Lieutenant général des armées navales de Guichen's fleet guarded the coasts of France and Spain and supported an allied French-Spanish landing on the island of Minorca.

1780 Aug 09: While cruising up the English Channel an allied fleet -- 27 Spanish ships-of-the-line commanded by Admiral Luis de Córdoba and 9 French ships-of-the-line commanded by chef d’escadre B Ausset - -captured all nineteen ships in a British convoy.

See Sea, Siege, and Surrender for naval events related to the Yorktown VA campaign.

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