Wikijunior:American Founding Fathers/Marquis de La Fayette
Who is this?
Marquis de La Fayette
What did he do that made him important?
Marquis de La Fayette arrived in America from France in 1777 at the age of 19. He was looking for a commission as an officer in the Continental Army and went to Congress to seek one. To his disappointment he as not assigned a unit, and was about to return home, when Benjamin Franklin wrote to George Washington and asked that Washington take La Fayette as an Aide-de-camp. Washington agreed, and first met La Fayette on August 10, 1777. La Fayette made a major impression on Washington when Washington remarked that he was embarrassed to show a French officer the state of their camps. La Fayette replied "I am here to learn, not to teach."
Lafayette's first battle was the loss at Brandywine on 11 September 1777. After the British outflanked the Americans, Washington acquiesced to a request by Lafayette to join General John Sullivan. Upon his arrival, Lafayette went with the Third Pennsylvania Bridge, under Brigadier Thomas Conway and attempted to rally the unit to face the attack. In face of the British and Hessian numeric superiority, Lafayette was shot in the leg. During the American retreat, before being treated for his wound, Lafayette created a control point allowing a more orderly retreat Following the battle, he was cited by George Washington for "bravery and military ardour" and was recommended for the command of a division in a letter to the congress on 1 November.
After two months of rest, Lafayette was well enough to return to the field and assisted General Nathanael Greene in reconnaissance of British positions in New Jersey. With 300 soldiers he defeated a numerically superior Hessian force in Gloucester on 24 November 1777. He returned to Valley Forge for the winter, where he was asked by the War Board, headed by General Horatio Gates, to travel to Albany, New York where he led troops preparing for an invasion of Canada. Gates was capitalizing on his success in the Battle of Saratoga, hoping to remove Washington from command, and this plan included separating him from Lafayette. Lafayette awaited the coming approval from Washington before departing for Albany, where he found the men insufficient to mount a Canadian invasion. Lafayette wrote Washington of the situation and made plans to return to Valley Forge. Before his departure, he was able to recruit the Oneida tribe, who referred to Lafayette as Kayewla, which means fearsome horsemen, to the American side.
Lafayette returned to Valley Forge and Gates' plan to assume control of the Army was halted. Meanwhile, in March 1778, treaties signed by America and France were made public and France formally recognized American independence. In reply to the French entrance into the war, the British withdrew from Philadelphia and General Howe sent 5,000 soldiers to attack Lafayette, hoping to capture him for his political value. On 20 May 1778, Lafayette was warned of the impending attack, and, in an attempt to feign numerical superiority, he ordered that a few men appear from the woods, on an outcropping known as Battle of Barren Hill (present day Lafayette Hill) periodically to fire upon the British. Lafayette was then able to cross Matson's Ford with the remainder of his force. As the British evacuated their force north, the Continental Army attacked at the Monmouth Courthouse, with Lafayette present.
In 1781, Washington sent Lafayette down to Virginia to keep Lord Cornwallis and his army of 9,000 men in Yorktown, Virginia, until Washington arrived with the main Franco-American Army.