With these prepossessions in his favor, when we consider Washington's noble person and demeanor, his consummate horsemanship, the admirable horses he was accustomed to ride, and the aristocratical style of his equipments, we may imagine the effect produced by himself and his little cavalcade, as they clattered through the streets of Philadelphia, and New York, and Boston. It is needless to say, their sojourn in each city was a continual fte.
The mission to General Shirley was entirely successful as to the question of rank. A written order from the Commander-in-chief determined that Dagworthy was entitled to the rank of a provincial captain, only, and, of course, must on all occasions give precedence to Colonel Washington, as a provincial field officer. The latter was disappointed, however, in the hope of getting himself and his officers put upon the regular establishment, with commissions from the king, and had to remain subjected to mortifying questions of rank and etiquette, when serving in company with regular troops.
From General Shirley he learnt that the main objects of the ensuing campaign would be the reduction of Fort Niagara, so as to cut off the communication between Canada and Louisiana, the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, as a measure of safety for New York, the besieging of Fort Duquesne, and the menacing of Quebec by a body of troops which were to advance by the Kennebec River.
The official career of General Shirley was drawing to a close. Though a man of good parts, he had always, until recently, acted in a civil capacity, and proved incompetent to conduct military operations. He was recalled to England, and was to be superseded by General Abercrombie, who was coming out with two regiments.
The general command in America, however, was to be held by the Earl of Loudoun, who was invested with powers almost equal to those of a viceroy, being placed above all the colonial governors. These might claim to be civil and military representatives of their sovereign, within their respective colonies; but, even there, were bound to defer and yield precedence to this their official superior. This was part of a plan devised long since, but now first brought into operation, by which the ministry hoped to unite the colonies under military rule, and oblige the Assemblies, magistrates, and people to furnish quarters and provide a general fund subject to the control of this military dictator.
Beside his general command, the Earl of Loudoun was to be governor of Virginia and colonel of a royal American regiment of four battalions, to be raised in the colonies, but furnished with officers who, like himself, had seen foreign service. The campaign would open on his arrival, which, it was expected, would be early in the spring; and brilliant results were anticipated.
Washington remained ten days in Boston, attending, with great interest, the meetings of the Massachusetts Legislature, in which the plan of military operations was ably discussed; and receiving the most hospitable attentions from the polite and intelligent society of the place, after which he returned to New York.
Tradition gives very different motives from those of business for his two sojourns in the latter city. He found there an early friend and school-mate, Beverly Robinson, son of John Robinson, speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was living happily and prosperously with a young and wealthy bride, having married one of the nieces and heiresses of Mr. Adolphus Philipse, a rich landholder, whose manor-house is still to be seen on the banks of the Hudson. At the house of Mr. Beverly Robinson, where Washington was an honored guest, he met Miss Mary Philipse, sister of and co-heiress with Mrs. Robinson, a young lady whose personal attractions are said to have rivalled her reputed wealth.
We have already given an instance of Washington's early sensibility to female charms. A life, however, of constant activity and care, passed for the most part in the wilderness and on the frontier, far from female society, had left little mood or leisure for the indulgence of the tender sentiment; but made him more sensible, in the present brief interval of gay and social life, to the attractions of an elegant woman, brought up in the polite circle of New York.
That he was an open admirer of Miss Philipse is an historical fact; that he sought her hand, but was refused, is traditional, and not very probable. His military rank, his early laurels and distinguished presence, were all calculated to win favor in female eyes; but his sojourn in New York was brief; he may have been diffident in urging his suit with a lady accustomed to the homage of society and surrounded by admirers. The most probable version of the story is, that he was called away by his public duties before he had made sufficient approaches in his siege of the lady's heart to warrant a summons to surrender. In the latter part of March we find him at Williamsburg attending the opening of the Legislature of Virginia, eager to promote measures for the protection of the frontier and the capture of Fort Duquesne, the leading object of his ambition. Maryland and Pennsylvania were erecting forts for the defence of their own borders, but showed no disposition to co-operate with Virginia in the field; and artillery, artillerymen, and engineers were wanting for an attack on fortified places. Washington urged, therefore, an augmentation of the provincial forces, and various improvements in the militia laws.
While thus engaged, he received a letter from a friend and confidant in New York, warning him to hasten back to that city before it was too late, as Captain Morris, who had been his fellow aide-de-camp under Braddock, was laying close siege to Miss Philipse. Sterner alarms, however, summoned him in another direction. Expresses from Winchester brought word that the French had made another sortie from Fort Duquesne, accompanied by a band of savages, and were spreading terror and desolation through the country. In this moment of exigency all softer claims were forgotten; Washington repaired in all haste to his post at Winchester, and Captain Morris was left to urge his suit unrivalled and carry off the prize.
TROUBLES IN THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY—GREENWAY COURT AND LORD FAIRFAX IN DANGER—ALARMS AT WINCHESTER—WASHINGTON APPEALED TO FOR PROTECTION— ATTACKED BY THE VIRGINIA PRESS—HONORED BY THE PUBLIC—PROJECTS FOR DEFENCE—SUGGESTIONS OF WASHINGTON—THE GENTLEMEN ASSOCIATORS—RETREAT OF THE SAVAGES—EXPEDITION AGAINST KITTANNING—CAPTAIN HUGH MERCER—SECOND STRUGGLE THROUGH THE WILDERNESS.
Report had not exaggerated the troubles of the frontier. It was marauded by merciless bands of savages, led, in some instances, by Frenchmen. Travellers were murdered, farm-houses burnt down, families butchered, and even stockaded forts, or houses of refuge, attacked in open day. The marauders had crossed the mountains and penetrated the valley of the Shenandoah; and several persons had fallen beneath the tomahawk in the neighborhood of Winchester.
Washington's old friend, Lord Fairfax, found himself no longer safe in his rural abode. Greenway Court was in the midst of a woodland region, affording a covert approach for the stealthy savage. His lordship was considered a great chief, whose scalp would be an inestimable trophy for an Indian warrior. Fears were entertained, therefore, by his friends, that an attempt would be made to surprise him in his green-wood castle. His nephew, Colonel Martin, of the militia, who resided with him, suggested the expediency of a removal to the lower settlements, beyond the Blue Ridge. The high-spirited old nobleman demurred; his heart cleaved to the home which he had formed for himself in the wilderness. "I am an old man," said he, "and it is of little importance whether I fall by the tomahawk or die of disease and old age; but you are young, and, it is to be hoped, have many years before you, therefore decide for us both; my only fear is, that if we retire, the whole district will break up and take to flight; and this fine country, which I have been at such cost and trouble to improve, will again become a wilderness."
Colonel Martin took but a short time to deliberate. He knew the fearless character of his uncle, and perceived what was his inclination. He considered that his lordship had numerous retainers, white and black, with hardy huntsmen and foresters to rally round him, and that Greenway Court was at no great distance from Winchester; he decided, therefore, that they should remain and abide the course of events.
Washington, on his arrival at Winchester, found the inhabitants in great dismay. He resolved immediately to organize a force, composed partly of troops from Fort Cumberland, partly of militia from Winchester and its vicinity, to put himself at its head, and "scour the woods and suspected places in all the mountains and valleys of this part of the frontier, in quest of the Indians and their more cruel associates."
He accordingly despatched an express to Fort Cumberland with orders for a detachment from the garrison; "but how," said he, "are men to be raised at Winchester, since orders are no longer regarded in the county?"
Lord Fairfax, and other militia officers with whom he consulted, advised that each captain should call a private muster of his men, and read before them an address, or "exhortation" as it was called, being an appeal to their patriotism and fears, and a summons to assemble on the 15th of April to enroll themselves for the projected mountain foray.
This measure was adopted; the private musterings occurred; the exhortation was read; the time and place of assemblage appointed; but, when the day of enrolment arrived, not more than fifteen men appeared upon the ground. In the mean time the express returned with sad accounts from Fort Cumberland. No troops could be furnished from that quarter. The garrison was scarcely strong enough for self-defence, having sent out detachments in different directions. The express had narrowly escaped with his life, having been fired upon repeatedly, his horse shot under him, and his clothes riddled with bullets. The roads, he said, were infested by savages; none but hunters, who knew how to thread the forests at night, could travel with safety.
Horrors accumulated at Winchester. Every hour brought its tale of terror, true or false, of houses burnt, families massacred, or beleaguered and famishing in stockaded forts. The danger approached. A scouting party had been attacked in the Warm Spring Mountain, about twenty miles distant, by a large body of French and Indians, mostly on horseback. The captain of the scouting party and several of his men had been slain, and the rest put to flight.
An attack on Winchester was apprehended, and the terrors of the people rose to agony. They now turned to Washington as their main hope. The women surrounded him, holding up their children, and imploring him with tears and cries to save them from the savages. The youthful commander looked round on the suppliant crowd with a countenance beaming with pity, and a heart wrung with anguish. A letter to Governor Dinwiddie shows the conflict of his feelings. "I am too little acquainted with pathetic language to attempt a description of these people's distresses. But what can I do? I see their situation; I know their danger, and participate their sufferings, without having it in my power to give them further relief than uncertain promises."—"The supplicating tears of the women, and moving petitions of the men, melt me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I know my own mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy, provided that would contribute to the people's ease."
The unstudied eloquence of this letter drew from the governor an instant order for a militia force from the upper counties to his assistance; but the Virginia newspapers, in descanting on the frontier troubles, threw discredit on the army and its officers, and attached blame to its commander. Stung to the quick by this injustice, Washington publicly declared that nothing but the imminent danger of the times prevented him from instantly resigning a command from which he could never reap either honor or benefit. His sensitiveness called forth strong letters from his friends, assuring him of the high sense entertained at the seat of government, and elsewhere, of his merits and services. "Your good health and fortune are the toast of every table," wrote his early friend, Colonel Fairfax, at that time a member of the governor's council. "Your endeavors in the service and defence of your country must redound to your honor."
"Our hopes, dear George," wrote Mr. Robinson, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses, "are all fixed on you for bringing our affairs to a happy issue. Consider what fatal consequences to your country your resigning the command at this time may be, especially as there is no doubt most of the officers will follow your example."
In fact, the situation and services of the youthful commander, shut up in a frontier town, destitute of forces, surrounded by savage foes, gallantly, though despairingly, devoting himself to the safety of a suffering people, were properly understood throughout the country, and excited a glow of enthusiasm in his favor. The Legislature, too, began at length to act, but timidly and inefficiently. "The country knows her danger," writes one of the members, "but such is her parsimony that she is willing to wait for the rains to wet the powder, and the rats to eat the bowstrings of the enemy, rather than attempt to drive them from her frontiers."
The measure of relief voted by the Assembly was an additional appropriation of twenty thousand pounds, and an increase of the provincial force to fifteen hundred men. With this, it was proposed to erect and garrison a chain of frontier forts, extending through the ranges of the Allegany Mountains, from the Potomac to the borders of North Carolina; a distance of between three and four hundred miles. This was one of the inconsiderate projects devised by Governor Dinwiddie.
Washington, in letters to the governor and to the speaker of the House of Burgesses, urged the impolicy of such a plan, with their actual force and means. The forts, he observed, ought to be within fifteen or eighteen miles of each other, that their spies might be able to keep watch over the intervening country, otherwise the Indians would pass between them unperceived, effect their ravages, and escape to the mountains, swamps, and ravines, before the troops from the forts could be assembled to pursue them. They ought each to be garrisoned with eighty or a hundred men, so as to afford detachments of sufficient strength, without leaving the garrison too weak; for the Indians are the most stealthy and patient of spies and lurkers; will lie in wait for days together about small forts of the kind, and, if they find, by some chance prisoner, that the garrison is actually weak, will first surprise and cut off its scouting parties, and then attack the fort itself. It was evident, therefore, observed he, that to garrison properly such a line of forts, would require, at least, two thousand men. And even then, a line of such extent might be broken through at one end before the other end could yield assistance. Feint attacks, also, might be made at one point, while the real attack was made at another, quite distant; and the country be overrun before its widely-posted defenders could be alarmed and concentrated. Then must be taken into consideration the immense cost of building so many forts, and the constant and consuming expense of supplies and transportation.
His idea of a defensive plan was to build a strong fort at Winchester, the central point, where all the main roads met of a wide range of scattered settlements, where tidings could soonest be collected from every quarter, and whence reinforcements and supplies could most readily be forwarded. It was to be a grand deposit of military stores, a residence for commanding officers, a place of refuge for the women and children in time of alarm, when the men had suddenly to take the field; in a word, it was to be the citadel of the frontier.
Beside this, he would have three or four large fortresses erected at convenient distances upon the frontiers, with powerful garrisons, so as to be able to throw out, in constant succession, strong scouting parties, to range the country. Fort Cumberland he condemned as being out of the province, and out of the track of Indian incursions, insomuch that it seldom received an alarm until all the mischief had been effected.
His representations with respect to military laws and regulations were equally cogent. In the late act of the Assembly for raising a regiment, it was provided that, in cases of emergency, if recruits should not offer in sufficient number, the militia might be drafted to supply the deficiencies, but only to serve until December, and not to be marched out of the province. In this case, said he, before they have entered upon service, or got the least smattering of duty, they will claim a discharge; if they are pursuing an enemy who has committed the most unheard-of cruelties, he has only to step across the Potomac, and he is safe. Then as to the limits of service, they might just as easily have been enlisted for seventeen months, as seven. They would then have been seasoned as well as disciplined; "for we find by experience," says he, "that our poor ragged soldiers would kill the most active militia in five days' marching."
Then, as to punishments: death, it was true, had been decreed for mutiny and desertion; but there was no punishment for cowardice; for holding correspondence with the enemy; for quitting, or sleeping on one's post; all capital offences, according to the military codes of Europe. Neither were there provisions for quartering or billeting soldiers, or impressing waggons and other conveyances, in times of exigency. To crown all, no court-martial could sit out of Virginia; a most embarrassing regulation, when troops were fifty or a hundred miles beyond the frontier. He earnestly suggested amendments on all these points, as well as with regard to the soldiers' pay; which was less than that of the regular troops, or the troops of most of the other provinces.
All these suggestions, showing at this youthful age that forethought and circumspection which distinguished him throughout life, were repeatedly and eloquently urged upon Governor Dinwiddie, with very little effect. The plan of a frontier line of twenty-three forts was persisted in. Fort Cumberland was pertinaciously kept up at a great and useless expense of men and money, and the militia laws remained lax and inefficient. It was decreed, however, that the great central fort at Winchester recommended by Washington, should be erected.
In the height of the alarm, a company of one hundred gentlemen, mounted and equipped, volunteered their services to repair to the frontier. They were headed by Peyton Randolph, attorney-general, a man deservedly popular throughout the province. Their offer was gladly accepted. They were denominated the "Gentlemen Associators," and great expectations, of course, were entertained from their gallantry and devotion. They were empowered, also, to aid with their judgment in the selection of places for frontier forts.
The "Gentlemen Associators," like all gentlemen associators in similar emergencies, turned out with great zeal and spirit, and immense popular effect, but wasted their fire in preparation, and on the march. Washington, who well understood the value of such aid, observed dryly in a letter to Governor Dinwiddie, "I am heartily glad that you have fixed upon these gentlemen to point out the places for erecting forts, but regret to find, their motions so slow." There is no doubt that they would have conducted themselves gallantly, had they been put to the test; but before they arrived near the scene of danger the alarm was over. About the beginning of May, scouts brought in word that the tracks of the marauding savages tended toward Fort Duquesne, as if on the return. In a little while it was ascertained that they had recrossed the Allegany Mountain to the Ohio in such numbers as to leave a beaten track, equal to that made in the preceding year by the army of Braddock.
The repeated inroads of the savages called for an effectual and permanent check. The idea of being constantly subject to the irruptions of a deadly foe, that moved with stealth and mystery, and was only to be traced by its ravages, and counted by its footprints, discouraged all settlement of the country. The beautiful valley of the Shenandoah was fast becoming a deserted and a silent place. Her people, for the most part, had fled to the older settlements south of the mountains, and the Blue Ridge was likely soon to become virtually the frontier line of the province.
We have to record one signal act of retaliation on the perfidious tribes of the Ohio, in which a person whose name subsequently became dear to Americans, was concerned. Prisoners who had escaped from the savages reported that Shingis, Washington's faithless ally, and another sachem, called Captain Jacobs, were the two heads of the hostile bands that had desolated the frontier. That they lived at Kittanning, an Indian town, about forty miles above Fort Duquesne; at which their warriors were fitted out for incursions, and whither they returned with their prisoners and plunder. Captain Jacobs was a daring fellow, and scoffed at palisaded forts. "He could take any fort," he said, "that would catch fire."
A party of two hundred and eighty provincials, resolute men, undertook to surprise, and destroy this savage nest. It was commanded by Colonel John Armstrong; and with him went Dr. Hugh Mercer, of subsequent renown, who had received a captain's commission from Pennsylvania, on the 6th of March, 1756.
Armstrong led his men rapidly, but secretly, over mountain, and through forest, until, after a long and perilous march, they reached the Allegany. It was a moonlight night when they arrived in the neighborhood of Kittanning. They were guided to the village by whoops and yells, and the sound of the Indian drum. The warriors were celebrating their exploits by the triumphant scalp-dance. After a while the revel ceased, and a number of fires appeared here and there in a corn-field. They were made by such of the Indians as slept in the open air, and were intended to drive off the gnats. Armstrong and his men lay down "quiet and hush," observing every thing narrowly, and waiting until the moon should set, and the warriors be asleep. At length the moon went down, the fires burned low; all was quiet. Armstrong now roused his men, some of whom, wearied by their long march, had fallen asleep. He divided his forces; part were to attack the warriors in the corn-field, part were despatched to the houses, which were dimly seen by the first streak of day. There was sharp firing in both quarters, for the Indians, though taken by surprise, fought bravely, inspired by the war-whoop of their chief, Captain Jacobs. The women and children fled to the woods. Several of the provincials were killed and wounded. Captain Hugh Mercer received a wound in the arm, and was taken to the top of a hill. The fierce chieftain, Captain Jacobs, was besieged in his house, which had port-holes; whence he and his warriors made havoc among the assailants. The adjoining houses were set on fire. The chief was summoned to surrender himself. He replied he was a man, and would not be a prisoner. He was told he would be burnt. His reply was, "he would kill four or five before he died." The flames and smoke approached. "One of the besieged warriors, to show his manhood, began to sing. A squaw at the same time was heard to cry, but was severely rebuked by the men." [Footnote: Letter from Col. Armstrong.]
In the end, the warriors were driven out by the flames; some escaped, and some were shot. Among the latter was Captain Jacobs, and his gigantic son, said to be seven feet high. Fire was now set to all the houses, thirty in number. "During the burning of the houses," says Colonel Armstrong, "we were agreeably entertained with a quick succession of charged guns, gradually firing off as reached by the fire, but much more so with the vast explosion of sundry bags, and large kegs of powder, wherewith almost every house abounded." The colonel was in a strange condition to enjoy such an entertainment, having received a wound from a large musket-ball in the shoulder.
The object of the expedition was accomplished. Thirty or forty of the warriors were slain; their stronghold was a smoking ruin. There was danger of the victors being cut off by a detachment from Fort Duquesne. They made the best of their way, therefore, to their horses, which had been left at a distance, and set off rapidly on their march to Fort Lyttleton, about sixty miles north of Fort Cumberland.
Colonel Armstrong had reached Fort Lyttleton on the 14th of September, six days after the battle, and fears were entertained that he had been intercepted by the Indians and was lost. He, with his ensign and eleven men, had separated from the main body when they began their march, and had taken another and what was supposed a safer road. He had with him a woman, a boy, and two little girls, recaptured from the Indians. The whole party ultimately arrived safe at Fort Lyttleton, but it would seem that Mercer, weak and faint from his fractured arm, must have fallen behind, or in some way become separated from them, and had a long, solitary, and painful struggle through the wilderness, reaching the fort sick, weary, and half famished. [Footnote: "We hear that Captain Mercer was fourteen days in getting to Fort Lyttleton. He had a miraculous escape, living ten days on two dried clams and a rattlesnake, with the assistance of a few berries."—New York Mercury for October 4, 1756.] We shall have to speak hereafter of his services when under the standard of Washington, whose friend and neighbor he subsequently became. [Footnote: Mercer was a Scotchman, about thirty-four years of age. About ten years previously he had served as Assistant Surgeon in the forces of Charles Edward, and followed his standard to the disastrous field of Culloden. After the defeat of the "Chevalier," he had escaped by the way of Inverness to America, and taken up his residence on the frontier of Pennsylvania.]
FOUNDING OF FORT LOUDOUN—WASHINGTON'S TOUR OF INSPECTION—INEFFICIENCY OF THE MILITIA SYSTEM—GENTLEMEN SOLDIERS—CROSS-PURPOSES WITH DINWIDDIE— MILITARY AFFAIRS IN THE NORTH—DELAYS OF LORD LOUDOUN—ACTIVITY OF MONTCALM—LOUDOUN IN WINTER QUARTERS.
Throughout the summer of 1756, Washington exerted himself diligently in carrying out measures determined upon for frontier security. The great fortress at Winchester was commenced, and the work urged forward as expeditiously as the delays and perplexities incident to a badly organized service would permit. It received the name of Fort Loudoun, in honor of the commander-in-chief, whose arrival in Virginia was hopefully anticipated.
As to the sites of the frontier posts, they were decided upon by Washington and his officers, after frequent and long consultations; parties were sent out to work on them, and men recruited, and militia drafted, to garrison them. Washington visited occasionally such as were in progress, and near at hand. It was a service of some peril, for the mountains and forests were still infested by prowling savages, especially in the neighborhood of these new forts. At one time when he was reconnoitering a wild part of the country, attended merely by a servant and a guide, two men were murdered by the Indians in a solitary defile shortly after he had passed through it.
In the autumn, he made a tour of inspection along the whole line, accompanied by his friend, Captain Hugh Mercer, who had recovered from his recent wounds. This tour furnished repeated proofs of the inefficiency of the militia system. In one place he attempted to raise a force with which to scour a region infested by roving bands of savages. After waiting several days, but five men answered to his summons. In another place, where three companies had been ordered to the relief of a fort, attacked by the Indians, all that could be mustered were a captain, a lieutenant, and seven or eight men.
When the militia were drafted, and appeared under arms, the case was not much better. It was now late in the autumn; their term of service, by the act of the Legislature, expired in December,—half of the time, therefore, was lost in marching out and home. Their waste of provisions was enormous. To be put on allowance, like other soldiers, they considered an indignity. They would sooner starve than carry a few days' provisions on their backs. On the march, when breakfast was wanted, they would knock down the first beeves they met with, and, after regaling themselves, march on till dinner, when they would take the same method; and so for supper, to the great oppression of the people. For the want of proper military laws, they were obstinate, self-willed, and perverse. Every individual had his own crude notion of things, and would undertake to direct. If his advice were neglected, he would think himself slighted, abused, and injured, and, to redress himself, would depart for his home.
The garrisons were weak for want of men, but more so from indolence and irregularity. None were in a posture of defence; few but might be surprised with the greatest ease. At one fort, the Indians rushed from their lurking-place, pounced upon several children playing under the walls, and bore them off before they were discovered. Another fort was surprised, and many of the people massacred in the same manner. In the course of his tour, as he and his party approached a fort, he heard a quick firing for several minutes; concluding that it was attacked, they hastened to its relief, but found the garrison were merely amusing themselves firing at a mark, or for wagers. In this way they would waste their ammunition as freely as they did their provisions. In the mean time, the inhabitants of the country were in a wretched situation, feeling the little dependence to be put on militia, who were slow in coming to their assistance, indifferent about their preservation, unwilling to continue, and regardless of every thing but of their own ease. In short, they were so apprehensive of approaching ruin, that the whole back country was in a general motion towards the southern colonies.
From the Catawba, he was escorted along a range of forts by a colonel, and about thirty men, chiefly officers. "With this small company of irregulars," says he, "with whom order, regularity, circumspection, and vigilance were matters of derision and contempt, we set out, and, by the protection of Providence, reached Augusta court-house in seven days, without meeting the enemy; otherwise, we must have fallen a sacrifice, through the indiscretion of these whooping, hallooing, gentlemen soldiers!"
How lively a picture does this give of the militia system at all times, when not subjected to strict military law.
What rendered this year's service peculiarly irksome and embarrassing to Washington, was the nature of his correspondence with Governor Dinwiddie. That gentleman, either from the natural hurry and confusion of his mind, or from a real disposition to perplex, was extremely ambiguous and unsatisfactory in most of his orders and replies. "So much am I kept in the dark," says Washington, in one of his letters, "that I do not know whether to prepare for the offensive or defensive. What would be absolutely necessary for the one, would be quite useless for the other." And again: "The orders I receive are full of ambiguity. I am left like a wanderer in the wilderness, to proceed at hazard. I am answerable for consequences, and blamed, without the privilege of defence."
In nothing was this disposition to perplex more apparent than in the governor's replies respecting Fort Cumberland. Washington had repeatedly urged the abandonment of this fort as a place of frontier deposit, being within the bounds of another province, and out of the track of Indian incursion; so that often the alarm would not reach there until after the mischief had been effected. He applied, at length, for particular and positive directions from the governor on this head. "The following," says he, "is an exact copy of his answer:—'Fort Cumberland is a king's fort, and built chiefly at the charge of the colony, therefore properly under our direction until a new governor is appointed.' Now, whether I am to understand this aye or no to the plain simple question asked, Is the fort to be continued or removed? I know not. But in all important matters I am directed in this ambiguous and uncertain way."
Governor Dinwiddie subsequently made himself explicit on this point. Taking offence at some of Washington's comments on the military affairs of the frontier, he made the stand of a self-willed and obstinate man, in the case of Fort Cumberland; and represented it in such light to Lord Loudoun, as to draw from his lordship an order that it should be kept up: and an implied censure of the conduct of Washington in slighting a post of such paramount importance. "I cannot agree with Colonel Washington," writes his lordship, "in not drawing in the posts from the stockade forts, in order to defend that advanced one; and I should imagine much more of the frontier will be exposed by retiring your advanced posts near Winchester, where I understand he is retired; for, from your letter, I take it for granted he has before this executed his plan, without waiting for any advice. If he leaves any of the great quantity of stores behind, it will be very unfortunate, and he ought to consider that it must lie at his own door."
Thus powerfully supported, Dinwiddie went so far as to order that the garrisons should be withdrawn from the stockades and small frontier forts, and most of the troops from Winchester, to strengthen Fort Cumberland, which was now to become headquarters; thus weakening the most important points and places, to concentrate a force where it was not wanted, and would be out of the way in most cases of alarm. By these meddlesome moves, made by Governor Dinwiddie from a distance, without knowing any thing of the game, all previous arrangements were reversed, every thing was thrown into confusion, and enormous losses and expenses were incurred.
"Whence it arises, or why, I am truly ignorant," writes Washington to Mr. Speaker Robinson, "but my strongest representations of matters relative to the frontiers are disregarded as idle and frivolous; my propositions and measures as partial and selfish; and all my sincerest endeavors for the service of my country are perverted to the worst purposes. My orders are dark and uncertain; to-day approved, to-morrow disapproved."
Whence all this contradiction and embarrassment arose has since been explained, and with apparent reason. Governor Dinwiddie had never recovered from the pique caused by the popular elevation of Washington to the command in preference to his favorite, Colonel Innes. His irritation was kept alive by a little Scottish faction, who were desirous of disgusting Washington with the service, so as to induce him to resign, and make way for his rival. They might have carried their point during the panic at Winchester, had not his patriotism and his sympathy with the public distress been more powerful than his self-love. He determined, he said, to bear up under these embarrassments in the hope of better regulations when Lord Loudoun should arrive; to whom he looked for the future fate of Virginia.
While these events were occurring on the Virginia frontier, military affairs went on tardily and heavily at the north. The campaign against Canada, which was to have opened early in the year, hung fire. The armament coming out for the purpose, under Lord Loudoun, was delayed through the want of energy and union in the British cabinet. General Abercrombie, who was to be next in command to his lordship, and to succeed to General Shirley, set sail in advance for New York with two regiments, but did not reach Albany, the head-quarters of military operation, until the 25th of June. He billeted his soldiers upon the town, much to the disgust of the inhabitants, and talked of ditching and stockading it, but postponed all exterior enterprises until the arrival of Lord Loudoun; then the campaign was to open in earnest.
On the 12th of July, came word that the forts Ontario and Oswego, on each side of the mouth of the Oswego River, were menaced by the Drench. They had been imperfectly constructed by Shirley, and were insufficiently garrisoned, yet contained a great amount of military and naval stores, and protected the vessels which cruised on Lake Ontario.
Major-general Webb was ordered by Abercrombie to hold himself in readiness to march with one regiment to the relief of these forts, but received no further orders. Every thing awaited the arrival at Albany of Lord Loudoun, which at length took place, on the 29th of July. There were now at least ten thousand troops, regulars and provincials, loitering in an idle camp at Albany, yet relief to Oswego was still delayed. Lord Loudoun was in favor of it, but the governments of New York and New England urged the immediate reduction of Crown Point, as necessary for the security of their frontier. After much debate, it was agreed that General Webb should march to the relief of Oswego. He left Albany on the 12th of August, but had scarce reached the carrying-place, between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek, when he received news that Oswego was reduced, and its garrison captured. While the British commanders had debated, Field-marshal the Marquis De Montcalm, newly arrived from France, had acted. He was a different kind of soldier from Abercrombie or Loudoun. A capacious mind and enterprising spirit animated a small, but active and untiring frame. Quick in thought, quick in speech, quicker still in action, he comprehended every thing at a glance, and moved from point to point of the province with a celerity and secrecy that completely baffled his slow and pondering antagonists. Crown Point and Ticonderoga were visited, and steps taken to strengthen their works, and provide for their security; then hastening to Montreal, he put himself at the head of a force of regulars, Canadians, and Indians; ascended the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario; blocked up the mouth of the Oswego by his vessels, landed his guns, and besieged the two forts; drove the garrison out of one into the other; killed the commander, Colonel Mercer, and compelled the garrisons to surrender prisoners of war. With the forts was taken an immense amount of military stores, ammunition, and provisions; one hundred and twenty-one cannon, fourteen mortars, six vessels of war, a vast number of batteaux, and three chests of money. His blow achieved, Montcalm returned in triumph to Montreal, and sent the colors of the captured forts to be hung up as trophies in the Canadian churches.
The season was now too far advanced for Lord Loudoun to enter upon any great military enterprise; he postponed, therefore, the great northern campaign, so much talked of and debated, until the following year; and having taken measures for the protection of his frontiers, and for more active operations in the spring, returned to New York, hung up his sword, and went into comfortable winter-quarters.
WASHINGTON VINDICATES HIS CONDUCT TO LORD LOUDOUN—HIS RECEPTION BY HIS LORDSHIP—MILITARY PLANS—LORD LOUDOUN AT HALIFAX—MONTCALM ON LAKE GEORGE—HIS TRIUMPHS—LORD LOUDOUN'S FAILURES—WASHINGTON AT WINCHESTER— CONTINUED MISUNDERSTANDINGS WITH DINWIDDIE—RETURN TO MOUNT VERNON.
Circumstances had led Washington to think that Lord Loudoun "had received impressions to his prejudice by false representations of facts," and that a wrong idea prevailed at head-quarters respecting the state of military affairs in Virginia. He was anxious, therefore, for an opportunity of placing all these matters in a proper light; and, understanding that there was to be a meeting in Philadelphia in the month of March, between Lord Loudoun and the southern governors, to consult about measures of defence for their respective provinces, he wrote to Governor Dinwiddie for permission to attend it.
"I cannot conceive," writes Dinwiddie in reply, "what service you can be of in going there, as the plan concerted will, in course, be communicated to you and the other officers. However, as you seem so earnest to go, I now give you leave."
This ungracious reply seemed to warrant the suspicions entertained by some of Washington's friends, that it was the busy pen of Governor Dinwiddie which had given the "false representation of facts," to Lord Loudoun. About a month, therefore, before the time of the meeting, Washington addressed a long letter to his lordship, explanatory of military affairs in the quarter where he had commanded. In this he set forth the various defects in the militia laws of Virginia; the errors in its system of defence, and the inevitable confusion which had thence resulted.
Adverting to his own conduct: "The orders I receive," said he, "are full of ambiguity. I am left like a wanderer in the wilderness to proceed at hazard. I am answerable for consequences, and blamed, without the privilege of defence. ... It is not to be wondered at, if, under such peculiar circumstances, I should be sick of a service which promises so little of a soldier's reward.
"I have long been satisfied of the impossibility of continuing in this service, without loss of honor. Indeed, I was fully convinced of it before I accepted the command the second time, seeing the cloudy prospect before me; and I did, for this reason, reject the offer, until I was ashamed any longer to refuse, not caring to expose my character to public censure. The solicitations of the country overcame my objections, and induced me to accept it. Another reason has of late operated to continue me in the service until now, and that is, the dawn of hope that arose, when I heard your lordship was destined, by his majesty, for the important command of his armies in America, and appointed to the government of his dominion of Virginia. Hence it was, that I drew my hopes, and fondly pronounced your lordship our patron. Although I have not the honor to be known to your lordship, yet your name was familiar to my ear, on account of the important services rendered to his majesty in other parts of the world."
The manner in which Washington was received by Lord Loudoun on arriving in Philadelphia, showed him at once, that his long, explanatory letter had produced the desired effect, and that his character and conduct were justly appreciated. During his sojourn in Philadelphia he was frequently consulted on points of frontier service, and his advice was generally adopted. On one point it failed. He advised that an attack should be made on Fort Duquesne, simultaneous with the attempts on Canada. At such time a great part of the garrison would be drawn away to aid in the defence of that province, and a blow might be struck more likely to insure the peace and safety of the southern frontier, than all its forts and defences.
Lord Loudoun, however, was not to be convinced, or at least persuaded. According to his plan, the middle and southern provinces were to maintain a merely defensive warfare; and as Virginia would be required to send four hundred of her troops to the aid of South Carolina, she would, in fact, be left weaker than before.
Washington was also disappointed a second time, in the hope of having his regiment placed on the same footing as the regular army, and of obtaining a king's commission; the latter he was destined never to hold.
His representations with respect to Fort Cumberland had the desired effect in counteracting the mischievous intermeddling of Dinwiddie. The Virginia troops and stores were ordered to be again removed to Fort Loudoun, at Winchester, which once more became head-quarters, while Fort Cumberland was left to be occupied by a Maryland garrison. Washington was instructed, likewise, to correspond and co-operate, in military affairs, with Colonel Stanwix, who was stationed on the Pennsylvania frontier, with five hundred men from the Royal American regiment, and to whom he would be, in some measure, subordinate. This proved a correspondence of friendship, as well as duty; Colonel Stanwix being a gentleman of high moral worth, as well as great ability in military affairs.
The great plan of operations at the north was again doomed to failure. The reduction of Crown Point, on Lake Champlain, which had long been meditated, was laid aside, and the capture of Louisburg substituted, as an acquisition of far greater importance. This was a place of great consequence, situated on the isle of Cape Breton, and strongly fortified. It commanded the fisheries of Newfoundland, overawed New England, and was a main bulwark to Acadia.
In the course of July, Lord Loudoun set sail for Halifax with all the troops he could collect, amounting to about six thousand men, to join with Admiral Holbourne, who had just arrived at that port with eleven ships of the line, a fire-ship, bomb-ketch, and fleet of transports, having on board six thousand men. With this united force Lord Loudoun anticipated the certain capture of Louisburg.
Scarce had the tidings of his lordship's departure reached Canada, when the active Montcalm again took the field, to follow up the successes of the preceding year. Fort William Henry, which Sir Wm. Johnson had erected on the southern shore of Lake George, was now his object; it commanded the lake, and was an important protection to the British frontier. A brave old officer, Colonel Monro, with about five hundred men, formed the garrison; more than three times that number of militia were intrenched near by. Montcalm had, early in the season, made three ineffectual attempts upon the fort; he now trusted to be more successful. Collecting his forces from Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and the adjacent posts, with a considerable number of Canadians and Indians, altogether nearly eight thousand men, he advanced up the lake, on the 1st of August, in a fleet of boats, with swarms of Indian canoes in the advance. The fort came near being surprised; but the troops encamped without it, abandoned their tents and hurried within the works. A summons to surrender was answered by a brave defiance. Montcalm invested the fort, made his approaches, and battered it with his artillery. For five days its veteran commander kept up a vigorous defence, trusting to receive assistance from General Webb, who had failed to relieve Fort Oswego in the preceding year, and who was now at Fort Edward, about fifteen miles distant, with upwards of five thousand men. Instead of this, Webb, who overrated the French forces, sent him a letter, advising him to capitulate. The letter was intercepted by Montcalm, but still forwarded to Monro. The obstinate old soldier, however, persisted in his defence, until most of his cannon were burst, and his ammunition expended. At length, in the month of August, he hung out a flag of truce, and obtained honorable terms from an enemy who knew how to appreciate his valor. Montcalm demolished the fort, carried off all the artillery and munitions of war, with vessels employed in the navigation of the lake; and having thus completed his destruction of the British defences on this frontier, returned once more in triumph with the spoils of victory, to hang up fresh trophies in the churches of Canada.
Lord Loudoun, in the mean time, formed his junction with Admiral Holbourne at Halifax, and the troops were embarked with all diligence on board of the transports. Unfortunately, the French were again too quick for them. Admiral de Bois de la Mothe had arrived at Louisburg, with a large naval and land force; it was ascertained that he had seventeen ships of the line, and three frigates, quietly moored in the harbor; that the place was well fortified and supplied with provisions and ammunition, and garrisoned with six thousand regular troops; three thousand natives, and thirteen hundred Indians.
Some hot-heads would have urged an attempt against all such array of force, but Lord Loudoun was aware of the probability of defeat, and the disgrace and ruin that it would bring upon British arms in America. He wisely, though ingloriously, returned to New York. Admiral Holbourne made a silly demonstration of his fleet off the harbor of Louisburg, approaching within two miles of the batteries, but retired on seeing the French admiral preparing to unmoor. He afterwards returned with a reinforcement of four ships of the line; cruised before Louisburg, endeavoring to draw the enemy to an engagement, which De la Mothe had the wisdom to decline; was overtaken by a hurricane, in which one of his ships was lost, eleven were dismasted, others had to throw their guns overboard, and all returned in a shattered condition to England. Thus ended the northern campaign by land and sea, a subject of great mortification to the nation, and ridicule and triumph to the enemy.
During these unfortunate operations to the north, Washington was stationed at Winchester, shorn of part of his force by the detachment to South Carolina, and left with seven hundred men to defend a frontier of more than three hundred and fifty miles in extent. The capture and demolition of Oswego by Montcalm had produced a disastrous effect. The whole country of the five nations was abandoned to the French. The frontiers of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia were harassed by repeated inroads of French and Indians, and Washington had the mortification to see the noble valley of the Shenandoah almost deserted by its inhabitants, and fast relapsing into a wilderness.
The year wore away on his part in the harassing service of defending a wide frontier with an insufficient and badly organized force, and the vexations he experienced were heightened by continual misunderstandings with Governor Dinwiddie. From the ungracious tenor of several of that gentleman's letters, and from private information, he was led to believe that some secret enemy had been making false representations of his motives and conduct, and prejudicing the governor against him. He vindicated himself warmly from the alleged aspersions, proudly appealing to the whole course of his public career in proof of their falsity. "It is uncertain," said he, "in what light my services may have appeared to your honor; but this I know, and it is the highest consolation I am capable of feeling, that no man that ever was employed in a public capacity has endeavored to discharge the trust reposed in him with greater honesty and more zeal for the country's interest than I have done; and if there is any person living who can say, with justice, that I have offered any intentional wrong to the public, I will cheerfully submit to the most ignominious punishment that an injured people ought to inflict. On the other hand, it is hard to have my character arraigned, and my actions condemned, without a hearing."
His magnanimous appeal had but little effect. Dinwiddie was evidently actuated by the petty pique of a narrow and illiberal mind, impatient of contradiction, even when in error. He took advantage of his official station to vent his spleen and gratify his petulance in a variety of ways incompatible with the courtesy of a gentleman. It may excite a grave smile at the present day to find Washington charged by this very small-minded man with looseness in his way of writing to him; with remissness in his duty towards him; and even with impertinence in the able and eloquent representations which he felt compelled to make of disastrous mismanagement in military affairs; and still more, to find his reasonable request, after a long course of severe duty, for a temporary leave of absence to attend to his private concerns peremptorily refused, and that with as little courtesy as though he were a mere subaltern seeking to absent himself on a party of pleasure.
The multiplied vexations which Washington had latterly experienced from this man, had preyed upon his spirits, and contributed, with his incessant toils and anxieties, to undermine his health. For some time he struggled with repeated attacks of dysentery and fever, and continued in the exercise of his duties; but the increased violence of his malady, and the urgent advice of his friend Dr. Craik, the army surgeon, induced him to relinquish his post towards the end of the year and retire to Mount Vernon.
The administration of Dinwiddie, however, was now at an end. He set sail for England in January, 1758, very little regretted, excepting by his immediate hangers-on, and leaving a character overshadowed by the imputation of avarice and extortion in the exaction of illegal fees, and of downright delinquency in regard to large sums transmitted to him by government to be paid over to the province in indemnification of its extra expenses; for the disposition of which sums he failed to render an account.
He was evidently a sordid, narrow-minded, and somewhat arrogant man; bustling rather than active; prone to meddle with matters of which he was profoundly ignorant, and absurdly unwilling to have his ignorance enlightened.
WASHINGTON RECOVERS HIS HEALTH—AGAIN IN COMMAND AT FORT LOUDOUN— ADMINISTRATION OF PITT—LOUDOUN SUCCEEDED BY GENERAL ABERCROMBIE— MILITARY ARRANGEMENTS—WASHINGTON COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE VIRGINIA FORCES—AMHERST AGAINST LOUISBURG—GENERAL WOLFE—MONTGOMERY—CAPTURE OF LOUISBURG—ABERCROMBIE ON LAKE GEORGE—DEATH OF LORD HOWE—REPULSE OF ABERCROMBIE—SUCCESS OF BRADSTREET AT OSWEGO.
For several months Washington was afflicted by returns of his malady, accompanied by symptoms indicative, as he thought, of a decline. "My constitution," writes he to his friend Colonel Stanwix, "is much impaired, and nothing can retrieve it but the greatest care and the most circumspect course of life. This being the case, as I have now no prospect left of preferment in the military way, and despair of rendering that immediate service which my country may require from the person commanding its troops, I have thoughts of quitting my command and retiring from all public business, leaving my post to be filled by some other person more capable of the task, and who may, perhaps, have his endeavors crowned with better success than mine have been."
A gradual improvement in his health, and a change in his prospects, encouraged him to continue in what really was his favorite career, and at the beginning of April he was again in command at Fort Loudoun. Mr. Francis Fauquier had been appointed successor to Dinwiddie, and, until he should arrive, Mr. John Blair, president of the council, had, from his office, charge of the government. In the latter Washington had a friend who appreciated his character and services, and was disposed to carry out his plans.
The general aspect of affairs, also, was more animating. Under the able and intrepid administration of William Pitt, who had control of the British cabinet, an effort was made to retrieve the disgraces of the late American campaign, and to carry on the war with greater vigor. The instructions for a common fund were discontinued; there was no more talk of taxation by Parliament. Lord Loudoun, from whom so much had been anticipated, had disappointed by his inactivity, and been relieved from a command in which he had attempted much and done so little. His friends alleged that his inactivity was owing to a want of unanimity and co-operation in the colonial governments, which paralyzed all his well meant efforts. Franklin, it is probable, probed the matter with his usual sagacity when he characterized him as a man "entirely made up of indecision."—"Like St. George on the signs, he was always on horseback, but never rode on."
On the return of his lordship to England, the general command in America devolved on Major-general Abercrombie, and the forces were divided into three detached bodies; one, under Major-general Amherst, was to operate in the north with the fleet under Boscawen, for the reduction of Louisburg and the island of Cape Breton; another, under Abercrombie himself, was to proceed against Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain; and the third, under Brigadier-general Forbes, who had the charge of the middle and southern colonies, was to undertake the reduction of Fort Duquesne. The colonial troops were to be supplied, like the regulars, with arms, ammunition, tents, and provisions, at the expense of government, but clothed and paid by the colonies; for which the king would recommend to Parliament a proper compensation. The provincial officers appointed by the governors, and of no higher rank than colonel, were to be equal in command, when united in service with those who held direct from the king, according to the date of their commissions. By these wise provisions of Mr. Pitt a fertile cause of heartburnings and dissensions was removed.
It was with the greatest satisfaction Washington saw his favorite measure at last adopted, the reduction of Fort Duquesne; and he resolved to continue in the service until that object was accomplished. In a letter to Stanwix, who was now a brigadier-general, he modestly requested to be mentioned in favorable terms to General Forbes, "not," said he, "as a person who would depend upon him for further recommendation to military preferment (for I have long conquered all such inclinations, and shall serve this campaign merely for the purpose of affording my best endeavors to bring matters to a conclusion), but as a person who would gladly be distinguished in some measure from the common run of provincial officers, as I understand there will be a motley herd of us." He had the satisfaction subsequently of enjoying the fullest confidence of General Forbes, who knew too well the sound judgment and practical ability evinced by him in the unfortunate campaign of Braddock not to be desirous of availing himself of his counsels.
Washington still was commander-in-chief of the Virginia troops, now augmented, by an act of the Assembly, to two regiments of one thousand men each; one led by himself, the other by Colonel Byrd; the whole destined to make a part of the army of General Forbes in the expedition against Fort Duquesne.
Of the animation which he felt at the prospect of serving in this long-desired campaign, and revisiting with an effective force the scene of past disasters, we have a proof in a short letter, written during the excitement of the moment, to Major Francis Halket, his former companion in arms.
"My dear Halket:—Are we to have you once more among us? And shall we revisit together a hapless spot, that proved so fatal to many of our former brave companions? Yes; and I rejoice at it, hoping it will now be in our power to testify a just abhorrence of the cruel butcheries exercised on our friends in the unfortunate day of General Braddock's defeat; and, moreover, to show our enemies, that we can practise all that lenity of which they only boast, without affording any adequate proof."
Before we proceed to narrate the expedition against Fort Duquesne, however, we will briefly notice the conduct of the two other expeditions, which formed important parts in the plan of military operations for the year. And first, of that against Louisburg and the Island of Cape Breton.
Major-general Amherst, who conducted this expedition, embarked with between ten and twelve thousand men, in the fleet of Admiral Boscawen, and set sail about the end of May, from Halifax, in Nova Scotia. Along with him went Brigadier-general James Wolfe, an officer young in years, but a veteran, in military experience, and destined to gain, an almost romantic celebrity. He may almost be said to have been born in the camp, for he was the son of Major-general Wolfe, a veteran officer of merit, and when a lad had witnessed the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy. While a mere youth he had distinguished himself at the battle of Laffeldt, in the Netherlands; and now, after having been eighteen years in the service, he was but thirty-one years of age. In America, however, he was to win his lasting laurels.
On the 2d of June, the fleet arrived at the Bay of Gabarus, about seven miles to the west of Louisburg. The latter place was garrisoned by two thousand five hundred regulars, and three hundred militia, and subsequently reinforced by upwards of four hundred Canadians and Indians. In the harbor were six ships-of-the-line, and five frigates; three of which were sunk across the mouth. For several days the troops were prevented from landing by boisterous weather, and a heavy surf. The French improved that time to strengthen a chain of forts along the shore, deepening trenches, and constructing batteries.
On the 8th of June, preparations for landing were made before daybreak. The troops were embarked in boats in three divisions, under Brigadiers Wolfe, Whetmore, and Laurens. The landing was to be attempted west of the harbor, at a place feebly secured. Several frigates and sloops previously scoured the beach with their shot, after which Wolfe pulled for shore with his divisions; the other two divisions distracting the attention of the enemy, by making a show of landing in other parts. The surf still ran high, the enemy opened a fire of cannon and musketry from their batteries, many boats were upset, many men slain, but Wolfe pushed forward, sprang into the water when the boats grounded, dashed through the surf with his men, stormed the enemy's breastworks and batteries, and drove them from the shore. Among the subalterns who stood by Wolfe on this occasion, was an Irish youth, twenty-one years of age, named Richard Montgomery, whom, for his gallantry, Wolfe promoted to a lieutenancy, and who was destined, in after years, to gain an imperishable renown. The other divisions effected a landing after a severe conflict; artillery and stores were brought on shore, and Louisburg was formally invested.
The weather continued boisterous; the heavy cannon, and the various munitions necessary for a siege, were landed with difficulty. Amherst, moreover, was a cautious man, and made his approaches slowly, securing his camp by redoubts and epaulements. The Chevalier Drucour, who commanded at Louisburg, called in his outposts, and prepared for a desperate defence; keeping up a heavy fire from his batteries, and from the ships in the harbor.
Wolfe, with a strong detachment, surprised at night, and took possession of Light House Point, on the north-east side of the entrance to the harbor. Here he threw up batteries in addition to those already there, from which he was enabled greatly to annoy both town and shipping, as well as to aid Amherst in his slow, but regular and sure approaches.
On the 21st of July, the three largest of the enemy's ships were set on fire by a bombshell. On the night of the 25th two other of the ships were boarded, sword in hand, from boats of the squadron; one being aground, was burnt, the other was towed out of the harbor in triumph. The brave Drucour kept up the defence until all the ships were either taken or destroyed; forty, out of fifty-two pieces of cannon dismounted, and his works mere heaps of ruins. When driven to capitulate, he refused the terms proposed, as being too severe, and, when threatened with a general assault, by sea and land, determined to abide it, rather than submit to what he considered a humiliation. The prayers and petitions of the inhabitants, however, overcame his obstinacy. The place was surrendered, and he and his garrison became prisoners of war. Captain Amherst, brother to the general, carried home the news to England, with eleven pair of colors, taken at Louisburg. There were rejoicings throughout the kingdom. The colors were borne in triumph through the streets of London, with a parade of horse and foot, kettle drums and trumpets, and the thunder of artillery, and were put up as trophies in St. Paul's Cathedral.
Boscawen, who was a member of Parliament, received a unanimous vote of praise from the House of Commons, and the youthful Wolfe, who returned shortly after the victory to England, was hailed as the hero of the enterprise.
We have disposed of one of the three great expeditions contemplated in the plan of the year's campaign. The second was that against the French forts on Lakes George and Champlain. At the beginning of July, Abercrombie was encamped on the borders of Lake George, with between six and seven thousand regulars, and upwards of nine thousand provincials, from New England, New York, and New Jersey. Major Israel Putnam, of Connecticut, who had served on this lake, under Sir William Johnson, in the campaign in which Dieskau was defeated and slain, had been detached with a scouting party to reconnoitre the neighborhood. After his return and report, Abercrombie prepared to proceed against Ticonderoga, situated on a tongue of land in Lake Champlain, at the mouth of the strait communicating with Lake George.
On the 5th of July, the forces were embarked in one hundred and twenty-five whale-boats, and nine hundred batteaux, with the artillery on rafts. The vast flotilla proceeded slowly down the lake, with banners and pennons fluttering in the summer breeze; arms glittering in the sunshine, and martial music echoing along the wood-clad mountains. With Abercrombie went Lord Howe, a young nobleman brave and enterprising, full of martial enthusiasm, and endeared to the soldiery by the generosity of his disposition, and the sweetness of his manners.
On the first night they bivouacked for some hours at Sabbath-day Point, but re-embarked before midnight. The next day they landed on a point on the western shore, just at the entrance of the strait leading to Lake Champlain. Here they were formed into three columns, and pushed forward.
They soon came upon the enemy's advanced guard, a battalion encamped behind a log breastwork. The French set fire to their camp, and retreated. The columns kept their form, and pressed forward, but, through ignorance of their guides, became bewildered in a dense forest, fell into confusion, and blundered upon each other.
Lord Howe urged on with the van of the right centre column. Putnam, who was with him, and more experienced in forest warfare, endeavored in vain to inspire him with caution. After a time they came upon a detachment of the retreating foe, who, like themselves, had lost their way. A severe conflict ensued. Lord Howe, who gallantly led the van, was killed at the onset. His fall gave new ardor to his troops. The enemy were routed, some slain, some drowned, about one hundred and fifty taken prisoners, including five officers. Nothing further was done that day. The death of Lord Howe more than counterbalanced the defeat of the enemy. His loss was bewailed not merely by the army, but by the American people; for it is singular how much this young nobleman, in a short time, had made himself beloved. The point near which the troops had landed still bears his name; the place where he fell is still pointed out; and Massachusetts voted him a monument in Westminster Abbey.
With Lord Howe expired the master spirit of the enterprise. Abercrombie fell back to the landing-place. The next day he sent out a strong detachment of regulars, royal provincials, and batteaux men, under Lieutenant-colonel Bradstreet, of New York, to secure a saw-mill, which the enemy had abandoned. This done, he followed on the same evening with the main forces, and took post at the mill, within two miles of the fort. Here he was joined by Sir William Johnson, with between four and five hundred savage warriors from the Mohawk River.
Montcalm had called in all his forces, between three and four thousand men, and was strongly posted behind deep intrenchments and breastworks eight feet high; with an abatis, or felled trees, in front of his lines, presenting a horrid barrier, with their jagged boughs pointing outward. Abercrombie was deceived as to the strength of the French works; his engineers persuaded him they were formidable only in appearance, but really weak and flimsy. Without waiting for the arrival of his cannon, and against the opinion of his most judicious officers, he gave orders to storm the works. Never were rash orders more gallantly obeyed. The men rushed forward with fixed bayonets, and attempted to force their way through, or scramble over the abatis, under a sheeted fire of swivels and musketry. In the desperation of the moment, the officers even tried to cut their way through with their swords. Some even reached the parapet, where they were shot down. The breastwork was too high to be surmounted, and gave a secure covert to the enemy. Repeated assaults were made, and as often repelled, with dreadful havoc. The Iroquois warriors, who had arrived with Sir William Johnson, took no part, it is said, in this fierce conflict, but stood aloof as unconcerned spectators of the bloody strife of white men.
After four hours of desperate and fruitless fighting, Abercrombie, who had all the time remained aloof at the saw-mills gave up the ill-judged attempt, and withdrew once more to the landing-place, with the loss of nearly two thousand in killed and wounded. Had not the vastly inferior force of Montcalm prevented him from sallying beyond his trenches, the retreat of the British might have been pushed to a headlong and disastrous flight.
Abercrombie had still nearly four times the number of the enemy, with cannon, and all the means of carrying on a siege, with every prospect of success; but the failure of this rash assault seems completely to have dismayed him. The next day he re-embarked all his troops, and returned across that lake where his disgraced banners had recently waved so proudly.
While the general was planning fortifications on Lake George, Colonel Bradstreet obtained permission to carry into effect an expedition which he had for some time meditated, and which had been a favored project with the lamented Howe. This was to reduce Fort Frontenac, the stronghold of the French on the north side of the entrance of Lake Ontario, commanding the mouth of the St. Lawrence. This post was a central point of Indian trade, where the tribes resorted from all parts of a vast interior; sometimes a distance of a thousand miles, to traffic away their peltries with the fur-traders. It was, moreover, a magazine for the more southern posts, among which was Fort Duquesne on the Ohio.
Bradstreet was an officer of spirit. Pushing his way along the valley of the Mohawk and by the Oneida, where he was joined by several warriors of the Six Nations, he arrived at Oswego in August, with nearly three thousand men; the greater part of them provincial troops of New York and Massachusetts. Embarking at Oswego in open boats, he crossed Lake Ontario, and landed within a mile of Frontenac. The fort mounted sixty guns, and several mortars, yet though a place of such importance, the garrison consisted of merely one hundred and ten men, and a few Indians. These either fled, or surrendered at discretion. In the fort was an immense amount of merchandise and military stores; part of the latter intended for the supply of Fort Duquesne. In the harbor were nine armed vessels, some of them carrying eighteen guns; the whole of the enemy's shipping on the lake. Two of these Colonel Bradstreet freighted with part of the spoils of the fort, the others he destroyed; then having dismantled the fortifications, and laid waste every thing which he could not carry away, he recrossed the lake to Oswego, and returned with his troops to the army on Lake George.
SLOW OPERATIONS—WASHINGTON ORDERS OUT THE MILITIA—MISSION TO WILLIAMSBURG—HALT AT MR. CHAMBERLAYNE'S—MRS. MARTHA CUSTIS—A BRIEF COURTSHIP—AN ENGAGEMENT—RETURN TO WINCHESTER—THE RIFLE DRESS—INDIAN SCOUTS—WASHINGTON ELECTED TO THE HOUSE OF BURGESSES—TIDINGS OF AMHERST'S SUCCESS—THE NEW ROAD TO FORT DUQUESNE—MARCH FOR THE FORT—INDISCREET CONDUCT OF MAJOR GRANT—DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES—WASHINGTON ADVANCES AGAINST FORT DUQUESNE—END OF THE EXPEDITION—WASHINGTON RETURNS HOME— HIS MARRIAGE.
Operations went on slowly in that part of the year's campaign in which Washington was immediately engaged—the expedition against Fort Duquesne. Brigadier-general Forbes, who was commander-in-chief, was detained at Philadelphia by those delays and cross-purposes incident to military affairs in a new country. Colonel Bouquet, who was to command the advanced division, took his station, with a corps of regulars, at Raystown, in the centre of Pennsylvania. There slowly assembled troops from various parts. Three thousand Pennsylvanians, twelve hundred and fifty South Carolinians, and a few hundred men from elsewhere.
Washington, in the mean time, gathered together his scattered regiment at Winchester, some from a distance of two hundred miles, and diligently disciplined his recruits. He had two Virginia regiments under him, amounting, when complete, to about nineteen hundred men. Seven hundred Indian warriors, also, came lagging into his camp, lured by the prospect of a successful campaign.
The president of the council had given Washington a discretionary power in the present juncture to order out militia for the purpose of garrisoning the fort in the absence of the regular troops. Washington exercised the power with extreme reluctance. He considered it, he said, an affair of too important and delicate a nature for him to manage, and apprehended the discontent it might occasion. In fact, his sympathies were always with the husbandmen and the laborers of the soil, and he deplored the evils imposed upon them by arbitrary drafts for military service; a scruple not often indulged by youthful commanders.
The force thus assembling was in want of arms, tents, field-equipage, and almost every requisite. Washington had made repeated representations, by letter, of the destitute state of the Virginia troops, but without avail; he was now ordered by Sir John St. Clair, the quartermaster-general of the forces, under General Forbes, to repair to Williamsburg, and lay the state of the case before the council. He set off promptly on horseback, attended by Bishop, the well-trained military servant, who had served the late General Braddock. It proved an eventful journey, though not in a military point of view. In crossing a ferry of the Pamunkey, a branch of York River, he fell in company with a Mr. Chamberlayne, who lived in the neighborhood, and who, in the spirit of Virginian hospitality, claimed him as a guest. It was with difficulty Washington could be prevailed on to halt for dinner, so impatient was he to arrive at Williamsburg, and accomplish his mission.
Among the guests at Mr. Chamberlayne's was a young and blooming widow, Mrs. Martha Custis, daughter of Mr. John Dandridge, both patrician names in the province. Her husband, John Parke Custis, had been dead about three years, leaving her with two young children, and a large fortune. She is represented as being rather below the middle size, but extremely well shaped, with an agreeable countenance, dark hazel eyes and hair, and those frank, engaging manners, so captivating in Southern women. We are not informed whether Washington had met with her before; probably not during her widowhood, as during that time he had been almost continually on the frontier. We have shown that, with all his gravity and reserve, he was quickly susceptible to female charms; and they may have had a greater effect upon him when thus casually encountered in fleeting moments snatched from the cares and perplexities and rude scenes of frontier warfare. At any rate, his heart appears to have been taken by surprise.
The dinner, which in those days was an earlier meal than at present, seemed all too short. The afternoon passed away like a dream. Bishop was punctual to the orders he had received on halting; the horses pawed at the door; but for once Washington loitered in the path of duty. The horses were countermanded, and it was not until the next morning that he was again in the saddle, spurring for Williamsburg. Happily the White House, the residence of Mrs. Custis, was in New Kent County, at no great distance from that city, so that he had opportunities of visiting her in the intervals of business. His time for courtship, however, was brief. Military duties called him back almost immediately to Winchester; but he feared, should he leave the matter in suspense, some more enterprising rival might supplant him during his absence, as in the case of Miss Philipse, at New York. He improved, therefore, his brief opportunity to the utmost. The blooming widow had many suitors, but Washington was graced with that renown so ennobling in the eyes of woman. In a word, before they separated, they had mutually plighted their faith, and the marriage was to take place as soon as the campaign against Fort Duquesne was at an end.
Before returning to Winchester, Washington was obliged to hold conferences with Sir John St. Clair and Colonel Bouquet, at an intermediate rendezvous, to give them information respecting the frontiers, and arrange about the marching of his troops. His constant word to them was forward! forward! For the precious time for action was slipping away, and he feared their Indian allies, so important to their security while on the march, might, with their usual fickleness, lose patience, and return home.
On arriving at Winchester, he found his troops restless and discontented from prolonged inaction. The inhabitants impatient of the burdens imposed on them, and of the disturbances of an idle camp; while the Indians, as he apprehended, had deserted outright. It was a great relief, therefore, when he received orders from the commander-in-chief to repair to Fort Cumberland. He arrived there on the 2d of July, and proceeded to open a road between that post and head-quarters, at Raystown, thirty miles distant, where Colonel Bouquet was stationed.
His troops were scantily supplied with regimental clothing. The weather was oppressively warm. He now conceived the idea of equipping them in the light Indian hunting garb, and even of adopting it himself. Two companies were accordingly equipped in this style, and sent under the command of Major Lewis to head-quarters. "It is an unbecoming dress, I own, for an officer," writes Washington, "but convenience rather than show, I think, should be consulted. The reduction of bat-horses alone would be sufficient to recommend it; for nothing is more certain than that less baggage would be required."
The experiment was successful. "The dress takes very well here," writes Colonel Bouquet; "and, thank God, we see nothing but shirts and blankets. ... Their dress should be one pattern for this expedition." Such was probably the origin of the American rifle dress, afterwards so much worn in warfare, and modelled on the Indian costume.
The army was now annoyed by scouting parties of Indians hovering about the neighborhood. Expresses passing between the posts were fired upon; a waggoner was shot down. Washington sent out counter-parties of Cherokees. Colonel Bouquet required that each party should be accompanied by an officer and a number of white men. Washington complied with the order, though he considered them an encumbrance rather than an advantage, "Small parties of Indians," said he, "will more effectually harass the enemy by keeping them under continual alarms, than any parties of white men can do. For small parties of the latter are not equal to the task, not being so dexterous at skulking as Indians; and large parties will be discovered by their spies early enough to have a superior force opposed to them." With all his efforts, however, he was never able fully to make the officers of the regular army appreciate the importance of Indian allies in these campaigns in the wilderness.
On the other hand, he earnestly discountenanced a proposition of Colonel Bouquet, to make an irruption into the enemy's country with a strong party of regulars. Such a detachment, he observed, could not be sent without a cumbersome train of supplies, which would discover it to the enemy, who must at that time be collecting his whole force at Fort Duquesne; the enterprise, therefore, would be likely to terminate in a miscarriage, if not in the destruction of the party. We shall see that his opinion was oracular.
As Washington intended to retire from military life at the close of this campaign, he had proposed himself to the electors of Frederick County as their representative in the House of Burgesses. The election was coming on at Winchester; his friends pressed him to attend it, and Colonel Bouquet gave him leave of absence; but he declined to absent himself from his post for the promotion of his political interests. There were three competitors in the field, yet so high was the public opinion of his merit, that, though Winchester had been his head-quarters for two or three years past, and he had occasionally enforced martial law with a rigorous hand, he was elected by a large majority. The election was carried on somewhat in the English style. There was much eating and drinking at the expense of the candidate. Washington appeared on the hustings by proxy, and his representative was chaired about the town with enthusiastic applause and huzzaing for Colonel Washington.
On the 21st of July arrived tidings of the brilliant success of that part of the scheme of the year's campaign conducted by General Amherst and Admiral Boscawen, who had reduced the strong town of Louisburg and gained possession of the Island of Cape Breton. This intelligence increased Washington's impatience at the delays of the expedition with which he was connected. He wished to rival these successes by a brilliant blow in the south. Perhaps a desire for personal distinction in the eyes of the lady of his choice may have been at the bottom of this impatience; for we are told that he kept up a constant correspondence with her throughout the campaign.
Understanding that the commander-in-chief had some thoughts of throwing a body of light troops in the advance, he wrote to Colonel Bouquet, earnestly soliciting his influence to have himself and his Virginia regiment included in the detachment. "If any argument is needed to obtain this favor," said he, "I hope, without vanity, I may be allowed to say, that from long intimacy with these woods, and frequent scouting in them, my men are at least as well acquainted with all the passes and difficulties as any troops that will be employed."
He soon learnt to his surprise, however, that the road to which his men were accustomed, and which had been worked by Braddock's troops in his campaign, was not to be taken in the present expedition, but a new one opened through the heart of Pennsylvania, from Raystown to Fort Duquesne, on the track generally taken by the northern traders. He instantly commenced long and repeated remonstrances on the subject; representing that Braddock's road, from recent examination, only needed partial repairs, and showing by clear calculation that an army could reach Fort Duquesne by that route in thirty-four days, so that the whole campaign might be effected by the middle of October; whereas the extreme labor of opening a new road across mountains, swamps, and through a densely wooded country, would detain them so late, that the season would be over before they could reach the scene of action. His representations were of no avail. The officers of the regular service had received a fearful idea of Braddock's road from his own despatches, wherein he had described it as lying "across mountains and rocks of an excessive height, vastly steep, and divided by torrents and rivers," whereas the Pennsylvania traders, who were anxious for the opening of the new road through their province, described the country through which it would pass as less difficult, and its streams less subject to inundation; above all, it was a direct line, and fifty miles nearer. This route, therefore, to the great regret of Washington and the indignation of the Virginia Assembly, was definitively adopted, and sixteen hundred men were immediately thrown in the advance from Raystown to work upon it.
The first of September found Washington still encamped at Fort Cumberland, his troops sickly and dispirited, and the brilliant expedition which he had anticipated, dwindling down into a tedious operation of road-making. In the mean time, his scouts brought him word that the whole force at Fort Duquesne on the 13th of August, Indians included, did not exceed eight hundred men: had an early campaign been pressed forward, as he recommended, the place by this time would have been captured. At length, in the month of September, he received orders from General Forbes to join him with his troops at Raystown, where he had just arrived, having been detained by severe illness. He was received by the general with the highest marks of respect. On all occasions, both in private and at councils of war, that commander treated his opinions with the greatest deference. He, moreover, adopted a plan drawn out by Washington for the march of the army; and an order of battle which still exists, furnishing a proof of his skill in frontier warfare.
It was now the middle of September; yet the great body of men engaged in opening the new military road, after incredible toil, had not advanced above forty-five miles, to a place called Loyal Hannan, a little beyond Laurel Hill. Colonel Bouquet, who commanded the division of nearly two thousand men sent forward to open this road, had halted at Loyal Hannan to establish a military post and deposit.
He was upwards of fifty miles from Fort Duquesne, and was tempted to adopt the measure, so strongly discountenanced by Washington, of sending a party on a foray into the enemy's country. He accordingly detached Major Grant with eight hundred picked men, some of them Highlanders, others, in Indian garb, the part of Washington's Virginian regiment sent forward by him from Cumberland under command of Major Lewis.
The instructions given to Major Grant were merely to reconnoitre the country in the neighborhood of Fort Duquesne, and ascertain the strength and position of the enemy. He conducted the enterprise with the foolhardiness of a man eager for personal notoriety. His whole object seems to have been by open bravado to provoke an action. The enemy were apprised, through their scouts, of his approach, but suffered him to advance unmolested. Arriving at night in the neighborhood of the fort, he posted his men on a hill, and sent out a party of observation, who set fire to a log house near the walls and returned to the encampment. As if this were not sufficient to put the enemy on the alert, he ordered the reveille to be beaten in the morning in several places; then, posting Major Lewis with his provincial troops at a distance in the rear to protect the baggage, he marshalled his regulars in battle array, and sent an engineer, with a covering party, to take a plan of the works in full view of the garrison.