France in the American Revolution: 1778



D'Estaing, with a French fleet, arrived in the Delaware on the 8th of July, 1778, accompanied by M. Gerard, the first minister of France accredited to the United States government, and Commissioner Deane. Howe's fleet was anchored off Sandy Hook, to co-operate with the army in New York. D'Estaing proceeded to attack it, but when he arrived there, the British vessels were all in Raritan Bay, safe from the guns of the heavy French ships that drew too much water to allow them to cross the bar above Sandy Hook. General Sullivan, commanding in the east, was preparing to attempt the expulsion of the six thousand British troops then holding Rhode Island; and, at the special request of Washington, D'Estaing sailed for Narragansett Bay, with thirty-five hundred land troops, to assist in the enterprise. He arrived off Newport at the close of July, accompanied by young John Laurens as aide and interpreter, and the admiral and general arranged a plan of operations.

Washington had instructed Sullivan to arrange his troops in two divisions, and sent Greene to command one of them, and Lafayette to command the other. A requisition had been made upon New England for troops, and in twenty days Sullivan's army was swelled to ten thousand effective men. On the appearance of the French fleet off Newport, the British caused several ships-of-war and galleys, carrying more than two hundred guns, to be burned.

On the 8th of August, the French vessels ran past the batteries near the entrance to Narragansett Bay. Arrangements had been made for the landing of the French troops, and the invasion of Sullivan's army on the 10th; but the latter, discovering on the 9th that the British outposts at the northern end of the island had been abandoned, crossed over from Tiverton on that day. At the same time the fleet of Lord Howe, which had been reinforced from England, appeared off Newport; and on the morning of the 10th, D'Estaing sailed out past the English batteries, to fight him. A stiff wind was then rising from the northeast. Both commanders long contended for the weather-gauge (to keep to the windward)-so long that before they were ready to begin the wind had increased to a hurricane and scattered both fleets. It blew so furiously that spray from the ocean was carried over Newport and incrusted the windows with salt. The French fleet was much shattered, and went to Boston for repairs, and Howe sailed back to Sandy Hook. The storm, which ended on the 14th, had burst with terrible fury on the American camp, spoiling much of their ammunition, overturning tents, and damaging provisions.

D'Estaing had promised to land his troops after the fight with Howe. He reappeared off Newport, when Greene and Lafayette visited him on board his flag-ship, to urge him to fulfill that promise. He declined to do so. Expecting these reinforcements, Sullivan had pushed his army several miles toward Newport. When they found themselves deserted by the French, the New England volunteers, believing the expedition was a failure, returned home, and so reduced Sullivan's army to six thousand men. He saw the necessity for retreating and began that movement on the night of the 28th, when the British pursued. The Americans made a stand on Butt's Hill, twelve miles from Newport, which they had fortified. The British tried to turn their right wing on the morning of the 29th, when General Greene, commanding it, changed front, assailed the pursuers vigorously, and drove them to their strong defence on Quaker Hill. A general engagement ensued, when the British line was broken and driven back in confusion to Turkey Hill. The day was very sultry, and many perished by the heat. The action ended at near three o'clock in the afternoon, but a sluggish cannonade was kept up until sunset. In this engagement the Americans lost about two hundred men, and the British two hundred and sixty. On the night of the 30th, Sullivan's army withdrew to the main. General Clinton arrived the next day with a reinforcement of four thousand men. He soon returned to New York, after sending General Grey to destroy a large number of ships, with magazines, stores, wharves, warehouses, and other buildings at New Bedford, and mills and houses at Fair Haven. Property to the amount of over three hundred thousand dollars was destroyed. Then the marauders proceeded to Martha's Vineyard, where they demanded of and received from the defenceless inhabitants militia arms, public money, three hundred oxen, and ten thousand sheep.





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