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THE FRENCH FLEET ARRIVES.
1778. FRENCH FLEET ARRIVES: OPERATIONS IN RHODE ISLAND. French fleet appears off Sandy Hook - Attack on British delayed – Fleet sails for Rhode Island - Sullivan's
preparations to reduce Rhode Island - Disposition of the British garrison - Engagement between the French and British fleets — Armies overtaken by storm — Precarious situation of Sullivan - American officers beseech d'Estaing to remain — Fleet sails to Boston — Sullivan's general orders — Clamor against the French - Washington's letters to the various commanders — American army retires from Rhode Island - Clinton's expedition against New Bedford and Fairhaven - French fleet sails for the West Indies — Washington puts army in winter quarters — Labors of Baron Steuben – Naval operations.
In July, 1778, when the British make a judicious disposition of his army arrived in New York, Charles forces for the defence of New York. Henri Théodat d'Estaing, Count For some time after the arrival of the d'Estaing du Saillans, appeared off French, unfavorable winds prevented the coast of Virginia with a French a movement against the British fleet, fleet, which had sailed from Toulon but on July 22, the wind having about the middle of April.* It was changed, the French squadron got expected that the French fleet would under way with the evident intention find the British still in Philadelphia, of making an immediate attar
in Philadelphia, of making an immediate attack. When but contrary winds had delayed it so
ad delayed it so the ships arrived at Sandy Hook,
the long that the British had evacuated
however, the pilots expressed the the city and marched across Jersey
opinion that the largest of the French before the French fleet arrived. As
vessels could not pass the bar, and certaining that the British had evac
they refused to undertake to carry uated Philadelphia, the French com
them through the channel.* D’Esmander sailed to the north, and on July 11 appeared off Sandy Hook.+
taing thereupon changed his plan and Lord Howe's fleet, which consisted of
*Sparks' ed. of Washington's Writings, vol. vi., six 64's, three 50's, two 40's and some
pp. 9-12; Tower, Marquis de La Fayette, vol. i., smaller frigates, had received early pp. 417–420; Carrington, Battles of the Revolu
tion, pp. 447-448; Ford's ed. of Washington's information of the movements of
Writings, vol. vii., pp. 101, 104-106, 108, 110, 114; d'Estaing and knew of his arrival on Gordon, American Revolution, vol. iii., p. 156. the coast some days before he act- Mahan, however, says that there was plenty of
water and that d'Estaing's assertion that he could ually appeared off Sandy Hook. This
not pass the bar was a mere subterfuge, his real timely warning enabled Howe to reason being that Howe's position was better and
the French fleet was therefore, at a disadvantage. * Tower, Marquis de La Fayette, vol. i., pp. 399– See Clowes, Royal Navy, vol. iii., pp. 399–402.
See also d'Estaing's and Hamilton's letters in † Lossing, Field-Book of the Revolution, vol. i., Sparks, Correspondence of the Revolution, vol.
ii., pp. 157-159, 160-161.
PLANS TO REDUCE RHODE ISLAND.
steered southward to the Delaware connected by an isthmus, and has a capes, where, upon his arrival, he number of small islands near it. On changed his course and sailed for the west of the isthmus stands NewRhode Island.* Arriving there on port, the chief town of the island, and the 29th, he arranged with General between Rhode Island and the mainSullivan to attempt the reduction land lies the island of Conanicut. of that state. Sullivan had a de. There are three entrances to Newport; tachment of Washington's army, and one by the east or Seakonet Passage; reinforcements constantly arrived another by the west of the island, befrom New England. For some time tween it and Conanicut, called the Sullivan had been preparing to re- Main Channel; and the other, called duce the British garrison at Rhode Is- the West or Narragansett Passage, land, and later Generals Greene and which unites with the Main Channel Lafayette were sent to assist him in at the east of Conanicut. The main subordinate commands. General body of the British troops under GenPigott, the British commander, had eral Pigott, numbering about 6,000 been informed of the intentions of men,* lay at Newport; on Conanicut General Sullivan, and in order to im- Island were three regiments; a chain pede the operations of the Americans, of redoubts defended the isthmus; had dispatched two separate expedi- and each of the three entrances was tions, one under Colonel Campbell, guarded by frigates and galleys, and the other under Major Eyre, into which upon the appearance of Count Providence Plantation. These expe- d'Estaing were destroyed to prevent ditions destroyed a large quantity of them from falling into his hands. naval and military stores, some gal. The French fleet blockaded all the leys and armed sloops, and about 100 various passages, several ships of small boats which had been prepared war being stationed in the Seakonet for Sullivan's expedition. These and Narragansett passages, while the losses considerably retarded General Main Channel was closed when the Sullivan's movements, and for several fleet anchored at its mouth. In this days after the French fleet arrived, position the French fleet continued the Americans were in no position to until August 8.7 When the Americoöperate with them.
cans were in a position to coöperate Rhode Island consists of two parts
with him, the French commander W
* Carrington, Battles of the Revolution, p. 448. * Richman, Rhode Island, p. 228; Irving, Life Sullivan estimated the force at 6,500. See his of Washington, vol. iii., pp. 479–480.
letter in Sparks, Correspondence of the Revolu. † F. V. Greene, Life of Greene, p. 107. See also tion, vol. ii., p. 178. his instructions to Lafayette, in Tower, Marquis † On the conferences between the American gen. de Lafayette, vol. i., p. 422; and to Greene and erals and the French admiral regarding the plan Lafayette in Sparks' ed. of Washington's Writ of attack, see Tower, Marquis de Lafayette, vol. ings, vol. vi., pp. 8, 22.
i., pp. 431-455.
122 OPERATION OF FRENCH AND BRITISH FLEETS. sailed toward the harbor, engaging deavoring to retain his advantage. the batteries on either side as he Toward the close of the second day, passed, and anchoring between New- when the fleets were about to engage, port and Conanicut.*
a violent storm separated the two When Howe received information fleets and dispersed and considerably of the arrival of the French fleet at injured many of the ships. As a reNewport, he immediately began prep- sult, there was no general action, but arations to destroy it. By this time single ships of both fleets afterward Howe's squadron had been increased fell in with each other, though neither to eight ships of the line, five ships of side gained any important advantage 50 guns each, two of 40, four frigates, from these minor engagements. As several fire ships, two bombs, and a both fleets were in a crippled condinumber of smaller vessels. On Au- tion, Howe returned to New York and gust 9 this fleet arrived at Rhode Is- d'Estaing to Newport.* land, anchoring off Point Judith, a At this time Sullivan's army numshort distance from the entrance of bered about 10,000 troops, chiefly milithe Main Channel.For several days tia, and when the French commander after the arrival of the French the sallied forth to intercept the British, winds continued contrary, but on the Sullivan was prepared to take the
of the 10th they suddenly field in coöperation with the French shifted to the northeast, and the fleet. When Sullivan saw the French commander was seized with a French fleet depart, however, he realdesire to measure ships with Howe.lized that it would be useless to attempt Accordingly, he went to sea in hostilities until it should return. search of the British fleet, and soon Furthermore, he feared that d'Esdiscovered it. But upon seeing so taing would become offended if the formidable an armament advancing American army should not wait until toward him, and being under the he could be at liberty to participate in wind, which gave the French the any movement. On the other hand, weather-gage, Lord Howe de-
"Gordon, American Revolution, vol. iii., p. 159; clined an immediate engagement,
Fisher, Struggle for American Independence, vol. and instead maneuvered in an en ii., pp. 212–214; Tower, Marquis de La Fayette,
vol. i., pp. 461-465; Stedman, American War, vol. deavor to secure the weather-gage
ii., pp. 27-31; Jones, New York in the Revolution, himself. The contest lasted through- vol. i., p. 276; Johnson, Life of Greene, vol. i., p.
109. out the day, the French admiral en
† Heath's Memoirs, p. 175 (Abbatt's ed.); La.
fayette's letter to D’Estaing in Tower, Marquis * Tower, vol. i., p. 456 et seq.
de Lafayette, vol. i., p. 440. About 1,500 troops † Carrington, Battles of the Revolution, p. 450. under Greene and Lafayette had been sent by IF. V. Greene, Life of Greene, pp. 109-110. Washington. See Spark's ed. of Washington's
|| See Peabody, Life of John Sullivan, p. 98 et Writings, vol. vi., pp. 28–37; Greene, Life of seq.
Greene, vol. ii., pp. 113–128.
SULLIVAN BESIEGES BRITISH; FRENCH FLEET DEPARTS. 123
the American army could not long be General Sullivan's army in a precakept together and it was necessary rious situation as the British force at that the American commander begin Newport could easily be increased. To active operations immediately. Upon the great relief of the Americans learning that Sullivan was ready to d'Estaing reappeared off the island take the offensive, Pigott withdrew on the evening of the 20th, but the joy his troops from Conanicut, called in of the Americans was of short dura•his various outposts, and concen- tion, for upon his arrival d'Estaing trated his whole army in an en informed General Sullivan that, trenched camp near Newport. The agreeable to the advice of his officers, American army was then transported and in obedience to orders, it would be from the mainland to the northeast necessary for him to sail for Boston end of the island, and having taken to repair his damaged fleet. He had possession of a fortified position been instructed to enter that port in which had been abandoned by the Brit case he should meet with disaster or ish, they marched toward Newport find a superior British fleet on the to begin the siege. On the 12th of Au- coast. Now facing both situations gust, before the siege was well under (his fleet having been shattered and way, Sullivan's army was overtaken Admiral Byron having arrived with by the same terrific wind and rain British reinforcements), he considstorm which had created such havoc ered that the condition of affairs was among the British and French ships. exactly what had been contemplated A great number of the tents were in his instructions, and it was thereblown down, and fire-arms were ren- fore incumbent upon him to take his dered unfit for immediate use, and al- fleet to Boston.* most all the ammunition, of which 50 This action greatly irritated Genrounds had just been distributed to eral Sullivan, who was convinced that each soldier, was irreparably dam- the departure of the French fleet aged. As the storm continued for would ruin the whole enterprise. three days and as they were without Both Greene. and Lafayette in a per
elter, the soldiers suffered severely sonal interview besought d'Estaing and large numbers of them perished.* to reconsider his determination and to After the storm had passed, the Amer- stand by the Americans in the present ican army resumed the siege, but the situation; they explained to him the absence of the French fleet placed importance of the movement just be
gun, further saying that it was now so * Fisher. Struggle for American Independence, well advanced that there could be no vol. ii., p. 214. See alsɔ Sullivan's letter of August 13 to Washington, in Sparks, Correspondence * Carrington, Battles of the Revolution, p. 452; of the Revolution, vol. ii., pp. 175-178; Lossing, Tower, Marquis de La Fayette, vol. i., pp. 466 Field-Book of the Revolution, vol. i., p. 650.