« PrejšnjaNaprej »
a vague hope of succor from General Lee, who was returning, all glorious, from his successes at the South. "General Lee," writes he, "is hourly expected, as if from heavenwith a legion of flaming swordsmen." It was, however, what Lee himself would have termed a mere brutum
These letters show the state of feeling in the opposite camps, at this watchful moment, when matters seemed hurrying to a crisis.
On the night of Monday (Sept. 2d), a forty-gun ship, taking advantage of a favorable wind and tide, passed between Governor's Island and Long Island, swept unharmed by the batteries which opened upon her, and anchored in Turtle Bay, above the city. In the morning, Washington dispatched Major Crane, of the artillery, with two twelvepounders and a howitzer, to annoy her from the New York shore. They hulled her several times, and obliged her to take shelter behind Blackwell's Island. Several other ships of war, with transports and store-ships, had made their appearance in the upper part of the Sound, having gone round Long Island.
As the city might speedily be attacked, Washington caused all the sick and wounded to be conveyed to Orangetown, in the Jerseys, and such military stores and baggage as were not immediately needed to be removed, as fast as conveyances could be procured, to a port partially fortified at Dobb's Ferry, on the eastern bank of the Hudson, about twenty-two miles above the city.
Reed, in his letters to his wife, talks of the dark and mysterious motions of the enemy, and the equally dark and intricate councils of Congress, by which the army were disheartened and perplexed. "We are still here," writes he VOL. XIII.-*** 9
on the 6th, "in a posture somewhat awkward; we think (at least I do) that we cannot stay, and yet we do not know how to go, so that we may be properly said to be between hawk and buzzard.”
The "shameful and scandalous desertions," as Washington termed them, continued. In a few days the Connecticut militia dwindled down from six to less than two thousand. "The impulse for going home was so irresistible," writes he, "that it answered no purpose to oppose it. Though I would not discharge them, I have been obliged to acquiesce."
Still his considerate mind was tolerant of their defection. "Men," said he, "accustomed to unbounded freedom, cannot brook the restraint which is indispensably necessary to the good order and government of an army." And again, “Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life, unaccustomed to the din of arms, totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill (which is followed by a want of confidence in themselves, when opposed to troops regularly trained, superior in knowledge, and superior in arins), are timid and ready to fly from their own shadows. Besides, the sudden change in their manner of living brings on an unconquerable desire to return to their homes."
Greene, also, who coincided so much with Washington in opinions and sentiments, observes: "People coming from home with all the tender feelings of domestic life are not sufficiently fortified with natural courage to stand the shocking scenes of war. To march over dead men, to hear without concern the groans of the wounded-I say few men can stand such scenes unless steeled by habit or fortified by military pride."
Nor was this ill-timed yearning for home confined to the yeomanry of Connecticut, who might well look back to their
humble farms, where they had left the plow standing in the furrow, and where everything might go to ruin, and their family to want in their absence. Some of the gentlemen volunteers from beyond the Delaware who had made themselves merry at the expense of the rustic soldiery of New England, were likewise among the first to feel the homeward impulse. "When I look around," said Reed, the adjutant-general, "and see how few of the numbers who talked so loudly of death and honor are around me, I am lost in wonder and surprise. Some of our Philadelphia gentlemen who came over on visits, upon the first cannon went off in almost violent hurry. Your noisy sons of liberty are, I find, the quietest on the field.” *
Present experience induced Washington to reiterate the opinion he had repeatedly expressed to Congress, that little reliance was to be placed on militia enlisted for short periods. The only means of protecting the national liberties from great hazard, if not utter loss, was, he said, an army enlisted for the war.
The thousand men ordered from the flying camp were furnished by General Mercer. They were Maryland troops under Colonels Griffith and Richardson, and were a seasonable addition to his effective forces; but the ammunition carried off by the disbanding militia was a serious loss at this critical juncture.
A work had been commenced on the Jersey shore opposite Fort Washington, to aid in protecting Putnam's chevauxde-frise which had been sunk between them. This work had received the name of Fort Constitution (a name already borne by one of the forts in the Highlands). Troops were
*Life of Reed, i. 231.
drawn from the flying camp to make a strong encampment in the vicinity of the fort, with an able officer to command it, and a skillful engineer to strengthen the works. It was hoped, by the co-operation of these opposite forts and the chevaux-de-frise, to command the Hudson, and prevent the passing and repassing of hostile ships.
The British, in the meantime, forbore to press further hostilities. Lord Howe was really desirous of a peaceful adjustment of the strife between the colonies and the mother country, and supposed this a propitious moment for a new attempt at pacification. He accordingly sent off General Sullivan on parole, charged with an overture to Congress. In this he declared himself empowered and disposed to compromise the dispute between Great Britain and America, on the most favorable terms, and though he could not treat with Congress as a legally organized body, he was desirous of a conference with some of its members. These, for the time, he should consider only as private gentlemen, but if in the conference any probable scheme of accommodation should be agreed upon, the authority of Congress would afterward be acknowledged, to render the compact complete.*
The message caused some embarrassment in Congress. To accede to the interview might seem to waive the question of independence; to decline it, was to shut the door on all hope of conciliation, and might alienate the co-operation of some worthy whigs, who still clung to that hope. After much debate, Congress, on the 5th of September, replied that, being the representatives of the free and independent States of America, they could not send any members to confer with his lordship in their private characters, but that,
* Civil War, vol. i., p. 190.
ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, they would send a committee of their body to ascertain what authority he had to treat with persons authorized by Congress, and what propositions he had to offer.
A committee was chosen on the 6th of September, composed of John Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Dr. Franklin. The latter, in the preceding year, during his residence in England, had become acquainted with Lord Howe at the house of his lordship's sister, the Honorable Mrs. Howe, and they had held frequent conversations on the subject of American affairs, in the course of which his lordship had intimated the possibility of his being sent commissioner to settle the differences in America.
Franklin had recently adverted to this in a letter to Lord Howe. "Your lordship may possibly remember the tears of joy that wet my cheek, when, at your good sister's in London, you gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place. I had the misfortune to find these expectations disappointed.
"The well-founded esteem, and, permit me to say, affection, which I shall always have for your lordship, makes it painful for me to see you engaged in conducting a war, the great ground of which, as expressed in your letter, is 'the necessity of preventing the American trade from passing into foreign channels.' . . . I know your great motive in coming hither was the hope of being instrumental in a reconciliation; and I believe that when you find that impossible on any terms given to you to propose, you will relinquish so odious a command, and return to a more honorable private station."
"I can have no difficulty to acknowledge," replied Lord