The Expédition Particulière That Helped Win Yorktown
Most readers doubtless know that the French helped, not only at sea, by helping to keep the English from landing reinforcements, but by land, with the force under le Compte de Rochambeau combining with Washington and Lafayette’s forces to besiege Cornwallis at Yorktown. Cornwallis’ surrender sapped the will of the British public to continue the fight against their aggrieved cousins in America, and was the single event that is usually considered to have ended the war.
France entered the war following the defeat of the British at Saratoga, and immediately sent a large naval force out under le Compte d’Estaing. d’Estaing was supposed to help free Philadelphia, but found it already back in American hands on his arrival. The French and Americans agreed to try instead to remove the British from Newport, Rhode-Island. Due to miscommunication, damage sustained due to storms, and mauling of his flagship at the hands of the Royal Navy, d’Estaing withdrew, leaving the Americans feeling betrayed and discouraged. Another abortive action at Savannah, Georgia sent d’Estaing back to France, with much ill feeling in his wake.
It was into this fraught situation that Rochambeau’s Expédition Particulière set sail from Brest, carrying 5,500 soldiers to Newport; by this time, it was back in American hands, though much the worse for wear. Arriving in July of 1780, they remained encamped there for a full year, before marching with Washington’s troops to Virginia and destiny.
In my forthcoming novel, The Path, we’ll get to see the Expédition Particulière from the viewpoint of an ordinary foot soldier in its ranks, a young man whose fondest wish is to return home safely to his mother after honorable and useful service to his King… but fate sets him on a very different path. We’ll see the pernicious effects of slavery, on both the enslaved and the enslavers, and see early America through the eyes of a visitor to our shores.
I’m looking forward to sharing this story with you all!