Abbildungen der Seite

letter, which De Rochambeau signed with him, urging De Barras to turn his fleet toward the Chesapeake. It was a skilfully drawn missive, an adroit mingling of appeals to honor and sympathy and of vigorous demands to perform an obvious duty. The letter did its work, the diplomacy of Washington was successful, and De Barras suppressed his feelings of disappointment, and agreed to go to the Chesapeake and serve under De Grasse. This point made, Washington pushed on his preparations, or rather pushed on despite his lack of preparations, and on August 17th, as has been said, wrote to De Grasse to meet him in the Chesapeake. He left the larger part of his own troops with Heath, to whom in carefully drawn instructions he entrusted the grave duty of guarding the Hudson and watching the British in New York. This done, he gathered his forces together, and on August 21st the army started on its march to the south. On the 23d and 24th it crossed the Hudson, without annoyance from the British of any kind. Washington had threatened New York so effectively, and manoeuvred so successfully, that Clinton could not be shaken in his belief that the real object of the Americans was his own army; and it was not until September 2d that he realized that his enemy was going to the south, and that Cornwallis was in danger. He even then hesitated and delayed, but finally dispatched Admiral Graves with the fleet to the Chesapeake. The Admiral came upon the French early on September 5th, the very day that Washington was rejoicing in the news that De Grasse had arrived in the Chesapeake and had landed St. Simon and three thousand men to support Lafayette. As soon as the English fleet appeared, the French, although many of their men were on shore, sailed out and gave battle. An indecisive action ensued, in which the British suffered so much that five days later they burned one of their frigates and withdrew to New York. De Grasse returned to his anchorage, to find that De Barras had come in from Newport with eight ships and ten transports carrying ordnance. While everything was thus moving well toward the consummation of the campaign, Washington, in the midst of his delicate and important work of breaking camp and beginning his rapid march to the south, was harassed by the ever-recurring difficulties of the feeble and bankrupt government of the confederation. He wrote again and again to Morris for money, and finally got some. His demands for men and supplies remained almost unheeded, but somehow he got provisions enough to start. He foresaw the most pressing need, and sent messages in all directions for shipping to transport his army down the Chesapeake. No one responded, but still he gathered the transports; at first a few, then more, and finally, after many delays, enough to move his army to Yorktown. The spectacle of such a struggle, so heroically made, one would think, might have inspired every soul on the continent with enthusiasm; but at this very moment, while Washington was breaking camp and marching southward, Congress was considering the reduction of the army — which was as appropriate as it would have been for the English Parliament to have reduced the navy on the eve of Trafalgar, or for Lincoln to have advised the restoration of the army to a peace footing while Grant was fighting in the Wilderness. The fact was that the Continental Congress was weakened in ability and very tired in point of nerve and will-power. They saw that peace was coming, and naturally thought that the sooner they could get it the better. They entirely failed to see, as Washington saw, that in a too sudden peace lurked the danger of the uti possidetis, and that the mere fact of peace by no means implied necessarily complete success. They did not, of course, effect their reductions, but they remained inert, and so for the most part did the state governments, becoming drags upon the wheels of war instead of helpers to the man who was driving the Revolution forward to its goal. Both state and confederate governments still meant well, but they were worn out and relaxed. Yet over and through all these heavy masses of misapprehension and feebleness, Washington made his way. Here again all that can be said is that somehow or other the thing was done. We can take account of the resisting forces, but we cannot tell just how they were dealt with. We only know that one strong man trampled them down and got what he wanted done.

Pushing on after the joyful news of the arrival of De Grasse had been received, Washington left the army to go by water from the Head of Elk, and hurried to Mount Vernon, accompanied by De Rochambeau. It was six years since he had seen his home. He had left it a Virginian colonel, full of forebodings for his country, with a vast and unknown problem awaiting solution at his hands. He returned to it the first soldier of his day, after six years of battle and trial, of victory and defeat, on the eve of the last and crowning triumph. As he paused on the well-beloved spot, and gazed across the broad and beautiful river at his feet, thoughts and remembrances must have come thronging to his mind which it is given to few men to know. He lingered there two days, and then pressing on again, was in Williamsburg on the 14th, and on the 17th went on board the Wille de Paris to congratulate De Grasse on his victory, and to concert measures for the siege.

The meeting was most agreeable. All had gone well, all promised well, and everything was smiling and harmonious. Yet they were on the eve of the greatest peril which occurred in the campaign. Washington had managed to scrape together enough transports; but his almost unassisted labors had taken time, and delay had followed. Then the transports were slow, and winds and tides were uncertain, and there was further delay. The interval permitted De Grasse to hear that the British fleet had received reinforcements, and to become nervous in consequence. He wanted to get out to sea; the season was advancing, and he was anxious to return to the West Indies; and above all he did not wish to fight in the bay. He therefore proposed firmly and vigorously to leave two ships in the river, and stand out to sea with his fleet. The Yorktown campaign began to look as if it had reached its conclusion. Once again Washington wrote one of his masterly letters of expostulation and remonstrance, and once more he prevailed, aided by the reasoning and appeals of Lafayette, who carried the message. De Grasse consented to stay, and Washington, grateful beyond measure, wrote him that “a great mind knows how to make personal sacrifice to secure an important general good.” Under the circumstances, and in view of the general truth of this complimentary sentiment, one cannot help rejoicing that De Grasse had “a great mind.” At all events he stayed, and thereafter everything went well. The northern army landed at Wil. liamsburg and marched for Yorktown on the 28th. They reconnoitred the outlying works the next day, and prepared for an immediate assault; but in the night Cornwallis abandoned all his outside works and withdrew into the town. Washington thereupon advanced at once, and prepared for the siege. On the night of the 5th, the trenches were opened only six hundred yards from the enemy's line, and in three days the first parallel was completed. On the 11th the second parallel was be

« ZurückWeiter »