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General Burgoyne himself, on the day the convention was signed, was introduced to his conquerour. 66 The fortune of war, General Gates, (said he) has made me your prisoner." General Gates, with a politeness intended at once to place his prisoner at ease with himself, replied, “I shall always be ready to bear testimony that it has not been through any fault of your Excellency.” The generals dined and spent the day together in all the familiarity of equal and long acquaintance. In a day or two after this, Burgoyne with several of his Generals visited Albany, where they were received by General Schuyler, whose elegant house the former had reduced to ashes. Struck with the kindness of his reception, and perhaps a little ashamed of the devastations he had committed or authorised, Burgoyne said to him, “You show me great kinduess, although I have done you much injury”_6 That was the fate of war," said this American, “ let us say no more about it." T'hese little anecdotes are worth volumes of eulogy on the American character. They speak the simple truth, and speak to the hearts of their enemies.
How different from this was the spirit which actuated the British soldiers. Their march from the Hudson to Cambridge was marked by insolence and pil-. lage; the return which they made for the civil, hu-, mane and delicate deportment of the inhabitants, was insult and robbery. The Germans, particularly, plundered every house they passed of every thing that could be conveniently taken with them.
The spectacle of five thousand British troops, marching as prisoners of war, under the guidance of two or three American officers, through a tract of country three hundred miles in extent, was novel and interest
ing; nor was it without its attendant advantages to the American cause. The militia no longer believed their enemy invincible; and this enemy was made to feel, even while they refused to acknowledge, that those against whom they had to contend were not a despicable rabble. The conduct of the British troops too on their march, served to confirm the wavering in their fidelity to the cause of independence; they contrasted the conduct of the conquerours and conquered, , and drew an appalling inference of what their fate would be in the latter predicament. When arrived at Cambridge, so near to the scene of their earliest cruelties and devastations, these prisoners began to experience a change in their treatment. This town was inhabited by many who had lost their all in the conflagration of Charlestown; they were still smarting with the sense of their wrongs, still suffering under the privations which Burgoyne himself had so largely contributed to bring upon them. With their wounds still bleeding, the flames of their houses still blazing in their mental vision, it was not possible for them, suddenly to bury their animosities, and load their captive enemies with kindness. The consequence was, that Burgoyne and bis generals could scarcely obtain admittance into any of their houses. The troops had been lodged in the barracks near the town, and the officers quartered wherever accommodations could be procured for them. They soon became discontented with their situations, and drew up a formal remon. strance to their general, upon which a complaint was founded, that they were not treated according to the terms of the convention. That the officers were not all lodged, agreeably to their respective rank, is true; but their accommodations were the best which the place afforded, and better than victorious troops are sometimes compelled to put up with.
The complaint made by Burgoyne, which was soon followed by a request that the place agreed upon for the embarkation of his troops should be changed from Boston to Rhode Island or New York, (both of which places were in possession of the British) induced a suspicion, that it was not his design to comply with the terms of the convention; and Congress made it a pretext for detaining them altogether. This was doing injustice to the good faith of the British commander. He was certainly bound to attend to the remonstrance of his officers, and to lay it before General Gates; and his desire to embark at Rhode Island or at New York rather than at Boston, arose from the circumstance of the transports having actually arrived at the former place, from which to Boston the passage at such a season was difficult and hazardous. These circumstances, however, were unfortunately overlooked by Congress. They had erroneously and hastily admitted the suspicion that Burgoyne did not mean to act honestly, and they were determined to find sufficient pleas for their own violation of the convention. They accused him of withholding his standards, and military chests, of permitting the destruction of his ammunition, muskets and accoutrements; and notwithstanding the explicit declaration of General Gates that nothing was done to justify the charge of a violation of the convention, in the surrender, they persisted in declaring their security in the personal honour of Burgoyne to be destroyed, and therefore suspending the embarkation of his troops, until the convention should be ratified by his Court.
General Burgoyne in his letter to General Gates, complaining of the unsuitable accommodations provided for his officers, had unfortunately added these words : “the publick faith is broken.” This it was, that gave the alarm to Congress. They knew, that the British Generals had more than once asserted, that no faith ought to be kept with rebels, and they were fearful that this previous intimation on the part of Burgoyne, would be made a pretext for his joining some of the British garrisons in America, instead of going to England with his troops, if permitted to embark. It was in vain that General Burgoyne explain ed the meaning of this objectionable passage of his letter: it was in vain he offered for himself and all his officers to sign any obligation wbich might be dictated to him, to abide by the terms of the convention. Congress were inflexible in their determination to detain the troops until the Court of Great Britain should ratify the convention. They alleged in justification of their conduct, that a compact broken in one article was no longer binding in any; and that they had a right by the laws of nations to suspend the execution, where they had reason to suspect an intention to violate it. These might be legal excuses, but we dare not approve them as honourable to Congress. They are justly chargeable with bad faith towards Burgoyne in the first instance: the subsequent long detention of his army must be chargeable to his own Government; for had they been disposed to treat their fallen general with the respect due to his valour, or the delicacy due to his misfortunes, the convention might have been fulfilled in all its parts in the course of a few weeks; whereas, as we shall hereafter see, his troops remained prisoners for more than twelve months.
The treatment of prisoners of war is generally, in all wars, and among all nations, a subject of much discussion and of mutual complaint and recrimination. Nothing like a regular and satisfactory cartel for the exchange of prisoners had yet been established between the two adverse Commanders in Chief; and letters were continually passing from one to the other on the subject of their treatment. In some of these Sir William Howe accused Washington of unjustifiably loading the royal prisoners with irons, a charge without the least shadow of foundation, and to which the indignant chief thus replied, in a letter of the 14th
a of November.—5* If there is a single instance of a prisoner of war being in irons, I am ignorant of it; nor can I find, on the most minute inquiry, that there is the least foundation for the charge. I wish you to particularize the cases you allude to, that relief may be had, if the complaints are well founded. Now we are upon the subject of grievances, I am constrained to observe that I have a variety of accounts, not only from prisoners who have made their escape, but from persons who have left Philadelphia, that our private soldiers in your hands, are treated in a manner shocking to humanity; and that many of them must have perished through hunger, had it not been for the charitable contributions of the inhabitants. It is added in aggravation, that this treatment is to oblige them to enlist in the corps you are raising. I must also remonstrate against the cruel treatment and confinement of our officers. This I am informed is not only the case of those in Philadelphia, but of many in New York. Many of the cruelties exercised towards the prisoners are said to proceed from the inhumanity of Mr. Cunningham, Provost Marshall, without your