Henry Cabot Lodge.

George Washington (Volume 1) online

. (page 20 of 22)
Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


air about him. Who can wonder at his intense
excitement at that moment ? Others saw a brilliant
storming of two outworks, but to Washington the
whole Revolution, and all the labor and thought
and conflict of six years were culminating in the
smoke and din on those redoubts, while out of the



YORKTO WN. 309

dust and heat of the sharp quick fight success was
coming. He had waited long, and worked hard,
and his whole soul went out as he watched the
troops cross the abattis and scale the works. He
could have no thought of danger then, and when
all was over he turned to Knox and said, " The
work is done, and well done. Bring me my horse."

Washington was not mistaken. The work was
indeed done. Tarleton early in the siege had
dashed out against Lauzun on the other side of
the river and been repulsed. Cornwallis had been
forced back steadily into the town, and his redoubts,
as soon as taken, were included in the second par-
allel. A sortie to retake the redoubts failed, and a
wild attempt to transport the army across the river
was stopped by a gale of wind. On the 17th Corn-
wallis was compelled to face much bloody and use-
less slaughter, or to surrender. He chose the latter
course, and after opening negotiations and trying in
vain to obtain delay, finally signed the capitulation
and gave up the town. The next day the troops
marched out and laid down their arms. Over 7000
British and Hessian troops surrendered. It was a
crushing defeat. The victorious army consisted in
round numbers of 5500 continentals, 3500 militia,
and 7000 French, and they were backed by the
French fleet with entire control of the sea.

When Washington had once reached Yorktown
with his fleet and army, the campaign was really at
an end, for he held Cornwallis in an iron grip from
which there was no escape. The masterly part of



310 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

the Yorktown campaign lay in the manner in which
it was brought about, in the management of so
many elements, and in the rapidity of movement
which carried an army without any proper supplies
or means of transportation from New York to the
mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The control of the
sea had been the great advantage of the British
from the beginning, and had enabled them to
achieve all that they ever gained. With these odds
against him, with no possibility of obtaining a fleet
of his own, Washington saw that his only chance
of bringing the war to a quick and successful issue
was by means of the French. It is difficult to
manage allied troops. It is still more difficult to
manage allied troops and an allied fleet. Wash-
ington did both with infinite address, and won.
The chief factor of his success in this direction lay
in his profound personal influence on all men with
whom he came in contact. His courtesy and tact
were perfect, but he made no concessions, and
never stooped. The proudest French noble who
came here shrank from disagreement with the
American general, and yet not one of them had
anything but admiration and respect to express
when they wrote of Washington in their memoirs,
diaries, and letters. He impressed them one and
all with a sense of power and greatness which
could not be disregarded. Many times he failed
to get the French fleet in cooperation, but finally
it came. Then he put forth all his influence and
all his address, and thus he got De Barras to the
Chesapeake, and kept De Grasse at Yorktown.



YORKTOWN. 311

This was one side of the problem, the most es-
sential because everything hinged on the fleet, but
by no means the most harassing. The doubt about
the control of the sea made it impossible to work
steadily for a sufficient time toward any one end. It
was necessary to have a plan for every contingency,
and be ready to adopt any one of several plans at
short notice. With a foresight and judgment that
never failed, Washington planned an attack on
New York, another on Yorktown, and a third on
Charleston. The division of the British forces gave
him his opportunity of striking at one point with an
overwhelming force, but there was always the possi-
bility of their suddenly reuniting. In the extreme
south he felt reasonably sure that Greene would
hold Kawdon, but he was obliged to deceive and
amuse Clinton, and at the same time, with a ridic-
ulously inferior force, to keep Cornwallis from
marching to South Carolina. Partly by good for-
tune, partly by skill, Cornwallis was kept in Vir-
ginia, while by admirably managed feints and
threats Clinton was held in New York in inactivity.
When the decisive moment came, and it was evident
that the control of the sea was to be determined in
the Chesapeake, Washington, overriding all sorts
of obstacles, moved forward, despite a bankrupt
and inert government, with a rapidity and daring
which have been rarely equalled. It was a bold
stroke to leave Clinton behind at the mouth of the
Hudson, and only the quickness with which it was
done, and the careful deception which had been



312 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

practised, made it possible. Once at Yorktown,
there was little more to do. The combination was
so perfect, and the judgment had been so sure, that
Cornwallis was crushed as helplessly as if he had
been thrown before the car of Juggernaut. There
was really but little fighting, for there was no op-
portunity to fight. Washington held the British
in a vice, and the utter helplessness of Cornwallis,
the entire inability of such a good and gallant
soldier even to struggle, are the most convincing
proofs of the military genius of his antagonist.



CHAPTER XI.

PEACE.

Fortitude in misfortune is more common tlian
composure in the hour of victory. The bitter med-
icine of defeat, however unpalatable, is usually ex-
tremely sobering, but the strong new wine of success
generally sets the heads of poor humanity spinning,
and leads often to worse results than folly. The
capture of Cornwallis was enough to have turned the
strongest head, for the moment at least, but it had
no apparent effect upon the man who had brought
it to pass, and who, more than any one else, knew
what it meant. Unshaken and undismayed in the
New Jersey winter, and among the complicated
miseries of Valley Forge, Washington turned from
the spectacle of a powerful British army laying
down their arms as coolly as if he had merely
fought a successful skirmish, or repelled a danger-
ous raid. He had that rare gift, the attribute of
the strongest minds, of leaving the past to take
care of itself. He never fretted over what could
not be undone, nor dallied among pleasant memo-
ries while aught still remained to do. He wrote to
Congress in words of quiet congratidation, through
which pierced the devout and solemn sense of the



314 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

great deed accomplished, and then, while the salvos
of artillery were still booming in his ears, and the
shouts of victory were still rising about him, he set
himself, after his fashion, to care for the future
and provide for the immediate completion of his
work.

He wrote to De Grasse, urging him to join in an
immediate movement against Charleston, such as
he had already suggested, and he presented in the
strongest terms the opportunities now offered for
the sudden and complete ending of the struggle.
But the French admiral was by no means imbued
with the tireless and determined spirit of Wash-
ington. He had had his fill even of victory, and
was so eager to get back to the West Indies, where
he was to fall a victim to Rodney, that he would
not even transport troops to Wilmington. Thus
deprived of the force which alone made compre-
hensive and extended movements possible, Wash-
ington returned, as he had done so often before, to
making the best of cramped circumstances and
straitened means. He sent all the troops he could
spare to Greene, to help him in wresting the south-
ern States from the enemy, the work to which he
had in vain summoned De Grasse. This done, he
prepared to go north. On his way he was stopped
at Eltham by the illness and death of his wife's
son, John Custis, a blow which he felt severely,
and which saddened the great victory he had just
achieved. Still the business of the state could
not wait on private grief. He left the house of



PEACE. 315

mourning, and, pausing for an instant only at
Mount Vernon, hastened on to Philadelphia. At
the very moment of victory, and while honorable
members were shaking each other's hands and con-
gratulating each other that the war was now really
over, the commander-in-chief had fallen again to
writing them letters in the old strain, and was once
more urging them to keep up the army, while he
himself gave his personal attention to securing
a naval force for the ensuing year, through the
medium of Lafayette. Nothing was ever finished
with Washington until it was really complete
throughout, and he had as little time for rejoicing
as he had for despondency or despair, while a Brit-
ish force still remained in the country. He prob-
ably felt that this was as untoward a time as he
had ever met in a pretty large experience of un-
suitable occasions, for offering sound advice, but
he was not deterred thereby from doing it. This
time, however, he was destined to an agreeable
disappointment, for on his arrival at Philadelphia
he found an excellent spirit prevailing in Congress.
That body was acting cheerfully on his advice, it
had filled the departments of the government, and
set on foot such measures as it could to keep up the
army. So Washington remained for some time at
Philadelphia, helping and counselling Congress in
its work, and writing to the States vigorous letters,
demanding pay and clothing for the soldiers, ever
uppermost in his thoughts.

But although Congress was compliant. Washing-



316 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

ton could not convince the country of the justice of
his views, and of the continued need of energetic
exertion. The steady relaxation of tone, which
the strain of a long and trying war had produced,
was accelerated by the brilliant victory of York-
town. Washington for his own part had but little
trust in the sense or the knowledge of his enemy.
He felt that Yorktown was decisive, but he also
thought that Great Britain would still struggle on,
and that her talk of peace was very probably a
mere blind, to enable her to gain time, and, by
taking advantage of our relaxed and feeble condi-
tion, to strike again in hope of winning back all
that had been lost. He therefore continued his
appeals in behalf of the army, and reiterated every-
where the necessity for fresh and ample prepara-
tions.

As late as May 4th he wrote sharply to the States
for men and money, saying that the change of min-
istry was likely to be adverse to peace, and that we
were being lulled into a false and fatal sense of
security. A few days later, on receiving informa-
tion from Sir Guy Carleton of the address of the
Commons to the king for peace, Washington wrote
to Congress : " For my own part, I view our situa-
tion as such that, instead of relaxing, we ought to
improve the present moment as the most favorable
to our wishes. The British nation appear to me to
be staggered, and almost ready to sink beneath the
accumulating weight of debt and misfortune. If
v/e follow the blow with vigor and energy, I think
the game is our own."



PEACE. - 317

Again he wrote in July : " Sir Guy Carleton is
using every art to soothe and hill our people into
a state of security. Admiral Digby is capturing
all our vessels, and suffocating as fast as possible
in prison-ships all our seamen who will not enlist
into the service of his Britannic Majesty ; and
Haldimand, with his savage allies, is scalping and
burning on the frontiers." Facts always were the
object of Washington's first regard, and while
gentlemen on all sides were talking of peace, war
was going on, and he could not understand the
supineness which would permit our seamen to be
suffocated, and our borderers scalped, because some
people thought the war ought to be and practically
was over. While the other side was fighting, he
wished to be fighting too. A month later he wrote
to Greene : " From the former infatuation, duplic-
ity, and perverse system of British policy, I confess
I am induced to doubt everything, to suspect every-
thing." He could say heartily with the Trojan
priest, " Quicquid id est timeo Danaos et dona fe-
rentes." Yet again, a month later still, when the
negotiations were really going forward in Paris, he
wrote to McHenry : " If we are wise, let us pre-
pare for the worst. There is nothing which will
so soon produce a speedy and honorable peace as a
state of preparation for war ; and we must either
do this, or lay our account to patch up an inglori-
ous peace, after all the toil, blood, and treasure we
have spent."

No man had done and given so much as Wash-



318 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

ington, and at the same time no other man had his
love of thoroughness, and his indomitable fighting
temper. He found few sympathizers, his words fell
upon deaf ears, and he was left to struggle on and
maintain his ground as best he might, without any
substantial backing. As it turned out, England
was more severely wounded than he dared to hope,
and her desire for peace was real. But Washing-
ton's distrust and the active policy which he urged
were, in the conditions of the moment, perfectly
sound, both in a military and a political point of
view. It made no real difference, however, whether
he was right or wrong in his opinion. He could
not get what he wanted, and he was obliged to drag
through another year, fettered in his military move-
ments, and oppressed with anxiety for the future.
He longed to drive the British from New York,
and was forced to content himself, as so often be-
fore, with keeping his army in existence. It was a
trying time, and fruitful in nothing but anxious
forebodings. All the fighting was confined to skir-
mishes of outposts, and his days were consumed in
vain efforts to obtain help from the States, while he
watched with painful eagerness the current of events
in Europe, down which the fortunes of his country
were feebly drifting.

Among the petty incidents of the year there was
one which, in its effects, gained an international
importance, which has left a deep stain upon the
English arms, and which touched Washington
deeply. Captain Huddy, an American officer, was



PEACE. 319

captured in a skirmish and carried to New York,
where he was placed in confinement. Thence he
was taken on April 12th by a party of Tories in
the British service, commanded by Captain Lippen-
cott, and hanged in the broad light of day on the
heights near Middletown. Testimony and affidavits
to the fact, which was never questioned, were duly
gathered and laid before Washington. The deed
was one of wanton barbarity, for which it would be
difficult to find a parallel in the annals of modern
warfare. The authors of this brutal murder, to
our shame be it said, were of American birth, but
they were fighting for the crown and wore the Brit-
ish uniform. England, which for generations has
deafened the world with paeans of praise for her
own love of fair play and for her generous human-
ity, stepped in here and threw the mantle of her
protection over these cowardly hangmen. It has
not been uncommon for wild North American sav-
ages to deliver up criminals to the vengeance of the
law, but English ministers and officers condoned
the murder of Huddy, and sheltered his murderers.
When the case was laid before Washington it
stirred him to the deepest wrath. He submitted
the facts to twenty-five of his general officers, who
unanimously advised what he was himself deter-
mined upon, instant retaliation. He wrote at once
to Sir Guy Carleton, and informed him that unless
the murderers were given up he should be compelled
to retaliate. Carleton replied that a court-martial
was ordered, and some attempt was made to recrim-



320 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

inate ; but Washington pressed on in the path he
had marked out, and had an English officer selected
by lot and held in close confinement to await the
action of the enemy. These sharp measures brought
the British, as nothing else could have done, to some
sense of the enormity of the crime that had been
committed. Sir Guy Carleton wrote in remon-
strance, and Washington replied : " Ever since the
commencement of this unnatural war my conduct
has borne invariable testimony against those inhu-
man excesses, which, in too many instances, have
marked its progress. With respect to a late trans-
action, to which I presume your excellency alludes,
I have already expressed my resolution, a resolution
formed on the most mature deliberation, and from
which I shall not recede." The affair dragged
along, purposely protracted by the British, and the
court-martial on a technical point acquitted Lippen-
cott. Sir Guy Carleton, however, who really was
deeply indignant at the outrage, wrote, expressing
his abhorrence, disavowed Lippencott, and promised
a further inquiry. This placed Washington in a
very trying position, more especially as his human-
ity was touched by the situation of the unlucky
hostage. The fatal lot had fallen upon a mere boy,
Captain Asgill, who was both amiable and popular,
and Washington was beset with appeals in his be-
half, for Lady Asgill moved heaven and earth to
save her son. She interested the French court,
and Yergennes made a special request that Asgill
should be released. Even Washington's own offi-



PEACE. 321

cers, notably Hamilton, sought to influence him,
and begged him to recede. In these difficult cir-
cumstances, which were enhanced by the fact that
contrary to his orders to select an unconditional
prisoner, the lot had fallen on a Yorktown prisoner
protected by the terms of the capitulation,^ he hesi-
tated, and asked instructions from Congress. He
wrote to Duane in September : " While retaliation
was apparently necessary, however disagreeable
in itself, I had no repugnance to the measure.
But when the end proposed by it is answered by
a disavowal of the act, by a dissolution of the
board of refugees, and by a promise (whether with
or without meaning to comply with it, I shall not
determine) that further inquisition should be made
into the matter, I thought it incumbent upon me,
before I proceeded any farther in the matter, to
have the sense of Congress, who had most explicitly
approved and impliedly indeed ordered retaliation
to take place. To this hour I am held in dark-
ness."

He did not long remain in doubt. The fact was
that the public, as is commonly the case, had for-
gotten the original crime and saw only the misery
of the man who was to pay the just penalty, and
who was, in this instance, an innocent and vicari-
ous sufferer. It was difficult to refuse Vergennes,
and Congress, glad of the excuse and anxious to
oblige their allies, ordered the -release of Asgill.
That Washington, touched by the unhappy condi-

1 MS. letter to Lincolu.



322 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

tion of bis prisoner, did not feel relieved by the
result, it would be absurd to suppose. But he was
by no means satisfied, for the murderous wrong that
had been done rankled in his breast. He wrote to
Vergennes : " Captain Asgill has been released, and
is at perfect liberty to return to the arms of an
affectionate parent, whose pathetic address to your
Excellency could not fail of interesting every feel-
ing heart in her behalf. I have no right to assume
any particular merit from the lenient manner in
which this disagreeable affair has terminated."

There is a perfect honesty about this which is
very wholesome. He had been freely charged with
cruelty, and had regarded the accusation with in-
difference. Now, when it was easy for him to have
taken the glory of mercy by simply keeping silent,
he took pains to avow that the leniency was not
due to him. He was not satisfied, and no one
should believe that he was, even if the admission
seemed to justify the charge of cruelty. If he erred
at all it was in not executing some British officer at
the very start, unless Lippencott had been given up
within a limited time. As it was, after delay was
once permitted, it is hard to see how he could have
acted otherwise than he did, but Washington was
not in the habit of receding from a fixed purpose,
and being obliged to do so in this case troubled
him, for he knew that he did well to be angry.
But the frankness of the avowal to Vergennes is a
good example of his entire honesty and absolute
moral fearlessness.



PEACE. 323

The matter, however, which most filled his heart
and mind during these weary days of waiting and
doubt was the condition and the future of his soldiers.
To those persons who have suspected or suggested
that Washington was cold-blooded and unmindful of
others, the letters he wrote in regard to the soldiers
may be commended. The man whose heart was
wrung by the sufferings of the poor people on the
Virginian frontier, in the days of the old French
war, never in fact changed his nature. Fierce
in fight, passionate and hot when his anger was
stirred, his love and sympathy were keen and
strong toward his army. His heart went out to
the brave men who had followed him, loved him,
and never swerved in their loyalty to him and to
their country. Washington's affection for his men,
and their devotion to him, had saved the cause of
American independence more often than strategy
or daring. Now, when the war was practically
over, his influence with both officers and soldiers
was destined to be put to its severest tests. .

The people of the American colonies were self-
governing in the extremest sense, that is, they were
accustomed to very little government interference of
any sort. They were also poor and entirely unused
to war. Suddenly they found themselves plunged
into a bitter and protracted conflict with the most
powerful of civilized nations. In the first flush of
excitement, patriotic enthusiasm supplied many de-
fects ; but as time wore on, and year after year
passed, and the wliole social and political fabric was



324 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

shaken, the moral tone of the people relaxed. In
such a struggle, coming upon an unprepared people
of the habits and in the circumstances of the colo-
nists, this relaxation was inevitable. It was like-
wise inevitable that, as the war continued, there
should be in both national and state governments,
and in all directions, many shortcomings and many
lamentable errors. But for the treatment accorded
the army, no such excuse can be made, and no suf-
ficient explanation can be offered. There was
throughout the colonies an inborn and a carefully
cultivated dread of standing armies and military
power. But this very natural feeling was turned
most unreasonably against our own army, and car-
ried in that direction to the verge of insanity.
This jealousy of military power indeed pursued
Washington from the beginning to the end of the
Revolution. It cropped out as soon as he was
appointed, and came up in one form or another
whenever he was obliged to take strong measures.
Even at the very end, after he had borne the cause
through to triumph, Congress was driven almost to
frenzy because Vergennes proposed to commit the
disposition of a French subsidy to the commander-
in-chief.

If this feeling could show itself toward Wash-
ington, it is easy to imagine that it was not re-
strained toward his officers and men, and the treat-
ment of the soldiers by Congress and by the States
was not only ungrateful to the last degree, but
was utterly unpardonable. Again and again the



PEACE. 325

menace of immediate ruin and the stern demands
of Washington alone extorted the most grudging
concessions, and saved the army from dissolution.
The soldiers had every reason to think that noth-
ing but personal fear could obtain the barest con-
sideration from the civil power. In this frame of
mind, they saw the war which they had fought
and won drawing to a close with no prospect of
either provision or reward for them, and every
indication that they would be disbanded when they
were no longer needed, and left in many cases to
beggary and want. In the inaction consequent
upon the victory at Yorktown, they had ample
time to reflect upon these facts, and their reflec-
tions were of such a nature that the situation soon
became dangerous. Washington, who had strug-
gled in season and out of season for justice to the
soldiers, labored more zealously than ever during
all this period, aided vigorously by Hamilton, who
was now in Congress. Still nothing was done, and


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22

Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 22)