Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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hour." The earl could not refuse so rea-



sonable a request, and readily certified to
the fact; which was so satisfactory, that
it not only proved a balm to the wound
of Wilkinson s nice sensibility, but a pre
ventive of the mischief threatening his

General Conway was deemed the main
instigator of these disgraceful intrigues
against Washington ; and the country
soon began to discover, as the command-
er-in-chief had predicted, that he was u a
secret enemy, or, in other words, a dan
gerous incendiary." Sustained by a ma
jority in Congress, Conway enjoyed a
short triumph ; but, as he became inso
lent and overbearing in success, he soon
disgusted even those who had been his
warmest friends. Not satisfied with wri
ting letters to the commander-in-chief,
which the latter did not hesitate to term
" impertinent," demanding the command
of a division in the army, he ventured to
complain to Congress of ill treatment,
and to offer his resignation, in such terms
of contemptuous disrespect, that even his
friends did not oppose the vote that it
should be accepted. Conway himself was
sorely displeased at being taken at his
word, and afterward strove, by letter and
personal interview, to withdraw his resig
nation, but without effect. Without em
ployment, he still lingered in America,
venting his spleen upon Washington and
his army, when he was called to account
by G eneral Cad wallade r. A d tiel was the
consequence ; and Conway received the
ball of his antagonist, which passed into
his mouth and through the upper part of
his neck, in its course justly lacerating
that "unruly member" which had villified

the character and motives of the great


chief. He believed himself to be a dying
man, and had the grace to write the fol
lowing letter to Washington :

" SIR : I find myself just able to hold
the pen during a few minutes, and take
this opportunity of expressing my sincere
grief for having done, written, or said any
thing disagreeable to your excellency.
My career will soon be over ; therefore
justice and truth prompt me to declare
my last sentiments. You are, in my eyes,
the great and good man. May you long en
joy the love, veneration, and esteem, of
these states, whose liberties you have as
serted by your virtues.

" I am,

" With the greatest respect, &c.,

The wounded general, however, sur
vived his injuries, and returned to France,
his adopted country ; leaving behind him,
as an immortality of dishonor in America,
the ill-favored association of his name
with the disreputable " Conway cabal."

Toward spring, the aspect of the Amer
ican camp became more encouraging. A
committee of Congress had been sent to
Valley Forge, to confer with Washington
upon the organization of a better system
for the army. The commander-in-chief,
in conjunction with his officers, prepared
a document, in which a plan of reform
was laid down, which subsequently was
for the most part adopted. There was
yet much suffering, before the new sys
tem could be thoroughly carried out ; but
already supplies began to arrive, and the
troops, if still deprived of comforts, were




[PART n.

no lono;er in imminent dread of frost and



The camp was also enlightened by the
arrival of some distinguished visitors.
Mrs. Washington had come to solace with
her presence the trials and anxieties of
the general, and was cheerfully submit
ting to the rude hospitalities of the log-
huts of Valley Forge. General Greene,
Lord Stirling, and General Knox,likewise
had their wives now in camp. Bryan Fair
fax, his old Virginia friend and neighbor,
who, though still loyal to his king, did
not fail to show his warm attachment to
the American general by a cordial visit
on his way from the banks of the Poto
mac to New York, and again on his re
turn. General Charles Lee, by an ex-
ihange for the British general Prescott
captured on Rhode island), was now re
instated in his old position as second in
command, and, although still tenacious of
his oddities, was observed to be more sub
dued in the exhibition of them. During
the later days of his captivity he had had
little to complain of in his treatment. He
enjoyed, as he tells us, the full liberty of
the city of New York and its limits ; had
horses at his command, furnished by Sir
Henry Clinton and General Robertson ;
and had lodged with two of "the oldest
and warmest friends" he had in the world,
Colonel Butler and Colonel Disney, of the
forty-second regiment. With this taste
of the conventional comforts of life and
of the pleasures of society, Lee seemed
temporarily sweetened to a better humor,
and his return was cordially welcomed.
He soon recurred, however, to his old bit
terness of temper.

The brawny Colonel Ethan Allen was
also restored to liberty, and was flashing
out, in his stormy eloquence, the lightning
of his indignation against the tyrants of
his country. He found ready listeners,
in the camp at Valley Forge, to his rude
oratory and to the wondrous story he
had to tell of his strange adventures and
daring feats during his long captivity and
compulsory travels. He was, he declared,
ready again to meet the foes of his coun
try ; and Washington having obtained for
him a colonel s commission, it was expect
ed that he would still have remained to
do doughty deeds, but he preferred to
return to his adopted country (Vermont),
where he lived to tell over and over, in
swelling words, the history of his strange

The young marquis Lafayette had been
temporarily withdrawn from the camp.
The new board of war, under the presi
dency of General Gates, had proposed an
expedition against Canada. This was
supposed to have been devised for the es
pecial glory of the " Con way cabal ;" and
an appointment in the enterprise was of
fered to the young Frenchman, with the
hope of securing his adhesion to that fac
tion. Lafayette accepted the offer not.
however, until he had consulted Washing
ton and soon proved that all attempts
upon his fidelity to the coinmander-in-
chief were futile. His first rebuke, ad
ministered to the conspirators, was at
Yorktown, where he had gone to receive
from Congress his instructions. Here he
was welcomed by the " cabal," and flat
tered by every possible attention. Dining
with General Gates, who was surrounded




by <i circle of his particular friends and
admirers, the wine passed freely, and, as
was usual in those days, toasts were given.
As the company were about rising, La
fayette filled his glass, and, reminding
those at the table that they had forgot
ten one toast, gave deliberately, " The
commander-in-chief of the American ar
mies." It was received with a coolness
which ^proved what he had suspected
that he was not surrounded by the friends
of Washington.

Lafayette, however, proceeded on his
journey ; but, on reaching Albany, where
he had been led to believe that at least
three thousand men and a large supply
of military stores were in readiness for
the expedition to Canada, he met with a
great disappointment, which is emphatic
ally described in his letter to Washing
ton : "I don t believe," he writes, "I can
find, in all, twelve hundred men fit for
duty, and the greatest part of these are
naked, even for a summer campaign. I
was to find General Stark, with a large
body; and, indeed, General Gates told me,
General Stark will have burned the fleet be
fore your arrival! Well, the first letter I
receive in Albany is from General Stark,
who wishes to know what number of men,
from where, what time, and for what ren
dezvous, I desire him to raise"

The young marquis, with the nice sense
of ridicule peculiar to a cultivated French
man, was heartily ashamed of the affair,
and, with rather unnecessary sensitive
ness, was fearful that he was disgraced in
the eyes of the world for the failure of
an expedition so fruitful in promise but
so abortive in issue. He wrote to Wash

ington, expressing his anxieties, and re
ceived an answer, in which he was judi
ciously told that his fears respecting his
reputation were " excited by an uncom
mon degree of sensibility." The young
Frenchman soon returned to the camp at
Valley Forge, w r here he resumed his com
mand of a division of the army, and his
frequent intercourse with Washington, by
whom he was greatly beloved.

There was another arrival in the camp,
of more importance than all. It was that
STEUBEN, a distinguished Prussian officer.
An old aid-de-camp of the great Freder
ick, he had learned and practised war un
der the first military tactician of Europe,
and now came with a singular vicissitude
to impart to a people struggling for in
dependence the lessons which he had ac
quired in the service of the most arbitra
ry of kings. Steuben s repute in Europe
was so high, that crowned heads competed
for him as an officer in their armies. The
emperor of Austria and the king of Sar
dinia both liberally bid for his services ;
and he was created grand marshal of the
court of Prince Hohenzollern-Heckingen,
and lieutenant-general and knight of the
order of Fidelity under the prince-mar
grave of Baden, and in the enjoyment of
other dignities, with an emolument which
amounted to about three thousand dollars
annually, when he resolved upon going
to America.

While visiting Paris, the baron listened
with interest to the accounts which he
heard from the French ministers of the
American cause, and they succeeded in
persuading him to join his fortunes with



[PART n.

it. Franklin and Deane, then the Ameri
can ngents in France, gladly welcomed
the acquisition of the baron, from whose
thorough practise as a military disciplina
rian they expected good service in the
training of the loosely-ordered American
army, and gave him strong letters of rec
ommendation. The versatile Beaumar-
chais, the author of "Figaro"- by turns
watchmaker, playwright, courtier, and
financier was just then, while perform
ing in the last capacity, under the aus
pices of the French court, supplying the
United States with money and military
stores. Under the assumed mercantile
names of" Roderique, Hotales, and Com
pany," the ever-active Beaumarchais had
got ready a ship and a cargo for his cus
tomers in America, and he now offered
the baron Steuben a passage. Lc Ilmrmx
(for that was the well-omened name of
the vessel) made a rough and dangerous
voyage, but finally landed the baron in
safety at Portsmouth, in New Hampshire,
on the 1st of November, 1777. On his
arrival, he sent forward his letters from
Franklin and Deane, with one from him
self, to Washington :

" The object of my greatest ambition,"
wrote the baron, " is to render your coun
try all the service in my power, and to
deserve the title of a citizen of America,
by fighting for the cause of your liberty.
If the distinguished ranks in which 1 have
served in Europe should be an obstacle,
I had rather serve under your excellency

/ *

as a volunteer than to be an object of dis
content among such deserving officers as
have already distinguished themselves
among you.

" I could say, moreover, were it not for
fear of offending your modesty, that your
excellency is the only person under whom,
after having served under the king of
Prussia, I could wish to pursue an art to
which I have wholly given myself up."

Franklin, in his letter, spoke warmly
of the claims of Steuben. " He goes to
America with a true zeal for our cause,
and a view of engaging in it, and render
ing it all the service in his power. He
is recommended to us by two of the best
judges of military merit in this country,
M. le comte de Vergennes and M. le comte
de St. Germain, who have long been per
sonally acquainted with him, and inter
est themselves in promoting- his voyage,
from the full persuasion that the knowl
edge and experience he has acquired by
twenty years study and practice in the
Prussian school may be of great use in
our armies."

Steuben, on presenting himself to Con
gress, offered his services as a volunteer,
which w r ere accepted with expressions of
acknowledgment for his generous disin
terestedness. He then proceeded to the
camp at Valley Forge. The baron made
a favorable first impression upon Wash
ington, who thus wrote : "He appears to
be much of a gentleman, and, as far as I
have had an opportunity of judging, a
man of military knowledge, and acquaint
ed with the world." He had not been
many days in camp, when Washington so
highly appreciated his abilities, that he
recommended Congress to appoint him
inspector-general of the army, an office to
which the faction had raised General Con-
way, but who never fulfilled its duties.



May 5,

The baron Steuben was accordingly ap
pointed inspector-general of the
army, with the rank of major-
general, and immediately assumed his
new position. Other inspectors were ap
pointed, subordinate to him. Of these
were Ternant and Fleury, both of whom
were gallant and efficient officers, who
had been disciplined in the armies of
France, and who, being fair English schol
ars, were enabled to act as interpreters
to the baron, of whose aid in this respect
he stood greatly in need, as his own Eng
lish vocabulary was as yet very limited.
Steuben was also glad to avail himself of
the assistance of Captain Walker, who un
derstood French, and whom he appointed
his aid.

The baron, with his portly form, his
somewhat venerable appearance (though
he was but forty-eight years of age), his
rich uniform, his splendid diamond-and-
gold order of Fidelity hanging from his
neck, and his military formalities of man
ner, made a great impression upon the
raw troops whom he now undertook to
teach the tactics of war. He was a rigid
disciplinarian, and exacted the most mi
nute obedience to orders. His scrutini
zing eye was everywhere along the line,
and upon each soldier, closely inspecting
every position and every article of accou
trement and dress. He required that the
musket and bayonet should exhibit the
brightest polish ; not a spot of rust, or
defect in any part, could elude his vigi
lance. He was as severe in his exactions
of duty from the officers as from the men.
His attention was directed to every de
partment. From the surgeons he re

quired lists of the sick, a statement of
their accommodations and mode of treat
ment, and did not hesitate to visit the
hospitals himself.

His trials may well be conceived to
have been severe, with the rude, inde
pendent material which he was striving
to form into an orderly soldiery ; and on
some occasions his patience and his vo
cabulary were alike exhausted. " Viens,
Walker ; men, bon ami, curse ! Gd d n de
yaucherie of dese badauts ! je ne puis plus
I can curse dem no more T cried out the
baron one day to Captain Walker, his aid-
de-camp, when the stupidity of some raw
recruits had drawn so liberally upon his
polyglott vocabulary of oaths as to leave
him destitute of resource.

Severe, however, as Steuben was as a
military disciplinarian, he was the kindest
of human creatures. He was so charita
ble, and gave away his money so freely,
that he never had a dollar for himself!
Washington said that if any specific sum,
however large, were bestowed upon Steu
ben, his generous heart would keep him
poor, and he would die a beggar. He
was simple in his habits, an early riser,
and a moderate man at the table ; but he
was so socially inclined, that he always
kept open house for all who came. He
was so generous, that he was known to
have sold his watch, to supply the wants
of a sick friend ; and his horse, to enter
tain a guest! He was only careless of
his own interests ; and while his own ex
chequer was empty, and his accounts in
confusion, he was so regardful of the pub
lic property confided to his trust, that,
while inspector-general, only three mus-




kets were found deficient, and these ac
counted for in his return to the war de
partment. Before his appointment., five
thousand muskets were always the allow
ance made in the estimate for loss, in the
number actually supplied.

Steuben s services in organizing and
drilling the American army were so great,
that the regulars who had been formed
under his eye were said never to have
been beaten in a fair engagement with
the enemy.


Occasional Skirmishes. "Light-Horse Harry." A Successful Defence. Wayne and Pulaski. Successful Encounters.
Captain Barry and his Row-Boats. A Prize. Sir Henry Clinton in Danger. The Play not worth the Candle.
Fortification of West Point. Kosciusko. The British Forayers. The Queen s Rangers. Hay and Corn. Sir Henry
Clinton in Command at Philadelphia. He proposes to retire. Lafayette set to watch the British. He is caught in a
Critical Position. A Skilful Manoeuvre and Fortunate Escape. The Enemy return to Philadelphia. A Successful
Raid by the British over the Delaware.


FEW occurrences, of a strictly
military character, took place while
the two armies were in winter-quarters.
There were, however, occasional skirmish
es between parties sent out to forage.
Captain Henry Lee, as usual, did good
service with his light-horse, and cheered
the heart of Washington (who was so
much attached to him) by his frequent
feats of gallantry. While stationed with
his troop of cavalry as an advanced guard
at Derby, Lee was attacked by a party
of the enemy s dragoons, nearly two hun
dred in number, who endeavored to sur
prise him. About daybreak they made
their appearance. Lee was on the alert,
and manned the doors and windows of
the large stone-house where he was quar
tered. The British dragoons, trusting to
their vast superiority in numbers, attempt
ed to force their way into the building.
The contest became very warm, but the

spirit of Lee s men baffled the enemy,
and they were driven off from the house.
They made an attempt to carry off the
horses, but they were also forced from
the stables, without being able to take a
single animal. The British had one com
missioned officer, a sergeant, and three
soldiers wounded, and three privates ta
ken prisoners. The Americans lost four
privates, who belonged to the patrol-
guard, and who, being stationed outside
of the building, were overpowered while
struggling manfully against the whole
troop of dragoons. A sergeant was also
taken prisoner, and a lieutenant and two
soldiers wounded.

A small force had been stationed by
Washington during the winter at Tren
ton, to keep in check the foraging-parties
of the enemy. While Wayne and Count
Pulaski were in command of their respect-
j ive troops in this quarter, three thousand



British crossed the Delaware and attempt
ed to surround them. The Americans,
however, succeeded in escaping, and har
assed the enemy severely on their return
across the ferry. Pulaski behaved with
great daring on the occasion, and during
a smart skirmish had his horse wounded.
After the British returned to their camp
in the city, General Wayne crossed the
Delaware, laid waste the forage in Phila
delphia and Bucks counties, and retired
over the river, driving before him the
horses and cattle.

On the water, too, Captain Barry, of
the navy, had by his gallantry won a
small triumph. Having manned four
boats at Burlington, in New Jersey, he
rowed down the Delaware with muffled
oars, and took two British transports and
an armed schooner by surprise. They
were from Rhode Island, and bound to
Philadelphia. The transports were laden
with forage, and the schooner was well
mounted with four- pound cannon and
howitzers. The exploit was gallantly ex
ecuted, as the river was in full possession
of the enemy s ships. Barry, in fact, had
no sooner seized his prizes, than he was
obliged to burn one, to prevent its being
retaken ; and " 1 fear the other," he wrote
to Washington, " will share the same fate
after discharging her; but I am deter
mined to hold the schooner at all events."

There was another affair which would
probably have been successful, had it not
been concluded that " the play was not
worth the candle." While Sir Henry Clin
ton was in command in New York, he
occupied the house of Captain Kennedy,
of the British navy, near the " Battery."

General Washington had learned the ex
act position of all the approaches to the
dwelling, and even of the bedchamber of
Sir Henry ; and it was proposed to carry
him off Eight or ten light whale-boats,
manned by a hundred and fifty Marble-
head seamen (dressed in red, that they
might pass for British soldiers), were to
move down the Hudson with muffled oars
from the Highlands to New York, where
the men were to land and seize the Brit
ish general. Everything was in readiness
for carrying out the enterprise, which
gave every promise of success, when Colo
nel Hamilton took occasion to ask Wash
ington, " Have you examined the conse
quences of it?" "In what respect?" re
plied the general. " Why, it has occurred
to me," rejoined Hamilton, " that we shall
rather lose than gain by removing Sir
Henry Clinton from the command of the
British army, because we perfectly un
derstand his character; and, by taking
him ofi^ we only make way for some oth
er, perhaps an abler officer, whose char
acter and disposition we may have to
learn." The good sense of this remark
was immediately acknowledged by Wash
ington, and the scheme abandoned.

The importance of holding the High
lands of the Hudson was never disregard
ed ; and, after the fall of Forts Clinton
and Montgomery, it was determined to
select some other position, and strongly
fortify it. General Putnam s attention
was directed to this important matter,
and he, together with the Clintons of New
York, carefully reconnoitred the banks of
the river, with the view of selecting a
proper site for a fort. West Point was


deemed most eligible by them, as well as
by a committee of the legislature of New
York; although Radio re, the French en
gineer, did not approve of the site. There
was some delay in constructing the works
in consequence of the absence of General
Putnam from his command on the Hud
son. Brigadier-General Parsons, of Mas
sachusetts, who succeeded him tempora
rily, not feeling authorized to act, noth
ing was done until the arrival of

General M Dougall, who assumed

the command. As Radiere had objected
to the site of West Point, which it was
now determined to fortify, Kosciusko was
chosen in his place ; and the works were
begun, and pushed on with great vigor.
The chief redoubt, constructed of logs
and embankments of earth, was finished
before the month of May. It was large,
and well placed upon a cliff rising nearly
two hundred feet above the water. Fort
Clinton was the name given to it, in hon
or of the governor of New York. There
were other redoubts planned and finally
erected upon the eminences in the neigh
borhood, while connected with the works
were barracks and quarters for nearly six
hundred men. There was also a heavy
chain stretched across the river, to pre
vent the passage of vessels.

Although Sir William Howe was inac
tive with the main body of the British
army at Philadelphia, some of his fora-
ging-parties showed great enterprise and
alacrity. Colonel Mawhood and Major
Simcoe, with the corps of America loyal
ists called the " Queen s Rangers," made
themselves memorable by their success
ful activity at Salem and at Quintian and


May 18,

Hancock s bridges. " They generally suc
ceeded in their petty objects," says one
of their own historians. " The fighting
was chiefly for hay and corn, clothes and

As it was rumored that Sir Henry Clin
ton (who had taken command of the Brit
ish army on the resignation of Sir Wil
liam Howe) was about to evacuate Phila
delphia, the young marquis Lafayette was
detached with twenty-four hundred of the
choicest of the American troops and five
fieldpieces, " to move," as Washington said,
" between the Delaware and the Sell ivy 1-
kill, for restraining the enemy s parties
and procuring intelligence, and to act as
circumstances may require."

Lafayette accord ingty marched from
headquarters, and took post at
Barren hill, on the east side of

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 80 of 126)