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- This article is about the battle itself. You may be looking for the memory of the same name.
The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes or Battle of the Capes, was a naval battle in the American Revolutionary War.
The battle took place near Chesapeake Bay on 5 September 1781, and saw the combined forces of the Assassin vessel Aquila and the French Navy under François-Joseph Paul de Grasse fight against a British fleet under Sir Thomas Graves. When the Battle of Chesapeake Bay began, General Marquis de Lafayette requested the Aquila give support in the battle. The French Admiral de Grasse believed that he would receive a large fleet and experienced captains, but instead he received only the Aquila and her captain Connor.
While irritated at the concept, de Grasse gave Connor two frigates for assistance, the Marsellois and the Saint Espirit, and asked them to engage the encroaching fleet while he and the main armada of French ships led by the Man O' War, Ville de Paris, attacked the bulk of the British force. During the battle, the trio of ships sank several gunboats and at least four English frigates, before the Marsellois was destroyed by an English vessel midway through the battle.
Once all the English frigates had been destroyed, HMS Barfleur sailed into the battle and sank the Saint Espirit, before she managed to disable the Aquila's guns. Due to lacking any other means of attack, Connor decided to destroy HMS Barfleur by ramming her, getting on board in hand-to-hand combat, and killing her captain. Ultimately proving successful, the battle ended with the French as the victors.
Often considered the war's most decisive battle, it not only broke the British blockade of the Colonies, but also reversed Cornwallis' plan to trap Washington and Lafayette at Yorktown. His reinforcements never arrived due to the French victory in the Chesapeake, and as such, Washington was victorious at Yorktown, capturing Cornwallis and ending major conflict in the Colonies up until the Treaty of Paris.
The Battle also acted as a huge bolster to French naval pride, leading to a brief string of decisive French naval victories during the French Revolutionary Wars.