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muskets in many cases were rendered useless by the rain, and their ammunition was spent. The Indians had deserted, and the foe outnumbered them four to one. When the French therefore offered a parley, Washington was forced reluctantly to accept. The French had no stomach for the fight, apparently, and allowed the English to go with their arms, exacting nothing but a pledge that for a year they would not come to the Ohio.
So ended Washington's first campaign. His friend the Half-King, the celebrated Seneca chief, Thanacarishon, who prudently departed on the arrival of the French, has left us a candid opinion of Washington and his opponents. “ The colonel,” he said, “was a good-natured man, but had no experience ; he took upon him to command the Indians as his slaves, and would have them every day upon the scout and to attack the enemy by themselves, but would by no means take advice from the Indians. He lay in one place from one full moon to the other, without making any fortifications, except that little thing on the meadow ; whereas, had he taken advice, and built such fortifications as I advised him, he might easily have beat off the French. But the French in the engagement acted like cowards, and the English like fools.” 1
There is a deal of truth in this opinion. The
1 Enquiry into the Causes and Alienations of the Delaware and Shawanee Indians, etc. London, 1759. By Charles Thomson, afterwards Secretary of Congress.
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.”