General and Commander in chief, of the army of the United Colonies, and of all the forces now raised, or to be raised, by them, and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service, and join the said Army for the Defence of American liberty, and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof.
The campaign of 1777 opened on the 13th day of June, when General Howe began his march from Brunswick, seemingly with an intention to push directly for the Delaware, but in reality to draw Washington down from the heights which his army occupied along the entire British front. The main body of the grand army under Washington's immediate command was encamped at Middlebrook, with a considerable force under General Sullivan at Sourland Hills. Howe a front no farther than Somerset Court House; and finding that the feint was unsuccessful in tempting Washington to abandon his strong position, Howe pretended to end the ruse on the 22d by evacuating Brunswick and retiring to Amboy. Washington followed, halting at Quibbletown, whereupon the British suddenly countermarched on the 26th and turned upon him. The Americans lost no time in withdrawing from the unfriendly plains and hastening once more to the protection of the mountains. On the 30th of June Howe totally evacuated the State of New Jersey and threw the whole of his army over to Staten Island.
During the next three weeks Washington was of the opinion that Howe's first and immediate move would be up the North River, where his army could cooperate with that of Burgoyne, now actively engaged on Lake Champlain. He therefore marched rapidly by way of Morristown and the Clove, to take post on the river, from which vantage point his future movements would be
WASHINGTON'S OATH OF ALLEGIANCE
determined by those of the British. Finally information was received on the 24th of July that the fleet had left the Hook the day before, whereupon the army was immediately put in motion for the Delaware. Coryell's Ferry, about 33 miles above Philadelphia, was reached on the 27th of the month.
The crossing of the Delaware was delayed until the destination of the British Fleet should become known. Intelligence was received in a few days that 228 sail had reached the capes of Delaware on the 30th, and the army was now hastily moved to Germantown in the near vicinity of Philadelphia. On the morning of the 31st the fleet sailed from the capes on an easterly course, leaving behind a much bewildered foe.
It was at this time, on the 3d of August, while Washington was in Philadelphia, that the meeting with Lafayette occurred. The following day the Commander in Chief, accompanied by his guest, returned to the headquarters of the army at Germantown. The young marquis now found himself included into the loyal and efficient group of aides who constituted Washington's official family at this time. Those nearest Lafayette's age, and with whom a deep friendship developed, were Tench Tilghman—calm, sure, dispassionate; Alexander Hamilton—already known for his superior mental attainments and restless ambition; and the lovable John Laurens—devoted, steadfast, and true.
Not until the 10th did Washington learn that the fleet had returned to the coast three days before, but as it again promptly disappeared at sea, greater confusion than ever existed in his mind as to Howe's intentions. During the next 12 days conjectures were rife as to whether the fleet would make for Halifax, Charleston Harbor, the West Indies; or return to the North River or the Delaware. As day after day of inaction passed, the necessity to arrive at some determination became more and more apparent, and finally a council of war was held on the 21st, in which Lafayette participated. The opinion was expressed that as the fleet had probably sailed for Charleston, the army should march without delay toward the North River, with a view of opposing Burgoyne.
On the day after the council of war was held, an express arrived from Maryland with an account of near 200 sail being at anchor far up in Chesapeake Bay. Washington again turned to the relief of Philadelphia. The "American Diana" was the finest city upon the continent, but in the opinion of General Greene it was "'an object of far less importance than the North River."
For some days a delicate and vexatious situation had been developing at the headquarters of the Army. Lafayette desired active duty with troops. He asked for a small command at first, and a division later when Washington might consider him fit for such command. It was Lafayette's thought that such was the purpose of Congress in appointing him major general, but that body entertained no such idea. In reply to a letter written by Washington on August 19 to Benjamin Harrison, in which he asked for the sentiments of Congress on the matter, Harrison said that every member viewed the appointment as "merely honorary," as Congress never meant that Lafayette should have a command and "will not countenance him in his applications."
To add to the embarrassment of the situation, Washington's affectionate regard for the marquis had not been slow in developing, and he would have liked to give the young man an opportunity to gain experience and glory, but his scrupulous regard for the dignity and authority of Congress prevented him taking action with, out the advice of that body. Furthermore, he had previously expressed his objections to the absorption in the Army of the numerous foreigners already in America. A resolution of Congress of May 30, which provided Washington with commissions in blank for the French artillery officers who had lately arrived in the Amphitrite, elicited from him the warning that this action "has excited much uneasiness in the artillery corps." He feared that accepting the services of foreign officers would result in the replacement of an equal number of officers from the States, whose record for service and efficiency justified their retention and promotion. Then, too, certain irritating matters had occurred, which seemed to indi-
cate an impracticability of cooperation between European and American officers. Brigadier General de Borré was presumptuous and too officious. Brigadier General Conway's merit existed "more in his own imagination, than in reality." Du Coudray failed in his persistent demands, which only terminated with his death by drowning.
In his Memoirs Lafayette accounts for his rebuff by Congress from the fact that—
The Americans were displeased with the pretensions, and disgusted with the conduct, of many Frenchmen; the imprudent selections they had in some cases made, the extreme boldness of some foreign adventurers, the jealousy of the army, and strong national prejudices, all contributed to confound disinterested zeal with private ambition, and talents with quackery.
However, back of all this was an inherent antagonism engendered by centuries of war between the English and French nations, and from the earliest days of colonization these wars had been fought with equal intensity on American soil. The training of Washington as a youth was such as to develop a spirit of hostility toward the Government of France. In his dealings with its nationals in America, they were "public enemies." When, in 1750, the Ohio Company began building outposts to protect its vast holdings west of the mountains, the French advanced their frontier forts to resist encroachment upon territory claimed by them through long occupation. Instructions were sent by Lord Halderness to the colonial governors to warn the French that encroachments on the Ohio lands claimed by the British would not be permitted. In 1753 Washington carried Governor Dinwiddie's letter of protest to the commandant of the French forces on the Ohio. The young ambassador was then but little older than was Lafayette when 24 years later he came into Washington's life.
On the 4th day of December, 1753, Major Washington reached Venango, at the junction of French Creek and the Ohio, and in conversation with the French commandant learned that—
It was their absolute Design to take possession of the Ohio, and by G— they would do it: For that altho' they were sensible the English could raise two Men
for their one; yet they knew their Motions were too slow and dilatory to prevent any Undertaking of theirs.
Continuing his report to the governor, Washington wrote:
They pretend to have an undoubted Right to the River, from a Discovery made by one La Salle 60 Years ago; and the Rise of this Expedition is, to prevent our settling on the River or Waters of it, as they had heard of some Families moving-out in Order thereto.
The young English-born American of that period was as prejudiced in his views of right in the valley of the Mississippi as have been his blood brothers of later generations.
In the following year, 1754, Washington went again to the frontier, and on the 28th of May engaged in the unfortunate action in which Jumonville was killed. At the Great Meadows Fort Necessity was prepared for defense, and on the 4th day of July Washington surrendered that post and his command to the French. The next year he returned once more to this fated section, this time as an aide to General Braddock.
* * * * *
The baptism of blood which Lafayette received in the battle of Brandywine on the 11th day of September, 1777, and the bravery and efficiency of his conduct on the field of battle, caused Washington to recognize the desirability of Congress changing its intent with regard to the marquis by giving him a command. The wound was troublesome, but not dangerous, and the period of convalescence brought new friends and increased the warmth of feeling of the old. He wrote his wife on Odober 1:
I must now give you your lesson, as wife of an American general officer. They will say to you, "They have been beaten:" you must answer—"That is true; but when two armies of equal number meet on the field, old soldiers have naturally the advantage over new ones."
He tells her to be easy in mind about his wound, that he has a friend who has given strict injunctions he is to be well taken care of.
This excellent man, whose talents and virtues I admired, and whom I have learnt to revere as I know him better, has now become my intimate friend.
When he sent his best surgeon to me, he told him to take charge of me as if I were his son, because he loved me with the same affection.
He speaks of the dissatisfied foreigners who are returning to France because they were not given employment in the Army. They complain,
detest others, and are themselves detested: they do not understand why I am the only stranger beloved in America, and I cannot understand why they are so much hated. * * * I, for my part, who am an easy and a good-tempered man, am so fortunate as to be loved by all parties, both foreigners and Americans.
During Lafayette's convalescence, feeling that his conduct at Brandywine was viewed with favor by the Commander in Chief, he became more and more solicitous that a command commensurate with his rank be given him, and reaffirmed that he certainly did not understand the purposes of his appointment to be those mentioned to Washington by Congress. His claims for recognition met with sympathetic support.
I do not know in what light they will view the matter—
Washington wrote, from near Whitemarsh, to the President of Congress on the 1st of November—
but it appears to me, from a consideration of his illustrious and important connexions, the attachment which he has manifested for our cause, and the consequences which his return in disgust might produce, that it will be advisable to gratify him in his wishes. * * * Besides, he is sensible, discreet in his manners, has made great proficiency in our language, and from the disposition he discovered at the battle of Brandywine, possesses a large share of bravery and military ardor.
Before the virile young soldier entirely recovered from his wound, in order to acquire more experience, he volunteered for service with General Greene, who was about to lead an expedition into New Jersey. Greene gave him a detachment of some 400 militia and the rifle corps, and with this command Lafayette attacked the enemy's pickets, killing about 20, wounding many more, and taking approximately 20 prisoners. The marquis was "charmed with the spirited behavior of the militia and rifle corps," Greene wrote to Washington, and "is determined to be in the way of danger."
This commendation Washington immediately forwarded to Congress, and on the same day it was received, December 1, Congress took the following action:
Resolved, That General Washington be informed, it is highly agreeable to Congress that the Marquis de la Fayette be appointed to the command of a division in the continental army.
Three days later it was announced in orders that Lafayette would take command of the division recently under General Stephens, who had been dismissed from the Army for misconduct on the retreat from the Battle of Brandywine.
On the 22d day of January, 1778, Congress resolved—
That an irruption be made into Canada, and that the Board of War be authorized to take every necessary measure for the execution of the business, under such general officers as Congress shall appoint.
The proposed campaign was conceived by the Board of War, of which General Gates was then president, and sanctioned by Congress without any reference to the Commander in Chief. In fact, the battles fought at Brandywine and Germantown did not add to Washington's popularity, while on the other hand Gates stood high in the estimation of a majority of the delegates, due to his achievements with the northern army which culminated in the surrender of Burgoyne.
The Marquis de Lafayette, Major General Conway, and Brigadier General Stark were elected by Congress on the 23d to lead the invasion into Canada. The purpose of that venal group then engaging in the cabal against Washington was to entice Lafayette with martial glory and win him from his affectionate association with his chief. To the endless glory of Lafayette it can be asserted that the tempters failed completely in their nefarious purposes.
He calls himself my soldier—
Lafayette wrote to Washington on the 30th of December, referring to Conway—
and the reason of such behaviour to me is, that he wishes to be well spoken of at the French court, and his protector, the Marquis de Castries, is an intimate
acquaintance of mine. * * * I found that he was an ambitious and dangerous man. He has done all in his power, by cunning manoeuvres, to take off my confidence and affection for you. His desire was to engage me to leave this country.
The letter continues with a friendly criticism of the modesty of his beloved chief and an inspirational evaluation of his necessity to America:
Take away, for an instant, that modest diffidence of yourself, (which, pardon my freedom, my dear General, is sometimes too great, and I wish you could know, as well as myself, what difference there is between you and any other man) you would see very plainly that if you were lost for America, there is nobody who could keep the army and the revolution for six months.
The nobility of Washington's character, his friendly concern for all over whom his responsibility extended, and his conscious rectitude of personal conduct is nowhere better exemplified than in the reply sent to Lafayette, penned at a time when the attacks of jealous enmity were most malignant. He expressed his deep appreciation of Lafayette's regard for him, and counseled dispassionate calmness in considering the ills which were present. In so great a contest it was too much to "expect to meet with nothing but sunshine." Everything happens for the best, and in the end "we shall triumph over all our misfortunes." When the war is terminated and Lafayette gives him his company in Virginia, "we will laugh at our past difficulties and the folly of others."
The seat of government was removed to York Town, Pa., when the British took possession of Philadelphia in September, and thither Lafayette proceeded in February, 1778, to receive from Congress and the Board of War instructions for the conduct of the campaign. From York Town he hastened with utmost speed to Albany, spurred by ambition and the pleasantry of Gates that "General Stark will have burnt the fleet before your arrival." He reached his destination on February 17. Conway was already on the ground, actively engaged with his preparations, but Stark was awaiting further information and instructions before marching with his command.
The expedition was conceived from false premises as to men available, supplies, and transportation. Its impracticability was
brought to the attention of the Board of War, in correspondence from Generals Schuyler, Lincoln, and Arnold to Conway, and on the 2d of March the following resolution was adopted in Congress:
Whereas it appears from
authentic accounts that difficulties attend the prosecution of the irruption
ordered to be made into Canada under the conduct of the Marquis de la Fayette,
which render the attempt not only hazardous in a high degree but extremely
Resolved, That the Board of War instruct the Marquis de la Fayette to suspend for the present the intended irruption, and at the same time, inform him that Congress entertain a high sense of his prudence, activity and zeal, and that they are My persuaded nothing has, or would have been wanting on his part, or on the part of the officers who accompanied him, to give the expedition the utmost possible effect.
It was a matter of bitter disappointment to Lafayette that he had been inveigled into lending himself to this expedition, in view of its failure to accomplish anything. His friends in Europe knew of it, as Members of Congress had requested him to write to France about the important command entrusted to him. He felt that his reputation and chance to earn glory was imperiled. Washington wrote him in a consoling vein on the 10th of March, declaring that it would not be to his disadvantage to have it known in Europe that he had received so manifest a proof of the good opinion and confidence of Congress, adding:
I am persuaded, that everyone will applaud your prudence in renouncing a project, in pursuing which you would vainly have attempted physical impossibilities.
By resolution of Congress of March 13, Washington was authorized to order Lafayette to join the main Army without delay.
The long winter period of inaction was about to draw to a close, and events of great importance to the opposing armies were unfolding. The British were fast completing preparations to evacuate Philadelphia; and news of the treaties signed with France reached America. In October of the year previous General Howe had tendered his resignation of the command in America, and in April was informed of its acceptance. His departure from Phila-
delphia was marked by an elaborate celebration, famous in the annals of pageantry, called the "Mischianza." Clinton succeeded to the command and, complying with orders from his government, carried to completion the plans to move the army back to New York, where it would be safer should a French fleet arrive in America.
The tremendously important news of the signing of the treaties with France was brought to America by Simeon Deane, brother of Silas Deane. He made the passage in the French frigate Sensible, sent by the King for the express purpose, and arrived at Falmouth, in Casco Bay, on the 13th of April. Thence he hastened to York Town, Pa., reporting to the President of Congress on Saturday, the 2d day of May. The delegates were promptly assembled and the dispatches read. The following Monday the two treaties and the act separate and secret were unanimously ratified. The ratification was immediately succeeded by the following action of Congress:
Resolved, That this Congress entertain the highest sense of the magnanimity and wisdom of his most Christian majesty, so strongly exemplified in the treaty of amity and commerce, and the treaty of alliance, entered into on the part of his majesty, with these United States, at Paris, on the 6th day of February last; and the commissioners, or any of them, representing these States at the court of France, are directed to present the grateful acknowledgments of this Congress to his most Christian majesty, for his truly magnanimous conduct respecting these states, in the said generous and disinterested treaties, and to assure his majesty, on the part of this Congress, it is sincerely wished that the friendship so happily commenced between France and these United States may be perpetual.
The joyful news from France was received at the headquarters of the Army on the 3d of the month, and preparations were at once made to appropriately celebrate the happy event as soon as Congress should authorize its public announcement.
The Orderly Book of Wednesday, May 6, contains the following instructions to be carried out the next day:
It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the Universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise us up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish our liberty and independency upon a lasting
foundation; it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to his divine interposition.
Orders followed for the troops to form in a ceremonious manner; for the chaplains to deliver discourses suitable to the occasion; and for firing a salute of 13 cannon, to be followed by a feu de joie along the entire line.
Upon a signal given, the whole army will huzza, Long live the King of France, the artillery then begins again and fires thirteen rounds; this will be succeeded by a second general discharge of the musketry in a running fire, and huzza, Long live the friendly European Powers. The last discharge of thirteen pieces of artillery will be given, followed by a general running fire, and huzza, The American States.
The affair was conducted with great éclat.
The army made a most brilliant appearance; after which his Excellency dined in public, with all the officers of his army, attended with a band of music.
The entertainment was concluded with a number of patriotic toasts, attended with huzzas. Every countenance displayed unfeigned and perfect joy.
When the General took his leave, there was a universal clap, with loud huzzas, which continued till he had proceeded a quarter of a mile, during which time there were a thousand hats tossed in the air. His Excellency turned round with his retinue, and huzzaed several times.
Lafayette participated in the rejoicing with a sad heart, for news had come of the death of his little daughter Henriette.
The time was near when the Army should take the field, and Congress directed the Commander in Chief to hold a council of war—
to form such a plan for the general operations of the campaign as he shall deem consistent with the general welfare of these states.
Washington laid before the council on May 8 the state of the enemy's forces and that of the Continentals, and the unanimous opinion was that it was best to remain on the defensive and await events. It was agreed that to storm Philadelphia, still occupied by the British, was impracticable, and that 30,000 men would be
required for a blockade, a force far in excess of what could be raised.
Meanwhile additional news would be forthcoming from Europe as to the action taken by Great Britain upon a paper delivered to Lord Weymouth by the French ambassador on the 13th day of March, 1778. Louis XVI had instructed his ambassador to inform the English court of the treaty of friendship and commerce made between France and the United States, and to say that His Majesty—
being determined to cultivate the good understanding subsisting between France and Great Britain—
thinks it necessary that the English court know that the ally of France will treat with any other nation upon the same footing of "equality and reciprocity," and hopes His Britannic Majesty will be particular to take effective measures—
to prevent the commerce between his Majesty's subjects and the United States of North America from being interrupted.
In a letter of May 12 to the President of Congress, Washington characterized this message as—
more degrading to the pride and dignity of Britain, than anything she has ever experienced since she has been a nation.
War between the two countries became inevitable, and hostilities broke out in June. The following year, 1779, Louis XVI fixed the date of June 17, 1778, on which occurred the naval engagement off Ouessant, as the time of—
commencement of hostilities against my subjects, by the subjects of the King of England.
On the 18th of May Lafayette was ordered to march with the command that had been assigned to him upon his return from Albany and obtain intelligence of the British Army. The detachment crossed the Schuylkill and proceeded to Barren Hill, about 11 miles from Philadelphia. On the 20th the British concentrated a greatly superior force on Lafayette's front and flanks, and it was
only by the merest chance, attended by much good fortune, that the marquis was able to extricate his command and recross the Schuylkill.
The British evacuated Philadelphia on the 18th day of June, 1778. Under cover of the fleet the army crossed the Delaware at Gloucester, from which place Clinton proceeded by way of Moorestown and Mount Holly to Crosswicks and Allentown. Washington immediately put his army in motion for Coryell's Ferry, where the main body crossed on the 22d of June, and then directed his march toward Princeton for the purpose of threatening the flank of the British column. He pushed Morgan's corps forward to gain the enemy's flank, Maxwell's brigade to hang on their left, and Scott's brigade and Cadwalader's detachment to harass the rear guard.
Upon reaching Kingston on the 25th, several miles northeast of Princeton, Lafayette was ordered to take command of the detachment under General Poor and, after effecting a junction with Scott's brigade, to use the most effectual means for gaining Clinton's left flank and rear and give every degree of annoyance. All Continental parties that were already on the lines were to come under Lafayette's command, and he was to take such measures in concert with General Dickinson as would cause the enemy the greatest impediment and loss in their march. He was to attack by detachment as occasion offered and, if a proper opening were given, he was to attack with his entire force and bring the withdrawing army to a stand.
The quick development of purpose regarding the troops led by Lafayette, from that of a harassing detachment to one that might bring on a general engagement, caused considerable regret on the part of General Charles Lee that he had not accepted this command, to which his rank entitled him. He now asked Washington that it be given to him. The request occasioned an embarrassing moment for the Commander in Chief. Unfortunately he adopted a compromise measure. Lee was to march with certain troops, and
when he approached Lafayette he was to request him to carry on with any plans already determined upon for the purpose of attacking or otherwise annoying the enemy, but at the same time Lee's rank would place him in command of both detachments.
The British rear guard, of considerable strength, under Cornwallis, was at Monmouth Court House when Lee and Lafayette made contact with it on the 28th of June. Lafayette had graciously relinquished any separate authority which he might have exercised and engaged in the ensuing action under Lee's orders. The British turned upon Lee; confusion arose in his command, and very soon many of his troops were streaming to the rear. Washington was informed of the situation and hastened to the scene of conflict, where he was able, with the assistance of near-by officers, to halt part of the frightened troops and form them into line. His remarks to Lee were forceful, but "dictated by duty, and warranted by the occasion."
Despite the fact that General Lee was placed in charge of the reestablished line, his anger because of General Washington's remarks and actions did not cool following the battle, and within the next few days he foolishly wrote the Commander in Chief two insolent letters. He was tried for this and for misconduct on the battlefield, found guilty, and sentenced to be suspended from command for the term of 12 months. Congress approved the sentence of the court-martial and ordered the proceedings of the trial to be published. Shortly after the expiration of the sentence, Congress ordered that General Lee be informed that they "have no farther occasion for his services in the army of the United States."
page created 20 March 2000
Return to Table of Contents
Return to CMH Online