« PreviousContinue »
their marches might be traced by the blood which their bare feet left upon the snow. The Quartermaster General's and the Commissary General's departments had been removed from Washington's control; and the ruling statesmen of that day, far from heeding his complaints, or striving to supply his necessities, were rather disposed to cavil at the lack of enterprise which these very necessities produced. In his own emphatic words: "Finding that the inactivity of the "army, whether for the want of provisions, clothes, or other "essentials, is charged to my account, not only by the "common vulgar, but by those in power, it is time to speak "plain in exculpation of myself. With truth then I can de"elare,that no man in my opinioneverhadhis measures more "impeded than I have by every department of the army."*
The urgent representations of Washington might be duly laid before the Congress. But the Members, at this period, were mainly engrossed by a change in their own Presidency; which had been resigned by Mr. John Hancock on the ground of ill health. As his successor, they chose Mr. Henry Laurens of South Carolina. Besides the turmoil attending this election, they were now even more than usually stirred by jealousies, cabals, and private interests; not a few of these directed against the best and truest of their patriots, their Commander-in-Chief.
Of such cabals and jealousies a fuller account shall be given in the sequel. Meanwhile letms proceed with Washington's complaints. "I am now convinced beyond a doubt, "that unless there be some great and capital change this "army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these "three things— starve, dissolve, or disperse in order to "obtain subsistence in the best manner they can. Yesterday "afternoon, receiving information that the enemy in force "had left the city, with the apparent design to forage, I or"dered the troops to be in readiness that I might give every "opposition in my power, when behold, to my great morti"fication, I was not only informed but convinced, that the
* To the President of Congress, December 23. 1777.
CAMP AT VALLEY FORGE.
"men were unable to stir on account of provision, and that "a dangerous mutiny begun the night before, and which "with great difficulty was suppressed by the spirited "exertions of some officers, was still much to be apprehended for want of this article. This brought forth the "only commissary in the purchasing line in this camp, and "with him this melancholy and alarming truth, that he had "not a single hoof of any kind to slaughter, and not more "than twenty-five barrels of flour! From hence form an "opinion of our situation, when I add that he could not tell "when to expect any! All I could do under these circum"stances was to send out a few light parties to watch and "harass the enemy, whilst other parties were instantly de"tached different ways to collect, if possible, as much provision as would satisfy the present pressing wants of the "soldiery. But will this answer? No, sir, three or four days "of bad weather would prove our destruction. What, then, "is to become of the army this winter?
"And this, the great and crying evil, is not all. The "soap, vinegar, and other articles allowed by Congress, "we see none of, nor have we seen them, I believe, since "the battle of the Brandy-wine. The first, indeed, we "have now little occasion for, few men having more than "one shirt, many only the moiety of one, and some none "at all! And from lack of blankets numbers have been "obliged, and still are, to sit up all night by fires, instead "of taking comfortable rest in a natural and common way.
"We find gentlemen, without knowing whether the army "was really going into winter quarters or not, for I am sure "no resolution of mine would warrant the remonstrance, "reprobating the measure as much as if they thought the
"soldiers were made of stocks and stones I can assure
"those gentlemen that it is a much easier, and less dis"tressing, thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable "room, by a good fire-side, than to occupy a cold bleak hill, "and sleep under frost and snow,without clothes or blankets."*
* Writings, vol. v. pp. 197—200.
It was then, and then only, in his extremest need, that Washington attempted to supply the wants of his troops by a compulsory requisition. The seizures which he made were small in amount, yet sufficient, as he says, to excite the greatest alarm and uneasiness, even among his warmest friends. His letters clearly show the humane and generous reluctance with which he had recourse to such a measure, and declare that he should account it as among the heaviest of misfortunes if compelled to practise it again.*
The determination which Washington had taken with respect to winter quarters was not less honourable to his sagacious judgment than to his resolute will. There were, as we have just now seen, some civilian critics who, from their fire-sides, inveighed against the General for going into quarters at all. On the other hand, there were many of his officers eagerly pressing that these quarters might be taken in some of the further towns, as York or Lancaster, where the comfort of the soldiers and their own might be secured. But Washington, while he deemed it impracticable and unnecessary to keep the open field throughout the winter months, was determined to remain within a short distance of his adversaries; thus, so far as possible, narrowing the sphere of their influence and lessening the reputation of their conquests. With that view, he fixed on Valley Forge, a strong position among the hills, and on the banks of the Schuylkill, only twenty miles from Philadelphia. It was then a wilderness overgrown with wood; and surely it affords no slight proof of the ascendency of Washington over his soldiers, that he could prevail upon them, in the midst of frost and snow, to set actively to work to clear this desolate spot, and to construct as they best might rude log-huts for their shelter in the place of tents. There accordingly they encamped for many months to come. On all occasions they were cheered by the ready example of the General—not more when there were .perils to encounter, than with hardships and toils to undergo.
* Writings, vol. v. p. 209.
1777. CAMPAIGN OP GENERAL BURGOYNE. 177
Important as maybe deemed the transactions of this year in Pennsylvania, they are well-nigh cast into the shade by the campaign of the Northern armies. There, with less of jtalent, and fewer numbers, engaged on either side, a brighter laurel was gathered, a more decisive result was attained.
The design of invading the United States from the side of Canada has been already mentioned. It was an object of the highest importance to the British, and one which they had far too long delayed, to dissever New England from the other insurgent Colonies, by carrying their posts along the Hudson, and the intermediate lakes between Crown Point and New York. With this view, there were assembled in Canada upwards of 7000 regular troops, German and English; the German under General Riedesel; the English under General Burgoyne, who held the supreme command. An excellent train of brass artillery had been provided. Several hundred Indians, of various tribes, had been persuaded to engage. From the side of New York, Sir Henry Clinton, with the- regiments left behind by Howe, might, it was expected, afford a strenuous and successful co-operation.
With such forces and such hopes, Burgoyne commenced the campaign from Crown Point at the close of June. Here follow some words from his General Orders of that day: "The army embarks to-morrow, to approach the enemy. "The services required of this particular expedition are cri"tical and conspicuous. During our progress, occasions may "occur in which nor difficulty, nor labour, nor life, are to "be regarded. This army must not retreat!"
Ticonderoga was Burgoyne's first point. The Americans, not unprepared for an invasion from this side, had greatly strengthened the fort by newworks on Mount Independence. Malum, History. VI. 12
But the troops, dispirited and ill-equipped, and not exceeding 3,400 men, were inadequate to the defence of this position. Accordingly, no sooner was the place invested, than their General, St. Clair, called a Council of War; and the officers, agreeing in opinion, drew off the troops by night, leaving Ticonderoga to the occupation of the British. Next morning, when their retreat was discovered, they were hotly pursued; and two of their divisions being overtaken, were put to the rout, or cut to pieces., in skirmishes atHuberton and Fort Anne. The remainder made their way to General Schuyler, at Fort Edward, upon the Hudson river.
Fort Edward was now, in like manner, the aim of General Burgoyne. He rejected, as circuitous, the ordinary route by Ticonderoga and Lake George, and with his main body, pushed forward across the country from Skenesborough. Here he found himself harassed by almost every obstacle that either art or nature could supply. The Americans had felled large trees on both sides of the track, so as to fall across it with their branches mingled. The face of the country was likewise so broken with streams or swamps, that in this moderate distance, the British had no less than forty bridges to construct; one of these, a log-work over a morass, two miles in length.* When at last, through all these impediments, Burgoyne did appear before Fort Edward, he found that the enemy had relinquished it on his approach, and fallen back towards Stillwater, lower down the Hudson. But the delays in his march had afforded them what they chiefly needed — further time to mature their preparations for defence.
At Fort Edward it was Burgoyne's first care to open the communications by Lake George, and thus, for the time, secure his supplies from Canada. He found himself unable to obtain adequate supplies around him; and his principal dependence was upon the stores of salt provisions brought from England into the St. Lawrence, and conveyed from thence across Lake Champlain. He found, also, that he
* Ramsay's History, vol ii. p. 34.