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By Gwen Woolf
Lafayette followed Cornwallis' movements with puzzlement. But as it developed, neither the British nor the Virginians had any clue regarding the major allied strategy now being developed by George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau in New England.
In late May, Washington and Rochambeau had conferred in Connecticut, and Washington learned, with elation, that the French fleet was to be put to the aid of the American cause. His months of stalemate in New York were about to end.
The French admiral, Comte de Grasse, after completing a mission to the West Indies, was to sail with troops to America in July. Wisely, Washington and Rochambeau allowed him to choose between the options--New York or the Chesapeake. While they awaited his decision, Rochambeau brought his troops from Newport. De Grasse acted swiftly--in fact, he was under way before the intelligence reached Gen. George Washington.
This was the opportunity Washington had for so long waited. On the third week of July, he and Rochambeau ferried 6,000 men across the Hudson River, leaving 4,000 behind to mislead Clinton. (Meanwhile, the British fleet, which should have sailed to confront de Grasse, received delayed intelligence and was late departing from New York.)
The allied armies marched quickly south. Washington and Rochambeau stopped at Mount Vernon for two nights and spent the night of Sept. 13 in Fredericksburg. (Col. Lewis and his family had already departed for his son's home in Frederick County, and Washington's brothers, Charles and Samuel, had moved westward, so there was no immediate family to greet him.)
Still on a rapid march, the army reached Williamsburg on the evening of Sept. 14. Adm. de Grasse had already arrived at Hampton Roads on Aug. 30 and had debarked 3,000 men at Jamestown.
The naval resources of the British were being stretched thin, defending not only against the French but also the Dutch and the Spanish. In the war in America, they were not up to the crisis now looming. By the time the British fleet belatedly arrived from New York, de Grasse had received reinforcements and heavy equipment from Newport.
By Sept. 26, the combined allied forces were assembled at Williamsburg; they began their march on Yorktown on Sept. 28. Too late, Cornwallis deduced Washington's plan. Still, he delayed an attack on Williamsburg, for he had been given some hope that Clinton might appear.