Most Americans do not appreciate the extent to which victory in the American Revolution was due to the leadership of a French aristocrat. As Nathaniel Philbrick
demonstrates in his new book In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown
(Viking, 2018), it was Admiral Comte de Grasse’s naval victories which made possible George Washington’s decisive victory at the battle of Yorktown. Such a victory did not seem possible at the start of 1781, as the British imperial forces seemed locked in an intractable stalemate with the rebelling colonists. In that year, however, the assistance of the French helped to tip the balance, not just on sea but in the land war as well. Once Admiral de Grasse’s ships drove off the British fleet in the battle of the Chesapeake, Washington was able to lay siege to General Charles Cornwallis’s forces at Yorktown with a combined Franco-American army, defeating the main British force in the Southern states and realizing America’s independence.