Slike strani
PDF
ePub

fall into our hands, a prejudice which we on our part have heretofore thought it politic to suppress, and to root out by every act of lenity and of kindness?"

"Many more objections," added he, "might be subjoined, were they material. I shall only observe, that the present state of the army, if it deserves that name, will not authorize the language of retaliation, or the style of menace. This will be conceded by all who know that the whole of our force is weak and trifling, and composed of militia (very few regular troops excepted) whose service is on the eve of expiring."

[ocr errors]

In a letter to Mr. Robert Morris also, he writes: "I wish, with all my heart, that Congress had gratified General Lee in his request. If not too late I wish they would do it still. I can see no possible evil that can result from it; some good, I think, might. The request to see a gentleman or two came from the general, not from the commissioners; there could have been no harm, therefore, in hearing what he had to say on any subject, especially as he had declared that his own personal interest was deeply concerned. The resolve to put in close confinement Lieutenant-colonel Campbell and the Hessian field-officers, in order to retaliate upon them General Lee's punishment, is, in my opinion, injurious in every point of view, and must have been entered into without due attention to the consequences. If the resolve of Congress respecting General Lee strikes you in the

[graphic]

TREATMENT OF AMERICAN PRISONERS. 21

same point of view it has done me, I could wish you would signify as much to that body, as I really think it fraught with every evil."

Washington was not always successful in instilling his wise moderation into public councils. Congress adhered to their vindictive policy, merely directing that no other hardships should be inflicted on the captive officers, than such confinement as was necessary to carry their resolve into effect. As to their refusal to grant the request of Lee, Robert Morris surmised they were fearful of the injurious effect that might be produced in the court of France, should it be reported that members of Congress visited General Lee, by permission of the British commissioners. There were other circumstances beside the treatment of General Lee, to produce this indignant sensibility on the part of Congress, Accounts were rife at this juncture, of the cruelties and indignities almost invariably experienced by American prisoners at New York; and an active correspondence on the subject was going on between Washington and the British commanders, at the same time with that regarding General Lee.

The captive Americans who had been in the naval service were said to be confined, officers and men, in prison-ships, which from their loathsome condition, and the horrors and sufferings of all kinds experienced on board of them, had acquired the appellation of floating hells. Those who had been in the land service, were crowded nto jails and dungeons like the vilest malefac

levy and equip their quotas for the continental army. "Nothing but the united efforts of every State in America," writes he, "can save us from disgrace, and probably from ruin."

Rhode Island is reproached with raising troops for home service before furnishing its supply to the general army. "If each state," writes he, "were to prepare for its own defense independent of each other, they would all be conquered, one by one. Our success must depend on a firm union and a strict adherence to the general plan.” 1

He deplores the fluctuating state of the army while depending on militia; full one day, almost disbanded the next. "I am much afraid that the enemy, one day or other, taking advantage of one of these temporary weaknesses, will make themselves masters of our magazines of stores, arms, and artillery."

The militia, too, on being dismissed, were generally suffered by their officers to carry home with them the arms with which they had been fur. nished, so that the armory was in a manner scattered over all the world, and forever lost to the public.

Then an earnest word is spoken by him in behalf of the yeomanry, whose welfare always lay near his heart. "You must be fully sensible,” writes he, "of the hardships imposed upon individuals, and how detrimental it must be to the public to have farmers and tradesmen frequently called out of the field, as militia men, whereby a total stop is put to arts and agriculture, without which we cannot long subsist."

1 Letter to Governor Cooke. Sparks, iv. 285.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

DANGERS IN NORTHERN DEPARTMENT. 29

While thus anxiously exerting himself to strengthen his own precarious army, the security of the Northern department was urged upon his attention. Schuyler represented it as in need of reinforcements and supplies of all kinds. He apprehended that Carleton might make an attack upon Ticonderoga, as soon as he could cross Lake Champlain on the ice; that important fortress was under the command of a brave officer, Colonel Anthony Wayne, but its garrison had dwindled down to six or seven hundred men, chiefly New England militia. In the present destitute situation of his department as to troops, Schuyler feared that Carleton might not only succeed in an attempt on Ticonderoga, but might push his way to Albany.

He had written in vain, he said, to the Convention of New York, and to the Eastern States, for reinforcements, and he entreated Washington to aid him with his influence. He wished to have his army composed of troops from as many different States as possible; the Southern people having a greater spirit of discipline and subordination, might, he thought, introduce it among the Eastern people.

He wished also for the assistance of a general officer or two in his department. "I am alone," writes he, "distracted with a variety of cares, and no one to take part of the burden.” 1

Although Washington considered a winter at tack of the kind specified by Schuyler too difficult and dangerous to be very probable, he urged rein1 Schuyler's Letter Book, MS.

son at New York. Even should the enemy pur sue their first plan of an invasion from Canada, the troops at Peekskill would not be badly placed to reinforce Ticonderoga, and cover the country around Albany." "I am very sure,” concludes he, "the operations of this army will in a great degree govern the motions of that in Canada. If this is held at bay, curbed and confined, the Northern army will not dare attempt to penetrate." The last sentence will be found to contain the policy which governed Washington's personal movements throughout the campaign.

On the 18th of March he dispatched General Greene to Philadelphia, to lay before Congress such matters as he could not venture to communicate by letter. He is an able and good officer," writes he, "who has my entire confidence, and is intimately acquainted with my ideas."

66

Greene had scarce departed when the enemy began to give signs of life. The delay in the arrival of artillery, more than his natural indolence, had kept General Howe from formally taking the field; he now made preparations for the next campaign by detaching troops to destroy the American deposits of military stores. One of the chief of these was at Peekskill, the very place where Washington had directed Heath to send troops from Massachusetts; and which he thought of making a central point of assemblage. Howe terms it "the port of that rough and mountainous tract called the Manor of Courtlandt." Brigadiergeneral McDougall had the command of it in the absence of General Heath, but his force did not exceed two hundred and fifty men.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »