INACTION DURING 1779
The French Fleet remained in Boston Harbor to make repairs and reprovision until November 3, 1778, at which time it sailed for the West Indies. Its mission for the winter season in those waters had been assigned by the French Government prior to the departure of D'Estaing from Europe. The British and American troops in the Northern States were preparing for the customary winter role of inactivity. The infant government was still confronted with proofs of its inherent weakness. At no period of the revolution were the difficulties to be surmounted by the Congress, the States, and the Army of an inconsiderable number. Embarrassment of public affairs varied merely in magnitude. Lafayette said with infinite truth, as has been previously noted, that were Washington lost to America, "there is nobody who could keep the army and the revolution for six months."
The Commander in Chief comprehended the dangers of command, the gross venality of certain citizens, and the barbs of jealousy hurled at him as did no other individual. Fortunate he was in having the moral support of a loyal military family and the confidence of his many friends in Congress, the Army, and the States. From his inner self came a spiritual uplift without which he would have ceased to be the leader of his distressed country. None saw with clearer vision the ramifications of government in the making. At no other time in the history of the United States has such a diversified knowledge of nationalism, government, foreign relations, finance, food, an army, and a navy found lodgment in one individual. Had Washington been less human, less rounded out in all the virile qualities essential to success, he would ulti-
mately have failed. When justified by circumstances he showed anger, disdain, irony, and cold hardness; but it was the kindly qualities of sympathetic understanding, affection, appreciation, and warmth of friendship that dominated the greater part of his thoughts and actions. In his analysis of public affairs and military objectives his mind never failed in clarity of vision. The crises that threatened were not always foreseen with clearness—and thus it is with the ebb and flow of impending events—nevertheless, Washington's acumen in predicting these matters was of a superior quality.
It was "not a little pleasing, nor less wonderful to contemplate, that after two years' manoeuvering and undergoing the strangest vicissitudes, that perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation," Washington saw the American and British armies in August of 1778 brought back to the very point from which they had set out. "The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this," he wrote at that time, "that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations." His righteous anger was directed against the individual—
who can build his greatness upon his country's ruin. * * * Those murderers of our cause, the monopolizers, forestallers, and engrossers * * I would to God, that one of the most atrocious in each State was hung in gibbets upon a gallows five times as high as the one prepared by Haman.
The vitriolic pen of Gen. Charles Lee assailed the court which tried him, and the country which would permit its defenders to be so defamed, and Washington felt that for him to have escaped the venom of Lee's tongue and pen so long "'is more to be wondered at than applauded."
He viewed with scorn those citizens of Philadelphia who entertained with costly assemblies, concerts, and dinners, and those Delegates in Congress who absented themselves from attention to public business by attending these entertainments, "while a great part of the officers of our army, from absolute necessity, are quitting the service." The depreciation of the currency reached such an alarming point, Washington facetiously wrote to a Delegate in
Congress, "that a wagon-load of money will scarcely purchase a wagon-load of provisions."' In another letter he asks:
Can not our common country possess virtue enough to disappoint—
those who do not scruple to declare—
that we shall be our own conquerors? * * * Is the paltry consideration of a little dirty pelf to individuals to be placed in competition with the essential rights and liberties of the present generation, and of millions yet unborn? * * * Shall we at last become the victims of our own abominable lust of gain? * * * Our cause is noble. It is the cause of mankind, and the danger to it is to be apprehended from ourselves.
In the early part of November Lafayette departed from Philadelphia for Boston, at which port he expected to embark for France. Congress had granted him leave on the 21st of the previous month and given him their thanks—
for that disinterested zeal which led him to America, and for the services he hath rendered to the United States by the exertion of his courage and abilities on many signal occasions.
They directed that the minister plenipotentiary at the court of Versailles "cause an elegant sword, with proper devices, to be made and presented" to him in the name of the United States.
While en route to Boston the marquis was taken ill and could proceed no farther than Fishkill. His ailment became rapidly worse, and for many days his life was despaired of. To the assiduous care of Dr. John Cochran, physician and surgeon general of the Army, his ultimate recovery may be attributed. At the end of two months he was able to resume his journey, and on the 11th of January, 1779, he sailed from Boston aboard the Alliance.
The Army went into winter quarters from Danbury to the Delaware in the month of December, the headquarters of the Commander in Chief being established at Middlebrook. Once more a defensive rôle became necessary, as no offensive operations could be thought of, now that the French ships and troops had departed from the Atlantic coast. Another proposed campaign
DESIGNS ON LAFAYETTE'S SWORD
into Canada, still a popular project with many of the delegates, was finally abandoned because of the persistent objections raised by Washington against its execution. He favored only such activities as might become necessary against the Indians, to divert their ravages from the frontier settlements. In writing on these matters to a committee of Congress on the 12th of January, 1779, he said:
Our inactivity will be an argument of our weakness, and may injure our Credit and Consequence with Foreign Powers. This may influence the negotiations of Europe to our disadvantage. I would not suppose it could alienate our allies, or induce them to renounce our interests. Their own, if well understood, are too closely interwoven; their National Faith and Honor are pledged.
The intent of Count d'Estaing to return to the American continent in the early summer of 1779 was made known to General Washington by M. Gerard during a visit he made to headquarters of the Army in the early part of May. The many situations in which the fleet might be used were discussed. The Commander in Chief finally decided to request that it proceed with all dispatch directly from Martinique to New York, so as to arrive there before the return to that harbor of Admiral Byron's squadron, which had wintered in the Caribbean. Washington considered it essential to any extensive combined operations that France maintain a clear superiority over the British naval force in America. If this plan should not meet with favorable consideration, he suggested that D'Estaing sail for the South Atlantic coast and give aid to General Lincoln in driving the enemy from the province of Georgia, which had been invaded by the British the preceding November.
Before correspondence with the admiral of the fleet on these propositions could be exchanged, word was received from the count that he was about to sail for the southern coast, there to exert himself for the deliverance of Georgia and the preservation of the Carolinas. From there the squadron would proceed to the mouth Of the Delaware, and engage in any operations which might be agreed upon between Congress and the commander of His Majesty's forces. A memorial conveying this information was presented to Congress by M. Gerard on the 10th of May. Congress
immediately directed that a copy of the memorial be transmitted to the Commander in Chief, "and that he consider himself at liberty so to direct the military operations of these states as shall appear to him most expedient. Such extensive powers had never before been delegated to Washington. In communicating these instructions to him the president wrote:
Congress confide fully in your Excellency's Prudence and Abilities; and I am directed to signify to you their wish, that neither an undue Degree of Delicacy or Diffidence may lead you to place too little Reliance on your own Judgment, or persuade you to make any further Communications of your Designs than necessity or high Expedience may dictate.
The impressions made upon M. Gerard during his stay at Army headquarters were transmitted to Count Vergennes in a communication sent from camp on 4 May. It would be difficult to find a more laudatory letter written by any one at this period of Washington's career. The minister said, in part:
I have formed as high an opinion of the powers of his mind, his moderation, his patriotism, and his virtues, as I had before from common report conceived of his military talents and of the incalculable services he has rendered to his country.
In May, 1779, a British marauding expedition consisting of several ships and 2,500 men was sent into the Chesapeake, where they sacked the town of Portsmouth, burnt Suffolk, and carried off a large quantity of tobacco and other plunder. Pursuing the same methods in the month of July, a detachment of about 2,000 men under Generals Tryon and Garth raided the coast of Connecticut, plundering and burning New Haven on the 6th, Fairfield on the 9th, and Norwalk on the 12th. This measure of unusual severity was "only a chastisement, which the rebels justly deserved," Clinton reported to the war office, "in firing from their houses" upon the invading troops. Washington bitingly refers to the—
intrepid and magnanimous Tryon, who, in defiance of all the opposition that could be given by the women and Children, Inhabitants of these Towns, performed this notable exploit with two thousand brave and generous Britons, adding thereby fresh lustre to their arms and dignity to their King.
Slight successes were gained by the Americans in the storming of Stony Point on the 16th of July and the surprise of Paulus Hook on the 19th of August. General Sullivan concluded a campaign against the hostile Indians in western New York, and on the 29th of August punished them very severely at Newtown.
Information that Spain had declared for France was received in the United States in August. The news increased immeasurably the spirits of the patriots, who, although they never lost hope completely, sometimes neared the precipice of despair. Washington pictures the situation in an apt simile: It has
given universal joy to every Whig; while the poor Tory droops, like a withering flower under a declining Sun.
In the month of September Don Bernardo de Galvez, His Catholic Majesty's governor and commander in chief of the province and forces of Louisiana, led a detachment against the redoubt at Baton Rouge, commanded by Lieut. Col. Alexander Dickson, who was in charge of all the British forces upon the Mississippi and the district of Baton Rouge in West Florida. Galvez invested the fort on the 12th and concluded siege operations until the 21st, when a heavy cannonade by the besiegers forced the surrender of the post. The dependent fort at Natchez was included in the articles of capitulation.
Two letters were laid before Congress by M. Gerard on the 26th day of September, dated at Charleston on the 5th and 8th of the month, which contained information of D'Estaing's arrival on the coast of Georgia. Congress hastened to inform Washington that he was "authorized and directed to concert and execute such plans of cooperation with the Minister of France, or the Count, as he may think proper."
Two days prior to this action by Congress Lord Cornwallis had sailed from New York Harbor with 4,000 men and all the line of battle ships, his mission being to provide for the safety of Jamaica, next to protect Pensacola, and then to reduce New Orleans. After
accomplishing this ambitious program he was to join the force in the South Atlantic which was based on Savannah. Cornwallis had scarcely cleared the port when he learned of the presence of the French Fleet off the Georgia coast. He hastened back to New York, arriving in the shelter of the harbor on September 27. The British promptly evacuated the upper Hudson River posts and Rhode Island and concentrated their northern army around New York, there to await the outcome of the naval action which seemed imminent.
A long period of waiting now ensued during which no definite word reached Washington as to what the French Fleet was doing or whether it would come north. The time for suspending major operations was drawing near, and no longer was it possible to expect a fulfillment of the projected plan to attack the British in and around New York Harbor. In November the disagreeable news was received that the siege operations conducted against Savannah by the combined forces of Lincoln and D'Estaing had failed. The works covering the city had been unsuccessfully stormed on the 9th of the preceding month, and on the 18th the allied forces had raised the siege. Lincoln withdrew his army to South Carolina, and D'Estaing sailed for the West Indies.
The American Army went into winter quarters early in December, the main army lying within 3 or 4 miles of Morristown. The months of January and February were so cold that ice formed in the channels between Long Island, York Island, and Staten Island, over which the troops could pass afoot. Just as the year 1779 was coming to an end Washington learned that Clinton had sailed from New York Harbor with more than one-half of his command.
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