While events were occurring south of Virginia, important ones had taken place in that State. We left Cornwallis at Yorktown establishing a fortified camp there. Lafayette had taken a position with his little army eight miles from the British lines "to oppose the projects of the Court of St. James and the fortunes of Lord Cornwallis," he wrote to old Maurepas. He had plainly perceived the mistake of Clinton in ordering Cornwallis to take a defensive position in Virginia; and as early as July, he wrote to Washington from Randolph's, on Malvern Hill, urging him to march into Virginia in force, and saying, "Should a French fleet enter Hampton Roads, the British army would be compelled to surrender." The Count de Grasse was, at that time, in command of the French fleet in the West Indies, and Washington had received assurances that he would co-operate with the allied armies in any undertaking that promised success. Meanwhile Rochambeau had led the French army from New England to the Hudson River, and the junction of the American forces and their allies was effected on the 6th of July, near Dobbs Ferry.
At that time Washington was contemplating an attack on the British in New York. Preparations were made for the movement; but before De Grasse was ready to co-operate with them, Sir Henry Clinton was reinforced by three thousand troops from England. They arrived at New York on the 11th of August. At about the same time Washington was informed that De Grasse could not leave the West Indies just then. Thus foiled, the commander-in-chief turned his thoughts toward Virginia, to which Lafayette had invited him. Thenceforth his plans were made in reference to an autumn campaign in that State. While he was yet uncertain what course it was best to pursue in the absence of a co-operating French fleet, he received from De Barras, the successor of Admiral de Ternay, who had died at Newport, the joyful intelligence that De Grasse was to sail for the Chesapeake Bay at the close of August with a powerful naval armament, and more than three thousand land troops. De Barras wrote: "M. de Grasse is my junior; yet, as soon as he is within reach, I will go to sea to put myself under his orders."
Washington had made ample preparations for marching into Virginia. To prevent any interference from Sir Henry Clinton he wrote deceptive letters to be intercepted, by which the British general was made to believe that his enemy still contemplated an attack upon New York. So satisfied was he that such was Washington's designs, that for nearly ten days after the allied armies had crossed the Hudson (August 23 and 24) and were marching through New Jersey, he believed the movement was only a feint to cover a sudden descent upon the city in overwhelming force. It was not until the 2nd of September that he was convinced that the allies were marching against Cornwallis. Then he rejoiced that on the arrival of his reinforcements, he had countermanded his order for Cornwallis to send troops to New York.
On the 5th of September, 1781 the allied armies encamped at Chester, in Pennsylvania, were Washington received news that De Grasse with his ships and land troops had entered Chesapeake Bay. The heart of the commander-in-chief was filled with joy, for in this event he saw a sure prophecy of success and the security of independence for his country. De Grasse had moored the most of his fleet in Lynn Haven Bay, barred the York River against reinforcements for Cornwallis, and landed three thousand troops, under the Marquis de St. Simon, on the peninsula, near old Jamestown. Meanwhile De Barras had sailed from Newport, with a fleet convoying ten transports laden with ordnance for the siege of Yorktown. Arbuthnot had been succeeded in command of the British fleet at New York by Admiral Graves, a coarse, vulgar, and inefficient man. That officer, on hearing of the approach of the French fleet, sailed for the Chesapeake. De Grasse went out to meet him, and on the 5th of September they had a sharp fight, in which the British fleet was so much damaged that it returned to New York, leaving De Grasse master of the Chesapeake.
When Clinton was assured that Washington was really leading the armies to Virginia, he tried to recall some of the troops by menacing posts at the North. He threatened New Jersey, and caused a rumor to go abroad that he was about to attack the American works in the Hudson Highlands with a strong force. He also sent Arnold on a marauding expedition into New England. The traitor, with a band of regulars and Tories, crossed the Sound from Long Island, and on the 6th of September, landed his troops on each side of the Thames below New London. That town, which could offer very little resistance, was plundered and burned. Fort Griswold, at Groton, opposite New London, was taken by storm after a gallant defence by Colonel Ledyard and his little garrison of one hundred and fifty poorly armed militia-men. Only six of the Americans were killed in the fight; but after the surrender, the British officer in command murdered Colonel Ledyard with his sword, and refused to give quarter to the garrison. Seventy-three were massacred. Some were badly wounded, and others were carried away captive. Some of the wounded were placed in a baggage-wagon at the brow of the hill on which the fort yet stands, and it was sent down the rough and steep slope, a hundred rods, with great violence, for the purpose of plunging the helpless victims into the river. The jolting caused some of the wounded to expire, while the cries of agony from the lips of the survivors were heard across the river in the midst of the crackling noise of the burning town. An apple-tree had arrested the course of the wagon, and there the sufferers remained more than an hour, when their captors laid them on the beach and left them to die. Friendly hands conveyed them to a house near by, where they were cared for by tender women. With this atrocious expedition the name of Benedict Arnold disappears from history.
Return to Our Country, Vol II