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CAMPAIGN IN THE NORTH - ARNOLD'S TREASON.
URING the winter which followed the campaign of 1779, Washington, with his army hutted on the
heights of Morristown, was beset by pressing and formidable difficulties. The finances of Congress were in a most depressed condition, and the urgent wants of the army were but ill supplied. The evils of short enlistment, though distinctly understood and strongly felt, could not be remedied, and the places of those men who were leaving the army on the expiration of their stipulated term of service could not easily be filled up. Besides, the troops were in danger of perishing by cold and famine. During the preceding year General Greene and Colonel Wadsworth had been at the head of the quartermaster and commissary departments, and notwithstanding their utmost exertions, the wants of the army had been ill supplied. After being put into winter quarters it was in great danger of being dissolved by want of provisions or of perishing through famine. The Colonial paper money was in a state of great and and increasing depreciation, and in order to check the alarming evil Congress, which, like other popular assemblies had in it no small share of ignorance and self-sufficiency, resolved to diminish the circulation and keep up the value of their paper currency by withholding the necessary supplies from the public agents. This foolish resolution threatened the ruin of the army. Nobody was willing to make contracts with the public and some of those entered into were not fulfilled.
Congress, jealous of the public agents, because ignorant of what was really necessary, repeatedly changed the form of its engagements with them, and, at length, by its fuctuating policy, real wants, and imprudent parsimony, brought matters to such extremities that Washington was compelled to require the several counties of the State of New Jersey to furnish his army with certain quantities of provisions within six days in order to prevent them from being taken by force. Although the province was much exhausted, yet the people instantly complied with the requisition and furnished a temporary supply to the army.*
Soon after Clinton sailed on his expedition against Charleston a frost of unexampled intensity began. The Hudson, East river, and all the waters around New York were so completely frozen that an army with its artillery and wagons might have crossed them in all directions with perfect safety. New York lost all the advantages of its insular situation and became easily accessible on every side. The city was fortified by the British, but on account of its insular situation, several parts being considered of 'difficult access were left undefended. By the strength of the ice, however, every point became exposed, and in that unforeseen emergency, Knyphausen who commanded in the city with a garrison of 10,000 men took every prudent precaution for his defense and fortified every vulnerable part, but the inefficiency of the American army was his best security. Washington easily perceived the advantages which the extraordinary frost gave him, but from the destitute state of his army he was unable to avail himself of them. The army under his immediate command was inferior in number to the garrison of New York; it was also ill clad, scantily supplied with provisions, and in no condition to undertake offensive operations.
* While Washington was in winter quarters at Morristown, he requested Congress to send a committee to the camp, as had been previously done at Valley Forge, for the purpose of giving effect to the arrangements for the ensuing campaign, and drawing more expeditiously from the States their respective quotas of soldiers and supplies. General Schuyler, who had retired from the army and was then in Congress, was a member of this committee. He rendered essential service at this time by his judgment and experience. The committee remained in camp between two and three months.
The British had a post on Staten Island, and as the ice opened a free communication between the island and the New Jersey coast, Washington, notwithstanding the enfeebled condition of his army resolved to attack the garrison, and appointed Lord Stirling to conduct the enterprise. The night of the 14th of January (1780) was chosen for the attempt, but, though the Americans used every precaution, the officer commanding on Staten Island discovered their intention and took effectual measures to defeat it. The attack was repulsed, but little loss was sustained on either side.
The extreme cold occasioned much suffering in New York by want of provisions and fuel, for as the communication by water was entirely stopped the usual supplies were cut off. The demand for fuel in particular was so pressing that it was found expedient to break up some old transports, and to pull down some uninhabited wooden houses for the purpose of procuring that necessary article. As the British paid in ready money for provisions or firewood carried within the lines many of the country people, tempted by the precious metals, so rare among them, tried to supply the garrison. The endeavors of the British to encourage and protect this intercourse and the exertions of the Americans to prevent it brought on a sort of partisan warfare in which the former most frequently had the advantage. In one of the most important of those rencounters, early in February (1780), near White Plains, a captain and 14 men of a Massachusetts regiment were killed on the spot, 17 were wounded, and 90, with Colonel Thompson, the officer who commanded the party, were made prisoners. Washington, writing to General Heath respecting this affair, says: “It is some consolation that our officers and men appear to have made a brave resistance. I cannot help suspecting that our officers in advance quarter too long in a place. By these means the enemy by their emissaries gain a perfect knowledge of their cantonments and form their attacks accordingly. Were they to shift constantly the enemy could scarcely ever attain this knowledge.”
Congress found itself placed in very difficult circumstances. It always contained a number of men of talents and manifested no small share of vigor and activity. Many of the members were skilful in the management of their private affairs, and having been successful in the world thought themselves competent to direct the most important national concerns, although unacquainted with the principles of finance, legislation, or war. Animated by that blind presumption which generally characterizes popular assemblies they often entered into resolutions which discovered little practical wisdom. In pecuniary matters they were dilatory and never anticipated trying emergencies, or made provision for probable events, till they were overtaken by some urgent necessity. Hence they were frequently deliberating about levying troops and supplying the army when the troops ought to have been in the field, and the army fully equipped for active service. This often placed Washington in the most trying and perilous circumstances.
Congress had solemnly resolved not to exceed $200,000,000 in Continental bills of credit. In November, 1779, the whole of that sum was issued and expended also. The demand on the States to replenish the treasury by taxes had not been fully complied with, and even although it had been completely answered would not have furnished a sum adequate to the expenses of government. Instead of maturely considering and digesting a plan, adhering to it, and improving it by experience, Congress often changed its measures, and even in the midst of those distresses which had brought the army to the verge of dissolution, was busy in devising new and untried expedients for supporting it. As the treasury was empty and money could not be raised, Congress, on the 25th of February (1780), resolved to call on the several States for their proportion of provisions, spirits, and forage for the maintenance of the army during the ensuing campaign, but specified no time within which these were to be collected, and consequently the States were in no haste in the matter. In order to encourage and facilitate compliance with this requisition it was further resolved that any State which should have taken the necessary measures for furnishing its quota, and given notice thereof to Congress, should be authorized to prohibit any Continental quartermaster or commissary from purchasing within its limits.
Every man who had a practical knowledge of the subject easily perceived the defective nature and dangerous tendency of this arrangement. It was an attempt to carry on the war rather by separate provincial efforts than by a combination of national strength, and if the army received from any State where it was acting the appointed quantity of necessaries it had no right, though starving, to pur