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the British were attacked, surprised, and cut off in
all directions, until at last they were shut up in
the immediate vicinity of New York. The tide had
been turned, and Washington had won the precious
breathing-time which was all he required.

Frederic the Great is reported to have said that
this was the most brilliant campaign of the century.
It certainly showed all the characteristics of the
highest strategy and most consummate generalship.
With a force numerically insignificant as compared
with that opposed to him, Washington won two
decisive victories, striking the enemy suddenly with
superior numbers at each point of attack. ^The
Trenton campaign has all the quality of some of
the last battles fought by Napoleon in France be-
fore his retirement to Elba. Moreover, these battles
show not only generalship of the first order, but
great statesmanship. They display that prescient
knowledge which recognizes the supreme moment
when all must be risked to save the state. By
Trenton and Princeton Washington inflicted deadly
blows upon the enemy, but he did far more by re-
viving the patriotic spirit of the country fainting
under the bitter experience of defeat, apd by send-
ing fresh life and hope and. courage throughout the
whole people. ^ '

It was the decisive moment of the war. Sooner
or later the American colonies were sure to part
from the mother-country, either peaceably or vio-
lently. But there was nothing inevitable in the


Revolution of 1776, nor was its end at all certain.
It was in the last extremities when the British
overran New Jersey, and if it had not been for
Washington that particular revolution would have
most surely failed. Its fate lay in the hands of the
general and his army ; and to the strong brain grow-
ing ever keener and quicker as the pressure became
more intense, to the iron will gathering a more
relentless force as defeat thickened, to the high,
unbending character, and to the passionate and
fighting temper of Washington, we owe the bril-
liant campaign which in the darkest hour turned
the tide and saved the cause of the Revolution.


"malice domestic, and foreign levy."

After the " two lucky strokes at Trenton and
Princeton," as he himseK called them, Washington
took up a strong position at Morristown and waited.
His plan was to hold the enemy in check, and to
delay all operations until spring. It is easy enough
now to state his purpose, and it looks very simple,
but it was a grim task to carry it out through the
bleak winter days of 1777. The Jersey farmers,
spurred by the sufferings inflicted upon them by
the British troops, had turned out at last in defer-
ence to Washington's appeals, after the victories of
Trenton and Princeton, had harassed and cut off
outlying parties, and had thus straitened the move-
ments of the enemy. But the main army of the
colonies, on which all depended, was in a pitiable
state. It shifted its character almost from day to
day. The curse of short enlistments, so denounced
by Washington, made itself felt now with frightful
effect. With the new year most of the continental
troops departed, while others to replace them came
in very slowh^ and recruiting dragged most weari-
somely. Washington was thus obliged, with tem-
porary reinforcements of raw militia, to keep up


appearances ; and no commander ever struggled
with a more trying task. At times it looked as if
the whole army would actually disappear, and more
than once Washington expected that the week's or
the month's end would find him with not more than
five hundred men. At the beginning of March he
had about four thousand men, a few weeks later
only three thousand raw troops, ill-fed, ill-clad, ill-
shod, ill-armed, and almost unpaid. Over against
him was Howe, with eleven thousand men in the
field, and still more in the city of New York, well
disciplined and equij)ped, well-armed, well-fed, and
furnished with every needful suj)ply. The contrast
is absolutely grotesque, and yet the force of one
man's genius and will was such that this excellent
British army was hemmed in and kept in harmless
quiet by their ragged opponents.

Washington's plan, from the first, was to keep
the field at all hazards, and literally at all hazards
did he do so. Right and left his letters went, day
after day, calling with pathetic but dignified ear-
nestness for men and supplies. In one of these
epistles, to Governor Cooke of Rhode Island, written
in January, to remonstrate against raising troops
for the State only, he set forth his intentions in a
few words. "You must be sensible," he said, "that
the season is fast approaching when a new cam-
paign will open ; nay, the former is not yet closed ;
nor do I intend it shall be, unless the enemy quits
the Jerseys." To keep fighting all the time, and
never let the fire of active resistance flicker or die


out, was Washington's theory of the way to main-
tain his own side and beat the enemy. If he could
not fight big battles, he would fight small ones ; if
he could not fight little battles, he would raid and
skirmish and surprise ; but fighting of some sort he
would have, while the enemy attempted to spread
over a State and hold possession of it. We can see
the obstacles now, but we can only wonder how they
were sufficiently overcome to allow anything to be

Moreover, besides the purely physical difficulties
in the lack of men, money, and supplies, there were
others of a political and personal kind, which were
even more wearing and trying, but which, never-
theless, had to be dealt with also, in some fashion.
Iij order to sustain the courage of the people
Washington was obliged to give out, and to allow it
to be supposed, that he had more men than was
really the case, and so Congress and various wise
and well-meaning persons grumbled because he did
not do more and fight more battles. He never de-
ceived Congress, but they either could not or would
not understand the actual situation. In March he
wrote to Robert Morris : " Nor is it in my power to
make Congress fully sensible of the real situation
of our affairs, and that it is with difficulty, if I may
use the expression, that I can by every means in
my power keep the life and soul of this army to-
gether. In a word, when they are at a distance,
they think it is but to say. Presto^ hegone., and every-
thing is done. They seem not to have any concep-


tion of the difficulty and perplexity attending those
who are to execute." It was so easy to see what
they would like to have done, and so simple to pass
a resolve to that effect, that Congress never could
appreciate the reality of the difficulty and the danger
until the hand of the enemy was almost at their
throats. They were not even content with delay
and neglect, but interfered actively at times, as
in the matter of the exchange of prisoners, where
they made unending trouble for Washington, and
showed themselves unable to learn or to keep their
hands off after any amount of instruction.

In January Washington issued a proclamation
requiring those inhabitants who had subscribed to
Howe's declaration to come in within thirty days
and take the oath of allegiance to the United States.
If they failed to do so they were to be treated as
enemies. The measure was an eminently proper
one, and the proclamation was couched in the most
moderate language. It was impossible to permit
a large class of persons to exist on the theory that
they were peaceful American citizens and also sub-
jects of King George. The results of such con-
duct were in every way perilous and intolerable,
and Washington was determined that he would
divide the sheep from the goats, and know whom
he was defending and whom attacking. Yet for
this wise and necessary action he was called in
question in Congress and accus^ed of violating civil
rights and the resolves of Congress. Nothing was
actually done about it, but such an incident shows


from a single point the infinite tact and resolution
required in waging war under a government whose
members were unable to comprehend what was
meant, and who could not see that until they had
beaten England it was hardly worth while to worry
about civil rights, which in case of defeat would
sj^eedily cease to exist altogether.

Another fertile source of trouble arose from
questions of rank. Members of Congress, in mak-
ing promotions and appointments, were more apt to
consider local claims than military merit, and they
also allowed their own personal prejudices to affect
their action in this respect far too much. Thence
arose endless heart-burnings and jealousies, fol-
lowed by resignations and the loss of valuable offi-
cers. Congress, having made the appointments,
would go cheerfully about its business, while the
swarm of grievances thus let loose would come buz-
zing about the devoted head of the commander-
in-chief. He could not get away, but was com-
pelled to quiet rivalries, allay irritated feelings, and
ride the storm as best he might. It was all done,
however, in one way or another : by jjersonal ap-
peals, and by letters full of dignity, patriotism, and
patience, which are very impressive and full of
meaning for students of character, even in this day
and generation.

Then again, not content with snarling up our
native appointments, Congress complicated matters
still more dangerously by its treatment of for-
eigners. The members of Congress were colonists,


and the fact that they had shaken off the yoke of
the mother country did not in the least alter their
colonial and perfectly natural habit of regarding
with enormous respect Englishmen and French-
men, and indeed anybody who had had the good
fortune to be born in Europe. The result was that
they distributed commissions and gave inordinate
rank to the many volunteers who came over the
ocean, actuated by various motives, but all filled
with a profound sense of their own merits. It is
only fair to Congress to say that the American
agents abroad were even more to blame in this
respect. Silas Deane especially scattered promises
of commissions with a lavish hand, and Congress re-
fused to fulfil many of the promises thus made in
its name. Nevertheless, Congress was far too lax,
and followed too closely the example of its agents.
Some of these foreigners were disinterested men
and excellent soldiers, who proved of great value to
the American cause. Many others were mere mili-
tary adventurers, capable of being turned to good
account, perhaps, but by no means entitled to what
they claimed and in most instances received.

The ill-considered action of Congress and of our
agents abroad in this respect was a source of con-
stantly recurring troubles of a very serious nature.
Native officers, who had borne the burden and heat
of the day, justly resented being superseded by
some stranger, unable to speak the language, who
had landed in the states but a few days before. As
a result, resignations were threatened which, if


carried out, would affect the character of the army-
very deeply. Then again, the foreigners them-
selves, inflated by the eagerness of our agents and
by their reception at the hands of Congress, would
find on joining the army that they could get no
commands, chiefly because there were none to give.
They would then become dissatisfied with their
rank and employment, and bitter complaints and
recriminations would ensue. All these difficulties,
of course, fell most heavily upon the commander-in-
chief, who was heartily disgusted with the whole
business. Washington believed from the begin-
ning, and said over and over again in various and
ever stronger terms, that this was an American war
and must be fought by Americans. In no other
way, and by no other persons, did he consider that
it could be carried to any success worth having.
He saw of course the importance of a French alli-
ance, and deeply desired it, for it was a leading ele-
ment in the solution of the political and military
situation ; but alliance with a foreign power was
one~ thing, and sporadic military volunteers were
another. Washington had no narrow prejudices
against foreigners, for he was a man of broad and
liberal mind, and no one was more universally be-
loved and respected by the foreign officers than he ;
but he was intensely American in his feelings, and he
would not admit for an instant that the American
war for independence could be righteously fought
or honestly won by others than Americans. He
was well aware that foreign volunteers had a value


and use of which he largely and gratefully availed
himself ; but he was exasperated and alarmed by
the indiscriminate and lavish way in which our
agents abroad and Congress gave rank and office
to them. " Hungry adventurers," he called them in
one letter, when driven beyond endurance by the
endless annoyances thus forced upon him ; and so
he pushed their pretensions aside, and managed, on
the whole, to keep them in their proper place. The
operation was delicate, difficult, and unpleasant, for
it seemed to savor of ingratitude. But Washington
was never shaken for an instant in his policy, and
while he checked the danger, he showed in many in-
stances, like Lafayette and Steuben, that he could
appreciate and use all that was really valuable in
the foreign contingent.

The service rendered by Washington in this
matter has never been justly understood or ap-
preciated. If he had not taken this position, and
held it with an absolute firmness which bordered
on harshness, we should have found ourselves in a
short time with an army of American soldiers offi-
cered by foreigners, many of them mere merce-
naries, "hungry adventurers," from France, Poland
or Hungary, from Germany, Ireland or England.
The result of such a combination would have been
disorganization and defeat. That members of Con-
gress and some of our representatives in Europe did
not see the danger, and that they were impressed
by the foreign officers who came among them, was
perfectly natural. Men are the creatures of the


time in which they live, and take their color from
the conditions which surround them, as the chame-
leon does from the grass or leaves in which it hides.
The rulers and lawmakers of 1776 could not cast
oif their provincial awe of the natives of England
and Europe as they cast off their political alle-
giance to the British king. The only wonder is
that there should have been even one man so great
in mind and character that he could rise at a single
bound from the level of a provincial planter to the
heights of a great national leader. He proved him-
self such in all ways, but in none more surely than
in his ability to consider all men simply as men,
and, with a judgment that nothing could confuse,
to ward off from his cause and country the dangers
inherent in colonial habits of thought and action,
so menacing to a people struggling for indepen-
dence. We can see this strong, high spirit of
nationality running through Washington's whole
career, but it never did better service than when it
stood between the American army and lavish favor
to foreign volunteers.

Among other disagreeable and necessary truths,
Washington had told Congress that Philadelphia
was in danger, that Howe probably meant to oc-
cupy it, and that it would be nearly impossible to
prevent his doing so. This w^arning being given
and unheeded, he continued to watch his antago-
nist, doing so with increased vigilance, as signs of
activity began to appear in New York. Toward
the end of May he broke up his cantonments,


having now about seven thousand men, and took a
strong position within ten miles of Brunswick.
Here he waited, keeping an anxious eye on the
Hudson in case he should be mistaken in his ex-
pectations, and should find that the enemy really
intended to go north to meet Burgoyne instead of
south to capture Philadelphia.

Washington's doubts were soon to be resolved
and his expectations fulfilled. May 31st, a fleet
of a hundred sail left New York, and couriers
were at once sent southward to warn the States
of the possibility of a speedy invasion. About the
same time transports arrived with more German
mercenaries, and Howe, thus reinforced, entered
the Jerseys. Washington determined to decline
battle, and if the enemy pushed on and crossed the
Delaware, to hang heavily on their rear, while the
militia from the south were drawn up to Philadel-
phia. He adopted this course because he felt con-
fident that Howe would never cross the Delaware
and leave the main army of the Americans behind
him. His theory proved correct. The British
advanced and retreated, burned houses and villages
and made feints, but all in vain. Washington
baffled them at every point, and finally Sir Wil-
liam evacuated the Jerseys entirely and withdrew
to New York and Staten Island, where active
preparations for some expedition were at once
begun. Again came anxious watching, with the
old fear that Howe meant to go northward and
join the now advancing Burgoyne. The fear was


groundless. On July 23d the British fleet set sail
from New York, carrying between fifteen and eigh-
teen thousand men. Not deceived by the efforts
to make him think that they aimed at Boston,
but still fearing that the sailing might be only
a ruse and the Hudson the real object after all,
Washington moved cautiously to the Delaware,
holding himself ready to strike in either direction.
On the 31st he heard that the enemy were at the
Capes. This seemed decisive ; so he sent in all di-
rections for reinforcements, moved the main army
rapidly to Germantown, and prepared to defend
Philadelphia. The next news was that the fleet
had put to sea again, and again messengers went
north to warn Putnam to prepare for the defence
of the Hudson. Washington himself w^as about
to re-cross the Delaware, when tidings arrived that
the fleet had once more appeared at the Capes, and
after a few more days of doubt the ships came up
the Chesapeake and anchored.

Washington thought the " route a strange one,"
but he knew now that he was right in his belief
that Howe aimed at Philadelphia. He therefore
gathered his forces and marched south to meet the
enemy, passing through the city in order to im-
press the disaffected and the timid with the show
of force. It was a motley array that followed him.
There was nothing uniform about the troops except
their burnished arms and the sprigs of evergreen in
their hats. Nevertheless Lafayette, who had just
come among them, thought that they looked like


good soldiers, and the Tories woke up sharply to
the fact that there was a large body of men known
as the American army, and that they had a certain
obvious fighting capacit)^ visible in their appear-
ance. Neither friends nor enemies knew, however,
as they stood on the Philadelphia sidewalks and
watched the troops go past, that the mere fact of
that army's existence was the greatest victory of
skill and endurance which the war could show, and
that the question of success lay in its continuance.

Leaving Philadelphia, Washington pushed on to
the junction of the Brandywine and Christiana
Creek, and posted his men along the heights. Au-
gust 25th, Howe landed at the Head of Elk, and
Washington threw out light parties to drive in
cattle, carry off supplies, and annoy the enemy.
This was done, on the whole, satisfactorily, and af-
ter some successful skirmishing on the part of the
Americans, the two armies on the 5th of Septem-
ber found themselves within eight or ten miles of
each other. Washington now determined to risk a
battle in the field, despite his inferiority in every
way. He accordingly issued a stirring proclama-
tion to the soldiers, and then fell back behind the
Brandywine, to a strong position, and prepared to
contest the passage of the river.

Early on September 11th, the British advanced
to Chad's Ford, where Washington was posted
with the main body, and after some skirmishing-
began to cannonade at long range. Meantime
Cornwallis, with the main body, made a long detour


of seventeen miles, and came upon the right flank
and rear of the Americans. Sullivan, who was on
the right, had failed to guard the fords above, and
through lack of information was practically sur-
prised. Washington, on rumors that the enemy
were marching toward his right, with the instinct
of a great soldier was about to cross the river in
his front and crush the enemy there, but he also
was misled and kept back by false reports. When
the truth was known, it was too late. The right
wing had been beaten and flung back, the enemy
were nearly in the rear, and were now advancing in
earnest in front. All that man could do was done.
Troops were pushed forward and a gallant stand
was made at various points ; but the critical moment
had come and gone, and there was nothing for it
but a hasty retreat, which came near degenerating
into a rout.

The causes of this complete defeat, for such it
was, are easily seen. Washington had planned
his battle and chosen his position well. If he had
not been deceived by the first reports, he even
then would have fallen upon and overwhelmed the
British centre before they could have reached his
right wing. But the Americans, to begin with,
were outnumbered. They had only eleven thou-
sand effective men, while the British brought fif-
teen of their eighteen thousand into action. Then
the Americans suffered, as they constantly did,
from misinformation, and from an absence of sys-
tem in learning the enemy's movements. Wash-


ington's attack was fatally checked in this way, and
Sullivan was surprised from the same causes, as
well as from his own culpable ignorance of the
country beyond him, which was the reason of his
failure to guard the upper fords. The Americans
lost, also, by the unsteadiness of new troops when
the unexpected happens, and when the panic-bear-
ing notion that they are surprised and likely to be
surrounded comes upon them with a sudden shock.

This defeat was complete and severe, and it
was followed in a few days by that of Wayne,
who narrowly escaped utter ruin. Yet through all
this disaster we can see the advance which had
been made since the equally unfortunate and very
similar battle on Long Island. Then, the troops
seemed to lose heart and courage, the army was
held together with difficulty, and could do nothing
but retreat. Now, in the few days which Howe, as
usual, gave us with such fatal effect to himself,
Washington rallied his army, and finding them in
excellent spirits marched down the Lancaster road
to fight again. On the eve of battle a heavy storm
came on, which so injured the arms and munitions
that with bitter disappointment he was obliged to
withdraw, but nevertheless it is plain how much
this forward movement meant. At the moment,
however, it looked badly enough, especially after
the defeat of Wayne, for Howe pressed forward,
took possession of Philadelphia, and encamped the
main body of his army at Germantown.

Meantime Washington, who had not in the least


given up his idea of fighting again, recruited his
army, and having a little more than eight thousand
men, determined to try another stroke at the British,
while they were weakened by detachments. On
the night of October 3d he started, and reached
German town at daybreak on the 4th. At first
the Americans swept everything before them, and
flung the British back in rout and confusion. Then
matters began to go wrong, as is always likely to
happen when, as in this case, widely separated
and yet accurately concerted action is essential to
success. Some of the British threw themselves into
a stone house, and instead of leaving them there
under guard, the whole army stopped to besiege,
and a precious half hour was lost. Then Greene
and Stephen were late in coming up, having made
a circuit, and although when they arrived all seemed
to go well, the Americans were seized with an in-
explicable panic, and fell back, as Wayne truly
said, in the very moment of victory. One of those
unlucky accidents, utterly unavoidable, but always
dangerous to extensive combinations, had a prin-

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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 22)