Page images

While marching through the Jerseys, the British troops were followed and harassed by Washington. Nearly all his officers, being consulted, gave advice against bringing them to an engagement; the Commander-in-chief nevertheless determined to attack their rear. He sent forward, accordingly, a strong detachment under General Charles Lee, now released from his captivity; and an action ensued at Monmouth Court House on the 28th of June. Lee withdrew from the ground without orders, and, as was alleged, without necessity; and he was closely pursued by the British; but Washington coming up effectually put a stop to their advance. So intense was the midsummer heat, that several men on both sides dropped dead without a wound. Both armies sustained a nearly equal loss, — between three and four hundred on each side,— and both in the evening occupied the same positions as at first; but in the course of the night Sir Henry Clinton silently withdrew his men, and pursued his march. Thus on the whole it was a pitched battle; the advantage, if any, being rather on the side of the British, who had fought only to secure their retreat, and who had succeeded in that object. The Americans ascribed their disappointment to the fault of General Lee; he was tried by a Court-Martial, found guilty, and by a lenient sentence suspended from command for one year. His chief consolation and employment in his disgrace appears to have been most virulent railing against Washington.

The British army being now concentrated at New York and Rhode Island, its principal attention was directed to the movements of the Toulon squadron. The equipment of that squadron had been actively pressed and nearly completed before the French Declaration of the 13th of March; it left port soon afterwards, and early in July appeared off the coast of America. There were six frigates and twelve ships of the line, the commander being Count D'Estaing; and there was on board Monsieur Gerard, accredited as Minister to the United States. The force under Lord Howe was very far inferior; fewer ships and those for the most part smaller than D'Estaing's; besides that they had been long on service, and were in ill condition. The first object of D'Estaing had been to surprise them in the Delaware; but he arrived too late; the British had already sailed for New York. D'Estaing next directed his course to Sandy Hook, hoping to force the entrance of the harbour; but he was dissuaded by the advice of some pilots, and, altogether changing his plans, steered for Rhode Island, and sailed up the Newport river. An attack against the British in that quarter had been projected between the new allies; the French promised to land from their ships 4000 troops, and the Americans actually sent a detachment of 10,000 under General Sullivan. The British troops, only 5000 strong, retired within their lines at Newport.

At these tidings Lord Howe, whose intended successor, Admiral Byron, had not as yet arrived, issued forth from the Hudson, and sailed in pursuit of D'Estaing. The two fleets were on the point of engaging when separated by a violent storm; there were only conflicts between some single ships, in which the honour of the British Flag was worthily maintained. D'Estaing now declared, that his fleet was so far damaged by the tempest as to compel him to put into Boston harbour and refit. In this resolution he persisted, although Sullivan, Greene, and other American officers altogether denied the necessity, and even transmitted to him a written protest against it, couched in acrimonious terms. Certain it is that the course which D'Estaing pursued on this occasion, not only forced the Americans to relinquish their enterprise upon Rhode Island, but roused up among them a bitter feeling against the French. To such an extent was this animosity carried, that riots ensued in the streets of Boston between the American seamen and their new allies.

During this time Sir Henry Clinton sent out several expeditions in various quarters. At Old Tappan a body of American horsemen, under Colonel Baylor, were surprised and routed, or put to the sword. In Egg Harbour great part of Count Pulasky's foreign legion was cut to pieces. At Buzzard's Bay, and on the island called Martha's Vineyard, many American ships were taken or destroyed, storehouses burned, and contributions of sheep and oxen levied. In these expeditions the principal commander was General Charles Grey, an officer of great zeal and ardour, whom the Americans sometimes surnamed "the No-flint General," from his common practice of ordering his men to take the flints out of their muskets, and trusting to their bayonets alone.* After some twenty years of further service, the veteran was raised, by the favour of his Sovereign, to the peerage, as Lord Grey of Howick, and afterwards Earl Grey. His son became Prime Minister, and the greatest orator who since the death of Chatham had appeared in the House of Lords.

In other parts of the Continent, the intermingling of savages in the war. even though with no authority from the chiefs, was productive of dreadful excesses. Thus at this time the fair settlement of Wyoming, on the Susquehanna, and under the dominion of Congress, was ferociously sacked and burned, its inhabitants being put to the sword, and little mercy shown either to women or children. The aggressors on this occasion were a troop of wild Indians, in conjunction with some Tory exiles. They were headed by Colonel Butler, a partisan commander of note, and by Joseph Brandt, a half Indian in birth, a whole Indian in cruelty. Unhappily at Wyoming the soil was claimed both by Connecticut and Pennsylvania. From this conflict of pretensions, and consequent laxity of law, there had been the freer license for rigours against the loyalists. Few of them in that district but had undergone imprisonment, or exile, or confiscation of property; and thus were they at last provoked to form a savage alliance, and to perpetrate a fierce revenge.

Another such scene of ruthless havoc, under the same leaders, took place at Cherry Valley, when an officer from Massachusetts, Ichabod Alden, was surprised and slain. The Americans vowed vengeance, and they kept their word. An expedition from Pennsylvania, under a different Colonel Butler, and another expedition from Virginia, under Colonel Clarke, having accomplished most toilsome marches, fell upon several back-settlements connected with the British or Canadians, compelling the allegiance of some, and with sword and fire laying the others waste.

Such successes as that at Old Tappan were regarded

[ocr errors]

as mere subordinate objects by Sir Henry Clinton. His main purpose at this time was to carry the war into the Southern States. Hitherto the attempt had been to conquer the Colonies from north to south. Might not better success attend the opposite endeavour of proceeding from south to north, beginning where the loyal party was the strongest, and where the power of defence was least? With these views, in which the Cabinet at home participated, Sir Henry despatched a body of 3500 men by sea to Georgia. Its capital, Savannah, was defended by the American General, Robert Howe, but it was quickly carried, and the entire province reduced. Great part of the colonists consented to take the oath of allegiance to the King, and to form rifle-companies in the Royal cause.

Sir Henry had also received secret instructions from his Government to make a further detachment of 5000 men to the West Indies, the object being an attack on St. Lucia. These troops he sent according to his orders. Certainly, however, he had good reason for observing at the same time to the Secretary of State: —" With an "army so much diminished at New York, nothing im"portant can be done, especially as it is also weakened "by sending 700 men to Halifax, and 300 to Bermuda."* Indeed, for many months afterwards the army at New York could fulfil little more than the duties of a garrison.

Early in November Count D'Estaing, with the French squadron, quitted the port of Boston, and sailed for the West Indies, there to pursue exclusively French objects. Deep was the disappointment, and loud the animadversion, of the Americans in the northern provinces. They had formed the most sanguine hopes from the French alliance. They had found that alliance as yet little better than a name. Moreover, just before the departure of D'Estaing, he had given them another valid reason for displeasure. He had issued a proclamation to the people of Canada, inviting, though in guarded terms, their return to the sway of their former Sovereign. It need scarcely be observed that such views were most directly repugnant

* To Lord George Germaine, October 8.1778.

to the terms ot the treaty signed only nine months before. Nor did it seem easy to believe, as is still asserted, that D'Estaing was acting in utter ignorance of the real intentions of his Court.* Under such circumstances, the conduct of the majority of Congress was such as to justify, in a most striking manner, the complaints of their incapacity which we find in Washington's private letters at this period. They eagerly embraced a project from La Fayette for another invasion of Canada, to be concerted between themselves and the Court of Versailles; and they shut their eyes to the obvious probability, that the King of France would insist on retaining Canada, if conquered by his aid.

From this risk, as from so many others, both before and since, was the Congress rescued by the foresight and the firmness of Washington. He induced them, though not without great difficulty, to postpone, at least, this favourite scheme. Thus he expostulated with the President:— "France, — acknowledged for some time past "the most powerful monarchy in Europe by land, — able "now to dispute the empire of the sea with Great Bri"tain, and if joined with Spain, I may say, certainly "superior, — if possessed of New Orleans, on our right, "and of Canada, on our left, and if seconded by the "numerous tribes of Indians in our rear, from one ex"tremity to the other, — a people so friendly to her, and "whom she knows so well how to conciliate, — would, it "is much to be apprehended, have it in her power to give

"law to these States I fancy that I read in the

"countenances of some people on this occasion more than

"the disinterested zeal of allies But upon the

"whole, Sir, to waive every other consideration, I do "not like to add to the number of our national obliga"tions. I would wish as much as possible to avoid giving "a foreign Power new claims of merit for services per- * See a note to Mr. Sparks's edition of Washington's Writings, vol. vi . p. 113.; and the life of Gouverneur Morris, vol. i. p. 189. The Proclamation itself appears in the Ann. Eegist. 1779, p. 355. D'Estaing says to the Canadians: "To bear the arms of parricides "against it" (your mother country) "must be the completion "of misfortunes." But was not this rather dangerous ground for him to touch upon with his new allies?

« PreviousContinue »