Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

whole expedition was rash in the extreme. When Washington left Will's Creek he was aware that he was going to meet a force of a thousand men with only a hundred and fifty raw recruits at his back. In the same spirit he pushed on; and after the Jumonville affair, although he knew that the wilderness about him was swarming with enemies, he still struggled forward. When forced to retreat he made a stand at the Meadows and offered battle in the open to his more numerous and more prudent foes, for he was one of those men who by nature regard courage as a substitute for everything, and who have a contempt for hostile odds. He was ready to meet any number of French and Indians with cheerful confidence and with real pleasure. He wrote, in a letter which soon became famous, that he loved to hear bullets whistle, a sage observation which he set down in later years as a folly of youth. Yet this boyish outburst, foolish as it was, has a meaning to us, for it was essentially true. Washington had the fierce fighting temper of the Northmen. He loved battle and danger, and he never ceased to love them and to give way to their excitement, although he did not again set down such sentiments in boastful phrase that made the world laugh. Men of such temper, moreover, are naturally imperious and have a fine disregard of consequences, with the result that their allies, Indian or otherwise, often become impatient and finally useless. The campaign was perfectly wild from the outset, and if it had not been for the utter indifference to danger displayed by Washington, and the consequent timidity of the French, that particular body of Virginians would have been permanently lost to the British Empire. But we learn from all this many things. It appears that Washington was not merely a brave man, but one who loved fighting for its own sake. The whole expedition shows an arbitrary temper and the most reckless courage, valuable qualities, but here unrestrained, and mixed with very little prudence. Some important lessons were learned by Washington from the rough teachings of inexorable and unconquerable facts. He received in this campaign the first taste of that severe experience which by its training developed the self-control and mastery of temper for which he became so remarkable. He did not spring into life a perfect and impossible man, as is so often represented. On the contrary, he was educated by circumstances; but the metal came out of the furnace of experience finely tempered, because it was by nature of the best and with but little dross to be purged away. In addition to all this he acquired for the moment what would now be called a European reputation. He was known in Paris as an assassin, and in England, thanks to the bullet letter, as a "fanfaron" and brave braggart. With these results he wended his way home much depressed in spirits, but not in the least discouraged, and fonder of fighting than ever. Virginia, however, took a kinder view of the campaign than did her defeated soldier. She appreciated the gallantry of the offer to fight in the open and the general conduct of the troops, and her House of Burgesses passed a vote of thanks to Washington and his officers, and gave money to his men. In August he rejoined his regiment, and renewed the vain struggle against incompetence and extravagance, and as if this were not enough, his sense of honor was wounded and his temper much irritated by the governor's playing false to the prisoners taken in the Jumonville fight. While thus engaged, news came that the French were off their guard at Fort Duquesne, and Dinwiddie was for having the regiment of undisciplined troops march again into the wilderness. Washington, however, had learned something, if not a great deal, and he demonstrated the folly of such an attempt in a manner too clear to be confuted. Meantime the Burgesses came together, and more money being voted, Dinwiddie hit on a notable plan for quieting dissensions between regulars and provincials by dividing all the troops into independent companies, with no officer higher than a captain. Washington, the only officer who had seen fighting and led the regiment, resented this senseless policy, and resigning his commission withdrew to Mount Vernon to manage the estate and attend to his own affairs. He was driven to this course still more strongly by the original cause of Dinwiddie's arrangement. The English government had issued an order that officers holding the king's commission should rank provincial officers, and that provincial generals and field officers should have no rank when a general or field officer holding a royal commission was present. The degradation of being ranked by every whipper-snapper who might hold a royal commission by virtue, perhaps, of being the bastard son of some nobleman's cast-off mistress was more than the temper of George Washington could bear, and when Governor Sharpe, general by the king's commission, and eager to secure the services of the best fighter in Virginia, offered him a company and urged his acceptance, he replied in language that must have somewhat astonished his excellency. "You make mention in your letter," he wrote to Colonel Fitzhugh, Governor Sharpe's second in command, "of my continuing in the service, and retaining my colonel's commission. This idea has filled me with surprise; for, if you think me capable of holding a commission that has neither rank nor emolument annexed to it, you must entertain a very contemptible opinion of my weakness, and believe me to be more empty than the commission itself. ... In short every captain, bearing the king's commission, every half-pay officer, or others appearing with such a commission, would rank before me. . . . Yet my inclinations are strongly bent to arms." It was a bitter disappointment to withdraw from military life, but Washington had an intense sense of personal dignity; not the small vanity of a petty mind, but the quality of a proud man conscious of his own strength and purpose. It was of immense value to the American people at a later day, and there is something very instructive in this early revolt against the stupid arrogance which England has always thought it wise to display toward this country. She has paid dearly for indulging it, but it has seldom cost her more than when it drove Washington from her service, and left in his mind a sense of indignity and injustice. Meantime this Virginian campaigning had started a great movement. England was aroused, and it was determined to assail France in Nova Scotia, from New York and on the Ohio. In accordance with this plan General Braddock arrived in Virginia February 20, 1755, with two picked regiments, and encamped at Alexandria. Thither Washington used to ride and look longingly at the pomp and glitter, and wish that he were engaged in the service. Presently this became known, and Braddock, hearing of the young Virginian's past experience, offered him a place on his staff with the rank of colonel where he would be subject only to the orders of the general, and could serve as a volunteer. He therefore accepted at once, and threw himself into his new duties with hearty good-will. Every step was full of instruction. At Annapolis he met the governors of the other colonies, and was interested and attracted by this association with distinguished public men. In the army to which he was attached he studied with the deepest attention the best discipline of Europe, observing everything and forget

« ZurückWeiter »