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in military behavior and general good manners, but
there was nothing save infinite vexation in dealing
with the difficulties arising on the American side
of the line. As the days shortened and the leaves
fell, Washington saw before him a New England
winter, with no clothing and no money for his
troops. Through long letters to Congress, and
strenuous personal efforts, these wants were some-
how supplied. Then the men began to get restless
and homesick, and both privates and officers would
disappear to their farms, which Washington, al-
ways impatient of wrongdoing, styled " base and
pernicious conduct," and punished accordingly.


By and by the terms of enlistment ran out and
the regiments began to melt away even before the
proper date. Recruiting was carried on slowly
and with difficulty, new levies were tardy in com-
ing in, and Congress could not be persuaded to
stop limited enlistments. Still the task was done.
The old army departed and a new one arose in its
place, the posts were strengthened and ammunition

Among these reinforcements came some Virginia
riflemen, and it must have warmed Washington's
heart to see once more these brave and hardy fight-
ers in the familiar hunting shirt and leggings.
They certainly made him warm in a very differ-
ent sense by getting into a rough-and-tumble fight
one winter's day with some Marblehead fishermen.
The quarrel was at its height, when suddenly into
the brawl rode the commander-in-chief. He quickly
dismounted, seized two of the combatants, shook
them, berated them, if tradition may be trusted,
for their local jealousies, and so with strong arm
quelled the disturbance. He must have longed to
take more than one colonial governor or magnate
by the throat and shake him soundly, as he did his
soldiers from the woods of Virginia and the rocks
of Marblehead, for to his temper there was noth-
ing so satisfying as rapid and decisive action. But
he could not quell governors and assemblies in this
way, and yet he managed them and got what he
wanted with a patience and tact which it must have
been in the last degree trying to him to practise,


gifted as he was with a nature at once masterful
and passionate.

Another trial was brought about by his securing
and sending out privateers which did good service.
They brought in many valuable prizes which caused
infinite trouble, and forced Washington not only to
be a [naval secretary, but also made him a species
of admiralty judge. He implored the slow-moving
Congress to relieve him from this burden, and sug-
gested a plan which led to the formation of spe-
cial committees and was the origin of the Federal
judiciary of the United States. Besides the local
jealousies and the personal jealousies, and the pri-
vateers and their prizes, he had to meet also the
greed and selfishness as well of the money-making,
stock-jobbing spirit which springs up rankly under
the influence of army contracts and large expendi-
tures among a people accustomed to trade and
unused to war. Washington wrote savagely of
these practices, but still, despite all hindrances and
annoyances, he kept moving straight on to his ob-

In the midst of his labors, harassed and tried
in all ways, he was assailed as usual by complaint
and criticism. Some of it came to him through
his friend and aide, Joseph Reed, to whom he wrote
in reply one of the noblest letters ever penned by
a great man struggling with adverse circumstances
and wringing victory from grudging fortune. He
said that he was always ready to welcome criticism,
hear advice, and learn the opinion of the world.


"For as I have but one capital object in view,
I could wish to make my conduct coincide with the
wishes of mankind, as far as I can consistently ;
I mean, without departing from that great line of
duty which, though hid under a cloud for some
time, from a peculiarity of circumstances, may,
nevertheless, bear a scrutiny." Thus he held fast
to " the great line of duty," though bitterly tried
the while by the news from Canada, where brilliant
beginnings were coming to dismal endings, and
cheered only by the arrival of his wife, who drove
up one day in her coach and four, mth the horses
ridden by black postilions in scarlet and white
liveries, much to the amazement, no doubt, of the
sober-minded New England folk.

Light, however, finally began to break on the
work about him. Henry Knox, sent out for that
purpose, returned safely with the guns captured at
Ticonderoga, and thus heavy ordnance and gun-
powder were obtained. By the middle of February
the harbor was frozen over, and Washington ar-
ranged to cross the ice and carry Boston by storm.
Again he was held back by his council, but this
time he could not be stopped. If he could not cross
the ice he would go by land. He had been slowly
but surely advancing his works all winter, and now
he determined on a decisive stroke. On the evening
of Monday, March 4th, under cover of a heavy bom-
bardment which distracted the enemy's attention,
he marched a large body of troops to Dorchester
Heights and began to throw up redoubts. The


work went forward rapidly, and Washington rode
about all night encouraging the men. The New
England soldiers had sorely tried his temper, and
there were many severe attacks and bitter criti-
cisms upon them in his letters, which were sup-
pressed or smoothed over for the most part by Mr.
Sparks, but which have come to light since, as is
sometimes the case with facts. Gradually, how-
ever, the General had come to know his soldiers
better, and six months later he wrote to Lund
Washington, praising his northern troops in the
highest terms. Even now he understood them as
never before, and as he watched them on that
raw March night, working with the energy and
quick intelligence of their race, he probably felt
that the defects were superficial, but the virtues,
the tenacity, and the courage were lasting and

When day dawned, and the British caught sight
of the formidable works which had sprung up in
the night, there was a great excitement and running
hither and thither in the town. Still the men on
the heights worked on, and still Washington rode
back and forth among them. He was stirred and
greatly rejoiced at the coming of the fight, which
he now believed inevitable, and as always, when he
was deeply moved, the hidden springs of sentiment
and passion were opened, and he reminded his soldiers
that it was the anniversary of the Boston massacre,
and appealed to them by the memories of that clay
to prepare for battle with the enemy. As with
the Huguenots at Ivry, вАФ


" Remember St. Bartholomew was passed from man to man."

But the fighting never came. The British troops
were made ready, then a gale arose and they could
not cross the bay. The next day it rained in tor-
rents, and the next day it was too late. The Ameri-
can intrenchments frowned threateningly above
the town, and began to send in certain ominous
messengers in the shape of shot and shell. The
place was now so clearly untenable that Howe de-
termined to evacuate it. An informal request to
allow the troops to depart unmolested was not an-
swered, but Washington suspended his fire and the
British made ready to withdraw. Still they hesi-
tated and delayed, until Washington again ad-
vanced his works, and on this hint they started in
earnest, on March 17th, amid confusion, pillage,
and disorder, lea\^ng cannon and much else behind
them, and seeking refuge in their ships.

All was over, and the town was in the hands of
the Americans. In Washington's own words, " To
maintain a post within musket-shot of the enemy
for six months together, without powder, and at the
same time to disband one army and recruit another
within that distance of twenty-odd British regi-
ments, is more, probably, than ever was attempted."
It was, in truth, a gallant feat of arms, carried
through by the resolute will and strong brain of
one man. The troops on both sides were brave,
but the British had advantages far more than com-
pensating for a disparity of numbers, always slight
and often more imaginary than real. They had


twelve thousand men, experienced, disciplined,
equipped, and thoroughly supplied. They had the
best arms and cannon and gunpowder. They com-
manded the sea with a strong fleet, and they were
concentrated on the inside line, able to strike with
suddenness and overwhelming force at any point of
widely extended posts. Washington caught them
with an iron grip and tightened it steadily until,
in disorderly haste, they took to their boats without
even striking a blow. Washington's great abilities,
and the incapacity of the generals opposed to him,
were the causes of this result. If Kobert Clive,
for instance, had chanced to have been there the
end might possibly have been the same, but there
would have been some bloody fighting before that
end was reached. The explanation of the feeble
abandonment of Boston lies in the stupidity of the
English government, which had sown the wind and
then proceeded to handle the customary crop with
equal fatuity.

There were plenty of great men in England* but
they were not conducting her government or her
armies. Lord Sandwich had declared in the House
of Lords that all " Yankees were cowards," a sim-
ple and satisfactory statement, readily accepted by
the governing classes, and flung in the teeth of the
British soldiers as they fell back twice from the
bloody slopes of Bunker Hill. Acting on this
pleasant idea, England sent out. as commanders of
her American army a parcel of ministerial and
court favorites, thoroughly second-rate men, to


whom was confided the task of beating one of the
best soldiers and hardest fighters of the century.
Despite the enormous material odds in favor of
Great Britain, the natural result of matching the
Howes and Gages and Clintons against George
Washington ensued, and the first lesson was taught
by the evacuation of Boston.

Washington did not linger over his victory.
Even while the British fleet still hung about the
harbor he began to send troops to New York to
make ready for the next attack. He entered Bos-
ton in order to see that every precaution was taken
against the spread of the smallpox, and then pre-
pared to depart himself. Two ideas, during his
first winter of conflict, had taken possession of his
mind, and undoubtedly influenced profoundly his
future course. One was the conviction that the
struggle must be fought out to the bitter end, and
must bring either subjugation or complete indepen-
dence. He wrote in February : " With respect to
myself, I have never entertained an idea of an ac-
commodation, since I heard of the measures which
were adopted in consequence of the Bunker's Hill
fight ; " and at an earlier date he said : " I hope
my countrymen (of Virginia) will rise superior to
any losses the whole navy of Great Britain can
bring on them, and that the destruction of Norfolk
and threatened devastation of other places will
have no other effect than to unite the whole coun-
try in one indissoluble band against a nation which
seems to be lost to every sense of virtue and those


feelings which distinguish a civilized people from
the most barbarous savages." With such thoughts
he sought to make Congress appreciate the prob-
able long duration of the struggle, and he bent
every energy to giving permanency to his army,
and decisiveness to each campaign. The other
idea which had grown in his mind during the
weary siege was that the Tories were thoroughly
dangerous and deserved scant mercy. In his second
letter to Gage he refers to them, with the frank-
ness which characterized him when he felt strongly,
as " execrable parricides," and he made ready to
treat them with the utmost severity at New York
and elsewhere. When Washington was aroused
there was a stern and relentless side to his char-
acter, in keeping with the force and strength which
were his chief qualities. His attitude on this point
seems harsh now when the old Tories no longer
look very dreadful. But they were dangerous
then, and Washington, with his honest hatred of
all that seemed to him to partake of meanness or
treason, proposed to put them down and render
them harmless, being well convinced, after his
clear-sighted fashion, that war was not peace, and
that mildness to domestic foes was sadly misplaced.
His errand to New England was now done and
well done. His victory was won, everything was
settled at Boston ; and so, having sent his army
forward, he started for New York, to meet the
harder trials that still awaited him.



After leaving Boston, Washington proceeded
through Rhode Island and Connecticut, pushing-
troops forward as he advanced, and reached New
York on April 13th. There he found himself
plunged at once into the same sea of difficulties
with which he had been struggling at Boston, the
only difference being that these were fresh and
entirely untouched. The army was inadequate,
and the town, which was the central point of the
colonies, as well as the great river at its side, was
wholly unprotected. The troops were in large
measure raw and undrilled, the committee of safety
was hesitating, the Tories were virulent and ac-
tive, corresponding constantly with Tryon who
was lurking in a British man-of-war, while from
the north came tidings of retreat and disaster.
All these harassing difficulties crowded upon the
commander-in-chief as soon as he arrived. To ap-
preciate him it is necessary to understand these con-
ditions and realize their weight and consequence,
albeit the details seem petty. When we compre-
hend the difficulties, then we can see plainly the
greatness of the man who quietly and silently took


them up and disposed of them. Some he scotched
and some he killed, but he dealt with them all after
a fashion sufficient to enable him to move steadily
forward. In his presence the provincial committee
suddenly stiffened and grew strong. All corre-
spondence with Try on was cut off, the Tories were
repressed, and on Long Island steps were taken to
root out " these abominable pests of society," as
the commander-in-chief called them in his plain-
spoken way. Then forts were built, soldiers ener-
getically recruited and drilled, arrangements made
for prisoners, and despite all the present cares anx-
ious thought was given to the Canada campaign,
and ideas and expeditions, orders, suggestions and
encouragement were freely furnished to the dispir-
ited generals and broken forces of the north.

One matter, however, overshadowed all others.
Nearly a year before, Washington had seen that
there was no prospect or possibility of accommoda-
tion with Great Britain. It was plain to his mind
that the struggle was final in its character and
would be decisive. Separation from the mother
country, therefore, ought to come at once, so that
public opinion might be concentrated, and above all,
permanency ought to be given to the army. These
ideas he had been striving to impress upon Con-
gress, for the most part less clear-sighted than he
was as to facts, and as the months slipped by his
letters had grown constantly more earnest and
more vehement. Still Congress hesitated, and at
last Washington went himself to Philadelphia and


held conferences with the principal men. What he
said is lost, but the tone of Congress certainly rose
after his visit. The aggressive leaders found their
hands so much strengthened that little more than
a month later they carried through a declaration
of independence, which was solemnly and grate-
fully proclaimed to the army by the general, much
relieved to have got through the necessary boat-
burning, and to have brought affairs, military and
political, on to the hard ground of actual fact.

Soon after his return from Philadelphia, he re-
ceived convincing proof that his views in regard
to the Tories were extremely sound. A conspiracy
devised by Tryon, which aimed apparently at the
assassination of the commander-in-chief, and which
had corrupted his life-guards for that purpose,
was discovered and scattered before it had fairly
hardened into definite form. The mayor of the
city and various other persons were seized and
thrown into prison, and one of the life-guards,
Thomas Hickey by name, who was the principal
tool in the plot, was hanged in the presence of a
large concourse of people. Washington wrote a
brief and business-like account of the affair to
Congress, from which one would hardly suppose
that his own life had been aimed at. It is a
curious instance of his cool indifference to personal
danger. The conspiracy had failed, that was suffi-
cient for him, and he had other things besides him-
self to consider. " We expect a bloody summer
in New York and Canada," he wrote to his brother,


and even while the Canadian expedition was com-
ing to a disastrous close, and was bringing hostile
invasion instead of the hoped-for conquest, British
men-of-war were arriving daily in the harbor, and
a large army was collecting on Staten Island. The
rejoicings over the Declaration of Independence had
hardly died away, when the vessels of the enemy
made their way up the Hudson without check from
the embryo forts, or the obstacles placed in the

July 12th Lord Howe arrived with more troops,
and also wdth ample powers to pardon and nego-
tiate. Almost immediately he tried to open a cor-
respondence with Washington, but Colonel Reed, in
behalf of the General, refused to receive the let-
ter addressed to " Mr. Washington." Then Lord
Howe sent an officer to the American camp with
a second letter, addressed to " George Washington,
Esq., etc., etc." The bearer was courteously re-
ceived, but the letter was declined. " The etc., etc.
implies everything," said the Englishman. It may
also mean " anything," Washington replied, and
added that touchijig the pardoning power of Lord
Howe there could be no pardon where there was no
guilt, and where no forgiveness was asked. As a
result of these interviews. Lord Howe wrote to
England that it would be well to give Mr. Wash-
ington his proper title. A small question, appar-
ently, this of the form of address, especially to a
lover of facts, and yet it was in reality of genuine
importance. To the world Washington represented


the young republic, and he was cletermined to ex-
tort from England the first acknowledgment of
independence by compelling her to recognize the
Americans as belligerents and not rebels. Wash-
ington cared as little for vain shows as any man
who ever lived, but he had the highest sense of per-
sonal dignity, and of the dignity of his cause and
country. Neither should be allowed to suffer in his
hands. He appreciated the effect on mankind of
forms and titles, and with unerring judgment he
insisted on what he knew to be of real value. It
is one of the earliest examples of the dignity and
good taste which were of such inestimable value to
his country.

He had abundant occasion also for the employ-
ment of these same qualities, coupled with un-
wearied patience and tact, in dealing with his own
men. The present army was drawn from a wider
range than that which had taken Boston, and sec-
tional jealousies and disputes, growing every day
more hateful to the commander-in-chief, sprang up
rankly. The men of Maryland thought those of
Connecticut ploughboys ; the latter held the former
to be fops and dandies. These and a hundred
other disputes buzzed and whirled about Wash-
ington, stirring his strong temper, and exercising
his sternest self-control in the untiring effort to
suppress them and put them to death. " It re-
quires," John Adams truly said, " more serenity
of temper, a deeper understanding, and more cour-
age than fell to the lot of Marlborough, to ride in


this wliii'lwind." Fortunately these qualities were
all there, and with them an honesty of purpose and
an unbending directness of character to which
Anne's great general was a stranger.

Meantime, while the internal difficulties were
slowly diminished, the forces of the enemy rapidly
increased. First it became evident that attacks
were not feasible. Then the question changed to
a mere choice of defences. Even as to this there
was great and harassing doubt, for the enemy,
having command of the water, could concentrate
and attack at any point they pleased. Moreover,
the British had thirty thousand of the best disci-
plined and best equipped troops that Europe could
furnish, while Washington had some twenty thou-
sand men, one fourth of whom were unfit for duty,
and with the remaining three fourths, raw recruits
for the most part, he was obliged to defend an ex-
tended line of posts, without cavalry, and with no
means for rapid concentration. Had he been gov-
erned solely by military considerations he would
have removed the inhabitants, burned New York,
and drawing his forces together would have taken
up a secure post of observation. To have de-
stroyed the tow^n, however, not only would have
frightened the timid and the doubters, and driven
them over to the Tories, but would have dispir-
ited the patriots not yet alive to the exigencies
of war, and deeply injured the American cause.
That Washington well understood the need of such
action is clear, both from the current rumors that


the town was to be burned, and from his expressed
desire to remove the women and children from
New York. But political considerations overruled
the military necessity, and he spared the town. It
was bad enough to be thus hampered, but he was
even more fettered in other ways, for he could not
even concentrate his forces and withdraw to the
Highlands without a battle, as he was obliged to
fight in order to sustain public feeling, and thus
he was driven on to almost sure defeat.

Everything, too, as the day of battle drew near,
seemed to make against him. On August 22d the
enemy began to land on Long Island, where Greene
had drawn a strong line of redoubts behind the vil-
lage of Brooklyn, to defend the heights which com-
manded New York, and had made every arrange-
ment to protect the three roads through the wooded
hills, about a mile from the intrenchments. Most
unfortunately, and just at the critical moment,
Greene was taken down with a raging fever, so
that when Washington came over on the 24th he
found much confusion in the camps, which he re-
pressed as best he could, and then prepared for the
attack. Greene's illness, however, had caused some
oversights which were unknown to the commander-
in-chief, and which, as it turned out, proved fatal.

After indecisive skirmishing for two or three
days, the British started early on the morning of the
26th. They had nine thousand men and were well
informed as to the country. Advancing through
woodpaths and lanes, they came round to the


left flank of the Americans. One of the roads
through the hills was unguarded, the others feebly
protected. The result is soon told. The Ameri-
cans, out-generalled and out-flanked, were taken by
surprise and surrounded, Sullivan and his divi-
sion were cut off, and then Lord Stirling. There
was some desperate fighting, and the Americans
showed plenty of courage, b.ut only a few forced
their way out. Most of them were killed or taken
prisoners, the total loss out of some ^yq thousand
men reaching as high as two thousand.

From the redoubts, whither he had come at
the sound of the firing, Washington watched the
slaughter and disaster in grim silence. He saw
the British troops, flushed with victory, press on to
the very edge of his works and then withdraw in
obedience to command. The British generals had
their prey so surely, as they believed, that they
mercifully decided not to waste life unnecessarily
by storming the works in the first glow of success.
So they waited during that night and the two fol-
lowing days, while Washington strengthened his
intrenchments, brought over reinforcements, and
prepared for the worst. On the 29th it became ap-
parent that there was a movement in the fleet, and
that arrangements were being made to] take the
Americans in the rear and wholly cut them off. It
was a pretty plan, but the British overlooked the
fact that while they were lingering, summing up

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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 22)