- The Battle of Yorktown, 1781: A Reassessment, and: The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781
The 225th anniversary of the most successful combined operation in the Age of Fighting Sail has produced two additions to the growing corpus detailing and analyzing the Yorktown campaign. Each of these books makes a solid contribution to our understanding of divergent aspects of the Chesapeake encirclement. Neither deals with the major strategic decisions made in London, Paris, and Madrid that influenced this campaign. The French and Spanish desired to keep the faltering American rebellion an active theater so their national objectives in the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, and West Indies might be achieved. For this aspect of command, we will continue to depend on such old standbys as Piers Mackesy's The War for America (1965) and Jonathan Dull's The French Navy and American Independence (1975).
Briton John Grainger's grossly over-priced book concentrates on what military professionals call the operational level of war—that part of military operations between the grand strategy of national policy making and the tactical field operations. At the operational level senior military and naval commanders employ the personnel, equipment, and resources placed under their control to secure desired national objectives. In other words, they determine when and where battles will be fought and who will fight them. Grainger is fascinated by the complexity of these operational choices: "Grasse's decision to bring his whole fleet north; Rodney's decision to divide his fleet; Graves's decision to take his squadron on a cruise to New England waters; Clinton's decision to order Cornwallis to fortify himself; Cornwallis's choice of Yorktown as the site for a naval base. Any one of these decisions could have been different, and so it is necessary to discuss the alternatives facing the decisionmaker, and to try to sort out his reasons at the time" (p. 55).
Grainger goes over these decisions in considerable detail, often with excessively long quotations. His often controversial conclusions make this book worth studying. He is an apologist for Admiral Sir George Rodney whose "dispositions of his ships and fleet . . . were correct and well thought out, corresponding with accepted practice and in accord with his instructions." Grainger praises Admiral the Comte de Grasse who "demonstrated a grasp of the overall strategic situation and its possibilities which was clearly beyond the abilities of any of the British admirals (or their generals for that matter)" (p. 166). Although Admiral Thomas Graves was "gulled by Grasse who cunningly decoyed the whole British fleet away from the [Chesapeake] Bay entrance" (thereby allowing Admiral the Comte de Barras to bring the critical French artillery to Yorktown), his decisions "though generally uninspired, even inept and lacking imagination, did not affect the outcome in any way" (pp. 167–68). Grainger continues in this vein with other admirals and generals.
Living up to his subtitle—The Siege of Yorktown—Jerome Greene is unconcerned with strategic or operational levels of war; The Guns of Independence is purely tactical. An expansion of an American Revolution bicentennial study published in a limited edition for National Park Service personnel, Greene's updated and revised study is the product of three-quarters of a century of archaeological and documentary research by the [End Page 503] staff of the Colonial National Historic Park. Supplemented by the excellent cartographic work of Theodore Savas, Greene describes the British defensive works and the Franco-American entrenchments, redoubts, and batteries with detail that often overwhelms the reader. There is, for instance, a two-page footnote identifying a British captain who fought at the battle of the Hook, 3 October 1781. Greene deftly weaves contemporary theories of siege craft and gunnery into the narrative of Yorktown developments.
Although there are some...