Crisis at the Chesapeake: The Royal Navy and the Struggle for America 1775-1783
The Battle of the Chesapeake, known also as the Battle of the Virginia Capes, fought on September 5, 1781, was in effect the clash that determined the outcome of the American Revolutionary War. The naval battle was tactically indecisive in itself, with no ships taken or destroyed by either side (though one British 74-gun ship was scuttled and burned after the action). Admiral de Grasse's great achievement was to deny entry to Chesapeake Bay to the British fleet under the command of Admiral Graves, so denying supplies and reinforcements to Cornwallis's forces besieged at Yorktown. This strategic victory at sea ensured the British defenders' surrender to the combination before Yorktown of revolutionary forces under George Washington and French troops under the Comte de Rochambeau, "the world turned upside down." The naval battle's importance seems previously largely to have been overlooked in favor of the more striking British victories later on in the war, such as the Battle of the Saintes (la Bataille de la Dominique) the next year which, however, occurred too late to save the loss to Britain of its American colonies.
This is now addressed in no uncertain terms by Quintin Barry's well-written and fascinating study. As well as covering the background, causes and run-up to the battle itself, he delves deeply into the characters and histories of the commanders involved, from the various admirals to the politicians. The battle itself is then comprehensively covered, with particular attention to the confusion of signaled orders given by Graves and the contrary interpretations of them by his subordinate admirals, Sir Samuel Hood and Francis Drake. The aftermath is well covered, and events up to the end of the war.
Copiously illustrated as it is with maps and contemporary images, Quintin Barry's work on this strategically influential action will find a worthy place on the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in the naval history of the eighteenth century.
- Warwick, England: Helion & Company, 2021
- 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, softcover, 260 pages.
- Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $37.50
- ISBN: 9781913336530
Reviewed by: Roger Marsh, Killaloe. Ireland