Dutchess County (N.Y.). Board of Supervisors. cn.

Memoirs of General La Fayette, embracing details of his public and private life, sketches of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the downfall of Bonaparte, and the restoration of the Bourbons. With biographical notices of individuals who have been distinguished actors in these events online

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Online LibraryDutchess County (N.Y.). Board of Supervisors. cnMemoirs of General La Fayette, embracing details of his public and private life, sketches of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the downfall of Bonaparte, and the restoration of the Bourbons. With biographical notices of individuals who have been distinguished actors in these events → online text (page 13 of 37)
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the Americans, he says, " the boy cannot escape me ;"
and it was, perhaps, this certainty in his Lordship's
mind, which accounts for his not pressing La Fayette's
retreat with more vigour, and bringing him to action,



La Fayette was often not more than twenty miles from
the British General, who had at his disposal, at least
one thousand horse and mounted infantry. Putting
one soldier behind each of those mounted, he could
by an easy exertion, in any twenty-four hours, have
placed two thousand veterans, conducted by skilful
and experienced officers, close to his enemy ; whose
attempt to retreat would have been so embarrassed
and delayed, as to have given time for the main body
to have approached. Then La Fayette's destruction
would have been as easy as inevitable. Why this
plain mode of operation was overlooked, and neglect-
ed by Cornwallis, did then and does still excite the
surprise of all intelligent soldiers conversant with that

La Fayette did not intermit his retreat, until he had
crossed the Rapidan, the southern branch of the Rap-
pahannoc. Here, Gen. Wayne joined him with eight
or nine hundred men. Lord Cornwallis, finding that
his enemy's retreat was more rapid than his own pur-
suit, gave up the chace, and determined to employ his
force in committing to the flames the remaining re-
sources of the state, which had already been greatly
exhausted by the plunder and fire of his army.

" To this decision," says Lee, " he seems to have
been led by his conviction that Wayne, united to La
Fayette, diminished so little the relative size of himself
and his antagonist, as to forbid his inattention to other
objects, deemed by himself important, while it would
increase the chance of striking his meditated blow
against both.

" Cornwallis therefore, did not miscalculate, when
he presumed that the junction of Wayne would in-
crease, rather than diminish, his chance of bringing
his antagonist to action. Had the British general
pressed forward, determined never to stop until he

* Lee's Memoirs.


forced his enemy to the last appeal, La Fayette or
Wayne must have fallen, if severed from each other ;
and if united, both might have been destroyed. Had
the destruction of La Fayette been effected, Lord
Cornwallis had only to take post on the heights above
Stafford court house, with his left resting on the vil-
lage of Falmouth, to have secured all the plentiful
country in his rear, between the two rivers, as well as
that on the southern margin of the Rappahannoc ; and
to have established a convenient communication with
such portion of his fleet, as he might require to be^ent
up the Potomac."*

But the vigilance of the young General, in observing
the designs of his enemy, and his activity in eluding
the deep laid stratagems of his experienced antagonist,
did not permit his Lordship to enjoy such a prospect.

Having abandoned the pursuit of La Fayette, the
British commander retired first to Richmond, and af-
terwards to Williamsburg.!

The Marquis followed with cautious circumspec-
tion, taking care to keep the command of the upper
country, and to avoid a general engagement. On the
18th of June, while in the neighbourhood of Rich-
mond, he was joined by Baron Steuben, with four or
five hundred new levies. He now had two thousand
regular troops, and although his policy was to avoid a
general engagement, he was in a condition to harass
the rear of the enemy by his light troops, prevent their
foraging, and impede their march.

On his way, the policy of his Lordship to destroy
property, both private and public, was continually
pursued, and great depredations were every where
committed. Tobacco, especially, was set on fire
wherever it was found. About the middle of June,
the British army left Williamsburg, and encamped in
such a manner as to cover a ford leading to the island

* Lee. t Marshall.


of Jamestown. On the next morning, La Fayette,
ever watchful of the motions of his adversary, changed
his position, and pushed his best troops within nine
miles of the British camp, with the intention of attack-
ing their rear, when the main body should have passed
over into Jamestown.

His vigilant enemy, suspecting this design, deter-
mined to effect by stratagem, what he had found nei-
ther pursuit nor retreat could accomplish. With this
view he drew up his army on the main land, as com-
pactly as possible, and at the same time, arranged a
few troops on the island so as to appear like, an army.
La Fayette's reconnoitering parties were completely
deceived by this display ; and all his intelligence con-
curred in the information that the main body of the
British army had passed over into Jamestown in the
night. Not doubting the truth of what he heard, La
Fayette now began to prepare for the execution of his
plan. He detached some riflemen and militia to ha-
rass the enemy's out-posts, while he advanced at the
head of his regular troops, to cut off the retreat of
their rear,

As he came near the enemy, every appearance was
calculated to confirm the information he had received.
The picquets of the enemy were driven in by his ad-
vanced parties without much resistance. But in a
matter of so great importance, the wary La Fayette
determined to trust his own eyes only, and moved for-
ward to reconnoitre the camp himself, and to judge of
its strength by his own observation.

He soon perceived that the force of the enemy was
much more considerable than had been apprehended,
and that the stratagem of his veteran foe had already
brought him much too near his more powerful army.
He hastened back to warn his officers of the danger,
but found Wayne, who always chose to decide matters
with the sword, closely engaged. Wayne had discov-
ered a piece of artillery which was but weakly guard


ed, and which was probably left in that situation as a
decoy. This he determined to seize, and Major Gal-
van was advanced for that purpose. At this moment,
he discovered the whole British army, arranged in
battle array, marching out against him. It was too
late to retreat, and, with his characteristic boldness,
Wayne, with a rapid advance, made a gallant charge
on the enemy's line. A sharp conflict ensued, which,
for some time, was supported with great spirit. La
Fayette now came up, and finding Wayne's party out
flanked both on the right and left, ordered him to re-
treat. This was done in time to save his party, and
he fell back to the line of regular troops about half a
mile in his rear. The American army then retreated
under cover of night through a difficult ravine, aad
fell back six miles, when, rinding that the enemy were
not in pursuit, they encamped for the night.

The Americans lost in this action, in killed, wound-
ed and taken prisoners, one hundred and eighteen,
ten of whom were officers. The enemy's loss was
much less, being only five officers and seventy pri-

Most fortunately for La Fayette, Lord Cornwallis
did not improve the advantage he had gained. Sus-
pecting his march through the defile to be a stratagem
of the American General to draw him into an ambus-
cade, and at the same time considering the boldness of
the whole measure as indicative of a great force, his
Lordship supposed the assailing army to be much
stronger than it really was, and therefore would per-
mit of no pursuit. In the course of the night, therefore,
he crossed to Jamestown, and soon afterwards pro-
ceeded to Portsmouth.

" Thus," says Col. Lee, " concluded the summer
campaign of Lord Cornwallis in Virginia. For eight
or nine weeks, he had been engaged in the most active
movements, at the head of an army completely fitted
for the arduous scenes of war, warmly attached to its


General, proud in its knowledge of its own ability, and
ready to encounter every danger and difficulty to give
success to its operations. The inferiority of La Fay-
ette in number, in quality, in cavalry, in arms and
equipments, have been often recurred to, and cannot
be doubted,"

Lord Corn wallis was the same General who had at-
tacked Gates at the head of a very superior army, and
who afterwards attacked Greene, though nearly double
his number. In both instances, he risked his own de-
struction, and although victorious in the issue, was,
upon both occasions, on the threshold of ruin.

Yet straage, when the primary object of the British
General was the annihilation of La Fayette's army, he
never effected it, even in part, though manoeuvering
for several weeks in his face, in an open country, and
remote from every kind of support, except the occa-
sional aid of the militia.

Lord Cornwalli? was considered among the bravest,
and was certainly one of the most experienced, of the
British Generals ever sent to America. His omission
to attack the American army, under almost any cir-
cumstance, has been considered unaccountable. But
a re-consideration of the history of this campaign will
show the probable reasons why he did not. Feeling
himself greatly superior, as a General, to the youth
who opposed him, he, at the opening of the campaign,
considered the American army as certainly within his
power, and he only waited a convenient time and place
to effect its destruction. The junction of Wayne with
La Fayette, although it did not alter the relative size
of the two armies so as to make a battle, on the part of
Cornwallis, a hazardous measure, yet the dispropor-
tion being le^s, it required a correspondent advantage
to make his success as certain as before. This cir-
cumstance seems to have had much weight with the
British commander. His great exertions to prevent
this junction, and his willingness to retreat soon after,


shows that, although he often invited La Fa)ette to a
general engagement, he always had respect to his own
position, as well as to that of bu enemy, and was not
unwilling to come to action under any circumstance as

But the consummate generalship of La Fayette du-
ring this whole campaign, was a subject of great praise,
not only from his comrades in arms, and the nation,
but even from the enemy whom he opposed.

The rapidity of his retreat, his sagacity and vigi-
lance, displayed in penetrating and counteracting the
designs of his more powerful adversary, and the adroit-
ness with which he extricated his army from the trap
which Cornwallis had laid, near Jamestown, displayed
the experienced veteran rather than the youthful Mar-

The American General had great difficulties to sur-
mount, as well as to guard against his formidable foe,
while pressing him on his retreat. Wayne directing
his most efficient aid, was far on the right ; and the
Baron Steuben,* with the Virginian levies, was as far

* Frederick William Augustus Baron de Steuben; knight
of the order of fidelity in Germany, and Major General in
the army of the United States. This highly distinguished
personage was a Prussian officer, aid de camp to the great
Frederick, and held the rank of Lieutenant General in the
army of that consummate commander. He arrived in A-
merica, December, 1777, and presented himself, with his
credentials to Congress, proffering his services in our army,
without any claim to rank, and requested permission only to
render such assistance as might be in his power, in the cha-
racter of a volunteer. In thus devoting himself to our cause,
he made an immense sacrifice, by relinquishing his honora-
ble station and emoluments in Europe. Congress voted him
their thanks for his zeal, and the disinterested tender of his
services, and he joined the main army, under Gen. Washing-
ton, at Valley Forge. His qualifications for a teacher of the
system of military tactics were soon manifested ; having for


on the left. The public stores were deposited in sev-
eral magazines ; and the great body of the inhabitants

many years practised on the system which the King of Prus-
sia had introduced into his own army. In May, 1778, by
the strong recommendation of the Commander in Chief,
Congress appointed him Inspector General, with the rank
of Major General. He commenced his duties as Inspector,
beginning with the officers, who were formed into separate
bodies, frequently exercised, and instructed in the various
movements and evolutions, when manceuvering battalions,
brigades, or divisions of the army. He exerted all his
powers for the establishment o;'a regular sys'em of discipline,
economy and uniformity among our heterogeneous bodies of
soldiers. In the discharge of this duty, and to effect his fa-
vorite object, he encountered obstacles to which a less zeal-
ous spirit would have yielded as insurmountable. By his
superior talents, indefatigable industry and perseverance, he
rendered a service to our army, without which it could not
have attained to a condition capable of achieving hononr
and glory in the face of European veteran troops. Charm-
ed with the neat and soldierly appearance of those who had
profited by his instructions, and duly improved in the art of
discipline, and equally detesting the soldier whose awkward
unmilitary conduct betrayed his negligence, there never was
a review but the Baron rewarded the one with more than
praise, and censured the other, whether officer or soldier,
with a severity equal to his deserts. While reviewing our
regiment, he noticed in the ranks a very spruce young lad,
handsomely formed, standing erect, with the air of a genteel
soldier, his gun and equipments in perfect order. The Ba-
ron, struck with his military appearance, patted him under
his chin, to elevate his head still more erect, viewed him with
a smile, and said, " how long have you been a soldier ? you
are oue pretty soldier in miniature, how old are you ?" Sev-
enteen, Sir. " Have you got a wife?" then calling to the
Colonel, said, " Colonel Jackson, this is one fine soldier in

Dining at head quarters with Robert Morris, Esq. and
other gentlemen, Mr. Morris complained bitterly of the mis-
erable state of the treasury. " Why," said the Baron, " are


below the mountains, were flying from their houses,
with their wives, their children, and the most valuable

you not financier, why do you not continue to create funds ?"
u I have done all I can, it is not possible for me to do more."
" But you remain financier, though without finances ?"
" Yes." •< Well, then. I do not think you are so honest a
man as my cook. He came to me one day at Valley Forge,
and said, Baron, I am your cook, and you have nothing to
cook but a piece of lean beef, which is hung up by a string
before the fire. Your negro waggoner can turn the string
and do as well as I can, you have promised me ten dollars a
month, but as you have nothing to cook, I wish to be dis-
charged, and nor longer be chargeable to you. That is an
honest fellow, Morris "

Though never perfectly master of our language, the Baron
understood and spoke it with sufficient correctness. He
would sometimes on purpose miscall names, and blend or a-
do.pt words similar in sound, dissimilar in meaning. Dining
at head quarters, which he did frequently, Mrs. Washington
asked what amusement he had recourse to, now that the
certainty of peace had relaxed his labours. " I read, my
lady, and write, and play at chess, and yesterday, for the
first time, I went a fishing. My gentleman told me it was a
very fine business to catch fish, and I did not know but that
this new trade might, by and by, be useful to me — but I
fear I never can succeed — I sat in the boat three hours, it
being exceedingly warm, and I caught only two fish ; they
told me it was fine sport." " What kind of fish did you
take Baron ?" " I am not sure, my lady, but I believe one
ofthemwasa whale." " A whale, Baron, in the North
river ?" " Yes, I assure you, a very fine whale my lady ;
— it was a whale, was it not ?" appealing to one of his aids.
" An eel, Baron " " I beg your pardon, my lady, but that
gentleman certainly told me it was a whale." " General
Washington, now that his mind was comparatively at ease,
enjoyed a pleasantry of this kind highly."

For the proper understanding of the following bon mot of
Gen. Washington, it must be mentioned, that at Tatwa falls
there was a miserable deformed object, who had lain in his
cradle for twenty-seven years. His head was eighteen inch-


of their personal property, to seek protection in the
mountains. The state authorities, executive and le-
es in length, and the rest of his body twenty- seven inches.
He received numerous visiters, among whom was his Ex-
cellency, who asked him wherher he was a whig or tory 1
He answered as he had been taught, that he had never tak-
en an active part on either side. u A worthy gentleman and
lady came out of New York after the preliminaries of peace
were signed, to visit their friends, and resided in the neigh-
bourhood of Baron Steuben, by whom the whole party, to-
gether with his Excellency and lady, were invited to dine.
It is proper, said the Baron, that your Excellency should be

apprized that Mr and his lady from New York are to

cjine with me, and perhaps, Sir, you may not choose to meet

Mr. . Oh, Baron, said the General, laughing, there is

no difficulty on that point. Mr. is very like the big

headed boy at Tatawa, he never has taken an active part.
This was allowed to be a most adroit coup de sabre by those
who knew the gentleman, though it is doubted whether if he
had heard it he would have felt the stroke.

At the disbandment of the revolutionary army, when in-
mates of the same tent, or hut, for seven long years, were
separating, and probably forever ; grasping each other's
hand, in silent agony, I saw the Baron's strong endeavours
to throw some ray of sunshine on the gloom, to mix some
drop of cordial with the painful draught. To go, they knew
not whither; all recollection of the art to thrive by civil oc-
cupations lost, or to the youthful never known. Their hard
earned military knowledge worse than useless, and with
their badge of brotherhood, a mark at which to point the
finger of suspicion — ignoble, vile suspicion ! to be cast out
on a world, long since by them forgotten. — Severed from
friends, and all the joys and griefs which soldiers feel!
Griefs, while hope remained— when shared by numbers, al-
most joys ! To go in silence and alone, and poor and hope-
less ; it was too hard ! On that sad day how many hearts
were wrung ! I saw it all, nor will the scene be ever blurred
or blotted from my view To a stern old officer, a Lieute-
nant Colonel Cochran from the Green Mountains, who had
met danger and difficulty almost in every step, from his


gislative, like the flying inhabitants, were driven from
the seat of government; were chased from Charlottes-
youth, and from whose furrowed visage, a tear till that mo-
ment had never fallen ; the good Baron said — what could
be said, to lessen deep distress. "For myself," said Cochran,
u I care not, I can stand it : but my wife and daughters are
in the garret of that wretched tavern. I know not where
to remove, nor have I means for their removal.' 7 " Come,
my friend, said the Baron, "let us go — I will pay my res-
pects to Mrs. Cochran and your daughters, if you please."
" I followed to the loft, the lower rooms being ah fiHed with
soldiers, with drunkenness, despair and blasphemy. And
when the Baron left the poor unhappy cast aways, he left
hope with them, and all he had to give." u A black man,
with wounds unhealed, wept on the wharf — (for it was at
N^wburgh where this tragedy was acting) — there was a ves-
sel in the stream, bound to the place where he once had
friends. He had not a dollar to pay his passage, and he
could not walk. Unused to tears, I saw them trickle down
this good man's cheeks, as he put into the hands of the black
man the last dollar he possessed. The negro hailed the
sloop, and cried, U God Almighty bless you, master Ba-
ron I"

What good and honourable man, civil or military, before
the accursed party-spirit murdered friendships, did- wot.nes-
pect and love the Baron ? Who most ? Those who kneV
him best. After the peace, the Baron retired to a farm in
the vicinity of New York, where, with forming a system for
the organization and discipline of the militia, books, chess,
and the frequent visits of his numerous friends, he passed his
time as agreeably as a frequent want of funds would permit.
The state of New Jersey had given him a small improved
farm, and the state of New York gave him a tract of sixteen
thousand acres of land in the county of Oneida. After the
general government was in full operation, by the exertions
of Col. Hamilton, patronized and enforced by President
Washington, a grant of two thousand five hundred dollars
per annum was made to him lor life. The summers were
now chiefly spent on his land, and his winters in the city.
His sixteen thousand acres of land were in the uncultivated


ville ; and at length, interposing the Blue Ridge be-
tween themselves and the enemy, to secure a resting

wilderness ; he built a convenient log house, cleared sixty
acres, parceled out his land on easy terms to twenty or thirty
tenants, distributed nearly a tenth of the tract in gifts to his
aids de camp and servants, and sat himself down to a cer-
tain degree contented without society, except that of a young
gentleman, who read to and with him. He ate only at din-
ner, but he ate with a strong appetite. In drinking; he was
always temperate, indeed, he was free from every vicious
habit. His powers of mind and body were strong, and he
received to a certain extent, a liberal education. His days
wert- undoubtedly shortened by his sedentary mode of life.
He was seized with an apoplexy which, in a few hours, was
fatal. Agreeably to his desire, often expressed, he was
wrapped in his cloak, placed in a plain coffin, and hid in the
earth, without a stone to tell where he lies. A few neigh-
bours, his servants, die young gentleman, his late companion,
and one on whom, for fifteen years, his countenance never
ceased to beam with kindness, followed to the grave. It
was in a thick, a lonely wood, but in a few years after, a
public highway was opened near or over the hallowed sod !
Col Walker snatched the poor remains of his dear friend
from sacreligious violation, and gave a bounty to protect
the ^rave in which he laid them, from rude and impious in-
trusion He died in 1795, in the 65th year of his age.

" -'ome few years previous to the Baron's death, a pious
gentleman of the city of New York, who had a great affec-
tion for him, told me, with strong marks of joy, that 'hey
had passed the evening, and a part of the last night together
— that the Baron confessed his full belief in Jesus Christ,
with sure and certain hope, through him of a blessed immor-
tality. l From the life our dear friend has led, in camps,
and in the gay world,' said the good man, '1 feared ; and
you do not know what joy I feel, in the belief, that he will be
well to all eternity !' The Baron was a member of the Re-
formed German Church, in New York."

Gen. North, from the impulse of his own affectionate and
grateful feelings, erected a handsome monument with an
appropriate inscription, in the Reformed German Church in


place at Staunton. In this period of gloom, of disor-
der, and of peril, La Fayette was collected and undis-
mayed. With zeal, with courage, and with sagacity,
he discharged his arduous duties ; and throughout his
difficult retreat, was never brought even to array his
army but once in order of battle.*

" Invigorating our counsels by his precepts ; dispel-
ling our despondency by his example ; and encoura-
ging his troops to submit to their many privations, by
the cheerfulness with which he participated in their
wants ; he imparted the energy of his own mind to the
country, and infused his high toned spirit into his ar-

New York, to the memory of his illustrious patron and
friend, and these pages accord with the views of that me-
morial, in transmitting to posterity a renowned hero, whose
name and invaluable labors should never be forgotten.

What remained of the Baron's estate, excepting one thou-
sand dollars and his library, which he willed to a youth,
whose father had rendered essential service in the war, and
whose education he generously charged himself with, was
bequeathed to his two affectionate aids de camps. — Thacher's

Online LibraryDutchess County (N.Y.). Board of Supervisors. cnMemoirs of General La Fayette, embracing details of his public and private life, sketches of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the downfall of Bonaparte, and the restoration of the Bourbons. With biographical notices of individuals who have been distinguished actors in these events → online text (page 13 of 37)