« ZurückWeiter »
fice the southern States, and yet he could get neither ships nor men to attack New York. The army was starving and mutinous, and he sought relief in vain. The finances were ruined, Congress was helpless, the States seemed stupefied. Treason of the most desperate kind suddenly reared its head, and threatened the very citadel of the Revolution. These were the days of the war least familiar to posterity. They are unmarked in the main by action or fighting, and on this dreary monotony nothing stands out except the black stain of Arnold's treason. Yet it was the time of all others when Washington had most to bear. It was the time of all others when his dogged persistence and unwavering courage alone seemed to sustain the flickering fortunes of the war.
In April Washington was pondering ruefully on the condition of affairs at the south. He saw that the only hope of saving Charleston was in the defence of the bar; and when that became indefensible, he saw that the town ought to be abandoned to the enemy, and the army withdrawn to the country. His military genius showed itself again and again in his perfectly accurate judgment on distant campaigns. He seemed to apprehend all the conditions at a glance, and although his wisdom made him refuse to issue orders when he was not on the ground, those generals who followed his suggestions, even when a thousand miles away, were successful, and those who disregarded them were not. Lincoln, commanding at Charles.
ton, was a brave and loyal man, but he had neither the foresight nor the courage to withdraw to the country, and then, hovering on the lines of the enemy, to confine them to the town. He yielded to the entreaties of the citizens and remained, only to surrender.
Washington had retreated from New York, and after five years of fighting the British still held it, and had gone no further. He had refused to risk an assault to redeem Philadelphia at the expense of much grumbling and cursing, and had then beaten the enemy when they hastily retreated thence in the following spring. His cardinal doctrine was that the Revolution depended upon the existence of the army, and not on the possession of any particular spot of ground, and his masterly adherence to this theory brought victory, slowly but surely. Lincoln's very natural inability to grasp it, and to withstand popular pressure, cost us for a time the southern States and a great deal of bloody fighting.
In the midst of this anxiety about the south, and when he foresaw the coming disasters, Washington was cheered and encouraged by the arrival of Lafayette, whom he loved, and who brought good tidings of his zealous work for the United States in Paris. An army and a fleet were on their way to America, with a promise of more to follow. This was great news indeed. It is interesting to note how Washington took it, for we see here with unusual clearness the readiness of grasp and quickness of thought which have been noted before, but which
are not commonly attributed to him. It has been the fashion to treat Washington as wise and prudent, but as distinctly slow, and when he was obliged to concentrate public opinion, either military or civil, or when doubt overhung his course, he moved with great deliberation. When he required no concentration of opinion, and had made up
his mind, he could strike with a terribly swift decision, as at Trenton or Monmouth. So when a new situation presented itself he seized with wonderful rapidity every phase and possibility opened by changed conditions.
The moment he learned from Lafayette that the French succors were actually on the way, he began to lay out plans in a manner which showed how he had taken in at the first glance every chance and every contingency. He wrote that the decisive moment was at hand, and that the French succors would be fatal if not used successfully now. Congress must improve their methods of administration, and for this purpose must appoint a small committee to cooperate with him. This step he demanded, and it was taken at once. Fresh from his interview with Lafayette, he sent out orders to have inquiries made as to Halifax and its defences. Possibly a sudden and telling blow might be struck there, and nothing should be overlooked. He also wrote to Lafayette to urge upon the French commander an immediate assault on New York the moment he landed. Yet despite his thought for New York, he even then began to see the oppor
tunities which were destined to develop into Yorktown. He had longed to go to the south before, and had held back only because he felt that the main army
and New York were still the key of the position, and could not be safely left. Now, while planning the capture of New York, he asked in a letter whether the enemy was not more exposed at the southward and therefore a better subject for a combined attack there. Clearness and precision of plan as to the central point, joined to a perfect readiness to change suddenly and strike hard and decisively in a totally different quarter, are sure marks of the great commander. We can find them all through the correspondence, but here in May, 1780, they come out with peculiar vividness. They are qualities arising from a wide foresight, and from a sure and quick perception. They are not the qualities of a slow or heavy mind.
On June 1st came the news of the surrender of Charleston and the loss of the
which followed by the return of Clinton to New York. The southern States lay open now to the enemy, and it was a severe trial to Washington to be unable to go to their rescue; but with the same dogged adherence to his ruling idea, he concentrated his attention on the Hudson with renewed vigilance on account of Clinton's return. Adversity and prosperity alike were unable to divert him from the control of the great river and the mastery of the middle States until he saw conclusive victory elsewhere fairly within his grasp. In the
same unswerving way he pushed on the preparations for what he felt to be the coming of the deci. sive campaign and the supreme moment of the war. To all the governors went urgent letters, calling on the States to fill their lines in the continental army, and to have their militia in readiness.
In the midst of these anxieties and preparations, the French arrived at Newport, bringing a wellequipped army of some five thousand men, and a small fleet. They brought, too, something quite as important, in the way of genuine good-will and full intention to do all in their power for their allies. After a moment's hesitation, born of unlucky memories, the people of Rhode Island gave De Rochambeau a hearty welcome, and Washington sent him the most cordial greeting. With the greeting went the polite but earnest request for immediate action, together with plans for attacking New York; and, at the same time, another urgent call went out to the States for men, money, and supplies. The long looked for hour had arrived, a fine French army was in Newport, a French fleet rode in the harbor, and instead of action, immediate and effective, the great event marked only the beginning of a period of delays and disappointment, wearing heart and nerve almost beyond endurance.
First it appeared that the French ships could not get into New York harbor. Then there was sickness in the French army. Then the British menaced Newport, and rapid preparations had to be