Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and under 'this impression to urge him to make the best terms he could with the British command. er, 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 Pennsylvania, 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 inarched 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 front their right by two or three different routes, in full march for Philadelphia.

While the two armies were manœuvring, in con. stant 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 par. ticularly 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 manæu. vres of Sir William Howe for some days could not allure him from it. In consequence of the re. inforcement 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 victori. ous army, and that lately reinforced with four thousand 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 in

[graphic]

clining 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 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 high 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 endeavoured to convince their judgments 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 be. tween the enemy and the country was continued, and the same means employed to secure that ob. ject. Gen Smallwood was detached to Wilming. * ton 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 coun. try 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 se.

curity 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 clothing 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 exercis. ed these extraordinary powers with equal reluc. tance and discretion, his lenity was virtually cen. sured 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 Congreşs to starve the British army in Philadelphia, compelled him to extort supplies for his army at the point of the bayonet. In obedience to Con. gress, he issued a proclamation, “calling on the farmers within seventy miles of head quarters 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 clothing 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, aris

« AnteriorContinuar »