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FoRTITUDE in misfortune is more common than composure in the hour of victory. The bitter medicine of defeat, however unpalatable, is usually extremely sobering, but the strong new wine of success generally sets the heads of poor humanity spinning, and leads often to worse results than folly. The capture of Cornwallis was enough to have turned the strongest head, for the moment at least, but it had no apparent effect upon the man who had brought it to pass, and who, more than any one else, knew what it meant. Unshaken and undismayed in the New Jersey winter, and among the complicated miseries of Walley Forge, Washington turned from the spectacle of a powerful British army laying down their arms as coolly as if he had merely fought a successful skirmish, or repelled a dangerous raid. He had that rare gift, the attribute of the strongest minds, of leaving the past to take care of itself. He never fretted over what could not be undone, nor dallied among pleasant memories while aught still remained to do. He wrote to Congress in words of quiet congratulation, through which pierced the devout and solemn sense of the great deed accomplished, and then, while the salvos of artillery were still booming in his ears, and the shouts of victory were still rising about him, he set himself, after his fashion, to care for the future and provide for the immediate completion of his work. He wrote to De Grasse, urging him to join in an immediate movement against Charleston, such as he had already suggested, and he presented in the strongest terms the opportunities now offered for the sudden and complete ending of the struggle. But the French admiral was by no means imbued with the tireless and determined spirit of Washington. He had had his fill even of victory, and was so eager to get back to the West Indies, where he was to fall a victim to Rodney, that he would not even transport troops to Wilmington. Thus deprived of the force which alone made comprehensive and extended movements possible, Washington returned, as he had done so often before, to making the best of cramped circumstances and straitened means. He sent all the troops he could spare to Greene, to help him in wresting the southern States from the enemy, the work to which he had in vain summoned De Grasse. This done, he prepared to go north. On his way he was stopped at Eltham by the illness and death of his wife's son, John Custis, a blow which he felt severely, and which saddened the great victory he had just achieved. Still the business of the state could not wait on private grief. He left the house of mourning, and, pausing for an instant only at Mount Vernon, hastened on to Philadelphia. At the very moment of victory, and while honorable members were shaking each other's hands and con. gratulating each other that the war was now really over, the commander-in-chief had fallen again to writing them letters in the old strain, and was once more urging them to keep up the army, while he himself gave his personal attention to securing a naval force for the ensuing year, through the medium of Lafayette. Nothing was ever finished with Washington until it was really complete throughout, and he had as little time for rejoicing as he had for despondency or despair, while a British force still remained in the country. . He probably felt that this was as untoward a time as he had ever met in a pretty large experience of unsuitable occasions, for offering sound advice, but he was not deterred thereby from doing it. This time, however, he was destined to an agreeable disappointment, for on his arrival at Philadelphia he found an excellent spirit prevailing in Congress. That body was acting cheerfully on his advice, it had filled the departments of the government, and set on foot such measures as it could to keep up the army. So Washington remained for some time at Philadelphia, helping and counselling Congress in its work, and writing to the States vigorous letters, demanding pay and clothing for the soldiers, ever uppermost in his thoughts. But although Congress was compliant, Washing
ton could not convince the country of the justice of his views, and of the continued need of energetic exertion. The steady relaxation of tone, which the strain of a long and trying war had produced, was accelerated by the brilliant victory of Yorktown. Washington for his own part had but little trust in the sense or the knowledge of his enemy. He felt that Yorktown was decisive, but he also thought that Great Britain would still struggle on, and that her talk of peace was very probably a mere blind, to enable her to gain time, and, by taking advantage of our relaxed and feeble condition, to strike again in hope of winning back all that had been lost. He therefore continued his appeals in behalf of the army, and reiterated everywhere the necessity for fresh and ample preparations.
As late as May 4th he wrote sharply to the States for men and money, saying that the change of ministry was likely to be adverse to peace, and that we were being lulled into a false and fatal sense of security. A few days later, on receiving information from Sir Guy Carleton of the address of the Commons to the king for peace, Washington wrote to Congress: “For my own part, I view our situation as such that, instead of relaxing, we ought to improve the present moment as the most favorable to our wishes. The British nation appear to me to be staggered, and almost ready to sink beneath the accumulating weight of debt and misfortune. If we follow the blow with vigor and energy, I think the game is our own.”
Again he wrote in July: “Sir Guy Carleton is using every art to soothe and lull our people into a state of security. Admiral Digby is capturing all our vessels, and suffocating as fast as possible in prison-ships all our seamen who will not enlist into the service of his Britannic Majesty; and Haldimand, with his savage allies, is scalping and burning on the frontiers.” Facts always were the object of Washington's first regard, and while gentlemen on all sides were talking of peace, war was going on, and he could not understand the supineness which would permit our seamen to be suffocated, and our borderers scalped, because some people thought the war ought to be and practically was over. While the other side was fighting, he wished to be fighting too. A month later he wrote to Greene: “From the former infatuation, duplicity, and perverse system of British policy, I confess I am induced to doubt everything, to suspect everything.” He could say heartily with the Trojan priest, “Quicquid id est timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.” Yet again, a month later still, when the negotiations were really going forward in Paris, he wrote to McHenry : “If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst. There is nothing which will so soon produce a speedy and honorable peace as a state of preparation for war; and we must either do this, or lay our account to patch up an inglorious peace, after all the toil, blood, and treasure we have spent.”
No man had done and given so much as Wash.