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On the first notice of the storm, which happened on the 22d of January, and of its effects, I intimated to the French general the possibility and importance of improving the opportunity in an attempt upon Arnold. When I received a more certain account of the total loss of the Culloden, and the dismasting of the Bedford, two seventy-four-gun ships belonging to the British fleet in Gardiner's Bay, I immediately put in motion, under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette, as large a part of my small force here, as I could with prudence detach, to proceed to the Head of Elk, and, with all expedition, made a proposal to the Count de Rochambeau and the Chevalier Destouches for a coöperation in Virginia with the whole of the fleet of our allies and a part of their land force. Before my proposition arrived, in consequence of an application to him from Philadelphia, the Chevalier Destouches had sent a ship of the line and two or three frigates to the Chesapeake Bay, which not only. retarded the plan I had proposed (by awaiting their return), but ultimately defeated the project; as the enemy in the mean time remasted the Bedford with the masts taken out of the Culloden, and, following the French fleet, arrived off the Capes of Virginia before it; where a naval combat ensued, glorious for the French, who were inferior in ships and guns, but unprofitable for us, who were disappointed of our object.
The failure of this expedition, which was most flattering in the commencement, is much to be regretted; because a successful blow in that quarter would, in all probability, have given a decisive turn to our affairs in all the southern States; because it has been attended with considerable expense on our part, and much inconvenience to the State of Virginia, by the assembling of its militia ; because the world is disappointed
at not seeing Arnold in gibbets; and, above all, because we stood in need of something to keep us afloat, till the result of your mission is known; for, be assured, my dear Laurens, day does not follow night more certainly, than it brings with it some additional proof of the impracticability of carrying on the war without the aids you were directed to solicit. As an honest and candid man, as a man whose all depends on the final and happy termination of the present contest, I assert this, while I give it decisively as my opinion, that, without a foreign loan, our present force, which is but the remnant of an army, cannot be kept together this campaign, much less will it be increased and in readiness for another.
The observations contained in my letter of the 15th of January last are verified every moment; and, if France delays a timely and powerful aid in the critical posture of our affairs, it will avail us nothing, should she attempt it hereafter. We are at this hour suspended in the balance; not from choice, but from hard and absolute necessity; and you may rely on it as a fact, that we cannot transport the provisions from the States in which they are assessed to the army, because we cannot pay the teamsters, who will no longer work for certificates. It is equally certain, that our troops are approaching fast to nakedness, and that we have nothing to clothe them with ; that our hospitals are without medicines and our sick without nutriment except such as well men eat; and that all our public works are at a stand, and the artificers disbanding. But why need I run into detail, when it may be declared in a word, that we are at the end of our tether, and that now or never our deliverance must come. While, indeed, how easy would it be to retort the enemy's own game upon them, if it could be made to comport with the general plan of the war to keep a superior fleet always in these seas, and France would put us in a condition to be active by advancing us money. The ruin of the enemy's schemes would then be certain ; the bold game they are now playing would be the means of effecting it ; for they would be reduced to the necessity of concentring their force at capital points, thereby giving up all the advantages they have gained in the southern States, or be vulnerable everywhere.
Such of the Pennsylvania line, as had reassembled and were recruited, say about one thousand, were ordered, about the middle of February, to join the southern army; and since the disappointment of our enterprise against Arnold, I have directed the detachment under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette to proceed thither; but how either can march, without money or credit, is more than I can tell. With every wish for your success, and a safe and speedy return, and with every sentiment of esteem and affection, I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU.
New Windsor, 10 April, 1781. SIR, I had the pleasure of receiving your Excellency's letter of the 6th instant only two hours ago. We are greatly indebted to the Chevalier Destouches for the disposition he shows to undertake the expedition to Penobscot, and to you for your readiness to furnish a detachment of troops for the same purpose. The object is certainly worthy of our attention, and if it can be effected will be very agreeable to the States, particularly to those of the east. M. Destouches can best judge, from the situation of the enemy's fleet, how far it may be attempted with prudence; and your Excellency, from the information you have recently received, what number of troops will be sufficient for the enterprise. I am persuaded it will be calculated how far it is probable the enemy may follow with a part of their fleet; whether the post can be carried by a coup de main, or may require so much time as to make it likely the operation will be interrupted before its conclusion, in case of a superior squadron being sent by the enemy; and what possibility there is of protection, or a safe retreat for the ships, and even for the land force, through an unsettled country. All these points are too important not to have been well weighed, and your conversations with the Massachusetts deputies will have enlightened you upon them.
The confidence I have in your judgment assures to you the concurrence of my sentiments, in whatever you may do on the occasion. I will only take the liberty to remark two things; first, that it appears to me frigates, without any ships of the line, will answer the purpose as well as with them, and less will be risked by dividing the body of the fleet. Frigates, including the forty-fours, will afford a safe escort to the troops against any thing now in those seas. With respect to a detachment from the enemy's fleet, it would always be proportioned to the force we should send. If we have two sixty-fours, they would even be an object for their whole fleet. Secondly, as despatch is essential to success, it will in my opinion be advisable not to depend on any coöperation of the militia, but to send at once such a force from your army, as you
deem completely adequate to a speedy reduction of the post.
The country in the neighbourhood of Penobscot is too thinly inhabited to afford any resource of militia there; and to assemble and convey them from remote places would announce your design, retard your operations, and give leisure to the enemy to counteract you. Indeed, I would recommend, for the sake of secrecy, to conceal your determination from the State itself. These hints you will be pleased to make use of only so far as they appear to be well founded.
I have the honor to be, &c.*
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
New Windsor, 11 April, 1781. MY DEAR MARQUIS,
Your favor dated at Elk the 8th instant reached me at ten o'clock last evening. While I give you credit for the manæuvre by which you removed the
* The British had contrived to keep a fortified post at Penobscot, which at this time contained a garrison of about three hundred and fifty men. The Council of Massachusetts thought a good opportunity now presented itself, while the British fleet was in the Chesapeake, to employ the idle hours of the French in an enterprise against Penobscot. Proposals to that effect were made through a deputation, and accepted. M. Destouches agreed to furnish two sixty-fours, two frigates, and a smaller vessel, and preparations were immediately begun. A land force of six hundred men was offered by Count de Rochambeau, and also four mortars, and four twenty-four-pounders. The Chevalier de Chastellux was to command. At first it was expected, that Massachusetts would furnish militia ; but this part of the plan was given up, and Count de Rochambeau proposed to enlarge his force to eight hundred men. After all the arrangements had been put in train, the project was finally abandoned, in consequence of the apprehension of M. Destouches, that a superior British naval force would come upon some parts of his squadron while in a divided state. – MS. Letters of Rochambeau and Destouches, April 6th, 7th, 15th.