A Week Before Yorktown, George Washington Letter Signed To George Weedon
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A Week Before Yorktown, George Washington Letter Signed To George Weedon:
A Week Before Yorktown, Washington Builds Up the Virginia Militia and Reminds Its Commander to Mind His Manners
Washington orders Virginia militia Brigadier General George Weedon to monitor the British and despite lacking supplies, prevent them from foraging the countryside when possible. The Commander in Chief then informs Weedon that French reinforcements are due to arrive and to show their commander the respect he deserves.GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed, to George Weedon. Williamsburg, Va., September 23, 1781. 2 pp., 6 3/8 x 8 1/8 in. In John Trumbull’s hand.
Williamsburg 23d Septemr 1781
Your Letter of the 18th instt came to Hand while I was absent on a Visit to the Count de Grasse at Cape Henry – from whence I am just returned – I am very sensible of your Attention - & am sorry for the Embarrassments you met with – I hope they will soon be removed –
The Legion of the Duke Lauzun is ordered to join the Troops now under your Comand - & you may soon Expect to see them – I wish you to be exceedingly watchfull upon the Motions of the Enemy on your Side, & to prevent, as much as possible, without risquing too much, the Enemy’s gaining Provisions or Supplies from the Country – and you will be so good as to give me the earliest Information of any important Circumstance that may take place –
The Duke de Lauzun is a Gentleman of Rank and long Service in the Army of France, a Brigadier at the present Time in the Army under Comand of the Count de Rochambeau – You will please to shew him all the Respect and Attention that his Character demands –
I am/Dear Sir
Your most Obedt Servt
B Genl Weedon
George Weedon served under George Washington in 1776 and wintered at Valley Forge. However, he resigned in a dispute over a promotion in 1778 and not even Washington’s personal pleas could entice him to remain in Continental service. Instead, he joined the Virginia militia, and by the time of the Siege of Yorktown, had risen to his prior rank of brigadier general. For much of the summer, Weedon and the militia had been skirmishing with British forces commanded first by Benedict Arnold and then by Lord Charles Cornwallis. On September 18, 1781, Weedon wrote to Washington regarding the dismal state of supplies for his militiamen. “I am sorry to inform your Excellency that the great part of the Men are badly Armed & worse equipt,” he reported. They were dangerously low on ammunition and rationing out cartridges two per man, which was less of problem since nearly two-thirds of his troops had no ammunition boxes. Moreover, Weedon lacked artillery, as well as grain, and other supplies. To provision his troops, he took half of the foodstuffs that had been gathered as “part of the Tax of the County” but could not stop the British from taking the remainder. Putting a stop to British raids was one of the tasks Washington assigned to Weedon.
Washington begins this letter by apologizing to Weedon for the supply concerns expressed in his letter of the “18th inst.” but then cautions Weedon to treat the Duc de Lauzun with “all the Respect and Attention that his Character demands.” Washington had reason for concern. In addition to Weedon’s past sensitivities to matters of rank, Washington had been preparing for the arrival of French forces in Virginia. In September 1781, Washington and Rochambeau were on the march south to encircle Cornwallis at Yorktown. On September 4, Washington learned that the French fleet had arrived and reinforced Lafayette’s Virginia forces. Then, as the main body of the Continental Army arrived, Washington told Weedon that he needed to arrange carriages, or at minimum fresh horses, for Rochambeau and the other French officers. “I shall not apologize for this freedom or the trouble it will give you,” Washington wrote Weedon on September 10, “because I am sure you will take pleasure in shewing civilities to the Representatives of a Nation to which we are so much indebted.”
Three days before writing this letter, Washington told Weedon to expect the arrival of his own reinforcements led by Lauzun. The combined troops were ordered to prevent British foraging without putting themselves at risk. In an earlier letter, Washington assured Weedon that he would be in charge of the joint force “if you are the Seniour Officer.” Washington then revised his plan, instead informing Weedon that Lauzun would command “the Legion of his own Name.” Given the circumstances of having to arrange transportation for the arriving French forces, as well as Weedon’s history of taking offense on matters of rank, Washington wanted to ensure that Weedon would treat the French ally with due respect.
The dance between Weedon and Washington would continue over the following days. Supply problems, the British sending “out of the Garrison at Gloster near 150 Negroes all with the small pox on them” in an attempt to inflect Americans lines, and de Lauzun’s tardy arrival all prevented Weedon from moving his regiments into supporting distance. Having already promised Washington he would do so, Weedon’s failure to move drew Washington’s ire. Likewise, Washington’s repeated reminders to treat de Lauzun with respect drew mock-polite responses from Weedon. “I shall pay the most pointed attention to this distinguished Character,” Weedon assured Washington, “& shall embrace every opportunity of improving his advice so far as relates to the Service on this Side.” For his part, Lauzun found Weedon ineffective in guarding against the British: “I went with my regiment to join General Weedon’s corps,” Lauzun wrote. “His method of blockading Gloucester was original; he was more than 15 miles from the enemy’s outposts, was frightened to death, and dared not send out a patrol as much as half a mile from his camp.” Despite animosity, the two men were forced to work together when Washington allowed the Marquis de Choisy (who had arrived to reinforce Lauzun) to take command over both Weedon’s and Lauzun’s troops. A week after this letter, their combined forces began the Siege of Yorktown, the final, decisive battle of the Revolution.
Armand Louis de Gontaut (1747 – 1793) was the fourth Duc de Lauzun. He led a body of troops known as “Lauzun’s Legion” first to Senegal in a offer to reclaim French colonial possessions from the British, and later, to the United States as an advance party for the Comte Rochambeau’s army. His unit began by guarding Rochambeau’s flank from Loyalist raids, and observing British movements around Long Island Sound, but Lauzun wrote to Alexander Hamilton, asking to be reassigned to Lafayette’s command. During the Siege of Yorktown, his unit was assigned to Gloucester, Virginia, to block one of Cornwallis’s escape routes. He returned to France a hero, and even during the French Revolution, commanded French Revolutionary forces. However, suspicions over his noble background led to his execution in 1793.George Weedon (1734 – 1793) received a lieutenant’s commission in the 3rd Virginia regiment in 1776. He led troops across the Delaware River with Washington’s forces on December 25, 1776, in the attack on Trenton that produced a pivotal American victory. Weedon became Brigadier General in February 1777. The 3rd regiment saw action at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and Weedon commanded a brigade consolidated from Pennsylvania and Virginia troops during the winter at Valley Forge. Despite his rapid rise through the ranks, Weedon resigned in 1778 after Congress reorganized the Continental Army and promoted his less-senior rival, Brigadier General William Woodford, ahead of him. Weedon never rejoined the Continental Army, although he continued to serve in the Virginia militia and rose to his former rank. During the Siege of Yorktown, Weedon’s brigade engaged British forces under Colonel Banastre “bloody Ban” Tarleton and surrounded their position at Gloucester Point starting on October 5 – 6, effectively blocking one of Cornwallis’s escape routes and forcing his surrender to Washington’s army.Please view our website for better images.
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