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ence. He tried to get Congress to do something
with the navy, and he planned an expedition, un-
der the command of Sullivan, to overrun the Indian
country and check the barbarous raids of the Tories
and savages on the frontier ; and with this he was
fain to be content. In fact, he perceived very
clearly the direction in which the war was tending.
He kept up his struggle with Congress for a per-
manent army, and with the old persistency pleaded
that something should be done for the officers, and
at the same time he tried to keep the States in
good humor when they were grumbling about the
amount of protection afforded them.

But all this wear and tear of heart and brain
and temper, while given chiefly to hold the army
together, was not endured with any notion that he
and Clinton were eventually to fight it out in the
neighborhood of New York. Washington felt that
that part of the conflict was over. He now hoped
and believed that the moment would come, when,
by uniting his army with the French, he should be
able to strike the decisive blow. Until that time
came, however, he knew that he could do nothing
on a great scale, and he felt that meanwhile the


British, abandoning practically the eastern and
middle States, would make one last desperate strug-
gle for victory, and would make it in the south.
Long before any one else, he appreciated this fact,
and saw a peril looming large in that region, where
everybody was considering the British invasion as
little more than an exaggerated raid. He foresaw,
too, that we should suffer more there than we had
in the extreme north, because the south was full
of Tories and less well organized.

All this, however, did not change his own plans
one jot. He believed that the south must work out
its own salvation, as New York and New England
had done with Burgoyne, and he felt sure that in
the end it would be successful. But he would not
go south, nor take his army there. The instinct of
a great commander for the vital point in a war or
a battle, is as keen as that of the tiger is said to
be for the jugular vein of its victim. The British
might overrun the north or invade the south, but
he would stay where he was, with his grip upon
New York and the Hudson River. The tide of in-
vasion might ebb and flow in this region or that,
but the British were doomed if they could not di-
vide the eastern colonies from the others. When
the appointed hour came, he was ready to abandon
everything and strike the final and fatal blow ; but
until then he waited and stood fast with his army,
holding the great river in his grasp. He felt much
more anxiety about the south than he had felt
about the north, and expected Congress to consult


him as to a commander, having made up his mind
that Greene was the man to send. But Congress
still believed in Gates, who had been making trou-
ble for Washington all winter ; and so Gates was
sent, and Congress in due time got their lesson,
and found once more that Washington understood
men better than they did.

In the north the winter was comparatively un-
eventful. The spring passed, and in June Clinton
came out and took possession of Stony Point and
Verplanck's Point, and began to fortify them. It
looked a little as if Clinton might intend to get
control of the Hudson by slow approaches, fortify-
ing, and then advancing until he reached West
Point. With this in mind, Washington at once
determined to check the British by striking sharply
at one of their new posts. Having made up his
mind, he sent for Wayne and asked him if he would
storm Stony Point. Tradition says that Wayne
replied, " I will storm hell, if you will plan it." A
true tradition, probably, in keeping with Wayne's
character, and pleasant to us to-day as showing
with a vivid gleam of rough human speech the
utter confidence of the army in their leader, that
confidence which only a great soldier can inspire.
So Washington planned, and Wayne stormed, and
Stony Point fell. It was a gallant and brilliant feat
of arms, one of the most brilliant of the war. Over
five hundred prisoners were taken, the guns were
carried oif , and the works destroyed, leaving the
British to begin afresh with a good deal of increased


caution and respect. Not long after, Harry Lee
stormed Paulus Hook with equal success, and the
British were checked and arrested, if they intended
any extensive movement. On the frontier, Sulli-
van, after some delays, did his work effectively,
ravaging the Indian towns and reducing them to
quiet, thus taking away another annoyance and

In these various ways Clinton's circle of activity
was steadily narrowed, but it may be doubted
whether he had any coherent plan. The principal
occupation of the British was to send out maraud-
ing expeditions and cut off outlying parties. Tryon
burned and pillaged in Connecticut, Matthews in
Virginia, and others on a smaller scale elsewhere
in New Jersey and New York. The blundering
stupidity of this system of warfare was only
equalled by its utter brutality. Houses were
burned, peaceful villages went up in smoke, women
and children were outraged, and soldiers were bay-
oneted after they had surrendered. These details
of the Kevolution are wellnigh forgotten now, but
when the ear is wearied with talk about English
generosity and love of fair play, it is well to turn
back and study the exploits of Tryon, and it is not
amiss in the same connection to recall that Eng-
lish budgets contained a special appropriation for
scalping-knives, a delicate attention to the Tories
and Indians who were burning and butchering on
the frontier.

Such methods of warfare "Washington despised


intellectually, and hated morally. He saw that
every raid only hardened the people against Eng-
land, and made her cause more hopeless. The
misery caused by these raids angered him, but he
would not retaliate in kind, and Wayne bayoneted
no English soldiers after they laid down their arms
at Stony Point. It was enough for Washington
to hold fast to the great objects he had in view,
to check Clinton and circumscribe his movements.
Steadfastly he did this through the summer and
winter of 1779, which proved one of the worst
that he had yet endured. Supplies did not come,
the army dwindled, and the miseries of Valley
Forge were renewed. Again was repeated the old
and pitiful story of appeals to Congress and the
States, and again the undaunted spirit and strenu-
ous exertions of Washington saved the army and
the Revolution from the internal ruin which was his
worst enemy. When the new year began, he saw
that he was again condemned to a defensive cam-
paign, but this made little difference now, for what
he had foreseen in the spring of 1779 became cer-
tainty in the autumn. The active war was trans-
ferred to the south, where the chapter of disasters
was beginning, and Clinton had practically given
up everything except New York. The war had
taken on the new phase expected by Washington.
Weak as he was, he began to detach troops, and
prepared to deal with the last desperate effort of
England to conquer her revolted colonies from the


Arnold's treason, and the war in the


The spring of 1780 was the beginning of a
period of inactivity and disappointment, of dili-
gent effort and frustrated plans. During the
months which ensued before the march to the
south, Washington passed through a stress of
harassing anxiety, which was far worse than any-
thing he had to undergo at any other time. Plans
were formed, only to fail. Opportunities arose,
only to pass by unfulfilled. The network of hos-
tile conditions bound him hand and foot, and it
seemed at times as if he could never break the
bonds that held him, or prevent or hold back the
moral, social, and political dissolution going on
about him. With the aid of France, he meant to
strike one decisive blow, and end the struggle.
Every moment was of importance, and yet the
days and weeks and months slipped by, and he
could get nothing done. He could neither gain
control of the sea, nor gather sufficient forces of
his own, although delay now meant ruin. He
saw the British overrun the south, and he could
not leave the Hudson. He was obliged to sacri-


fice the southern States, and yet he could get
neither ships nor men to attack New York. The
army was starving and mutinous, and he sought
relief in vain. The finances were ruined. Con-
gress was helpless, the States seemed stupefied.
Treason of the most desperate kind suddenly
reared its head, and threatened the very citadel of
the Ee volution. These were the days of the war
least familiar to posterity. They are unmarked in
the main by action or fighting, and on this dreary
monotony nothing stands out except the black
stain of Arnold's treason. Yet it was the time of
all others when Washington had most to bear. It
was the time of all others when his dogged persist-
ence and unwavering courage alone seemed to sus-
tain the flickering fortunes of the war.

In April Washington was pondering ruefully
on the condition of affairs at the south. He saw
that the only hope of saving Charleston was in
the defence of the bar ; and when that became in-
defensible, he saw that the town ought to be aban-
doned to the enemy, and the army withdrawn to
the country. His military genius showed itself
again and again in his perfectly accurate judg-
ment on distant campaigns. He seemed to appre-
hend all the conditions at a glance, and although
his wisdom made him refuse to issue orders when
he was not on the ground, those generals who fol-
lowed his suggestions, even when a thousand miles
away, were successful, and those who disregarded
them were not. Lincoln, commanding at Charles-


ton, was a brave and loyal man, but lie had neither
the foresight nor the courage to withdraw to the
country, and then, hovering on the lines of the
enemy, to confine them to the town. He yielded
to the entreaties of the citizens and remained, only
to surrender. Washington had retreated from
New York, and after five years of fighting the
British still held it, and had gone no further. He
had refused to risk an assault to redeem Philadel-
phia at the expense of much grumbling and curs-
ing, and had then beaten the enemy when they
hastily retreated thence in the following spring.
His cardinal doctrine was that the Revolution de-
pended upon the existence of the army, and not on
the possession of any particular spot of ground, and
his masterly adherence to this theory brought
victory, slowly but surely. Lincoln's very natural
inability to grasp it, and to withstand popular pres-
sure, cost us for a time the southern States and a
great deal of bloody fighting.

In the midst of this anxiety about the south, and
when he foresaw the coming disasters, Washington
was cheered and encouraged by the arrival of
Lafayette, whom he loved, and who brought good
tidings of his zealous work for the United States
in Paris. An army and a fleet were on their way
to America, with a promise of more to follow. This
was great news indeed. It is interesting to note how
Washington took it, for we see here with unusual
clearness the readiness of grasp and quickness of
thought which have been noted before, but which


are not commonly attributed to him. It has been
the fashion to treat Washington as wise and pru-
dent, but as distinctly slow, and when he was obliged
to concentrate public opinion, either military or
civil, or when doubt overhung his course, he moved
with great deliberation. When he required no
concentration of opinion, and had made up his
mind, he could strike with a terribly swift deci-
sion, as at Trenton or Monmouth. So when a new
situation presented itself he seized with wonder-
ful rapidity every phase and possibility opened by
changed conditions.

The moment he learned from Lafayette that the
French succors were actually on the way, he began
to lay out plans in a manner which showed how he
had taken in at the first glance every chance and
every contingency. He wrote that the decisive
moment was at hand, and that the French succors
would be fatal if not used successfully now. Con-
gress must improve their methods of administra-
tion, and for this purpose must appoint a small
committee to cooperate with him. This step he
demanded, and it was taken at once. Fresh from
his interview with Lafayette, he sent out orders
to have inquiries made as to Halifax and its de-
fences. Possibly a sudden and telling blow might
be struck there, and nothing should be overlooked.
He also wrote to Lafayette to urge upon the French
commander an immediate assault on New York
the moment he landed. Yet despite his thought
for New York, he even then began to see the oj)por-


tunities which were destined to develop into York-
town. He had longed to go to the south before,
and had held back only because he felt that the
main army and New York were still the key of the
position, and could not be safely left. Now, while
planning the capture of New York, he asked in a
letter whether the enemy was not more exposed at
the southward and therefore a better subject for a
combined attack there. Clearness and precision of
plan as to the central point, joined to a perfect
readiness to change suddenly and strike hard and
decisively in a totally different quarter, are sure
marks of the great commander. We can find them
all through the correspondence, but here in May,
1780, they come out with peculiar vividness. They
are qualities arising from a wide foresight, and
from a sure and quick perception. They are not
the qualities of a slow or heavy mind.

On June 1st came the news of the surrender
of Charleston and the loss of the army, which was
followed by the return of Clinton to New York.
The southern States lay open now to the enem}^,
and it was a severe trial to Washington to be
unable to go to their rescue ; but with the same
dogged adherence to his ruling idea, he concen-
trated his attention on the Hudson with renewed
vigilance on account of .Clinton's return. Adver-
sity and prosperity alike were unable to divert him
from the control of the great river and the mas-
tery of the middle States until he saw conclusive
victory elsewhere fairly within his grasp. In the


same unswerving way he pushed on the prepara-
tions for what he felt to be the coming of the deci-
sive campaign and the supreme moment of the war.
To all the governors went urgent letters, calling on
the States to fill their lines in the continental army,
and to have their militia in readiness.

In the midst of these anxieties and preparations,
the French arrived at Newport, bringing a well-
equipped army of some five thousand men, and a
small fleet. They brought, too, something quite as
important, in the way of genuine good-will and full
intention to do all in their power for their allies.
After a moment's hesitation, born of unlucky
memories, the people of Rhode Island gave De
Rochambeau a hearty welcome, and Washington
sent him the most cordial greeting. With the
greeting went the polite but earnest request for
immediate action, together with plans for attack-
ing New York; and, at the same time, another
urgent call went out to the States for men, money,
and supplies. The long looked-for hour had ar-
rived, a fine French army was in Newport, a French
fleet rode in the harbor, and instead of action, im-
mediate and effective, the great event marked only
the beginning of a period of delays and disappoint-
ment, wearing heart and nerve almost beyond en-

First it appeared that the French ships could
not get into New York harbor. Then there was
sickness in the French army. Then the British
vnenaced Newport, and rapid preparations had to be


made to meet that clanger. Then it came out that
De Rochambeau was ordered to await the arrival
of the second division of the army, with more ships ;
and after due waiting, it was discovered that the
aforesaid second division, with their ships, were
securely blockaded by the English fleet at Brest.
On our side it was no better ; indeed, it was rather
worse. There was lack of arms and powder. The
drafts were made with difficulty, and the new levies
came in slowly. Supplies failed altogether, and on
every hand there was nothing but delay, and ever
fresh delay, and in the midst of it all Washington,
wrestling with sloth and incoherence and ineffi-
ciency, trampled down one failure and disappoint-
ment only to encounter another, equally important,
equally petty, and equally harassing.

On August 20th he wrote to Congress a long and
most able letter, which set forth forcibly the evil
and perilous condition of affairs. After reading
that letter no man could say that there was not need
of the utmost exertion, and for the expenditure of
the last ounce of energy. In it Washington struck
especially at the two delusions with which the people
and their representatives were lulling themselves
into security, and by which the}^ were led to relax
their efforts. One was the belief that England was
breaking down ; the other, that the arrival of the
French was synonymous with the victorious close
of the war. Washington demonstrated that Eng-
land still commanded the sea, and that as long as
she did so there was a great advantage on her side.


She was stronger, on the whole, this year than the
year before, and her financial resources were still
ample. There was no use in looking for victory in
the weakness of the enemy, and on the other hand, to
rely wholly on France was contemptible as well as
foolish. After stating plainly that the army was
on the verge of dissolution, he said : " To me it will
appear miraculous if our affairs can maintain them-
selves much longer in their present train. If either
the temper or the resources of the country will not
admit of an alteration, we may expect soon to be
reduced to the humiliating condition of seeing the
cause of America, in America, upheld by foreign
arms. The generosity of our allies has a claim to
all our confidence and all our gratitude, but it is
neither for the honor of America, nor for the inter-
est of the common cause, to leave the work entirely
to them."

It must have been bitter to Washington above
all men, with his high dignity and keen sense
of national honor, to write such words as these,
or make such an argument to any of his coun-
trymen. But it was a work which the time de-
manded, and he did it without flinching. Hav-
ing thus laid bare the weak places, he proceeded
to rehearse once more, with a weariness we can
easily fancy, the old, old lesson as to organization,
a permanent army, and a better system of adminis-
tration. This letter neither scolded, nor bewailed,
nor desponded, but it told the truth with great
force and vigor. It, of course, had but slight


results, comparatively speaking, still it did some-
thing, and the final success o£ the Revolution is due
to the series of strong truth-telling letters, of which
this is an example, as much as to any one thing
done by Washington. There was need of some
one, not only to fight battles and lead armies, but
to drive Congress into some sort of harmony, spur
the careless and indifferent to action, arouse the
States, and kill various fatal delusions, and in
Washington the robust teller of unwelcome truths
was found.

Still, even the results actually obtained by such
letters came but slowly, and Washington felt that
he must strike at all hazards. Through Lafayette
he tried to get De Rochambeau to agree to an im-
mediate attack on New York. His army was on the
very eve of dissolution, and he began with reason to
doubt his own power of holding it together longer.
The finances of the country were going ever faster
to irremediable ruin, and it seemed impossible that
anything could postpone open and avowed bank-
ruptcy. So, with his army crumbling, mutinous,
and half starved, he turned to his one unfailing
resource of fighting, and tried to persuade De
Rochambeau to join him. Under the circumstances,
Washington was right to wish to risk a battle, and
De Rochambeau, from his point of view, was
equally so in refusing to take the offensive, unless
the second division arrived or De Guichen came
with his fleet, or the English force at New York
was reduced.


In these debates and delays, mingled with an
appeal to De Guichen in the West Indies, the
summer was fast wearing away, and, by way of
addition, early in September came tidings of the
battle of Camden, and the utter rout of Gates's
army. Despite his own needs and trials, Washing-
ton's first idea was to stem the current of disaster
at the south, and he ordered the fresh Maryland
troops to turn back at once and march to the Caro-
linas, but Gates fled so fast and far that it was some
time before anything was heard of him. As more
news came of Camden and its beaten general,
Washington wrote to Rutledge that he should ulti-
mately come southward. Meantime, he could only
struggle with his own difficulties, and rack his
brains for men and means to rescue the south. It
must have seemed to Washington, in those lovely
September days, as if fate could not have any worse
trials in store, and that if he could only breast the
troubles now surging about him, he might count on
sure and speedy success. Yet the bitterest trial of
all was even then hanging over his head, and with
a sort of savage sarcasm it came upon him in one of
those rare moments when he had an hour of rest
and sunshine.

The story of Arnold's treason is easily told. Its
romantic side has made it familiar to all Ameri-
cans, and given it a factitious importance. Had it
succeeded it would have opened vast opportunities
of disaster to America. It failed, and had no
result whatever. It has passed into history simply


as a picturesque episode, charged with possibilities
which fascinate the imagination, but having, in it-
self, neither meaning nor consequences beyond the
two conspirators. To us it is of interest, because
it shows Washington in one of the sharpest and
bitterest experiences of his life. Let us see how
he met it and dealt with it.

From the day when the French landed, both
De Rochambeau and Washington had been most
anxious to meet. The French general had been
particularly urgent, but it was difficult for Wash-
ington to get away. As he wrote on August 21st :
" We are about ten miles from the enemy. Our
popular government imposes a necessity of great
circumspection. If any misfortune should happen
in my absence, it would be attended with every
inconvenience. I will, however, endeavor if possi-
ble, and as soon as possible, to meet you at some
convenient rendezvous." In accordance with this
promise, a few weeks later, he left Greene in com-
mand of the army, and, not without misgivings,
started on September 18th to meet De Rocham-
beau. On his way he had an interview with Ar-
nold, who came to him to show a letter from the
loyalist Colonel Robinson, and thus disarm suspi-
cion as to his doings. On the 20th, the day when
Andre and Arnold met to arrange the terms of
the sale, Washington was with De Rochambeau at
Hartford. News had arrived, meantime, that De
Guichen had sailed for Europe ; the command of
the sea was therefore lost, and the opportunity for


action had gone by. There was no need for fur-
ther conference, and Washington accordingly set
out on his return at once, two or three days earlier
than he had intended.

He was accompanied by his own staff, and by
Knox and Lafayette with their officers. With him,
too, went the young Count Dumas, who has left a
description of their journey, and of the popular en-
thusiasm displayed in the towns through which they
passed. In one village, which they reached after
nightfall, all the people turned out, the children
bearing torches, and men and women hailed Wash-
ington as father, and pressed about him to touch
the hem of his garments. Turning to Dumas he
said, " We may be beaten by the English ; it is the
chance of war; but there is the army they will
never conquer." Political leaders grumbled, and
military officers caballed, but the popular feeling
went out to Washington with a sure and utter con-
fidence. The people in that little village recog-

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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 22)