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Database: Battle of the Chesapeake

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Date: September 5-13, 1781

In this battle, French ships under Admiral De Grasse held off a British fleet attempting to occupy Chesapeake Bay. I know it doesn't exactly sound scintillating, but bear with me here - this was critical to the British surrender that ended the war. I don't like to talk about it, but I will.

George Washington gave De Grasse a choice between attacking New York City (the British stronghold) or Virginia (Where British troops were stationed). De Grasse chose Virginia - the waters were easier to manoeuvre in, and he didn't have the equipment that a siege on New York would require.

De Grasse was stationed in the West Indies, but left in secrecy - or he tried to. The British noticed his warships missing. I don't know about you, but I'd find it suspicious if a bunch of warships went missing. It raises questions. And it wasn't hard to guess where they might be headed.

The British Navy sent ships to Chesapeake Bay to cut De Grasse off. However, they went the fast way, while De Grasse took the scenic route - staying out of sight and out of the major shipping lanes. So when the British arrived at the Chesapeake they found it... completely empty. They sailed on for New York to meet with the rest of their fleet there, leaving the Chesapeake Bay empty when De Grasse arrived at the end of August. Clever. And by taking the long way around, De Grasse collected enough Sea Miles to qualify for a free hip flask.

The British fleet returned less than a week later, but the damage was done. They were outnumbered by the French forces occupying the bay. I believe the technical term here is "whoops". (There's another one, but that begins with "F", so I'd better not.)

De Grasse's fleet sailed out to engage the British on open water. They fought for only two hours before night fell. It was the only time they would actually fire their guns. De Grasse led the British south, away from the mouth of the harbour, leaving time for French reinforcements to arrive from Rhode Island - and occupy the bay again.

Finding themselves badly outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the British returned to New York, effectively abandoning the troops they were supposed to supply in Virginia.

The battle was technically a draw, I'll take that. However, the larger victory came when the British troops in Virginia realized they were cut off and surrendered - effectively ending the Revolution.

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