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He was to leave St. Domingo on the 3d of August, with between twenty-five and thirty ships of the line, and a considerable body of land forces, and to steer immediately for the Chesapeake.
This changed the face of affairs, and called for a change in the game. All attempt upon New York was postponed; the whole of the French army, and as large a part of the Americans as could be spared, were to move to Virginia, and co-operate with the Count de Grasse for the redemption of the Southern States. Washington apprised the count by letter of this intention. He wrote also to Lafayette on the 15th of August: "By the time this reaches you, the Count de Grasse will either be in the Chesapeake, or may be looked for every moment. Under these circumstances, whether the enemy remain in full force, or whether they have only a detachment left, you will immediately take such a position as will best enable you to prevent their sudden retreat through North Carolina, which I presume they will attempt the instant they perceive so formidable an armament."
Should General Wayne, with the troops destined for South Carolina, still remain in the neighborhood of James River, and the enemy have made no detachment to the southward, the Marquis was to detain these troops until he heard again from Washington, and was to inform General Greene of the cause of their detention.
"You shall hear further from me," concludes the letter, as soon as I have concerted plans and formed dispositions for sending a reinforcement from hence. In the mean time, I have only to recommend a continuance of that prudence and good conduct which you have manifested through the whole of your campaign. You will be particularly careful to conceal the expected arrival of
CHANGE OF THE GAME.
the Count; because, if the enemy are not apprised of it, they will stay on board their transports in the bay, which will be the luckiest circumstance in the world."
Washington's "soul was now in arms." At length, after being baffled and disappointed so often by the incompetency of his means, and above all, thwarted by the enemy's naval potency, he had the possibility of coping with them both on land and sea. The contemplated expedition was likely to consummate his plans, and wind up the fortunes of the war, and he determined to lead it in person. He would take with him something more than two thousand of the American army; the rest, chiefly Northern troops, were to remain with General Heath, who was to hold command of West Point, and the other posts of the Hudson.
Perfect secrecy was maintained as to this change of plan. Preparations were still carried on, as if for an attack upon New York. An extensive encampment was marked out in the Jerseys, and ovens erected, and fuel provided for the baking of bread; as if a part of the besieging force was to be stationed there, thence to make a descent upon the enemy's garrison on Staten Island, in aid of the operations against the city. The American troops, themselves, were kept in ignorance of their destination. General Washington, observes one of the shrewdest of them, matures his great plans and designs under an impenetrable veil of secrecy, and while we repose the fullest confidence in our chief, our opinions (as to his intentions) must be founded only on doubtful conjecture.*
Previous to his decampment, Washington sent forward a
* See Thacher's Military Journal, p. 322.
party of pioneers to clear the roads towards King's Bridge, as if the posts recently reconnoitred were about to be attempted. On the 19th of August, his troops were paraded with their faces in that direction. When all were ready, however, they were ordered to face about, and were marched up along the Hudson River towards King's Ferry.
De Rochambeau, in like manner, broke up his encampment, and took the road by White Plains, North Castle, Pine's Bridge, and Crompond, toward the same point. All Westchester County was again alive with the tramp of troops, the gleam of arms, and the lumbering of artillery and baggage waggons along its roads.
On the 20th, Washington arrived at King's Ferry, and his troops began to cross the Hudson with their baggage, stores, and cannon, and encamp at Haverstraw. He himself crossed in the evening, and took up his quarters at Colonel Hay's, at the White House. Thence he wrote confidentially to Lafayette, on the 21st, now first apprising him of his being on the march with the expedition, and repeating his injunctions that the land and naval forces, already at the scene of action, should so combine their operations, that the English, on the arrival of the French fleet, might not be able to escape. He wrote also to the Count de Grasse, (presuming that the letter would find him in the Chesapeake,) urging him to send up all his frigates and transports to the Head of Elk, by the 8th of September, for the transportation of the combined army, which would be there by that time. He informed him also, that the Count de Barras had resolved to join him in the Chesapeake with his squadron. One is reminded of the tissue of movements planned from a distance, which ended in the capture of Burgoyne.
MOVE TOWARDS VIRGINIA.
On the 22d, the French troops arrived by their circuitous route, and began to cross to Stony Point with their artillery, baggage, and stores. The operation occupied between two and three days; during which time Washington took the Count de Rochambeau on a visit to West Point, to show him the citadel of the Highlands, an object of intense interest, in consequence of having been the scene of Arnold's treason.
The two armies having safely crossed the Hudson, commenced, on the 25th, their several lines of march toward the Jerseys; the Americans for Springfield on the Rahway, the French for Whippany towards Trenton. Both armies were still kept in the dark, as to the ultimate object of their movement. An intelligent observer, already quoted, who accompanied the army, writes: "Our situation reminds me of some theatrical exhibition, where the interest and expectations of the spectators are continually increasing, and where curiosity is wrought to the highest point. Our destination has been for some time matter of perplexing doubt and uncertainty; bets have run high on one side, that we were to occupy the ground marked out on the Jersey shore, to aid in the siege of New York; and on the other, that we are stealing a march on the enemy, and are actually destined to Virginia, in pursuit of the army under Cornwallis. A number of bateaux mounted on carriages have followed in our train; supposed for the purpose of conveying the troops over to Staten Island.” *
"We have now passed
The mystery was at length solved. all the enemy's posts," continues the foregoing writer, "and are pursuing our route, with increased rapidity, toward Philadelphia.
* Thacher's Military Journal, p. 323.
Waggons have been prepared to carry the soldiers' packs, that they may press forward with greater facility. Our destination can no longer be a secret. Cornwallis is unquestionably the object of our present expedition. His Excellency, General Washington, having succeeded in a masterly piece of generalship, has now the satisfaction of leaving his adversary to ruminate on his own mortifying situation, and to anticipate the perilous fate which awaits his friend, Lord Cornwallis, in a different quarter." *
Washington had in fact reached the Delaware with his troops, before Sir Henry Clinton was aware of their destination. was too late to oppose their march, even had his forces been adequate. As a kind of counterplot, therefore, and in the hope of distracting the attention of the American commander, and drawing off a part of his troops, he hurried off an expedition to the eastward, to insult the State of Connecticut, and attack her seaport of New London.
The command of this expedition, which was to be one of ravage and destruction, was given to Arnold, as if it was necessary to complete the measure of his infamy, that he should carry fire and sword into his native State, and desecrate the very cradle of his infancy.
On the 6th of September he appeared off the harbor of New
* Washington several years afterwards, speaking of this important march in a letter to Noah Webster, writes: "That much trouble was taken, and finesse used, to misguide and bewilder Sir Henry Clinton in regard to the real object, by fictitious communications, as well as by making a deceptive provision of ovens, forage and boats in his neighborhood, is certain. Nor were less pains taken to deceive our own army, for I had always conceived where the imposition does not completely take place at home, it would never sufficiently succeed abroad."-Sparks, ix. 404.