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


This volume of the Public Papers of George Clinton covers the period from June 1, 1781 to January 1, 1782. With it ends the Revolutionary series. The seven months included represent the gloomiest and at the same time the most glorious of the war. Strategically New York was the pivot of the Confederation; the Hudson river, as it were, the Keystone of the arch that held New England to the Southern States. Had the British obtained possession of this important stream, a separation of New York and New England from the rest of the States would have been inevitable.

Washington's policy from the outset contemplated the protection and possession of the Hudson, for in this success the solidification of Confederated interests was certain regardless of local prejudices and local dissensions. Washington for a long time had under consideration a movement against New York City. His interview with Rochambeau at Hartford in September, 1780, had that object in view, but his plan was upset primarily through Arnold's treason. Washington, however, never relinquished his pet idea in spite of many discouraging obstacles. In the following May (twenty-second, 1781) he repaired to Weathersfield, Connecticut, to meet Rochambeau again. It was then decided that the troops of France and America should form a junction on the east bank of the Hudson near Dobbs Ferry, move down in the vicinity of New York and be ready to take advantage of any opportunity which the

weakness of the enemy might present. At no period of the war was the possession of the State of New York more essential to the success of the American cause. Her long border line was a short range target for predatory parties of Tories and Indians. and a wearing source of anxiety to Governor Clinton. Marauding expeditions dashed along or across the frontier of Tryon, of Schoharie and of Ulster and kept the exposed settlers in a state of feverish alarm. The Vermont question was far from settled and vibrated toward civil war, open treason to the United States and alliance with Great Britain. Battalions were not up to within fifty per cent of their required strength. Appeals from Washington, from Congress and from legislatures were unavailing. Washington himself complains of certain States that refuse to recruit their organizations to their full complement for the defence of their own lines but rely upon him to furnish detachments from his disintegrated command. The staff organization of the Continental Army had practically fallen to pieces. The words most frequently encountered in the following pages relate to requisitions, supplies, forage and funds; and requisitions for supplies and forage were worthless because of the deplorable scarcity of funds. As Washington spurs Congress to arouse the States to the necessity of raising troops, so does Robert Morris attempt to put under way the machinery to raise money. Up to February, 1781, Congress had undertaken no experiment to produce a revenue adequate to meet current expenses. The cost of the war averaged twenty millions of dollars annually. No plan had been devised to fund the National debt. The ruinous expedient of issuing loan office certificates had been followed until the National debt had reached appalling proportions, until public credit was practi

cally exterminated and the troops were driven to the point of mutiny. The condition of affairs was deplorable and the outlook discouraging in the extreme.*

When the tide was at the lowest ebb, Washington made that audacious and masterly change of front, that completely deceived his adversary and stamps him as one of the grandest

*The Battles of Kingsbridge. It is a fact worthy of note, that in every engage ment fought in the vicinity of old New York during the Revolutionary War, the so-called Hessians were always in evidence, from the day they landed on Long Island, one week after their embarkation from the transports that brought them from the Faderland, to the final affair at Kingsbridge in 1781. In spite of the condemnation that the Hessians, who were sold, and the English, who bargained, have been subjected to for more than a century and a quarter, the fact remains that these German hirelings were excellent as any troops in Europe. From a purely physical and financial consideration, the country who delivered and the country who accepted them, are beyond criticism, because both were actuated by the best of economical reasons-the German authorities had the troops to sell, the British had the money to buy. The former desired cash, the latter found it more expedient to negotiate for hirelings than to depopulate its restricted districts. Neither saw anything disgraceful in the transaction. As early as Edward the Third's time the English Army was raised by contract. The military system was an expensive one, and the men of influence and rank who maintained it found it profitable, for they received blood money for every soldier, according to his station and the arms he bore.

In 1775 the Parliament convened unusually early because of the "revolt, hostility and rebellion" of the Americans. Lord Mayor John Wilkes, the common disturber, had started an agitation that was troublous in the beginning and developed into turbulence the longer it was maintained. He drafted petitions to the King which abounded with inflammatory arguments and with phrases that bordered on the seditious; which perceived a real design to establish autocratic authority over all America and to uproot and destroy the constitution, a charge that subsequently was made in the House of Commons by Charles James Fox. Upon receiving an unsatisfactory reply from the King, Wilkes clamored for the impeachment of the evil counsellors who had planted popery and arbitrary power in America. Other addresses and petitions began to roll in on the King, especially when the new ministerial policy was divulged, of raising foreign troops for the British Army and under British pay, a policy that was generally regarded with horror and indignation. It was under conditions such as these, that George III. delivered from the throne the memorable 26th of October speech. "The rebellious war now levied," he observed, "is become more general and is manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire." It was the part of wisdom and of clemency to put an end to those disorders by decisive action; and for this purpose he had increased his naval establishment and greatly augmented his land forces, yet in such a manner as to be least expensive or burdensome to his Kingdom. The opposition in the Commons and the House of Lords was up in arms in an instant. The debates were most sensational. The Cabinet Ministers were denounced for having reduced their sovereign to the most disgraceful and humiliating condition, and the King was condemned for suggesting the necessity of bringing over a host of mercenaries to compose a standing army. The greatest sensation, however, occurred in the Upper House, where the Duke of Grafton, the lord privy seal, made the startling declaration that he had been deceived and misled upon the whole American subject, and that ministers by withholding information and misrepresenting facts had induced him to lend his countenance to measures he never approved.

Disappointed in securing 20,000 minions from Russia in the summer and early fall of 1775, England made overtures to the German rulers, whose lands were poor,

characters and greatest generals in history. Abandoning his confirmed judgment to advance on New York, he lifted his army across the Hudson and by several clever feints-such as marking out ground for an extensive encampment in New Jersey, by erecting bake ovens at Chatham, and by decoy letters that conveniently fell into the British commander's hands had trav

whose resources were limited, whose taxes were high and whose treasury was always low. As experts in the art of parcelling out troops to neighboring powers, the German princes occupied an advanced and isolated position. They had been at it for nearly a hundred years without inspiring a reputation for partiality. As far back as 1687 one of the landgraves rented a thousand troops to the Venetians who were fighting the Turks. But since Queen Anne's time, when nine thousand Hessians were sold as so many cattle, to the Maritime Powers, the German rulers had been steadily raising the tariff in their degrading and infamous specialty. England had been their steadiest, commonest and most profitable customer. At the battle of Dettingen the Hessians were evenly represented as hirelings, six thousand serving under the standard of George II, of England and six thousand under the German Emperor, Charles VII.

February 29, 1776, the treaties that had been entered into with the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, the Duke of Brunswick and the Hereditary Prince of Hesse Darmstadt for the renting of troops for service in America, were laid before the House of Commons. An acrimonious debate ensued, a debate that was intensified in bitterness when the abasing conditions were made known; when the Ministers reluctantly admitted that the proposition was no novelty, as England had been in the custom at all times to employ foreigners in her wars, and that the terms were such as the princes had prescribed and necessity compelled the ministers to accept. The troops were secured at immoderately high prices. Thus each soldier was given nearly seven pounds, five shillings, and the princes who leased them were to receive extravagant subsidies--the Duke of Brunswick annually £15.519 for 4,000 slaves; the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, £10,817 per annum for 10,000 slaves; the Hereditary .Prince of Hesse, who made the best terms, the handsome award of £6,000 for 688. In all, six princes were involved in this degrading business from the beginning to the end of the war; more than 18,000 troops sailed for America in 1776; nearly 30,000 in all were brought over before the war closed, of whom more than 12,000, it is estimated, never returned to the land of their birth. It was the Prince, not the soldier, who received the blood money that went with the transaction, and it is not surprising, in view of all the facts, that so conservative a man as the Duke of Richmond should, on the floor of the House of Lords, stigmatize the proceedings as a downright mercenary bargain," and the victims as "hirelings who were bought and sold like so many beasts for slaughter." The exact amount which the German princes received from England has never been learned, but the aggregate has been estimated at £1,750,000, including pay and excluding the cost of recruiting and equipment.

[ocr errors]

For the Americans the Hessians entertained the most thorough contempt. They regarded them as rebels pure and simple, and as such treated them. At the battle of Brooklyn, where they met for the first time no quarter was asked or given, and the Americans who were taken prisoners were humiliated by personal chastisement at the hands of the victors. It was the Hessians who captured the Earl of Stirling and John Sullivan. Both were grossly insulted by their captors Colonel Van Heeringen, who commanded a Hessian regiment, writes: "John Sullivan was a lawyer and previously a domestic servant, but a man of genius whom the rebels will much regret. Among the prisoners are many so-called colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors and other officers, who, however, are nothing but mehanics, tailors, shoemakers, wigmakers, barbers, etc. Some of them were soundly beaten by our people who would by no means let such persons pass for officers. Sullivan was

« ForrigeFortsett »