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George Washington, Vol. I by Henry Cabot Lodge

Part 3 out of 6

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The outlook, nevertheless, was, as Washington wrote, "truly
distressing." The troops were dispirited, and the militia began to
disappear, as they always did after a defeat. Congress would not
permit the destruction of the city, different interests pulled in
different directions, conflicting opinions distracted the councils
of war, and, with utter inability to predict the enemy's movements,
everything led to halfway measures and to intense anxiety, while Lord
Howe tried to negotiate with Congress, and the Americans waited for
events. Washington, looking beyond the confusion of the moment, saw
that he had gained much by delay, and had his own plan well defined.
He wrote: "We have not only delayed the operations of the campaign
till it is too late to effect any capital incursion into the country,
but have drawn the enemy's forces to one point.... It would be
presumption to draw out our young troops into open ground against
their superiors both in number and discipline, and I have never spared
the spade and pickaxe." Every one else, however, saw only past defeat
and present peril.

The British ships gradually made their way up the river, until it
became apparent that they intended to surround and cut off the
American army. Washington made preparations to withdraw, but
uncertainty of information came near rendering his precautions futile.
September 15 the men-of-war opened fire, and troops were landed near
Kip's Bay. The militia in the breastworks at that point had been
at Brooklyn and gave way at once, communicating their panic to two
Connecticut regiments. Washington, galloping down to the scene of
battle, came upon the disordered and flying troops. He dashed in among
them, conjuring them to stop, but even while he was trying to rally
them they broke again on the appearance of some sixty or seventy of
the enemy, and ran in all directions. In a tempest of anger Washington
drew his pistols, struck the fugitives with his sword, and was only
forced from the field by one of his officers seizing the bridle of his
horse and dragging him away from the British, now within a hundred
yards of the spot.

Through all his trials and anxieties Washington always showed the
broadest and most generous sympathy. When the militia had begun to
leave him a few days before, although he despised their action and
protested bitterly to Congress against their employment, yet in his
letters he displayed a keen appreciation of their feelings, and saw
plainly every palliation and excuse. But there was one thing which
he could never appreciate nor realize. It was from first to last
impossible for him to understand how any man could refuse to fight, or
could think of running away. When he beheld rout and cowardly panic
before his very eyes, his temper broke loose and ran uncontrolled. His
one thought then was to fight to the last, and he would have thrown
himself single-handed on the enemy, with all his wisdom and prudence
flung to the winds. The day when the commander held his place merely
by virtue of personal prowess lay far back in the centuries, and no
one knew it better than Washington. But the old fighting spirit awoke
within him when the clash of arms sounded in his ears, and though we
may know the general in the tent and in the council, we can only know
the man when he breaks out from all rules and customs, and shows the
rage of battle, and the indomitable eagerness for the fray, which lie
at the bottom of the tenacity and courage that carried the war for
independence to a triumphant close.

The rout and panic over, Washington quickly turned to deal with the
pressing danger. With coolness and quickness he issued his orders, and
succeeded in getting his army off, Putnam's division escaping most
narrowly. He then took post at King's Bridge, and began to strengthen
and fortify his lines. While thus engaged, the enemy advanced, and
on the 16th Washington suddenly took the offensive and attacked the
British light troops. The result was a sharp skirmish, in which the
British were driven back with serious loss, and great bravery was
shown by the Connecticut and Virginia troops, the two commanding
officers being killed. This affair, which was the first gleam of
success, encouraged the troops, and was turned to the best account by
the general. Still a successful skirmish did not touch the essential
difficulties of the situation, which then as always came from
within, rather than without. To face and check twenty-five thousand
well-equipped and highly disciplined soldiers Washington had now some
twelve thousand men, lacking in everything which goes to make an army,
except mere individual courage and a high average of intelligence.
Even this meagre force was an inconstant and diminishing quantity,
shifting, uncertain, and always threatening dissolution.

The task of facing and fighting the enemy was enough for the ablest
of men; but Washington was obliged also to combat and overcome the
inertness and dullness born of ignorance, and to teach Congress how to
govern a nation at war. In the hours "allotted to sleep," he sat in
his headquarters, writing a letter, with "blots and scratches," which
told Congress with the utmost precision and vigor just what was
needed. It was but one of a long series of similar letters, written
with unconquerable patience and with unwearied iteration, lighted here
and there by flashes of deep and angry feeling, which would finally
strike home under the pressure of defeat, and bring the patriots of
the legislature to sudden action, always incomplete, but still action
of some sort. It must have been inexpressibly dreary work, but quite
as much was due to those letters as to the battles. Thinking for other
people, and teaching them what to do, is at best an ungrateful duty,
but when it is done while an enemy is at your throat, it shows a grim
tenacity of purpose which is well worth consideration.

In this instance the letter of September 24, read in the light of the
battles of Long Island and Kip's Bay, had a considerable effect. The
first steps were taken to make the army national and permanent, to
raise the pay of officers, and to lengthen enlistments. Like most of
the war measures of Congress, they were too late for the immediate
necessity, but they helped the future. Congress, moreover, then felt
that all had been done that could be demanded, and relapsed once more
into confidence. "The British force," said John Adams, chairman of the
board of war, "is so divided, they will do no great matter this
fall." But Washington, facing hard facts, wrote to Congress with his
unsparing truth on October 4: "Give me leave to say, sir, (I say it
with due deference and respect, and my knowledge of the facts, added
to the importance of the cause and the stake I hold in it, must
justify the freedom,) that your affairs are in a more unpromising way
than you seem to apprehend. Your army, as I mentioned in my last, is
on the eve of its political dissolution. True it is, you have voted
a larger one in lieu of it; but the season is late; and there is a
material difference between voting battalions and raising men."

The campaign as seen from the board of war and from the Plains of
Harlem differed widely. It is needless to say now which was correct;
every one knows that the General was right and Congress wrong, but
being in the right did not help Washington, nor did he take petty
pleasure in being able to say, "I told you how it would be." The
hard facts remained unchanged. There was the wholly patriotic but
slumberous, and for fighting purposes quite inefficient Congress still
to be waked up and kept awake, and to be instructed. With painful
and plain-spoken repetition this work was grappled with and done
methodically, and like all else as effectively as was possible.

Meanwhile the days slipped along, and Washington waited on the Harlem
Plains, planning descents on Long Island, and determining to make a
desperate stand where he was, unless the situation decidedly changed.
Then the situation did change, as neither he nor any one else
apparently had anticipated. The British warships came up the Hudson
past the forts, brushing aside our boasted obstructions, destroying
our little fleet, and getting command of the river. Then General Howe
landed at Frog's Point, where he was checked for the moment by the
good disposition of Heath, under Washington's direction. These two
events made it evident that the situation of the American army was
full of peril, and that retreat was again necessary. Such certainly
was the conclusion of the council of war, on the 16th, acting this
time in agreement with their chief. Six days Howe lingered on Frog's
Point, bringing up stores or artillery or something; it matters little
now why he tarried. Suffice it that he waited, and gave six days to
his opponent. They were of little value to Howe, but they were
of inestimable worth to Washington, who employed them in getting
everything in readiness, in holding his council of war, and then on
the 17th in moving deliberately off to very strong ground at White
Plains. On his way he fought two or three slight, sharp, and
successful skirmishes with the British. Sir William followed closely,
but with much caution, having now a dull glimmer in his mind that at
the head of the raw troops in front of him was a man with whom it was
not safe to be entirely careless.

On the 28th, Howe came up to Washington's position, and found the
Americans quite equal in numbers, strongly intrenched, and awaiting
his attack with confidence. He hesitated, doubted, and finally feeling
that he must do something, sent four thousand men to storm Chatterton
Hill, an outlying post, where some fourteen hundred Americans were
stationed. There was a short, sharp action, and then the Americans
retreated in good order to the main army, having lost less than half
as many men as their opponents. With caution now much enlarged, Howe
sent for reinforcements, and waited two days. The third day it rained,
and on the fourth Howe found that Washington had withdrawn to a higher
and quite impregnable line of hills, where he held all the passes in
the rear and awaited a second attack. Howe contemplated the situation
for two or three days longer, and then broke camp and withdrew to
Dobbs Ferry to secure Fort Washington, which treachery offered him as
an easy and inviting prize. Such were the great results of the victory
of Long Island, two wasted months, and the American army still

Howe was resolved that his campaign should not be utterly fruitless,
and therefore directed his attention to the defenses of the Hudson,
and here he met with better success. Congress, in its military wisdom,
had insisted that these forts must and could be held. So thought the
generals, and so most especially, and most unluckily, did Greene.
Washington, with his usual accurate and keen perception, saw, from the
time the men-of-war came up the Hudson, and, now that the British
army was free, more clearly than ever, that both forts ought to be
abandoned. Sure of his ground, he overruled Congress, but was so far
influenced by Greene that he gave to that officer discretionary orders
as to withdrawal. This was an act of weakness, as he afterwards
admitted, for which he bitterly reproached himself, never confusing or
glossing over his own errors, but loyal there, as elsewhere, to facts.
An attempt was made to hold both forts, and both were lost, as he
had foreseen. From Fort Lee the garrison withdrew in safety. Fort
Washington, with its plans all in Howe's hands through the treachery
of William Demont, the adjutant of Colonel Magaw, was carried by
storm, after a severe struggle. Twenty-six hundred men and all the
munitions of war fell into the hands of the enemy. It was a serious
and most depressing loss, and was felt throughout the continent.

Meantime Washington had crossed info the Jerseys, and, after the loss
of Fort Lee, began to retreat before the British, who, flushed with
victory, now advanced rapidly under Lord Cornwallis. The crisis of his
fate and of the Revolution was upon him. His army was melting away.
The militia had almost all disappeared, and regiments whose term of
enlistment had expired were departing daily. Lee, who had a division
under his command, was ordered to come up, but paid no attention,
although the orders were repeated almost every day for a month. He
lingered, and loitered, and excused himself, and at last was taken
prisoner. This disposed of him for a time very satisfactorily, but
meanwhile he had succeeded in keeping his troops from Washington,
which was a most serious misfortune.

On December 2 Washington was at Princeton with three thousand ragged
men, and the British close upon his heels. They had him now surely
in their grip. There could be no mistake this time, and there was
therefore no need of a forced march. But they had not yet learned that
to Washington even hours meant much, and when, after duly resting,
they reached the Delaware, they found the Americans on the other side,
and all the boats destroyed for a distance of seventy miles.

It was winter now, the short gray days had come, and with them
piercing cold and storms of sleet and ice. It seemed as if the
elements alone would finally disperse the feeble body of men still
gathered about the commander-in-chief. Congress had sent him blank
commissions and orders to recruit, which were well meant, but were not
practically of much value. As Glendower could call spirits from the
vasty deep, so they, with like success, sought to call soldiers from
the earth in the midst of defeat, and in the teeth of a North American
winter. Washington, baffling pursuit and flying from town to town,
left nothing undone. North and south went letters and appeals for men,
money, and supplies. Vain, very vain, it all was, for the most part,
but still it was done in a tenacious spirit. Lee would not come, the
Jersey militia would not turn out, thousands began to accept Howe's
amnesty, and signs of wavering were apparent in some of the Middle
States. Philadelphia was threatened, Newport was in the hands of the
enemy, and for ninety miles Washington had retreated, evading ruin
again and again only by the width of a river. Congress voted not
to leave Philadelphia,--a fact which their General declined to
publish,--and then fled.

No one remained to face the grim realities of the time but Washington,
and he met them unmoved. Not a moment passed that he did not seek in
some way to effect something. Not an hour went by that he did not turn
calmly from fresh and ever renewed disappointment to work and action.

By the middle of December Howe felt satisfied that the American army
would soon dissolve, and leaving strong detachments in various posts
he withdrew to New York. His premises were sound, and his conclusions
logical, but he made his usual mistake of overlooking and
underestimating the American general. No sooner was it known that
he was on his way to New York than Washington, at the head of his
dissolving army, resolved to take the offensive and strike an outlying
post. In a letter of December 14, the day after Howe began to move, we
catch the first glimpse of Trenton. It was a bold spirit which, in the
dead of winter, with a broken army, no prospect of reinforcements, and
in the midst of a terror-stricken people, could thus resolve with
some four thousand men to attack an army thoroughly appointed, and
numbering in all its divisions twenty-five thousand soldiers.

It is well to pause a moment and look at that situation, and at the
overwhelming difficulties which hemmed it in, and then try to realize
what manner of man he was who rose superior to it, and conquered it.
Be it remembered, too, that he never deceived himself, and never for
one instant disguised the truth. Two years later he wrote that at this
supreme moment, in what were called "the dark days of America," he was
never despondent; and this was true enough, for despair was not in his
nature. But no delusions lent him courage. On the 18th he wrote to his
brother "that if every nerve was not strained to recruit this new army
the game was pretty nearly up;" and added, "You can form no idea of
the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had a greater
choice of difficulties, and less means to extricate himself from them.
However, under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause, I cannot
entertain an idea that it will finally sink, though it may remain
for some time under a cloud." There is no complaint, no boasting, no
despair in this letter. We can detect a bitterness in the references
to Congress and to Lee, but the tone of the letter is as calm as a May
morning, and it concludes with sending love and good wishes to the
writer's sister and her family.

Thus in the dreary winter Washington was planning and devising and
sending hither and thither for men, and never ceased through it all
to write urgent and ever sharper letters and keep a wary eye upon the
future. He not only wrote strongly, but he pledged his own estate and
exceeded his powers in desperate efforts to raise money and men. On
the 20th he wrote to Congress: "It may be thought that I am going a
good deal out of the line of my duty to adopt these measures, or to
advise thus freely. A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the
inestimable blessings of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be
my excuse." Even now across the century these words come with a grave
solemnity to our ears, and we can feel as he felt when he alone saw
that he stood on the brink of a great crisis. It is an awful thing to
know that the life of a nation is at stake, and this thought throbs in
his words, measured and quiet as usual, but deeply fraught with much
meaning to him and to the world.

By Christmas all was ready, and when the Christian world was rejoicing
and feasting, and the British officers in New York and in the New
Jersey towns were reveling and laughing, Washington prepared to
strike. His whole force, broken into various detachments, was less
than six thousand men. To each division was assigned, with provident
forethought, its exact part. Nothing was overlooked, nothing omitted;
and then every division commander failed, for good reason or bad, to
do his duty. Gates was to march from Bristol with two thousand
men, Ewing was to cross at Trenton, Putnam was to come up from
Philadelphia, Griffin was to make a diversion against Donop. When
the moment came, Gates, disapproving the scheme, was on his way
to Congress, and Wilkinson, with his message, found his way to
headquarters by following the bloody tracks of the barefooted
soldiers. Griffin abandoned New Jersey and fled before Donop. Putnam
would not even attempt to leave Philadelphia, and Ewing made no effort
to cross at Trenton. Cadwalader, indeed, came down from Bristol,
but after looking at the river and the floating ice, gave it up as

But there was one man who did not hesitate nor give up, nor halt on
account of floating ice. With twenty-four hundred hardy veterans,
Washington crossed the Delaware. The night was bitter cold and the
passage difficult. When they landed, and began their march of nine
miles to Trenton, a fierce storm of sleet drove in their faces.
Sullivan; marching by the river, sent word that the arms of his men
were wet. "Then tell your general," said Washington, "to use the
bayonet, for the town must be taken." In broad daylight they came to
the town. Washington, at the front and on the right of the line, swept
down the Pennington road, and as he drove in the pickets he heard the
shouts of Sullivan's men, as, with Stark leading the van, they charged
in from the river. A company of yaegers and the light dragoons slipped
away, there was a little confused fighting in the streets, Colonel
Rahl fell, mortally wounded, his Hessians threw down their arms, and
all was over. The battle had been fought and won, and the Revolution
was saved.


Taking his thousand prisoners with him, Washington recrossed the
Delaware to his old position. Had all done their duty, as he had
planned, the British hold on New Jersey would have been shattered. As
it was, it was only loosened. Congress, aroused at last, had invested
Washington with almost dictatorial powers; but the time for action was
short. The army was again melting away, and only by urgent appeals
were some veterans retained, and enough new men gathered to make a
force of five thousand men. With this army Washington prepared to
finish what he had begun.

Trenton struck alarm and dismay into the British, and Cornwallis, with
seven thousand of the best troops, started from New York to redeem
what had been lost. Leaving three regiments at Princeton, he pushed
hotly after Washington, who fell back behind the Assunpink River,
skirmishing heavily and successfully. When Cornwallis reached the
river he found the American army drawn up on the other side awaiting
him. An attack on the bridge was repulsed, and the prospect looked
uninviting. Some officers urged an immediate assault; but night was
falling, and Cornwallis, sure of the game, decided to wait till
the morrow. He, too, forgot that he was facing an enemy who never
overlooked a mistake, and never waited an hour. With quick decision
Washington left his camp-fires burning on the river bank, and taking
roundabout roads, which he had already reconnoitred, marched on to
Princeton. By sunrise he was in the outskirts of the town. Mercer,
detached with some three hundred men, fell in with Mawhood's regiment,
and a sharp action ensued. Mercer was mortally wounded, and his men
gave way just as the main army came upon the field. The British
charged, and as the raw Pennsylvanian troops in the van wavered,
Washington rode to the front, and reining his horse within thirty
yards of the British, ordered his men to advance. The volleys of
musketry left him unscathed, the men stood firm, the other divisions
came rapidly into action, and the enemy gave way in all directions.
The two other British regiments were driven through the town and
routed. Had there been cavalry they would have been entirely cut off.
As it was, they were completely broken, and in this short but bloody
action they lost five hundred men in killed, wounded, and prisoners.
It was too late to strike the magazines at Brunswick, as Washington
had intended, and so he withdrew once more with his army to the high
lands to rest and recruit.

His work was done, however. The country, which had been supine, and
even hostile, rose now, and the British were attacked, surprised, and
cut off in all directions, until at last they were shut up in the
immediate vicinity of New York. The tide had been turned, and
Washington had won the precious breathing-time which was all he

Frederick the Great is reported to have said that this was the most
brilliant campaign of the century. It certainly showed all the
characteristics of the highest strategy and most consummate
generalship. With a force numerically insignificant as compared with
that opposed to him, Washington won two decisive victories, striking
the enemy suddenly with superior numbers at each point of attack.
The Trenton campaign has all the quality of some of the last battles
fought by Napoleon in France before his retirement to Elba. Moreover,
these battles show not only generalship of the first order, but great
statesmanship. They display that prescient knowledge which recognizes
the supreme moment when all must be risked to save the state. By
Trenton and Princeton Washington inflicted deadly blows upon the
enemy, but he did far more by reviving the patriotic spirit of the
country fainting under the bitter experience of defeat, and by sending
fresh life and hope and courage throughout the whole people.

It was the decisive moment of the war. Sooner or later the American
colonies were sure to part from the mother-country, either peaceably
or violently. But there was nothing inevitable in the Revolution of
1776, nor was its end at all certain. It was in the last extremities
when the British overran New Jersey, and if it had not been for
Washington that particular revolution would have most surely failed.
Its fate lay in the hands of the general and his army; and to the
strong brain growing ever keener and quicker as the pressure became
more intense, to the iron will gathering a more relentless force
as defeat thickened, to the high, unbending character, and to the
passionate and fighting temper of Washington, we owe the brilliant
campaign which in the darkest hour turned the tide and saved the cause
of the Revolution.



After the "two lucky strokes at Trenton and Princeton," as he himself
called them, Washington took up a strong position at Morristown and
waited. His plan was to hold the enemy in check, and to delay all
operations until spring. It is easy enough now to state his purpose,
and it looks very simple, but it was a grim task to carry it out
through the bleak winter days of 1777. The Jerseys farmers, spurred by
the sufferings inflicted upon them by the British troops, had turned
out at last in deference to Washington's appeals, after the victories
of Trenton and Princeton, had harassed and cut off outlying parties,
and had thus straitened the movements of the enemy. But the main army
of the colonies, on which all depended, was in a pitiable state. It
shifted its character almost from day to day. The curse of short
enlistments, so denounced by Washington, made itself felt now with
frightful effect. With the new year most of the continental troops
departed, while others to replace them came in very slowly, and
recruiting dragged most wearisomely. Washington was thus obliged, with
temporary reinforcements of raw militia, to keep up appearances; and
no commander ever struggled with a more trying task. At times it
looked as if the whole army would actually disappear, and more than
once Washington expected that the week's or the month's end would find
him with not more than five hundred men. At the beginning of March he
had about four thousand men, a few weeks later only three thousand raw
troops, ill-fed, ill-clad, ill-shod, ill-armed, and almost unpaid.
Over against him was Howe, with eleven thousand men in the field, and
still more in the city of New York, well disciplined and equipped,
well-armed, well-fed, and furnished with every needful supply. The
contrast is absolutely grotesque, and yet the force of one man's
genius and will was such that this excellent British army was hemmed
in and kept in harmless quiet by their ragged opponents.

Washington's plan, from the first, was to keep the field at all
hazards, and literally at all hazards did he do so. Right and left
his letters went, day after day, calling with pathetic but dignified
earnestness for men and supplies. In one of these epistles, to
Governor Cooke of Rhode Island, written in January, to remonstrate
against raising troops for the State only, he set forth his intentions
in a few words. "You must be sensible," he said, "that the season is
fast approaching when a new campaign will open; nay, the former is not
yet closed; nor do I intend it shall be, unless the enemy quits the
Jerseys." To keep fighting all the time, and never let the fire of
active resistance flicker or die out, was Washington's theory of the
way to maintain his own side and beat the enemy. If he could not fight
big battles, he would fight small ones; if he could not fight little
battles, he would raid and skirmish and surprise; but fighting of some
sort he would have, while the enemy attempted to spread over a State
and hold possession of it. We can see the obstacles now, but we can
only wonder how they were sufficiently overcome to allow anything to
be done.

Moreover, besides the purely physical difficulties in the lack of men,
money, and supplies, there were others of a political and personal
kind, which were even more wearing and trying, but which,
nevertheless, had to be dealt with also, in some fashion. In order to
sustain the courage of the people Washington was obliged to give out,
and to allow it to be supposed, that he had more men than was really
the case, and so Congress and various wise and well-meaning persons
grumbled because he did not do more and fight more battles. He never
deceived Congress, but they either could not or would not understand
the actual situation. In March he wrote to Robert Morris: "Nor is it
in my power to make Congress fully sensible of the real situation
of our affairs, and that it is with difficulty, if I may use the
expression, that I can by every means in my power keep the life and
soul of this army together. In a word, when they are at a distance,
they think it is but to say, _Presto, begone_, and everything is done.
They seem not to have any conception of the difficulty and perplexity
attending those who are to execute." It was so easy to see what they
would like to have done, and so simple to pass a resolve to that
effect, that Congress never could appreciate the reality of the
difficulty and the danger until the hand of the enemy was almost at
their throats. They were not even content with delay and neglect, but
interfered actively at times, as in the matter of the exchange of
prisoners, where they made unending trouble for Washington, and showed
themselves unable to learn or to keep their hands off after any amount
of instruction.

In January Washington issued a proclamation requiring those
inhabitants who had subscribed to Howe's declaration to come in within
thirty days and take the oath of allegiance to the United States. If
they failed to do so they were to be treated as enemies. The measure
was an eminently proper one, and the proclamation was couched in the
most moderate language. It was impossible to permit a large class
of persons to exist on the theory that they were peaceful American
citizens and also subjects of King George. The results of such conduct
were in every way perilous and intolerable, and Washington was
determined that he would divide the sheep from the goats, and know
whom he was defending and whom attacking. Yet for this wise and
necessary action he was called in question in Congress and accused of
violating civil rights and the resolves of Congress itself. Nothing
was actually done about it, but such an incident shows from a single
point the infinite tact and resolution required in waging war under a
government whose members were unable to comprehend what was meant, and
who could not see that until they had beaten England it was hardly
worth while to worry about civil rights, which in case of defeat would
speedily cease to exist altogether.

Another fertile source of trouble arose from questions of rank.
Members of Congress, in making promotions and appointments, were
more apt to consider local claims than military merit, and they also
allowed their own personal prejudices to affect their action in
this respect far too much. Thence arose endless heart-burnings
and jealousies, followed by resignations and the loss of valuable
officers. Congress, having made the appointments, would go cheerfully
about its business, while the swarm of grievances thus let loose would
come buzzing about the devoted head of the commander-in-chief. He
could not adjourn, but was compelled to quiet rivalries, allay
irritated feelings, and ride the storm as best he might. It was all
done, however, in one way or another: by personal appeals, and by
letters full of dignity, patriotism, and patience, which are very
impressive and full of meaning for students of character, even in this
day and generation.

Then again, not content with snarling up our native appointments,
Congress complicated matters still more dangerously by its treatment
of foreigners. The members of Congress were colonists, and the fact
that they had shaken off the yoke of the mother country did not in the
least alter their colonial and perfectly natural habit of regarding
with enormous respect Englishmen and Frenchmen, and indeed anybody who
had had the good fortune to be born in Europe. The result was that
they distributed commissions and gave inordinate rank to the many
volunteers who came over the ocean, actuated by various motives, but
all filled with a profound sense of their own merits. It is only fair
to Congress to say that the American agents abroad were even more to
blame in this respect. Silas Deane especially scattered promises of
commissions with a lavish hand, and Congress refused to fulfill many
of the promises thus made in its name. Nevertheless, Congress was far
too lax, and followed too closely the example of its agents. Some of
these foreigners were disinterested men and excellent soldiers, who
proved of great value to the American cause. Many others were mere
military adventurers, capable of being turned to good account,
perhaps, but by no means entitled to what they claimed and in most
instances received.

The ill-considered action of Congress and of our agents abroad in
this respect was a source of constantly recurring troubles of a very
serious nature. Native officers, who had borne the burden and heat of
the day, justly resented being superseded by some stranger, unable
to speak the language, who had landed in the States but a few days
before. As a result, resignations were threatened which, if carried
out, would affect the character of the army very deeply. Then again,
the foreigners themselves, inflated by the eagerness of our agents and
by their reception at the hands of Congress, would find on joining the
army that they could get no commands, chiefly because there were none
to give. They would then become dissatisfied with their rank and
employment, and bitter complaints and recriminations would ensue.
All these difficulties, of course, fell most heavily upon the
commander-in-chief, who was heartily disgusted with the whole
business. Washington believed from the beginning, and said over and
over again in various and ever stronger terms, that this was an
American war and must be fought by Americans. In no other way, and
by no other persons, did he consider that it could be carried to any
success worth having. He saw of course the importance of a French
alliance, and deeply desired it, for it was a leading element in the
solution of the political and military situation; but alliance with
a foreign power was one thing, and sporadic military volunteers were
another. Washington had no narrow prejudices against foreigners,
for he was a man of broad and liberal mind, and no one was more
universally beloved and respected by the foreign officers than he; but
he was intensely American in his feelings, and he would not admit for
an instant that the American war for independence could be righteously
fought or honestly won by others than Americans. He was well aware
that foreign volunteers had a value and use of which he largely and
gratefully availed himself; but he was exasperated and alarmed by the
indiscriminate and lavish way in which Congress and our agents abroad
gave rank and office to them. "Hungry adventurers," he called them in
one letter, when driven beyond endurance by the endless annoyances
thus forced upon him; and so he pushed their pretensions aside,
and managed, on the whole, to keep them in their proper place. The
operation was delicate, difficult, and unpleasant, for it seemed to
savor of ingratitude. But Washington was never shaken for an instant
in his policy, and while he checked the danger, he showed in many
instances, like Lafayette and Steuben, that he could appreciate and
use all that was really valuable in the foreign contingent.

The service rendered by Washington in this matter has never been
justly understood or appreciated. If he had not taken this position,
and held it with an absolute firmness which bordered on harshness, we
should have found ourselves in a short time with an army of American
soldiers officered by foreigners, many of them mere mercenaries,
"hungry adventurers," from France, Poland or Hungary, from Germany,
Ireland or England. The result of such a combination would have been
disorganization and defeat. That members of Congress and some of our
representatives in Europe did not see the danger, and that they were
impressed by the foreign officers who came among them, was perfectly
natural. Men are the creatures of the time in which they live, and
take their color from the conditions which surround them, as the
chameleon does from the grass or leaves in which it hides. The rulers
and lawmakers of 1776 could not cast off their provincial awe of
the natives of England and Europe as they cast off their political
allegiance to the British king. The only wonder is that there should
have been even one man so great in mind and character that he could
rise at a single bound from the level of a provincial planter to the
heights of a great national leader. He proved himself such in all
ways, but in none more surely than in his ability to consider all men
simply as men, and, with a judgment that nothing could confuse, to
ward off from his cause and country the dangers inherent in colonial
habits of thought and action, so menacing to a people struggling for
independence. We can see this strong, high spirit of nationality
running through Washington's whole career, but it never did better
service than when it stood between the American army and undue favor
to foreign volunteers.

Among other disagreeable and necessary truths, Washington had told
Congress that Philadelphia was in danger, that Howe probably meant to
occupy it, and that it would be nearly impossible to prevent his doing
so. This warning being given and unheeded, he continued to watch his
antagonist, doing so with increased vigilance, as signs of activity
began to appear in New York. Toward the end of May he broke up his
cantonments, having now about seven thousand men, and took a strong
position within ten miles of Brunswick. Here he waited, keeping
an anxious eye on the Hudson in case he should be mistaken in his
expectations, and should find that the enemy really intended to go
north to meet Burgoyne instead of south to capture Philadelphia.

Washington's doubts were soon to be resolved and his expectations
fulfilled. May 31, a fleet of a hundred sail left New York, and
couriers were at once sent southward to warn the States of the
possibility of a speedy invasion. About the same time transports
arrived with more German mercenaries, and Howe, thus reinforced,
entered the Jerseys. Washington determined to decline battle, and if
the enemy pushed on and crossed the Delaware, to hang heavily on their
rear, while the militia from the south were drawn up to Philadelphia.
He adopted this course because he felt confident that Howe would never
cross the Delaware and leave the main army of the Americans behind
him. His theory proved correct. The British advanced and retreated,
burned houses and villages and made feints, but all in vain.
Washington baffled them at every point, and finally Sir William
evacuated the Jerseys entirely and withdrew to New York and Staten
Island, where active preparations for some expedition were at once
begun. Again came anxious watching, with the old fear that Howe meant
to go northward and join the now advancing Burgoyne. The fear was
groundless. On July 23 the British fleet set sail from New York,
carrying between fifteen and eighteen thousand men. Not deceived by
the efforts to make him think that they aimed at Boston, but still
fearing that the sailing might be only a ruse and the Hudson the real
object after all, Washington moved cautiously to the Delaware, holding
himself ready to strike in either direction. On the 31st he heard that
the enemy were at the Capes. This seemed decisive; so he sent in
all directions for reinforcements, moved the main army rapidly to
Germantown, and prepared to defend Philadelphia. The next news was
that the fleet had put to sea again, and again messengers went north
to warn Putnam to prepare for the defense of the Hudson. Washington
himself was about to re-cross the Delaware, when tidings arrived that
the fleet had once more appeared at the Capes, and after a few more
days of doubt the ships came up the Chesapeake and anchored.

Washington thought the "route a strange one," but he knew now that he
was right in his belief that Howe aimed at Philadelphia. He therefore
gathered his forces and marched south to meet the enemy, passing
through the city in order to impress the disaffected and the timid
with the show of force. It was a motley array that followed him. There
was nothing uniform about the troops except their burnished arms and
the sprigs of evergreen in their hats. Nevertheless Lafayette, who had
just come among them, thought that they looked like good soldiers, and
the Tories woke up sharply to the fact that there was a large body of
men known as the American army, and that they had a certain obvious
fighting capacity visible in their appearance. Neither friends nor
enemies knew, however, as they stood on the Philadelphia sidewalks
and watched the troops go past, that the mere fact of that army's
existence was the greatest victory of skill and endurance which
the war could show, and that the question of success lay in its

Leaving Philadelphia, Washington pushed on to the junction of the
Brandywine and Christiana Creek, and posted his men along the heights.
August 25, Howe landed at the Head of Elk, and Washington threw out
light parties to drive in cattle, carry off supplies, and annoy the
enemy. This was done, on the whole, satisfactorily, and after some
successful skirmishing on the part of the Americans, the two armies
on the 5th of September found themselves within eight or ten miles of
each other. Washington now determined to risk a battle in the field,
despite his inferiority in every way. He accordingly issued a
stirring proclamation to the soldiers, and then fell back behind the
Brandywine, to a strong position, and prepared to contest the passage
of the river.

Early on September 11, the British advanced to Chad's Ford, where
Washington was posted with the main body, and after some skirmishing
began to cannonade at long range. Meantime Cornwallis, with the main
body, made a long detour of seventeen miles, and came upon the right
flank and rear of the Americans. Sullivan, who was on the right, had
failed to guard the fords above, and through lack of information was
practically surprised. Washington, on rumors that the enemy were
marching toward his right, with the instinct of a great soldier was
about to cross the river in his front and crush the enemy there, but
he also was misled and kept back by false reports. When the truth was
known, it was too late. The right wing had been beaten and flung back,
the enemy were nearly in the rear, and were now advancing in earnest
in front. All that man could do was done. Troops were pushed forward
and a gallant stand was made at various points; but the critical
moment had come and gone, and there was nothing for it but a hasty
retreat, which came near degenerating into a rout.

The causes of this complete defeat, for such it was, are easily seen.
Washington had planned his battle and chosen his position well. If he
had not been deceived by the first reports, he even then would have
fallen upon and overwhelmed the British centre before they could
have reached his right wing. But the Americans, to begin with, were
outnumbered. They had only eleven thousand effective men, while the
British brought fifteen of their eighteen thousand into action. Then
the Americans suffered, as they constantly did, from misinformation,
and from an absence of system in learning the enemy's movements.
Washington's attack was fatally checked in this way, and Sullivan
was surprised from the same causes, as well as from his own culpable
ignorance of the country beyond him, which was the reason of his
failure to guard the upper fords. The Americans lost, also, by the
unsteadiness of new troops when the unexpected happens, and when
the panic-bearing notion that they are surprised and likely to be
surrounded comes upon them with a sudden shock.

This defeat was complete and severe, and it was followed in a few days
by that of Wayne, who narrowly escaped utter ruin. Yet through all
this disaster we can see the advance which had been made since the
equally unfortunate and very similar battle on Long Island. Then, the
troops seemed to lose heart and courage, the army was held together
with difficulty, and could do nothing but retreat. Now, in the few
days which Howe, as usual, gave his opponent with such fatal effect to
himself, Washington rallied his army, and finding them in excellent
spirits marched down the Lancaster road to fight again. On the eve of
battle a heavy storm came on, which so injured the arms and munitions
that with bitter disappointment he was obliged to withdraw; but
nevertheless it is plain how much this forward movement meant. At the
moment, however, it looked badly enough, especially after the defeat
of Wayne, for Howe pressed forward, took possession of Philadelphia,
and encamped the main body of his army at Germantown.

Meantime Washington, who had not in the least given up his idea of
fighting again, recruited his army, and having a little more than
eight thousand men, determined to try another stroke at the British,
while they were weakened by detachments. On the night of October 3 he
started, and reached Germantown at daybreak on the 4th. At first the
Americans swept everything before them, and flung the British back
in rout and confusion. Then matters began to go wrong, as is always
likely to happen when, as in this case, widely separated and yet
accurately concerted action is essential to success. Some of the
British threw themselves into a stone house, and instead of leaving
them there under guard, the whole army stopped to besiege, and a
precious half hour was lost. Then Greene and Stephen were late in
coming up, having made a circuit, and although when they arrived all
seemed to go well, the Americans were seized with an inexplicable
panic, and fell back, as Wayne truly said, in the very moment of
victory. One of those unlucky accidents, utterly unavoidable, but
always dangerous to extensive combinations, had a principal effect on
the result. The morning was very misty, and the fog, soon thickened by
the smoke, caused confusion, random firing, and, worst of all, that
uncertainty of feeling and action which something or nothing converted
into a panic. Nevertheless, the Americans rallied quickly this time,
and a good retreat was made, under the lead of Greene, until safety
was reached. The action, while it lasted, had been very sharp, and the
losses on both sides were severe, the Americans suffering most.

Washington, as usual when matters went ill, exposed himself
recklessly, to the great alarm of his generals, but all in vain. He
was deeply disappointed, and expressed himself so at first, for he saw
that the men had unaccountably given way when they were on the edge
of victory. The underlying cause was of course, as at Long Island
and Brandywine, the unsteadiness of raw troops, and Washington felt
rightly, after the first sting had passed, that he had really achieved
a great deal. Congress applauded the attempt, and when the smoke of
the battle had cleared away, men generally perceived that its having
been fought at all was in reality the important fact. It made also
a profound impression upon the French cabinet. Eagerly watching the
course of events, they saw the significance of the fact that an army
raised within a year could fight a battle in the open field, endure
a severe defeat, and then take the offensive and make a bold and
well-planned attack, which narrowly missed being overwhelmingly
successful. To the observant and trained eyes of Europe, the defeat
at Germantown made it evident that there was fighting material among
these untrained colonists, capable of becoming formidable; and that
there was besides a powerful will and directing mind, capable on
its part of bringing this same material into the required shape and
condition. To dispassionate onlookers, England's grasp on her colonies
appeared to be slipping away very rapidly. Washington himself saw the
meaning of it all plainly enough, for it was but the development of
his theory of carrying on the war.

There is no indication, however, that England detected, in all that
had gone on since her army landed at the Head of Elk, anything more
than a couple of natural defeats for the rebels. General Howe was
sufficiently impressed to draw in his troops, and keep very closely
shut up in Philadelphia, but his country was not moved at all. The
fact that it had taken forty-seven days to get their army from the
Elk River to Philadelphia, and that in that time they had fought two
successful battles and yet had left the American army still active
and menacing, had no effect upon the British mind. The English were
thoroughly satisfied that the colonists were cowards and were sure to
be defeated, no matter what the actual facts might be. They regarded
Washington as an upstart militia colonel, and they utterly failed to
comprehend that they had to do with a great soldier, who was able to
organize and lead an army, overcome incredible difficulties, beat and
outgeneral them, bear defeat, and then fight again. They were unable
to realize that the mere fact that such a man could be produced and
such an army maintained meant the inevitable loss of colonies three
thousand miles away. Men there were in England, undoubtedly, like
Burke and Fox, who felt and understood the significance of these
things, but the mass of the people, as well as the aristocracy, the
king, and the cabinet, would have none of them. Rude contempt for
other people is a warming and satisfying feeling, no doubt, and the
English have had unquestionably great satisfaction from its free
indulgence. No one should grudge it to them, least of all Americans.
It is a comfort for which they have paid, so far as this country is
concerned, by the loss of their North American colonies, and by a few
other settlements with the United States at other and later times.

But although Washington and his army failed to impress England, events
had happened in the north, during this same summer, which were so
sharp-pointed that they not only impressed the English people keenly
and unpleasantly, but they actually penetrated the dull comprehension
of George III. and his cabinet. "Why," asked an English lady of an
American naval officer, in the year of grace 1887--"why is your ship
named the Saratoga?" "Because," was the reply, "at Saratoga an English
general and an English army of more than five thousand men surrendered
to an American army and laid down their arms." Although apparently
neglected now in the general scheme of British education, Saratoga
was a memorable event in the summer of 1777, and the part taken by
Washington in bringing about the great result has never, it would
seem, been properly set forth. There is no need to trace here the
history of that campaign, but it is necessary to show how much was
done by the commander-in-chief, five hundred miles away, to win the
final victory.

In the winter of 1776-77 reports came that a general and an army were
to be sent to Canada to invade the colonies from the north by way
of Lake Champlain. The news does not seem to have made a very deep
impression generally, nor to have been regarded as anything beyond
the ordinary course of military events. But there was one man,
fortunately, who in an instant perceived the full significance of this
movement. Washington saw that the English had at last found an idea,
or, at least, a general possessed of one. So long as the British
confined themselves to fighting one or two battles, and then, taking
possession of a single town, were content to sit down and pass their
winter in good quarters, leaving the colonists in undisturbed control
of all the rest of the country, there was nothing to be feared. The
result of such campaigning as this could not be doubtful for a moment
to any clear-sighted man. But when a plan was on foot, which, if
successful, meant the control of the lakes and the Hudson, and of a
line of communication from the north to the great colonial seaport,
the case was very different. Such a campaign as this would cause
the complete severance of New England, the chief source for men and
supplies, from the rest of the colonies. It promised the mastery, not
of a town, but of half a dozen States, and this to the American cause
probably would be ruin.

So strongly and clearly did Washington feel all this that his
counter-plan was at once ready, and before people had fairly grasped
the idea that there was to be a northern invasion, he was sending,
early in March, urgent letters to New England to rouse up the militia
and have them in readiness to march at a moment's notice. To Schuyler,
in command of the northern department, he began now to write
constantly, and to unfold the methods which must be pursued in order
to compass the defeat of the invaders. His object was to delay the
army of Burgoyne by every possible device, while steadily avoiding a
pitched battle. Then the militia and hardy farmers of New England and
New York were to be rallied, and were to fall upon the flank and
rear of the British, harass them constantly, cut off their outlying
parties, and finally hem them in and destroy them. If the army and
people of the North could only be left undisturbed, it is evident from
his letters that Washington felt no doubt as to the result in that

But the North included only half the conditions essential to success.
The grave danger feared by Washington was that Howe would understand
the situation, and seeing his opportunity, would throw everything else
aside, and marching northward with twenty thousand men, would make
himself master of the Hudson, effect a junction with Burgoyne at
Albany, and so cut the colonies in twain. From all he could learn,
and from his knowledge of his opponents' character, Washington felt
satisfied that Howe intended to capture Philadelphia, advancing,
probably, through the Jerseys. Yet, despite his well-reasoned judgment
on this point, it seemed so incredible that any soldier could fail to
see that decisive victory lay in the north, and in a junction with
Burgoyne, that Washington could not really and fully believe in such
fatuity until he knew that Howe was actually landing at the Head
of Elk. This is the reason for the anxiety displayed in the
correspondence of that summer, for the changing and shifting
movements, and for the obvious hesitation of opinion, so unusual with
Washington at any time. Be it remembered, moreover, that it was an
awful doubt which went to bed and got up and walked with him through
all those long nights and days. If Howe, the dull and lethargic,
should awake from his dream of conquering America by taking now and
again an isolated town, and should break for the north with twenty
thousand men, the fortunes of the young republic would come to their
severest test.

In that event, Washington knew well enough what he meant to do. He
would march his main army to the Hudson, unite with the strong body
of troops which he kept there constantly, contest every inch of the
country and the river with Howe, and keep him at all hazards from
getting to Albany. But he also knew well that if this were done the
odds would be fearfully against him, for Howe would then not only
outnumber him very greatly, but there would be ample time for the
British to act, and but a short distance to be covered. We can
imagine, therefore, his profound sense of relief when he found that
Howe and his army were really south of Philadelphia, after a waste of
many precious weeks. He could now devote himself single-hearted to the
defense of the city, for distance and time were at last on his side,
and all that remained was to fight Howe so hard and steadily that
neither in victory nor defeat would he remember Burgoyne. Pitt said
that he would conquer Canada on the plains of Germany, and Burgoyne
was compelled to surrender in large measure by the campaign of
Washington in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

If we study carefully Washington's correspondence during that eventful
summer, grouping together that relating to the northern campaign, and
comparing it with that which dealt with the affairs of his own army,
all that has just been said comes out with entire clearness, and it is
astonishing to see how exactly events justified his foresight. If
he could only hold Howe in the south, he was quite willing to trust
Burgoyne to the rising of the people and to the northern wilderness.
Every effort he made was in this direction, beginning, as has been
said, by his appeals to the New England governors in March. Schuyler,
on his part, was thoroughly imbued with Washington's other leading
idea, that the one way to victory was by retarding the enemy. At the
outset everything went utterly and disastrously wrong. Washington
counted on an obstinate struggle, and a long delay at Ticonderoga, for
he had not been on the ground, and could not imagine that our officers
would fortify everything but the one commanding point.

The loss of the forts appalled the country and disappointed
Washington, but did not shake his nerve for an instant. He wrote to
Schuyler: "This stroke is severe indeed, and has distressed us much.
But notwithstanding things at present have a dark and gloomy aspect,
I hope a spirited opposition will check the progress of General
Burgoyne's army, and that the confidence derived from his success will
hurry him into measures that will, in their consequences, be favorable
to us. We should never despair; our situation has before been
unpromising, and has changed for the better; so I trust it will again.
If new difficulties arise we must only put forth new exertions, and
proportion our efforts to the exigency of the times." Even after this
seemingly crushing defeat he still felt sure of Burgoyne, so long as
he was unsupported. Suiting the action to the word, he again bent
every nerve to rouse New England and get out her militia. When he was
satisfied that Howe was landing below Philadelphia, the first thing he
did was to send forth the same cry in the same quarter, to bring out
more men against Burgoyne. He showed, too, the utmost generosity
toward the northern army, sending thither all the troops he could
possibly spare, and even parting with his favorite corps of Morgan's
riflemen. Despite his liberality, the commanders in the north
were unreasonable in their demands, and when they asked too much,
Washington flatly declined to send more men, for he would not weaken
himself unduly, and he knew what they did not see, that the fate of
the northern invasion turned largely on his own ability to cope with

The blame for the loss of the forts fell of course upon Schuyler,
who was none too popular in Congress, and who with St. Clair was
accordingly made a scape-goat. Congress voted that Washington should
appoint a new commander, and the New England delegates visited him to
urge the selection of Gates. This task Washington refused to perform,
alleging as a reason that the northern department had always been
considered a separate command, and that he had never done more than
advise. These reasons do not look very weighty or very strong, and it
is not quite clear what the underlying motive was. Washington never
shrank from responsibility, and he knew very well that he could pick
out the best man more unerringly than Congress. But he also saw
that Congress favored Gates, whom he would not have chosen, and he
therefore probably felt that it was more important to have some one
whom New England believed in and approved than a better soldier who
would have been unwelcome to her representatives. It is certain that
he would not have acted thus, had he thought that generalship was an
important element in the problem; but he relied on a popular uprising,
and not on the commander, to defeat Burgoyne. He may have thought,
too, that it was a mistake to relieve Schuyler, who was working in the
directions which he had pointed out, and who, if not a great soldier,
was a brave, high-minded, and sensible man, devoted to his chief and
to the country. It was Schuyler indeed who, by his persistent labor in
breaking down bridges, tearing up roads, and felling trees, while he
gathered men industriously in all directions, did more than any one
else at that moment to prepare the way for an ultimate victory.

Whatever his feelings may have been in regard to the command of the
northern department, Washington made no change in his own course after
Gates had been appointed. He knew that Gates was at least harmless,
and not likely to block the natural course of events. He therefore
felt free to press his own policy without cessation, and without
apprehension. He took care that Lincoln and Arnold should be there to
look after the New England militia, and he wrote to Governor Clinton,
in whose energy and courage he had great confidence, to rouse up the
men of New York. He suggested the points of attack, and at every
moment advised and counseled and watched, holding all the while a firm
grip on Howe. Slowly and surely the net, thus painfully set, tightened
round Burgoyne. The New Englanders whipped one division at Bennington,
and the New Yorkers shattered another at Oriskany and Fort Schuyler.
The country people turned out in defense of their invaded homes and
poured into the American camp. Burgoyne struggled and advanced,
fought and retreated. Gates, stupid, lethargic, and good-natured, did
nothing, but there was no need of generalship; and Arnold was there,
turbulent and quarrelsome, but full of daring; and Morgan, too,
equally ready; and they and others did all the necessary fighting.

Poor Burgoyne, a brave gentleman, if not a great general, had
the misfortune to be a clever man in the service of a stupid
administration, and he met the fate usually meted out under such
circumstances to men of ideas. Howe went off to the conquest of
Philadelphia, Clinton made a brief burning and plundering raid up the
river, and the northern invasion, which really had meaning, was left
to its fate. It was a hard fate, but there was no escape. Outnumbered,
beaten, and caught, Burgoyne surrendered. If there had been a
fighting-man at the head of the American army, the British would have
surrendered as prisoners of war, and not on conditions. Schuyler, we
may be sure, whatever his failings, would never have let them off
so easily. But it was sufficient as it was. The wilderness, and the
militia of New York and New England swarming to the defense of their
homes, had done the work. It all fell out just as Washington had
foreseen and planned, and England, despising her enemy and their
commander, saw one of her armies surrender, and might have known, if
she had had the wit, that the colonies were now lost forever. The
Revolution had been saved at Trenton; it was established at Saratoga.
In the one case it was the direct, in the other the indirect, work of

Poor Gates, with his dull brain turning under the impression that this
crowning mercy had been his own doing, lost his head, forgot that
there was a commander-in-chief, and sending his news to Congress, left
Washington to find out from chance rumors, and a tardy letter from
Putnam, that Burgoyne had actually surrendered. This gross slight,
however, had deeper roots than the mere exultation of victory acting
on a heavy and common mind. It represented a hostile feeling which
had been slowly increasing for some time, which had been carefully
nurtured by those interested in its growth, and which blossomed
rapidly in the heated air of military triumph. From the outset it had
been Washington's business to fight the enemy, manage the army,
deal with Congress, and consider in all its bearings the political
situation at home and abroad; but he was now called upon to meet a
trouble outside the line of duty, and to face attacks from within,
which, ideally speaking, ought never to have existed, but which, in
view of our very fallible humanity, were certain to come sooner or
later. Much domestic malice Washington was destined to encounter in
the later years of political strife, but this was the only instance in
his military career where enmity came to overt action and open speech.
The first and the last of its kind, this assault upon him has much
interest, for a strong light is thrown upon his character by studying
him, thus beset, and by seeing just how he passed through this most
trying and disagreeable of ordeals.

The germ of the difficulties was to be found where we should expect
it, in the differences between the men of speech and the man of
action, between the lawmakers and the soldier. Washington had been
obliged to tell Congress a great many plain and unpleasant truths.
It was part of his duty, and he did it accordingly. He was always
dignified, calm, and courteous, but he had an alarmingly direct way
with him, especially when he was annoyed. He was simple almost to
bluntness, but now and then would use a grave irony which must
have made listening ears tingle. Congress was patriotic and
well-intentioned, and on the whole stood bravely by its general,
but it was unversed in war, very impatient, and at times wildly
impracticable. Here is a letter which depicts the situation, and the
relation between the general and his rulers, with great clearness.
March 14, 1777, Washington wrote to the President: "Could I accomplish
the important objects so eagerly wished by Congress,--'confining the
enemy within their present quarters, preventing their getting
supplies from the country, and totally subduing them before they are
reinforced,'--I should be happy indeed. But what prospect or hope can
there be of my effecting so desirable a work at this time?"

We can imagine how exasperating such requests and suggestions must
have been. It was very much as if Congress had said: "Good General,
bring in the Atlantic tides and drown the enemy; or pluck the moon
from the sky and give it to us, as a mark of your loyalty." Such
requests are not soothing to any man struggling his best with great
anxieties, and with a host of petty cares. Washington, nevertheless,
kept his temper, and replied only by setting down a few hard facts
which answered the demands of Congress in a final manner, and with all
the sting of truth. Thus a little irritation had been generated
in Congress against the general, and there were some members who
developed a good deal of pronounced hostility. Sam Adams, a born
agitator and a trained politician, unequaled almost in our history as
an organizer and manager of men, able, narrow, coldly fierce, the man
of the town meeting and the caucus, had no possibility of intellectual
sympathy with the silent, patient, hard-gripping soldier, hemmed with
difficulties, but ever moving straight forward to his object, with
occasional wild gusts of reckless fighting passion. John Adams, too,
brilliant of speech and pen, ardent, patriotic, and high-minded,
was, in his way, out of touch with Washington. Although he moved
Washington's appointment, he began almost immediately to find fault
with him, an exercise to which he was extremely prone. Inasmuch as he
could see how things ought to be done, he could not understand
why they were not done in that way at once, for he had a fine
forgetfulness of other people's difficulties, as is the case with most
of us. The New England representatives generally took their cue from
these two, especially James Lovell, who carried his ideas into action,
and obtained a little niche in the temple of fame by making
himself disagreeably conspicuous in the intrigue against the
commander-in-chief, when it finally developed.

There were others, too, outside New England who were discontented, and
among them Richard Henry Lee, from the General's own State. He was
evidently critical and somewhat unfriendly at this time, although the
reasons for his being so are not now very distinct. Then there was Mr.
Clark of New Jersey, an excellent man, who thought the General was
invading popular rights; and to him others might be added who vaguely
felt that things ought to be better than they were. This party,
adverse to Washington, obtained the appointment of Gates to the
northern department, under whom the army won a great victory, and they
were correspondingly happy. John Adams wrote his wife that one
cause of thanksgiving was that the tide had not been turned by the
commander-in-chief and southern troops, for the adulation would have
been intolerable; and that a man may be wise and virtuous and not a

Here, so far as the leading and influential men were concerned, the
matter would have dropped, probably; but there were lesser men like
Lovell who were much encouraged by the surrender of Burgoyne, and who
thought that they now might supplant Washington with Gates. Before
long, too, they found in the army itself some active and not
over-scrupulous allies. The most conspicuous figure among the military
malcontents was Gates himself, who, although sluggish in all things,
still had a keen eye for his own advancement. He showed plainly how
much his head had been turned by the victory at Saratoga when he
failed to inform Washington of the fact, and when he afterward delayed
sending back troops until he was driven to it by the determined energy
of Hamilton, who was sent to bring him to reason. Next in importance
to Gates was Thomas Mifflin, an ardent patriot, but a rather
light-headed person, who espoused the opposition to Washington for
causes now somewhat misty, but among which personal vanity played no
inconsiderable part. About these two leaders gathered a certain number
of inferior officers of no great moment then or since.

The active and moving spirit in the party, however, was one Conway, an
Irish adventurer, who made himself so prominent that the whole affair
passed into history bearing his name, and the "Conway cabal" has
obtained an enduring notoriety which its hero never acquired by any
public services. Conway was one of the foreign officers who had gained
the favor of Congress and held the rank of brigadier-general, but this
by no means filled the measure of his pretensions, and when De Kalb
was made a major-general Conway immediately started forward with
claims to the same rank. He received strong support from the factious
opposition, and there was so much stir that Washington sharply
interfered, for to his general objection to these lavish gifts of
excessive rank was added an especial distrust in this particular
case. In his calm way he had evidently observed Conway, and with his
unerring judgment of men had found him wanting. "I may add," he wrote
to Lee, "and I think with truth, that it will give a fatal blow to
the existence of the army. Upon so interesting a subject I must speak
plainly. General Conway's merit then as an officer, and his importance
in this army, exist more in his own imagination than in reality."
This plain talk soon reached Conway, drove him at once into furious
opposition, and caused him to impart to the faction a cohesion and
vigor which they had before lacked. Circumstances favored them. The
victory at Saratoga gave them something tangible to go upon, and the
first move was made when Gates failed to inform Washington of the
surrender, and then held back the troops sent for so urgently by the
commander-in-chief, who had sacrificed so much from his own army to
secure that of the north.

At this very moment, indeed, when Washington was calling for troops,
he was struggling with the utmost tenacity to hold control of the
Delaware. He made every arrangement possible to maintain the forts,
and the first assaults upon them were repulsed with great slaughter,
the British in the attack on Fort Mercer losing Count Donop, the
leader, and four hundred men. Then came a breathing space, and then
the attacks were renewed, supported by vessels, and both forts were
abandoned after the works had been leveled to the ground by the
enemy's fire. Meanwhile Hamilton, sent to the north, had done his
work; Gates had been stirred, and Putnam, well-meaning but stubborn,
had been sharply brought to his bearings. Reinforcements had come, and
Washington meditated an attack on Philadelphia. There was a good deal
of clamor for something brilliant and decisive, for both the army and
the public were a little dizzy from the effects of Saratoga, and with
sublime blindness to different conditions, could not see why the same
performance should not be repeated to order everywhere else. To oppose
this wish was trying, doubly trying to a man eager to fight, and with
his full share of the very human desire to be as successful as his
neighbor. It required great nerve to say No; but Washington did not
lack that quality, and as general and statesman he reconnoitred the
enemy's works, weighed the chances, said No decisively, and took up an
almost impregnable position at White Marsh. Thereupon Howe announced
that he would drive Washington beyond the mountains, and on December
4 he approached the American lines with this highly proper purpose.
There was some skirmishing along the foot of the hills of an
unimportant character, and on the third day Washington, in high
spirits, thought an attack would be made, and rode among the soldiers
directing and encouraging them. Nothing came of it, however, but more
skirmishing, and the next day Howe marched back to Philadelphia. He
had offered battle in all ways, he had invited action; but again, with
the same pressure both from his own spirit and from public opinion,
Washington had said No. On his own ground he was more than ready to
fight Howe, but despite the terrible temptation he would fight on no
other. Not the least brilliant exploit of Wellington was the retreat
to the shrewdly prepared lines of Torres Vedras, and one of the most
difficult successes of Washington was his double refusal to fight as
the year 1777 drew to a close.

Like most right and wise things, Washington's action looks now, a
century later, so plainly sensible that it is hard to imagine how any
one could have questioned it; and one cannot, without a great effort,
realize the awful strain upon will and temper involved in thus
refusing battle. If the proposed attack on Philadelphia had failed, or
if our army had come down from the hills and been beaten in the fields
below, no American army would have remained. The army of the north, of
which men were talking so proudly, had done its work and dispersed.
The fate of the Revolution rested where it had been from the
beginning, with Washington and his soldiers. Drive them beyond the
mountains and there was no other army to fall back upon. On their
existence everything hinged, and when Howe got back to Philadelphia,
there they were still existent, still coherent, hovering on his flank,
cooping him up in his lines, and leaving him master of little more
than the ground his men encamped upon, and the streets his sentinels
patrolled. When Franklin was told in Paris that Howe had taken
Philadelphia, his reply was, "Philadelphia has taken Howe."

But, with the exception of Franklin, contemporary opinion in the month
of December, 1777, was very different from that of to-day, and the
cabal had been at work ever since the commander-in-chief had stepped
between Conway and the exorbitant rank he coveted. Washington, indeed,
was perfectly aware of what was going on. He was quiet and dignified,
impassive and silent, but he knew when men, whether great or small,
were plotting against him, and he watched them with the same keenness
as he did Howe and the British.

In the midst of his struggle to hold the Delaware forts, and of his
efforts to get back his troops from the north, a story came to him
that arrested his attention. Wilkinson, of Gates's staff, had come to
Congress with the news of the surrender. He had been fifteen days on
the road and three days getting his papers in order, and when it was
proposed to give him a sword, Roger Sherman suggested that they had
better "give the lad a pair of spurs." This thrust and some delay
seem to have nettled Wilkinson, who was swelling with importance, and
although he was finally made a brigadier-general, he rode off to the
north much ruffled. In later years Wilkinson was secretive enough; but
in his hot youth he could not hold his tongue, and on his way back to
Gates he talked. What he said was marked and carried to headquarters,
and on November 9 Washington wrote to Conway:--

"A letter which I received last night contained the following
paragraph,--'In a letter from General Conway to General Gates he
says, "_Heaven has determined to save your country, or a weak
general and bad counsellors would have ruined it_" I am, sir, your
humble servant,'" etc.

This curt note fell upon Conway with stunning effect. It is said that
he tried to apologize, and he certainly resigned. As for Gates, he
fell to writing letters filled with expressions of wonder as to who
had betrayed him, and writhed most pitiably under the exposure.
Washington's replies are models of cold dignity, and the calm
indifference with which he treated the whole matter, while holding
Gates to the point with relentless grasp, is very interesting. The
cabal was seriously shaken by this sudden blow. It must have dawned
upon them dimly that they might have mistaken their man, and that the
silent soldier was perhaps not so easy to dispose of by an intrigue as
they had fancied. Nevertheless, they rallied, and taking advantage of
the feeling in Congress created by Burgoyne's surrender, they set to
work to get control of military matters. The board of war was enlarged
to five, with Gates at its head and Mifflin a member, and, thus
constituted, it proceeded to make Conway inspector-general, with the
rank of major-general. This, after Conway's conduct, was a direct
insult to Washington, and marks the highest point attained by his

In Congress, too, they became more active, and John Jay said that
there was in that body a party bitterly hostile to Washington. We know
little of the members of that faction now, for they never took the
trouble to refer to the matter in after years, and did everything that
silence could do to have it all forgotten. But the party existed none
the less, and significant letters have come down to us, one of them
written by Lovell, and two anonymous, addressed respectively to
Patrick Henry and to Laurens, then president, which show a bitter and
vindictive spirit, and breathe but one purpose. The same thought is
constantly reiterated, that with a good general the northern army had
won a great victory, and that the main army, if commanded in the same
way, would do likewise. The plan was simple and coherent. The cabal
wished to drive Washington out of power and replace him with Gates.
With this purpose they wrote to Henry and Laurens; with this purpose
they made Conway inspector-general.

When they turned from intrigue to action, however, they began to fail.
One of their pet schemes was the conquest of Canada, and with
this object Lafayette was sent to the lakes, only to find that no
preparations had been made, because the originators of the idea were
ignorant and inefficient. The expedition promptly collapsed and was
abandoned, with much instruction in consequence to Congress and
people. Under their control the commissariat also went hopelessly to
pieces, and a committee of Congress proceeded to Valley Forge and
found that in this direction, too, the new managers had grievously
failed. Then the original Conway letter, uncovered so unceremoniously
by Washington, kept returning to plague its author. Gates's
correspondence went on all through the winter, and with every letter
Gates floundered more and more, and Washington's replies grew more
and more freezing and severe. Gates undertook to throw the blame on
Wilkinson, who became loftily indignant and challenged him. The two
made up their quarrel very soon in a ludicrous manner, but Wilkinson
in the interval had an interview with Washington, which revealed an
amount of duplicity and perfidy on the part of the cabal, so shocking
to the former's sensitive nature, that he resigned his secretaryship
of the board of war on account, as he frankly said, of the treachery
and falsehood of Gates. Such a quarrel of course hurt the cabal, but
it was still more weakened by Gates himself, whose only idea seemed
to be to supersede Washington by slighting him, refusing troops, and
declining to propose his health at dinner,--methods as unusual as they
were feeble.

The cabal, in fact, was so weak in ability and character that the
moment any responsibility fell upon its members it was certain to
break down, but the absolutely fatal obstacle to its schemes was the
man it aimed to overthrow. The idea evidently was that Washington
could be driven to resign. They knew that they could not get either
Congress or public opinion to support them in removing him, but they
believed that a few well-placed slights and insults would make him
remove himself. It was just here that they made their mistake.
Washington, as they were aware, was sensitive and high-spirited to
the last degree, and he had no love for office, but he was not one of
those weaklings who leave power and place in a pet because they are
criticised and assailed. He was not ambitious in the ordinary personal
sense, but he had a passion for success. Whether it was breaking a
horse, or reclaiming land, or fighting Indians, or saving a state,
whatever he set his hand to, that he carried through to the end. With
him there never was any shadow of turning back. When, without any
self-seeking, he was placed at the head of the Revolution, he made
up his mind that he would carry it through everything to victory, if
victory were possible. Death or a prison could stop him, but neither
defeat nor neglect, and still less the forces of intrigue and cabal.

When he wrote to his brother announcing Burgoyne's surrender, he had
nothing to say of the slight Gates put upon him, but merely added in
a postscript, "I most devoutly congratulate my country and every
well-wisher to the cause on this signal stroke of Providence." This
was his tone to every one, both in private and public. His complaint
of not being properly notified he made to Gates alone, and put it in
the form of a rebuke. He knew of the movement against him from the
beginning, but apparently the first person he confided in was Conway,
when he sent him the brief note of November 9. Even after the cabal
was fully developed, he wrote about it only once or twice, when
compelled to do so, and there is no evidence that he ever talked about
it except, perhaps, to a few most intimate friends. In a letter to
Patrick Henry he said that he was obliged to allow a false impression
as to his strength to go abroad, and that he suffered in consequence;
and he added, with a little touch of feeling, that while the
yeomanry of New York and New England poured into the camp of Gates,
outnumbering the enemy two to one, he could get no aid of that sort
from Pennsylvania, and still marvels were demanded of him.

Thus he went on his way through the winter, silent except when obliged
to answer some friend, and always ready to meet his enemies. When
Conway complained to Congress of his reception at camp, Washington
wrote the president that he was not given to dissimulation, and that
he certainly had been cold in his manner. He wrote to Lafayette that
slander had been busy, and that he had urged his officers to be
cool and dispassionate as to Conway, adding, "I have no doubt that
everything happens for the best, that we shall triumph over all our
misfortunes, and in the end be happy; when, my dear Marquis, if you
will give me your company in Virginia, we will laugh at our past
difficulties and the folly of others." But though he wrote thus
lightly to his friends, he followed Gates sternly enough, and kept
that gentleman occupied as he drove him from point to point. Among
other things he touched upon Conway's character with sharp irony,
saying, "It is, however, greatly to be lamented that this adept in
military science did not employ his abilities in the progress of the
campaign, in pointing out those wise measures which were calculated to
give us 'that degree of success we could reasonably expect.'"

Poor Gates did not find these letters pleasant reading, and one more
curt note, on February 24, finished the controversy. By that time the
cabal was falling to pieces, and in a little while was dispersed.
Wilkinson's resignation was accepted, Mifflin was put under
Washington's orders, and Gates was sent to his command in the north.
Conway resigned one day in a pet, and found his resignation accepted
and his power gone with unpleasant suddenness. He then got into a
quarrel with General Cadwalader on account of his attacks on the
commander-in-chief. The quarrel ended in a duel. Conway was badly
wounded, and thinking himself dying, wrote a contrite note of apology
to Washington, then recovered, left the country, and disappeared from
the ken of history. Thus domestic malice and the "bitter party" in
Congress failed and perished. They had dashed themselves in vain
against the strong man who held firmly both soldiers and people.
"While the public are satisfied with my endeavors, I mean not to
shrink from the cause." So Washington wrote to Gordon as the cabal
was coming to an end, and in that spirit he crushed silently and
thoroughly the faction that sought to thwart his purpose, and drive
him from office by sneers, slights, and intrigues.

These attacks upon him came at the darkest moment of his military
career. Defeated at Brandywine and Germantown, he had been forced from
the forts after a desperate struggle, had seen Philadelphia and the
river fall completely into the hands of the enemy, and, bitterest of
all, he had been obliged to hold back from another assault on the
British lines, and to content himself with baffling Howe when that
gentleman came out and offered battle. Then the enemy withdrew to
their comfortable quarters, and he was left to face again the harsh
winter and the problem of existence. It was the same ever recurring
effort to keep the American army, and thereby the American Revolution,
alive. There was nothing in this task to stir the blood and rouse the
heart. It was merely a question of grim tenacity of purpose and of the
ability to comprehend its overwhelming importance. It was not a work
that appealed to or inspirited any one, and to carry it through to a
successful issue rested with the commander-in-chief alone.

In the frost and snow he withdrew to Valley Forge, within easy
striking distance of Philadelphia. He had literally nothing to rely
upon but his own stern will and strong head. His soldiers, steadily
dwindling in numbers, marked their road to Valley Forge by the blood
from their naked feet. They were destitute and in rags. When they
reached their destination they had no shelter, and it was only by the
energy and ingenuity of the General that they were led to build huts,
and thus secure a measure of protection against the weather. There
were literally no supplies, and the Board of War failed completely to
remedy the evil. The army was in such straits that it was obliged
to seize by force the commonest necessaries. This was a desperate
expedient and shocked public opinion, which Washington, as a
statesman, watched and cultivated as an essential element of success
in his difficult business. He disliked to take extreme measures, but
there was nothing else to be done when his men were starving, when
nearly three thousand of them were unfit for duty because "barefoot
and otherwise naked," and when a large part of the army were obliged
to sit up all night by the fires for warmth's sake, having no blankets
with which to cover themselves if they lay down. With nothing to eat,
nothing to burn, nothing wherewith to clothe themselves, wasting away
from exposure and disease, we can only wonder at the forbearance which
stayed the hand of violent seizure so long. Yet, as Washington had
foreseen, there was even then an outcry against him. Nevertheless, his
action ultimately did more good than harm in the very matter of public
opinion, for it opened men's eyes, and led to some tardy improvements
and some increased effort.

Worse even than this criticism was the remonstrance of the legislature
of Pennsylvania against the going into winter-quarters. They expected
Washington to keep the open field, and even to attack the British,
with his starving, ragged army, in all the severity of a northern
winter. They had failed him at every point and in every promise, in
men, clothing, and supplies. They were not content that he covered
their State and kept the Revolution alive among the huts of Valley
Forge. They wished the impossible. They asked for the moon, and then
cried out because it was not given to them. It was a stupid, unkind
thing to do, and Washington answered their complaints in a letter to
the president of Congress. After setting forth the shortcomings of the
Pennsylvanians in the very plainest of plain English, he said: "But
what makes this matter still more extraordinary in my eye is that
these very gentlemen should think a winter's campaign, and the
covering of these States from the invasion of an enemy, so easy and
practicable a business. I can answer those gentlemen, that it is a
much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a
comfortable room, by a good fireside, than to occupy a cold, bleak
hill, and sleep under frost and snow, without clothes or blankets.
However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked and
distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them, and from my soul
I pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve or

This was not a safe man for the gentlemen of Pennsylvania to cross too
far, nor could they swerve him, with all his sense of public opinion,
one jot from what he meant to do. In the stern rebuke, and in the
deep pathos of these sentences, we catch a glimpse of the silent and
self-controlled man breaking out for a moment as he thinks of his
faithful and suffering men. Whatever happened, he would hold them
together, for in this black time we detect the fear which haunted
him, that the people at large might give way. He was determined on
independence. He felt a keen hatred against England for her whole
conduct toward America, and this hatred was sharpened by the efforts
of the English to injure him personally by forged letters and other
despicable contrivances. He was resolved that England should never
prevail, and his language in regard to her has a fierceness of tone
which is full of meaning. He was bent, also, on success, and if under
the long strain the people should weaken or waver, he was determined
to maintain the army at all hazards.

So, while he struggled against cold and hunger and destitution,
while he contended with faction at home and lukewarmness in the
administration of the war, even then, in the midst of these trials, he
was devising a new system for the organization and permanence of his
forces. Congress meddled with the matter of prisoners and with the
promotion of officers, and he argued with and checked them, and still
pressed on in his plans. He insisted that officers must have better
provision, for they had begun to resign. "You must appeal to their
interest as well as to their patriotism," he wrote, "and you must give
them half-pay and full pay in proper measure." "You must follow the
same policy with the men," he said; "you must have done with short
enlistments. In a word, gentlemen, you must give me an army,
a lasting, enduring, continental army, for therein lies
independence."[1] It all comes out now, through the dust of details
and annoyances, through the misery and suffering of that wretched
winter, through the shrill cries of ignorance and hostility,--the
great, clear, strong policy which meant to substitute an army for
militia, and thereby secure victory and independence. It is the burden
of all his letters to the governors of States, and to his officers
everywhere. "I will hold the army together," he said, "but you on all
sides must help me build it up."[1]

[Footnote 1: These two quotations are not literal, of course, but give
the substance of many letters.]

Thus with much strenuous labor and many fervent appeals he held his
army together in some way, and slowly improved it. His system began to
be put in force, his reiterated lessons were coming home to Congress,
and his reforms and suggestions were in some measure adopted. Under
the sound and trained guidance of Baron Steuben a drill and discipline
were introduced, which soon showed marked results. Greene succeeded
Mifflin as quartermaster-general, and brought order out of chaos. The
Conway cabal went to pieces, and as spring opened Washington began to
see light once more. To have held on through that winter was a great
feat, but to have built up and improved the army at such a time was
much more wonderful. It shows a greatness of character and a force of
will rarer than military genius, and enables us to understand better,
perhaps, than almost any of his victories, why it was that the success
of the Revolution lay in such large measure in the hands of one man.

After Howe's withdrawal from the Jerseys in the previous year, a
contemporary wrote that Washington was left with the remnants of an
army "to scuffle for liberty." The winter had passed, and he was
prepared to scuffle again. On May 11 Sir Henry Clinton relieved Sir
William Howe at Philadelphia, and the latter took his departure in
a blaze of mock glory and resplendent millinery, known as the
Mischianza, a fit close to a career of failure, which he was too dull
to appreciate. The new commander was more active than his predecessor,
but no cleverer, and no better fitted to cope with Washington. It was
another characteristic choice on the part of the British ministry, who
could never muster enough intellect to understand that the Americans
would fight, and that they were led by a really great soldier. The
coming of Clinton did not alter existing conditions.

Expecting a movement by the enemy, Washington sent Lafayette forward
to watch Philadelphia. Clinton and Howe, eager for a victory before
departure, determined to cut him off, and by a rapid movement nearly
succeeded in so doing. Timely information, presence of mind, and
quickness alone enabled the young Frenchman to escape, narrowly but
completely. Meantime, a cause for delay, that curse of the British
throughout the war, supervened. A peace commission, consisting of the
Earl of Carlisle, William Eden, and Governor Johnstone, arrived. They
were excellent men, but they came too late. Their propositions three
years before would have been well enough, but as it was they were
worse than nothing. Coolly received, they held a fruitless interview
with a committee of Congress, tried to bribe and intrigue, found that
their own army had been already ordered to evacuate Philadelphia
without their knowledge, and finally gave up their task in
angry despair, and returned to England to join in the chorus of
fault-finding which was beginning to sound very loud in ministerial

Meanwhile, Washington waited and watched, puzzled by the delay, and
hoping only to harass Sir Henry with militia on the march to New York.
But as the days slipped by, the Americans grew stronger, while the
British had been weakened by wholesale desertions. When he finally
started, he had with him probably sixteen to seventeen thousand men,
while the Americans had apparently at least thirteen thousand, nearly
all continental troops.[1] Under these circumstances, Washington
determined to bring on a battle. He was thwarted at the outset by his
officers, as was wont to be the case. Lee had returned more whimsical
than ever, and at the moment was strongly adverse to an attack, and
was full of wise saws about building a bridge of gold for the flying
enemy. The ascendancy which, as an English officer, he still retained
enabled him to get a certain following, and the councils of war
which were held compared unfavorably, as Hamilton put it, with the
deliberations of midwives. Washington was harassed of course by all
this, but he did not stay his purpose, and as soon as he knew that
Clinton actually had marched, he broke camp at Valley Forge and
started in pursuit. There were more councils of an old-womanish
character, but finally Washington took the matter into his own
hands, and ordered forth a strong detachment to attack the British
rear-guard. They set out on the 25th, and as Lee, to whom the command
belonged, did not care to go, Lafayette was put in charge. As soon as
Lafayette had departed, however, Lee changed his mind, and insisted
that all the detachments in front, amounting to five thousand men,
formed a division so large that it was unjust not to give him the
command. Washington, therefore, sent him forward next day with two
additional brigades, and then Lee by seniority took command on the
27th of the entire advance.

[Footnote 1: The authorities are hopelessly conflicting as to the
numbers on both sides. The British returns on March 26 showed over
19,000 men. They had since that date been weakened by desertions, but
to what extent we can only conjecture. The detachments to Florida
and the West Indies ordered from England do not appear to have taken
place. The estimate of 16,000 to 17,000 seems the most reasonable.
Washington returned his rank and file as just over 10,000, which would
indicate a total force of 13,000 to 14,000, possibly more. Washington
clearly underestimated the enemy, and the best conclusion seems to be
that they were nearly matched in numbers, with a slight inferiority on
the American side.]

In the evening of that day, Washington came up, reconnoitred the
enemy, and saw that, although their position was a strong one, another
day's unmolested march would make it still stronger. He therefore
resolved to attack the next morning, and gave Lee then and there
explicit orders to that effect. In the early dawn he dispatched
similar orders, but Lee apparently did nothing except move feebly
forward, saying to Lafayette, "You don't know the British soldiers;
we cannot stand against them." He made a weak attempt to cut off a
covering party, marched and countermarched, ordered and countermanded,
until Lafayette and Wayne, eager to fight, knew not what to do, and
sent hot messages to Washington to come to them.

Thus hesitating and confused, Lee permitted Clinton to get his baggage
and train to the front, and to mass all his best troops in the rear
under Cornwallis, who then advanced against the American lines. Now
there were no orders at all, and the troops did not know what to do,
or where to go. They stood still, then began to fall back, and then to
retreat. A very little more and there would have been a rout. As it
was, Washington alone prevented disaster. His early reports from the
front from Dickinson's outlying party, and from Lee himself, were all
favorable. Then he heard the firing, and putting the main army in
motion, he rode rapidly forward. First he encountered a straggler, who
talked of defeat. He could not believe it, and the fellow was pushed
aside and silenced. Then came another and another, all with songs of
death. Finally, officers and regiments began to come. No one knew why
they fled, or what had happened. As the ill tidings grew thicker,
Washington spurred sharper and rode faster through the deep sand, and
under the blazing midsummer sun. At last he met Lee and the main body
all in full retreat. He rode straight at Lee, savage with anger, not
pleasant to look at, one may guess, and asked fiercely and with a deep
oath, tradition says, what it all meant. Lee was no coward, and did
not usually lack for words. He was, too, a hardened man of the world,
and, in the phrase of that day, impudent to boot. But then and there
he stammered and hesitated. The fierce question was repeated. Lee
gathered himself and tried to excuse and palliate what had happened,
but although the brief words that followed are variously reported to
us across the century, we know that Washington rebuked him in such a
way, and with such passion, that all was over between them. Lee had
committed the one unpardonable sin in the eyes of his commander. He
had failed to fight when the enemy was upon him. He had disobeyed
orders and retreated. It was the end of him. He went to the rear,
thence to a court-martial, thence to dismissal and to a solitary life
with a well-founded suspicion of treason hanging about him. He was an
intelligent, quick-witted, unstable man, much overrated because he
was an English officer among a colonial people. He was ever treated
magnanimously by Washington after the day of battle at Monmouth, but
he then disappeared from the latter's life.

When Lee bowed before the storm and stepped aside, Washington was left
to deal with the danger and confusion around him. Thus did he tell the
story afterwards to his brother: "A retreat, however, was the fact, be
the causes what they may; and the disorder arising from it would have
proved fatal to the army, had not that bountiful Providence, which has
never failed us in the hour of distress, enabled me to form a regiment
or two (of those that were retreating) in the face of the enemy, and
under their fire; by which means a stand was made long enough (the
place through which the enemy were pressing being narrow) to form the
troops, that were advancing, upon an advantageous piece of ground in
the rear." We cannot add much to these simple and modest words, for
they tell the whole story. Having put Lee aside, Washington rallied
the broken troops, brought them into position, turned them back, and
held the enemy in check. It was not an easy feat, but it was done, and
when Lee's division again fell back in good order the main army was in
position, and the action became general. The British were repulsed,
and then Washington, taking the offensive, drove them back until he
occupied the battlefield of the morning. Night came upon him still
advancing. He halted his army, lay down under a tree, his soldiers
lying on their arms about him, and planned a fresh attack, to be made
at daylight. But when the dawn came it was seen that the British had
crept off, and were far on their road. The heat prevented a rapid
pursuit, and Clinton got into New York. Between there and Philadelphia
he had lost at least two thousand men by desertions in addition to
nearly five hundred who fell at Monmouth.

It is worth while to pause a moment and compare this battle with the
rout of Long Island, the surprise at the Brandywine, and the fatal
unsteadiness at Germantown. Here, too, a check was received at the
outset, owing to blundering which no one could have foreseen. The
troops, confused and without orders, began to retreat, but without
panic or disorder. The moment Washington appeared they rallied,
returned to the field, showed perfect steadiness, and the victory
was won. Monmouth has never been one of the famous battles of the
Revolution, and yet there is no other which can compare with it as an
illustration of Washington's ability as a soldier. It was not so much
the way in which it was fought, although that was fine enough, that
its importance lies as in the evidence which it gives of the way
in which Washington, after a series of defeats, during a winter
of terrible suffering and privation, had yet developed his ragged
volunteers into a well-disciplined and effective army. The battle was
a victory, but the existence and the quality of the army that won it
were a far greater triumph.

The dreary winter at Valley Forge had indeed borne fruit. With a
slight numerical superiority Washington had fought the British in the
open field, and fairly defeated them. "Clinton gained no advantage,"
said the great Frederic, "except to reach New York with the wreck of
his army; America is probably lost for England." Another year had
passed, and England had lost an army, and still held what she had
before, the city of New York. Washington was in the field with a
better army than ever, and an army flushed with a victory which had
been achieved after difficulties and trials such as no one now can
rightly picture or describe. The American Revolution was advancing,
held firm by the master-hand of its leader. Into it, during these days
of struggle and of battle, a new element had come, and the next step
is to see how Washington dealt with the fresh conditions upon which
the great conflict had entered.



On May 4, 1778, Congress ratified the treaties of commerce and
alliance with France. On the 6th, Washington, waiting at Valley Forge
for the British to start from Philadelphia, caused his army, drawn out
on parade, to celebrate the great event with cheers and with salvos of
artillery and musketry. The alliance deserved cheers and celebration,
for it marked a long step onward in the Revolution. It showed that
America had demonstrated to Europe that she could win independence,
and it had been proved to the traditional enemy of England that
the time had come when it would be profitable to help the revolted
colonies. But the alliance brought troubles as well as blessings in
its train. It induced a relaxation in popular energy, and carried
with it new and difficult problems for the commander-in-chief. The
successful management of allies, and of allied forces, had been one
of the severest tests of the statesmanship of William III., and had
constituted one of the principal glories of Marlborough. A similar
problem now confronted the American general.

Washington was free from the diplomatic and political portion of the
business, but the military and popular part fell wholly into his
hands, and demanded the exercise of talents entirely different from
those of either a general or an administrator. It has been not
infrequently written more or less plainly, and it is constantly said,
that Washington was great in character, but that in brains he was
not far above the common-place. It is even hinted sometimes that the
father of his country was a dull man, a notion which we shall have
occasion to examine more fully further on. At this point let the
criticism be remembered merely in connection with the fact that
to cooeperate with allies in military matters demands tact, quick
perception, firmness, and patience. In a word, it is a task which
calls for the finest and most highly trained intellectual powers, and
of which the difficulty is enhanced a thousandfold when the allies are
on the one side, an old, aristocratic, punctilious people, and on the
other, colonists utterly devoid of tradition, etiquette, or fixed
habits, and very much accustomed to go their own way and speak their
own minds with careless freedom. With this problem Washington was
obliged suddenly to deal, both in ill success and good success, as
well as in many attempts which came to nothing. Let us see how he
solved it at the very outset, when everything went most perversely

On July 14 he heard that D'Estaing's fleet was off the coast, and at
once, without a trace of elation or excitement, he began to consider
the possibility of intercepting the British fleet expected to arrive
shortly from Cork. As soon as D'Estaing was within reach he sent
two of his aides on board the flagship, and at once opened a
correspondence with his ally. These letters of welcome, and those of
suggestion which followed, are models, in their way, of what such
letters ought always to be. They were perfectly adapted to satisfy the
etiquette and the love of good manners of the French, and yet there
was not a trace of anything like servility, or of an effusive
gratitude which outran the favors granted. They combined stately
courtesy with simple dignity, and are phrased with a sober grace which
shows the thoroughly strong man, as capable to turn a sentence, if
need be, as to rally retreating soldiers in the face of the enemy.

In this first meeting of the allies nothing happened fortunately.
D'Estaing had had a long passage, and was too late to cut off Lord
Howe at the Delaware. Then he turned to New York, and was too late
there, and found further that he could not get his ships over the bar.
Hence more delays, so that he was late again in getting to Newport,
where he was to unite with Sullivan in driving the British from Rhode
Island, as Washington had planned, in case of failure at New York,
while the French were still hovering on the coast. When D'Estaing
finally reached Newport, there was still another delay of ten days,
and then, just as he and Sullivan were preparing to attack, Lord Howe,
with his squadron reinforced, appeared off the harbor. Promising to
return, D'Estaing sailed out to give the enemy battle, and after
much manoeuvring both fleets were driven off by a severe storm, and
D'Estaing came back only to tell Sullivan that he must go to Boston at
once to refit. Then came the protest addressed to the Count and signed
by all the American officers; then the departure of D'Estaing, and an
indiscreet proclamation to the troops by Sullivan, reflecting on the
conduct of the allies.

When D'Estaing had actually gone, and the Americans were obliged to
retreat, there was much grumbling in all directions, and it looked as
if the first result of the alliance was to be a very pretty quarrel.
It was a bad and awkward business. Congress had the good sense to
suppress the protest of the officers, and Washington, disappointed,
but perhaps not wholly surprised, set himself to work to put matters
right. It was no easy task to soothe the French, on the one hand, who
were naturally aggrieved at the utterances of the American officers
and at the popular feeling, and on the other to calm his own people,
who were, not without reason, both disappointed and provoked. To
Sullivan, fuming with wrath, he wrote: "Should the expedition fail
through the abandonment of the French fleet, the officers concerned
will be apt to complain loudly. But prudence dictates that we should
put the best face upon the matter, and to the world attribute the
removal to Boston to necessity. The reasons are too obvious to need
explaining." And again, a few days later: "First impressions, you
know, are generally longest remembered, and will serve to fix in a
great degree our national character among the French. In our conduct
towards them we should remember that they are a people old in war,
very strict in military etiquette, and apt to take fire when others
scarcely seem warmed. Permit me to recommend, in the most particular
manner, the cultivation of harmony and good agreement, and your
endeavor to destroy that ill-humor which may have got into officers."
To Lafayette he wrote: "Everybody, sir, who reasons, will acknowledge
the advantages which we have derived from the French fleet, and the
zeal of the commander of it; but in a free and republican government
you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude. Every man will speak
as he thinks, or, more properly, without thinking, and consequently
will judge of effects without attending to the causes. The censures
which have been leveled at the French fleet would more than probably
have fallen in a much higher degree upon a fleet of our own, if we
had had one in the same situation. It is the nature of man to be
displeased with everything that disappoints a favorite hope or
flattering project; and it is the folly of too many of them to condemn
without investigating circumstances." Finally he wrote to D'Estaing,
deploring the difference which had arisen, mentioning his own efforts
and wishes to restore harmony, and said: "It is in the trying
circumstances to which your Excellency has been exposed that the
virtues of a great mind are displayed in their brightest lustre, and
that a general's character is better known than in the moment of
victory. It was yours by every title that can give it; and the adverse
elements that robbed you of your prize can never deprive you of
the glory due you. Though your success has not been equal to your
expectations, yet you have the satisfaction of reflecting that you
have rendered essential services to the common cause." This is not the
letter of a dull man. Indeed, there is a nicety about it that partakes
of cleverness, a much commoner thing than greatness, but something
which all great men by no means possess. Thus by tact and
comprehension of human nature, by judicious suppression and equally
judicious letters, Washington, through the prudent exercise of all his
commanding influence, quieted his own people and soothed his allies.
In this way a serious disaster was averted, and an abortive expedition
was all that was left to be regretted, instead of an ugly quarrel,
which might readily have neutralized the vast advantages flowing from
the French alliance. Having refitted, D'Estaing bore away for the West
Indies, and so closed the first chapter in the history of the alliance
with France. Nothing more was heard of the allies until the spring was
well advanced, when M. Gerard, the minister, wrote, intimating that
D'Estaing was about to return, and asking what we would do. Washington
replied at length, professing his willingness to cooeperate in any way,
and offering, if the French would send ships, to abandon everything,
run all risks, and make an attack on New York. Nothing further came
of it, and Washington heard that the fleet had gone to the Southern
States, which he learned without regret, as he was apprehensive as to
the condition of affairs in that region. Again, in the autumn, it
was reported that the fleet was once more upon the northern coast.
Washington at once sent officers to be on the lookout at the most
likely points, and he wrote elaborately to D'Estaing, setting forth
with wonderful perspicuity the incidents of the past, the condition of
the present, and the probabilities of the future. He was willing to do
anything, or plan anything, provided his allies would join with him.
The jealousy so habitual in humanity, which is afraid that some one
else may get the glory of a common success, was unknown to Washington,
and if he could but drive the British from America, and establish
American independence, he was perfectly willing that the glory should
take care of itself. But all his wisdom in dealing with the allies
was, for the moment, vain. While he was planning for a great stroke,
and calling out the militia of New England, D'Estaing was making ready
to relieve Georgia, and a few days after Washington wrote his second
letter, the French and Americans assaulted the British works at
Savannah, and were repulsed with heavy losses. Then D'Estaing sailed
away again, and the second effort of France to aid England's revolted
colonies came to an end. Their presence had had a good moral effect,
and the dread of D'Estaing's return had caused Clinton to withdraw
from Newport and concentrate in New York. This was all that was
actually accomplished, and there was nothing for it but to await still
another trial and a more convenient season.

With all his courtesy and consideration, with all his readiness to
fall in with the wishes and schemes of the French, it must not be
supposed that Washington ever went an inch too far in this direction.
He valued the French alliance, and proposed to use it to great
purpose, but he was not in the least dazzled or blinded by it. Even
in the earliest glow of excitement and hope produced by D'Estaing's
arrival, Washington took occasion to draw once more the distinction
between a valuable alliance and volunteer adventurers, and to
remonstrate again with Congress about their reckless profusion in
dealing with foreign officers. To Gouverneur Morris he wrote on July
24, 1778: "The lavish manner in which rank has hitherto been bestowed
on these gentlemen will certainly be productive of one or the other of
these two evils: either to make it despicable in the eyes of Europe,
or become the means of pouring them in upon us like a torrent and
adding to our present burden. But it is neither the expense nor the
trouble of them that I most dread. There is an evil more extensive in
its nature, and fatal in its consequences, to be apprehended, and
that is the driving of all our own officers out of the service, and
throwing not only our army, but our military councils, entirely into
the hands of foreigners.... Baron Steuben, I now find, is also wanting
to quit his inspectorship for a command in the line. This will be
productive of much discontent to the brigadiers. In a word, although I
think the baron an excellent officer, I do most devoutly wish that we
had not a single foreigner among us except the Marquis de Lafayette,
who acts upon very different principles from those which govern the
rest." A few days later he said, on the same theme, to the president
of Congress: "I trust you think me so much a citizen of the world as
to believe I am not easily warped or led away by attachments merely
local and American; yet I confess I am not entirely without them, nor
does it appear to me that they are unwarrantable, if confined within
proper limits. Fewer promotions in the foreign line would have been
productive of more harmony, and made our warfare more agreeable to all
parties." Again, he said of Steuben: "I regret that there should be a
necessity that his services should be lost to the army; at the same
time I think it my duty explicitly to observe to Congress that his
desire of having an actual and permanent command in the line cannot be
complied with without wounding the feelings of a number of officers,
whose rank and merits give them every claim to attention; and that the
doing of it would be productive of much dissatisfaction and extensive
ill consequences."

Washington's resistance to the colonial deference for foreigners has
already been pointed out, but this second burst of opposition, coming
at this especial time, deserves renewed attention. The splendid fleet
and well-equipped troops of our ally were actually at our gates, and
everybody was in a paroxysm of perfectly natural gratitude. To the
colonial mind, steeped in colonial habits of thought, the foreigner at
this particular juncture appeared more than ever to be a splendid and
superior being. But he did not in the least confuse or sway the cool
judgment that guided the destinies of the Revolution. Let us consider
well the pregnant sentences just quoted, and the letters from which
they are taken. They deserve it, for they throw a strong light on a
side of Washington's mind and character too little appreciated. One
hears it said not infrequently, it has been argued even in print with
some solemnity, that Washington was, no doubt, a great man and rightly
a national hero, but that he was not an American. It will be necessary
to recur to this charge again and consider it at some length. It is
sufficient at this point to see how it tallies with his conduct in
a single matter, which was a very perfect test of the national and
American quality of the man. We can get at the truth by contrasting
him with his own contemporaries, the only fair comparison, for he was
a man and an American of his own time and not of the present day,
which is a point his critics overlook.

Where he differed from the men of his own time was in the fact that he
rose to a breadth and height of Americanism and of national feeling
which no other man of that day touched at all. Nothing is more intense
than the conservatism of mental habits, and although it requires now
an effort to realize it, it should not be forgotten that in every
habit of thought the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies were wholly
colonial. If this is properly appreciated we can understand the mental
breadth and vigor which enabled Washington to shake off at once all
past habits and become an independent leader of an independent
people. He felt to the very core of his being the need of national
self-respect and national dignity. To him, as the chief of the armies
and the head of the Revolution, all men, no matter what tongue they
spake or what country they came from, were to be dealt with on a
footing of simple equality, and treated according to their merits.
There was to him no glamour in the fact that this man was a Frenchman
and that an Englishman. His own personal pride extended to his people,
and he bowed to no national superiority anywhere. Hamilton was
national throughout, but he was born outside the thirteen colonies,
and knew his fellow-citizens only as Americans. Franklin was national
by the force of his own commanding genius. John Adams grew to the same
conception, so far as our relations to other nations were concerned.
But beyond these three we may look far and closely before we find
another among all the really great men of the time who freed himself
wholly from the superstition of the colonist about the nations of

When Washington drew his sword beneath the Cambridge elm he stood
forth as the first American, the best type of man that the New World
could produce, with no provincial taint upon him, and no shadow of the
colonial past clouding his path. It was this great quality that gave
the struggle which he led a character it would never have attained
without a leader so constituted. Had he been merely a colonial
Englishman, had he not risen at once to the conception of an American
nation, the world would have looked at us with very different eyes.
It was the personal dignity of the man, quite as much as his fighting
capacity, which impressed Europe. Kings and ministers, looking on
dispassionately, soon realized that here was no ordinary agitator
or revolutionist, but a great man on a great stage with great
conceptions. England, indeed, talked about a militia colonel, but this
chatter disappeared in the smoke of Trenton, and even England came to
look upon him as the all-powerful spirit of the Revolution. Dull men
and colonial squires do not grasp a great idea and carry it into
action on the world's stage in a few months. To stand forward at the
head of raw armies and of a colonial people as a national leader,
calm, dignified, and far-seeing, requires not only character, but
intellect of the highest and strongest kind. Now that we have come
as a people, after more than a century's struggle, to the national
feeling which Washington compassed in a moment, it is well to consider
that single achievement and to meditate on its meaning, whether in
estimating him, or in gauging what he was to the American people when
they came into existence.

Let us take another instance of the same quality, shown also in the
winter of 1778. Congress had from the beginning a longing to conquer
Canada, which was a wholly natural and entirely laudable desire, for
conquest is always more interesting than defense. Washington, on the
other hand, after the first complete failure, which was so nearly
a success in the then undefended and unsuspicious country, gave up
pretty thoroughly all ideas of attacking Canada again, and opposed
the various plans of Congress in that direction. When he had a
life-and-death struggle to get together and subsist enough men
to protect their own firesides, he had ample reason to know that
invasions of Canada were hopeless. Indeed, not much active opposition
from the commander-in-chief was needed to dispose of the Canadian
schemes, for facts settled them as fast as they arose. When the
cabal got up its Canadian expedition, it consisted of Lafayette, and
penetrated no farther than Albany. So Washington merely kept his eye
watchfully on Canada, and argued against expeditions thither, until
this winter of 1778, when something quite new in that direction came

Lafayette's imagination had been fired by the notion of conquering
Canada. His idea was to get succors from France for this especial
purpose, and with them and American aid to achieve the conquest.
Congress was impressed and pleased by the scheme, and sent a report
upon it to Franklin, to communicate to the French court, but
Washington, when he heard of the plan, took a very different view.
He sent at once a long dispatch to Congress, urging every possible
objection to the proposed campaign, on the ground of its utter
impracticability, and with this official letter, which was necessarily
confined to the military side of the question, went another addressed
to President Laurens personally, which contained the deeper reasons of
his opposition. He said that there was an objection not touched upon
in his public letter, which was absolutely insurmountable. This was
the introduction of French troops into Canada to take possession of

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