Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

to march eastward at short notice; but he gradually became convinced that the enemy had no such plan. Much of his thought, now and always, was given to efforts to divine the intentions of the British generals. They had so few settled ideas, and were so tardy and lingering when they had plans, that it is small wonder that their opponents were sorely puzzled in trying to find out what their purposes were, when they really had none. The fact was that Washington saw their military opportunities with the eye of a great soldier, and so much better than they, that he suffered a good deal of needless anxiety in devising methods to meet attacks which they had not the wit to undertake. He had a profound contempt for their policy of holding towns, and believing that they must see the utter futility of it, after several years of trial, he constantly expected from them a well-planned and extensive campaign, which in reality they were incapable of devising.

The main army, therefore, remained quiet, and when the autumu had passed went into winterquarters in well-posted detachments about New York. In December Clinton made an ineffectual raid, and then all was peaceful again, and Washington was able to go to Philadelphia and struggle with Congress, leaving his army more comfortable and secure than they had been in any previous winter.

In January he informed Congress as to the next campaign. He showed them the impossibility of

1

andertaking anything on a large scale, and announced his intention of remaining on the defensive. It was a trying policy to a man of his temper, but he could do no better, and he knew, now as always, what others could not yet see, that by simply holding on and keeping his army in the field he was slowly but surely winning independence. He tried to get Congress to do something with the navy, and he planned an expedition, under the command of Sullivan, to overrun the Indian country and check the barbarous raids of the Tories and savages on the frontier; and with this he was fain to be content. In fact, he perceived very clearly the direction in which the war was tending. He kept up his struggle with Congress for a permanent army, and with the old persistency pleaded that something should be done for the officers, and at the same time he tried to keep the States in good humor when they were grumbling about the amount of protection afforded them.

But all this wear and tear of heart and brain and temper, while given chiefly to hold the army together, was not endured with any notion that he and Clinton were eventually to fight it out in the neighborhood of New York. Washington felt that that part of the conflict was over. He now hoped and believed that the moment would come, when, by uniting his army with the French, he should be able to strike the decisive blow. Until that time came, however, he knew that he could do nothing on a great scale, and he felt that meanwhile the

British, abandoning practically the eastern and middle States, would make one last desperate struggle for victory, and would make it in the south. Long before any one else, he appreciated this fact, and saw a peril looming large in that region, where everybody was considering the British invasion as little more than an exaggerated raid. He foresaw, too, that we should suffer more there than we had in the extreme north, because the south was full of Tories and less well organized.

All this, however, did not change his own plans one jot. He believed that the south must work out its own salvation, as New York and New England had done with Burgoyne, and he felt sure that in the end it would be successful. But he would not go south, nor take his army there. The instinct of a great commander for the vital point in a war or a battle, is as keen as that of the tiger is said to be for the jugular vein of its victim. The British might overrun the north or invade the south, but he would stay where he was, with his grip upon New York and the Hudson River. The tide of invasion might ebb and flow in this region or that, but the British were doomed if they could not divide the eastern colonies from the others. When the appointed hour came, he was ready to abandon everything and strike the final and fatal blow; but until then he waited and stood fast with his army, holding the great river in his grasp. He felt much more anxiety about the south than he had felt about the north, and expected Congress to consult

him as to a commander, having made up his mind that Greene was the man to send. But Congress still believed in Gates, who had been making trouble for Washington all winter; and so Gates was sent, and Congress in due time got their lesson, and found once more that Washington understood men better than they did.

In the north the winter was comparatively uneventful. The spring passed, and in June Clinton came out and took possession of Stony Point and Verplanck's Point, and began to fortify them. It looked a little as if Clinton might intend to get control of the Hudson by slow approaches, fortifying, and then advancing until he reached West Point. With this in mind, Washington at once determined to check the British by striking sharply at one of their new posts. Having made up his mind, he sent for Wayne and asked him if he would storm Stony Point. Tradition says that Wayne replied, " I will storm hell, if you will plan it.” A true tradition, probably, in keeping with Wayne's character, and pleasant to us to-day as showing with a vivid gleam of rough human speech the utter confidence of the army in their leader, that confidence which only a great soldier can inspire. So Washington planned, and Wayne stormed, and Stony Point fell. It was a gallant and brilliant feat of arms, one of the most brilliant of the war. Over five hundred prisoners were taken, the guns were carried off, and the works destroyed, leaving the British to begin afresh with a good deal of increased

caution and respect. Not long after, Harry Leo stormed Paulus Hook with equal success, and the British were checked and arrested, if they intended any extensive movement. On the frontier, Sullivan, after some delays, did his work effectively, ravaging the Indian towns and reducing them to quiet, thus taking away another annoyance and danger.

In these various ways Clinton's circle of activity was steadily narrowed, but it may be doubted whether he had any coherent plan. The principal occupation of the British was to send out marauding expeditions and cut off outlying parties. Tryon burned and pillaged in Connecticut, Matthews in Virginia, and others on a smaller scale elsewhere in New Jersey and New York. The blundering stupidity of this system of warfare was only equalled by its utter brutality. Houses were burned, peaceful villages went up in smoke, women and children were outraged, and soldiers were bayoneted after they had surrendered. These details of the Revolution are wellnigh forgotten now, but when the ear is wearied with talk about English generosity and love of fair play, it is well to turn back and study the exploits of Tryon, and it is not amiss in the same connection to recall that English budgets contained a special appropriation for scalping-knives, a delicate attention to the Tories and Indians who were burning and butchering on the frontier.

Such methods of warfare Washington despised

« ZurückWeiter »