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life and fortune in the cause we are engaged in, if
needful." At Mount Vernon his old comrades of
the French war began to appear, in search of cour-
age and sympathy. Thither, too, came Charles
Lee, a typical military adventurer of that period,
a man of English birth and of varied service,
brilliant, whimsical, and unbalanced. There also
came Horatio Gates, likewise British, and disap-
pointed with his prospects at home ; less adventur-
ous than Lee, but also less brilliant, and not much
more valuable.

Thus the winter wore away; spring opened,
and toward the end of April Washington started



130 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

again for the North, much occupied with certain tid-
ings from Lexington and Concord which just then
spread over the land. He saw all that it meant
plainly enough, and after noting the fact that the
colonists fought and fought well, he wrote to
George Fairfax in England ; " Unhappy it is to
reflect that a brother's sword has been sheathed
in a brother's breast, and that the once happy
and peaceful plains of America are either to be
drenched in blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad al-
ternative. But can a virtuous man hesitate in his
choice ? " Congress, it would seem, thought there
was a good deal of room for hesitation, both for
virtuous men and others, and after the fashion of
their race determined to do a little more debat-
ing and arguing, before taking any decisive step.
After much resistance and discussion, a second
" humble and dutiful petition " to the king was
adopted, and with strange contradiction a confeder-
ation was formed at the same time, and Congress
proceeded to exercise the sovereign powers thus
vested in them. The most pressing and trouble-
some question before them was what to do with the
arm}^ surrounding Boston, and with the actual hos-
tilities there existing.

Washington, for his part, went quietly about as
before, saying nothing and observing much, work-
ing hard as chairman of the military committees,
planning for defence, and arranging for raising an
army. One act of his alone stands out for us with
significance at this critical time. In this second



TAKING COMMAND. 131

Congress he appeared habitually on the floor in his
blue and buff uniform of a Virginia colonel. It
was his way of saying that the hour for action had
come, and that he at least was ready for the fight
whenever called upon.

Presently he was summoned. Weary of waiting,
John Adams at last declared that Congress must
adopt the army and make Washington, who at this
mention of his name ste^^ped out of the room,
commander-in-chief. On June 15th, formal mo-
tions were made to this effect and unanimously
adopted, and the next day Washington appeared
before Congress and accepted the trust. His words
were few and simple. He expressed his sense of
his own insufficiency for the task before him, and
said that as no pecuniary consideration could have
induced him to undertake the work, he must decline
all pay or emoluments, only looking to Congress to
defray his expenses. In the same spirit he wrote
to his soldiers in Virginia, to his brother, and
finally, in terms at once simple and pathetic, to his
wife. There was no pretence about this, but the
sternest reality of self-distrust, for Washington
saw and measured as did no one else the magni-
tude of the work before him. He knew that he
was about to face the best troops of Europe, and
he had learned by experience that after the first ex-
citement was over he would be obliged to rely upon a
people who were brave and patriotic, but also undis-
ciplined, untrained, and unprepared for war, with-
out money, without arms, without allies or credit,



132 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

and torn by selfish local interests. Nobody else
perceived all this as he was able to with his mastery
of facts, but he faced the duty unflinchingly. He
did not put it aside because he distrusted himself,
for in his truthfulness he could not but confess
that no other American could show one tithe of his
capacity, experience, or military service. He knew
what was coming, knew it, no doubt, when he first
put on his uniform, and he accepted instantly.

John Adams in his autobiography speaks of the
necessity of choosing a Southern general, and also
says there were objectors to the selection of Wash-
ington even among the Virginia delegates. That
there were political reasons for taking a Virginian
cannot be doubted. But the dissent, even if it ex-
isted, never appeared on the surface, excepting in
the case of John Hancock, who, with curious van-
ity, thought that he ought to have this great place.
When Washington's name was proposed there was
no murmur of opposition, for there was no man
who could for one moment be compared with him
in fitness. The choice was inevitable, and he him-
self felt it to be so. He saw it coming ; he would
fain have avoided the great task, but no thought of
shrinking crossed his mind. He saw with his en-
tire freedom from constitutional subtleties that an
absolute parliament sought to extend its power to
the colonies. To this he would not submit, and he
knew that this was a question which could be set-
tled only by one side giving way, or by the dread
appeal to arms. It was a question of fact, hard,



TAKING COMMAND, 133

unrelenting fact, now to be determined by battle,
and on him had fallen the burden of sustaining the
cause of his country. In this spirit he accepted his
commission, and rode forth to review the troops.
He was greeted with loud acclaim wherever he ap-
peared. Mankind is impressed by externals, and
those who gazed upon Washington in the streets of
Philadelphia felt their courage rise and their hearts
grow strong at the sight of his virile, muscular
figure as he passed before them on horseback,
stately, dignified, and self-contained. The people
looked upon him, and were confident that this was
a man worthy and able to dare and do all things.

On June 21st he set forth accompanied by Lee
and Schuyler, and with a brilliant escort. He had
ridden but twenty miles when he was met by the
news of Bunker Hill. " Did the militia fight? "
was the immediate and characteristic question; and
being told that they did fight, he exclaimed, " Then
the liberties of the country are safe." Given the
fighting spirit, Washington felt he could do any-
thing. Full of this important intelligence he
pressed forward to Newark, where he was received
by a committee of the provincial congress, sent to
conduct the commander-in-chief to New York.
There he tarried long enough to appoint Schuyler
to the charge of the military affairs in that colony,
having mastered on the journey its complicated so-
cial and political conditions. Pushing on through
Connecticut he reached Watertown, where he was
received by the provincial congress of Massachu-



134 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

setts, on July 2d, with every expression of attach-
ment and confidence. Lingering less than an hour
for this ceremony, he rode on to the headquarters at
Cambridge, and when .he came within the lines the
shouts of the soldiers and the booming of cannon
announced his arrival to the English in Boston.

The next day he rode forth in the presence of a
great multitude, and the troops having been drawn
up before him, he drew his sword beneath the his-
torical elm-tree, and took command of the first
American army. " His excellency," wrote Dr.
Thatcher in his journal, " was on horseback in
company with several military gentlemen. It was
not difficult to distinguish him from all others.
He is tall and well proportioned, and his personal
appearance truly noble and majestic." " He is tall
and of easy and agreeable address," the loyalist
Curwen had remarked a few weeks before ; while
Mrs. John Adams, warm-hearted and clever, wrote
to her husband after the general's arrival : " Dig-
nity, ease, and complacency, the gentleman and the
soldier, look agreeably blended in him. Modesty
marks every line and feature of his face. Those
lines of Dryden instantly occurred to me, —

' Mark his majestic fabric ! He 's a temple
Sacred by birth, and built by hands divine ;
His soul 's the deity that lodges there ;
Nor is the pile unworthy of the God.' "

Lady, lawyer, and surgeon, patriot and tory, all
speak alike, and as they wrote so New England
felt. A slave-owner, an aristocrat, and a church-



TAKING COMMAND. 135

man, Washington came to Cambridge to pass over
the heads of native generals to the command of a
New England army, among a democratic people,
hard-working and simple in their lives, and dissent-
ers to the backbone, who regarded episcopacy as
something little short of papistry and quite equiva-
lent to toryism. Yet the shout that went up from
soldiers and people on Cambridge common on that
pleasant July morning came from the heart and
had no jarring note. A few of the political chiefs
growled a little in later days at Washington, but
the soldiers and the people, high and low, rich and
poor, gave him an unstinted loyalty. On the fields
of battle and throughout eight years of political
strife the men of New England stood by the great
Virginian with a devotion and truth in which was
no shadow of turning. Here again we see exhibited
most conspicuously the powerful personality of the
man who was able thus to command immediately
the allegiance of this naturally cold and reserved
people. What was it that they saw that inspired
them at once with so much confidence ? They looked
upon a tall, handsome man, dressed in plain uni-
form, wearing across his breast a broad blue band
of silk, which some may have noticed as the badge
and symbol of a certain solemn league and cove-
nant once very momentous in the English-speaking-
world. They saw his calm, high bearing, and in
every line of face and figure they beheld the signs
of force and courag^e. Yet there must have been
something more to call forth the confidence then



136 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

SO quickly given, and which no one ever long with-
held. All felt dimly, but none the less surely, that
here was a strong, able man, capable of rising to
the emergency, whatever it might be, capable of
continued growth and development, clear of head
and warm of heart ; and so the New England peo-
ple gave to him instinctively their sympathy and
their faith, and never took either back.

The shouts and cheers died away, and then
Washington returned to his temporary quarters in
the Wads worth house, to master the task before him.
The first great test of his courage and ability had
come, and he faced it quietly as the excitement
caused by his arrival passed by. He saw before
him, to use his own words, " a mixed multitude of
people, under very little discipline, order, or govern-
ment." In the language of one of his aides :^ "The
entire army, if it deserved the name, was but an
assemblage of brave, enthusiastic, undisciplined,
country lads ; the officers in general quite as igno-
rant of military life as the troops, excepting a few
elderly men, who had seen some irregular service
among the provincials under Lord Amherst." With
this force, ill-posted and very insecurely fortified,
Washington was to drive the British from Boston.
His first step was to count his men, and it took eight
days to get the necessary returns, which in an ordi-
nary army would have been furnished in an hour.
When he had them, he found that instead of twenty
thousand, as had been represented, but fourteen

^ John Trumbull, Beminiscences, p. 18.



TAKING COMMAND. 137

thousand soldiers were actually present for duty. In
a short time, however, Mr. Emerson, the chaplain,
noted in his diary that it was surprising how much
had been done, and that the lines had been so ex-
tended, and the works so shrewdly built, that it was
morally impossible for the enemy to get out except
in one place purposely left open. A little later the
same observer remarked : " There is a great over-
turning in the camp as to order and regularity ;
new lords, new laws. The Generals Washington
and Lee are upon the lines every day. The strict-
est government is taking place, and great distinc-
tion is made between officers and soldiers." Bodies
of troops scattered here and there by chance were
replaced by well-distributed forces, posted wisely
and effectively in strong intrenchments. It is little
wonder that the worthy chaplain was impressed,
and now, seeing it all from every side, we too can
watch order come out of chaos and mark the growth
of an army under the guidance of a master-mind
and the steady pressure of an unbending will.

Then too there was no discipline, for the army
was composed of raw militia, who elected their
officers and carried on war as they pleased. In
a passage suppressed by Mr. Sparks, Washington
said : " There is no such thing as getting officers of
this stamp to carry orders into execution — to curry
favor with the men (by whom they were chosen,
and on whose smile they may possibly think that
they may again rely) seems to be one of the prin-
cipal objects of their attention. I have made a



138 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

pretty good slam amongst such kind of officers as
the Massachusetts government abounds in, since I
came into this camp, having broke one colonel and
two captains for cowardly behavior in the action
on Bunker Hill, two captains for drawing more pay
and provisions than they had men in their company,
and one for being absent from his post when the
enemy appeared there and burnt a house just by it.
Besides these I have at this time one colonel, one
major, one captain, and two subalterns under arrest
for trial. In short, I spare none, and yet fear it
will not all do, as these people seem to be too
attentive to everything but their own interests."
This may be plain and homely in phrase, but it is
not stilted, and the quick energy of the words
shows how the New England farmers and fisher-
men were being raj)idly brought to discipline.
Bringing the army into order, however, was but a
small part of his duties. It is necessary to run
over all his difficulties, great and small, at this time,
and count them up, in order to gain a just idea of
the force and capacity of the man who overcame
them.

Washington, moreover, was obliged to deal not
only with his army, but with the general congress
and the congress of the province. He had to teach
them, utterly ignorant as they were of the needs
and details of war, how to organize and supply their
armies. There was no commissary department,
there were no uniforms, no arrangements for am-
munition, no small arms, no cannon, no resources



TAKING COMMAND. 139

to draw upon for all these necessaries of war. Lit-
tle by little he taught Congress to provide after a
fashion for these things, little by little he developed
what he needed, and by his own ingenuity, and by
seizing alertly every suggestion from others, he
supplied for better or worse one deficiency after
another. He had to deal with various governors
and various colonies, each with its prejudices, jeal-
ousies, and shortcomings. He had to arrange for
new levies from a people unused to war, and to
settle with infinite anxiety and much wear and tear
of mind and body, the conflict as to rank among
officers to whom he could apply no test but his
own insight. He had to organize and stimulate
the arming of privateers, which, by preying on
British commerce, were destined to exercise such a
powerful influence on the fate of the war. It was
neither showy nor attractive, such work as this, but
it was very vital, and it was done.

By the end of July the army was in a better
posture of defence, and then at the beginning of
the next month, as the prospect was brightening,
it was suddenly discovered that there was no gun-
powder. An undrilled army, imperfectly organized,
was facing a disciplined force and had only some
nine rounds in the cartridge-boxes. Yet there is no
quivering in the letters from headquarters. Anx-
iety and strain of nerve are apparent ; but a resolute
determination rises over all, supported by a ready
fertility of resource. Couriers flew over the coun-
try asking for powder in every town and in every



140 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

village. A vessel was even dispatched to the Ber-
mudas to seize there a supply of powder, of which
the general, always listening, had heard. Thus
the immediate and grinding pressure was presently
relieved, but the staple of war still remained piti-
fully and perilously meagre all through the winter.
Meantime, while thus overwhelmed with the cares
immediately about him, Washington was watch-
ing the rest of the country. He had a keen eye
upon Johnson and his Indians in the valley of the
Mohawk ; he followed sharply every movement of
Tryon and the Tories in New York ; he refused
with stern good sense to detach troops to Con-
necticut and Long Island, knowing well when to
give and when to say No, a difficult monosyllable
for the new general of freshly revolted colonies.
But if he would not detach in one place, he was
ready enough to do so in another. He sent one
expedition by Lake Champlain, under Montgom-
ery, to Montreal, and gave Arnold picked troops
to march through the wilds of Maine and strike
Quebec. The scheme was bold and brilliant, both
in conception and in execution, and came very
near severins: Canada forever from the British
crown. A chaj^ter of little accidents, each one of
which proved as fatal as it was unavoidable, a mo-
ment's delay on the Plains of Abraham, and the
whole campaign failed ; but there was a grasj) of
conditions, a clearness of perception, and a com-
prehensiveness about the plan, which stam]) it as
the work of a great soldier, who saw besides the



TAKING COMMAND. 141

military importance, the enormous political value
held out by the chance of such a victory.

The daring, far-reaching quality of this Cana-
dian expedition was much more congenial to Wash-
ington's temper and character than the wearing
work of the siege. All that man could do before
Boston was done, and still Congress expected the
impossible, and grumbled because without ships
he did not secure the harbor. He himself, while
he inwardly resented such criticism, chafed under
the monotonous drudgery of the intrenchments.
He was longing, according to his nature, to fight,
and was, it must be confessed, quite ready to at-
tempt the impossible in his own way. Early in
September he proposed to attack the town in boats
and by the neck of land at Roxbury, but the coun-
cil of officers unanimously voted against him. A
little more than a month later he planned another
attack, and was again voted down by his officers.
Councils of war never fight, it is said, and perhaps
in this case it was well that such was their habit,
for the schemes look rather desperate now. To us
they serve to show the temper of the man, and also
his self-control, for Washington was ready enough
to override councils when wholly free from doubt
himself.

Thus the planning of campaigns, both distant
and near, went on, and at the same time the cur-
rent of details, difficult, vital, absolute in demand-
ing prompt and vigorous solution, went on too.
The existence of war made it necessary to settle



142 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

our relations with our enemies, and that these rela-
tions should be rightly settled was of vast moment
to our cause, struggling for recognition. The first
question was the matter of prisoners, and on Au-
gust 11th Washington wrote to Gage : —

" I understand that the officers engaged in the
cause of liberty and their country, who by the for-
tune of war have fallen into your hands, have been
thrown indiscriminately into a common gaol ap-
propriated for felons ; that no consideration has
been had for those of the most respectable rank,
when languishing with wounds and sickness ; and
that some have been even amputated in this un-
worthy situation.

*' Let your oj)inion, sir, of the principle which
actuates them be what it may, they suppose that
they act from the noblest of all principles, a love
of freedom and their country. But political prin-
ciples, I conceive, are foreign to this point. The
obligations arising from the rights of humanity
and claims of rank are universally binding and
extensive, except in case of retaliation. These, I
should have hoped, would have dictated a more
tender treatment of those individuals whom chance
or war had put in your power. Nor can I forbear
suggesting its fatal tendency to widen that un-
happy breach which you, and those ministers un-
der whom you act, have repeatedly declared your
wish is to see forever closed.

" My duty now makes it necessary to apprise
you, that for the future I shall regulate all my



TAKING COMMAND. 143

conduct towards those gentlemen who are or may
be in our possession, exactly by the rule you shall
observe towards those of ours now in your custody.

" If severity and hardship mark the line of your
conduct, painful as it may be to me, your prisoners
will feel its effects. But if kindness and humanity
are shown to ours, I shall with pleasure consider
those in our hands only as unfortunate, and they
shall receive from me that treatment to which the
unfortunate are ever entitled."

This is a letter worthy of a little study. The
affair does not look very important now, but it
went then to the roots of things ; for this letter
would go out to the world, and America and the
American cause would be judged by their leader.
A little bluster or ferocity, any fine writing, or any
absurdity, and the world would have sneered, con-
demned, or laughed. But no man could read this
letter and fail to perceive that here was dignity
and force, justice and sense, with just a touch of
pathos and eloquence to recommend it to the heart.
Men might differ with the writer, but they could
neither laugh at him nor set him aside.

Gage replied after his kind. He was an incon-
siderable person, dull and well meaning, intended
for the command of a garrison town, and terribly
twisted and torn by the great events in which he
was momentarily caught. His masters were stupid
and arrogant, and he imitated them with perfect
success, except that arrogance with him dwindled
to impertinence. He answered Washington's letter



144 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

with denials and recriminations, lectured the Amer-
ican general on the political situation, and talked
about " usurped authority," " rebels," " criminals,"
and persons destined to the " cord." Washington,
being a man of his word, proceeded to put some
English prisoners into jail, and then wrote a sec-
ond note, giving Gage a little lesson in manners^
with the vain hope of making him see that gentle-
men did not scold and vituperate because they
fought. He restated his case calmly and coolly,
as before, informed Gage that he had investigated
the counter-charge of cruelty and found it without
any foundation, and then continued : " You advise
me to give free operation to truth, and to punish
misrepresentation and falsehood. If experience
stamps value upon counsel, yours must have a
weight which few can claim. You best can tell
how far the convulsion, which has brought such ruin
on both countries, and shaken the mighty empire
of Britain to its foundation, may be traced to these
malignant causes.

" You affect, sir, to despise all rank not derived
from the same source with your own. I cannot
conceive one more honorable than that which flows
from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free
people, the purest source and original fountain of
all power. Far from making it a plea for cruelty,
a mind of true magnanimity and enlarged ideas
would comprehend and respect it."

Washington had grasped instinctively the gen-
eral truth that Englishmen are prone to mistake



TAKING COMMAND. 145

civility for servility, and become offensive, whereas
if they are treated with indifference, rebuke, or even
rudeness, they are apt to be respectful and polite.
He was obliged to go over the same ground with
Sir William Howe, a little later, and still more
sharply ; and this matter of prisoners recurred, al-
though at longer and longer intervals, throughout
the war. But as the British generals saw their
officers go to jail, and found that their impudence
and assumption were met by keen reproofs, they
gradually comprehended that Washington was not
a man to be trifled with, and that in him was a
pride and dignity out-topping theirs and far strong-
er, because grounded on responsibility borne and
work done, and on the deep sense of a great and
righteous cause.

It was probably a pleasure and a relief to give
to Gage and Sir William Howe a little instruction


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