« ZurückWeiter »
the Yorktown campaign lay in the manner in which it was brought about, in the management of so many elements, and in the rapidity of movement which carried an army without any proper supplies or means of transportation from New York to the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The control of the sea had been the great advantage of the British from the beginning, and had enabled them to achieve all that they ever gained. With these odds against him, with no possibility of obtaining a fleet of his own, Washington saw that his only chance of bringing the war to a quick and successful issue was by means of the French. It is difficult to anage allied troops. It is still more difficult to ...lanage allied troops and an allied fleet. Washington did both with infinite address, and won. The chief factor of his success in this direction lay in his profound personal influence on all men with whom he came in contact. His courtesy and tact were perfect, but he made no concessions, and never stooped. The proudest French noble who came here shrank from disagreement with the American general, and yet not one of them had anything but admiration and respect to express when they wrote of Washington in their memoirs, diaries, and letters. He impressed them one and all with a sense of power and greatness which could not be disregarded. Many times he failed to get the French fleet in coöperation, but finally it came. Then he put forth all his influence and all his address, and thus he got De Barras to the Chesapeake, and kept De Grasse at Yorktown.
This was one side of the problem, the most essential because everything hinged on the fleet, but by no means the most harassing. The doubt about the control of the sea made it impossible to work steadily for a sufficient time toward any one end. It was necessary to have a plan for every contingency, and be ready to adopt any one of several plans at short notice. With a foresight and judgment that never failed, Washington planned an attack on New York, another on Yorktown, and a third on Charleston. The division of the British forces gave him his opportunity of striking at one point with an overwhelming force, but there was always the possibility of their suddenly reuniting. In the extreme south he felt reasonably sure that Greene would hold Rawdon, but he was obliged to deceive and amuse Clinton, and at the same time, with a ridiculously inferior force, to keep Cornwallis from marching to South Carolina. Partly by good fortune, partly by skill, Cornwallis was kept in Virginia, while by admirably managed feints and threats Clinton was held in New York in inactivity. When the decisive moment came, and it was evident that the control of the sea was to be determined in the Chesapeake, Washington, overriding all sorts of obstacles, moved forward, despite a bankrupt and inert government, with a rapidity and daring which have been rarely equalled. It was a bold stroke to leave Clinton behind at the mouth of the Hudson, and only the quickness with which it was done, and the careful deception which had been practised, made it possible. Once at Yorktown, there was little more to do. The combination was so perfect, and the judgment had been so sure, that Cornwallis was crushed as helplessly as if he had been thrown before the car of Juggernaut. There was really but little fighting, for there was no opportunity to fight. Washington held the British in a vice, and the utter helplessness of Cornwallis, the entire inability of such a good and gallant soldier even to struggle, are the most convincing proofs of the military genius of his antagonist.
FoRTITUDE in misfortune is more common than composure in the hour of victory. The bitter medicine of defeat, however unpalatable, is usually extremely sobering, but the strong new wine of success generally sets the heads of poor humanity spinning, and leads often to worse results than folly. The capture of Cornwallis was enough to have turned the strongest head, for the moment at least, but it had no apparent effect upon the man who had brought it to pass, and who, more than any one else, knew what it meant. Unshaken and undismayed in the New Jersey winter, and among the complicated miseries of Walley Forge, Washington turned from the spectacle of a powerful British army laying down their arms as coolly as if he had merely fought a successful skirmish, or repelled a dangerous raid. He had that rare gift, the attribute of the strongest minds, of leaving the past to take care of itself. He never fretted over what could not be undone, nor dallied among pleasant memories while aught still remained to do. He wrote to Congress in words of quiet congratulation, through which pierced the devout and solemn sense of the great deed accomplished, and then, while the salvos of artillery were still booming in his ears, and the shouts of victory were still rising about him, he set himself, after his fashion, to care for the future and provide for the immediate completion of his work. He wrote to De Grasse, urging him to join in an immediate movement against Charleston, such as he had already suggested, and he presented in the strongest terms the opportunities now offered for the sudden and complete ending of the struggle. But the French admiral was by no means imbued with the tireless and determined spirit of Washington. He had had his fill even of victory, and was so eager to get back to the West Indies, where he was to fall a victim to Rodney, that he would not even transport troops to Wilmington. Thus deprived of the force which alone made comprehensive and extended movements possible, Washington returned, as he had done so often before, to making the best of cramped circumstances and straitened means. He sent all the troops he could spare to Greene, to help him in wresting the southern States from the enemy, the work to which he had in vain summoned De Grasse. This done, he prepared to go north. On his way he was stopped at Eltham by the illness and death of his wife's son, John Custis, a blow which he felt severely, and which saddened the great victory he had just achieved. Still the business of the state could not wait on private grief. He left the house of