In May 1781, French Admiral de Barras arrived in Rhode Island to take command of the blockaded fleet there and brought word that Admiral de Grasse would be bringing the long-awaited French fleet later in the year. General George Washington met with French Lt. General Rochambeau to plan operations up to and after Admiral de Grasse arrived. They decided to operate around New York City where Lt. General Henry Clinton was located, although Washington feared that Maj. General Nathanael Greene could not keep Lt. General Charles Cornwallis occupied in the Carolinas and would soon move into Virginia in an effort to link up with Clinton.
As a matter of fact, following the loss of his light infantry and cavalry at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, burning his baggage train in pursuit of General Greene later that month and a costly victory at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, General Cornwallis abandoned the Carolinas in May 1781. He arrived in Petersburg Virginia later that month and soon received reinforcements from General Clinton, which increased his force to around 7,000 men.
General Cornwallis spent the next couple of months maneuvering against the Maquis de Lafayette in an effort to destroy the Frenchman's roving force, but aside from a few raids in the countryside, Cornwallis was unable to carry out his objective. He also was also receiving conflicting orders from General Clinton, so he now moved to establish a fort on the James River Peninsula at Yorktown as well as across the river at Gloucester. His fortifications were ready by August 22, 1781.
Meanwhile, General Washington received word that Admiral de Grasse was on his way to the Chesapeake Bay area. Washington immediately abandoned his operations around New York and while decoying General Clinton like he was preparing to attack various coastal positions around New York began marching south for Virginia in late August. While Washington was marching through Philadelphia, Clinton...