When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
July 11, 1780 Washington meets with Rochambeau in Hartford
France supported the American war effort with money and material and formally joined as an ally in 1778. The French wanted to avenge their loss to the British in the French and Indian War and to stop British expansionism. But despite the money and military aid they’d given the Americans, their victory was anything but certain. France’s King Louis XVI sent General Comte de Rochambeau and 5,000 French troops to help ensure it.
Rochambeau was eager to meet with Washington and had repeatedly asked the general to see him. The Frenchman recounted his frustration with the delay in his memoirs: “In a single hour’s conversation, we could have decided on more matters than could be contained in whole volumes of writing.” Washington had good reason to avoid a meeting. His troops were in shambles: hungry, unpaid for months and short of ammunition. Many historians think Washington feared that if he left the soldiers for the few days that the meeting would require, they would desert.
In July, 1778, Washington agreed to a rendezvous. The men chose Hartford as the venue because it was halfway between the American’s headquarters in New Windsor, N.Y., and Rochambeau’s in Newport. After greeting each other, they went to the house of Jeremiah Wadsworth. The generals discussed where and when to launch a joint attack on the British but could not agree on where to attack. Washington wanted to retake New York, which the British had seized in 1776. Rochambeau wanted to move straight south, to Virginia, and engage the enemy there.
The two met again the following May, this time in Wethersfield, at the house of Joseph Webb. There Rochambeau reluctantly agreed to Washington’s plan to attack the British in New York. The French and American forces would proceed as soon as the Comte de Grasse, the French admiral, sailed from the Caribbean, bringing with him the needed ships, men and money to launch the offensive.
Six days after the meeting, however, Rochambeau learned of Cornwallis’ encampment on the Jamestown peninsula. He wrote de Grasse advising him to sail not to New York, but to Chesapeake Bay, then asked Washington to reconsider his plan and move south.
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