[AMERICAN REVOLUTION -- BATTLE OF YORKTOWN]. CASTELLANE MAJASTRE, Henri César, Marquis de, ( ? - 1789), French Naval Commander. Autograph letter signed ("Castellane") to his wife, "York, on board the Marseillais," [VA], 24 October 1781. 3½ pages, small 4to, in French, envelope with impression of seal in orange wax, small ink-burn on page 2, otherwise in fine condition.
A FRENCH COMMANDER'S DESCRIPTION OF THE VICTORY AT YORKTOWN
A fine eyewitness account of the British surrender of Yorktown written by the Commander of the French 74-gun ship Marseillais. Castellane, a career officer in the French Navy, was part of the French fleet of the Admiral de Grasse which prevented the British navy from coming to the aid of Cornwallis by winning the battle of the Chesapeake Capes on September 5. Here, just days after the British capitulation at Yorktown, Castellane reviews the surrender and the naval engagement that preceded it: "I take advantage of the first occasion to write to you. We fought against the enemy on the 4th of September, the battle has been hard...I don't give you all the details, I send to you the York newspaper. The fleet entered the York River to protect the town. The city was surrounded and on the 19th of October, General Cornwallis was forced to lay down his arms and surrender. This is good news which could bring us an honourable peace - Cornwallis' Army had about 7000 men. They will be taken as prisoners to Virginia and Maryland...There was in York an English vessel of 50 guns, the 40-gun frigate Guadelupe, which they have burnt...and about 60 big merchant ships, some were full of wealth...Our general is pleased, which he deserves, because he is very talented."
Castellane refers to a British newspaper which stated that "...the English fleet had knowledge that the French had dropped anchor [across the Bay]...The French fleet had 24 boats, we only had 19. The battle began at 4 p.m....we fought ardently and close. We fought until the French had the windward. The shots stopped at sunset. By 10 p.m., the first-line boats were so damaged...that we couldn't form a line to fight the enemy. Other boats were sinking, despite all the pumps being in use. The fleets were there for 5 days, the French suffered a lot also, but less than the English...on the 10th of September, the ship the "Terrible" of 74 guns could not endure the broadsides and we burnt it...we had to go back to New York...we lost 91 men and 246 were injured." Castellane remarks: "I think that there were many more dead than they say, but they often hide the number of dead. The 11th of September, we seized two English frigates...According to one of the captains, the ship Intrepid which I had fought for one and a quarter hours had lost 48 men and 80 men were injured, and one frigate had to lend it 47 men. After that, I fought 3 ships: sails were tattered, 49 cannonball strikes caused the hull to leak. I only lost 4 men, 17 were injured. Nobody could be happier than I was."
Castellane captained his ship in later naval engagements of the Revolution, including the Battle of the Saints. First-hand accounts of the naval battle which made the victory at Yorktown possible are extremely rare.