Road to Victory

George Washington Painting
General George Washington by Charles Willson Peale

Courtesy of Independence National Historical Park

On May 6, 1778, the sounds of spring at Valley Forge were eclipsed as over 18,000 soldiers of the Continental Army marched onto the open field known as the Grand Parade. They were to demonstrate their newfound professionalism for a group of dignitaries, including the French ambassador. The soldiers formed two parallel lines and fired a perfect feu de joie, three rolling volleys, in joyous celebration of the new alliance between the young United States and France. Through this critical alliance the French formally recognized the United States as a sovereign nation, and pledged troops and a navy to support the cause of independence.

French Model 1777 Flintlock Musket
French Model 1777 Flintlock Musket. This model offered advanced improvements in French musket design. The earliest muskets of the 1777 design were issued to the forces under General Rochambeau.

George C. Neumann Collection
Valley Forge National Historical Park


In July 1780, French General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, sailed into Newport, Rhode Island with an army of 5,300 officers and men. After wintering there, Rochambeau’s army marched through Connecticut and into New York to join General George Washington and the Continental Army. Rochambeau and Washington devised a southern
campaign to attack British General Lord Charles Cornwallis in Virginia.

The portrait to the right shows General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau by Charles Willson Peale. Courtesy of Independence National Historical Park

Yorktown Map
From Life of George Washington by John Marshall

Courtesy of Valley Forge National Historical Park

Through the late summer heat, the allied armies of Washington and Rochambeau marched over the 400-mile route through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and into Virginia, reaching Williamsburg in late September. Together they attacked and held under siege the British-fortified town of Yorktown. A French fleet under the command of Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse blocked the Chesapeake Bay, preventing British naval reinforcement and an avenue of sea escape. On October 19, 1781, after three weeks of battle, the long road ended in victory. To the tune The World Turned Upside Down, almost 8,000 British soldiers surrendered to a 17,000 Franco-American force. When word reached England, Prime Minister Lord North exclaimed in anguish, "Oh God! It is all over."

Last updated: February 10, 2016

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