Henry Cabot Lodge.

George Washington (Volume 1) online

. (page 15 of 22)
Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was prepared to scuffle again. On May 11th Sir
Henry Clinton relieved Sir William Howe at Phi-
ladelphia, and the latter took his departure in a
blaze of mock glory and resplendent millinery,
known as the Mischianza, a fit close to a career of
failure, which he was too dull to appreciate. The
new commander was more active than his predeces-
sor, but no cleverer, and no better fitted to cope
with Washington. It was another characteristic
choice on the part of the British ministry, who
could never muster enough intellect to understand
that the Americans would fight, and that they were
led by a really great soldier. The coming of Clin-
ton did not alter existing conditions.

ExjDCcting a movement by the enemy, Washing-
ton sent Lafayette forward to watch Philadelphia.
Clinton, fresh in office, determined to cut him off,
and by a rapid movement nearly succeeded in so


doing. Timely information, presence of mind, and
quickness alone enabled the young Frenchman to
escape, narrowly but completely. Meantime, a
cause for delay, that curse of the British through-
out the war, supervened. A peace commission,
consisting of the Earl of Carlisle, William Eden,
and Governor Johnstone, arrived. They were ex-
cellent men, but they came too late. Their propo-
sitions three years before would have been well
enough, but as it was they were worse than nothing.
Coolly received, they held a fruitless interview with
a committee of Congress, tried to bribe and in-
trigue, found that their own army had been already
ordered to evacuate Philadelphia without their
knowledge, and finally gave up their task in angry
despair, and returned to England to join in the
chorus of fault-finding which was beginning to
sound very loud in ministerial ears.

Meanwhile, Washington waited and watched,
puzzled by the delay, and hoping only to harass
Sir Henry with militia on the march to New York.
But as the days slipped by, the Americans grew
stronger, while Sir Henry weakened himself by
sending five thousand men to the West Indies,
and three thousand to Florida. When he finally
started, he had with him less than ten thousand
men, while the Americans had thirteen thousand,
nearly all continental troops. Under these circum-
stances, Washington determined to bring on a bat-
tle. He was thwarted at the outset by his officers,
as was wont to be the case. Lee had returned


more whimsical than ever, and at the moment was
strongly adverse to an attack, and was full of wise
saws about building a bridge of gold for the flying
enemy. The ascendancy which, as an English
officer, he still retained enabled him to get a cer-
tain following, and the councils of war which were
held compared unfavorably, as Hamilton put it,
with the deliberations of midwives. Washington
was harassed of course by all this, but he did not
stay his purpose, and as soon as he knew that
Clinton actually had marched, he broke camp at
Valley Forge and started in pursuit. There were
more councils of an old-womanish character, but
finally AYashington took the matter into his own
hands, and ordered forth a strong detachment to
attack the British rear-guard. They set out on
the 25th, and as Lee, to whom the command be-
longed, did not care to go, Lafayette was put in
charge. As soon as Lafayette had departed, how-
ever, Lee changed his mind, and insisted that all
the detachments in front, amounting to six thou-
sand men, formed a division so large that it was
unjust not to give him the command. Washington,
therefore, sent him forward next day with two ad-
ditional brigades, and then Lee by seniority took
command on the 27th of the'entire advance.

In the evening of that day, Washington came
up, reconnoitred the enemy, and saw that, although
their position was a strong one, another day's un-
molested march would make it still stronger. He
therefore resolved to attack the next morning, and


gave Lee then and there explicit orders to that
effect. In the early dawn he despatched similar
orders, but Lee apparently did nothing except
move feebly forward, saying to Lafayette, " You
don't know the British soldiers ; we cannot stand
against them." He made a weak attempt to cut
off a covering party, marched and countermarched,
ordered and countermanded, until Lafayette and
Wayne, eager to fight, knew not what to do, and
sent hot messages to Washington to come to them.
Thus hesitating and confused, Lee permitted
Clinton to get his baggage and train to the front,
and to mass all his best troops in the rear under
Cornwallis, who then advanced against the Ameri-
can lines. Now there were no orders at all, and
the troops did not know what to do, or where to
go. They stood still, then began to fall back,
and then to retreat. A very little more and there
would have been a rout. As it was, Washington
alone prevented disaster. His early reports from
the front from Dickinson's outlying party, and
from Lee himself, were all favorable. Then he
heard the firing, and putting the main army in
motion, he rode rapidly forward. First he encoun-
tered a straggler, who talked of defeat. He could
not believe it, and the fellow was pushed aside and
silenced. Then came another and another, all with
songs of death. Finally, officers and regiments be-
gan to come. No one knew why they fled, or what
had happened. As the ill tidings grew thicker,
Washington spurred sharper and rode faster

fn. .


througli the deep sand, and under the blazing mid-
summer sun. At last he met Lee and the main
body all in full retreat. He rode straight at Lee,
savage with anger, not pleasant to look at, one may
guess, and asked fiercely and with a deep oath, tra-
dition says, what it all meant. Lee was no coward,
and did not usually lack for words. He was, too,
a hardened man of the world, and, in the phrase
of that day, impudent to boot. But then and there
he stammered and hesitated. The fierce question
was repeated. Lee gathered himself and tried to
excuse and palliate what had happened, but although
the brief words that followed are variously reported
to us across the century, we know that Washington
rebuked him in such a way, and with such passion,
that all was over between them. Lee had com-
mitted the one unpardonable sin in the eyes of
his commander. He had failed to fight when the
enemy was upon him. He had disobeyed orders
and retreated. It was the end of him. He went
to the rear, thence to a court-martial, thence to dis-
missal and to a solitary life. He was an intelli-
gent, quick-witted, unstable man, much overrated
because he was an English officer among a colonial
people. He was ever treated magnanimously by
Washington after the day of battle at Monmouth,
but he then disappeared from the latter's life.

When Lee bowed before the storm and stepped
aside, Washington was left to deal with the danger
and confusion around him. Thus did he tell the
story afterwards to his brother : "A retreat, how-


ever, was the fact, be the causes what they may ;
and the disorder arising from it would have proved
fatal to the army, had not that bountiful Provi-
dence, which has never failed us in the hour of dis-
tress, enabled me to form a regiment or two (of
those that were retreating) in the face of the enemy,
and under their fire ; by which means a stand was
made long enough (the place through which the
enemy were pressing being narrow) to form the
troops, that were advancing, upon an advantageous
piece of ground in the rear." We cannot add
much to these simple and modest words, for they
tell the whole story. Having put Lee aside, Wash-
ington rallied the broken troops, brought them
into position, turned them back, and held the en-
emy in check. It was not an easy feat, but it was
done, and when Lee's division again fell back in
good order the main army was in position, and the
action became general. The British were repulsed,
and then Washington, taking the offensive, drove
them back until he occupied the battlefield of the
morning. Night came upon him still advancing.
He halted his army, lay down under a tree, his sol-
diers lying on their arms about him, and planned a
fresh attack, to be made at daylight. But when the
dawn came it was seen that the British had crept
off, and were far on their road. The heat pre-
vented a rapid pursuit, and Clinton got into New
York. Between there and Philadelphia he had
lost two thousand men, Washington said, and mod-
ern authorities put it at about fifteen hundred, of
whom nearly five hundred fell at Monmouth.


It is woi'th while to pause a moment and compare
this battle with the rout of Long Island, the sur-
prise at the Brandywine, and the fatal unsteadiness
at Germantown. Here, too, a check was received
at the outset, owing to blundering which no one
could have foreseen. The troops, confused and
without orders, began to retreat, but without panic
or disorder. The moment Washington appeared
they rallied, returned to the field, showed perfect
steadiness, and the victory was won. Monmouth
has never been one of the famous battles of the
Revolution, and yet there is no other which can
compare with it as an illustration of Washington's
ability as a soldier. It was not so much the way
in which it was fought, although that was fine
enough, but its importance lies in the evidence
which it gives of the way in which Washington,
after a series of defeats, during a winter of terrible
suffering and privation, had yet developed his
ragged volunteers into a well-disciplined and effec-
tive army. The battle was a victory, but the exist-
ence and the quality of the army that won it were
a far greater triumph.

The dreary winter at Valley Forge had indeed
borne fruit. With a slight numerical superiority
Washington had fought the British in the open
field, and fairly defeated them. " Clinton gained
no advantage," said the great Frederic, "except
to reach New York with the wreck of his army ;
America is probably lost for England." Another
year had passed, and England had lost an army,


and still held what she had before, the city of New
York. Washington was in the field with a better
army than ever, and an army flushed with a victory
which had been achieved after difficulties and trials
that no one now can rightly picture or describe.
The American Revolution was advancing, held
firm by the master-hand of its leader. Into it,
during these days of struggle and of battle, a new
element had come, and the next step is to see how
Washington dealt with the fresh conditions upon
which the great conflict had entered.



On May 4th, 1778, Congress ratified the treaties
of commerce and alliance with France. On the
6th, Washington, waiting at Valley Forge for the
British to start from Philadelphia, caused his army,
drawn out on parade, to celebrate the great event
with cheers and with salvos of artillery and mus-
ketry. The alliance deserved cheers and celebra-
tion, for it marked a long step onward in the Revo-
lution. It showed that America had demonstrated
to Europe that she could win independence, and it
had been proved to the traditional enemy of Eng-
land that the time had come when it would be pro-
fitable to help the revolted colonies. But the alli-
ance brought troubles as well as blessings in its
train. It induced a relaxation in popular energy,
and carried with it new and difficult problems for
the commander-in-chief. The successful manage-
ment of allies, and of allied forces, had been one of
the severest tests of the statesmanship of William
III., and had constituted one of the principal glo-
ries of Marlborough. A similar problem now con-
fronted the American general.

Washington was free from the diplomatic and


political portion of the business, but the military
and popular part fell wholly into his hands, and
demanded the exercise of talents entirely different
from those of either a general or an administrator.
It has been not infrequently written more or less
plainly, and it is constantly said, that Washington
was great in character, but that in brains he was
not far above the commonplace. It is even hinted
sometimes that the father of his country was a dull
man, a notion which we shall have occasion to ex-
amine more fully further on. At this point let the
criticism be remembered merely in connection with
the fact that to cooperate with allies in military mat-
ters demands tact, quick perception, firmness, and
patience. In a word, it is a task which calls for the
finest and most highly trained intellectual powers,
and of which the difficulty is enhanced a thousand-
fold when the allies were, on the one side, an old,
aristocratic, punctilious people, and on the other,
colonists utterly devoid of tradition, etiquette, or
fixed habits, and very much accustomed to go their
own way and speak their own minds with care-
less freedom. With this problem Washington was
obliged suddenly to deal, both in ill success and good
success, as well as in many attempts which came
to nothing. Let us see how he solved it at the
very outset, when everything went most perversely

On July 14th he heard that D'Estaing's fleet
was off the coast, and at once, without a trace of
elation or excitement, he began to consider the


possibility of intercepting the British fleet expected
to arrive shortly from Cork. As soon as D'Estaing
was within reach he sent two of his aides on board
the flagship, and at once opened a correspondence
with his ally. These letters of welcome, and those
of suggestion which followed, are models, in their
way, of what such letters ought always to be. They
were perfectly adapted to satisfy the etiquette and
the love of good manners of the French, and yet
there was not a trace of anything like servility, or
of an effusive gratitude which outran the favors
granted. They combined stately courtesy with
simple dignity, and are phrased with a sober grace
which shows the thoroughly strong man, as capable
to turn a sentence, if need be, as to rally retreating
soldiers in the face of the enemy.

In this first meeting of the allies nothing hap-
pened fortunately. D'Estaing had had a long pas-
sage, and was too late to cut off Lord Howe at the
Delaware. Then he turned to New York, and was
too late there, and found further that he could not
get his ships over the bar. Hence more delays, so
that he was late again in getting to Newport, where
he was to unite with Sullivan in driving the Brit-
ish from Rhode Island, as Washington had planned,
in case of failure at New York, while the French
were still hovering on the coast. When D'Estaing
finally reached Newport, there was still another
delay of ten days, and then, just as he and Sul-
livan were preparing to attack, Lord Howe, with
his squadron reinforced, appeared off the harbor.


Promising to return, D'Estaing sailed out to give
the enemy battle, and after much manoeuvring
both fleets were driven off by a severe storm, and
D'Estaing came back only to tell Sullivan that he
must go to Boston at once to refit. Then came
the protest addressed to the Count and signed by
all the American officers ; then the departure of
D'Estaing, and an indiscreet proclamation to the
troops by Sullivan, reflecting on the conduct of
the allies.

When D'Estaing had actually gone, and the
Americans were obliged to retreat, there was much
grumbling in all directions, and it looked as if
the first result of the alliance was to be a very
pretty quarrel. It was a bad and awkward bus-
iness. Congress had the good sense to suppress
the protest of the officers, and Washington, disap-
pointed, but perhaps not wholly surprised, set him-
self to work to put matters right. It was no easy
task to soothe the French, on the one hand, who
were naturally aggrieved at the utterances of the
American officers and at the popular feeling, and
on the other to calm his own people, who were, not
without reason, both disappointed and provoked.
To Sullivan, fuming with wrath, he wrote : " Should
the expedition fail through the abandonment of the
French fleet, the officers concerned will be apt to
complain loudly. But prudence dictates that we
should put the best face upon the matter, and to
the world attribute the removal to Boston to neces-
sity. The reasons are too obvious to need explain-


ing." And again, a few days later : " First impres-
sions, you know, are generally longest remembered,
and will serve to fix in a great degree our national
character among tlie French. In our conduct to-
wards them we should remember that they are a
people old in war, very strict in military etiquette,
and apt to take fire when others scarcely seem
warmed. Permit me to recommend, in the most
particular manner, the cultivation of harmony and
good agreement, and your endeavor to destroy that
ill-humor which may have got into officers." To
Lafayette he wrote : " Everybody, sir, who reasons,
will acknowledge the advantages which we have
derived from the French fleet, and the zeal of
the commander of it ; but in a free and republican
government you cannot restrain the voice of the
multitude. Every man will speak as he thinks,
or, more properly, without thinking, and conse-
quently will judge of effects without attending to
the causes. The censures which have been levelled
at the French fleet would more than probably have
fallen in a much higher degree upon a fleet of our
own, if we had had one in the same situation. It
is the nature of man to be displeased with every-
thing that disappoints a favorite hope or flattering
project ; and it is the folly of too many of them
to condemn without investigating circumstances."
Finally he wrote to D'Estaing, deploring the differ-
ence which had arisen, mentioning his own efforts
and wishes to restore harmony, and said : " It is in
the trying circumstances to which your Excellency


has been exposed that the virtues of a great mind
are displayed in their brightest kistre, and that a
general's character is better known than in the
moment of victory. It was yours by every title that
can give it ; and the adverse elements that robbed
you of your prize can never deprive you of the
glory due you. Though your success has not been
equal to your expectations, yet you have the satis-
faction of reflecting that you have rendered essen-
tial services to the common cause." This is not
the letter of a dull man. Indeed, there is a nicety
about it that partakes of cleverness, a much com-
moner thing than greatness, but something which
all great men by no means possess. Thus by tact
and comprehension of human nature, by judicious
suppression and judicious letters, Washington,
through the prudent exercise of all his commanding
influence, quieted his own people and soothed his
allies. In this way a serious disaster was averted,
and an abortive expedition was all that was left
to be regretted, instead of an ugly quarrel, which
might readily have neutralized the vast advantages
flowing from the French alliance.

Having refitted, D'Estaing bore away for the
West Indies, and so closed the first chapter in the
history of the alliance with France. Nothing more
was heard of the allies until the spring was well
advanced, when M. Gerard, the minister, wrote,
intimating that D'Estaing was about to return, and
asking what we would do. Washington replied at
length, professing his willingness to cooperate in


any way, and offering, if the French would send
ships, to abandon everything, run all risks, and
make an attack on New York. Nothing further
came of it, and Washington heard that the fleet
had gone to the Southern States, which he learned
without regret, as he was apprehensive as to the
condition of affairs in that region. Again, in the
autumn, it was reported that the fleet was once
more upon the northern coast. Washington at
once sent officers to be on the lookout at "the most
likely points, and he wrote elaborately to D'Es-
taing, setting forth with wonderful persjDicuity the
incidents of the past, the condition of the present,
and the probabilities of the future. He was willing
to do anything, or plan anything, provided his allies
would join with him. The jealousy so habitual in
humanity, which is afraid that some one else may
get the glory of a common success, was unknown
to Washington, and if he could but drive the British
from America, and establish American indepen-
dence, he was perfectly willing that the glory should
take care of itself. But all his wisdom in dealing
with the allies was, for the moment, vain. While
he was planning for a great stroke, and calling out
the militia of New England, D'Estaing was making
ready to relieve Georgia, and a few days after
Washington wrote his second letter, the French
and Americans assaulted the Britisli works at
Savannah, and were repulsed with heavy losses.
Then D'Estaing sailed away again, and the second
effort of France to aid England's revolted colonies


came to an end. Their presence had had a good
moral effect, and the dread of D'Estaing's return
had caused Clinton to withdraw from Newport and
concentrate in New York. This was all that was
actually accomplished, and there was nothing for
it but to await still another trial and a more con-
venient season.

With all his courtesy and consideration, with all
his readiness to fall in with the wishes and schemes
of the French, it must not be supposed that Wash-
ington ever went an inch too far in this direction.
He valued the French alliance, and proposed to use
it to great purpose, but he was not in the least daz-
zled or blinded by it. Even in the earliest glow
of excitement and hope produced by D'Estaing's
arrival, Washington took occasion to draw once
more the distinction between a valuable alliance
and volunteer adventurers, and to remonstrate
again with Congress about their reckless profusion
in dealing with foreign officers. To Gouverneur
Morris he wrote on July 24, 1778 : " The lavish
manner in which rank has hitherto been bestowed
on these gentlemen will certainly be productive of
one or the other of these two evils : either to make
it despicable in the eyes of Europe, or become the
means of pouring them in upon us like a torrent
and adding to our present burden. But it is nei-
ther the expense nor the trouble of them that I
most dread. There is an evil more extensive in
its nature, and fatal in its consequences, to be ap-
prehended, and that is the driving of all our own


officers out of the service, and throwing not only our
army, but our military councils, entirely into the
hands of foreigners. . . . Baron Steuben, I now
find, is also wanting to quit his inspectorship for a
command in the line. This will be productive of
much discontent to the brigadiers. In a word, al-
though I think the baron an excellent officer, I do
most devoutly wish that we had not a single for-
eigner among us except the Marquis de Lafayette,
who acts upon very different principles from those
which govern the rest." A few days later he said,
on the same theme, to the president of Congress :
" I trust you think me so much a citizen of the
world as to believe I am not easily warped or led
away by attachments merely local and American ;
yet I confess I am not entirely without them, nor
does it appear to me that they are unwarrantable,
if confined within proper limits. Fewer promo-
tions in the foreign line would have been produc-
tive of more harmony, and made our warfare more
agreeable to all parties." Again, he said of Steu-
ben : "I regret that there should be a necessity
that his services should be lost to the army ; at the
same time I think it my duty explicitly to observe
to Congress that his desire of having an actual and
permanent command in the line cannot be complied
with without wounding the feelings of a number of
officers, whose rank and merits give them every
claim to attention ; and that the doing of it would
be productive of much dissatisfaction and extensive
ill consequences."


Washington's resistance to the colonial deference
for foreigners has already been pointed out, but
this second burst of opposition, coming at this espe-
cial time, deserves renewed attention. The splendid
fleet and well-equipped troops of our ally were

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 22)