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|Comte de Rochambeau
[rO sham bO] French hero of the Battle of Yorktown
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur was born at Vend˘me, Loir-et-Cher, on July 1, 1725; his father was a Lieutenant-General and Governor of Vend˘me. Originally destined for the church, Rochembeau was educated at the Jesuit college in Blois. He left the college upon the death of his elder brother, which left him the sole heir to his father's estate.
Rochembeau entered the French Army as a Cornet in the Regiment of Saint Simon in 1742. He served with distinction in Bohemia, Bavaria and on the Rhine during the War of Austrian Succession, and was promoted to Colonel in March of 1747. He was present at the Siege of Maestricht in 1748, and succeeded his father as Governor of Vend˘me on June 1, 1749. In April of 1756, he led his regiment in the assault of Fort St. Philippe, and subsequently contributed greatly to the capture of Port Mahon. Upon outbreak of the Seven Years' War, he distinguished himself in the Battle of Minorca, for which he was promoted to Brigadier General and created a Knight of St. Louis. In Germany from 1758 to 1761, Rochambeau gained notice by banning the consumption of alcoholic beverages before a battle, and by establishing a company of light infantry that performed heroically at the Battle of Clostercamp in 1760. After being promoted to Major General, he improved the training of French troops and encouraged the study of past failures and successes in battle. He became Inspector General of Cavalry in 1769, and Lieutenant-General on March 1, 1780.
After France agreed to help the Americans in their fight for independence, Rochambeau was ordered to take an army across the Atlantic. A fleet of ships carrying 5,400 French troops departed from France on May 2, 1780. Rochambeau's fleet was met by a British fleet off Bermuda, but he was able to drive it back and continue on. It landed at Newport, Rhode Island, on July 12, and Rochambeau immediately set his men to erecting fortifications to prevent an expected assault from Sir Henry Clinton's army. He met General George Washington at Hartford on September 22, at which time Rochambeau put his army at Washington's disposal. The two men were unable to agree on how best to proceed against the British, however, and Rochambeau's army sat idle at Newport until June of 1781.
Rochambeau meets Washington
While Rochambeau's men kept themselves busy at Newport, Rochambeau and Washington continued to correspond in order to form a plan of attack. Washington wanted to attack the British headquarters in New York City, but Rochambeau argued that an attack on Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis in Virginia would be more effective, an argument that most of Washington's generals agreed with. Rochambeau finally led his army out of Newport on June 18, 1781, and marched it toward the Hudson River. After defeating a detachment of Clinton's army on the island of Manhattan, his army crossed the Hudson as if it was entering New Jersey but upon reaching the opposite shore it headed back north and, on July 6, joined up with Washington's army at Dobb's Ferry, New York. There, Rochambeau and Washington continued to disagree over their next move, until August 14, when Washington received word that Admiral Comte de Grasse was heading to Virginia with 29 warships and 3,200 men, but would only remain there until October 14. De Grasse encouraged Washington to come south and mount a joint American-French operation against Cornwallis, who by then had encamped his army at Yorktown. Washington finally agreed to an assault on Yorktown, which began on September 28, 1781. Rochambeau's army proved invaluable in the Battle of Yorktown, which ended with the surrender of Cornwallis's army on October 17. The Battle of Yorktown proved to be the last major engagement of the Revolutionary War, and Rochambeau returned to France soon after its conclusion. Before he left America, however, the Continental Congress thanked him for his service by presenting him with two specially engraved cannons that had been captured during the battle.
Back in France, King Louis XVI created Rochambeau Knight of the Saint Espirit and appointed him Governor of Picardy and Artois. He subsequently served as Deputy to the Assembly of the Notables in 1788, repressed uprisings in Alsace in 1790, was created Field Marshal on December 28, 1791, and commanded the Army of the North during the French Revolution; he resigned from the French Army on July 15, 1792. Arrested and charged with treason during the Reign of Terror, Rochambeau was successfully defended by Napoleon Bonaparte's deputy and avoided the guillotine. In 1804, Napoleon personally awarded Rochambeau with the French Legion of Honor.
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This page was last updated on August 22, 2018.