Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ington, and at the same time no other man had his love of thoroughness, and his indomitable fighting temper. He found few sympathizers, his words fell upon deaf ears, and he was left to struggle on and maintain his ground as best he might, without any substantial backing. As it turned out, England was more severely wounded than he dared to hope, and her desire for peace was real. But Washington's distrust and the active policy which he urged were, in the conditions of the moment, perfectly sound, both in a military and a political point of view. It made no real difference, however, whether he was right or wrong in his opinion. He could not get what he wanted, and he was obliged to drag through another year, fettered in his military movements, and oppressed with anxiety for the future. He longed to drive the British from New York, and was forced to content himself, as so often before, with keeping his army in existence. It was a trying time, and fruitful in nothing but anxious forebodings. All the fighting was confined to skirmishes of outposts, and his days were consumed in vain efforts to obtain help from the States, while he watched with painful eagerness the current of events in Europe, down which the fortunes of his country were feebly drifting.

Among the petty incidents of the year there was one which, in its effects, gained an international importance, which has left a deep stain upon the English arms, and which touched Washington deeply. Captain Huddy, an American officer, was

captured in a skirmish and carried to New York, where he was placed in confinement. Thence he was taken on April 12th by a party of Tories in the British service, commanded by Captain Lippencott, and hanged in the broad light of day on the heights near Middletown. Testimony and affidavits to the fact, which was never questioned, were duly gathered and laid before Washington. The deed was one of wanton barbarity, for which it would be difficult to find a parallel in the annals of modern warfare. The authors of this brutal murder, to our shame be it said, were of American birth, but they were fighting for the crown and wore the British uniform. England, which for generations has deafened the world with pæans of praise for her own love of fair play and for her generous humanity, stepped in here and threw the mantle of her protection over these cowardly hangmen. It has not been uncommon for wild North American sav. ages to deliver up criminals to the vengeance of the law, but English ministers and officers condoned the murder of Huddy, and sheltered his murderers.

When the case was laid before Washington it stirred him to the deepest wrath. He submitted the facts to twenty-five of his general officers, who unanimously advised what he was himself determined upon, instant retaliation. He wrote at once to Sir Guy Carleton, and informed him that unless the murderers were given up he should be compelled to retaliate. Carleton replied that a court-martial was ordered, and some attempt was made to recrim

inate; but Washington pressed on in the path he had marked out, and had an English officer selected by lot and held in close confinement to await the action of the enemy. These sharp measures brought the British, as nothing else could have done, to some sense of the enormity of the crime that had been committed. Sir Guy Carleton wrote in remonstrance, and Washington replied: "Ever since the commencement of this unnatural war my conduct has borne invariable testimony against those inhuman excesses, which, in too many instances, have marked its progress.

With respect to a late transaction, to which I presume your excellency alludes, I have already expressed my resolution, a resolution formed on the most mature deliberation, and from which I shall not recede.” The affair dragged along, purposely protracted by the British, and the court-martial on a technical point acquitted Lippencott. Sir Guy Carleton, however, who really was deeply indignant at the outrage, wrote, expressing his abhorrence, disavowed Lippencott, and promised a further inquiry. This placed Washington in a very trying position, more especially as his humanity was touched by the situation of the unlucky hostage. The fatal lot had fallen upon a mere boy, Captain Asgill, who was both amiable and popular, and Washington was beset with appeals in his behalf, for Lady Asgill moved heaven and earth to save her son. She interested the French court, and Vergennes made a special request that Asgill should be released. Even Washington's own off

cers, notably Hamilton, sought to influence him, and begged him to recede. In these difficult circumstances, which were enhanced by the fact that contrary to his orders to select an unconditional prisoner, the lot had fallen on a Yorktown prisoner protected by the terms of the capitulation, he hesitated, and asked instructions from Congress. He wrote to Duane in September: “ While retaliation was apparently necessary, however disagreeable in itself, I had no repugnance to the measure. But when the end proposed by it is answered by a disavowal of the act, by a dissolution of the board of refugees, and by a promise (whether with or without meaning to comply with it, I shall not determine) that further inquisition should be made into the matter, I thought it incumbent upon me, before I proceeded any farther in the matter, to have the sense of Congress, who had most explicitly approved and impliedly indeed ordered retaliation to take place. To this hour I am held in darkness.”

He did not long remain in doubt. The fact was that the public, as is commonly the case, had forgotten the original crime and saw only the misery of the man who was to pay the just penalty, and who was, in this instance, an innocent and vicarious sufferer. It was difficult to refuse Vergennes, and Congress, glad of the excuse and anxious to oblige their allies, ordered the release of Asgill. That Washington, touched by the unhappy condi.

1 MS. letter to Lincoln.

tion of his prisoner, did not feel relieved by the result, it would be absurd to suppose. But he was by no means satisfied, for the murderous wrong that had been done rankled in his breast. He wrote to Vergennes : “ Captain Asgill has been released, and is at perfect liberty to return to the arms of an affectionate parent, whose pathetic address to your Excellency could not fail of interesting every feeling heart in her behalf. I have no right to assume any particular merit from the lenient manner in which this disagreeable affair has terminated.”

There is a perfect honesty about this which is very wholesome. He had been freely charged with cruelty, and had regarded the accusation with indifference. Now, when it was easy for him to have taken the glory of mercy by simply keeping silent, ne took pains to avow that the leniency was not due to him. He was not satisfied, and no one should believe that he was, even if the admission seemed to justify the charge of cruelty. If he erred at all it was in not executing some British officer at the very start, unless Lippencott had been given up within a limited time. As it was, after delay was once permitted, it is hard to see how he could have acted otherwise than he did, but Washington was not in the habit of receding from a fixed purpose, and being obliged to do so in this case troubled him, for he knew that he did well to be angry. But the frankness of the avowal to Vergennes is a good example of his entire honesty and absolute moral fearlessness.

« ZurückWeiter »