By March 1780, Lafayette returned from France and landed in Boston with his recruits: 5,500 men and 5 frigates. In addition to Lafayette’s forces, the Americans received another French ally: Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, who arrived in Newport, RI with 7,000 troops and was given the rank of Lt. General in the Continental Army. Rochambeau actually commanded a larger force than George Washington. Rochambeau met up with Washington in Wethersfield, Connecticut to plan a decisive assault on the British.
Washington wanted to drive the British out of both New York City and the Chesapeake Bay, but Rochambeau believed that the Chesapeake would be a more strategic battle. Either way, the Generals determined that additional naval forces would be needed for either effort, and Rochambeau dispatched a request to
French Navy Lt. General François-Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse, commander of the French West Indies forces, to sail to the Chesapeake. Rochambeau and Washington then restaged their forces in White Plains and Dobbs Ferry, NY.
De Grasse received the letters in July, agreed with Rochambeau’s analysis, and set sail. At the same time, British General Lord Cornwallis was setting up a major British military presence in the Chesapeake and Potomoc area of Virginia, but was being contained and harassed In Yorktown by Lafayette, who had confronted and contained him there. Washington and Rochambeau set out on a combined march to Virginia, while Cornwallis waited for additional supplies from the British Navy.
In September 1781, Washington and Rochambeau met up with the Marquis de Lafayette's troops.
Within days, De Grasse’s naval fleet reached the Chesapeake as planned. The British fleet arrived to deliver supplies to Cornwallis, only to find themselves in a battle with de Grasse for control of the bay in the Battle of the Chesapeake. The naval battle was a decisive win for the French.
On September 28, 1781, with DeGrasse’s French fleet blockading the British reinforcements, the combined forces of Rochambeau, Lafayette, and Washington laid siege to Lord Cornwallis’ forces.
Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, and American Independence was won.
Ammunition, military expertise, troops, naval power….all were brought to bear by France…and without French participation, there would have been no American victory. So the next time you have an inclination to say something smug about France or French military capabilities….a "merci, mes frères!" might be more appropriate.