DILLON-WASHINGTON-ROCHAMBEAU REVOLUTIONARY ROUTE DW3R NEWSLETTER NO. 40

March 17, 2001

Our goal is the creation of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, National Historic Trail, that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and the elevation of the quality of heritage preservation all along the route to a higher level.

Encore! For Congressman John Larson

An outstanding meeting was held March 14, 2001, at Congressman John Larson’s Washington office. The National Park Service (NPS) outlined their plan (project directors Steve Elkinton, Larry Gall and John Haubert) and announced they have all the requisite funding. Also present were Congressman Maurice Hinchey (NY), Holly Canevari (meeting organizer), and W3R members James Johnson and myself.

Executive director Jim Johnson showed new maps of the entire route and the route in New York. Congressman Larson commented, “It is truly amazing, the amount of planning Washington and Rochambeau must have put into this march. It must have been incredibly difficult at that time. In many places when they camped on Sunday, it became the first Catholic Mass celebrated in that community. The Bishop of Hartford has even expressed an interest in commemorating the first Mass the French had in Connecticut.”

Congressman Hinchey noted the many towns in New York that lie along the path and commented, “This will be a tremendous educational tool that helps define who we are as a people. Different people will see entirely different yet all important benefits of the route, whether it be the greenways, the heritage, or the many little stories that arise in the towns along the route.” Congressman Larson pointing to a story of Count Dillon, Lauzun’s first officer, commented, “Now people won’t think it is just the Irish in me speaking when I say the Irish fought for American Independence.” Larry Gall added that St Patrick’s day happens to be when the redcoats were driven out of Boston. Certainly that should make Washington an honorary Irishman! Once every year on St. Patrick’s day, everyone is welcome to be Irish for the day.

I presented a listing of the monies spent thus far on the WRRR studies and sites; $55,500 private, $563,000 state, and $814,000 municipal. The federal expenditure on the WRRR study will be leveraged at least four to one by state, municipality, and private sources.

Steve recommended that the W3R Committee establish itself as a non-profit corporation and continue to establish stewardship committees in each state. The NPS study should be completed by the end of 2003. Then we expect Congress will need legislation to designate the WRRR as a national historic trail. The best news was that no federal legislation is now required until it is time for the legislation creating the national historic trail.

You are invited to send your mailing and e-mail addresses to larry_gall@nps.gov or to Boston Support Office, 15 State Street, Boston, MA 02109, to be put on the NPS mailing list. Then your W3R opinions will be heard and considered. Please forward this invitation to interested members of your organizations.

Wayne A Smith DE House Majority Leader

Last year State Representative Wayne A. Smith wrote to tell me of his interest in the WRRR. This week Executive Director Jim Johnson asked him to lead the Delaware WRRR committee and Representative Smith accepted.

Wayne has been a state representative for ten years and has been the House Majority Leader in the DE State legislature since 1996. He is an investment banker by profession. We welcome Wayne aboard and look forward to the Delaware WRRR committee’s organization meeting when it is scheduled.

The Wethersfield Plan According to Lauzun

After a stormy youth, Armand-Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun went to America where he distinguished himself by his brilliant valor and chivalrous conduct. He returned to France and became a general during the French Revolution. The Jacobins denounced him before the Convention and he was sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal. When they came to take him to the guillotine he was eating oysters and drinking white wine. “Citizen,” he said, “allow me to finish.” Then offering the officer a glass, he added: “Take this wine; you must need courage in your profession.” It is said Lauzun went to his death with a smile on his lips.

Lauzun’s memoirs of indiscretions of the nobility were considered so provocative that Napoleon ordered the police to burn the original manuscript in his presence. Fortunately Queen Hortense, in 1811, had a secret copy made from which we learn of Lauzun’s actions and opinions during the American Revolution.

Count Dillon, of Ireland was Lauzun’s first in command and was in charge when Lauzun traveled. The duc de Lauzun bears witness to the fact that the Wethersfield Plan was the one and only plan Washington and Rochambeau made for their combined attack. The first mention to Lauzun of Washington’s thoughts about the Chesapeake occurred February 13, 1781.

“General Washington received me most kindly…. He confided to me that Mr. Arnold (Benedict Arnold) having gone down to work great havoc in Virginia, he had formed a plan for seizing him there: that he was going to make M. de La Fayette advance by land with all the light infantry of his army; he was asking for the Kings fleet should go and anchor in the Chesapeake Bay and there land a detachment of the French army to cut off Arnold’s retreat.” While this idea was not executed it shows Washington was himself entertaining ideas similar to the final plan months before the Wethersfield Plan (May 22), when news came that Cornwallis was heading north towards the Chesapeake.

On May 9, 1781 news arrived from France that Rochambeau’s son was unsuccessful in his plea for additional troops from France. About 8000 fresh reinforcements from France and the Caribbean were needed to take New York City. Lauzun writes in his memoirs. “At this time the Concorde, a frigate hailing from France, brought back M. le Vicomte de Rochambeau (the son), who had not been able even to have himself taken seriously… The latest instructions from the court made M. de Rochambeau (the father) anxious for a meeting with General Washington, to settle the plan of the campaign for the army and the fleet. It was officially decided and signed at this conference (Wethersfield 5-22-1781) that the French army should march to the North River, and there join the American army and approach as near as possible to New York:”…

Lauzun did not go to the Wethersfield Conference and apparently thought the final conference was in Hartford just as was the first conference. After the conference Lauzun says Rochambeau showed him the plan because, “my silence became a merit; he displayed greater confidence in me, showed me his plan of campaign, and decided to take me to Rhode Island to make certain preliminary arrangements.”

At Newport the French held a unilateral council of war (May 31) and decided to keep Barras’ fleet and the artillery at Newport, “since the naval force that was promised us (Admiral deGrasse) would be able to join it more easily in Chesapeake bay, where it was probable that it would arrive.” “The council requested me to go and report to General Washington what had been decided. I was inclined to refuse…”

Lauzun delivered the news of the unilateral war council’s decision to Washington. “It put him in such a rage that he refused to answer it; and it was not until the third day, and then out of regard to myself, that he handed me a very cold answer, in which he said that he abode by the plan to which he had signed his name (Wethersfield Plan)… but that he left M. de Rochambeau free to act as he might choose,” We must also remember that Washington had read the letter that Rochambeau wrote to Admiral de Grasse, directing de Grasse to the Chesapeake. Washington was fully informed of these plans well before the armies met at White Plains. Lauzun never mentioned or implied that New York was to be attacked, only that it was closely approached for reconnaissance. He wrote, “A second council of war (June 8) confirmed the decisions of the first: the army began to march. Throughout the course of this war, the English seemed to be stricken with blindness: they invariably did what ought not to be done, and refused to seize the most obvious and most golden opportunities. After the army had left, they had only to attack the French fleet off Rhode Island (Barass’ small fleet weighted down with the artillery) to destroy it.

Dr Thacher, Surgeon in the Massachusetts regiment., July 5 1781 wrote, The French army, under General Rochambeau, have arrived and encamped at a small distance on the left of the Americans.

The French legion of dragoons and infantry, under command of the Duke de Luzerne, arrived, and took their station near our encampment, and appear in true military style; they are a fine looking corps, full of military ardor, and, in conjunction with Colonel Sheldon’s dragoons, much important service is expected.

7th.-Our army was drawn up in a line, and reviewed by General Rochambeau, commander-in-chief of the French army, with his Excellency General Washington and other general officers.

Lauzun spoke of the diversion at New York City. “M. de Rochambeau had made them suppose that his plan was to attack New York, having dispatched an intelligent commissary with a strong escort to set up field kitchens and stores at Chatham , near New York.” M. de Rochambeau had gone in advance to Philadelphia with General Washington, to collect everything necessary for the army’s march to Virginia.

We saw in Newsletter 35 that Rochambeau said in his memoirs that the plan from the very beginning was to attack in the Chesapeake Bay area and in secret code he wrote to Admiral de Grasse telling him to go to the Chesapeake. Only Rochambeau, Washington, and de Grasse knew for certain the objective was Virginia. Washington himself was interested in the south, after all he was a Virginian. We saw that the first item of business at the Wethersfield Conference (May 22) was to discuss transporting the French troops to the Chesapeake and the plan itself called for only the assembly of the armies at the Hudson River with the attack to depend on the location of the French navy. Then Lauzun tells us the French Council of war (May 31, 1781) unilaterally decided to hold Barras’ fleet and the artillery at Newport for probable dispatch to the Chesapeake. We should not be surprised then, that when Washington heard that de Grasse arrived in the Chesapeake with thirty war ships, Lauzun observed, “I have never seen a man more overcome with great and sincere joy than was General Washington.”

Lauzun, though outnumbered by Tarlton’s dragoons forced Tarlton to retreat behind earthworks near Yorktown in the first action of the battle. Lauzun latter arranged for the surrender of Cornwallis. Then Lauzun was selected by Rochambeau to carry word of the victory back to the King of France. Lauzun returned to American where he spent much of his time with his troops in Delaware until the peace treaty is signed.