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Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Battle of the Capes 1781

 
 
Battle of the Capes 1781 Marker image. Click for full size.
National Park Service, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, August 16, 2018
1. Battle of the Capes 1781 Marker
Viewing north towards marker.
Inscription.  In September 1781, a naval engagement between two powerful fleets denied British forces access to the Chesapeake Bay and trapped Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. This little known battle helped end British domination in America. What led to this dramatic turn of events? After six years of war, the colonies seemed far from independence. The young nation was almost bankrupt and the army seemed to be disintegrating. A decisive victory was essential to survival.

General Washington, camped outside of New York City, knew that only by the cooperative efforts of his small force of Continental Soldiers and the French Army (commanded by General Rochambeau), together with the French Navy (commanded by Admiral De Grasse) would any chance of victory be possible. On July 28 De Grasse, who was in the West Indies, informed Washington that his fleet would sail for the Chesapeake Bay. Washington moved his army south in hopes of capturing Cornwallis, who was fortifying Yorktown. The possibility of victory hinged on the arrival of De Grasse and his ability to maintain French naval supremacy in the Chesapeake Bay.

On August 30, the French fleet,
Battle of the Capes 1781, Gateway to the Chesapeake Bay, and Cape Henry Memorial Cross Markers. image. Click for full size.
National Park Service, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, August 16, 2018
2. Battle of the Capes 1781, Gateway to the Chesapeake Bay, and Cape Henry Memorial Cross Markers.
Viewing north towards the markers. The French British Naval Engagement Off the Virginia Capes Marker is located in the background.
consisting of 24 ships of the line, sailed past Cape Henry into the Bay, bringing reinforcements and supplies to the American forces near Yorktown. The British fleet of 19 ships, under Admiral Graves sailed form New York on September 1, setting the stage for a dramatic confrontation. By September 5, at 9:30 a.m., the French were sighted within the Bay. The approaching British fleet had the advantage of the wind and the tide, while the French had not yet formed its line of battle. Graves, however, chose to follow the Royal Navy's fighting instructions and did not disrupt the French Fleet's emerging battle line. For six and one-half hours the fleets maneuvered for position. The French fleet gradually move out past Cape Henry into the Atlantic. Finally, at 4:15 p.m., the leading ships opened fire. An indecisive but vigorous cannonade continued until 6:30 p.m. The forward British ships were heavily engaged and suffered losses in masts and rigging. The British and French fleets continued to sail on parallel course for four days. On the evening of September 9, the French fleet slipped away and headed back to the Chesapeake Bay where it was joined by an additional French squadron which had arrived from Rhode Island. Graves decided his ships were too badly damaged to continue fighting. On September 13, he made the fateful decision to return to New York for repairs.

This action
Cape Henry Memorial Entrance Sign. image. Click for full size.
National Park Service, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, August 16, 2018
3. Cape Henry Memorial Entrance Sign.
Viewing east towards the sign, which features the arrowhead logo of the National Park Service.
in which no Americans participated, and in which few men or ships were lost, gave America the opportunity it needed for independence. October 19, 1781, Cornwallis was forced to surrender his army to Washington. Thus the English rule which had begun at Jamestown in 1607 was effectively ended at Yorktown in 1781. And Cape Henry, strategically located, played a role in the history of these two events.

Painting, "Battle of the Capes," credit to U.S. Navy
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the The Washington-Rochambeau Route marker series.
 
Location. 36° 55.671′ N, 76° 0.548′ W. Marker is in Fort Story, Virginia, in Virginia Beach. Marker is at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and New Guinea Road, on the right when traveling north on Atlantic Avenue. Enter the parking lot for the Cape Henry Memorial, which is maintained by the National Park Service. The marker is at the trailhead located at the northeast corner of the parking lot. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Virginia Beach VA 23459, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Cape Henry Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); François Joseph Paul de Grasse (within shouting distance of this marker); French British Naval Engagement Off the Virginia Capes (within shouting distance
French British Naval Engagement Off the Virginia Capes Marker image. Click for full size.
National Park Service, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, August 16, 2018
4. French British Naval Engagement Off the Virginia Capes Marker
Viewing north towards the marker, which is located beyond the Battle of the Capes 1781 marker. The map in this marker identifies the following geographic locations: the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Charles, Cape Henry, Chesapeake Bay, Hampton, Hampton Roads, Lynnhaven Roads, Old York Comfort, Tail of the Horseshoe, and Yorktown. Map also shows position of French and British ships and/or fleets at 12:00 noon, 2:00 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:15 pm, and 7:00 pm.
of this marker); Battle of the Capes (within shouting distance of this marker); First Landing (approx. 0.2 miles away); First Public Works Project of the United States Government (approx. 0.2 miles away); History of Cape Henry Lighthouse (approx. 0.2 miles away); British Naval Blockade and Cape Henry Lighthouse / The War of 1812 (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fort Story.
 
Also see . . .
1. Cape Henry Memorial, National Park Service. (Submitted on August 20, 2019.)
2. Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail, National Park Service. (Submitted on August 20, 2019.)
3. Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association, Inc. (Submitted on August 20, 2019.)
 
Categories. Colonial EraWar, US RevolutionaryWaterways & Vessels
 
Gateway to the Chesapeake Bay Marker. image. Click for full size.
National Park Service, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, August 16, 2018
5. Gateway to the Chesapeake Bay Marker.
Located adjacent to the Battle of the Capes 1781 Marker. Viewing north towards marker.
Cape Henry Memorial Cross Marker image. Click for full size.
National Park Service, Thomas Stone National Historic Site, August 16, 2018
6. Cape Henry Memorial Cross Marker
Located adjacent to the Battle of the Capes 1781 Marker. Viewing north towards the marker.
 

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Credits. This page was last revised on August 20, 2019. This page originally submitted on August 20, 2019. This page has been viewed 75 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on August 20, 2019. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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