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How the French Saved America

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To the rebelling colonies, French assistance made the difference between looming defeat and eventual triumph. Even before the Declaration of Independence was issued, King Louis XVI and French foreign minister Vergennes were aiding the rebels. After the Declaration, that assistance broadened to include wages for our troops; guns, cannon, and ammunition; engineering expertise that enabled victories and prevented defeats; diplomatic recognition; safe havens for privateers; battlefield leadership by veteran officers; and the army and fleet that made possible the Franco-American victory at Yorktown.

Nearly ten percent of those who fought and died for the American cause were French. Those who fought and survived, in addition to the well-known Lafayette and Rochambeau, include François de Fleury, who won a Congressional Medal for valor, Louis Duportail, who founded the Army Corps of Engineers, and Admiral de Grasse, whose sea victory sealed the fate of Yorktown.

This illuminating narrative history vividly captures the outsize characters of our European brothers, their battlefield and diplomatic bonds and clashes with Americans, and the monumental role they played in America’s fight for independence and democracy.

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