Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

ference, I hope to have the army in such a situation before I can receive their answer as to afford me an opportunity of giving my attendance."

The personal interview requested in this letter was agreed to by Congress, and a committee appointed by them to confer with him. The result was that the proposed expedition against Canada was given up by those who, after repeated deliberation, had resolved

upon

it.

CHAPTER VI.

CAMPAIGN OF 1779.

The distresses of the American army....Gen. Washington calms

the uncasiness in the Jersey line.... Finds great difficulty in sup. porting his troops and concentrating their force.... Makes a disposition of them with a view to the security of West Point..., Directs an expedition against the Six Nations of Indians, and for the reduction of Stony Point..... Paules Hook taken..... A French fleet, expected to the northward, arrives on the coast of Georgia.... Washington, unequal to offensive operations, retires into winter quarters.

THE years 1779 and 1780, passed away in the northern states without any of those great military exploits which enliven the pages of history; but they were years of anxiety and distress, which called for all the passive valour, the sound practical judgment, and the conciliatory address, for which Gen. Washington was so eminently distinguished.

The states, yielding to the pleasing delusion that their al: liance with France placed their independence beyond the j reach of accident, and that Great Pritain, despairing of suce

cess, would speedily abandon the contest, relaxed in their preparations for a vigorous prosecution of the war. To

these ungrounded hopes Washington opposed the whole weight of his influence. In his correspondence with Congress, the Governors of particular states, and other influ. ential individuals, he pointed out the fallacy of the prevailing opinion that peace was near at hand; and the necessity for raising, equipping, and supporting, a force sufficient for active operations. He particularly urged that the annual arrangements for the army should be made so early that the recruits for the year should assemble at head quarters on the first of January ; but such was the torpor of the public mind that, notwithstanding these representations, it was as late as the 23d of January, 1779, when Congress passed resolutions authorising the commander in chief to re-enlist the army; and as late as the 9th of the following March, that the requisitions were made on the several states for their quotas. The military establishment for 1780 was later; for it was not agreed upon till the 9th of February; nor were men required before the first of April. Thus, when armies ought to have been in the field, nothing more was done than a grant of the requisite authority for raising them.

The depreciation of the current paper money had advanced so rapidly as to render the daily pay of an officer unequal to his support. This produced serious discontents in the army. An order was given in May, 1779, for the Jersey brigade to march by regiments to join the western army. In answer to this order a letter received from Gen Maxwell, stating that the officers of the first regiment had delivered to their Colonel a remonstrance, addressed to the legislature of New Jersey, in which they declared, that unless their former complaints on the deficiency of pay obtained immediate attention, they were to be considered at the end of three days as having resigned their commissions; and on that contingency they requested the legislature to appoint other officers in their stead. General Washington, who was strongly attached to the army, and knew their virtue, their sufferings, and also the justice of their complaints, immediately comprehended the ruin. ous consequences likely to result from the measure they had adopted. After serious deliberation, he wrote a letter to Gen. Maxwell, to be laid before the officers. In the double capacity of their friend and their commander, he

made a forcible address both to their pride and their patriotism. “ There is nothing," he observed, “ which has happened in the course of the war, that has given me so much pain as the remonstrance you mention from the offi. cers of the first Jersey regiment. I cannot but consider it a hasty and imprudent step, which, on more cool consideration, they will themselves condemn. I am very sensible of the inconveniences under which the officers of the army labour, and I hope they do me the justice to believe, that my endeavours 10 procure them relief are incessant. There is more difficulty, however, in satisfying their wishes, than perhaps they are aware of. Our resources have been hitherto very limited. The situation of our money is no small embarrassment, for which, though there are remedies, they cannot be the work of a moment. Govern. ment is not insensible of the merits and sacrifices of the officers, nor unwilling to make a compensation ; but it is a truth of which a very little observation must convince us, that it is very much straitened in the means. Great allowances ought to be made on this account, for any delay and seeming backwardness which may appear. Some of the states, indeed, have done as generously as was in their power; and if others have been less expeditious, it ought to be ascribed to some peculiar cause, which a little time, aided by example, will remove. The patience and perseverance of the army have been, under every disadvantage, such as do them the highest honour at home and abroad, and have inspired me with an unlimited confidence in their virtue, which has consoled me amid every perplexity and reverse of fortune, to which our affairs, in a struggle of this nature, were necessarily exposed. Now that we have made so great a progress to the attainment of the end we have in view, so that we cannot fail, without a most shameful desertion of our own interests, any thing like a change of conduct would imply a very unhappy change of principles, and a forgetfulness as well of what we owe to ourselves as to our country. Did I suppose it possible this should be the case, even in a single regiment of the army, I should be mortified and chagrined beyond expression. I should feel it as a wound given to my own honour, which I consider as embarked with that of the army. But this I believe to be impossible. Any corps that was about to set an example of the kind, would weigh well the consequences; and no officer of common discernment and sensibility, would hazard them. If they should stand alone in it, independent of other consequences, what would be their feelings on reflecting that they had held themselves out to the world in a point of light inferior to the rest of the army y? Or, if their example should be followed, and become general, how could they console theinselves for having been the foremost in bringing ruin and disgrace upon their country? They would remember that the army would share a double portion of the general infamy and distress; and that the character of an American officer would become as despiCable as it is now glorious.

“I confess the appearances in the present instance are disagreeable ; but I am convinced they seem to mean more than they really do. The Jersey officers have not been outdone by any others, in the qualities either of citizens or soldiers; and I am confident no part of them would seri. ously intend any thing that would be a stain on their former reputation. The gentlemen cannot be in earnest; they have only reasoned wrong about the means of attaining a good end, and, on consideration, I hope and flatter myself they will renounce what must appear improper. At the opening of a campaign, when under marching orders for an important service, their own honour, duty to the public and to themselves, and a regard to military propriety, will not suffer them to persist in a measure which would be a violation of them all. It will even wound their deli. cacy coolly to refiect, that they have hazarded a step which has an air of dictating terms to their country, by taking advantage of the necessity of the moment.

“ The declaration they have made to the state, at so critical a time, that ' unless they obtain relicf in the short period of three days, they must be considered out of the service, has very much that aspect; and the seeming relaxation of continuing until the state can have a reasonable iime to provide other officers, will be thought only a superficial veil. I am now to request that you will convey my sentiments to the gentlemen concerned, and endeavour to make them sensible of their error. The service for which the regiment was intended, will not admit of delay. It must at all events march on Monday morning, in the first place Co this camp, and further directions will be given when it arrives. I am sure I shall not be mistaken in expecting a prompt and cheerful obedience."

The officers did not explicitly recede from their claims, but were brought round so far as to continue in service. In an address to General Washington, they declared " their unhappiness that any step of theirs should give him pain ;£? but alledged in justification of themselves, that repeated memorials had been presented to their legislature, which had been neglected ;' and added, “ we have lost all confi- ' dence in that body. Reason and experience forbid that we should have any. Few of us have private fortunes ; many have families who already are suffering every thing that can be received from an ungrateful country. Are we then to suffer all the inconveniences, fatigues and dangers of a military life, while our wives and our children are perishing for want of common necessaries at home ; and that without the most distant prospect of reward, for our pay is now only nominal-?. We are sensible that your excelleney cannot wish or desire this from us.

“ We are sorry that you should imagine we meant to disobey orders. It was; and still is, our determination to, march with our regiment, and to do the duty of officers, until the legislature should have a reasonable time to appoint others; but no longer.

“ We beg leave to assure your excellency, that we have the highest sense of your ability and virtues ; that executing your orders has ever given us pleasure ; that we love the service, and we love our country ; but when that country is so lost to virtue and to justice as to forget to support its servants, it then becomes their duty to retire from its service."

The ground adopted by the officers for their justification, was such as interdicted a resort to stern measures ; at the same time a compliance with their demands was impossible. In this embarrassing situation, Washington took no other notice of their letter than to declare to the officers, through General Maxwell, “ that while they continued to do their duty, he should only regret the part they had laken." The legislature of New Jersey, roused by these events, made some partial proyision for their troopsThe

« ForrigeFortsett »