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Yet the ideas that he put forth in this time of con-
fusion and conflict and expedients were so vitally
sound and wise that they deserve the most care-
ful study in relation to after events. The polit-
ical trials and difficulties of this period were the
stern teachers from whom Washington acquired
the knowledge and experience which made him the
principal agent in bringing about the formation and
adoption of the Constitution of the United States.


We shall have occasion to examine these opinions
and views more closely when they were afterwards
brought into actual play. At this point it is only
necessary to trace the history of the methods by
which he solved the problem of the Revolution
before the political system of the confederation
became absolutely useless.



The failure to accomplish anything in the north
caused Washington, as the year drew to a close,
to turn his thoughts once more toward a combined
movement at the south. In pursuance of this idea,
he devised a scheme of uniting with the Span-
iards in the seizure of Florida, and of advancing
thence through Georgia to assail the English in the
rear. De Rochambeau did not approve the plan
and it was abandoned ; but the idea of a southern
movement was still kept steadily in sight. The
governing thought now was, not to protect this
place or that, but to cast aside everything else
in order to strike one great blow which would fin-
ish the war. Where he could do this, time alone
would show, but if one follows the correspondence
closely, it is apparent that Washington's military
instinct turned more and more toward the south.

In that department affairs changed their aspect
rapidly. January 17th, Morgan won his brilliant
victory at the Cowpens, withdrew in good order
with his prisoners, and united his army with that of
Greene. Cornwallis was terribly disappointed by
this unexpected reverse, but he determined to push
on, defeat the combined American army, and then


join the British forces on the Chesapeake. Greene
was too weak to risk a battle, and made a masterly
retreat of two hundred miles before Cornwallis, es-
caping across the Dan only twelve hours ahead of
the enemy. The moment the British moved away,
Greene recrossed the river and hung upon their
rear. For a month he kept in their neighborhood,
checking the rising of the Tories, and declining
battle. At last he received reinforcements, felt
strong enough to stand his ground, and on March
15th the battle of Guilford Court House was
fought. It was a sharp and bloody fight ; the
British had the advantage, and Greene abandoned
the field, bringing off his army in good order.
Cornwallis, on his part, had suffered so heavily,
however, that his victory turned to ashes. On the
18th he was in full retreat, with Greene in hot
chase, and it was not until the 28th that he suc-
ceeded in getting over the Deep Eiver and escap-
ing to Wilmington. Thence he determined to push
on and transfer the seat of war to the Chesapeake.
Greene, with the boldness and quickness which
showed him to be a soldier of a high order, now
dropped the pursuit and turned back to fight the
British in detachments and free the southern States.
There is no need to follow him in the brilliant oper-
ations which ensued, and by which he achieved
this result. It is sufficient to say here that he had
altered the whole aspect of the war, forced Corn-
wallis into Virginia within reach of Washington,
and begun the work of redeeming the Carolinas.


The troops which Cornwallis intended to join
had been sent in detachments to Virginia during
the winter and spring. The first body had arrived
early in January under the command of Arnold,
and a general marauding and ravaging took place.
A little later General Phillips arrived with rein-
forcements and took command. On May 13th,
General Phillips died, and a week later Cornwallis
appeared at Petersburg, assumed control, and sent
Arnold back to New York.

Meantime Washington, though relieved by Mor-
gan's and Greene's admirable work, had a most
trying and unhappy winter and spring. He sent
every man he could spare, and more than he ought
to have spared, to Greene, and he stripped himself
still further when the invasion of Virginia began.
But for the most part he was obliged, from lack
of any naval strength, to stand helplessly by and
see more and more British troops sent to the south,
and witness the ravaging of his native State, with-
out any ability to prevent it. To these grave trials
was added a small one, which stung him to the
quick. The British came up the Potomac, and
Lund Washington, in order to preserve Mount
Vernon, gave them refreshments, and treated them
in a conciliatory manner. He meant well but acted
ill, and Washington wrote :

" It would have been a less painful circumstance
to me to have heard that, in consequence of your
non-compliance with their request, they had burnt
my house and laid the plantation in ruins. You


ought to have considered yourself as my repre-
sentative, and should have reflected on the bad ex-
ample of communicating with the enemy, and mak-
ing a voluntary offer of refreshments to them, with
a view to prevent a conflagration."

What a clear glimpse this little episode gives of
the earnestness of the man who wrote these lines.
He could not bear the thought that any favor should
be shown him on any pretence. He was ready to
take his share of the marauding and pillaging with
the rest, but he was deeply indignant at the idea
that any one representing him should even appear
to ask a favor of the British.

Altogether, the spring of 1781 was very trying,
for there was nothing so galling to Washington as
to be unable to fight. He wanted to get to the
south, but he was bound hand and foot by lack
of force. Yet the obstacles did not daunt or de-
press him. He wrote in June that he felt sure of
bringing the war to a happy conclusion, and in the
division of the British forces he saw his opportu-
nity taking shape. Greene had the southern forces
well in hand. Cornwallis was equally removed
from Clinton on the north and Rawdon on the
south, and had come within reach ; so that if he
could but have naval strength he could fall upon
Cornwallis with superior force and crush him. In
naval matters fortune thus far had dealt hardly
with him, yet he could not but feel that a French
fleet of sufficient force must soon come. He grasped
the situation with a master -hand, and began to


prepare the way. Still he kept his counsel strictly
to himself, and set to work to threaten, and if pos-
sible to attack. New York, not with much hope of
succeeding in any such attempt, but with a view of
frightening Clinton and of inducing him either to
withdraw troops from Virginia, or at least to with-
hold reinforcements. As he began his Virginian
campaign in this distant and remote fashion at the
mouth of the Hudson, he was cheered by news
that De Grasse, the French admiral, had sent re-
cruits to Newport, and intended to come himself to
the American coast. He at once wrote De Grasse
not to determine absolutely to come to New York,
hinting that it might prove more advisable to op-
erate to the southward. It required great tact to
keep the French fleet where he needed it, and yet
not reveal his intentions, and nothing showed Wash-
ington's foresight more plainly than the manner in
which he made the moves in this campaign, when
miles of space and weeks of time separated him
from the final object of his plans. To trace this
mastery of details, and the skill with which every
point was remembered and covered, would require
a long and minute narrative. They can only be
indicated here sufficiently to show how exactly
each movement fitted in its place, and how all to-
gether brought the great result.

Fortified by the good news from De Grasse,
Washino^ton had an interview with De Kocham-
beau, and effected a junction with the French
army. Thus strengthened, he opened his cam-


paigii against Cornwallis by beginning a move-
ment against Clinton. The troops were massed
above the city, and an effort was made to surprise
the upper posts and destroy Delancey's partisan
corps. The attempt, although well planned, failed
of its immediate purpose, giving Washington op-
portunity only for an effective reconnoissance of
the enemy's positions. But the move was perfectly
successful in its real and indirect object. Clinton
was alarmed. He began to write to Cornwallis
that troops should be returned to New York, and
he gave up absolutely the idea of sending more men
to Virginia. Having thus convinced Clinton that
New York was menaced, Washington then set to
work to familiarize skilfully the minds of his allies
and of Congress with the idea of a southern cam-
paign. With this end in view, he wrote on Au-
gust 2d that, if more troops arrived from Virginia,
New York would be impracticable, and that the
next point was the south. The only contingency,
as he set forth, was the all-important one of obtain-
ing naval superiority. August 15th this essential
condition gave promise of fulfilment, for on that
day definite news arrived that De Grasse with his
fleet was on his way to the Chesapeake. Without
a moment's hesitation, Washington began to move,
and at the same time he sent an urgent letter to the
New England governors, demanding troops with an
earnestness which he had never surpassed.

In Virginia, meanwhile, during these long mid-
summer days, while Washington was waiting and


planning, Cornwallis had been going up and down,
harrying, burning, and plundering. His cavalry-
had scattered the legislature, and driven Governor
Jefferson in headlong flight over the hills, while
property to the value of more than three millions
had been destroyed. Lafayette, sent by Washing-
ton to maintain the American cause, had been too
weak to act decisively, but he had been true to his
general's teaching, and, refusing battle, had hung
upon the flanks of the British and harassed and
checked them. Joined by Wayne, he had fought
an unsuccessful engagement at Green Springs, but
brought off his army, and with steady pertinacity
followed the enemy to the coast, gathering strength
as he moved. Now, when all was at last ready,
Washington began to draw his net about Corn-
wallis, whom he had been keenly watching during
the victorious marauding of the summer. On the
news of the coming of the French fleet, he wrote
to Lafayette to be prepared to join him when he
reached Virginia, to retain Wayne, who intended to
join Greene, and to stop Cornwallis at all hazards,
if he attempted to go southward.

Cornwallis, however, had no intention of moving.
He had seen the peril of his position, and had
wished to withdraw to Charleston ; but the minis-
try, highly pleased with his performances, wished
him to remain on the Chesapeake, and decisive
orders came to him to take ^ a permanent post
'm. that region. Clinton, moreover, was jealous of
Cornwallis, and, impressed and deceived by Wash-


ington's movements, he not only sent no reinforce-
ments, but detained three thousand Hessians, who
had lately arrived. Cornwallis, therefore, had no
choice, and with much writing for aid, and some
protesting, he obeyed his orders, planted himself at
Yorktown and Gloucester, and proceeded to fortify,
while Lafayette kept close watch upon him. Corn-
wallis was a good soldier and a clever man, suf-
fering, as Burgoyne did, from a stupid ministry
and a dull and jealous commander-in-chief. Thus
hampered and burdened, he was ready to fall a
victim to the operations of a really great general,
whom his official superiors in England undervalued
and despised.

August 17th, as soon as he had set his own ma-
chinery in motion, Washington wrote to De Grasse
to meet him in the Chesapeake. He was working
now more anxiously and earnestly than at any
time in the Revolution, not merely because he felt
that success depended on the blow, but because he
descried a new and alarming danger. He had
perceived it in June, and the idea pursued him
until all w^as over, and kept recurring in his letters
during this strained and eager summer. To Wash-
ington's eyes, watching campaigns and government
at home and the politics of Europe abroad, the
signs of exhaustion, of mediation, and of coming
peace across the Atlantic were plainly visible. If
peace should come as things then were, America
would get independence, and be shorn of many
of her most valuable possessions. The sprawling


British campaign of maraud and plunder, so bad
in a military point of view, and about to prove fa-
tal to Cornwallis, would, in case of sudden cessation
of hostilities, be capable of the worst construction.
Time, therefore, had become of the last importance.
The decisive blow must be given at once, and
before the slow political movements could come to
a head. On July 14th, Washington had his plan
mapped out. He wrote in his diary :

"Matters having now come to a crisis, and a
decided plan to be determined on, I was obliged —
from the shortness of Count De Grasse's promised
stay on this coast, the apparent disinclination of
their naval officers to force the harbor of New
York, and the feeble compliance of the States with
my requisitions for men hitherto, and the little
prospect of greater exertions in future — to give
up all ideas of attacking New York, and instead
thereof to remove the French troops and a detach-
ment from the American army to the Head of Elk,
to be transported to Virginia for the purpose of
cooperating with the force from the West Indies
against the troops in that State."

Like most of Washington's plans, this one was
clear-cut and direct, and looks now simple enough,
but at the moment it was hedged with almost incon-
ceivable difficulties at every step. The ever-present
and ever-growing obstacles at home were there as
usual. Appeals to Morris for money were met
by the most discouraging responses, and the States
seemed more lethargic than ever. Neither men nor


supplies could be obtained ; neither transportation
nor provision for the march could be promised.
Then, too, in addition to all this, came a wholly
new set of stumbling-blocks arising among the
allies. Everything hinged on the naval force.
Washington needed it for a short time only ; but
for that crucial moment he must have not only
superiority but supremacy at sea. Every French
ship that could be reached must be in the Chesa-
peake, and Washington had had too many French
fleets slip away from him at the last moment and
bring everything to naught to take any chances
in this direction. To bring about his naval su-
premacy required the utmost tact and good man-
agement, and that he succeeded is one of the chief
triumphs of the campaign. In fact, at the very out-
set he was threatened in this quarter with a serious
defection. De Barras, with the American squad-
ron, was at Boston, and it was essential that he
should be united with De Grasse at Yorktown.
But De Barras was nettled by the favoritism which
had made De Grasse, his junior in service, his
superior in command. He determined therefore to
take advantage of his orders and sail away to the
north to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and leave
De Grasse to fight it out alone. It is a hard thing
to beat an opposing army, but it is equally hard
to bring human jealousies and ambitions into the
narrow path of self-sacrifice and subordination.
Alarmed beyond measure at the suggested depart-
ure of the Boston squadron, Washington wrote a


letter, which De Rochambeau signed with him, urg-
ing De Barras to turn his fleet toward the Chesa-
peake. It was a skilfully drawn missive, an adroit
mingling of appeals to honor and sympathy and of
vigorous demands to perform an obvious duty. The
letter did its work, the diplomacy of Washington
was successful, and De Barras suppressed his feel-
ings of disappointment, and agreed to go to the
Chesapeake and serve under De Grasse.

This point made, Washington pushed on his
preparations, or rather pushed on despite his lack
of preparations, and on August 17th, as has been
said, wrote to De Grasse to meet him in the Chesa-
peake. He left the larger part of his own troops
with Heath, to whom in carefully drawn instructions
he entrusted the grave duty of guarding the Hud-
son and watching the British in New- York. This
done, he gathered his forces together, and on
August 21st the army started on its march to the
south. On the 23d and 24th it crossed the Hud-
son, without annoyance from the British of any
kind. Washington had threatened New York so
effectively, and manoeuvred so successfully, that
Clinton could not be shaken in his belief that the
real object of the Americans was his own army ;
and it was not until September 2d that he real-
ized that his enemy was going to the south, and
that Cornwallis was in danger. He even then hesi-
tated and delayed, but finally <lispatched Admiral
Graves with the fleet to the Chesapeake. The
Admiral came upon the French early on Septem-


ber 5th, the very day that Washington was rejoic-
ing in the news that De Grasse had arrived in the
Chesapeake and had landed St. Simon and three
thousand men to support Lafayette. As soon as
the English fleet appeared, the French, although
many of their men were on shore, sailed out and
gave battle. An indecisive action ensued, in which
the British suffered so much that five days later
they burned one of their frigates and withdrew to
New York. De Grasse returned to his anchorage,
to find that De Barras had come in from Newport
with eight ships and ten transports carrying ord-

While everything was thus moving well toward
th^ consmnmation of the cam23aign, Washington,
in the midst of his delicate and important work of
breaking camp and beginning his rapid march to
the south, was harassed by the ever-recurring diffi-
culties of the feeble and bankrupt government of
the confederation. He wrote again and again to
Morris for money, and finally got some. His de-
mands for men and supplies remained almost un-
heeded, but somehow he got provisions enough to
start. He foresaw the most pressing need, and
sent messages in all directions for shipping to
transport his army down the Chesapeake. No one
responded, but still he gathered the transports ; at
first a few, then more, and finally, after many de-
lays, enough to move his army to Yorktown. The
spectacle of such a struggle, so heroically made, one
would think, might have inspired every soul on


the continent with enthusiasm ; but at this very
moment, while Washington was breaking camp and
marching southward, Congress was considering the
reduction of the army ! — which was as appropriate
as it would have been for the English Parliament
to have reduced the navy on the eve of Trafalgar,
or for Lincoln to have advised the restoration of
the army to a peace footing while Grant was fight-
ing in the Wilderness. The fact was that the
Continental Congress was weakened in ability and
very tired in point of nerve and will-power. They
saw that peace was coming, and naturally thought
that the sooner they could get it the better. They
entirely failed to see, as Washington saw, that in
a too sudden peace lurked the danger of the uti
■])0ssidetis^ and that the mere fact of peace by no
means implied necessarily complete success. They
did not, of course, effect their reductions, but they
remained inert, and so for the most part did the
state governments, becoming drags upon the wheels
of war instead of helpers to the man who was driv-
ing the Revolution forward to its goal. Both state
and confederate governments still meant well, but
they were worn out and relaxed. Yet over and
through all these heavy masses of misapprehension
and feebleness, Washington made his way. Here
again all that can be said is that somehow or other
the thing was done. We can take account of the
resisting forces, but we cannot tell just how they
were dealt with. We only know that one strong
man trampled them down and got what he wanted


Pushing on after the joyful news of the arrival
of De Grasse had been received, Washington left
the army to go by water from the Head of Elk,
and hurried to Mount Vernon, accompanied by De
Rochambeau. It was six years since he had seen
his home. He had left it a Virginian colonel, full
of forebodings for his country, with a vast and
unknown problem awaiting solution at his hands.
He returned to it the first soldier of his day, after
six years of battle and trial, of victory and defeat,
on the eve of the last and crowning triumph. As
he paused on the well-beloved spot, and gazed
across the broad and beautiful river at his feet,
thoughts and remembrances must have come
thronging to his mind w^hich it is given to few
men to know. He lingered there two days, and
then pressing on again, was in Williamsburg on the
14th, and on the 17th went on board the Ville de
Paris to congratulate De Grasse on his victory, and
to concert measures for the siege.

The meeting was most agreeable. All had gone
well, all promised well, and everything was smiling
and harmonious. Yet they were on the eve of
the greatest peril which occurred in the campaign.
Washington had managed to scrape together enough
transports ; but his almost unassisted labors had
taken time, and delay had followed. Then the
transports were slow, and winds and tides were
uncertain, and there was further delay. The inter-
val permitted De Grasse to hear that the British
fleet had received reinforcements, and to become


nervous in consequence. He wanted to get out to
sea ; the season was advancing, and he was anxious
to return to the West Indies ; and above all he did
not wish to fight in the bay. He therefore pro-
posed firmly and vigorously to leave two ships in
the river, and stand out to sea with his fleet. The
Yorktown campaign began to look as if it had
reached its conclusion. Once again Washington
wrote one of his masterly letters of expostulation
and remonstrance, and once more he prevailed,
aided by the reasoning and appeals of Lafayette,
who carried the message. De Grasse consented to
stay, and Washington, grateful beyond measure,
wrote him that " a great mind knows how to make
personal sacrifice to secure an important general
good." Under the circumstances, and in view of
the general truth of this complimentary sentiment,
one cannot help rejoicing that De Grasse had " a
great mind."

At all events he stayed, and thereafter every-
thing went well. The northern army landed at Wil-
liamsburg and marched for Yorktown on the 28th.
They reconnoitred the outlying works the next day,
and prepared for an immediate assault ; but in
the night Cornwallis abandoned all his outside
works and withdrew into the town. Washington
thereupon advanced at once, and prepared for the
siege. On the night of the 5th, the trenches were
opened only six hundred yards, from the enemy's
line, and in three days the first parallel was com-
pleted. On the 11th the second parallel was be-


gun, and on the 14th the American batteries
played on the two advanced redoubts with such
effect that the breaches were pronounced practica-
ble. Washington at once ordered an assault. The
smaller redoubt was stormed by the Americans
under Hamilton and taken in ten minutes. The
other, larger and more strongly garrisoned, was car-
ried by the French with equal gallantry, after half
an hour's fighting. During the assault Washing-
ton stood in an embrasure of the grand battery,
watching the advance of the men. He was always
given to exposing himself recklessly when there
was fighting to be done, but not when he was
only an observer. This night, however, he was
much exposed to the enemy's fire. One of his
aides, anxious and disturbed for his safety, told him
that the place was perilous. " If you think so,"
was the quiet answer, " you are at liberty to step
back." The moment was too exciting, too fraught
with meaning, to think of peril. The old fighting
spirit of Braddock's field was unchained for the
last time. He would have liked to head the Amer-
ican assault, sword in hand, and as he could not
do that he stood as near his troops as he could,
utterly regardless of the bullets whistling in the

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