THE MIRACLE of YORKTOWN 1781
In the opinion of this web master, the following quoted text
is one of the finest summations on the Yorktown Campaign of 1781, taken from:
Lee Kennett's The French Forces in America 1780-1783 (Westport, CT, 1977), Chapter 10 "The Miracle" pp.151-152


"So ended the campaign that brought America her independence Fifteen months after its arrival, the Expédition Particulière fullfilled its purpose. Could the Americans have won without its help? Perhaps, but not when they did or where they did. The expeditionary corps and the squadron were essential elements in the coalescence of force a Yorktown. If that much is clear, the origins of that much less so. The authorship of the campaign has been variously assigned. Defeat is an orphan, runs the old adage, while victory has a thousand fathers – and Yorktown is no exception. Professor Jonathan Dull, for example, has parceled out the paternity to ten men: two Spaniards, seven Frenchmen, and one American (Washington).[25] One could conceivably add to the list several Englishmen (Clinton, Cornwallis, and Graves, for example) whose actions, or inaction, were so many unwitting instances of coopera-tion in the allied triumph.
"The element that finally broke the deadlock in the summer of 1781 and thus brought victory was clearly naval supremacy. In a vague way, at least, this superiority had been provided for by the ministers at Versailles. The strategic basis for Yorktown was the shift of naval forces from the Caribbean to North America in the late summer, a shift that had been provided for the year before and that was dictated as much by meteorological considerations as strategic foresight. De Grasse's arrival in the Chesapeake – and at a season too late to permit striking at a succession of objectives – virtually dictated Virginia as the theatre of operations. But De Grasse chose his destination on the basis of advice received from North America. While the French commanders there had their misgivings about New York, no clear evidence exists that they arranged things among themselves behind Washington's back. Rochambeau seems to have regarded Virginia as a pis alter, or possibly a preliminary to the attack on New York. Certainly, when he penned his dispatches for the Concorde in May and early June, he could not have conceived of a grand concentration that would bring Cornwallis to bay at Yorktown. At that time, not even Cornwallis himself knew he would end up there. Even if the French general had been endowed with such supernatural foresight, his nature would have made him chary of such an intricate combination of so many elements. That it occurred as it did he later called 'a miracle'. [26] In fact, such a scheme would have had more appeal to Washington, but then he had no gift of prescience either. As it was, De Grasse later said it was La Luzerne's pressing memoir of May 20 that really made him decide head for the Chesapeake. [27] But La Luzerne had not written it for this particular purpose and had directed it to Barras and Rochambeau. A less but diligent courier got it to Newport while the packet was being made up for the Concorde. It was Barras who, almost as an afterthought sent on a copy to De Grasse. In the end, then, one is tempted to make a list as Iong as that of Professor Dull.
"It is perhaps wisest to abandon attempts to pinpoint individual degree of responsibility and to acknowledge that the Virginia campaign grew slowly from a vague possibility to a certainty, and this by a random and fortuitous concatenation in which events themselves probably played as great a role as any one man's decisions. From beginning to end, there were factors that no man could control and pieces that fell into place by themselves. Had the Concorde foundered, had a British spy been more diligent or a French courier less speedy, had wind or tide altered the itinerary of a fleet here or there, the story would probably have had a different ending. The origins of the Yorktown campaign will continue to be debated. Whoever its 'father' – if indeed it had one – one thing seems clear: its mother was the goddess of chance."

NOTES

24.Villebresme, ed., Souvenirs du chevalier de Villebresme, 92.
25.The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (Princeton, N.J., 1975), 247-8.
26.Letter to the minister of war, 26 frimaire an XI I (December 18, 1803), BN NAF 1307, 245.
27.On this matter, see William Emmett O'Donnell, The Chevalier de la Luzerne, French Minister to the United States, 1779-1784 (Louvain, 1938), 191. This volume appeared in: Université de Louvain, Recueil de travaux publiés par les membres des conférences d'histoire et de philologie, 2e serie, 46e fascicule.

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Page posted 9 April 2006, revised 19 March 2007.