« ForrigeFortsett »
Soori after the battle of Monmouth the American army took post at the White Plains, and remained there, and in the vicinity, till autumn was far advanced, and then retired to Middlebrook in New Jersey. During this period, nothing of more importance occurred than skirmishes, in which Gen. Washington was not particularly engaged. He was nevertheless fully employed. His mild conciliatory manners, and the most perfect subjection of his passions to reason, together with the soundness of his judgment, enabled him to serve his country with equal effect, though with less splendour than is usually attached to military exploits.
The French fleet, the expectation of which had induced the evacuation of Philadelphia, arrived too late for attack. ing the British in the Delaware. It was also deemed unadvisable to attempt New York; but the British posts on Rhode Island were judged proper objects of a conjunct expedition with the sea and land forces of France and America. This being resolved upon, Gen Sullivan was ap-' pointed to onduct the operations of the Americans. When the preparations for commencing the attack was nearly completed, a British_fleet appeared in sight. D’Estaing, who commanded the French fleet, put out to sea to engage them ; but a storm came on which crippled both fleets to such an extent, as induced the one to go to New York, and the other to Boston, for the purpose of being repaired. While the fleets were out of sight, Sullivan had commenced the siege, and flattered himself that a few days cooperation of the returned French ships could not fail of crowning him with success. The determination of D’Es. taing to retire to Boston instead of co-operating in the siege, excited the greatest alarm in Sullivan's army. By this dereliction of the original plan, the harbours of Rhode Island were left free and open for reinforcements to the British, which might be easily poured in from their head quarters in New York. Instead of anticipated conquests, Sullivan had reason to fear for the safety of his army. Irritated at the departure of D'Estaing, he expressed in ge. neral orders to his army, “ his hope that the event would prove America able to procure that, by her own arms, which her allies refused to assist in obtaining: These expressions were considered as imputing to D’Estaing and the French nation a disinclination to promote the interests
of the United States. When entreaties failed of persuading D’Estaing to return to the stege, a paper was drawn up and signed by the principal officers of the Americans, and sent to him, in which they protested against his taking the fleet to Boston, “ as derogatory to the honour of France ; contrary to the intentions of his most Christian Majesty, and the interest of his nation; destructive to the welfare of the United States, and highly injurious to the alliance between the two nations." So much discontent prevailed, that serious apprehensions were entertained that the means of repairing the French fleet would not be readily obtained.
Washington foresaw the evils likely to result from the general and mutual irritation which prevailed, and exerted all his influence to calm the minds of both parties. He had a powerful coadjutor in the Marquis de la Fayette, who was as deservedly dear to the Americans as to the French. His first duties were due to his king and country; but he loved America, and was so devoted to the commander in chief of its armies, as to enter into his views, and second his softening conciliatory measures, with truly filial affection.
Washington also wrote to Gen. Heath, who commanded at Boston, and to Sullivan and Greene, who commanded at Rhode Island. In his letter to Gen. Heath, he states his. fears “ that the departure of the French fleet from Rhode Island, at so critical a moment, would not only weaken the confidence of the people in their new allies, but produce such prejudice and resentment as might prevent their giving the feet, in its present distress, such zealous and effectual assistance as was demanded by the exigence of affairs, and the true interests of America ;" and added, " that it would be sound policy to combat these effects, and to give the best construction of what had happened ; and at the same time to make strenuous exertions for putting the French fleet as soon as possible, in a condition to defend itself, and be useful.” He also observed as follows; “ the departure of the feet from Rhode Island, is not yet publicly announced here ; but when it is, I intend to ascribe it to necessity produced by the damage received in the late storm. This it appears to me is the idea which ought to be generally propagated. As I doubt not the force of these reasons will strike you equally with myself, I would re
commend to you to use your utmost influence to palliate and soften inatters, and to induce those whose business it is to provide succours of every kind for the fleet, to em. ploy their utmost zeal and activity in doing it. It is our duty to make the best of our misfortunes, and not suffer passion to interfere with our interest and the public good.”
In a letter to Gen. Sullivan, he observed, " the disagreement between the army under your command and the fleet, has given me very singular uneasiness. The continent at large is concerned in our cordiality, and it should be kept up by ali possible means consistent with our honour and policy. First impressions are generally longest retained, and will serve to fix in a great degree our national character with the French. In our conduct towards them, we should remember, that they are a people old in war, very strict in military etiquette, and apt to take fire when others seem scarcely warmed. Permit me to recommend in the most particular manner, the cultivation of harmony and good agreement, and your endeavours to destroy that ill humour which may have found its way among the officers. It is of the utmost importance too that the soldiers and the people should know nothing of this misunderstanding ; or if it has reached them, that means may be used to stop its progress, and prevent its effects."
In a letter to Gen. Greene, he observed, “I have not now time to take notice of the several arguments, which were made use of, for and against the Count's quitting the harbour of Newport, and sailing for Boston. Right or wrong, it will probably disappoint our sanguine expectations of success, and, which I deem a still worse consequence, I fear it will sow the seeds of dissension and distrust between us and our new allies, unless the most prudent measures be taken to suppress the feuds and jealou. sies that have already risen. I depend much'on your temper and influence to conciliate that animosity which subsists between the American and French officers in our service, I beg you will take every measure to keep the protest entered into by the general officers from being made public. Congress, sensible of the ill consequences that will flow from our differences being known to the world, have passed a resolve to that purpose. Upon the whole, my dear sir, you can conceive my meaning better than I can express it;
and I therefore fully depend on your exerting yourself to heal all private animosities between our principal officers and the French, and to prevent all illiberal expressions and reflections that may fall from the army at large.”
Washington also improved the first opportunity of recommencing his correspondence with count D'Estaing, in a letter to him, which, without noticing the disagreements that had taken place, was well calculated to sooth every angry sensation which might have rankled in his mind. In the course of a short correspondence, the irritation which threatened serious mischiefs entirely gave way to returning good humour and cordiality.
In another case about the same time the correct judgment of Washington proved serviceable to his country. In the last months of the year 1778, when the most active part of the campaign was over, Congress decided on a magnificent plan for the conquest of Canada. This was to be attempted in 1779 by land and water, on the side of the United States, and by a fleet and army from France. The plan was proposed, considered, and agreed to, before Washington was informed of it. He was then desired to write to Dr. Franklin, the American minister at Paris, to interest him in securing the proposed co-operation of France. In reply to the communications of Congress, he observed, “ the earnest desire I have strictly to comply in every instance with the views and instructions of Congress, cannot but make me feel the greatest uneasiness when I find myself in circumstances of hesitation or doubt, with respect to their directions; but the perfect confidence I have in the justice and candour of that honourable body, emboldens me to communicate without reserve the difficulties which occur in the execution of their present order; and the indulgence I have experienced on every former occasion induces me to imagine that the liberty I now take will not meet with disapprobation.
“ I have attentively taken up the report of the committee respecting the proposed expedition into Canada. I have considered it in several lights, and sincerely regret that I should feel myself under any embarrassment in carrying it into execution. Still I remain of opinion, from a general review of things, and the state of our resources, that no extensive system of co-operation with the French for the complete emancipation of Canada, can be positively decided on for the ensuing year. To propose a plan of perfect co-operation with a foreign power, without a moral certain. ty in our supplies ; and to have that plan aetually ratified , with the court of Versailles, might be attended, in case of failure in the conditions on our part, with very fatal effects,
“ If I should seem unwilling to transmit the plan as prepared by Congress, with my observations, it is because I find myself under a necessity, in order to give our minister sufficient ground to found an application on, to propose something more than a vague and indecisive plan, which, even in the event of a total evacuation of the states by the enemy, may be rendered impracticable in the execution by a variety of insurmountable obstacles ; or if I retain my present sentiments, and act consistently, I must point out the difficulties, as they appear to me, which must embarrass his negotiations, and may disappoint the views of Congress.
“ But proceeding on the idea of the enemy's leaving these states before the active part of the ensuing campaign, I should fear to hazard a mistake as to the precise aiin and extent of the views of Congress. The conduct I am to observe in writing to our minister at the court of France, does not appear sufficiently delineated. Were I to undertake it, I should be much afraid of erring through misconception. In this dilemma, I would esteem it a particular favour to be excused from writing at all on the subject, especially as it is the part of candour in me to acknowledge that I do not see my way clear enough to point out such a plan for cooperation, as I conceive to be consistent with the ideas of Congress, and as will be sufficiently explanatory with re. spect to time and circumstances to give efficacy to the
“ But if Congress still think it necessary for me to pro. ceed in the business, I must request their more definitive and explicit instructions, and that they will permit me previous to transmitting the intended despatches, to submit them to their determination.
“ I could wish to lay before Congress more minutely the state of the army, the condition of our supplies, and the requisites necessary for carrying into execution an undertaking that may involve the most serious events. If Congress think this can be done more satisfactorily in a personal con.