Reading for the Weekend -Admiral de Grasse

Admiral de GrasseNow, time to dive into my primary interest and have a look at Admidal de Grasse and American Independence by Charles Lee Lewis (eISBN: 978-1-61251-473-4). As I am not really reading French, biographies about French navy, revolutionary or Napoleonic era appears to be rather thin and one would wish that some French books would be translated to english – for example about Suffren.

So, in that respect, Admiral de Grasse was somewhat pleasant surprise, albeit the book has certain distinct tone – de Grasse is by no doubt hero for American independence but the treatment of his life in the book is perhaps stressing the fact perhaps a bit too much. Of course, British admirals and generals receive similar treatment in British literature and when reading British biographies it makes one wonder at times how inept the British were when they were defeated if French had so little vigor and enterprise, and if they so readily surrendered at sight of British flag.

So, it is refreshing to read a book that does shed some light to the French navy, when it is operating well. It is true that French navy was, especially during Napoleonic era in quite poor state. During Revolutionary wars however, French were very close, and at times exceeding the British. Suffren tactically beat British squadrons multiple times in the Indian Ocean, but failed to achieve anything durable. De Grasse on the other hand had a brilliant career, but overwhelmed in the Saintes tarnished his reputation for the rest of his life. It seems that only historians remember that he too, like much celebrated Suffren did indeed beat the great British admirals at high seas but with a distinct difference. Victory obtained by de Grasse had overwhelming consequences. British failure to relieve Cornwallis cornered in Yorktown spelled the end for American War of Independence and with it a came to British bit more than minor territorial concessions.

Book covers very well the French naval doctrines, the tactics and the battles that de Grasse took part. In all, it is very pleasurable read and would like more authors to follow the suite. Information content is very good without bogging the story down. I would really recommend the book for anyone that is bored with the one sidedness of the english literature. While it may be a tad bit toned towards French excellence, it does serve as a good counterweight and may also help understanding why certain battles needed in a way they did for French. British and French may not have followed the same rules of combat, and the goals may not have been same.

For French Bourbon King, victory in the American War of Independence brought another plight. French revolution took foothold precisely because the victory in Americas, and by no doubt did the notable families realize that their days were numbered and that they were soon to be in queue for guillotine. In the same frenzied revolutionary fever that Napoleon was forged, did the good, well performing French navy die – for the man of artillery had no need for navy. Admiral de Grasse, the unknowing instigator, died just short of the French revolution.


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