Thursday, November 3, 2011

By Request, Vol. 1.

A while back I asked all my Twitter followers to suggest blog topics for me.  I received just one request, from friend and fellow blogger Kurt "Shirt" Grimes (he also answers to "Hug" and "Reginald Kensworth III").  What RK3 asked me to write about was the role and impact of the French in the American Revolution.  Now whether or not you continue on and read my oh so insightful analysis of the major geopolitical conflict of the 1770s is up to you, but whether or not you do I am reissuing my previous request.  If you have a topic you want me to write on, leave it in a comment on this post or tweet it to me and I will write up a post on it.  Now, on to the American Revolution.

By the time France formally declared an alliance with the newly-founded United States on February 6, 1778 the Revolutionary War had been raging for nearly 3 years. Benjamin Franklin had been in France for over a year to lobby the government for an alliance (and to court whatever French women he could find), but his initial overtures were rejected by Louis XVI and his government over fears of the cost of conflict siding with an American force that had yet to achieve a truly noteworthy victory.  While individuals like the Marquis de Lafayette had helped train American forces these men were acting independently prior to formal recognition.

The American victory at Saratoga gave Franklin the victory he needed in his negotiations.  Officially led by Horatio Gates, the American forces defeated British troops under John Burgoyne thanks in large part to the heroics of an aggressive US general named Benedict Arnold (Arnold was severely wounded in the battle and likely would have been regarded as a national hero to this day had his wounds proven fatal).  The victory showed French officials that America could win their war with Great Britain.

French military results in North America were inconsistent at best.  Though key to victory at Yorktown, previous efforts by French forces to retake Newport, Rhode Island in 1778 and Savannah, Georgia in 1779 were failures.  The twin defeats came in large part from the hesitance of Admiral d'Estaing to fully commit the needed personnel and resources to the operations.  While the comte de Rochambeau commanded French forces in the northern colonies these troops accomplished little until the battle of Yorktown.

Yorktown itself more than made up for the frustrations of prior French efforts.  When notified that he would have the services of a French fleet commanded by Admiral de Grasse for several weeks in the fall, Washington's instincts were to take on the primary British force in New York City.  But Rochambeau and others convinced Washington that Lord Cornwallis' Southern army was a better target for their combined forces.  When Cornwallis camped at Yorktown to await supplies, the combined American and French army trapped Cornwallis by land.  Cornwallis stubbornly waited for the naval rescue he was convinced would come, but this would be his undoing.  The French fleet got to the Chesapeake first and defeated the British fleet sent to the region.  Trapped on all sides Cornwallis would surrender, a defeat that effectively ended the Revolutionary War.

There were many other altercations between French and British forces across the globe during these years, but the direct impact these had on the quest for American independence was minimal at best.  While it is tempting to believe that this kept these forces out of America the truth is that these British forces garrisoned in other regions of the world were never likely to be sent to America.  Doing so would have destabilized their control of other colonial regions.

So there you go Kurt and anyone else who decided to read this, request completed.  Once again for anyone else out there comment or tweet me a blog topic request and I'll write it.  Just know it may take me a day or two (or many weeks).


  1. Wow Alex, you answered that request with all the swiftness of a large government bureaucracy; say perhaps, the State of Colorado's Unemployment Office. Not that I know from experience. Needless to say, I failed the term paper which I was planning on copying and pasting this material into at the time at which I asked you to write on the topic. Good analysis - although I found you a touch harsh on the Frogs. Although they were inconsistent, I'd say they were also invaluable, to the final victory. Indubitably... innkeeper.

  2. Well thank you, I do aim to have the responsiveness of a hardened, entrenched bureaucracy.