GLOUCESTER, VIRGINIA. 3 October 1781. General Claude-Gabriel, Marquis de Choisy closed in on Gloucester on 3 October, establishing his headquarters at Sewell's Plantation and Ordinary. He formed a cordon completely across the peninsula about three miles out from the British lines and aggressively patrolled the resulting no-man's-land. The defenders under the field command of Banastre Tarleton attempted to oppose this advance but were driven back in a sharp skirmish. This engagement, the only one of substance on the north side of the York River during the siege, began at daybreak when Captain Johann von Ewald moved out of the British works with a task force of about sixty light infantry (primarily from his jäger company) and one hundred light horsemen to establish a screening line while the main body of British and Loyalist infantry conducted a foraging operation. The foragers were falling back to camp about ten in the morning when Choisy pushed forward. Armand, duc de Lauzun's dragoons, about thirty-five of whom were armed with lances, formed the allied vanguard, and the cavalry of Tarleton's Legion covered the British rear. Here is Lauzun's account of what happened:
[When enemy dragoons were reported, he says,] I went forward to learn what I could. I saw a very pretty woman … [who] … told me that Colonel Tarleton had left her house a moment before; that he was very eager to shake hands with the French Duke. I assured her that I had come on purpose to gratify him. She seemed very sorry for me, judging from experience, I suppose, that Tarleton was irresistible.
Lauzun went on:
I was not a hundred steps from the house when I heard pistol shots from my advance guard. I hurried forward at full speed to find a piece of ground where I could form a line of battle. As I arrived I saw the English cavalry in force three times my own; I charged it without halting; we met hand to hand. Tarleton saw me and rode towards me with pistol raised. We were about to fight single-handed between the two troops when his horse was thrown by one of his own dragoons pursued by one of my lancers. I rode up to him to capture him [as he lay pinned under his horse]; a troop of English dragoons rode in between us and covered his retreat; he left his horse with me. He charged me twice without breaking my line; I charged the third time, overthrew a part of his cavalry and drove him within the entrenchment of Gloucester. (Lauzun, pp. 207-208)
The action took place along a road that ran between enclosed fields about four miles from Gloucester. This lane debouched into an area where there were woods on Lauzun's left and an open field on the right; half a mile farther along the road was a small redoubt. After the last charge mentioned above by Lauzun, Tarleton reassembled his cavalry behind supporting infantry that came to his rescue and pushed the French hussars back. Next, Virginia militia under the experienced John Mercer came forward to form an unyielding line of allied infantry. Tarleton briefly tested the men, but when they stood firm, he withdrew back into the entrenchments, ending the action.
French casualties were three killed and sixteen wounded; adding Mercer's probably raises the allied total slightly. Estimates of losses on the British side range from twelve to fifty killed, wounded, and captured.
Lauzun, Armand, duc de. Memoirs of the Duc de Lauzun. Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff. London: G. Routledge, 1928.
revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.