The Life of George Washington
Chapter Four: The Campaign of 1776
The victories at Trenton and Princeton produced the most extensive effects, and had a decided influence on subsequent events. Philadelphia was saved for that winter. Jersey was recovered. The drooping spirits of the Americans were revived. The gloomy apprehensions which had lately prevailed, of their being engaged in a hopeless cause, yielded to a confidence in their General and their army, and in the ultimate success of their struggles for liberty and independence.
So strong an impulse was given to the recruiting service in every part of the United States, as gave good ground to hope that the commander in chief would be enabled to take the field in the spring with a permanent regular army, on the new terms of enlistment.
After the campaign had thus been carried into the month of January, Washington retired to Morristown, that he might afford shelter to his suffering army. His situation there was far from being eligible. His force for some considerable time was trifling, when compared with that of the British; but the enemy and his own countrymen believed the contrary. Their deception was cherished and artfully continued by the parade of a large army. Washington placed his officers in positions of difficult access, and they kept up a constant communication with each other. This secured them from insult and surprise. While they covered the country, they harassed the foraging parties of the British, and confined them to narrow limits.
The remainder of the winter season passed over in a light war of skirmishes. These were generally in favour of the Americans; but Washington's views were much more extensive. He hoped that his country, encouraged by the late successes at Trenton and Princeton, would have placed at his disposal a large and efficient army, equal to that of the enemy. To obtain it, he urged with great earnestness the advantage of being enabled to undertake decisive operations before reinforcements to the British army should arrive. Congress, at his instance, passed the requisite resolutions; but these could not be carried into effect without the aid of the state legislatures. The delays incident to this slow mode of doing business, added to the recollection of the suffering of the troops in the last campaign, retarded the recruiting service. Washington with infinite reluctance was obliged to give up his favourite project of an early active campaign.
In the advance of the spring, when recruits were obtained, a difficulty arose in assembling them from the different states in which they had been enlisted. As the British had possession of the ocean, they could at pleasure transfer the war to any maritime portion of the union. Each state, anxious for its particular safety, claimed protection from the common army of the whole. Had they been indulged, the feeble remnant under the immediate direction of the commander in chief, would have been unequal to any great enterprise. To these partial calls he opposed all his authority and influence, and his pointed representations made an impression in favour of primary objects. These were to prevent the British from getting possession of Philadelphia, or the Highlands on the Hudson. Both were of so nearly equal importance to their interest, that it was impossible to ascertain which should be preferred by Sir William Howe.
In this uncertainty, Washington made such an arrangement of his troops as would enable him to oppose either. The northern troops were divided between Ticonderoga and Peekskill; while those from Jersey and the south were encamped at Middlebrook, near the Rariton. The American force collected at this strong and defencible encampment, was nominally between nine and ten thousand men; but the effective rank and file was about six thousand.
A majority of these were raw recruits; and a considerable number of such as had been enlisted in the middle states were foreigners or servants. To encourage the desertion of troops so slightly attached to the American cause, Gen. Howe offered a reward to every soldier who would come over to his army, and an additional compensation to such as would bring their arms with them. To counteract these propositions, Washington recommended to Congress to give full pardon to all Americans who would relinquish the British service.
The campaign opened early in June on the part of the British, who advanced towards Philadelphia as far as Somerset county, in New-Jersey; but they soon fell back to New-Brunswick. After this retreat, Sir William Howe endeavored to provoke Washington to an engagement, and left no manoeuvre untried that was calculated to induce him to quit his position. At one time he appeared as if he intended to push on, without regarding the army opposed to him. At another, he accurately examined the situation of the American encampment; hoping that some unguarded part may be found on which an attack might be made that would open the way to a general engagement.
All these hopes were frustrated. Washington knew the full value of his situation. He had too much penetration to lose it from the circumvention of military manoeuvres, and too much temper to be provoked to a dereliction of it. He was well apprised it was not the interest of his country to commit its fortune to a single action.
Sir William Howe suddenly relinquished his position in front of the Americans, and retired with his whole force to Amboy. The apparently retreating British were pursued by a considerable detachment of the American army, and Washington advanced from Middlebrook to Quibbletown, to be near at hand for the support of his advanced parties. The British General immediately marched his army back from Amboy, with great expedition, hoping to bring on a general action on equal ground; but he was disappointed. Washington fell back, and posted his army in such an advantageous situation as compensated for the inferiority of his numbers.
Sir William Howe was now fully convinced of the impossibility of compelling a general engagement on equal terms, and also satisfied that it would be too hazardous to attempt passing the Delaware while the country was in arms, and the main American army in full force in his rear. He therefore returned to Amboy, and thence passed over to Staten Island, resolving to prosecute the objects of the campaign by an embarkation of his whole force at New-York.
During the period of these movements, the real designs of Gen. Howe were involved in obscurity. Though the season for military operations was advanced as far as the month of July, yet his determinate object could not be ascertained. Nothing on his part had hitherto taken place, but alternately advancing and retreating.
Washington's embarrassment on this account was increased by intelligence which arrived, that Burgoyne was advancing in great force towards New-York from Canada. Apprehending that Sir William Howe would ultimately move up the North River, and that his movements which looked southwardly were feints, the American chief detached a brigade to reinforce the northern division of his army.
Successive advices of the advance of Burgoyne favoured the idea that a junction of the two royal armies, near Albany, was intended. Some movements were therefore made by Washington towards Peekskill, and on the other side towards Trenton, while the main army was encamped near the Clove, in readiness to march either to the south or north, as the movements of Sir William Howe might require.
After the British had left Sandy Hook, they looked into the Delaware, and suddenly again put out to sea, and were not heard of for near three weeks, except that once or twice they had been seen near the coast steering southwardly. Charlestown, in South Carolina, was supposed to be their object at one time; at another, Philadelphia by the way of Chesapeak; at another, the Highlands of New-York, to co-operate with Burgoyne.
The perplexing uncertainty concerning the destination of the enemy which embarrassed the movements of Washington, was not away before the middle of August, when certain accounts were received that the British had taken possession of the Chesapeak, and landed as near to Philadelphia as was practicable. While the object of the campaign was doubtful, every disposition was made to defend all the supposed probable points of attack except Charlestown. This being at the distance of seven or eight hundred miles, could not be assisted by an army marching over land, in time to oppose the enemy conveyed thither by water.
While this idea prevailed, arrangements were made to employ the American army either against the enemy advancing from Albany, or against the British posts in New-York, with the hope of making reparation for the expected loss of Charlestown. As soon as the arrival of the British in the Chesapeak was known, Washington ordered the different divisions of his army to unite in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, towards the head of Elk; and the militia of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the northern counties of Virginia, to take the field.
He had previously written very pressing letters to the Governors of the eastern states, and to the Generals in the western parts of these states, to strengthen the northern army opposed to Burgoyne; and even weakened himself by detaching some of his best troops, particularly Morgan's riflemen, on that important service. In the spirit of true patriotism, he diminished his own chances of acquiring fame, that the common cause might be most effectually promoted by the best disposition of the forces under his command, for simultaneous opposition to both Howe and Burgoyne.
Washington passed his army with every appearance of confidence through the city of Philadelphia, with a view of making some impression on the disaffected of that city, and afterwards proceeded towards the head of Elk. About the same time he directed Gen. Smallwood, with the militia of Maryland and Delaware, and come continental troops, to hang on the rear of the enemy. As a substitute for Morgan's riflemen, Gen. Maxwell was furnished with a corps of light infantry, amounting to one thousand men, and directed to annoy the British on their march through the country. These troops were afterwards reinforced with Gen. Wayne's division. Though the militia did not turn out with that alacrity which might have been expected from the energetic calls of Washington, yet a respectable force was assembled, which imposed on Sir William Howe a necessity of proceeding with caution.
The royal army set out from the eastern heads of the Chesapeak on the third of September, with a spirit which promised to compensate for the various delays which had hitherto wasted the campaign. They advanced with great circumspection and boldness till they were within two miles of the American army, which was then posted in the vicinity of New Port.
Washington soon changed his ground, and took post on the high ground near Chadd's Ford, on the Brandywine creek, with an intention of disputing the passage. It was the wish, but by no means the interest, of the Americans, to try their strength in an engagement. Their regular troops were not only inferior in discipline, but in numbers, to the royal army. The opinion of the inhabitants, though founded on no circumstances more substantial than their wishes, imposed a species of necessity on the American General to keep his army in front of the enemy, and to risk an action for the security of Philadelphia. Instead of this, had he taken the ridge of high mountains on his right, the British might have respected his numbers, and probably would have followed him up the country.
In this manner the campaign might have been wasted away in a manner fatal to the invaders; but the bulk of the American people were so impatient of delays, and had such an overweening conceit of the numbers and prowess of their army, that they could not comprehend the wisdom and policy of manoeuvres to shun a general engagement.
On this occasion necessity dictated that a sacrifice should be made on the altar of public opinion. A general action was therefore hazarded. This took place at Chadd's Ford, on the Brandywine, a small stream which empties itself into Christiana creek, near its conflux with the river Delaware.
The royal army advanced at day break in two columns, commanded by Lieutenant General Kniphausen and Lord Cornwallis. They first took the direct road to Chadd's Ford, and made a show of passing it, in front of the main body of the Americans. At the same time the other column moved up on the west side of the Brandywine to its fork, and crossed both its branches, and then marched down on the east side thereof, with the view of turning the right wing of their adversaries.
This they effected, and compelled them to retreat with great loss. Gen. Kniphausen amused the Americans with the appearance of crossing the Ford, but did not attempt it until Lord Cornwallis, having crossed above and moved down on the opposite side, had commenced his attack. Kniphausen then crossed the Ford and attacked the troops posted for its defence. These, after a severe conflict, were compelled to give way. The retreat of the Americans soon became general, and was continued to Chester. Their loss was about nine hundred, and considerably exceeded that of the British.
The final issue of battles often depends on small circumstances, which human prudence cannot control. One of these occurred here, and prevented Gen. Washington from executing a bold design, to effect which his troops were actually in motion. This was to cross the Brandywine, and attack Kniphausen, while Gen. Sullivan and Lord Stirling should keep Earl Cornwallis in check. In the most critical moment Washington received intelligence which he was obliged to credit, that the column of Lord Cornwallis had been only making a feint, and was returning to join Kniphausen. This prevented the execution of a plan, which, if carried into effect, would probably have given a different turn to the events of the day.
Washington made every exertion to repair the loss which had been sustained. The battle of Brandywine was represented as not being decisive. Congress and the people wished to hazard a second engagement, for the security of Philadelphia. Howe sought for it, and Washington did not decline it. He therefore advanced as far as the Warren tavern, on the Lancaster road, with an intention of meeting his adversary. Near that place both armies were on the point of engaging with their whole force; but were prevented by a most violent storm of rain, which continued for a whole day and night. When the rain ceased, the Americans found that their ammunition was entirely ruined. They therefore withdrew to a place of safety.
Before a proper supply was procured, the British marched from their position near the White Horse tavern, down towards the Swedes Ford. The Americans again took post in their front, but the British, instead of urging an action, began to march up towards Reading. To save the stores which had been deposited in that place, Washington took a new position, and left the British in undisturbed possession of the roads which lead to Philadelphia. His troops were worn down with a succession of severe duties. There were in his army above a thousand men who were barefooted, and who had performed all their late movements in that condition.
Though Washington had failed in his object of saving Philadelphia, yet he retained the confidence of Congress and the States. With an army inferior in numbers, discipline, and equipments, he delayed the British army thirty days in advancing sixty miles through an open country, without fortifications, and the waters of which were every where fordable. Though defeated in one general action, he kept together his undisciplined and unprovided army, and in less than a week offered battle to his successful adversary. When this was prevented by a storm of rain which ruined his ammunition, while many of his soldiers were without bayonets, he extricated them from the most imminent danger, and maintained a respectable standing.
Instead of immediately retiring into winter quarters, he approached the enemy and encamped on the Skippack road. The British army took their stand in Philadelphia and Germantown, shortly after the battle of Brandywine. FFrom these positions, especially the last, considerable detachments were sent to Chester and the vicinity, to favour an attempt to open the navigation of the river Delaware, which had been obstructed with great ingenuity and industry by the Americans.
About the same time the American army received a reinforcement of two thousand five hundred men, which increased its effective force to eleven thousand.
General Washington conceived that the present moment furnished a fair opportunity for enterprise. He therefore resolved to attack the British in Germantown. Their line of encampment crossed that village at right angles; the left wing extending on the west to the Schuylkill. That wing was covered in front and flank by the German chasseurs. A battalion of light infantry, and the queen's American rangers, were in front of the right. The 40th regiment, with another battalion of infantry, was posted at the head of the village.
The Americans moved from their encampment on the Skippack road in the evening of the 3d of October, with the intention of surprising their adversaries early next morning, and to attack both wings in front and rear at the same time, so as to prevent the several parts from supporting each other. The divisions of Greene and Stevens, flanked by M'Dougal's brigade, were to enter by the lime kiln road. The militia of Maryland and Jersey, under Generals Smallwood and Furman, were to march by the old York road, and to fall upon the rear of their right.
Lord Stirling, with Nashe's and Maxwell's brigade, were to form a corps de reserve. The Americans began their attack about sunrise, on the 40th regiment and a battalion of light infantry. These being obliged to retreat, were pursued into the village. On their retreat, Lieut. Col. Musgrove, with six companies, took post in Mr. Chew's strong stone house, which lay in front of the Americans. From an adherence to the military maxim of never leaving a fort possessed by an enemy in the rear, it was resolved to attack the party in the house.
In the mean time Gen. Greene got up with his column, and attacked the right wing. Col. Mathews routed a party of the British opposed to him, killed several, and took 110 prisoners; but, from the darkness of the day, lost sight of the brigade to which he belonged, and having separated from it, was taken prisoner, with his whole regiment; and the prisoners which he had previously taken were released. A number of the troops in Greene's division were stopped by the halt of the party before Chew's house. Near one half of the American army remained for some time at that place inactive.
In the mean time Gen. Grey led on three battalions of the third brigade, and attacked with vigour. A sharp contest followed. Two British regiments attacked at the same time on the opposite side of the town. General Grant moved up the 49th regiment to the aid of those who were engaged with Greene's column.
The morning was foggy. This, by concealing the true situation of the parties, occasioned mistakes, and made so much caution necessary as to give the British time to recover from the effects of their first surprise. From these causes the early promising appearances on the part of the assailants were speedily reversed.
The Americans left the field hastily, and all efforts to rally them were ineffectual. Washington was obliged to relinquish the victory he had thought within his grasp, and to turn his whole attention to the security of his army. A retreat about 20 miles to Perkioming was made, with the loss of only one piece of artillery. In the engagement the loss of the Americans, including the wounded and four hundred prisoners, was about 1100. A considerable part of this was occasioned by the 40th regiment, which, from the doors and windows of Mr. Chew's large stone house, kept up a constant fire on their uncovered adversaries.
The plan of the battle of Germantown was judicious, and its commencement well conducted; but to ensure its successful execution, a steady cooperation of the several divisions of the assailants was necessary. The numerous enclosures to be passed, and the thickness of the fog, rendered this impossible; especially by troops who were imperfectly disciplined, and without the advantages of experience.
Congress voted their unanimous thanks "to General Washington for his wise and well concerted attack, and to the officers and soldiers of the army, for their brave exertions on that occasion;" and added-- "They were well satisfied that the best designs and boldest efforts may sometimes fail by unforeseen incidents."
In the latter part of the campaign of 1777, in proportion as the loss of Philadelphia became more probable, Washington took every precaution eventually to diminish its value to the enemy. Orders were given for moving the military stores and the vessels at the wharves of that city higher up the Delaware. From the time that the British got possession, every aid consistent with greater objects was given to the forts constructed on the Delaware for opposing the British in their attempts to open the navigation of that river. Troops were stationed on both sides of the Delaware to prevent the inhabitants from going with their provisions to the market of Philadelphia, and to destroy small foraging parties sent out to obtain supplies for the royal army. These arrangements being made, Washington advanced towards Philadelphia.
His objects were to enfeeble the royal army in their operations against the forts on the Delaware; to attack them if circumstances favoured, and prevent their receiving supplies from the country. The British shortly after evacuated Germantown; concentered their force at Philadelphia, and directed their principal attention to the opening the navigation of the Delaware. This employed them for more than six weeks; and after a great display of gallantry on both sides, was finally accomplished.
In this discouraging state of public affairs, a long letter was addressed by the reverend Jacob Duche, late chaplain of Congress, and a clergyman of the first rank, for character, piety, and eloquence, to Gen. Washington; the purport of which was, to persuade him that farther resistance to Great-Britain was hopeless, and would only increase the calamities of their common country; and under this impression to urge him to make the best terms he could with the British commander, and to give up the contest.
Such a letter, at such a time, in unison with the known sentiments of many desponding citizens, from a person whose character and connexions placed him above all suspicion of treachery, and whose attachment to his native country, America, was unquestionable, could not have failed to make an impression on minds of a feeble texture; but from Washington, who never despaired of his country, the laboured epistle of the honest, but timid divine, received no farther notice than a verbal message to the writer thereof, "That if the contents of his letter had been known, it should have been returned unopened."
While Sir William Howe was succeeding in every enterprise in Philadelphia, intelligence arrived that Gen. Burgoyne and his whole army had surrendered prisoners of war to the Americans. Washington soon after received a considerable reinforcement from the northern army, which had accomplished this great event. With this increased force he took a position at and near Whitemarsh.
The royal army having succeeded in removing the obstructions in the river Delaware, were ready for new enterprises. Sir William Howe marched out of Philadelphia, with almost his whole force, expecting to bring on a general engagement. The next morning he appeared on Chesnut hill, in front of, and about three miles distant from the right wing of the Americans. On the day following the British changed their ground, and moved to the right. Two days after they moved still farther to the right, and made every appearance of an intention to attack the American encampment. Some skirmishes took place, and a general action was hourly expected; but instead thereof, on the morning of the next day, after various marches and countermarches, the British filed off from their right by two or three different routes, in full march for Philadelphia.
While the two armies were manoeuvering, in constant expectation of an immediate engagement, Washington rode through every brigade of his army, and with a firm steady countenance gave orders in person how to receive the enemy, and particularly urged on his troops to place their chief dependence on the bayonet.
His position, in a military point of view, was admirable. He was so sensible of the advantages of it, that the manoeuvres of Sir William Howe for some days could not allure him from it. In consequence of the reinforcement lately received, he had not in any preceding period of the campaign been in an equal condition for a general engagement. Though he ardently wished to be attacked, yet he would not relinquish a position from which he hoped for reparation for the adversities of the campaign. He could not believe that Gen. Howe, with a victorious army, and that lately reinforced with 4000 men from New-York, should come out of Philadelphia only to return thither again.
He therefore presumed, that to avoid the disgrace of such a movement, the British commander would, from a sense of military honour, be compelled to attack him, though under great disadvantages. When he found him cautious of engaging, and inclined to his left, a daring design was formed, which would have been executed had the British either continued in their position, or moved a little farther to the left of the American army. This was to have (been) attempted in the night to surprise Philadelphia.
Three days after the retreat of the British, Washington communicated in general orders, his intention of retiring into winter quarters. He expressed to his army his approbation of their past conduct; gave an encouraging statement of the prospects of their country; exhorted them to bear the hardships inseparable from their situation, and endeavored to convince their judgments that that these were necessary for the public good, and unavoidable from the distressed situation of the new formed states.
The same care to cut off all communication between the enemy and the country was continued, and the same means employed to secure that object. Gen. Smallwood was detached to Wilmington to guard the Delaware. Col. Morgan, who had lately returned from the victorious northern army, was placed on the lines on the west side of the Schuylkill; and Gen. Armstrong near the old camp at the Whitemarsh, with a respectable force under the command of each, to prevent the country people from carrying provisions to the market in Philadelphia.
Valley Forge, about twenty-five miles distant from Philadelphia, was fixed upon for the winter quarters of the Americans. This position was preferred to distant and more comfortable villages, as being calculated to give the most extensive security to the country. The American army might have been tracked by the blood of their feet in marching without shoes or stockings, over the hard frozen ground between Whitemarsh and the Valley Forge. Under these circumstances they had to sit down in a wood in the latter end of December, and to build huts for their accommodation.
To a want of cloathing was added a want of provisions. For some days there was little less than a famine in the camp. Washington was compelled to make seizures for the support of his army. Congress had authorized him so to do; but he wished the civil authority to manage the delicate business of impressment, and regretted the measure as subversive of discipline, and calculated to raise in the soldiers a disposition to licentiousness and plunder. To suffer his army to starve or disband, or to feed them by force, were the only alternatives offered to his choice.
Though he exercised these extraordinary powers with equal reluctance and discretion, his lenity was virtually censured by Congress, "as proceeding from a delicacy in exerting military authority on the citizens, which, in their opinion, might prove prejudicial to the general liberties of America;" at the same time his rigour was condemned by those from whom provisions were forcibly taken. The sound judgment and upright principles of the commander in chief gave a decided preference to the mode of supplying his army by fair contract, but the necessities thereof proceeding from bad management in the commissary department-- the depreciation of the Congress bills of credit-- the selfishness of the farmers in preferring British metallic to American paper money, together with the eagerness of Congress to starve the British army in Philadelphia, compelled him to extort supplies for his army at the point of the bayonet. In obedience to Congress, he issued a proclamation, "calling on the farmers within seventy miles of headquarters to thresh out one half of their grain by the first of February, and the residue by the first of March, under the penalty of having the whole seized as straw."
Great were the difficulties Washington had to contend with for feeding and cloathing his army; but they were not the only ones which at this time pressed on him. The states of Pennsylvania and New-Jersey were importunate with him to cover them from the incursions of the enemy. In both there were many discontented individuals, who, regretting their past losses and present danger from the vicinity of a conquering army, were so far misled by their feelings as to suppose it to be the fault of Gen. Washington, that the inferior destitute army under his immediate command had not been as successful as the superior well supported northern army under Gen. Gates.
The legislature of Pennsylvania, probably sore from the loss of their capital, on hearing that Washington was about to retire into winter quarters, presented a remonstrance to Congress on that subject, in which their dissatisfaction with the General was far from being concealed. A copy of this being sent to him, he addressed Congress in terms very different from his usual style.
He stated, "that though every thing in his power had been done for supporting his army, yet their inactivity, arising from their manifold wants, was charged to his account; that the army seldom had provisions for two days in advance; that few of his men had more than one shirt, many only a moiety of one, and some none at all; that soap, vinegar, and such like articles, though allowed by Congress, had not been seen in camp for several weeks; that by a field return 2898 of his army were unfit for duty, because they were barefooted, and otherwise naked; that his whole effective force in camp amounted to no more than 8200 men fit for duty; that notwithstanding these complicated wants, the remonstrance of the Pennsylvania legislature reprobated the measure of his going into winter quarters, as if its authors thought the soldiers were made of stocks or stones, and as if they conceived it easily practicable for an inferior army, circumstanced as his was, to confine a superior one, well appointed and every way provided for a winter's campaign, within the city of Philadelphia, and to cover all the circumjacent country from their depredation."
He assured the complainers, "that it was much easier to draw up remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fire-side, than to occupy a cold bleak hill, and sleep under frost and snow, without clothes or blankets."
To the other vexations which crowded on Gen. Washington at the close of the campaign of 1777, was added one of a peculiar nature. Though he was conscious he had never solicited, and that it was neither from motives of interest nor of ambition he had accepted the command of the army, and that he had with clean hands and a pure heart, to the utmost of his power, steadily pursued what his best judgment informed him was for the interest of his country; yet he received certain information that a cabal, consisting of some members of Congress, and a few General Officers of the army, was plotting to supersede him in his command.
The scheme was to obtain the sanction of some of the state legislatures to instruct their delegates to move in Congress for an inquiry into the causes of the failures of the campaigns of 1776 and 1777, with the hope that some intemperate resolutions passed by them would either lead to the removal of the General, or would his military feelings so as to induce his resignation. Anonymous papers containing high charges against him, and urging the necessity of putting some more energetic officer at the head of the army, were sent to Henry Laurens, President of Congress, Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, and others. These were forwarded to Gen. Washington.
In his reply to Mr. Laurens, he wrote as follows:
"I cannot sufficiently express the obligation I feel towards you for your friendship and politeness, upon an occasion in which I am so deeply interested. I was not unapprized that a malignant faction had been for some time forming to my prejudice, which, conscious as I am of having ever done all in my power to answer the important purposes of the trust reposed in me, could not but give me some pain on a personal account; but my chief concern arises from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences which intestine dissentions may prove to the common cause.
"As I have no other view than to promote the public good, and am unambitious of honours not founded in the approbation of my country, I would not desire in the least degree to suppress a free spirit of inquiry into any part of my conduct, that even faction itself may deem reprehensible.
"The anonymous paper handed you exhibits many serious charges, and it is my wish that it may be submitted to Congress. This I am the more inclined to, as the suppression or concealment may possibly involve you in embarrassments hereafter, since it is uncertain how many, or who may be privy to the contents.
"My enemies take an ungenerous advantage of me. They know the delicacy of my situation, and that motives of policy deprive me of the defence I might otherwise make against their insidious attacks. They know I cannot combat insinuations, however injurious, without disclosing secrets it is of the utmost moment to conceal. But why should I expect to be exempt from censure, the unfailing lot of an elevated station? Merit and talents, which I cannot pretend to rival, have ever been subject to it; my heart tells me it has been my unremitted aim to do the best which circumstances would permit; yet I may have been very often mistaken in my judgment of the means, and may, in many instances, deserve the imputation of error."
About the same time it was reported that Washington had determined to resign his command. On this occasion he wrote to a gentleman in New-England as follows:
"I can assure you that no person ever heard me drop an expression that had a tendency to resignation. The same principles that led me to embark in the opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great-Britain, operate with additional force at this day; nor is it my desire to withdraw my service while they are considered of importance in the present contest: but to report a design of this kind is among the arts which those who are endeavoring to effect a change, are practising to bring it to pass.
"I have said, and I still do say, that there is not an officer in the United States that would return to the sweets of domestic life with more heart-felt joy than I should. But I would have this declaration accompanied by these sentiments, that while the public are satisfied with my endeavors, I mean not to shrink from the cause; but the moment her voice, not that of faction, calls upon me to resign, I shall do it with as much pleasure as ever the weary traveller retired to rest."
These machinations did not abate the ardour of Washington in the common cause. His patriotism was too solid to be shaken either by envy or ingratitude. Nor was the smallest effect produced in diminishing his well earned reputation. Zeal the most active, and services the most beneficial, and at the same time disinterested, had rivetted him in the affections of his country and army.
Even the victorious troops under General Gates, though comparisons highly flattering to their vanity had been made between them and the army in Pennsylvania, clung to Washington as their political saviour. The resentment of the people was generally excited against those who were supposed to be engaged in or friendly to the scheme of appointing a new commander in chief over the American army.
End of Chapter Four. Continue to
Chapter Five of The Life of Washington