|François Joseph Paul, Comte De Grasse
[grahs] aka Admiral De Grasse, French
naval hero of the Battle of Yorktown
François Joseph Paul was born
into an old noble family on September 13, 1722.
He entered the Naval Academy in Toulon at age 11,
but left to join the Knights of Malta in 1734.
Transferring to the French Navy upon outbreak of
the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740,
Grasse spent the next 25 years serving in India,
the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. In July of
1779, Grasse commanded a quadron under Comte
d'Estaing at Grenada. He became commanding
officer of the French fleet in the Caribbean
after d'Estaing left for Europe, and sailed for
France himself in 1780 due to ill health.
On March 22, 1781, Grasse was
promoted to Rear Admiral and sent back to the
West Indies with 20 ships of the line, 3 frigates
and 156 transports. His orders were to assist the
assistance of the Americans in their fight for
independence. Upon receiving word that British
General Lord Charles Cornwallis was entrenched at
Virginia, and that American General George Washington had decided to attack Yorktown, Grasse
agreed to sail to Chesapeake Bay and prevent any
reinforcements from reaching Cornwallis by sea.
Upon arriving at the mouth of
Chesapeake Bay on August 30, Grasse detached
three ships to blockade Cornwallis's position at
Yorktown, while the rest of the fleet anchored
behind Cape Henry. The British fleet, under
Admiral Thomas Graves, arrived at the Chesapeake
on September 5, and, upon seeing the French
fleet, began maneuvering into a line ahead
formation. While the British were busy trying to
get into a proper formation, Grasse's ships cut
their anchor lines and sailed out to meet them.
The two fleets fired on each other throughout the
day until the British withdrew around 6:30 p.m.
The fleets spent the next four days maneuvering
around each other, but never renewed the battle.
On September 9, Grasse returned to the
Chesapeake, where he was joined by another 7
ships under Comte de Barras. Although the Battle
of the Chesapeake was itself indecisive, it
successfully prevented the rescue of Cornwallis's
army at Yorktown, and ultimately led to
Following his success in
Chesapeake Bay, Grasse returned to the West
Indies, where his fleet was defeated by Admiral
Hood at the Battle of St. Kitts. In April of
1782, his fleet was defeated and he was taken
prisoner by Admiral George Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes. He was
eventually allowed to return to France, where he
was cleared of wrong-doing by a court-martial. He
died at Tilly on January 11, 1788.
Battle of Yorktown
Admiral George Rodney
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