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George Washington
Trenton and Valley Forge
by Thayer, William Roscoe

Howe's retreat from Boston freed Massachusetts and, indeed, all New England from British troops. It also gave Washington the clue to his own next move. He was a real soldier and therefore his instinct told him that his next objective must be the enemy's army. Accordingly he prepared to move his own troops to New York. He passed through Providence, Norwich, and New London, reaching New York on April 13th. Congress was then sitting in Philadelphia and he was requested to visit it.

He spent a fortnight during May in Philadelphia where he had conferences with men of all kinds and seems to have been particularly impressed, not to say shocked, by the lack of harmony which he discovered. The members of the Congress, although they were ostensibly devoting themselves to the common affairs of the United Colonies, were really intriguing each for the interests of his special colony or section. Washington thought this an ominous sign, as indeed it was, for since the moment when he joined the Revolution he threw off all local affiliation. He did his utmost to perform his duty, clinging as long as he could to the hope that there would be no final break with England. Throughout the winter, however, from almost every part of the country the demands of the Colonists for independence became louder and more urgent and these he heard repeated and discussed during his visit to the Congress. On May 31st he wrote his brother John Augustine Washington:
Things have come to that pass now, as to convince us, that we have nothing more to expect from the justice of Great Britain; also, that she is capable of the most delusive acts; for I am satisfied, that no commissioners ever were designed, except Hessians and other foreigners; and that the idea was only to deceive and throw us off our guard. The first has been too effectually accomplished, as many members of Congress, in short, the representation of whole provinces, are still feeding themselves upon the dainty food of reconciliation; and though they will not allow, that the expectation of it has any influence upon their judgment, (with respect to their preparations for defence,) it is but too obvious, that it has an operation upon every part of their conduct, and is a clog to their proceedings. It is not in the nature of things to be otherwise; for no man, that entertains a hope of seeing this dispute speedily and equitably adjusted by commissioners, will go to the same expense and run the same hazards to prepare for the worst event, as he who believes that he must conquer, or submit to unconditional terms, and its concomitants, such as confiscation, hanging, etc. etc.[Footnote: Ford, iv, 106.]
The Hessians to whom Washington alludes were German mercenaries hired by the King of England from two or three of the princelings of Germany. These Hessians turned a dishonest penny by fighting in behalf of a cause in which they took no immediate interest or even knew what it was about. During the course of the Revolution there were thirty thousand Hessians in the British armies in America, and, as their owners, the German princelings, received £5 apiece for them it was a profitable arrangement for those phlegmatic, corpulent, and braggart personages. The Americans complained that the Hessians were brutal and tricky fighters; but in reality they merely carried out the ideals of their German Fatherland which remained behind the rest of Europe in its ideals of what was fitting in war. Being uncivilized, they could not be expected to follow the practice of civilized warfare.

When Washington returned to his headquarters in New York, he left the Congress in Philadelphia simmering over the question of Independence. Almost simultaneously with Washington's return came the British fleet under Howe, which passed Sandy Hook and sailed up New York Harbor. He brought an army of twenty-five thousand men. Washington's force was nominally nineteen thousand men, but it was reduced to not more than ten thousand by the detachment of several thousand to guard Boston and of several thousand more to take part in the struggle in Canada, besides thirty-six hundred sick. The Colonists clung as if by obsession to their project of capturing Quebec. The death of Montgomery and the discomfiture of Benedict Arnold, which really gave a quietus to the success of the expedition, did not suffice to crush it. Only too evident was it that Quebec could be taken. Canada would fall permanently into American control, and cease to be a constant menace and the recruiting ground for new expeditions against the central Colonies.

August was drawing to a close when the two armies were in a position to begin fighting. The British, who had originally camped upon Staten Island where Nature provided them with a shelter from attack, had now moved across the bay to Long Island. There General Sullivan, having lost eleven or twelve hundred men, was caught between two fires and compelled to surrender with the two thousand or more of his army which remained after the attack of the British. Washington watched the disaster from Brooklyn, but was unable to detach any regiments to bring aid to Sullivan, as it now became clear to him that his whole army on Long Island might easily be cut off. He decided to retreat from the island. This he did on August 29th, having commandeered every boat that he could find. He ferried his entire force across to the New York side with such secrecy and silence that the British did not notice that they were gone. A heavy fog, which settled over the water during the night, greatly aided the adventure. The result of the Battle of Long Island gave the British great exultation and correspondingly depressed the Americans. On the preceding fourth of July they had declared their Independence; they were no longer Colonies but independent States bound together by a common interest. They felt all the more keenly that in this first battle after their Independence they should be so ignominiously defeated. They might have taken much comfort in the thought that had Howe surprised them on their midnight retreat across the river, he might have captured most of the American army and probably have ended the war. Washington's disaster sprang not from his incompetence, but from his inadequate resources. The British outnumbered him more than two to one and they had control of the water; an advantage which he could not offset. One important fact should not be forgotten: New York, both City and State, had been notoriously Loyalist--that is, pro-British--ever since the troubles between the Colonists and the British grew angry. Governor Tryon, the Governor of the State, made no secret of his British preferences; indeed, they were not preferences at all, but downright British acts.

Having won the Battle of Long Island, Lord Howe thought the time favorable for acting in his capacity as a peacemaker, because he had come over with authority to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Colonists' quarrel. He appealed, therefore, to the Congress of Philadelphia, which appointed a committee of three--Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge to confer with Lord Howe. The conference, which exhibited the shrewd quality of John Adams and of Franklin, the politeness of Rutledge, and the studied urbanity of Lord Howe, simply showed that there was no common ground on which they could come to an agreement. The American Commissioners returned to Philadelphia and Lord Howe to New York City and there were no further attempts at peacemaking.

Having brought his men to New York, Washington may well have debated what to do next. The general opinion seemed to be that New York must be defended at all costs. Whether Washington approved of this plan, I find it hard to say. Perhaps he felt that if the American army could hold its own on Manhattan for several weeks, it would be put into better discipline and prepared either to risk a battle with the British, or to retreat across the Hudson toward New Jersey. He decided that for the moment at least he would station his army on the heights of Harlem. From the house of Colonel Morris, where he made his headquarters, he wrote on September 4, 1776, to the President of the Congress: "We are now, as it were, upon the eve of another dissolution of our army." The term of service of most of the soldiers under Washington would expire at the end of the year, and he devoted the greater part of the letter to showing up the evils of the military system existing in the American army.
A soldier [he said] reasoned with upon the goodness of the cause he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears you with patience, and acknowledges the truth of your observations, but adds that it is of no more importance to him than to others. The officer makes you the same reply, with this further remark, that his pay will not support him and he cannot ruin himself and family to serve his country, when every member of the community is equally interested, and benefited by his labors. The few, therefore, who act upon principles of disinterestedness, comparatively speaking, are no more than a drop in the ocean.

It becomes evident to me then, that, as this contest is not likely to be the work of a day, as the war must be carried on systematically, and to do it you must have good officers, there are in my judgment no other possible means to obtain them but by establishing your army upon a permanent footing and giving your officers good pay. This will induce gentlemen and men of character to engage; and, till the bulk of your officers is composed of such persons as are actuated by principles of honor and a spirit of enterprise, you have little to expect from them.[Footnote: Ford, IV, 440.]
Washington proceeds to argue that the soldiers ought not to be engaged for a shorter time than the duration of the war, that they ought to have better pay and the offer of a hundred or a hundred and fifty acres of land. Officers' pay should be increased in proportion. "Why a captain in the Continental service should receive no more than five shillings currency per day for performing the same duties that an officer of the same rank in the British service receives ten shillings for, I never could conceive." He further speaks strongly against the employment of militia--"to place any dependence upon [it] is assuredly resting upon a broken staff."

Washington wrote thus frankly to the Congress which seems to have read his doleful reports without really being stimulated, as it ought to have been, by a determination to remove their causes. Probably the delegates came to regard the jeremiads as a matter of course and assumed that Washington would pull through somehow. Very remarkable is it that the Commander-in-Chief of any army in such a struggle should have expressed himself as he did, bluntly, in regard to its glaring imperfections. Doing this, however, he managed to hold the loyalty and spirit of his men. In the American Civil War, McClellan contrived to infatuate his troops with the belief that his plans were perfect, and that only the annoying fact that the Confederate generals planned better caused him to be defeated; and yet to his obsessed soldiers defeat under McClellan was more glorious than victory under Lee or Stonewall Jackson. I take it that Washington's frankness simply reflected his passion for veracity, which was the cornerstone of his character. The strangest fact of all was that it did not lessen his popularity or discourage his troops.

To his intimates Washington wrote with even more unreserve. Thus he says to Lund Washington (30th September):
In short, such is my situation that if I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings; and yet I do not know what plan of conduct to pursue. I see the impossibility of serving with reputation, or doing any essential service to the cause by continuing in command, and yet I am told that if I quit the command, inevitable ruin will follow from the distraction that will ensue. In confidence I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state since I was born. To lose all comfort and happiness on the one hand, whilst I am fully persuaded that under such a system of management as has been adopted, I cannot have the least chance for reputation, nor those allowances made which the nature of the case requires; and to be told, on the other, that if I leave the service all will be lost, is, at the same time that I am bereft of every peaceful moment, distressing to a degree. But I will be done with the subject, with the precaution to you that it is not a fit one to be publicly known or discussed. If I fall, it may not be amiss that these circumstances be known, and declaration made in credit to the justice of my character. And if the men will stand by me (which by the by I despair of), I am resolved not to be forced from this ground while I have life; and a few days will determine the point, if the enemy should not change their place of operations; for they certainly will not--I am sure they ought not--to waste the season that is now fast advancing, and must be precious to them.[Footnote: Ford, IV, 458.]
The British troops almost succeeded in surrounding Washington's force north of Harlem. Washington retreated to White Plains, where, on October 28th, the British, after a severe loss, took an outpost and won what is called the "Battle of White Plains." Henceforward Washington's movements resembled too painfully those of the proverbial toad under the harrow; and yet in spite of Lord Howe's efforts to crush him, he succeeded in escaping into New Jersey with a small remnant--some six thousand men--of his original army. The year 1776 thus closed in disaster which seemed to be irremediable. It showed that the British, having awakened to the magnitude of their task, were able to cope with it. Having a comparatively unlimited sea-power, they needed only to embark their regiments, with the necessary provisions and ammunition, on their ships and send them across the Atlantic, where they were more than a match for the nondescript, undisciplined, ill-equipped, and often badly nourished Americans. The fact that at the highest reckoning hardly a half of the American people were actively in favor of Independence, is too often forgotten. But from this fact there followed much lukewarmness and inertia in certain sections. Many persons had too little imagination or were too sordidly bound by their daily ties to care. As one planter put it: "My business is to raise tobacco, the rest doesn't concern me."

Over the generally level plains of New Jersey, George Washington pushed the remnant of the army that remained to him. He had now hardly five thousand men, but they were the best, most seasoned, and in many respects the hardiest fighters. In addition to the usual responsibility of warfare, of feeding his troops, finding quarters for them, and of directing the line of march, he had to cope with wholesale desertions and to make desperate efforts to raise money and to persuade some of those troops, whose term was expiring, to stay on. His general plan now was to come near enough to the British centre and to watch its movements. The British had fully twenty-five thousand men who could be centred at a given point. This centre was now Trenton, and the objective of the British was so plainly Philadelphia that the Continental Congress, after voting to remain in permanence there, fled as quietly as possible to Baltimore. On December 18th Washington wrote from the camp near the Falls of Trenton to John Augustine Washington:
If every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in great measure, to the insidious acts of the Enemy, and disaffection of the Colonies before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short enlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the militia, the evil consequences of which were foretold fifteen months ago, with a spirit almost Prophetic. ... You can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties, and less means to extricate himself from them. However, under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause, I cannot entertain an idea that it will finally sink, though it may remain for some time under a cloud.[Footnote 1: Ford, V, 111.]
Washington stood with his forlorn little array on the west bank of the Delaware above Trenton. He had information that the British had stretched their line very far and thin to the east of the town. Separating his forces into three bodies, he commanded one of these himself, and during the night of Christmas he crossed the river in boats. The night was stormy and the crossing was much interrupted by floating cakes of ice; in spite of which he landed his troops safely on the eastern shore. They had to march nine miles before they reached Trenton, taking Colonel Rall and his garrison of Hessians by surprise. More than a thousand surrendered and were quickly carried back over the river into captivity.

The prestige of the Battle of Trenton was enormous. For the first time in six months Washington had beaten the superior forces of the British and beaten them in a fortified town of their own choosing. The result of the victory was not simply military; it quickly penetrated the population of New Jersey which had been exasperatingly Loyalist, had sold the British provisions, and abetted their intrigues. Now the New Jersey people suddenly bethought them that they might have chosen the wrong side after all. This feeling was deepened in them a week later when, at Princeton, Washington suddenly fell upon and routed several British regiments. By this success he cleared the upper parts of New Jersey of British troops, who were shut once more within the limits of New York City and Long Island.

In January, 1777, no man could say that the turning-point in the American Revolution had been passed. There were still to come long months, and years even, of doubt and disillusion and suffering; the agony of Valley Forge; the ignominy of betrayal; and the slowly gnawing pain of hope deferred. But the fact, if men could have but seen it, was clear--Trenton and Princeton were prophetic of the end. And what was even clearer was the supreme importance of George Washington. Had he been cut off after Princeton or had he been forced to retire through accident, the Revolution would have slackened, lost head and direction, and spent itself among thinly parcelled rivulets without strength to reach the sea. Washington was a Necessary Man. Without him the struggle would not then have continued. Sooner or later America would have broken free from England, but he was indispensable to the liberty and independence of the Colonies then. This thought brooded over him at all times, not to make him boastful or imperious, but to impress him with a deeper awe, and to impress also his men with the supreme importance of his life to them all. They grew restive when, at Princeton, forgetful of self, he faced a volley of muskets only thirty feet away. One of his officers wrote after the Trenton campaign:
Our army love their General very much, but they have one thing against him, which is the little care he takes of himself in any action. His personal bravery, and the desire he has of animating his troops by example, makes him fearless of danger. This occasions us much uneasiness. But Heaven, which has hitherto been his shield, I hope will still continue to guard so valuable a life.[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 171.]
Robert Morris, who had already achieved a very important position among the Patriots of New York, wrote to Washington:
Heaven, no doubt for the noblest purposes, has blessed you with a firmness of mind, steadiness of countenance, and patience in sufferings, that give you infinite advantages over other men. This being the case, you are not to depend on other people's exertions being equal to your own. One mind feeds and thrives on misfortunes by finding resources to get the better of them; another sinks under their weight, thinking it impossible to resist; and, as the latter description probably includes the majority of mankind, we must be cautious of alarming them.
Washington doubtless thanked Morris for his kind advice about issuing reports which had some streaks of the rainbow and less truth in them. He did not easily give up his preference for truth.
Common prudence [he said] dictates the necessity of duly attending to the circumstances of both armies, before the style of conquerors is assumed by either; and I am sorry to add, that this does not appear to be the case with us; nor is it in my power to make Congress fully sensible of the real situation of our affairs, and that it is with difficulty (if I may use the expression) that I can, by every means in my power, keep the life and soul of this army together. In a word, when they are at a distance, they think it is but to say, Presto begone, and everything is done. They seem not to have any conception of the difficulty and perplexity attending those who are to execute.
After the Battle of Princeton, Washington drew his men off to the Heights of Morristown where he established his winter quarters. The British had gone still farther toward New York City. Both sides seemed content to enjoy a comparative truce until spring should come with better weather; but true to his characteristic of being always preparing something, Howe had several projects in view, any one of which might lead to important activity. If ever a war was fought at long range, that war was the American Revolution. Howe received his orders from the War Office in London. Every move was laid down; no allowance was made for the change which unforeseeable contingencies might render necessary; the young Under-Secretaries who carefully drew up the instructions in London knew little or nothing about the American field of operations and simply relied upon the fact that their callipers showed that it was so many miles between Point X and Point Y and that the distance should ordinarily be covered in so many hours.

With Washington himself the case was hardly better. There were few motions that he could make of his own free will. He had to get authority from the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. The Congress was not made up of military experts and in many cases it knew nothing about the questions he asked. The members of the Congress were talkers, not doers, and they sometimes lost themselves in endless debate and sometimes they seemed quite to forget the questions Washington put to them. We find him writing in December to beg them to reply to the urgent question which he had first asked in the preceding October. He was scrupulous not to take any step which might seem dictatorial. The Congress and the people of the country dreaded military despotism. That dread made them prefer the evil system of militia and the short-term enlistments to a properly organized standing army. To their fearful imagination the standing army would very quickly be followed by the man on horseback and by hopeless despotism.

The Olympians in London who controlled the larger issues of war and peace whispered to the young gentlemen in the War Office to draw up plans for the invasion, during the summer of 1777, of the lower Hudson by British troops from Canada. General Burgoyne should march down and take Ticonderoga and then proceed to Albany. There he could meet a smaller force under Colonel St. Leger coming from Oswego and following the Mohawk River. A third army under Sir William Howe could ascend the Hudson and meet Burgoyne and St. Leger at the general rendezvous--Albany. It was a brave plan, and when Burgoyne started with his force of eight thousand men high hopes flushed the British hearts. These hopes seemed to be confirmed when a month later Burgoyne took Ticonderoga. The Americans attributed great importance to this place, an importance which might have been justified at an earlier time, but which was now really passed, and it proved of little value to Burgoyne. Pursuing his march southward, he found himself entangled in the forest and he failed to meet boats which were to ferry him over the streams.

The military operations during the summer and autumn of 1777 might well cause the Americans to exult. The British plan of sending three armies to clear out the forces which guarded or blocked the road from Canada to the lower Hudson burst like a bubble. The chief contingent of 8000 men, under General Burgoyne, seems to have strayed from its route and to have been in need of food. Hearing that there were supplies at Bennington, Burgoyne turned aside to that place. He little suspected the mettle of John Stark and of his Green Mountain volunteers. Their quality was well represented by Stark's address to his men: "They are ours to-night, or Molly Stark is a widow." He did not boast. By nightfall he had captured all of Burgoyne's men who were alive (August 16, 1777).

Only one reverse marred the victories of the summer. This was at Oriskany in August, 1777. An American force of 400 or 500 men fell into an ambush, and its leader, General Herkimer, though mortally wounded, refused to retire, but continued to give directions to the end. Oriskany was reputed to be the most atrocious fight of the Revolution. Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief, led the Indians, who were allies of the English.

In spite of this, Burgoyne seemed to lose resolution, uncertain whither to turn. He instinctively groped for a way that would take him down the Hudson and bring him to Albany, where he was to meet British reënforcements. But he missed his bearings and found himself near Saratoga. Here General Gates confronted him with an army larger than his own in regulars. On October 7th they fought a battle, which the British technically claimed as a victory, as they were not driven from their position, but it left them virtually hemmed in without a line of escape. Burgoyne waited several days irresolute. He hoped that something favorable to him might turn up. He had a lurking hope that General Clinton was near by, coming to his rescue. He wavered, gallant though he was, and would not give the final order of desperation--to cut their way through the enemy lines. Instead of that he sought a truce with Gates, and signed the Convention of Saratoga (October 17th), by which he surrendered his army with the honors of war, and it was stipulated that they should be sent to England by English ships and paroled against taking any further part in the war.

The victory of Saratoga had much effect on America; it reverberated through Europe. Only the peculiar nature of the fighting in America prevented it from being decisive. Washington himself had never dared to risk a battle which, if he were defeated in it, would render it impossible for him to continue the war. The British, on the other hand, spread over much ground, and the destruction of one of their armies would not necessarily involve the loss of all. So it was now; Burgoyne's surrender did little to relieve the pressure on Washington's troops on the Hudson, but it had a vital effect across the sea.

Since the first year of the war the Americans had hoped to secure a formal alliance with France against England, and among the French who favored this scheme there were several persons of importance. Reasons were easily found to justify such an alliance. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 had dispossessed France of her colonies in America and had left her inferior to England in other parts of the world. Here was her chance to take revenge. The new King, Louis XVI, had for Foreign Minister Count de Vergennes, a diplomat of some experience, who warmly urged supporting the cause of the American Colonists. He had for accomplice Beaumarchais, a nimble-witted playwright and seductive man of the world who talked very persuasively to the young King and many others.

The Americans on their side had not been inactive, and early in 1776 Silas Deane, a member of Congress from Connecticut, was sent over to Paris with the mission to do his utmost to cement the friendship between the American Colonies and France. Deane worked to such good purpose that by October, 1776, he had sent clothing for twenty thousand men, muskets for thirty thousand and large quantities of ammunition. A fictitious French house, which went by the name of Hortalaz et Cie, acted as agent and carried on the necessary business from Paris. By this time military adventurers in large numbers began to flock to America to offer their swords to the rebellious Colonials. Among them were a few--de Kalb, Pulaski, Steuben, and Kosciuszko--who did good service for the struggling young rebels, but most of them were worthless adventurers and marplots.

Almost any American in Paris felt himself authorized to give a letter of introduction to any Frenchman or other European who wished to try his fortunes in America. One of the notorious cases was that of a French officer named Ducoudray, who brought a letter from Deane purporting to be an agreement that Ducoudray should command the artillery of the Continental army with the rank and pay of a major-general. Washington would take no responsibility for this appointment, which would have displaced General Knox, a hardy veteran, an indefectible patriot, and Washington's trusted friend. When the matter was taken up by the Congress, the demand was quickly disallowed. The absurdity of allowing Silas Deane or any other American in Paris, no matter how meritorious his own services might be, to assign to foreigners commissions of high rank in the American army was too obvious to be debated.

To illustrate the character of Washington's miscellaneous labors in addition to his usual household care of the force under him, I borrow a few items from his correspondence. I borrow at random, the time being October, 1777, when the Commander-in-Chief is moving from place to place in northern New Jersey, watching the enemy and avoiding an engagement. A letter comes from Richard Henry Lee, evidently intended to sound Washington, in regard to the appointment of General Conway to a high command in the American army. Washington replies with corroding veracity.
[Matuchin Hill, 17 October, 1777.] If there is any truth in the report that Congress hath appointed ... Brigadier Conway a Major-general in this army, it will be as unfortunate a measure as ever was adopted. I may add, (and I think with truth) that it will give a fatal blow to the existence of the army. Upon so interesting a subject, I must speak plain. The duty I owe my country, the ardent desire I have to promote its true interests, and justice to individuals, requires this of me. General Conway's merit, then, as an officer, and his importance in this army, exists more in his imagination, than in reality. For it is a maxim with him, to leave no service of his own untold, nor to want anything, which is to be obtained by importunity.[Footnote: Ford, vi, 121.]
It does not appear that Lee fished for letters of introduction for himself or any of his friends after this experiment. He needed no further proof that George Washington had the art of sending complete answers.[Footnote: For the end of Conway and his cabal see post, 112, 113.]

On October 25, 1777, desertions being frequent among the officers and men, Washington issued this circular to Pulaski and Colonels of Horse:
I am sorry to find that the liberty I granted to the light dragoons of impressing horses near the enemy's line has been most horribly abused and perverted into a mere plundering scheme. I intended nothing more than that the horses belonging to the disaffected in the neighborhood of the British Army, should be taken for the use of the dismounted dragoons, and expected, that they would be regularly reported to the Quartermaster General, that an account might be kept of the number and the persons from whom they were taken, in order to a future settlement.--Instead of this, I am informed that under pretence of the authority derived from me, they go about the country plundering whomsoever they are pleased to denominate tories, and converting what they get to their own private profit and emolument. This is an abuse that cannot be tolerated; and as I find the license allowed them, has been made a sanction for such mischievous practices, I am under the necessity of recalling it altogether. You will therefore immediately make it known to your whole corps, that they are not under any pretence whatever to meddle with the horses or other property of any inhabitant whatever on pain of the severest punishment, for they may be assured as far as it depends upon me that military execution will attend all those who are caught in the like practice hereafter.[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 141.]
One finds nothing ambiguous in this order to Pulaski and the Colonels of Horse. A more timid commander would have hesitated to speak so curtly at a time when the officers and men of his army were deserting at will; but to Washington discipline was discipline, and he would maintain it, cost what it might, so long as he had ten men ready to obey him.

Passing over three weeks we find Washington writing from Headquarters on November 14th to Sir William Howe, the British Commander-in-Chief, in regard to the maltreatment of prisoners and to proposals of exchanging officers on parole.
I must also remonstrate against the maltreatment and confinement of our officers--this, I am informed, is not only the case of those in Philadelphia, but of many in New York. Whatever plausible pretences may be urged to authorize the condition of the former, it is certain but few circumstances can arise to justify that of the latter. I appeal to you to redress these several wrongs; and you will remember, whatever hardships the prisoners with us may be subjected to will be chargeable on you. At the same time it is but justice to observe, that many of the cruelties exercised towards prisoners are said to proceed from the inhumanity of Mr. Cunningham, provost-martial, without your knowledge or approbation.[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 195.]
The letter was sufficiently direct for Sir William to understand it. If these extracts were multiplied by ten they would represent more nearly the mass of questions which came daily to Washington for decision. The decision had usually to be made in haste and always with the understanding that it would not only settle the question immediately involved, but it would serve as precedent.

The victory of Saratoga gave a great impetus to the party in France which wished Louis XVI to come out boldly on the side of the Americans in their war with the British. The King was persuaded. Vergennes also secured the coöperation of Spain with France, for Spain had views against England, and she agreed that if a readjustment of sovereignty were coming in America, it would be prudent for her to be on hand to press her own claims. On February 6, 1778, the treaty between France and America was signed.[Footnote: The treaty was ratified by Congress May 4, 1778.] Long before this, however, a young French enthusiast who proved to be the most conspicuous of all the foreign volunteers, the Marquis de Lafayette, had come over with magnificent promises from Silas Deane. On being told, however, that the Congress found it impossible to ratify Deane's promises, he modestly requested to enlist in the army without pay. Washington at once took a fancy to him and insisted on his being a member of the Commander's family.

While Burgoyne's surrendered army was marching to Boston and Cambridge, to be shut up as prisoners, Washington was taking into consideration the best place in which to pass the winter. Several were suggested, Wilmington, Delaware, and Valley Forge--about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia--being especially urged upon him. Washington preferred the latter, chiefly because it was near enough to Philadelphia to enable him to keep watch on the movements of the British troops in that city. Valley Forge! One of the names in human history associated with the maximum of suffering and distress, with magnificent patience, sacrifice, and glory.
The surrounding hills were covered with woods and presented an inhospitable appearance. The choice was severely criticised, and de Kalb described it as a wilderness. But the position was central and easily defended. The army arrived there about the middle of December, and the erection of huts began. They were built of logs and were 14 by 15 feet each. The windows were covered with oiled paper, and the openings between the logs were closed with clay. The huts were arranged in streets, giving the place the appearance of a city. It was the first of the year, however, before they were occupied, and previous to that the suffering of the army had become great. Although the weather was intensely cold, the men were obliged to work at the buildings, with nothing to support life but flour unmixed with water, which they baked into cakes at the open fires ... the horses died of starvation by hundreds, and the men were obliged to haul their own provisions and firewood. As straw could not be found to protect the men from the cold ground, sickness spread through their quarters with fearful rapidity. "The unfortunate soldiers," wrote Lafayette in after years, "they were in want of everything; they had neither coats, hats, shirts nor shoes; their feet and their legs froze till they became black, and it was often necessary to amputate them." ... The army frequently remained whole days without provisions, and the patient endurance of the soldiers and officers was a miracle which each moment served to renew ... while the country around Valley Forge was so impoverished by the military operations of the previous summer as to make it impossible for it to support the army. The sufferings of the latter were chiefly owing to the inefficiency of Congress.[Footnote 1: F.D. Stone, Struggle for the Delaware, vi, ch. 5.]
No one felt more keenly than did Washington the horrors, of Valley Forge. He had not believed in forming such an encampment, and from the start he denounced the neglect and incompetence of the commissions. In a letter to the President of the Congress on December 3, 1777, he wrote:
Since the month of July we have had no assistance from the quartermaster-general, and to want of assistance from this department the commissary-general charges great part of his deficiency. To this I am to add, that, notwithstanding it is a standing order, and often repeated that the troops shall always have two days' provisions by them, that they might be ready at any sudden call; yet an opportunity has scarcely ever offered of taking an advantage of the enemy, that has not either been totally obstructed or greatly impeded, on this account. And this, the great and crying evil, is not all. The soap, vinegar, and other articles allowed by Congress, we see none of, nor have we seen them, I believe, since the Battle of Brandywine. The first, indeed, we have now little occasion for; few men having more than one shirt, many only the moiety of one, and some none at all. In addition to which, as a proof of the little benefit received from a clothier-general, and as a further proof of the inability of an army, under the circumstances of this, to perform the common duties of soldiers, (besides a number of men confined to hospitals for want of shoes, and others in farmers' houses on the same account,) we have, by a field-return this day made, no less than two thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight men now in camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and otherwise naked. By the same return it appears, that our whole strength in Continental troops, including the eastern brigades, which have joined us since the surrender of General Burgoyne, exclusive of the Maryland troops sent to Wilmington, amounts to no more than eight thousand two hundred in camp fit for duty; notwithstanding which, and that since the 4th instant our numbers fit for duty, from the hardships and exposures they have undergone, particularly on account of blankets (numbers having been obliged, and still are, to sit up all night by fires, instead of taking comfortable rest in a natural and common way), have decreased near two thousand men.

We find gentlemen, without knowing whether the army was really going into winter-quarters or not (for I am sure no resolution of mine would warrant the Remonstrance), reprobating the measure as much as if they thought the soldiers were made of stocks or stones and equally insensible of frost and snow; and moreover, as if they conceived it easily practicable for an inferior army, under the disadvantages I have described ours to be, which are by no means exaggerated, to confine a superior one, in all respects well-appointed and provided for a winter's campaign within the city of Philadelphia, and to cover from depredation and waste the States of Pennsylvania and Jersey. But what makes this matter still more extraordinary in my eye is, that these very gentlemen,--who were well apprized of the nakedness of the troops from ocular demonstration, who thought their own soldiers worse clad than others, and who advised me near a month ago to postpone the execution of a plan I was about to adopt, in consequence of a resolve of Congress for seizing clothes, under strong assurances that an ample supply would be collected in ten days agreeably to a decree of the State (not one article of which, by the by, is yet come to hand)--should think a winter's campaign, and the covering of these States from the invasion of an enemy, so easy and practicable a business. I can assure those gentlemen, that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside, than to occupy a cold, bleak hill, and sleep under frost and snow, without clothes or blankets. However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them, and, from my soul, I pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent.

It is for these reasons, therefore, that I have dwelt upon the subject, and it adds not a little to my other difficulties and distress to find, that much more is expected of me than is possible to be performed, and that upon the ground of safety and policy I am obliged to conceal the true state of the army from public view, and thereby expose myself to detraction and calumny.[Footnote: Ford, VI, 259, 262.]
Mrs. Washington, as was her custom throughout the war, spent part of the winter with the General. Her brief allusions to Valley Forge would hardly lead the reader to infer the horrors that nearly ten thousand American soldiers were suffering.
"Your Mamma has not yet arrived," Washington writes to Jack Custis, "but ...expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her. We are in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided." And of this reunion Mrs. Washington wrote: "I came to this place, some time about the first of February when I found the General very well, ... in camp in what is called the great valley on the Banks of the Schuylkill. Officers and men are chiefly in Hutts, which they say is tolerably comfortable; the army are as healthy as can be well expected in general. The General's apartment is very small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in, which has made our quarters much more tolerable than they were at first."[Footnote: P.L. Ford, The True George Washington, 99.]
While the Americans languished and died at Valley Forge during the winter months, Sir William Howe and his troops lived in Philadelphia not only in great comfort, but in actual luxury. British gold paid out in cash to the dealers in provisions bought full supplies from one of the best markets in America. And the people of the place, largely made up of Loyalists, vied with each other in providing entertainment for the British army. There were fashionable balls for the officers and free-and-easy revels for the soldiers. Almost at any time the British army might have marched out to Valley Forge and dealt a final blow to Washington's naked and starving troops, but it preferred the good food and the dissipations of Philadelphia; and so the winter dragged on to spring.

Howe was recalled to England and General Sir Henry Clinton succeeded him in the command of the British forces. He was one of those well-upholstered carpet knights who flourished in the British army at that time, and was even less energetic than Howe. We must remember, however, that the English officers who came over to fight in America had had their earlier training in Europe, where conditions were quite different from those here. Especially was this true of the terrain. Occasionally a born fighter like Wolfe did his work in a day, but this was different from spending weeks and months in battleless campaigns. The Philadelphians arranged a farewell celebration for General Howe which they called the Meschianza, an elaborate pageant, said to be the most beautiful ever seen in America, after which General Howe and General Clinton had orders to take their army back to New York. As much as could be shipped on boats went that way, but the loads that had to be carried in wagons formed a cavalcade twelve miles long, and with the attending regiment advanced barely more than two and a half miles a day. Washington, whose troops entered Philadelphia as soon as the British marched out, hung on the retreating column and at Monmouth engaged in a pitched battle, which was on the point of being a decisive victory for the Americans when, through the blunder of General Lee, it collapsed. The blunder seemed too obviously intentional, but Washington appeared in the midst of the mêlée and urged on the men to retrieve their defeat. This was the battle of which one of the soldiers said afterwards, "At Monmouth the General swore like an angel from Heaven." He prevented disaster, but that could not reconcile him to the loss of the victory which had been almost within his grasp. Those who witnessed it never forgot Washington's rage when he met Lee and asked him what he meant and then ordered him to the rear. Washington prepared to renew the battle on the following day, but during the night Clinton withdrew his army, and by daylight was far on his way to the seacoast.

Washington followed up the coast and took up his quarters at White Plains.


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