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ET. 45.]

WASHINGTON'S VINDICATORY LETTER.

435

than one interesting occasion, in the course of | day made, no less than two thousand eight hunthe present campaign; and had a body of the enemy crossed the Schuylkill this morning, as I had reason to expect, the divisions which I ordered to be in readiness to march and meet them could not have moved."

Scarce had Washington despatched his letter, when he learnt that the Legislature of Pennsylvania had addressed a remonstrance to Congress against his going into winter-quarters, instead of keeping in the open field. This letter, received in his forlorn situation, surrounded by an unhoused, scantily clad, half-starved army, shivering in the midst of December's snow and cold, put an end to his forbearance, and drew from him another letter to the President of Congress, dated on the 23d, which we shall largely quote; not only for its manly and truthful eloquence, but for the exposition it gives of the difficulties of his situation, mainly caused by unwise and intermeddling legislation.

dred and ninety-eight men now in camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot, and otherwise naked. By the same return, it appears that our whole strength in Continental troops, including the eastern brigades, which have joined us since the surrender of General Burgoyne, exclusive of the Maryland troops sent to Wilmington, amounts to no more than eight thousand two hundred in camp fit for duty; notwithstanding which, and that since the 4th instant, our numbers fit for duty, from the hardships and exposures they have undergone, particularly on account of blankets (numbers having been obliged, and still are, to sit up all night by fires, instead of taking comfortable rest in a natural and common way), have decreased near two thousand men.

"We find gentlemen, without knowing whether the army was really going into winter-quarters or not (for I am sure no resolution of mine could warrant the remonstrance), reprobating the measure as much as if they thought the soldiers were made of stocks or stones, and equally insensible of frost and snow; and moreover, as if they conceived it easily practicable for an inferior army, under the disadvantages I have described ours to be-which are by no means exaggerated-to confine a superior one, in all respects well appointed and provided for a winter's campaign, within the city of Philadelphia, and to cover from depredation and waste the States of Pennsylvania and Jersey. But what makes this matter still more extraordinary in my eye is, that these very gentlemen, who were well apprised of the nakedness of the troops from ocular demonstration, who thought their own soldiers worse clad than others, and who advised me near a month ago

And first as to the commissariat :"Though I have been tender, heretofore," writes he, "of giving any opinion, or lodging complaints, as the change in that department took place contrary to my judgment, and the consequences thereof were predicted; yet, finding that the inactivity of the army, whether for want of provisions, clothes, or other essentials, is charged to my account, not only by the common vulgar, but by those in power, it is time to speak plain in exculpation of myself. With truth, then, I can declare, that no man, in my opinion, ever had his measures more impeded than I have by every department of the army. "Since the month of July, we have had no assistance from the quartermaster-general; and to want of assistance from this department, the commissary-general charges great part of his deficiency. To this I am to add, that not-to postpone the execution of a plan I was about withstanding it is a standing order, and often repeated, that the troops shall always have two days' provisions by them, that they might be ready at any sudden call; yet an opportunity has scarcely ever offered of taking an advantage of the enemy, that it has not been either totally obstructed, or greatly impeded on this account. * * * *As a proof of the little benefit received from a clothier-general, and as a further proof of the inability of an army, under the circumstances of this, to per-thing, to draw remonstrances in a comfortable form the common duties of soldiers (besides a number of men confined to hospitals for want of shoes, and others in farmers' houses on the same account), we have, by a field return this

to adopt, in consequence of a resolve of Congress for seizing clothes, under strong assurances that an ample supply would be collected in ten days, agreeably to a decree of the State (not one article of which, by the by, is yet come to hand), should think a winter's campaign, and the covering of those States from the invasion of an enemy, so easy and practicable a business. I can assure those gentlemen, that it is a much easier, and less distressing

room by a good fireside, than to occupy a cold, bleak hill, and sleep under frost and snow, without clothes or blankets. However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked

436

RETROSPECT OF THE YEAR.

[1777.

and distressed soldiers, I feel abundantly for | parsimony and meddlesome interference of them, and, from my soul, I pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to relieve nor prevent.

Congress. In his most critical times that body had left him without funds and without reinforcements. It had made promotions contrary to his advice, and contrary to military usage; thereby wronging and disgusting some of his bravest officers. It had changed the commis

"It is for these reasons, therefore, that I have dwelt upon the subject; and it adds not a little to my other difficulties and distress, to find that much more is expected from me than is possi-sariat in the very midst of a campaign, and ble to be performed, and that, upon the ground thereby thrown the whole service into confuof safety and policy, I am obliged to conceal sion. the true state of the army from public view, and thereby expose myself to detraction and calumny."

Among so many cross-purposes and discouragements, it was a difficult task for Washington to "keep the life and soul of the army together." Yet he had done so. Marvellous indeed was the manner in which he had soothed the discontents of his aggrieved officers, and reconciled them to an ill-requiting service; and still more marvellous the manner in which he had breathed his own spirit of patience and perseverance in his yeoman soldiery, during their sultry marchings and countermarchings through the Jerseys, under all kinds of privations, with no visible object of pursuit to stimulate their ardor, hunting, as it were, the rumored apparitions of an unseen fleet.

In the present exigency, to save his camp from desolation, and to relieve his starving soldiery, he was compelled to exercise the authority recently given him by Congress, to forage the country round, seize supplies wherever he could find them, and pay for them in money or in certificates redeemable by Congress. He exercised these powers with great reluctance; rurally inclined himself, he had a strong sympathy with the cultivators of the soil, and ever regarded the yeomanry with a paternal eye. He was apprehensive, moreover, of irritating the jealousy of military sway, prevalent through- All this time, too, while endeavoring to asout the country, and of corrupting the morals certain and counteract the operations of Lord of the army. "Such procedures," writes he to Howe upon the ocean, and his brother upon the President of Congress, "may give a mo- the land, he was directing and aiding military mentary relief; but if repeated, will prove of the measures against Burgoyne in the North. Three most pernicious consequences. Beside spread- games were in a manner going on under his ing disaffection, jealousy, and fear among the supervision. The operations of the commanderpeople, they never fail, even in the most vet-in-chief are not always the most obvious to the eran troops, under the most rigid and exact discipline, to raise in the soldiery a disposition to licentiousness, to plunder and robbery, difficult to suppress afterward, and which has proved not only ruinous to the inhabitants, but in many instances to armies themselves. I regret the occasion that compelled us to the measure the other day, and shall consider it the greatest of our misfortunes if we should be under the necessity of practising it again.".

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How truly in all these trying scenes of his military career, does the patriot rise above the soldier!

With these noble and high-spirited appeals to Congress, we close Washington's operations for 1777; one of the most arduous and eventful years of his military life, and one the most trying to his character and fortunes. He began it with an empty army chest, and a force dwindled down to four thousand half-disciplined men. Throughout the year he had had to contend, not merely with the enemy, but with the

public eye; victories may be planned in his tent, of which subordinate generals get the credit; and most of the moves which ended in giving a triumphant check to Burgoyne, may be traced to Washington's shifting camp in the Jerseys.

It has been an irksome task in some of the preceding chapters, to notice the under-current of intrigue and management by which some part of this year's campaign was disgraced; yet even-handed justice requires that such machinations should be exposed. We have shown how successful they were in displacing the noblehearted Schuyler from the head of the Northern department; the same machinations were now at work to undermine the commander-inchief, and elevate the putative hero of Saratoga on his ruins. He was painfully aware of them; yet in no part of the war did he more thoroughly evince that magnanimity which was his grand characteristic, than in the last scenes of this campaign, where he rose above the taunt

ET. 45.]

THE CONWAY LETTER-LETTER OF GATES TO WASHINGTON.

437

ings of the press, the sneerings of the cabal, the | note to Conway had thrown them all in confumurmurs of the public, the suggestions of some sion. None knew the extent of the correspondof his friends, and the throbbing impulses of ence discovered, nor how far they might be his own courageous heart, and adhered to that individually compromised. Fabian policy which he considered essential to the safety of the cause. To dare is often the impulse of selfish ambition or harebrained valor: to forbear is at times the proof of real greatness.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

WHILE censure and detraction had dogged Washington throughout his harassing campaign, and followed him to his forlorn encampment at Valley Forge, Gates was the constant theme of popular eulogium, and was held up by the cabal, as the only one capable of retrieving the desperate fortunes of the South. Letters from his friends in Congress urged him to hasten on, take his seat at the head of the Board of War, assume the management of military affairs, and save the country!

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Gates, in his perplexity, suspected that his portfolio had been stealthily opened and his letters copied. But which of them?—and by whom? He wrote to Conway and Mifflin, anxiously inquiring what part of their correspondence had been thus surreptitiously obtained, and "who was the villain that had played him this treacherous trick. There is scarcely a man living," says he, "who takes a greater care of his letters than I do. I never fail to lock them up, and keep the key in my pocket. No punishment is too severe for the wretch who betrayed me; and I doubt not your friendship for me, as well as your zeal for our safety, will bring the name of this miscreant to light."*

* *

*

Gates made rigid inquiries among the gentlemen of his staff; all disavowed any knowledge of the matter. In the confusion and perturbation of his mind, his suspicions glanced, or were turned, upon Colonel Hamilton, as the channel of communication, he having had free access to head-quarters during his late mission from the commander-in-chief. In this state of mental trepidation, Gates wrote, on the 8th of Decem

Gates was not a strong-minded man. Is it a wonder, then, that his brain should be bewildered by the fumes of incense offered up on every side? In the midst of his triumph, however, while feasting on the sweets of adula-ber, the following letter to Washington: tion, came the withering handwriting on the wall! It is an epistle from his friend Mifflin. "My dear General," writes he, an extract from Conway's letter to you has been procured and sent to head-quarters. The extract was a collection of just sentiments, yet such as should not have been intrusted to any of your family. General Washington enclosed it to Conway without remarks. * * * * My dear General, take care of your sincerity and frank disposition; they cannot injure yourself, but may injure some of your best friends. Affectionately yours."

Nothing could surpass the trouble and confusion of mind of Gates on the perusal of this letter. Part of his correspondence with Conway had been sent to head-quarters. But what part? What was the purport and extent of the alleged extracts? How had they been obtained? Who had sent them? Mifflin's letter specified nothing; and this silence as to particulars, left an unbounded field for tormenting conjecture. In fact, Mifflin knew nothing in particular when he wrote; nor did any of the cabal. The laconic nature of Washington's

"SIR :—I shall not attempt to describe what, as a private gentleman, I cannot help feeling, on representing to my mind the disagreeable situation in which confidential letters, when exposed to public inspection, may place an unsuspecting correspondent; but, as a public officer, I conjure your Excellency to give me all the assistance you can in tracing the author of the infidelity which put extracts from General Conway's letters to me into your hands. Those letters have been stealingly copied, but which of them, when, and by whom, is to me as yet an unfathomable secret. * * * * It is, I believe, in your Excellency's power to do me and the United States a very important service, by detecting a wretch who may betray me, and capitally injure the very operations under your immediate directions. The crime being eventually so important, that the least loss of time may be attended with the worst consequences, and it being unknown to me whether the letter came to you from a member of Congress, or from an officer, I shall have

** ** * *

*Gates's Papers, N. Y. Hist. Lib.

438

WASHINGTON'S ANSWER TO GATES-WARNING LETTER FROM DR. CRAIK. [1777.

the honor of transmitting a copy of this to the President, that the Congress may, in concert with your Excellency, obtain as soon as possible a discovery which so deeply affects the safety of the States. Crimes of that magnitude ought not to remain unpunished." A copy of this letter was transmitted by Gates to the President of Congress.

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Washington replied with characteristic dignity and candor. "Your letter of the 8th ultimo," writes he (January 4th), came to my hand a few days ago, and, to my great surprise, informed me that a copy of it had been sent to Congress, for what reason I find myself unable to account; but, as some end was doubtless intended to be answered by it, I am laid under the disagreeable necessity of returning my answer through the same channel, lest any member of that honorable body should harbor an unfavorable suspicion of my having practised some indirect means to come at the contents of the confidential letters between you and General Conway.

"I am to inform you, then, that Colonel Wilkinson, on his way to Congress, in the month of October last, fell in with Lord Stirling at Reading, and, not in confidence, that I ever understood, informed his aide-de-camp, Major McWilliams, that General Conway had written this to you: 'Heaven has been determined to save your country, or a weak general and bad counsellors would have ruined it.' Lord Stirling, from motives of friendship, transmitted the account with this remark: 'The enclosed was communicated by Colonel Wilkinson to Major McWilliams. Such wicked duplicity of conduct I shall always think it my duty to detect.""

Washington adds, that the letter written by him to Conway was merely to show that gentleman that he was not unapprised of his intriguing disposition. "Neither this letter," continues he, "nor the information which occasioned it, was ever directly or indirectly communicated by me to a single officer in this army, out of my own family, excepting the Marquis de Lafayette, who, having been spoken to on the subject by General Conway, applied for and saw, under injunctions of secrecy, the letter which contained Wilkinson's information; so desirous was I of concealing every matter that could, in its consequences, give the smallest interruption to the tranquillity of this army, or afford a gleam of hope to the enemy by dissensions therein. * * Till Lord Stirling's

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letter came to my hands, I never knew that General Conway, whom I viewed in the light of a stranger to you, was a correspondent of yours; much less did I suspect that I was the subject of your confidential letters. Pardon me, then, for adding, that so far from conceiving the safety of the States can be affected, or in the smallest degree injured, by a discovery of this kind, or that I should be called upon in such solemn terms to point out the author, I considered the information as coming from yourself, and given with a view to forewarn, and consequently to forearm me, against a secret enemy, or in other words, a dangerous incendiary; in which character sooner or later this country will know General Conway. But in this, as in other matters of late, I have found myself mistaken."

This clear and ample answer explained the enigma of the laconic note to Conway, and showed that the betrayal of the defamatory correspondence was due to the babbling of Wilkinson. Following the mode adopted by Gates, Washington transmitted his reply through the hands of the President of Congress, and thus this matter, which he had generously kept secret, became blazoned before Congress and the world.

A few days after writing the above letter, Washington received the following warning from his old and faithful friend, Dr. Craik, dated from Maryland, Jan. 6. "Notwithstanding your unwearied diligence and the unparalleled sacrifice of domestic happiness and ease of mind which you have made for the good of your country, yet you are not wanting in secret enemies, who would rob you of the great and truly deserved esteem your country has for you. Base and villanous men, through chagrin, envy, or ambition, are endeavoring to lessen you in the minds of the people, and taking underhand methods to traduce your character. The morning I left camp, I was informed that a-strong faction was forming against you in the new Board of War, and in the Congress. * * The method they are taking is by holding General Gates up to the people, and making them believe that you have had a number three or four times greater than the enemy, and have done nothing; that Philadelphia was given up by your management, and that you have had many opportunities of defeating the enemy. It is said they dare not appear openly as your enemies; but that the new Board of War is composed of such leading men, as will throw

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ET. 46.]

ANONYMOUS LETTER-GATES AT YORKTOWN.

439

such obstacles and difficulties in your way as was not unapprised that a malignant faction to force you to resign." 19 #

had been for some time forming to my prejudice; which, conscious as I am of having ever done all in my power to answer the important purposes of the trust reposed in me, could not but give me some pain on a personal account. But my chief concern arises from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences which intestine dissensions may produce to the common cause.

An anonymous letter to Patrick Henry, dated from Yorktown, Jan. 12th, says among other things, "We have only passed the Red Sea; a dreary wilderness is still before us, and unless a Moses or a Joshua are raised up in our behalf, we must perish before we reach the promised land. * * * But is our case desperate? By no means. We have wisdom, virtue, and strength enough to save us, if they could be called into action. The Northern army has shown us what Americans are capable of doing with a general at their head. The spirit of the Southern army is no way inferior to the spirit of the Northern. A Gates, a Lee, or a Conway, would in a few weeks render them an irresistible body of men. The last of the above officers has accepted of the new office of inspector general of our army, in order to reforming lot of an elevated station? Merit and talabuses; but the remedy is only a palliative one. In one of his letters to a friend, he says, 'a great and good God hath decreed America to be free, or the [general] and weak counsellors would have ruined her long ago." "+

"My enemies take an ungenerous advantage of me. They know the delicacy of my situation, and that motives of policy deprive me of the defence I might otherwise make against their insidious attacks. They know I cannot combat their insinuations, however injurious, without disclosing secrets which it is of the utmost moment to conceal. But why should I expect to be exempt from censure, the unfail

ents, with which I can have no pretensions of rivalship, have ever been subject to it. My heart tells me, that it has ever been my unremitted aim to do the best that circumstances would permit; yet I may have been very often mistaken in my judgment of the means, and may in many instances deserve the imputation of error."

Another anonymous paper, probably by the same hand, dated January 17th, and sent to Congress under a cover directed to the president, Mr. Laurens, decried all the proceedings Gates was disposed to mark his advent to of the Southern army, declaring that the prop- power by a striking operation. A notable proer method of attacking, beating, and conquer-ject had been concerted by him and the Board ing the enemy, had never as yet been adopted of War for a winter irruption into Canada. by the commander-in-chief; that the late suc- An expedition was to proceed from Albany, cess to the Northward was owing to a change cross Lake Champlain on the ice, burn the of the commanders; that the Southern army British shipping at St. Johns, and press forwould have been alike successful had a similar ward to Montreal. Washington was not conchange taken place. After dwelling on the sulted in the matter: the project was submitted evils and derangements prevalent in every de- to Congress, and sanctioned by them without partment, it draws the conclusion, "That the his privity. head cannot possibly be sound, when the whole body is disordered; that the people of America have been guilty of idolatry, by making a man their God, and the God of heaven and earth will convince them by woful experience, that he is only a man; that no good may be expected from the standing army until Baal and his worshippers are banished from the camp."

Instead of laying this mischievous paper before Congress, Mr. Laurens remitted it to Washington. He received the following reply: "I cannot sufficiently express the obligation I feel to you for your friendship and politeness, upon an occasion in which I am so deeply interested. I Sparks. Washington's Writings, vol. v., p. 493. † Idem, vol. v., p. 493. + Idem, vol. v. p. 497.

One object of the scheme was to detach the Marquis de Lafayette from Washington, to whom he was devotedly attached, and bring him into the interests of the cabal. For this purpose he was to have the command of the expedition; an appointment which it was thought would tempt his military ambition. Conway was to be second in command, and it was trusted that his address and superior intelligence would virtually make him the leader.

The first notice that Washington received of the project was in a letter from Gates, enclosing one to Lafayette, informing the latter of his appointment, and requiring his attendance at Yorktown to receive his instructions.

Gates, in his letter to Washington, asked his

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