Battle of the Chesapeake

During the Battle of the Chesapeake the French naval fleet under Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse fought against a British fleet under Admiral Sir Thomas Graves. The battle took place near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in 1781.

The French navy moved into the Chesapeake bay in early September. A few days later, the British fleet arrived. Admiral De Grasse ordered his fleet out to sea for more room, and his ships prepared for battle. The French fleet was comprised of twenty-four ships of the line, armed with a total of 1,700 guns and 19,000 sailors. The smaller British fleet fielded nineteen ships of the line, with 1,400 guns total and 13,000 sailors.

The battle began around 4:30 in the afternoon. The British attacked first, and the French returned fire. The French targeted British sails and rigging, causing at least two British ships to lose control of their navgiation. The British fleet suffered more casualties than the French. By sunset the fighting ended. The British had suffered too much damage to continue the battle, so they sailed back to New York. The French had won by blocking the mouth of the Chesapeake.

French control of the Chesapeake was crucial to Washington’s campaign plan for the siege of Yorktown. Admiral De Grasse agreed to keep his ships in the bay to prevent any British reinforcements from reaching General Cornwallis’ army. Without outside support, the trapped British army could not last against the French and American siege. The British surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, ending the major combat operations between Britain and America in the Revolutionary War. The French victory in the Battle of the Chesapeake helped end the war.

Source: Battle of the Chesapeake
© 2022 Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top