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GATES ON THE ALERT FOR A COMMAND-SCHUYLER UNDERMINED IN CONGRESS -PUT ON HIS GUARD-COURTS A SCRUTINY BUT NOT BEFORE AN EXPECTED ENGAGEMENT-SUMMONED WITH ST. CLAIR TO HEAD-QUARTERS-GATES APPOINTED TO THE NORTHERN DEPARTMENT-WASHINGTON'S SPECULATIONS ON THE SUCCESSES OF BURGOYNE-ILL-JUDGED MEDDLINGS OF CONGRESS WITH THE COMMISSARIAT-COLONEL TRUMBLE RESIGNS IN CONSEQUENCE.
WE have cited in a preceding page a letter from Washington to Gates at Philadelphia, requiring his vigilant attention to the movements of the enemy's fleet; that ambitious officer, however, was engrossed at the time by matters more important to his individual interests. The command of the Northern department seemed again within his reach. The evacuation of Ticonderoga had been imputed by many either to cowardice or treachery on the part of General St. Clair, and the enemies of Schuyler had, for some time past, been endeavoring to involve him in the disgrace of the transaction. It is true he was absent from the fortress at the time, zealously engaged, as we have shown, in procuring and forwarding reinforcements and supplies; but it was alleged that the fort had been evacuated by his order, and that, while there, he had made such dispositions as plainly indicated an intention to deliver it to the enemy. In the eagerness to excite popular feeling against him, old slanders were revived, and the failure of the invasion
of Canada, and all the subsequent disasters in that quarter, were again laid to his charge as commanding-general of the Northern department. "In short," writes Schuyler in one of his letters, every art is made use of to destroy that confidence which it is so essential the army should have in its general officers, and this too by people pretenumg to be friends to the country."
These charges, which for some time existed merely in popular clamor, had recently been taken up in Congress, and a strong demonstration had been made against him by some of the New England delegates. "Your enemies in this quarter," writes his friend, the Hon. William Duer (July 29th), " are leaving no means unessayed to blast your character, and to impute to your appointment in that department a loss which, rightly investigated, can be imputed to very different causes.
"Be not suprised if you should be desired to attend Congress, to give an account of the loss of Ticonderoga. With respect to the result of the inquiry I am under no apprehensions. Like gold tried in the fire, I trust that you, my dear friend, will be found more pure and bright than ever.
From the nature of your department, and other unavoidable causes, you have not had an opportunity, during the course of this war, of evincing that spirit which I and your more intimate friends know you to possess; of this circumstance prejudice takes a cruel advantage, and malice lends an easy ear to her dictates. A hint on this subject is sufficient. You will not, I am sure, sec this place till your conduct gives the lie to this insinuation, as it has done before to every other which your enemies have so industriously circulated." †
Schuyler to Gov. Trumbull. Letter Book.
† Schuyler's Papers.
Schuyler, in reply, expressed the most ardent wish that Congress would order him to attend and give an account of his conduct. He wished his friends to push for the closest scrutiny, confident that it would redound to his honor. "I would not, however, wish the scrutiny to take place immediately,” adds he, as we shall probably soon have an engagement, if we are so reinforced with militia as to give us a probable chance of sucBe assured, my dear friend, if a general engage ment takes place, whatever may be the event, you will not have occasion to blush for your friend." †
It seemed to be the object of Mr. Schuyler's enemies to forestall his having such a chance of distinguishing himself. The business was pushed in Congress more urgently than even Mr. Duer had anticipated. Beside the allegations against him in regard to Ticonderoga, his unpopularity in the Eastern States was urged as a sufficient reason for discontinuing him in his present command, as the troops from that quarter were unwilling to serve under him. This had a great effect in the present time of peril, with several of the delegates from the East, who discredited the other charges against him. The consequence was, that after long and ardent debates, in which some of the most eminent delegates from New York, who intimately knew his worth, stood up in his favor, it was resolved (Aug. 1st) that both General Schuyler and General St. Clair should be summoned to headquarters to account for the misfortunes in the North, and that Washington should be directed to order such general officer as he should think proper to succeed General Schuyler in the com mand of the Northern department.
* Schuyler's Letter Book.
The very next day a letter was addressed to Washington by several of the leading Eastern members, men of unquestionable good faith, such as Samuel and John Adams, urging the appointment of Gates. "No man, in our opinion," said they, "will be more likely to restore harmony, order and discipline, and retrieve our affairs in that quarter. He has, on experience, acquired the confidence and stands high in the esteem of the Eastern troops."
Washington excused himself from making any nomination, alleging that the Northern department had, in a great measure, been considered a separate one; that, moreover, the situation of the department was delicate, and might involve interesting and delicate consequences. The nomination, therefore, was made by Congress; the Eastern influence prevailed, and Gates received the appointment, so long the object of his aspirations, if not intrigues.
Washington deeply regretted the removal of a noble-hearted man, with whom he had acted so harmoniously, whose exertions had been so energetic and unwearied, and who was so peculiarly fitted for the varied duties of the department. He consoled himself, however, with the thought that the excuse of want of confidence in the general officers, hitherto alleged by the Eastern States for withholding reinforcements, would be obviated by the presence of this man of their choice.
With the prevalent wisdom of his pen, he endeavored to allay the distrusts and apprehensions awakened by the misfortune at Ticonderoga, which he considered the worst consequence of that event. "If the matter were coolly and dispassionately considered," writes he to the council of safety of the State of New York, "there would be nothing found so formidable in General Burgoyne and the force under him, with all his successes, to
GATES ORDERED TO THE NORTH.
countenance the least degree of despondency; and experience would show, that even the moderate exertions of the States more immediately interested, would be sufficient to check his career, and, perhaps, convert the advantages he has gained to his ruin. If I do not give so effectual aid as I could wish to the Northern army, it is not from want of inclination, nor from being too little impressed with the importance of doing it; but because the state of affairs in this quarter will not possibly admit of it. It would be the height of impolicy to weaken ourselves too much here, in order to increase our strength there; and it must certainly be considered more difficult, as well as of greater moment, to control the main army of the enemy, than an inferior and, I may say, dependent one; for it is pretty obvious that if General Howe can be kept at bay, and prevented from effecting his purposes, the successes of General Burgoyne, whatever they may be, must be partial and temporary."
The sagacity and foresight of this policy will be manifested by after events.
On the same day on which the above letter was written, he officially announced to Gates his appointment, and desired him to proceed immediately to the place of his destination: wishing him success, and that he "might speedily be able to restore the face of affairs in that quarter."
About this time took effect a measure of Congress, making a complete change in the commissariat. This important and complicated department had hitherto been under the management of one commissary-general, Colonel Joseph Trumbull of Connecticut. By the new arrangement there were to be two commissaries-general, one of purchases, the other of issues; each to be appointed by Congress. They were to have several deputy com