Monday, August 10, is George Washington Day. Be ready for the whole truth about the Father of His Country. Here is a very short specimen of what you may expect.
“It sounds very well,” said Washington, “but how are we to be sure of victory against so great an army? Cornwallis has greater numbers on his side.”
“The French fleet, sir, will be essential,” replied Susanna. “Cornwallis, we hear, has taken a position on the peninsula. If the French can prevent his escape by water, and prevent his being reinforced or resupplied, then we need only block the land routes, and we have him.”
This seemed like good advice to Washington, and so Admiral de Grasse was summoned to a meeting with the General, at which La Fayette was also present, along with Susanna and me. We unrolled a large map of the peninsula between the York and James rivers, and the three great leaders studied it in intense silence for a while. At last Washington spoke.
“If we dispose our soldiers here, on the north and east, with Fayette’s French army on the south, then you, Admiral, should be able to cut off Cornwallis completely by water to the west.”
“Yes,” de Grasse agreed, “the plan, it is excellent. He shall not escape us, by blue.”
Susanna looked down at the map. “I believe, sirs, that you have mistaken the water for the land, and the land for the water. These wavy lines here, you see, indicate the water; the land is this area behind them, here.”
“Ah!” said Washington. “Thank you, Phillips. Well spotted. That is important information, and complicates the strategy considerably. We cannot expect the men to stand very long in water that is possibly up to their necks, or even over their heads. We shall need to make some adaptations; perhaps some sort of bridge or pier assembly, or better yet a series of floating wooden platforms with which we can surround the peninsula on three sides, and on which the men can stand dryshod for an indefinite period of time. It will require a good bit of wood, which will require a good bit of labor; although the labor will be hastened considerably if we can find any large stands of wild cherry. That will do for the army; but, unless I am very much mistaken, the disposition of the fleet will require at least as much thought and labor, if not more.”
“Very assuredly,” the Admiral agreed. “I believe that a construction of the rollers, made perhaps of the trunks of the trees, will be necessary for the placing of the ships in position, if indeed suitable trees find themselves nearby.”
“Well, there fortune favors us,” said Washington. “Tidewater Virginia has many stands of pine that grow straight and tall, with few branches until very near the top; such trees would, it seems to me, make admirable rollers for our purposes.”
Susanna was sitting with her head down, her eyes closed, and her fingers on her temples; but now she spoke again. “If I may be so bold, sirs, it might be better to reverse the positions of the army and the fleet.”
The General and the Admiral both looked at her blankly for a moment; then Washington spoke slowly and cautiously. “Do you mean, the army on the land, and the navy in the water?”
“Yes, sir,” Susanna said with care and patience. “Each force deployed in its native element, so to speak.”
“My word, Phillips! How much simpler that makes everything! You see, Admiral, why I insist on having Captain Phillips present whenever we discuss strategy.”