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Life And Times Of Washington, Volume 2 by John Frederick Schroeder and Benson John Lossing

Part 7 out of 16

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We have already seen, by the quotation from Washington's journal, how
gloomy was the prospect presented to him at this time. He evidently saw
little to encourage a hope of the favorable termination of the campaign
of that year. Indeed, it is quite apparent that our national affairs
were then at a lower ebb than they had ever been since the period
immediately preceding the battle of Trenton. But by the merciful
interposition of divine Providence, the course of events took a
favorable turn much sooner than he had anticipated. His letter to Col.
John Laurens, on the occasion, already mentioned, of that gentleman's
mission to France to obtain a loan, had been productive of remarkable

In this paper he detailed the pecuniary embarrassments of the
government, and represented with great earnestness the inability of the
nation to furnish a revenue adequate to the support of the war. He
dwelt on the discontents which the system of impressment had excited
among the people, and expressed his fears that the evils felt in the
prosecution of the war, might weaken the sentiments which began it.

From this state of things he deduced the vital importance of an
immediate and ample supply of money, which might be the foundation for
substantial arrangements of finance, for reviving public credit, and
giving vigor to future operations, as well as of a decided effort of
the allied arms on the continent to effect the great objects of the
alliance in the ensuing campaign.

Next to a supply of money he considered a naval superiority in the
American seas as an object of the deepest interest. To the United
States it would be of decisive importance, and France also might derive
great advantages from transferring the maritime war to the coast of her
ally. The future ability of the United States to repay any loan which
might now be obtained was displayed, and he concluded with assurances
that there was still a fund of inclination and resource in the country,
equal to great and continued exertions, provided the means were
afforded of stopping the progress of disgust by changing the present
system and adopting another more consonant with the spirit of the
nation, and more capable of infusing activity and energy into public
measures, of which a powerful succor in money must be the basis. "The
people were discontented, but it was with the feeble and oppressive
mode of conducting the war, not with the war itself."

With great reason did Washington urge on the cabinet of Versailles the
policy of advancing a sum of money to the United States which might be
adequate to the exigency. Deep was the gloom with which the political
horizon was then overcast. The British in possession of South Carolina
and Georgia had overrun the greater part of North Carolina also, and it
was with equal hazard and address that Greene maintained himself in the
northern frontier of that State.

A second detachment from New York was making a deep impression on
Virginia, where the resistance had been neither so prompt nor so
vigorous as the strength of that State and the unanimity of its
citizens had given reason to expect.

Such were the facts and arguments urged by Washington in his letter to
Colonel Laurens. Its able exposition of the actual state of the
country, and his arguments in support of the application of Congress
for a fleet and army as well as money, when laid before the King and
the ministry, decided them to afford the most ample aid to the American
cause. A loan of $6,000,000 was granted, which was to be placed at
Washington's disposal, but he was happy to be relieved from that
responsibility. A loan from Holland was also guaranteed by the French
government, and large reinforcements of ships and men were sent to the
United States. The intelligence of these succors followed within a few
days after the desponding tone of Washington's journal, to which we
have just referred.

Early in May (1781) the Count de Barras, who had been appointed to the
command of the French fleet on the American coast, arrived at Boston,
accompanied by the Viscount de Rochambeau, commander of the land
forces. An interview between Washington and the French commanders was
immediately appointed to be held at Wethersfield, near Hartford, on the
21st (May, 1781), but some movements of the British fleet made de
Barras repair to Newport, while the two generals met at the appointed
place and agreed on a plan of the campaign. It was resolved to unite
the French and American armies on the Hudson and to commence vigorous
operations against New York. The regular army at that station was
estimated at only 4,500 men, and though Sir Henry Clinton might be able
to reinforce it with 5,000 or 6,000 militia, yet it was believed he
could not maintain the post without recalling a considerable part of
his troops from the southward and enfeebling the operations of the
British in that quarter; in which case it was resolved to make a
vigorous attack on the point which presented the best prospect of

In a letter to General Greene, dated June 1, 1781, Washington thus
gives the result of the conference with Rochambeau: "I have lately had
an interview with Count de Rochambeau at Weathersfield. Our affairs
were very attentively considered in every point of view and it was
finally determined to make an attempt upon New York, with its present
garrison, in preference to a southern operation, as we had not the
decided command of the water. You will readily suppose the reasons
which induced this determination were the inevitable loss of men from
so long a march, more especially in the approaching hot season, and the
difficulty, I may say impossibility, of transporting the necessary
baggage, artillery, and stores by land. If I am supported as I ought to
be by the neighboring States in this operation, which, you know, has
always been their favorite one, I hope that one of these consequences
will follow--either that the enemy will be expelled from the most
valuable position which they hold upon the continent or be obliged to
recall part of their force from the southward to defend it. Should the
latter happen you will be most essentially relieved by it. The French
troops will begin their march this way as soon as certain circumstances
will admit. I can only give you the outlines of our plan. The dangers
to which letters are exposed make it improper to commit to paper the
particulars, but, as matters ripen, I will keep you as well informed as
circumstances will allow."

Washington immediately required the States of New England to have 6,000
militia in readiness to march wherever they might be called for, and
sent an account of the conference at Wethersfield to Congress. His
dispatch was intercepted in the Jerseys and carried to Clinton, who,
alarmed by the plan which it disclosed, made the requisition, already
mentioned, of part of the troops under Cornwallis. and took diligent
precautions for maintaining his post against the meditated attack.

Meanwhile the several States of the Union were extremely dilatory in
furnishing their contingents of troops, and it was found difficult to
procure subsistence for the small number of men already in the field.
The people and their rulers talked loudly of liberty, but each was
anxious to sacrifice as little as possible to maintain it and to
devolve on his neighbor the expense, dangers, and privations of the

In consequence of this dilatory spirit, when the troops left their
winter quarters in the month of June (1781), and encamped at Peekskill,
the army under Washington did not amount to 5,000 men. This force was
so much inferior to what had been contemplated when the plan of
operations was agreed on at Wethersfield that it became doubtful
whether it would be expedient to adhere to that plan. But the
deficiency of the American force was in some measure compensated by the
arrival at Boston of a reinforcement of 1,500 men to the army under

The hope of terminating the war in the course of the campaign
encouraged the States to make some exertions. Small as was their
military force it was difficult to find subsistence for the troops, and
even after the army had taken the field there was reason to apprehend
that it would be obliged to abandon the objects of the campaign for
want of provisions. It was at that critical juncture of American
affairs that the finances of the Union were entrusted to Robert Morris,
a member of Congress for Pennsylvania, a man of considerable capital
and of much sagacity and mercantile enterprise. He, as we have already
seen, extensively pledged his personal credit for articles of the first
necessity to the army, and, by an honorable fulfillment of his
engagements, did much to restore public credit and confidence. It was
owing mainly to his exertions that the active and decisive operations
of the campaign were not greatly impeded or entirely defeated by want
of subsistence to the army and of the means of transporting military

By his plan of a national bank, already referred to, Mr. Morris
rendered still more important service. Its notes were to be received as
cash into the treasuries of the several States, and also as an
equivalent for the necessaries which the States were bound to provide
for the army. In this way, and by a liberal and judicious application
of his own resources, an individual afforded the supplies which
government was unable to furnish.

The French troops, under Rochambeau, marched from Newport and Boston
toward the Hudson. Both in quarters and on the route their behavior was
exemplary, and gained the respect and good will of the inhabitants.
Toward the end of June (1781) Washington put his army in motion, and,
learning that a royal detachment had passed into the Jerseys, he formed
a plan to surprise the British posts on the north end of York Island,
but it did not succeed, and General Lincoln, who commanded the
Americans, being attacked by a strong British party, a sharp conflict
ensued. Washington marched with his main body to support his
detachment, but on his advance the British retired into their works at
Kingsbridge. Rochambeau, then on his march to join Washington, detached
the Duke de Lauzun with a body of men to support the attack, who
advanced with his troops within supporting distance, but the British
had retreated before they could be brought into action.

Having failed in his design of surprising the British posts Washington
withdrew to Valentine's Hill, and afterward to Dobb's Ferry. While
encamped there, on the 6th of July (1781), the van of the long-expected
French reinforcements under Rochambeau was seen winding down the
neighboring heights. The arrival of these friendly strangers elevated
the minds of the Americans, who received them with sincere
congratulations. Washington labored, by personal attentions, to
conciliate the good will of his allies, and used all the means in his
power to prevent those mutual jealousies and irritations which
frequently prevail between troops of different nations serving in the
same army. An attack on New York was still meditated, and every
exertion made to prepare for its execution, but with the determination,
if it should prove impracticable, vigorously to prosecute some more
attainable object. [1]

On the evening of the 21st of July (1781), the greater part of the
American, and part of the French troops, left their encampment, and
marching rapidly during the night, appeared in order of battle before
the British works at Kingsbridge, at 4 next morning. Washington and
Rochambeau, with the general officers and engineers, viewed the British
lines in their whole extent from right to left, and the same was again
done next morning. But, on the afternoon of the 23d they returned to
their former encampment without having made any attempt on the British

At that time the new levies arrived slowly in the American camp, and
many of those who were sent were mere boys utterly unfit for active
service. The several States discovered much backwardness in complying
with the requisitions of Congress, so that there was reason to
apprehend that the number of troops necessary for besieging New York
could not be procured. This made Washington turn his thoughts more
seriously to the southward than he had hitherto done, but all his
movements confirmed Clinton in the belief that an attack on New York
was in contemplation. As the British Commander-in-Chief, however, at
that time received about 3,000 troops from Europe, he thought himself
able to defend his post without withdrawing any part of the force from
Virginia. Therefore he countermanded the requisition which he had
before sent to Cornwallis for part of the troops under his command. The
troops were embarked before the arrival of the counter order, and of
their embarkation Lafayette sent notice to Washington. On the reception
of new instructions, however, as formerly mentioned they were relanded
and remained in Virginia.

No great operation could be undertaken against the British armies so
long as their navy had undisputed command of the coast and of the great
navigable rivers. Washington, as we have seen, had already, through
Colonel Laurens, made an earnest application to the court of France for
such a fleet as might be capable of keeping in check the British navy
in those seas and of affording effectual assistance to the land forces.
That application was not unsuccessful, and towards the middle of the
month of August the agreeable information was received of the approach
of a powerful French fleet to the American coast.

Early in March (1781) the Count de Grasse had sailed from Brest with
twenty-five ships-of-the-line, five of which were destined for the
East, and twenty for the West Indies. After an indecisive encounter in
the Straits of St. Lucie with Sir Samuel Hood, whom Sir George Rodney,
the British admiral in the West Indies had detached to intercept him,
Count de Grasse formed a junction with the ships of his sovereign on
that station and had a fleet superior to that of the British in the
West Indies. De Grasse gave the Americans notice that he would visit
their coast in the month of August and take his station in Chesapeake
Bay, but that his continuance there could only be of short duration.
This dispatch at once determined Washington's resolution with respect
to the main point of attack, and as it was necessary that the projected
operation should be accomplished within a very limited time prompt
decision and indefatigable exertion were indispensable. Though it was
now finally resolved that Virginia should be the grand scene of action,
yet it was prudent to conceal till the last moment this determination
from Sir Henry Clinton, and still to maintain the appearance of
threatening New York.

The defense of the strong posts on the Hudson or North river was
entrusted to General Heath who was instructed to protect the adjacent
country as far as he was able, and for that purpose a respectable force
was put under his command. Every preparation of which circumstances
admitted was made to facilitate the march to the southward. Washington
was to take the command of the expedition and to employ in it all the
French troops and a strong detachment of the American army.

On the 19th of August (1781) a considerable corps was ordered to cross
the Hudson at Dobbs' Ferry and to take a position between Springfield
and Chatham, where they were directed to cover some bakehouses which it
was rumored were to be immediately constructed in the vicinity of those
places in order to encourage the belief that there the troops intended
to establish a permanent post. On the 20th and 21st the main body of
the Americans passed the river at King's ferry, but the French made a
longer circuit and did not complete the passage till the 25th. Desirous
of concealing his object as long as possible, Washington continued his
march some time in such a direction as still to keep up the appearance
of threatening New York. When concealment was no longer practicable he
marched southward with the utmost celerity. His movements had been of
such a doubtful nature that Sir Henry Clinton, it is said, was not
fully convinced of his real destination till he had crossed the

Great exertions had been made to procure funds for putting the army in
motion, but, after exhausting every other resource, Washington was
obliged to have recourse to Rochambeau for a supply of cash, which he
received. [2]

On the 2d and 3d of September (1781) the combined American and French
armies passed through Philadelphia, where they were received with
ringing of bells, firing of guns, bonfires, illuminations, and every
demonstration of joy. Meanwhile Count de Grasse, with 3,000 troops on
board, sailed from Cape Francois with a valuable fleet of merchantmen,
which he conducted out of danger, and then steered for Chesapeake Bay
with twenty-eight sail-of-the-line and several frigates. Toward the end
of August (1781) he cast anchor just within the capes, extending across
from Cape Henry to the middle ground. There an officer from Lafayette
waited on the count, and gave him full information concerning the
posture of affairs in Virginia, and the intended plan of operations
against the British army in that State.

Cornwallis was diligently fortifying himself at York and Gloucester.
Lafayette was in a position on James river to prevent his escape into
North Carolina, and the combined army was hastening southward to attack
him. In order to cooperate against Cornwallis De Grasse detached four
ships-of-the-line and some frigates to block up the entrance of York
river, and to carry the land forces which he had brought with him,
under the Marquis de St. Simon, to Lafayette's camp. The rest of his
fleet remained at the entrance of the bay.

Sir George Rodney, who commanded the British fleet in the West Indies,
was not ignorant that the count intended to sail for America, but
knowing that the merchant vessel which he convoyed from Cape Francois
were loaded with valuable cargoes the British admiral believed that he
would send the greater part of his fleet along with them to Europe and
would visit the American coast with a small squadron only.

Accordingly, Rodney detached Sir Samuel Hood with fourteen
sail-of-the-line to America as a sufficient force to counteract the
operations of the French in that quarter. Admiral Hood reached the
capes of Virginia on the 25th of August (1781), a few days before de
Grasse entered the bay and finding no enemy there sailed for Sandy
Hook, where he arrived on the 28th of August.

Admiral Graves, who had succeeded Admiral Arbuthnot in the command of
the British fleet on the American station, was then lying at New York
with seven sail-of-the-line; but two of his ships had been damaged in a
cruise near Boston and were under repair. At the same time that Admiral
Hood gave information of the expected arrival of de Grasse on the
American coast, notice was received of the sailing of de Barras with
his fleet from Newport. Admiral Graves, therefore, without waiting for
his two ships which were under repair, put to sea on the 31st of August
with nineteen sail-of-the-line and steered to the southward.

On reaching the capes of the Chesapeake, early on the morning of the
5th of September (1781), he discovered the French fleet, consisting of
twenty-four ships-of-the-line, lying at anchor in the entrance of the
bay. Neither admiral had any previous knowledge of the vicinity of the
other till the fleets were actually seen. The British stretched into
the bay and soon as Count de Grasse ascertained their hostile character
he ordered his ships to slip their cables, form the line as they could
come up without regard to their specified stations and put to sea. The
British fleet entering the bay and the French leaving it, they were
necessarily sailing in different directions, but Admiral Graves put his
ships on the same tack with the French and about four in the afternoon
a battle began between the van and centre of the fleets which continued
till night. Both sustained considerable damage. The fleets continued in
sight of each other for five days, but de Grasse's object was not to
fight unless to cover Chesapeake Bay, and Admiral Graves, owing to the
inferiority of his force and the crippled state of several of his
ships, was unable to compel him to renew the engagement.

On the 10th (September, 1781), de Grasse bore away for the Chesapeake
and anchored within the capes next day when he had the satisfaction to
find that Admiral de Barras with his fleet from Newport and fourteen
transports laden with heavy artillery and other military stores for
carrying on a siege had safely arrived during his absence. That officer
sailed from Newport on the 25th of August, and making a long circuit to
avoid the British, entered the bay while the contending fleets were at
sea. Admiral Graves followed the French fleet to the Chesapeake, but on
arriving there he found the entrance guarded by a force with which he
was unable to contend. He then sailed for New York and left de Grasse
in the undisputed possession of the bay.

While these naval operations were going on the land forces were not
less actively employed in the prosecution of their respective purposes.
The immediate aim of Washington was to overwhelm Cornwallis and his
army at Yorktown; that of Clinton, to rescue him from his grasp. As
soon as Clinton was convinced of Washington's intention of proceeding
to the southward with a view to bring him back, he employed the
infamous traitor Arnold, with a sufficient naval and military force, on
an expedition against New London. The "parricide," as Jefferson calls
him, had not the slightest objection to fill his pockets with the
plunder of his native State. He passed from Long Island and on the
forenoon of the 6th of September (1781) landed his troops on both sides
of the harbor; those on the New London side being under his own
immediate orders and those on the Groton side commanded by
Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre. As the works at New London were very
imperfect, no vigorous resistance was there made, and the place was
taken possession of with little loss. But Fort Griswold, on the Groton
side, was in a more finished state and the small garrison made a
desperate defense. The British entered the fort at the point of the

Col. William Ledyard, brother of the celebrated traveler, commanded the
fort. Colonel Eyre and Major Montgomery having fallen in the assault,
the command had devolved on Major Bromfield, a New Jersey Tory. After
the works had been carried, Ledyard ordered his men to lay down their
arms. Bromfield called out, "Who commands in this fort?" Ledyard
advanced and presenting his sword, replied, "I did, but you do now."
Bromfield seized the sword and ran Ledyard through the body. This was
the signal for an indiscriminate massacre of a greater part of the
garrison by the Tories, refugees, and Hessians, of which the army of
Arnold was very appropriately composed. Seventy were killed and
thirty-five desperately wounded. The enemy lost 2 officers and 46 men
killed, 8 officers and 135 soldiers wounded. Few Americans had fallen
before the British entered the works.

The loss sustained by the Americans at New London was great, but that
predatory incursion had no effect in diverting Washington from his
purpose or in retarding his march southward. From Philadelphia the
allied armies pursued their route, partly to the head of Elk river,
which falls into the northern extremity of Chesapeake Bay, and partly
to Baltimore, at which places they embarked on board transports
furnished by the French fleet, and the last division of them landed at
Williamsburgh on the 25th of September (1781). Washington, Rochambeau,
and their attendants proceeded to the same place by land, and reached
it ten days before the troops. Virginia had suffered extremely in the
course of the campaign; the inhabitants were clamorous for the
appearance of Washington in his native State, and hailed his arrival
with acclamations of joy.

Washington and Rochambeau immediately repaired on board de Grasse's
ship in order to concert a joint plan of operations against Cornwallis.
De Grasse, convinced that every exertion would be made to relieve his
lordship, and being told that Admiral Digby had arrived at New York
with a reinforcement of six ships-of-the-line, expected to be attacked
by a force little inferior to his own, and, deeming the station which
he then occupied unfavorable to a naval engagement, he was strongly
inclined to leave the bay and to meet the enemy in the open sea.
Washington, fully aware of all the casualties which might occur to
prevent his return and to defeat the previous arrangements, used every
argument to dissuade the French admiral from his purpose, and prevailed
with him to remain in the bay.

As de Grasse could continue only a short time on that station, every
exertion was made to proceed against Cornwallis at Yorktown. Opposite
Yorktown is Gloucester point, which projects considerably into the
river, the breadth of which at that place does not exceed a mile.
Cornwallis had taken possession of both these places and diligently
fortified them. The communication between them was commanded by his
batteries and by some ships-of-war which lay in the river under cover
of his guns. The main body of his army was encamped near Yorktown,
beyond some outer redoubts and field works calculated to retard the
approach of an enemy. Colonel Tarleton, with six or seven hundred men,
occupied Gloucester point.

The combined army, amounting to upwards of 11,000 men, exclusive of the
Virginia militia, under the command of the patriotic Governor Nelson,
was assembled in the vicinity of Williamsburgh, and on the morning of
the 28th of September (1781), marched by different routes toward
Yorktown. About midday the heads of the columns reached the ground
assigned them, and, after driving in the outposts and some cavalry,
encamped for the night. The next day was employed in viewing the
British works and in arranging the plan of attack. At the same time
that the combined army encamped before Yorktown the French fleet
anchored at the mouth of the river and completely prevented the British
from escaping by water as well as from receiving supplies or
reinforcements in that way. The legion of Lauzun and a brigade of
militia, amounting to upwards of 4,000 men, commanded by the French
general de Choise, were sent across the river to watch Gloucester Point
and to enclose the British on that side.

On the 30th (September, 1781) Yorktown was invested. The French troops
formed the left wing of the combined army, extending from the river
above the town to a morass in front of it; the Americans composed the
right wing and occupied the ground between the morass and the river
below the town. Till the 6th of October the besieging army was
assiduously employed in disembarking its heavy artillery and military
stores and in conveying them to camp from the landing place in James
river, a distance of six miles. On the night of the 6th the first
parallel was begun, under the direction of General du Portail, the
chief engineer, 600 yards from the British works. The night was dark,
rainy, and well adapted for such a service; and in the course of it the
besiegers did not lose a man. Their operations seem not to have been
suspected by the besieged till daylight disclosed them in the morning,
when the trenches were so far advanced as in a good measure to cover
the workmen from the fire of the garrison. By the afternoon of the 9th
the batteries were completed, notwithstanding the most strenuous
opposition from the besieged, and immediately opened on the town. From
that time an incessant cannonade was kept up, and the continual
discharge of shot and shells from twenty-four and eighteen pounders and
ten-inch mortars, damaged the unfinished works on the left of the town,
silenced the guns mounted on them and occasioned a considerable loss of
men. Some of the shot and shells from the batteries passed over the
town, reached the shipping in the harbor, and set on fire the Charon of
forty-four guns and three large transports, which were entirely

"From the bank of the river," says Dr. Thacher, "I had a fine view of
this splendid conflagration. The ships were enwrapped in a torrent of
fire, which, spreading with vivid brightness among the combustible
rigging and running with amazing rapidity to the tops of the several
masts, while all around was thunder and lightning from our numerous
cannon and mortars, and in the darkness of night presented one of the
most sublime and magnificent spectacles that can be imagined. Some of
our shells, overreaching the town, are seen to fall into the river, and
bursting, throw up columns of water, like the spouting of the monsters
of the deep."

On the night of the 11th (October, 1781), the besiegers, laboring with
indefatigable perseverance, began their second parallel, 300 yards
nearer the British works than the first; and the three succeeding days
were assiduously employed in completing it.

During that interval the fire of the garrison was more destructive than
at any other period of the siege. The men in the trenches were
particularly annoyed by two redoubts toward the left of the British
works, and about 200 yards in front of them. Of these it was necessary
to gain possession, and on the 14th preparations were made to carry
them both by storm. In order to avail himself of the spirit of
emulation which existed between the troops of the two nations, and to
avoid any cause of jealousy to either, Washington committed the attack
of the one redoubt to the French and that of the other to the
Americans. The latter were commanded by Lafayette, attended by Col.
Alexander Hamilton, who led the advance, and the former by the Baron de

On the evening of the 14th, as soon as it was dark, the parties marched
to the assault with unloaded arms. The redoubt which the Americans
under Lafayette attacked was defended by a major, some inferior
officers, and forty-five privates. The assailants advanced with such
rapidity, without returning a shot to the heavy fire with which they
were received, that in a few minutes they were in possession of the
work, having had 8 men killed and 7 officers and 25 men wounded in the
attack. Eight British privates were killed; Major Campbell, a captain,
an ensign, and seventeen privates were made prisoners. The rest
escaped. Although the Americans were highly exasperated by the recent
massacre of their countrymen in Fort Griswold by Arnold's detachment,
yet not a man of the British was injured after resistance ceased.
Retaliation had been talked of but was not exercised. [3]

The French advanced with equal courage, but not with equal rapidity.
The American soldiers had removed the abattis themselves. The French
waited for the sappers to remove them according to military rule. While
thus waiting a message was brought from Lafayette to Viomenil,
informing him that he was in his redoubt, and wished to know where the
baron was. "Tell the marquis," replied Viomenil, "that I am not in
mine, but will be in five minutes." The abattis being removed, the
redoubt was carried in very nearly the time prescribed by the baron.
There were 120 men in this redoubt, of whom 18 were killed and 42 taken
prisoners; the rest made their escape. The French lost nearly 100 men
killed or wounded. During the night these two redoubts were included in
the second parallel, and, in the course of next day, some howitzers
were placed on them, which, in the afternoon, opened on the besieged.

"During the assault," says Dr. Thacher, "the British kept up an
incessant firing of cannon and musketry from their whole line. His
Excellency, General Washington, Generals Lincoln and Knox, with their
aids, having dismounted, were standing in an exposed situation, waiting
the result. Colonel Cobb, one of Washington's aids, solicitous for his
safety, said to his Excellency, 'Sir, you are too much exposed here;
had you not better step a little back?' 'Colonel Cobb,' replied his
Excellency, 'if you are afraid, you have liberty to step back.'

"Cornwallis and his garrison had done all that brave men could do to
defend their post. But the industry of Laurens, and to each and all the
officers and men, are above expression. Not one gun was fired, and the
ardor of the troops did not give time for the sappers to derange the
abattis; and owing to the conduct of the commanders and the bravery of
the men, the redoubt was stormed with uncommon rapidity."

[missing text]

the besiegers was persevering and their approaches rapid. The condition
of the British was becoming desperate. In every quarter their works
were torn to pieces by the fire of the assailants. The batteries
already playing upon them had nearly silenced all their guns, and the
second parallel was about to open on them, which in a few hours would
render the place untenable.

Owing to the weakness of his garrison, occasioned by sickness and the
fire of the besiegers, Cornwallis could not spare large sallying
parties, but, in the present distressing crisis, he resolved to make
every effort to impede the progress of the besiegers, and to preserve
his post to the last extremity. For this purpose, a little before
daybreak on the morning of the 16th of October (1781), about 350 men,
under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Abercrombie, sallied out
against two batteries, which seemed in the greatest state of
forwardness. They attacked with great impetuosity, killed or wounded a
considerable number of the French troops, who had charge of the works,
spiked eleven guns, and returned with little loss. This exploit was of
no permanent advantage to the garrison, for the guns, having been
hastily spiked, were soon again rendered fit for service.

About 4 in the afternoon of the 16th of October, several batteries of
the second parallel opened on the garrison, and it was obvious that, in
the course of next day, all the batteries of that parallel, mounting a
most formidable artillery, would be ready to play on the town. The
shattered works of the garrison were in no condition to sustain such a
tremendous fire. In the whole front which was attacked the British
could not show a single gun, and their shells were nearly exhausted. In
this extremity Cornwallis formed the desperate resolution of crossing
the river during the night with his effective force and attempting to
escape to the northward. His plan was to leave behind his sick,
baggage, and all encumbrances; to attack de Choise, who commanded on
the Gloucester side, with his whole force; to mount his own infantry,
partly with the hostile cavalry which he had no doubt of seizing, and
partly with such horses as he might find by the way; to hasten toward
the fords of the great rivers in the upper country, and then, turning
northward, to pass through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Jerseys, and
join the army at New York. The plan was hazardous, and presented little
prospect of success; but in the forlorn circumstances of the garrison
anything that offered a glimpse of hope was reckoned preferable to the
humiliation of an immediate surrender.

In prosecution of this perilous enterprise the light infantry, most of
the guards, and a part of the Twenty-third regiment embarked in boats,
passed the river, and landed at Gloucester point before midnight. A
storm then arose, which rendered the return of the boats and the
transportation of the rest of the troops equally impracticable. In that
divided state of the British forces the morning of the 17th of October
(1781) dawned, when the batteries of the combined armies opened on the
garrison at Yorktown. As the attempt to escape was entirely defeated by
the storm, the troops that had been carried to Gloucester point were
brought back in the course of the forenoon without much loss, though
the passage was exposed to the artillery of the besiegers. The British
works were in ruins, the garrison was weakened by disease and death,
and exhausted by incessant fatigue. Every ray of hope was extinguished.
It would have been madness any longer to attempt to defend the post and
to expose the brave garrison to the danger of an assault, which would
soon have been made on the place.

At 10 in the forenoon of the 17th Cornwallis sent a flag of truce with
a letter to Washington, proposing a cessation of hostilities for
twenty-four hours, in order to give time to adjust terms for the
surrender of the forts at Yorktown and Gloucester point. To this letter
Washington immediately returned an answer, expressing his ardent desire
to spare the further effusion of blood and his readiness to listen to
such terms as were admissible, but that he could not consent to lose
time in fruitless negotiations, and desired that, previous to the
meeting of commissioners, his lordship's proposals should be
transmitted in writing, for which purpose a suspension of hostilities
for two hours should be granted.

The terms offered by Cornwallis, although not all deemed admissible,
were such as induced the opinion that no great difficulty would occur
in adjusting the conditions of capitulation, and the suspension of
hostilities was continued through the night. Meanwhile, in order to
avoid the delay of useless discussion, Washington drew up and
transmitted to Cornwallis such articles as he was willing to grant,
informing his lordship that, if he approved of them, commissioners
might be immediately appointed to reduce them to form. Accordingly,
Viscount Noailles and Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens, whose father was then
a prisoner in the Tower of London, on the 18th met Colonel Dundas and
Major Ross of the British army at Moore's house, in the rear of the
first parallel. They prepared a rough draft, but were unable
definitively to arrange the terms of capitulation.

The draught was to be submitted to Cornwallis, but Washington, resolved
to admit of no delay, directed the articles to be transcribed; and, on
the morning of the 19th, sent them to his lordship, with a letter
expressing his expectation that they would be signed by 11 and that the
garrison would march out at 2 in the afternoon. [4] Finding that no
better terms could be obtained, Cornwallis submitted to a painful
necessity, and, on the 19th of October, surrendered the posts of
Yorktown and Gloucester point to the combined armies of America and
France, on condition that his troops should receive the same honors of
war which had been granted to the garrison of Charleston when it
surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton. The army, artillery, arms,
accoutrements, military chest, and public stores of every description
were surrendered to Washington; the ships in the harbor and the seamen
to Count de Grasse.

Cornwallis wished to obtain permission for his European troops to
return home, on condition of not serving against America, France, or
their allies during the war, but this was refused, and it was agreed
that they should remain prisoners of war in Virginia, Maryland, and
Pennsylvania, accompanied by a due proportion of officers for their
protection and government. The British general was also desirous of
securing from punishment such Americans as had joined the royal
standard, but this was refused, on the plea that it was a point which
belonged to the civil authority and on which the military power was not
competent to decide. But the end was gained in an indirect way, for
Cornwallis was permitted to send the Bonetta sloop-of-war unsearched to
New York, with dispatches to the Commander-in-Chief and to put on board
as many soldiers as he thought proper, to be accounted for in any
subsequent exchange. This was understood to be a tacit permission to
send off the most obnoxious of the Americans, which was accordingly

The officers and soldiers were allowed to retain their private
property. Such officers as were not required to remain with the troops
were permitted to return to Europe or to reside in any part of America
not in possession of the British troops.

Dr. Thacher, who was present during the whole siege, thus describes the
surrender: "At about 12 o'clock the combined army was arranged and
drawn up in two lines, extending more than a mile in length. The
Americans were drawn up in a line on the right side of the road, and
the French occupied the left. At the head of the former the great
American commander, mounted on his noble courser, took his station,
attended by his aides. At the head of the latter was posted the
excellent Count Rochambeau and his suite. The French troops, in
complete uniform, displayed a noble and martial appearance; their band
of music, of which the timbrel formed a part, is a delightful novelty,
and produced, while marching to the ground, a most enchanting effect.
The Americans, though not all in uniform nor their dress so neat, yet
exhibited an erect, soldierly air and every countenance beamed with
satisfaction and joy. The concourse of spectators from the country was
prodigious, in point of numbers nearly equal to the military, but
universal silence and order prevailed. It was about 2 o'clock when the
captive army advanced through the line formed for their reception.
Every eye was prepared to gaze on Lord Cornwallis, the object of
peculiar interest and solicitude, but he disappointed our anxious
expectations. Pretending indisposition, he made General O'Hara his
substitute as the leader of his army. This officer was followed by the
conquered troops in a slow and solemn step, with shouldered arms,
colors cased, and drums beating a British march. Having arrived at the
head of the line, General O'Hara, elegantly mounted, advanced to his
Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief, taking off his hat and apologizing
for the nonappearance of Earl Cornwallis. With his usual dignity and
politeness, his Excellency pointed to Major-General Lincoln for
directions, by whom the British army was conducted into a spacious
field, where it was intended they should ground their arms. The royal
troops, while marching through the line formed by the allied army,
exhibited a decent and neat appearance as respects arms and clothing,
for their commander opened his store and directed every soldier to be
furnished with a new suit complete prior to the capitulation. But in
their line of march we remarked a disorderly and unsoldierlike conduct;
their step was irregular and their ranks frequently broken. But it was
in the field, when they came to the last act of the drama, that the
spirit and pride of the British soldier was put to the severest test.
Here their mortification could not be concealed. Some of the platoon
officers appeared to be exceedingly chagrined when giving the word,
'Ground arms!' and I am a witness that they performed this duty in a
very unofficerlike manner and that many of the soldiers manifested a
sullen temper, throwing their arms on the pile with violence, as if
determined to render them useless. This irregularity, however, was
checked by the authority of General Lincoln. After having grounded
their arms and divested themselves of their accoutrements, the captive
troops were conducted back to Yorktown and guarded by our troops until
they could be conducted to the place of their destination."

Congress bestowed its thanks freely and fully upon the
Commander-in-Chief, Count de Rochambeau, Count de Grasse, and the
various officers of the different corps, and the brave soldiers under
their command. Two stands of colors, trophies of war, were voted to
Washington and two pieces of cannon to Rochambeau and de Grasse, and it
was also voted that a marble column to commemorate the alliance and the
victory should be erected in Yorktown. On the day after the surrender
the general orders closed as follows: "Divine service shall be
performed tomorrow in the different brigades and divisions. The
Commander-in-Chief recommends that all the troops that are not upon
duty do assist at it with a serious deportment and that sensibility of
heart which the recollection of the surprising and particular
interposition of Providence in our favor claims." A proclamation was
also issued by Congress appointing the 13th of December as a day of
thanksgiving and prayer, on account of this signal and manifest favor
of Divine Providence in behalf of our country.

The news of Cornwallis' surrender was received throughout the country
with the most tumultuous expressions of joy. The worthy New England
Puritans considered it, as Cromwell did the victory at Worcester, "the
crowning mercy." It promised them a return of peace and prosperity. The
people of the middle States regarded it as a guarantee for their speedy
deliverance from the presence of a hated enemy. But to the southern
States it was more than this. It was the retributive justice of Heaven
against a band of cruel and remorseless murderers and robbers, who had
spread desolation and sorrow through their once happy homes. It is
asserted in Gordon's "History of the War" that wherever Cornwallis'
army marched the dwelling-houses were plundered of everything that
could be carried off. The stables of Virginia were plundered of the
horses on which his cavalry rode in their ravaging march through that
State. Millions of property, in tobacco and other merchandise and in
private houses and public buildings, were destroyed by Arnold, Philips,
and Cornwallis in Virginia alone. The very horse which Tarleton had the
impudence to ride on the day of the surrender was stolen from a
planter's stable, who recognized it on the field and compelled Tarleton
to give it up and mount a sorry hack for the occasion.

It was computed at the time that 1,400 widows were made by the war in
the single district of Ninety-Six. The whole devastation occasioned by
the British army, during six months previous to the surrender at
Yorktown, amounted to not less than L3,000,000 sterling, an immense
loss for so short a time, falling, as it did, chiefly on the rural
population. No wonder that they assembled in crowds to witness the
humiliation of Cornwallis and his army. To them it was not only a
triumph, but a great deliverance. Well might the Virginians triumph.
The return of their favorite commander, a son of the soil, had speedily
released their State from ravage and destruction and restored them to
comparative peace and repose.

On the very day of Cornwallis' surrender, Clinton sailed from New York
with reinforcements. He had been perfectly aware of Cornwallis' extreme
peril and was anxious to relieve him, but the fleet had sustained
considerable damage in the battle with de Grasse and some time was
necessarily spent in repairing it. During that interval four
ships-of-the-line arrived from Europe and two from the West Indies. At
length Clinton embarked with 7,000 of his best troops, but was unable
to sail from Sandy Hook till the 19th (1781), the day on which
Cornwallis surrendered. The fleet, consisting of twenty-five ships-of-
the-line, two vessels of fifty guns each, and eight frigates, arrived
off the Chesapeake on the 24th (October, 1781), when Clinton had the
mortification to be informed of the event of the 19th. He remained on
the coast, however, till the 29th, when, every doubt being removed
concerning the capitulation of Cornwallis, whose relief was the sole
object of the expedition, he returned to New York.

While Clinton continued off the Chesapeake, the French fleet,
consisting of thirty-six sail-of-the-line, satisfied with the advantage
already gained, lay at anchor in the bay without making any movement

Washington, considering the present a favorable opportunity for
following up his success by an expedition against the British army in
Charleston, wrote a letter to Count de Grasse on the day after the
capitulation, requesting him to unite his fleet to the proposed
armament and assist in the expedition. He even went on board the
admiral's fleet to thank him for his late services in the siege and to
urge upon him the feasibility and importance of this plan of
operations. But the orders of his court, ulterior projects, and his
engagements with the Spaniards put it out of the power of the French
admiral to continue so long in America as was required. He, however,
remained some days in the bay in order to cover the embarkation of the
troops and of the ordnance to be conveyed by water to the head of the
Elk. [5]

Some brigades proceeded by land to join their companions at that place.
Some cavalry marched to join General Greene, but the French troops,
under Count Rochambeau, remained in Virginia to be in readiness to
march to the south or north, as the circumstances of the next campaign
might require. On the 27th the troops of St. Simon began to embark, in
order to return to the West Indies, and early in November Count de
Grasse sailed for that quarter.

Part of the prisoners were sent to Winchester in Virginia and
Fredericktown, Maryland, the remainder to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lord
Cornwallis and the principal officers were paroled and sailed for New
York. During their stay at Yorktown, after the surrender, they received
the most delicate attentions from the conquerors. Dr. Thacher, in his
"Military Journal," notices particularly some of these attentions:
"Lord Cornwallis and his officers," he says, "since their capitulation,
have received all the civilities and hospitality which is in the power
of their conquerors to bestow. General Washington, Count Rochambeau,
and other general officers have frequently invited them to
entertainments, and they have expressed their grateful acknowledgments
in return. They cannot avoid feeling the striking contrast between the
treatment which they now experience and that which they have bestowed
on our prisoners who have unfortunately fallen into their hands. It is
a dictate of humanity and benevolence, after sheathing the sword, to
relieve and meliorate the condition of the vanquished prisoner.

"On one occasion, while in the presence of General Washington, Lord
Cornwallis was standing with his head uncovered. His Excellency said to
him, politely, 'My lord, you had better be covered from the cold.' His
lordship, applying his hand to his head, replied, 'It matters not, sir,
what becomes of this head now.'" The reader will not have failed to
notice that the capture of Cornwallis was effected solely by the able
and judicious strategy of Washington. It was he that collected from
different parts of the country the forces that were necessary to
enclose that commander and his hitherto victorious army as it were in a
net, from which there was no possibility of escape. It was he who, by
personal influence and exertion, brought de Grasse to renounce his
expected triumphs at sea and zealously assist in the siege by
preventing Cornwallis from receiving any aid from British naval forces.
It was he who detained de Grasse at a critical moment of the siege,
when he was anxious to go off with the chief part of his force and
engage the British at sea. In short, it was he who provided all,
oversaw all, directed all, and having, by prudence and forethought, as
well as by activity and perseverance, brought all the elements of
conquest together, combined them into one mighty effort with glorious
success. It was the second siege on a grand scale which had been
brought to a brilliant and fortunate conclusion by the wisdom and
prudence as well as the courage and perseverance of Washington. In the
first he expelled the enemy and recovered Boston uninjured, freeing the
soil for a time from the presence of the enemy. In the second, he
captured the most renowned and successful British army in America and
dictated his own terms of surrender to a commander who, from his
marquee, had recently given law to three States of the Union.

1. Footnote: Dr. Thacher, in his Military Journal, has an entry:
"July 7th. Our army was drawn up in a line and reviewed by General
Rochambeau, with his Excellency, General Washington, and other general
officers.--July 10th. Another review took place in presence of the
French ambassador from Philadelphia, after which the French army passed
a review in presence of the general officers of both armies." Speaking
of the French army, Dr. Thacher says: "In the officers we recognize the
accomplished gentlemen, free and affable in their manners. Their
military dress and side-arms are elegant. The troops are under the
strictest discipline, and are amply provided with arms and
accoutrements, which are kept in the neatest order. They are in
complete uniform--coats of white broadcloth, trimmed with green, and
white under-dress, and on their heads they wear a singular kind of hat
or chapeau. It is unlike our cocked hats, in having but two corners
instead of three, which gives them a very novel appearance."

2. Footnote: The amount was $20,000 in specie, to be refunded by Robert
Morris on the 1st of October. On the 31st of August, Dr. Thacher says:
"Colonel Laurens arrived at headquarters, camp, Trenton, on his way
from Boston to Philadelphia. He brought two and a half millions of
livres in cash, a part of the French subsidy,--a most seasonable
supply, as the troops were discontented and almost mutinous for want of

3. Footnote: Lafayette (letter to Washington, 16th October, 1781) says
"Your Excellency having personally seen our dispositions, I shall only
give you an account of what passed in the execution. Colonel Gimat's
battalion led the van, and was followed by that of Colonel Hamilton,
who commanded the whole advanced corps. At the same time a party of
eighty men, under Colonel Laurens, turned the redoubt. I beg leave to
refer your Excellency to the report I have received from Colonel
Hamilton, whose well-known talents and gallantry were, on this
occasion, most conspicuous and serviceable. Our obligations to him, to
Colonel Gimat, to Colonel

[missing footnote text]

4. Footnote: The whole number of prisoners, exclusive of seamen, was
over 7,000, and the British loss during the siege was between five and
six hundred. The army of the allies consisted of 7,000 American regular
troops, upward of 5,000 French, and 4,000 militia. The loss in killed
and wounded was about 300. The captured property consisted of a large
train of artillery--viz., 75 brass and 69 iron cannon, howitzers, and
mortars; also a large quantity of arms, ammunition, military stores,
and provisions fell to the Americans. One frigate, 2 ships of twenty
guns each, a number of transports and other vessels, and 1,500 seamen
were surrendered to de Grasse.

5. Footnote: On his departure, the Count de Grasse received from
Washington a present of two elegant horses as a token of his friendship
and esteem.


CLOSE OF THE WAR. 1782-1783.

After the surrender of Cornwallis, the combined forces were distributed
in different parts of the country, in the manner we have described at
the close of the last chapter. Having personally superintended the
distribution of the ordnance and stores, and the departure of the
prisoners as well as the embarkation of the troops, who were to go
northward under General Lincoln, Washington left Yorktown on the 5th of
November (1781) for Eltham, the seat of his friend, Colonel Basset. He
arrived there the same day, but he came to a house of mourning. His
stepson, John Parke Custis, was just expiring when he reached the
house. Washington was just in time to be present, with Mrs. Washington
and Mrs. Custis, her daughter-in-law, at the last painful moment of the
young man's departure to the world of spirits. Mr. Custis had been an
object of peculiar affection and care to Washington, who had
superintended his education and introduction to public life. He had
entered King's college in New York, in 1773, but soon after left that
institution and married the daughter of Mr. Benedict Calvert, February
3, 1774. He had passed the winter of 1775 at headquarters in Cambridge
with his wife and Mrs. Washington. He had subsequently been elected a
member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, in which office he
acquitted himself with honor, and he was now cut off on the very
threshold of life being only twenty-eight years of age at the time of
his decease. He left a widow and four young children. The two youngest
of these children, one less than two and the other four years old, were
adopted by Washington, and thenceforward formed a part of his immediate
family. During the last year of Mr. Custis' life, Washington, writing
to General Greene, took occasion to cite a passage from his
correspondence. He says, "I have received a letter from Mr. Custis,
dated the 29th ultimo (March, 1781), in which are these words: 'General
Greene has by his conduct gained universal esteem, and possesses, in
the fullest degree, the confidence of all ranks of people.'" He had
just then returned from the Assembly at Richmond. Washington remained
for several days at Eltham to comfort the family in their severe
affliction, and then proceeded to Mount Vernon, where he arrived on the
13th of November. From this home of his early affections he wrote to
Lafayette on the 15th (1781), accounting for his not having joined him
in Philadelphia, by the pressure of private and public duties. In this
letter, ever attentive to the interests of his country, Washington
expresses his views with respect to the next campaign; and as
Lafayette, after the expedition with de Grasse to the South was
abandoned, had determined to pass the winter in France, Washington
takes occasion in this letter to impress upon his mind the absolute
necessity of a strong naval force in order to conduct the next campaign
to a successful termination. In concluding his letter, Washington says:
"If I should be deprived of the pleasure of a personal interview with
you before your departure, permit me to adopt this method of making you
a tender of my ardent vows for a prosperous voyage, a gracious
reception from your prince, an honorable reward for your services, a
happy meeting with your lady and friends, and a safe return in the
spring to, my dear marquis, your affectionate friend, etc.--


Washington had given Lafayette leave to proceed to Philadelphia, where
he obtained from Congress permission to visit his family in France for
such a period as he should think proper. Congress at the same time
passed resolutions doing justice to the zeal and military conduct of
Lafayette. Among them were the following:

"Resolved, that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs acquaint the ministers
plenipotentiary of the United States, that it is the desire of Congress
that they confer with the Marquis de Lafayette, and avail themselves of
his information relative to the affairs of the United States.

"Resolved, that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs further acquaint the
minister plenipotentiary at the court of Versailles, that he will
conform to the intention of Congress by consulting with and employing
the assistance of the Marquis de Lafayette in accelerating the supplies
which may be afforded by his most Christian majesty for the use of the
United States."

Lafayette was also commended by Congress to the notice of Louis XVI in
very warm terms. Having received his instructions from Congress and
completed his preparations, he went to Boston, where the American
frigate Alliance awaited his arrival. His farewell letter to Congress
is dated on board this vessel, December 23, 1781, and immediately after
writing it he set sail for his native country.

Before proceeding to Philadelphia Washington visited Alexandria, where
he was honored with a public reception and an address from a committee
of the citizens, in replying to which he was careful to remind them,
when referring to the late success at Yorktown, that "a vigorous
prosecution of this success would, in all probability," procure peace,
liberty, and independence. He also visited Annapolis, where the
Legislature was in session. A vote of thanks was passed by that body
(22d November, 1781), and in replying to it Washington also reminded
the legislators of Maryland that the war was by no means finished, and
that further exertions were required to be made by the States.

The splendid success of the allied arms in Virginia, and the great
advantages obtained still further south, produced no disposition in
Washington to relax those exertions which might yet be necessary to
secure the great object of the contest. "I shall attempt to stimulate
Congress," said he in a letter to General Greene, written at Mount
Vernon, "to the best improvement of our late success, by taking the
most vigorous and effectual measures to be ready for an early and
decisive campaign the next year. My greatest fear is that viewing this
stroke in a point of light which may too much magnify its importance
they may think our work too nearly closed and fall into a state of
languor and relaxation. To prevent this error I shall employ every
means in my power, and, if unhappily we sink into this fatal mistake,
no part of the blame shall be mine."

On the 27th of November (1781) Washington reached Philadelphia, and
Congress passed a resolution granting him an audience on the succeeding
day. On his appearance the President addressed him in a short speech,
informing him that a committee was appointed to state the requisitions
to be made for the proper establishment of the army, and expressing the
expectation that he would remain in Philadelphia, in order to aid the
consultations on that important subject.

The Secretary of War, the financier, Robert Morris, and the Secretary
of Foreign Affairs, Robert R. Livingston, assisted at these
deliberations, and the business was concluded with unusual celerity.

A revenue was scarcely less necessary than an army, and it was obvious
that the means for carrying on the war must be obtained either by
impressments or by a vigorous course of taxation. But both these
alternatives depended on the States, and the government of the Union
resorted to the influence of Washington in aid of its requisitions.

But no exertions on the part of America alone could expel the invading
army. A superiority at sea was indispensable to the success of
offensive operations against the posts which the British still held
within the United States. To obtain this superiority Washington pressed
its importance on the Chevalier de la Luzerne, the minister of France,
and commanding officers of the French troops, as he had on Lafayette
when he was about to return to his native country.

The first intelligence from Europe was far from being conciliatory. The
Parliament of Great Britain reassembled in November (1781). The speech
from the throne breathed a settled purpose to continue the war, and the
addresses from both houses, which were carried by large majorities,
echoed the sentiment.

In the course of the animated debates which these addresses occasioned,
an intention was indeed avowed by some members of the administration to
direct the whole force of the nation against France and Spain, and to
suspend offensive operations in the interior of the United States until
the strength of those powers should be broken. In the meantime the
posts then occupied by their troops were to be maintained.

This development of the views of the administration furnished
additional motives to the American government for exerting all the
faculties of the nation to expel the British garrisons from New York
and Charleston. The efforts of Washington to produce these exertions
were earnest and unremitting, but not successful. The State
Legislatures declared the inability of their constituents to pay taxes.
Instead of filling the Continental treasury some were devising means to
draw money from it, and some of those which passed bills imposing heavy
taxes directed that the demands of the State should be first satisfied,
and that the residue only should be paid to the Continental receiver.
By the unwearied attention and judicious arrangements of Robert Morris,
the minister of finance, the expenses of the nation had been greatly
reduced. The bank established in Philadelphia, and his own high
character, had enabled him to support in some degree a system of
credit, the advantages of which were incalculably great. He had,
through the Chevalier de la Luzerne, obtained permission from the King
of France to draw for half a million of livres monthly, until 6,000,000
should be received. To prevent the diversion of any part of this sum
from the most essential objects, he had concealed the negotiation even
from Congress, and had communicated it only to Washington; yet after
receiving the first installment it was discovered that Dr. Franklin had
anticipated the residue of the loan and had appropriated it to the
purposes of the United States. At the commencement of the year 1782 not
a dollar remained in the treasury, and although Congress had required
the payment of 2,000,000 on the 1st of April not a cent had been
received on the 23d of that month, and so late as the 1st of June
(1782) not more than $20,000 had reached the treasury. Yet to Robert
Morris every eye was turned, to him the empty hand of every public
creditor was stretched for, and against him, instead of the State
governments, the complaints and imprecations of every unsatisfied
claimant were directed. In July (1782), when the second quarter annual
payment of taxes ought to have been received, Morris was informed by
some of his agents, that the collection of the revenue had been
postponed in some of the States, in consequence of which the month of
December would arrive before any money could come into the hands of the
Continental receivers. In a letter communicating this unpleasant
intelligence to Washington, he added: "With such gloomy prospects as
this letter affords I am tied here to be baited by continual clamorous
demands; and for the forfeiture of all that is valuable in life, and
which I hoped at this moment to enjoy, I am to be paid by invective.
Scarce a day passes in which I am not tempted to give back into the
hands of Congress the power they have delegated, and to lay down a
burden which presses me to the earth. Nothing prevents me but a
knowledge of the difficulties I am obliged to struggle under. What may
be the success of my efforts God only knows, but to leave my post at
present would, I know, be ruinous. This candid state of my situation
and feelings I give to your bosom, because you, who have already felt
and suffered so much, will be able to sympathize with me."

Fortunately for the United States the temper of the British nation on
the subject of continuing the war did not accord with that of its
Sovereign. That war, into which the people had entered with at least as
much eagerness as the minister, had become almost universally
unpopular. Motions against the measures of administration respecting
America were repeated by the opposition, and, on every experiment, the
strength of the minority increased. At length, on the 27th of February
(1782), General Conway moved in the House of Commons, "that it is the
opinion of this house that a further prosecution of offensive war
against America would, under present circumstances, be the means of
weakening the efforts of this country against her European enemies, and
tend to increase the mutual enmity so fatal to the interests both of
Great Britain and America." The whole force of administration was
exerted to get rid of this resolution, but was exerted in vain, and it
was carried. An address to the King, in the words of the resolution,
was immediately voted, and was presented by the whole house. The answer
of the Crown being deemed inexplicit it was, on the 4th of March
(1782), resolved "that the house will consider as enemies to his
Majesty and the country, all those who should advise or attempt a
further prosecution of offensive war on the continent of North

These votes were soon followed by a change of ministers and by
instructions to the officers commanding the forces in America, which
conformed to them.

While Washington was employed in addressing circular letters to the
State governments, suggesting all those motives which might stimulate
them to exertions better proportioned to the exigency, English papers,
containing the debates in Parliament on the various propositions
respecting America, reached the United States. Alarmed at the
impression these debates might make, he introduced the opinions it was
deemed prudent to inculcate respecting them into the letters he was
then about to transmit to the Governors of the several States. "I have
perused these debates," he said, "with great attention and care, with a
view, if possible, to penetrate their real design, and upon the most
mature deliberation I can bestow I am obliged to declare it as my
candid opinion that the measure, in all its views, so far as it
respects America, is merely delusory, having no serious intention to
admit our independence upon its true principles, but is calculated to
produce a change of ministers to quiet the minds of their own people
and reconcile them to a continuance of the war, while it is meant to
amuse this country with a false idea of peace, to draw us from our
connection with France, and to lull us into a state of security and
inactivity; which taking place, the ministry will be left to prosecute
the war in other parts of the world with greater vigor and effect. Your
Excellency will permit me on this occasion to observe that, even if the
nation and Parliament are really in earnest to obtain peace with
America, it will undoubtedly be wisdom in us to meet them with great
caution and circumspection, and by all means to keep our arms firm in
our hands, and instead of relaxing one iota in our exertions, rather to
spring forward with redoubled vigor, that we may take the advantage of
every favorable opportunity until our wishes are fully obtained. No
nation yet suffered in treaty by preparing (even in the moment of
negotiation) most vigorously for the field.

"The industry which the enemy is using to propagate their pacific
reports appears to me a circumstance very suspicious, and the eagerness
with which the people, as I am informed, are catching at them, is, in
my opinion, equally dangerous."

While Washington was still residing at Philadelphia, in conference with
the committees of Congress, a spirited naval action took place near the
capes of the Delaware, which must have afforded him much gratification.

The Delaware bay was, at this period, says Peterson, [1] infested with
small cruisers of the enemy, which not only captured the river craft,
but molested the neighboring shores. To repress these marauders, the
State of Pennsylvania determined to fit out a vessel or two at its own
expense, and with this view a small merchant ship, called the Hyder
All, then lying outward-bound with a cargo of flour, was purchased. It
took but a few days to discharge her freight, to pierce her for sixteen
guns, and to provide her with an armament. Volunteers flocked to offer
themselves for her crew. The command was given to Barney, and, at the
head of a convoy of outward-bound merchantmen, he stood down the bay,
and anchored, on the 8th of April (1782), in the roads off Cape May,
where he awaited a proper wind for the traders to go to sea. Suddenly
two ships and a brig, one of the former a frigate, were seen rounding
the cape, obviously with the intention of attacking him, on which he
signaled the convoy to stand up the bay, the wind being at the
southward, himself covering their rear, and the enemy in hot pursuit.

In order to head off the fugitives, the frigate took one channel and
her consorts the other, the ship and brig choosing that which the Hyder
Ali had selected. The brig, being a very fast vessel, soon overhauled
Barney, but, contenting herself with giving him a broadside as she
passed, pressed on in pursuit of the convoy. The Hyder Ali declined to
return this fire, holding herself in reserve for the ship, a
sloop-of-war mounting twenty guns, which was now seen rapidly
approaching. When the Englishman drew near, Barney suddenly luffed,
threw in his broadside, and immediately righting his helm, kept away
again. This staggered the enemy, who, being so much the superior and
having a frigate within sustaining distance, had expected the Hyder Ali
to surrender. The two vessels were now within pistol shot of each
other, and the forward guns of the British were just beginning to bear,
when Barney, in a loud voice, ordered his quartermaster "to port his
helm." The command was distinctly heard on board the enemy, as indeed
Barney had intended it should be, and the Englishman immediately
prepared to maneuver his ship accordingly. But the quartermaster of the
Hyder Ali had, prior to this, received his instructions, and, instead
of obeying Barney's pretended order, whirled his wheel in the contrary
direction, luffing the American ship athwart the hawse of her
antagonist. The jib-boom of the enemy, in consequence of this, caught
in the forerigging of the Hyder Ali, giving the latter the raking
position which Barney had desired.

Not a cheer rose from the American vessel, even at this welcome
spectacle, for the men knew that victory against such odds was still
uncertain, and they thought as yet only of securing it. Nor did the
British, at a sight so dispiriting to them, yield in despair. On the
contrary, both crews rushed to their guns, and, for half an hour, the
combat was waged on either side with desperate fury. The two vessels
were soon enveloped in smoke. The explosions of the artillery were like
continuous claps of thunder. In twenty-six minutes not less than twenty
broadsides were discharged. Nor was the struggle confined to the
batteries. Riflemen, posted in the tops of the Hyder Ali, picked off
one by one the crew of the enemy, until his decks ran slippery with
blood and 56 out of his crew of 140 had fallen. All this while Barney
stood on the quarter-deck of his ship, a mark for the enemy's
sharpshooters, until they were driven from their stations by the
superior aim of the Americans. At length, finding further resistance
hopeless, the Englishman struck his colors. Huzza on huzza now rose
from the deck of the victor. Barney, on taking possession, discovered
that the vessel he had captured was the General Monk, and that her
weight of metal was nearly twice his own. Notwithstanding the presence
of the frigate, the young hero succeeded in bringing off his prize in
safety and in a few hours had moored her by the Hyder Ali's side,
opposite Philadelphia, with the dead of both ships still on their
decks. In this action Barney lost but 4 killed and 11 wounded. For the
victory, conceded to be the most brilliant of the latter years of the
war, Barney was rewarded by the State of Pennsylvania with a
gold-hilted sword. In consequence of the capture of the General Monk,
the Delaware ceased to be infested with the enemy.

About the middle of April (1782), Washington left Philadelphia, where
he had remained since November (1781), and joined the army, his
headquarters being at Newburg. He was directly informed of a very
shameful proceeding on the part of some refugees from New York, and
felt compelled to give the matter his serious attention. The
circumstances were these: Captain Huddy, who commanded a body of troops
in Monmouth county, New Jersey, was attacked by a party of refugees,
was made prisoner, and closely confined in New York. A few days
afterward they led him out and hanged him, with a label on his breast
declaring that he was put to death in retaliation for some of their
number, who, they said, had suffered a similar fate. Taking up the
matter promptly, Washington submitted it to his officers, laid it
before Congress, and wrote to Clinton demanding that Captain Lippencot,
the perpetrator of the horrid deed, should be given up. The demand not
being complied with, Washington, in accordance with the opinion of the
council of officers, determined upon retaliation. A British officer, of
equal rank with Captain Huddy, was chosen by lot. Captain Asgill, a
young man just nineteen years old, and the only son of his parents, was
the one upon whom the lot fell. The whole affair was in suspense for a
number of months. Both Clinton and Carleton, his successor, reprobated
the act of Lippencot with great severity, yet he was not given up, it
being considered by a court-martial that he had only obeyed the orders
of the Board of Associated Loyalists in New York. Great interest was
made to save Asgill's life; his mother begged the interference of the
Count de Vergennes, who wrote to Washington in her behalf. Early in
November Washington performed the grateful task of setting Captain
Asgill at liberty.

Meantime the army, by whose toils and sufferings the country had been
carried through the perils of the Revolution, remained unpaid,
apparently disregarded by Congress and by the people whom they had
delivered from oppression. It seemed probable that they would speedily
be disbanded, without any adequate provision being made by Congress for
the compensation which was due to them, and which had been solemnly
promised by repeated acts of legislation. They were very naturally
discontented. Their complaints and murmurs began to be ominous of very
serious consequences. They even began to question the efficiency of the
form of government, which appeared to be unfitted for meeting the first
necessities of the country--the maintenance and pay of its military
force. They began to consider the propriety of establishing a more
energetic form of government, while they still had their arms in their
hands. Colonel Nicola, an able and experienced officer, who stood high
in Washington's estimation, and had frequently been made the medium of
communication between him and the officers, was chosen as the organ for
making known their sentiments to him on the present occasion. In a
letter carefully written, after commenting upon the gloomy state of
public affairs, the disordered finances, and other embarrassments
occasioned by the war, all caused by defective political organization,
he proceeded to say: "This must have shown to all, and to military men
in particular, the weakness of republics, and the exertions the army
have been able to make by being under a proper head. Therefore, I
little doubt that, when the benefits of a mixed government are pointed
out and duly considered, such will be readily adopted. In this case it
will, I believe, be uncontroverted that the same abilities which have
led us through difficulties, apparently insurmountable by human power,
to victory and glory, those qualities that have merited and obtained
the universal esteem and veneration of an army, would be most likely to
conduct and direct us in the smoother paths of peace. Some people have
so connected the ideas of tyranny and monarchy as to find it very
difficult to separate them. It may, therefore, be requisite to give the
head of such a constitution as I propose some title apparently more
moderate; but, if all things were once adjusted, I believe strong
arguments might be produced for admitting the name of King, which I
conceive would be attended with some material advantages."

The answer of Washington to this communication was in the following

"NEWBURG, 22d _May_, 1782.

"SIR.--With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I have read
with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be
assured, sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more
painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas
existing in the army as you have expressed, and I must view with
abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present, the
communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further
agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.

"I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have
given encouragement to an address, which to me seems big with the
greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in
the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your
schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own
feelings, I must add, that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see
ample justice done to the army than I do; and as far as my powers and
influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed, to
the utmost of my abilities, to effect it, should there be any occasion.
Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country,
concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these
thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself or any
one else, a sentiment of the like nature.

"I am, sir, &c.,


* * * * *

This was the language of Washington at a time when the army was
entirely devoted to him, when his popularity was equal to that of
Cromwell or Napoleon in their palmiest days. Certain officers of the
army were ready, at a word, to make him king; and the acknowledged
inefficiency of the existing government would have furnished a
plausible reason for the act. But Washington was not formed of the
material that kings are made of. Personal ambition he despised. To be,
not to seem great and good was his aim. To serve, and not to rule his
country was his object. He was too true a patriot to assume the power
and title of a monarch.

Early in May (1782) Sir Guy Carleton, who had succeeded Sir Henry
Clinton in the command of all the British forces in the United States,
arrived at New York. Having been also appointed, in conjunction with
Admiral Digby, a commissioner to negotiate a peace, he lost no time in
conveying to Washington copies of the votes of the British Parliament,
and of a bill which had been introduced on the part of the
administration, authorizing the King to conclude a peace or truce with
those who were still denominated "the revolted Colonies of North
America." These papers, he said, would manifest the dispositions
prevailing with the government and people of England toward those of
America, and, if the like pacific temper should prevail in this
country, both inclination and duty would lead him to meet it with the
most zealous concurrence. He had addressed to Congress, he said, a
letter containing the same communications, and he solicited a passport
for the person who should convey it.

At this time (1782) the bill enabling the British monarch to conclude a
peace or truce with America had not become a law, nor was any assurance
given that the present commissioners were empowered to offer other
terms than those which had been formerly rejected. General Carleton,
therefore, could not hope that negotiations would commence on such a
basis, nor be disappointed at the refusal of the passports he requested
by Congress, to whom the application was, of course, referred by
Washington. The letter may have been written for the general purpose of
conciliation, but the situation of the United States justified a
suspicion of different motives, and prudence required that their
conduct should be influenced by that suspicion. The repugnance of the
King to a dismemberment of the empire was understood, and it was
thought probable that the sentiments expressed in the House of Commons
might be attributable rather to a desire of changing ministers than to
any fixed determination to relinquish the design of reannexing America
to the Crown.

Under these impressions, the overtures now made were considered as
opiates administered to lull the spirit of vigilance, which Washington
and his friends in Congress labored to keep up, into a state of fatal
repose, and to prevent those measures of security which it might yet be
necessary to adopt.

This jealousy was nourished by all the intelligence received from
Europe. The utmost address of the British cabinet had been employed to
detach the belligerents from each other. The mediation of Russia had
been accepted to procure a separate peace with Holland; propositions
had been submitted both to France and Spain, tending to an
accommodation of differences with each of those powers singly, and
inquiries had been made of Mr. Adams, the American minister at the
Hague in place of Mr. Laurens, which seemed to contemplate the same
object with regard to the United States. These political maneuvers
furnished additional motives for doubting the sincerity of the English
cabinet. Whatever views might actuate the court of St. James on this
subject, the resolution of the American government to make no separate
treaty was unalterable.

But the public votes which have been stated, and probably his private
instructions, restrained Sir Guy Carleton from offensive war, and the
state of the American army disabled Washington from making any attempt
on the posts in possession of the British. The campaign of 1782
consequently passed away without furnishing any military operations of
moment between the armies under the immediate direction of the
respective Commanders-in-Chief.

Early in August (1782) a letter was received by Washington from Sir Guy
Carleton and Admiral Digby, which, among other communications
manifesting a pacific disposition on the part of England, contained the
information that Mr. Grenville was at Paris, invested with full powers
to treat with all the parties at war, that negotiations for a general
peace were already commenced and that his Majesty had commanded his
minister to direct Mr. Grenville that the independence of the thirteen
provinces should be proposed by him in the first instance instead of
being made a condition of a general treaty. But that this proposition
would be made in the confidence that the Loyalists would be restored to
their possessions, or a full compensation made them for whatever
confiscations might have taken place.

This letter was, not long afterward, followed by one from Sir Guy
Carleton, declaring that he could discern no further object of contest,
and that he disapproved of all further hostilities by sea or land,
which could only multiply the miseries of individuals, without a
possible advantage to either nation. In pursuance of this opinion, he
had, soon after his arrival in New York, restrained the practice of
detaching parties of Indians against the frontiers of the United States
and had recalled those which were previously engaged in those bloody

These communications appear to have alarmed the jealousy of the
minister of France. To quiet his fears Congress renewed the resolution
"to enter into no discussion of any overtures for pacification, but in
confidence and in concert with his most Christian Majesty," and again
recommended to the several States to adopt such measures as would most
effectually guard against all intercourse with any subjects of the
British Crown during the war.

In South Carolina the American army under General Greene maintained its
position in front of Jacksonborough, and that of the British under
General Leslie was confined to Charleston and its immediate vicinity.
Both were inactive for a long period, and during this time Greene's
army suffered so much for want of provisions that he was under the
necessity of authorizing the seizure of them by the odious measure of

Privations, which had been borne without a murmur under the excitement
of active military operations, produced great irritation during the
leisure which prevailed after the enemy had abandoned the open field,
and, in the Pennsylvania line, which was composed chiefly of
foreigners, the discontent was aggravated to such a point as to produce
a treasonable intercourse with the enemy, in which a plot is understood
to have been laid for seizing General Greene and delivering him to a
detachment of British troops which would move out of Charleston for the
purpose of favoring the execution of the design. It was discovered when
it is supposed to have been on the point of execution, and a Sergeant
Gornell, believed to be the chief of the conspiracy, was condemned to
death by a court-martial, and executed on the 22d of April. Some
others, among whom were two domestics in the general's family, were
brought before the court on suspicion of being concerned in the plot,
but the testimony was not sufficient to convict them, and twelve
deserted the night after it was discovered. There is no reason to
believe that the actual guilt of this transaction extended further.

Charleston was held until the 14th of December. Previous to its
evacuation General Leslie had proposed a cessation of hostilities, and
that his troops might be supplied with fresh provisions, in exchange
for articles of the last necessity in the American camp. The policy of
government being adverse to this proposition, General Greene was under
the necessity of refusing his assent to it, and the British general
continued to supply his wants by force. This produced several
skirmishes with foraging parties, to one of which importance was given
by the untimely death of the intrepid Laurens, whose loss was
universally lamented.

This gallant and accomplished young gentleman had entered into the
military family of Washington at an early period of the war and had
always shared a large portion of his esteem. Brave to excess, he sought
every occasion to render service to his country and to acquire that
military fame which he pursued with the ardor of a young soldier, whose
courage seems to have partaken largely of that romantic spirit which
youth and enthusiasm produce in a fearless mind. No small addition to
the regrets occasioned by his loss was derived from the reflection that
he fell unnecessarily, in an unimportant skirmish, in the last moments
of the war, when his rash exposure to the danger which proved fatal to
him could no longer be useful to his country.

From the arrival of Sir Guy Carleton at New York, the conduct of the
British armies on the American continent was regulated by the spirit
then recently displayed in the House of Commons, and all the sentiments
expressed by their general were pacific and conciliatory. But to these
flattering appearances it was dangerous to yield implicit confidence.
With a change of men a change of measures might also take place, and,
in addition to the ordinary suggestions of prudence, the military
events in the West Indies were calculated to keep alive the attention,
and to continue the anxieties of the United States.

After the surrender of Lord Cornwallis the arms of France and Spain in
the American seas had been attended with such signal success that the
hope of annihilating the power of Great Britain in the West Indies was
not too extravagant to be indulged. Immense preparations had been made
for the invasion of Jamaica, and, early in April, Admiral Count de
Grasse sailed from Martinique with a powerful fleet, having on board
the land forces and artillery which were to be employed in the
operations against that island. His intention was to form a junction
with the Spanish Admiral Don Solano, who lay at Hispaniola; after which
the combined fleet, whose superiority promised to render it
irresistible, was to proceed on the important enterprise which had been
concerted. On his way to Hispaniola de Grasse was overtaken by Rodney,
and brought to an engagement in which he was totally defeated and made
a prisoner. This decisive victory disconcerted the plans of the
combined powers and gave security to the British islands. In the United
States it was feared that this alteration in the aspect of affairs
might influence the councils of the English cabinet on the question of
peace, and these apprehensions increased the uneasiness with which all
intelligent men contemplated the state of the American finances.

It was then in contemplation to reduce the army by which many of the
officers would be discharged. While the general declared, in a
confidential letter to the Secretary of War, his conviction of the
alacrity with which they would retire into private life, could they be
placed in a situation as eligible as they had left to enter into the
service, he added--"Yet I cannot help fearing the result of the
measure, when I see such a number of men goaded by a thousand stings of
reflection on, the past, and of anticipation on the future, about to be
turned on the world, soured by penury, and what they call the
ingratitude of the public; involved in debts, without one farthing of
money to carry them home, after having spent the flower of their days,
and many of them their patrimonies, in establishing the freedom and
independence of their country; and having suffered everything which
human nature is capable of enduring on this side of death. I repeat it,
when I reflect on these irritating circumstances, unattended by one
thing to soothe their feelings or brighten the gloomy prospect, I
cannot avoid apprehending that a train of evils will follow of a very
serious and distressing nature.

"I wish not to heighten the shades of the picture so far as the real
life would justify me in doing, or I would give anecdotes of patriotism
and distress which have scarcely ever been paralleled, never surpassed,
in the history of mankind. But you may rely upon it, the patience and
long-sufferance of this army are almost exhausted, and there never was
so great a spirit of discontent as at this instant. While in the field
I think it may be kept from breaking out into acts of outrage, but when
we retire into winter quarters (unless the storm be previously
dissipated) I cannot be at ease respecting the consequences. It is high
time for a peace."

"To judge rightly," says Marshall, "of the motives which produced this
uneasy temper in the army it will be necessary to recollect that the
resolution of October, 1780, granting half-pay for life to the officers
stood on the mere faith of a government possessing no funds enabling it
to perform its engagements. From requisitions alone, to be made on
sovereign States, the supplies were to be drawn which should satisfy
these meritorious public creditors, and the ill success attending these
requisitions while the dangers of war were still impending, furnished
melancholy presages of their unproductiveness in time of peace. In
addition to this reflection, of itself sufficient to disturb the
tranquility which the passage of the resolution had produced, were
other considerations of decisive influence. The dispositions manifested
by Congress itself were so unfriendly to the half-pay establishment as
to extinguish the hope that any funds the government might acquire
would be applied to that object. Since the passage of the resolution
the articles of confederation, which required the concurrence of nine
States to any act appropriating public money, had been adopted, and
nine States had never been in favor of the measure. Should the
requisitions of Congress therefore be respected, or should permanent
funds be granted by the States, the prevailing sentiment of the nation
was too hostile to the compensation which had been stipulated to leave
a probability that it would be substantially made. This was not merely
the sentiment of the individuals then administering the government
which might change with a change of men; it was known to be the sense
of the States they represented, and consequently the hope could not be
indulged that, on this subject, a future Congress would be more just or
would think more liberally. As, therefore, the establishment of that
independence for which they had fought and suffered appeared to become
more certain as the end of their toils approached--the officers became
more attentive to their own situation, and the inquietude of the army
increased with the progress of the negotiation."

In October (1782) the French troops marched to Boston, in order to
embark for the West Indies, and the Americans retired into winter
quarters. The apparent indisposition of the British general to act
offensively, the pacific temper avowed by the cabinet of London, and
the strength of the country in which the American troops were cantoned,
gave ample assurance that no military operations would be undertaken
during the winter which would require the continuance of Washington in
camp. But the irritable temper of the army furnished cause for serious
apprehension, and he determined to forego every gratification to be
derived from a suspension of his toils, in order to watch the progress
of its discontent.

The officers who had wasted their fortunes and the prime of their lives
in unrewarded service, fearing, with reason, that Congress possessed
neither the power nor the inclination to comply with its engagements to
the army, could not look with unconcern at the prospect which was
opening to them. In December, soon after going into winter quarters,
they presented a petition to Congress respecting the money actually due
to them, and proposing a commutation of the half-pay stipulated by the
resolutions of October, 1780, for a sum in gross, which, they flattered
themselves, would encounter fewer prejudices than the half-pay
establishment. Some security that the engagements of the government
would be complied with was also requested. A committee of officers was
deputed to solicit the attention of Congress to this memorial, and to
attend its progress through the house.

Among the most distinguished members of the Federal government were
persons sincerely disposed to do ample justice to the public creditors
generally, and to that class of them particularly whose claims were
founded in military service. But many viewed the army with jealous
eyes, acknowledged its merit with unwillingness, and betrayed,
involuntarily, their repugnance to a faithful observance of the public
engagements. With this question another of equal importance was
connected, on which Congress was divided almost in the same manner. One
party was attached to a State, the other to a Continental system. The
latter labored to fund the public debts on solid Continental security,
while the former opposed their whole weight to measures calculated to
effect that object.

In consequence of these divisions on points of the deepest interest,
the business of the army advanced slowly, and the important question
respecting the commutation of their half-pay remained undecided (March,
1783), when intelligence was received of the signature of the
preliminary and eventual articles of peace between the United States
and Great Britain.

The officers, soured by their past sufferings, their present wants, and
their gloomy prospects--exasperated by the neglect which they
experienced and the injustice which they apprehended, manifested an
irritable and uneasy temper, which required only a slight impulse to
give it activity. To render this temper the more dangerous, an opinion
had been insinuated that the Commander-in-Chief was restrained, by
extreme delicacy, from supporting their interests with that zeal which
his feelings and knowledge of their situation had inspired. Early in
March a letter was received from their committee in Philadelphia,
showing that the objects they solicited had not been obtained. On the
10th of that month (1783) an anonymous paper was circulated, requiring
a meeting of the general and field officers at the public building on
the succeeding day at 11 in the morning, and announcing the expectation
that an officer from each company, and a delegate from the medical
staff would attend. The object of the meeting was avowed to be, "to
consider the late letter from their representatives in Philadelphia,
and what measures (if any) should be adopted to obtain that redress of
grievances which they seemed to have solicited in vain."

On the same day an address to the army was privately circulated, which
was admirably well calculated to work on the passions of the moment,
and to lead to the most desperate resolutions. This was the first of
the celebrated "Newburg Addresses," since acknowledged to have been
written by Gen. John Armstrong, at the request of several of the
officers in camp. The following were the concluding passages of the
first address:

"After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out
is at length brought within our reach. Yes, my friends, that suffering
courage of yours was active once. It has conducted the United States of
America through a doubtful and a bloody war. It has placed her in the
chair of independency; and peace returns again to bless--whom? A
country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward
your services? A country courting your return to private life with
tears of gratitude and smiles of admiration--longing to divide with you
that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches
which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case? Or is it rather a
country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and
insults your distresses? Have you not more than once suggested your
wishes and made known your wants to Congress? Wants and wishes which
gratitude and policy would have anticipated rather than evaded; and
have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorials,
begged from their justice what you could no longer expect from their
favor? How have you been answered? Let the letter which you are called
to consider tomorrow reply.

"If this, then, be your treatment while the swords you wear are
necessary for the defense of America, what have you to expect from
peace, when your voice shall sink and your strength dissipate by
division? When those very swords, the instruments and companions of
your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of
military distinction left but your wants, infirmities, and scars? Can
you then consent to be the only sufferers by this Revolution, and,
retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and
contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency,
and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity which has
hitherto been spent in honor? If you can, go; and carry with you the
jest of Tories and the scorn of Whigs, the ridicule, and, what is
worse, the pity of the world. Go--starve and be forgotten. But if your
spirit should revolt at this, if you have sense enough to discover, and
spirit enough to oppose, tyranny under whatever garb it may assume,
whether it be the plain coat of republicanism or the splendid robe of
royalty; if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a
cause, between men and principles, awake; attend to your situation and
redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, every future effort
is in vain, and your threats then will be as empty as your entreaties

"I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion upon what
you can bear and what you will suffer. If your determination be in any
proportion to your wrongs, carry your appeal from the justice to the
fears of the government. Change the milk-and-water style of your last
memorial. Assume a bolder tone, decent, but lively; spirited and
determined; and suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and
longer forbearance. Let two or three men who can feel as well as write
be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance; for I would no longer
give it the suing, soft, unsuccessful epithet of memorial. Let it be
represented in language that will neither dishonor you by its rudeness
nor betray you by its fears, what has been promised by Congress and
what has been performed; how long and how patiently you have suffered;
how little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied.
Tell them that, though you were the first, and would wish to be the
last to encounter danger; though despair itself can never drive you
into dishonor it may drive you from the field; that the wound often
irritated and never healed may at length become incurable, and that the
slightest mark of indignity from Congress now must operate like the
grave, and part you forever; that in any political event, the army has
its alternative--if peace, that nothing shall separate you from your
arms but death; if war, that, courting the auspices and inviting the
directions of your illustrious leader, you will retire to some
unsettled country, smile in your turn, and 'mock when their fear cometh
on.' But let it represent also that should they comply with the request
of your late memorial, it would make you more happy and them more
respectable. That while war should continue you would follow their
standard into the field, and when it came to an end, you would withdraw
into the shade of private life, and give the world another subject of
wonder and applause--an army victorious over its enemies, victorious
over itself."

Persuaded as the officers in general were of the indisposition of
government to remunerate their services, this eloquent and impassioned
address, dictated by genius and by feeling, found in almost every bosom
a kindred though latent sentiment prepared to receive its impression.
Quick as the train to which a torch is applied, the passions caught its
flame and nothing seemed to be required but the assemblage proposed for
the succeeding day to communicate the conflagration to the combustible
mass and to produce an explosion ruinous to the army and to the nation.

Accustomed as Washington had been to emergencies of great delicacy and
difficulty, yet none had occurred which called more pressingly than the
present for the utmost exertion of all his powers. He knew well that it
was much easier to avoid intemperate measures than to recede from them
after they have been adopted. He therefore considered it as a matter of
the last importance to prevent the meeting of the officers on the
succeeding day, as proposed in the anonymous summons. The sensibilities
of the army were too high to admit of this being forbidden by
authority, as a violation of discipline; but the end was answered in
another way and without irritation. Washington, in general orders,
noticed the anonymous summons, as a disorderly proceeding, not to be
countenanced; and the more effectually to divert the officers from
paying any attention to it, he requested them to meet for the same
nominal purpose, but on a day four days subsequent to the one proposed
by the anonymous writer. On the next day (March 12th), the second
"Newburg Address" appeared, affecting to consider Washington as
approving the first, and only changing the day of meeting. But this
artifice was defeated. The intervening period was improved in preparing
the officers for the adoption of moderate measures. Washington sent for
one officer after another, and enlarged in private on the fatal
consequences, and particularly the loss of character, which would
result from the adoption of intemperate resolutions. His whole personal
influence was exerted to calm the prevailing agitation. When the
officers assembled (March 15, 1783), General Gates was called to the
chair. Washington rose and apologized for being present, which had not
been his original intention; but the circulation of anonymous addresses
had imposed on him the duty of expressing his opinion of their
tendency. He had committed it to writing, and, with the indulgence of
his brother officers, he would take the liberty of reading it to them;
and then proceeded as follows:

"GENTLEMEN.--By an anonymous summons an attempt has been made to
convene you together. How inconsistent with the rules of propriety, how
unmilitary, and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the
good sense of the army decide.

"In the moment of this summons, another anonymous production was sent
into circulation, addressed more to the feelings and passions than to
the reason and judgment of the army. The author of the piece is
entitled to much credit for the goodness of his pen, and I could wish
he had as much credit for the rectitude of his heart; for, as men see
through different optics, and are induced, by the reflecting faculties
of the mind, to use different means to attain the same end, the author
of the address should have had more charity than to mark for suspicion
the man who should recommend moderation and longer forbearance; or, in
other words, who should not think as he thinks, and act as he advises.
But he had another plan in view, in which candor and liberality of
sentiment, regard to justice, and love of country have no part; and he
was right to insinuate the darkest suspicion to effect the blackest
design. That the address is drawn with great art and is designed to
answer the most insidious purposes; that it is calculated to impress
the mind with an idea of premeditated injustice in the sovereign power
of the United States, and rouse all those resentments which must
unavoidably flow from such a belief that the secret mover of this
scheme, whoever he may be, intended to take advantage of the passions,
while they were warmed by the recollection of past distresses, without
giving time for cool, deliberate thinking, and that composure of mind
which is so necessary to give dignity and stability to measures, is
rendered too obvious, by the mode of conducting the business, to need
other proof than a reference to the proceeding. Thus much, gentlemen, I
have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to show upon what
principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed
to have been held on Tuesday last, and not because I wanted a
disposition to give you every opportunity, consistent with your own
honor and the dignity of the army, to make known your grievances. If my
conduct heretofore has not evinced to you that I have been a faithful
friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally
unavailing and improper. But as I was among the first who embarked in
the cause of our common country; as I have never left your side one
moment, but when called from you on public duty; as I have been the
constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the
last to feel and acknowledge your merits; as I have ever considered my
own military reputation as inseparably connected with that of the army;
as my heart has ever expanded with joy when I have heard its praises,
and my indignation has arisen when the mouth of detraction has been
opened against it, it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of
the war, that I am indifferent to its interests. But how are they to be
promoted? The way is plain, says the anonymous addresser. If war
continues, remove into the unsettled country; there establish
yourselves and leave an ungrateful country to defend itself. But who
are they to defend? Our wives, our children, our farms and other
property, which we leave behind us? Or, in this state of hostile
separation, are we to take the two first (the latter cannot be
removed), to perish in a wilderness with hunger, cold, and nakedness?
If peace takes place, never sheathe your swords, says he, until you
have obtained full and ample justice. This dreadful alternative of
either deserting our country in the extremist hour of her distress, or
turning our arms against it, which is the apparent object, unless
Congress can be compelled into instant compliance, has something so
shocking in it that humanity revolts at the idea. My God! What can this
writer have in view, by recommending such measures? Can he be a friend
to the army? Can he be a friend to this country? Rather is he not an
insidious foe? some emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin
of both, by sowing the seeds of discord and separation between the
civil and military powers of the continent? And what a compliment does
he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures, in either
alternative, impracticable in their nature!

"But here, gentlemen, I will drop the curtain, because it would be as
imprudent in me to assign my reasons for this opinion as it would be
insulting to your conception to suppose you stood in need of them. A
moment's reflection will convince every dispassionate mind of the
physical impossibility of carrying either proposal into execution.
There might, gentlemen, be an Impropriety in my taking notice, in this
address to you, of an anonymous production, but the manner in which
that performance has been introduced to the army, the effect it was
intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply
justify my observations on the tendency of that writing. With respect
to the advice given by the author, to suspect the man who shall
recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance, I spurn it, as
every man who regards that liberty and reveres that justice for which
we contend, undoubtedly must; for, if men are to be precluded from
offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the most
serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of
mankind, reason is of no use to us. The freedom of speech may be taken
away, and, dumb and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.

"I cannot, in justice to my own belief and what I have great reason to
conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this address without
giving it as my decided opinion that that honorable body entertain
exalted sentiments of the services of the army, and from a full
conviction of its merits and sufferings will do it complete justice;
that their endeavors to discover and establish funds for this purpose
has been unwearied, and will not cease till they have succeeded, I have
not a doubt. But, like all other large bodies where there is a variety
of different interests to reconcile, their determinations are slow.
Why, then, should we distrust them, and, in consequence of that
distrust, adopt measures which may cast a shade over that glory which
has been so justly acquired, and tarnish the reputation of an army
which is celebrated through all Europe for its fortitude and
patriotism? And for what is this done? To bring the object we seek
nearer? No; most certainly, in my opinion, it will cast it at a greater
distance. For myself--and I take no merit in giving the assurance,
being induced to it from principles of gratitude, veracity, and
justice--a grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me,
a recollection of the cheerful assistance and prompt obedience I have
experienced from you under every vicissitude of fortune, and the
sincere affection I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to
command, will oblige me to declare in this public and solemn manner
that in the attainment of complete justice for all your toils and
dangers, and in the gratification of every wish, so far as may be done
consistently with the great duty I owe my country, and those powers we
are bound to respect, you may freely command my services to the utmost
extent of my abilities. While I give you these assurances, and pledge
myself in the most unequivocal manner to exert whatever ability I am
possessed of in your favor, let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your
part, not to take any measure, which, viewed in the calm light of
reason, will lessen the dignity and sully the glory you have hitherto
maintained. Let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your
country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of
Congress, that, previous to your dissolution as an army, they will
cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in the
resolutions which were published to you two days ago; and that they
will adopt the most effectual measures in their power to render ample
justice to you for your faithful and meritorious services. And let me
conjure you, in the name of our common country, as you value your own
sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard
the military and national character of America, to express your utmost
horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious
pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our country, and who wickedly
attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising
empire in blood.

"By thus determining and thus acting, you will pursue the plain and
direct road to the attainment of your wishes; you will defeat the
insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open
force to secret artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of
unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the
pressure of the most complicated sufferings; and you will, by the
dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when
speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind--'Had
this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of
perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.'"

After concluding this address, Washington read to the meeting a letter
from one of his frequent correspondents in Congress, the Hon. Joseph
Jones, pointing out the difficulties Congress had to contend with, but
expressing the opinion that the claims of the army would, at all
events, be paid. When he got through with the first paragraph of the
letter he made a short pause, took out his spectacles, and craved the
indulgence of the audience while he put them on, remarking, while he
was engaged in that operation, that "he had grown gray in their
service, and now found himself growing blind." The effect of such
remark from Washington, at such a moment, may be imagined. It brought
tears to the eyes of many a veteran in that illustrious assemblage.
When he had finished reading the letter he retired, leaving the
officers to deliberate and act as the crisis demanded.

On the present occasion, as on previous ones, Washington's appeal to
the officers was successful. The sentiments uttered in his address,
from a person whom the army had been accustomed to love, to revere, and
to obey--the solidity of whose judgment and the sincerity of whose zeal
for their interests were alike unquestioned--could not fail to be
irresistible. No person was hardy enough to oppose the advice he had
given, and the general impression was apparent. A resolution, moved by
General Knox and seconded by Brigadier-General Putnam, "assuring him
that the officers reciprocated his affectionate expressions with the
greatest sincerity of which the human heart is capable," was
unanimously voted. On the motion of General Putnam, a committee
consisting of General Knox, Colonel Brooks, and Captain Howard was then
appointed to prepare resolutions on the business before them, and to
report in half an hour. The report of the committee being brought in
and considered, resolutions were passed declaring that no circumstances
of distress should induce the officers to sully, by unworthy conduct,
the reputation acquired in their long and faithful service; that they
had undiminished confidence in the justice of Congress and of their
country; and that the Commander-in-Chief should be requested to write
to the President of Congress, earnestly entreating a speedy decision on
the late address forwarded by a committee of the army. In compliance
with the request of the officers, expressed in the above mentioned
resolution, and with the pledge which he had voluntarily given,
Washington forthwith addressed the following letter to the President of

"The result of the proceedings of the grand convention of the officers,
which I have the honor of enclosing to your Excellency for the
inspection of Congress, will, I flatter myself, be considered as the
last glorious proof of patriotism which could have been given by men
who aspired to the distinction of a patriot army, and will not only
confirm their claim to the justice but will increase their title to the
gratitude of their country. Having seen the proceedings on the part of
the army terminate with perfect unanimity and in a manner entirely
consonant to my wishes; being impressed with the liveliest sentiments
of affection for those who have so long, so patiently, and so
cheerfully suffered and fought under my immediate direction; having,
from motives of justice, duty, and gratitude, spontaneously offered
myself as an advocate for their rights, and, having been requested to
write to your Excellency, earnestly entreating the most speedy decision
of Congress upon the subjects of the late address from the army to that
honorable body, it now only remains for me to perform the task I have
assumed, and to intercede in their behalf, as I now do, that the
sovereign power will be pleased to verify the predictions I have
pronounced of, and the confidence the army have reposed in, the justice
of their country. And here I humbly conceive it is altogether
unnecessary (while I am pleading the cause of an army which have done
and suffered more than any other army ever did in the defense of the
rights and liberties of human nature) to expatiate on their claims to
the most ample compensation for their meritorious services, because
they are known perfectly to the whole world, and because (although the
topics are inexhaustible) enough has already been said on the subject.
To prove these assertions, to evince that my sentiments have ever been
uniform, and to show what my ideas of the rewards in question have
always been, I appeal to the archives of Congress, and call on those
sacred deposits to witness for me. And in order that my observations
and arguments in favor of a future adequate provision for the officers
of the army may be brought to remembrance again and considered in a
single point of view, without giving Congress the trouble of having
recourse to their files, I will beg leave to transmit herewith an
extract from a representation made by me to a committee of Congress, so
long ago as the 29th of January, 1778, and also the transcript of a
letter to the President of Congress, dated near Passaic Falls, October
11, 1780.

"That in the critical and perilous moment when the last-mentioned
communication was made there was the utmost danger a dissolution of the
army would have taken place unless measures similar to those
recommended had been adopted, will not admit a doubt. That the adoption
of the resolution granting half-pay for life has been attended with all
the happy consequences I had foretold, so far as respected the good of
the service, let the astonishing contrast between the state of the army
at this instant and at the former period determine. And that the
establishment of funds and security of the payment of all the just
demands of the army will be the most certain means of preserving the

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