"Do you want to die, our father?" they asked, "and sacrifice us also?"
"I am determined to go," said Beaujeu. "What! Will you let your father go alone? I know we shall win."
Seeing him so confident the Indians forgot their fears, and the war dance was danced. Then, smeared with paint and led by Beaujeu himself dressed like a savage, they marched to meet the British.
There were about six hundred Indians and half as many Frenchmen. Stealthily they crept through the forest, flitting like shadows from tree to tree, closing ever nearer and nearer upon the British.
They, meanwhile, had reached the river Monongahela. They crossed it gaily, for they knew now that Fort Duquesne was near; their toilsome march was at an end, and victory was sure.
It was a glorious summer morning; the bands played, the men laughed and shouted joyously. The long line swept onward, a glittering pageant of scarlet and blue, of shining steel and fluttering banners.
Then suddenly out of the forest darted a man dressed like an Indian. When he saw the advancing column he stopped. Then turning, he waved to some one behind him. It was Beaujeu, and at his signal the air was rent with the terrible Indian war cry, and a hail of bullets swept the British ranks.
Shouting "God save the King" the British returned to fire. But it availed little, for they could not see the enemy. From the shelter of the forest, hidden behind trees, the French and Indians fired upon the British. They were an easy mark, for they stood solidly, shoulder to shoulder, their scarlet coats showing clearly against the green background. Still the British stood their ground firing volley after volley. It was quite useless, for they could see no enemy. The puffs of smoke were their only guides. To aim at the points where the smoke came from was all they could do. But for the most part their bullets crashed through the branches, or were buried in tree trunks, while the pitiless rain of lead mowed down the redcoats.
The American soldiers fared better. For as soon as they were attacked they scattered, and from behind the shelter of trees fought the Indians in their own fashion. Some of the British tried to do the same. But Braddock had no knowledge of savage warfare. To fight in such a manner seemed to him shocking. It was unsoldierly; it was cowardly. So he swore savagely at his men, calling them cowards, and beat them back into line with the flat of his sword. And thus huddled together they stood a brilliant, living target for the bullets of the savages.
Braddock himself fought with fury. He dashed here and there, swearing, commanding, threatening. Four horses were shot under him, and at last he himself fell wounded to death.
Washington too fought with fearless bravery, trying to carry out Braddock's frenzied orders. And although he escaped unhurt his clothes were riddled with holes, and twice his horse was shot under him.
For nearly three hours the terrible carnage lasted. Then flesh and blood could stand no more, and the men broke rank and fled. All night they fled in utter rout, bearing with them their wounded leader.
At length they reached Dunbar's camp. But even them they did not pause. For the news of the disaster had thrown the whole camp into confusion. Frantic orders were given, and obeyed with frenzied haste. Wagon loads of stores were burned, barrels of gunpowder were staved in, and the contents poured into the river; shells and bullets were buried. The, the work of destruction complete, the whole army moved on again in utter rout.
And now Braddock's dark, last hour had come. Brooding and silent he lay in his litter. This awful defeat was something he could not grasp. "Who would have thought it?" he murmured. "Who would have thought it?" But his stubborn spirit was yet unbroken. "We will know better how to do it another time," he sighed. A few minutes later he died.
His men buried him in the middle of the road, Washington reading over him the prayers for the dead. Then lest the Indians should find and desecrate his last resting-place the whole army passed over his grave.
Chapter 49 - The End of the French Rule in America
Braddock's campaign was a complete disaster. The French had triumphed, and even those Indians who up till now had been willing to side with the British were anxious to make friends with the French. For were they not the stronger? Surely it seemed to them the White Father of the St. Lawrence was more powerful than the White Father of the Hudson.
"If the English will not suffer the branches of the Great Tree of Peace to hide us from the French," they said, "we will go farther off. We will lie down and warm ourselves by the war fires of the French. We love to hear the sound of the war whoop. We delight in the war yell. It flies from hill to hill, from heart to heart. It makes the old heart young, it makes the young heart dance. Our young braves run to battle with the swiftness of the fawn. If you will not fight, the French will drive us from our hunting grounds. The English King does not aid us, we must join the strong. Who is strong? Who is strong? The French! The English have become weak."
War was now really declared between France and Britain and fighting took place in Europe as well as in America. And in America things went ill for the British. Defeats and disasters followed each other, things were muddled and went wrong continually. For truth to tell the British had no great leader either in England or in America, while the French had the Marquess Montcalm, one of the best soldiers in the French army, as their commander-in-chief.
At length, however, a great man came to power in England. This was William Pitt, known as the Great Commoner. He was, it has been said, the first Englishman of his time, and he made England the first country in the world. He was a great judge of men, and he had a happy way of choosing the right man for the right place. So now instead of defeats came victories, not only in America, but all over the world. "We are forced to ask every morning," said a witty man of the time, "what victory there has been for fear of missing one."
In America Louisburg fell once more into the hands of the British. Fort Duquesne too was taken, and the misery of Braddock's disaster was wiped out. Then in honour of the great statesman the name of the fort was changed to Pittsburg. It is still called by that name and is now one of the world's greatest manufacturing cities; and where Braddock fought and fell stretches a network of streets.
But although the British had many successes the key of Canada defied all efforts to take it. Quebec still frowned upon her rock, invulnerable as in the days of old lion-hearted Frontenac.
Among the men Pitt had chosen to lead the armies in America was Major-General James Wolfe. He was a long-legged, red-haired Englishman. There was nothing of the hero about his appearance except his bright and flashing eyes. It was this man who was sent to capture Quebec. Many people were astonished at Pitt's choice. "He is mad," said one stupid old man.
"Mad is he?" said King George. "Then I wish he would bite some others of my generals."
Led by a daring old sea captain the British war ships passed safely up the St. Lawrence and anchored off the Isle of Orleans a little below Quebec.
Once more British guns thundered against the high rock fortress. The town was laid in ruins, the country round was but a barren waste. Yet the fortress of Quebec was no nearer being taken than before. Weeks and months went past, the fleet rocked idly at anchor, the troops lay almost as idle in their tents. Only the gunners had work to do. And although they shattered the walls of Quebec the Frenchmen were undaunted.
"You may ruin the town," they said, "but you will never get inside."
"I will have Quebec if I stay here till the end of November," replied Wolfe.
But Montcalm smiled grimly. Winter, he knew, would be his ally. For then the St. Lawrence would be frozen from bank to bank and before that the British must sail away or be caught fast in its icy jaws.
Wolfe, who was frail and sickly by nature, now broke down beneath the strain and the constant disappointments. Helpless and in agony he lay on his sickbed, his mind still busy with plans of how to take Quebec.
"Doctor," he said, "I know you can't cure me but patch me up till I see this business through."
Soon he was about again, and making plans for his last desperate attempt to take Quebec.
Seeking to find a means of reaching the fortress he had himself examined all the north shores of the St. Lawrence. And just a little above the town he had found one spot where a narrow pathway led up the steep cliffs. It was so steep and narrow that the French never dreamed of any one making an attack that way, and it was carelessly guarded. But dangerous though it was it seemed to Wolfe the only way, and he determined to attempt it.
Soon his preparations were made, and one dark moonless night in September a long procession of boats floated silently down the river. In one of the boats sat Wolfe, and as they drifted slowly along in the starlight in a low voice he repeated Gray's poem called an Elegy in a Country Churchyard:
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th' inevitable hour, The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
"Gentlemen," said Wolfe when he finished, "I would rather have written those lines than take Quebec."
In dead silence now the boats drifted on. Then suddenly out of the darkness rang a sharp challenge.
"Who goes there?" was asked in French.
"France," replied a Highland officer who spoke good French.
"What regiment?" shouted the sentry.
"The Queen's," answered the officer glibly, for luckily he had learned from French prisoners that boats with provisions were expected by the enemy, and that very likely the Queen's regiment would convoy them.
The sentry was satisfied and let the boats pass. But they were not safe yet. A little further on they were challenged again.
The same officer replied.
"Speak louder!" cried the sentry.
"Hush!" replied the Highlander, "provision boats, I say. Do not make a noise; the British will hear us."
The sentry was quite deceived. He let the boats pass, and very soon the men were safely landed.
Then the climb began. Like wild mountain cats the men dashed at it. They swung themselves up by branches of trees, gripping projecting stones and roots with hand and knee. It was hot, breathless work, but soon they were near the top. But they had been heard. Once more the challenge rang out, "Who goes there?"
"France," panted a voice from below. But this time the sentry was not deceived. He could see nothing, but he fired at a venture down into the darkness.
It was too late. The first men had reached the top, and the guard was overpowered. So hour by hour up the steep cliff the red coats swarmed unhindered. When morning dawned four thousand British stood upon the plains of Abraham.
"This is a very serious business," said Montcalm when he heard of it, "but it can only be a small party."
Soon, however, more news was brought to him. It was no small party.
"Then we must crush them," he said, and with pale set face he rode forth to battle.
It was ten o'clock when the fight began. The French attacked first. The British awaited them calmly as they dashed on over the plain. On they came nearer and nearer. Then suddenly the order was given, and , cheering wildly, the British charged.
A shot struck Wolfe in the wrist. Without pausing he tied a handkerchief about it. Again he was hit. Still he went on. Then a third shot struck his breast, and he fell. Hastily he was carried to the rear, and laid upon the ground.
"It is all over with me," he sighed. Then he lay still in a sort of stupor.
Suddenly one of the officers beside him cried out, "They run! They run!"
"Who run?" said Wolfe, rousing himself.
"The enemy, sir," answered the officer, "they give way everywhere."
"Now God be praised," murmured Wolfe. "I die happy." Then turning on his side he died.
Everywhere the French fled, and in their mad rush they carried along with them their gallant leader, Montcalm. He was sorely wounded, but still sat his horse as he rode within the gates of Quebec. Here an excited, eager crowd was gathered, waiting for news. And when they saw Montcalm's well-known figure on his black horse they were seized with dismay. For his face was white and drawn and blood flowed from his breast.
"Alas! Alas!" cried a woman in a piercing voice of despair, "the Marquess is killed!"
"It is nothing, it is nothing, good friends," he replied. "Do not trouble about me." So saying he fell from his horse into the arms of one of his officers.
That night he died.
He was glad to go. "It is better for me," he said, "for I shall not live to see Quebec surrender."
With him died the last hope of New France. The story of New France was done. The Story of Canada was about to begin as well as that of her mighty neighbour. For as a great English historian has said, "With the triumph of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham began the history of the United States."
Meanwhile, however, the war still dragged on for another year. Then the following summer Montreal surrendered to the British, and French rule in America was completely at an end.
Fighting in America was over. But the war still went on in other parts of the world. Spain had also joined in the struggle, and from them the British took Cuba and the Philippine Islands. But at length in 1763 peace was made by the Treaty of Paris.
By this treaty Britain was confirmed in her claim to nearly the whole of French possessions in America. So that from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay was now declared British except the peninsula forming Florida. That the Spaniards claimed. So in exchange for it the British gave back Cuba and the Philippines. And to make up to Spain for the loss of Florida France gave them New Orleans and resigned to Spain all claims to the land which La Salle had called Louisiana.
Thus nothing remained to France of all her great possessions in America, and the vast continent was divided between Spain and Britain. Never in all known history had a single treaty transferred such enormous tracts of land from one nation to another.
Chapter 50 - The Rebellion of Pontiac
"Do you not know the difference between the King of France and the King of Britain?" a Frenchman once asked an Indian. "Go, look at the forts which our King has built, you will see that you can still hunt under their very walls. They have been built for your good in the places where you go. The British on the other hand are no sooner in possession of a place than they drive the game away, the trees fall before them, the earth is laid bare, so that you can scarcely find a few branches with which to make a shelter for the night."
The Frenchman spoke truth. The British settlers were, for the most part, grave and earnest men who had come to seek new homes. They felled trees and built their houses, and ploughed the land, turning wilderness into cornfields and meadow.
The Frenchmen came for the sake of religion or for adventure, they set up crosses and claimed the land for God and the King. They scattered churches and hamlets far in the wilderness, but left the wilderness and the forest still the Redman's hunting ground. The Frenchmen treated the Indians with an easy, careless sort of friendliness, while most of the British looked down upon them as savages.
So very soon after the British took possession of Canada the Indians became very discontented. For now they got no more presents, they were no longer treated as brothers, and they were hurt both in their pockets and their pride. "The English mean to make slaves of us," they said, in haughty indignation, and soon a plot to murder all the British was formed.
The French who still lived in Canada encouraged the Indians in their discontent, telling them that the English meant thoroughly to root them out. Then a great Medicine Man arose among them who preached war.
"The Great Spirit himself appeared unto me," he said. "Thus he spake. 'I am the Lord of Life. It is I who made all men. I work for their safety, therefore I give you warning. Suffer not the English to dwell in your midst, lest their poisons and their sickness destroy you utterly.'"
When they heard the Medicine Man speak thus, the Indians were greatly stirred. "The Lord of Life himself," they said, "moves our hearts to war." They became ever more and more eager to fight. They only wanted a leader, and found one in Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas.
He was subtle and fierce, haughty and ambitious, and by far the most clever and powerful chief who ever took up arms against the white man.
Now he sent messengers to all the Indian villages both far and near. With them these messengers carried a hatchet, stained with blood, and a war belt of scarlet wampum. When they came to a village they called the braves together. Then in their midst their spokesman flung down the blood stained hatchet, and holding the belt in his hand he made a passionate speech, reminding the Redmen of their wrongs, and calling upon them to be avenged upon their foes. And wherever the messengers went the blood stained hatchet was seized, and the war dance danced.
At length all was arranged and upon a certain day in May the Indians were to rise in a body, and slay the British to a man. Only the French were to be spared.
Pontiac himself was to attack Fort Detroit, and so quietly and secretly were the preparations made that no one had the slightest suspicion of what was going forward. But the day before the attack a farmer's wife rowed across the river, and went to the Indian village to buy some maple sugar. While she was there she was much astonished to see some of the Indian braves filing off the barrels of their guns. The sight made her uneasy. "I wonder what they are up to?" she said.
When she got home she told her friends what she had seen.
"I believe they are up to some mischief," she repeated.
"I think so too," said a blacksmith, "they have been asking me to lend them files and saws."
As the settlers talked the matter over they became at length so uneasy that they sent to tell Major Gladwin, the commander of the fort, of what they had seen. He, however, thought nothing of it.
But later in the day a young Indian girl came to see him, to bring him a pair of moccasins which he had asked her to make. She seemed very sad and downcast, and after she had given the Major the moccasins she still loitered about.
"What's the matter?" asked a young officer.
The Indian girl did not answer, she only looked at him gravely with sorrowful brown eyes.
Still she lingered about, it was nearly dark, time almost to close the gates. At last the young officer watching her, became certain that something was the matter, and he urged his commander to see the girl again.
Major Gladwin at once called the girl to him. "What is the matter?" he asked. "Why are you so sad?"
Still she would not speak. Then the Major talked to her kindly, promising that whatever her secret was, it would be safe with him, and that he would never betray her. So at length the Indian girl spoke.
"The Indians mean to kill you all," she whispered; "the braves have filed off the ends of their gun barrels so that the guns can be hidden beneath their blankets. Tomorrow Pontiac will come with many warriors, and will ask to hold a Council within the fort. He will make a speech, and offer you a peace belt of wampum. At the end of the speech he will turn the belt round - that will be the signal. The chiefs will then spring up, draw the guns from their hiding places, and kill you all. Indians outside will kill all your soldiers. Not one of you will escape."
So saying the girl went sadly away.
Gladwin at once called his officers and told them what he had heard. They were convinced now that evil was afoot, and all night they kept watch lest the Indians should change their minds, and make their attack during the night.
But the night passed peacefully. When morning came a great many Indians were seen to be gathered about the fort, and at ten o'clock Pontiac, followed by his chiefs, entered the gateway.
They stalked in proudly, garbed in all the glory of savage splendours. They were cloaked in bright coloured blankets, and hung about with beads and hawk-bells. Their heads were decorated with eagle feathers, and their faces hideously painted.
Pontiac came first, and as he passed beneath the gateway, he started, and drew a sharp, deep breath. For both sides of the narrow street were lined with soldiers gun in hand. He had been betrayed! Yet the haughty chiefs made no sign. In silence they stalked on, not a muscle of their faces moving. Here and there as they passed on they saw traders standing about in groups, every man fully armed. Not a woman or child was to be seen.
At length the Indians reached the Council Hall. Here they found the commander seated awaiting them, surrounded by his officers. They, too, were armed, for every man of them wore a sword by his side and a brace of pistols in his belt.
Ill at ease now, the Indians gazed at each other in doubt what to do.
Then Pontiac spoke, "why," he asked, "do I see so many of my father's braves standing in the street with their guns?"
"Because I exercise my soldiers," replied Gladwin calmly, "for the good of their health, and also to keep discipline."
This answer made the Indians still more uneasy, but after some hesitation they all sat down on the floor. Then with due ceremony Pontiac rose, and holding the belt of peace in his hand began to speak. His words were fair. They had come, he said, to tell of their love for the English, "to smoke the pipe of peace, and make the bonds of friendship closer."
As he spoke his false and cunning words, the officers kept a watchful eye upon him. Would he give the signal or not, they asked themselves.
He raised the belt. At that moment Gladwin made a quick, slight signal. Immediately from the passage with out came the sound of grounding arms, and the rat-tat of a drum. Pontiac stood rigid, as one turned to stone. Then after a moment's deathly silence he sat down.
In the silence Gladwin sat looking steadily and fearlessly at the Indians. Then he replied shortly to Pontiac's fine speech, "The friendship of the British should be theirs," he said, "so long as they deserved it."
The Council was at an end. The gates of the fort which had been closed were now thrown open again, and the savages, balked in their treachery, stalked back to their wigwams.
But Pontiac was not yet beaten, and again he tried to master the fort by treachery. And when he found the gates of the fort shut against him, his rage was terrible. Then seeing they could not win Fort Detroit by treachery, the Indians attacked it in force. But in spite of all his horde of warriors, in spite of all his wiles, Pontiac could not take the fort although he besieged it for a whole year.
Meanwhile the savages over-ran the whole country, and every other fort, save Fort Pitt and Fort Niagara, fell into their hands. More often than not, they won their way into the forts by treachery, and having entered they slew, without mercy, men, women and children.
At Michilimackinac the Redskins invited the officers and soldiers to watch a game of ball. The invitation was accepted, and nearly all the soldiers stood about watching while the Indians with piercing yells dashed madly hither and thither after the ball. Crowds of Indians also looked on, among them many squaws wrapped in coloured blankets. The game was played just outside the fort, the gates stood open, and most of the soldiers had strolled out without their weapons to watch.
Suddenly the ball flew through the air and landed close to the gate of the fort. There was a mad rush after it. As they ran the Indians snatched the hatchets and knives which till now the squaws had hidden beneath their blankets. Screams of delight were changed to war cries. The two officers who stood by the gate were seized and carried away prisoner, while the rabble stormed into the fort slaying and robbing at will. Every one of the British was either killed or taken prisoner, but the French were left alone.
Thus all the land was filled with bloodshed and horror. There was no safety anywhere. In every bush an Indian might lurk, and night was made terrible with bloodcurdling war cries.
For nearly three years the war lasted. But by degrees Pontiac saw that his cause was lost. The French did not help him as he had expected they would. Some of his followers deserted, and other tribes refused to join him, and at last he saw himself forced to make peace. So there were flowery speeches, and the exchange of wampum belts, and peace was made.
Then Pontiac's army melted away like snow in summer, and the great Chief himself retired to the forest to live among his children and his squaws. A few years later he was traitorously slain by one of his own people.
PART VI: STORIES OF THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERTY
Chapter 51 - The Boston Tea party
All these wars which had been fought on American soil had cost a great deal of money and many lives. Now it seemed to the British Government that the best way to be sure of peace in the future was to keep an army in America. They decided to do this. They also decided that America should pay for the army. And in order to raise the money a stamp tax was to be introduced. Newspapers, marriage licenses, wills, and all sorts of legal papers were henceforth to be printed on stamped paper, the price of stamps varying according to the importance of the paper from a few pence to as many pounds.
But when the Americans heard that this Act had been passed without their consent they were angry.
"No," they said to the British Government, "you cannot tax us without our consent. It is one of the foundations of British freedom that those who pay the tax must also consent to it. We are not represented in the British Parliament, our consent has not been asked, and we deny your right to tax us."
The whole country was filled with clamour. In every colony young men banded themselves together, calling themselves Sons of Liberty, and determined to resist the tax. "No taxation without representation" was the cry.
When the first boxes of stamps arrived they were seized and destroyed. Newspapers appeared with a skull and crossbones printed where the stamp should have been. There were riots and mass meetings everywhere.
The Americans did not merely resist, they resisted in a body. Nothing but the idea that their liberty was in danger made them act together. Over everything else they had been divided. Over that they were united. "There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorkers, known on the continent," said one man; "but all of us Americans."
Even in Britain there were people who thought this Stamp Act was a mistake. The great Pitt had been ill when it was passed into law, but when he returned to Parliament he spoke strongly against it.
"I was ill in bed," he said, "but if I could have been carried here in my bed I would have asked some kind friend to lay my on this floor, so that I might have spoken against it. It is a subject of greater importance than ever engaged the attention of this House; that subject always excepted, when nearly a century ago it was the question whether you yourselves were to be bond or free."
Pitt was thinking of the time when Englishmen strove with Charles I. He gloried in British liberty, and he could not bear to think of Britons oppressing Britons. "Who that has an English heart," he once said, "can ever be weary of asserting liberty?"
"I rejoice that America has resisted," he said later.
There were many against Pitt, but he won the day, and the Stamp Act was repealed.
There was great rejoicing in America, and the matter seemed at an end. But the very next year a new bill for taxing the Americans was brought into Parliament. This time the tax was to be paid on tea, glass, lead and a few other things brought into the country.
Once again the colonies were ablaze, and they refused to pay this duty just as they had refused to pay the Stamp Tax. Everywhere there were indignation meetings. But Boston seemed to be the heart of the storm, and to Boston British troops were sent to keep order.
The soldiers had nothing to do, but the very sight of their red coats made the colonists angry. They taunted the soldiers, and worried them every way they knew, and the soldiers were not slow to reply. So at last after eighteen months of bickering one March evening it came to blows. Two or three exasperated soldiers fired upon the crowd of citizens, five of whom were killed and several others wounded.
This was afterwards known as the Boston Massacre. It made the people terribly angry, and next day a great meeting was held in Old South Church. At this meeting the people demanded that the troops should be at once removed from the town. And seeing the temper of the people the Lieutenant Governor withdrew them that same day to a little island in the harbour.
And now finding how useless it was to try to force taxes on unwilling subjects, the Government removed all the taxes except one. King George wanted to show his power. He wanted to prove to the Americans that he had the right to tax them if he liked. So he insisted that there should still be a tax on tea.
"The King will have it so, he means to try the question with America," said Lord North, the easy-going, stupid minister who was now in power.
But to prove that neither the King nor any one else had the right to tax them, without their consent, was exactly for what the Americans were fighting. To them, one tax was as bad as a dozen. It was not a question of money, but a question of right or wrong, of freedom or slavery. So they refused to pay the tax on tea. They refused to buy tea from Britain at all, and smuggled it from Holland. Ships laden with tea came to port, and it was landed. But no one would buy it, and it rotted and mouldered in the cellars. In Boston, however, the people determined that it should not even land. And when three ships laden with tea came into Boston harbour, the people refused to allow them to unload.
"Take your tea back again to England," they said to the captain.
But the captain could not do that, for the customs officers would not allow him to leave until he had landed his cargo. The people were greatly excited. Large meetings were held, and every possible manner of getting rid of the tea was discussed. But at length some of the younger men grew tired of talk. Time was passing. If something were not done, the tea would be landed by force.
That, these bold young men determined, should not be. So about fifty of them dressed themselves as Red Indians, staining their faces brown and painting them hideously. Then, tomahawk in hand, they stole silently down to the ships, and uttering wild war cries sprang on board. They seized the tea chests and with their hatchets burst them open, and poured the tea into the harbour.
There were nearly three hundred and fifty chests, and soon the harbour was black with tea. It was terrible waste, but no one stopped it. From the shore people looked on quietly. And when the work was done the "Red Indians" vanished away as silently as they had come. This was afterwards called the Boston Tea Party. Certainly no greater brewing of tea has ever been known.
When George III heard of the Boston Tea Party he was very angry, and he resolved to punish the people of Boston. "They will be lions," he said, "as long as we are lambs, but if we show them that we mean to be firm they will soon prove very meek."
So he closed the port and forbade any ships to go there, thus cutting off Boston from the trade of the world. He also said that Boston should no longer be the capital of Massachusetts, and made Salem the capital instead.
Boston, of course, was well-nigh ruined by these acts. But instead of looking coldly on her misfortunes, the other colonies rallied to her aid. And grain, cattle and all sorts of merchandise poured into Boston from them.
Boston could not be starved, neither could it be frightened into submitting.
Chapter 52 - Paul Revere's Ride - The Unsheathing of the Sword
All the colonies now felt that they must unite in truth, and that they must have some centre to which all could appeal. So a Congress of all the colonies was called at Philadelphia. This is called the first Continental Congress, and to it all the colonies except Georgia sent delegates.
This Congress drew up a Declaration of Rights. They also sent an address to the King in which they declared that they had no wish to separate from Britain.
But the King called the Congress an unlawful and seditious gathering, and would not listen to anything it had to say. Still, far-seeing statesmen with Pitt at their head struggled to bring about a reconciliation.
"I contend, not for indulgence, but for justice to America," he said. "The Americans are a brave, generous and united people, with arms in their hands, and courage in their hearts. It is not repealing this act of Parliament, it is not repealing a piece of parchment, that can restore America to our bosom. You must repeal her fears and her resentments. And you may then hope for her love and gratitude."
But few people listened to Pitt, the bill which he brought into Parliament was rejected with scorn, and the great struggle which was to last for eight years began.
Already in America, men's minds had begun to turn to war, and on every village green the farmers might be seen drilling every evening. Bands of minute men, that is, men who would be ready at a minute's notice, were organised. All sorts of war stores were gathered.
Two of the leaders of the people in all these matters were Samuel Adams and John Hancock. These men Governor Gage, who was also commander of the troops, was ordered to arrest and send to England to be tried as traitors. Gage having heard that both men were staying at the village of Lexington decided to arrest them together.
For this he carefully laid his plans. Eight hundred men were to leave Boston in secret at dead of night. First they were to go to Lexington, and having arrested the "traitors" they were next to march on to Concord to seize the large war stores which were known to be gathered there.
All the preparations were made as silently and as secretly as possible. But the colonists were on the alert. They knew that something was afoot, and guessed what it was.
On the 18th of April Gage gave strict orders that no one was to be allowed to leave Boston that night. But no orders could stop determined men.
And as the moon was rising a little boat was rowed across the Charles river almost under the shadow of the British man-of-war. The boat reached the farther shore and a man booted and spurred, and if ready for a long ride, leaped out upon the bank. This man was Paul Revere.
At ten o'clock the troops also were silently rowed across the Charles River, and in the darkness set out for Lexington. But not far off on the bank of the same river, a man stood waiting beside a saddled horse. Quietly he waited, looking always towards the tower of the Old North Church. It was Paul Revere, and he waited for a signal to tell him which way the red coats were going.
Suddenly about eleven o'clock two twinkling lights appeared upon the tower, and without a moment's loss Paul Revere leaped into the saddle and dashed away. Swiftly he rode, urging his good horse onward with voice and hand.
Near the lonely spot where stood the gallows he passed. Here under a tree, two horsemen waited, and as Revere came nearer he saw that they were British soldiers. Swiftly they darted at him. One tried to seize his bridle, the other to head him off. But Revere was a fearless rider, and knew the countryside by heart. He swerved suddenly, doubled, and was soon clear of his pursuers.
Then on through the darkness he galloped unhindered till he reached Medford. Here he stayed but to rouse the captain of the minute men, and onward he sped once more. Now at the door of every cottage or farmhouse which he passed he loudly knocked, shouting his news "the soldiers are coming," and thundered off again in the darkness.
A little after midnight he reached Lexington and stopped before the house where Adams and Hancock were sleeping. He found it guarded by minute men, and as he excitedly shouted his news, they bade him be quiet.
"Don't make such a noise," said the sergeant, "you will waken the people in the house."
"Noise," cried Revere, "you will soon have noise enough - the regulars are coming."
Hancock was awake, and hearing Revere's voice he threw up his window, shouting to the guard to let him in. So Revere went into the house and told all he knew. When they heard the news, Hancock wanted to stay and fight, if fighting there was to be. But the others would not hear of it, so as day dawned the two men quietly walked away, and were soon on the road to Philadelphia.
Meanwhile the British troops were steadily marching nearer and nearer. At first all was silent: save the clatter and jingle of their arms and the tramp of their feet, there was no sound. No light was to be seen far or near. Then suddenly a bell rang, a shout was heard, lights twinkled here and there. The night was no longer silent and dark. The country was no longer asleep.
The colonel in command of the troops grew anxious. He had expected to take the people completely by surprise, and he had done so. Somehow the secret had leaked out. The whole countryside was up and awake, and fearing lest with his small company of soldiers, he would not be able to do what he had set out to do, he sent back to Boston for more men.
And sure enough, his fears were well founded, for when in the cold grey of early dawn the advance party reached Lexington, they found a little guard of sixty or seventy armed men drawn up to receive them.
"Disperse, ye rebels, disperse," shouted the commander as he rode towards them. But the men stood motionless and silent.
"Why don't you disperse, you villains?" he cried again.
Then seeing words had no effect, he gave the order to fire. The soldiers obeyed, and eight minute men fell dead, and several more were wounded. The minute men returned the fire, but just then more British soldiers appeared in sight. And seeing that it was useless to try to resist so great a force the Americans dispersed.
Thus the terrible war, which was almost a civil war, began. The British now marched on to Concord. They had failed to arrest the men they had been sent to arrest at Lexington. So there was all the more reason to hurry on to Concord, and seize the war stores before there was time to spirit them away. But when about seven o'clock in the morning the troops arrived at Concord the stores for the most part had been already safely hidden. A gun or two they found, and a few barrels of flour. The guns were spiked, the barrels staved in, the court house set on fire.
But meanwhile the minute men had been gathering, and now a force four hundred strong appeared on the further side of a bridge known as the North Bridge. The bridge was held by two hundred British, and when they saw the minute men approach they began to destroy it.
There was a sharp exchange of fire. Then the minute men charged across the narrow bridge, sweeping all before them. The British fled back to the village, and the minute men, hardly knowing what they had done, retired again across the bridge and waited.
The British leader now decided to return to Boston. He had done nothing which he had set out to do. But he saw this his position was one of great danger. Everywhere he was surrounded with enemies. His men were hungry and worn out, so about twelve o'clock the march back to Boston began.
But the return was not easy, for all the way the troops were harassed by the Americans. Every bush, every wall concealed an armed farmer, whose aim was deadly and sure. Man after man fell, and beneath the constant and galling fire coming, it seemed from everywhere and nowhere, the nerves of the wearied, hungry men gave way. Faster and faster the long red line swept along in every growing confusion. There was no thought now of anything but safety, and the march was almost a rout when at length the reinforcements from Boston appeared. These were a thousand strong, and their leader, Lord Percy, seeing the confusion and distress of the British formed his men into a hollow square. Into this refuge the fugitives fled, throwing themselves upon the ground in utter exhaustion, with their tongues hanging out of their mouths "like those of dogs after a chase."
Lord Percy had brought cannons with him, so with these he swept the field, and for a time forced the colonists to retire. But they did not disperse; they still hovered near, and as soon as the retreat again began, there began with it the constant galling fire from every tree or bush, before, behind, on either side. To return the fire was useless, as the enemy were hidden. It was a sort of warfare not unlike that which Braddock had had to meet, a sort of warfare in which the American farmer was skilled, but of which the British soldier knew nothing. So when, at length, as day darkened the British troops reached Boston they were utterly spent and weary. And in a huddled, disorganised crowd, they hurried into shelter.
Chapter 53 - The First Thrust-The Battle of Bunker Hill
The sword was at length unsheathed. There was no more doubt about it. There was to be a war between the Mother Country and her daughter states. And now far and wide throughout the colonies the call to arms was heard and answered. Farmers left their ploughs and seized their rifles, trappers forsook their hunting grounds, traders left their business, and hastened to join the army.
John Stark, a bold trapper learned in Indian ways and famous in Indian warfare, marched from New Hampshire at the head of several hundred men. Israel Putnam, more famous still for his deeds of daring in the Indian wars, came too. He was busy on his farm at Pomfret, Connecticut, when the news of the fight at Lexington reached him. He was already a man of fifty-seven but there and then he left his work and hastened round the neighbouring farms calling out the militia. Then, commanding them to follow him with all speed, he mounted his horse, and turned its head towards Cambridge. Hour after hour throughout the night he rode onward, and as day dawned on the 21st of April he galloped into Cambridge, having ridden a hundred miles in eighteen hours without a change of horse. Handsome young Captain Benedict Arnold, half sailor, half merchant, gathered his men on New Haven green. And when the general of militia bade him wait for regular orders and refused to supply him with ammunition for his men, he threatened to break open the magazine if the ammunition was not forthcoming at once. So, seeing that nothing would restrain him, the general yielded, and Arnold, gallant and gay, with sixty men behind him marched for Cambridge.
Thus day by day men of all classes, and of all ages, poured in from the countryside, until an army of sixteen thousand was gathered around Boston.
Meetings, too, were held throughout the country, when patriots urged the need of arming and fighting. In the Virginian Convention, Patrick Henry, the great orator, thrilled his hearers with his fiery eloquence. "We must fight," he cried, "I repeat it, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us." Brilliantly, convincingly he spoke, and ended with the unforgettable words:— "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery! Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
"His last exclamation," said one who heard him, "was like the shout of the leader who turns back the rout of battle."
But even yet the leaders of the country hoped to avoid a war. The second Continental Congress met at Philadelphia on the 10th of May and the members talked anxiously of ways and means to restore peace. But it was already too late. For the gathered army was no longer to be restrained, and the very day upon which Congress met a British fortress had been seized by the colonists.
The chain of lakes and rivers connecting the Hudson with the St. Lawrence was felt to be of great importance to the colonists. For if Britain had control of it it would cut the colonies in two, and stop intercourse between New England and the south. It would also give the British an easy route by which to bring troops and supplies from Canada.
Among those who felt the importance of this route was Benedict Arnold, and the day after he arrived at Cambridge he laid his ideas before the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, and asked to be allowed to attack the forts guarding this waterway. His request was granted. He was given the rank of colonel, and authority to raise a company of four hundred men for the purpose.
Arnold set out at once, but he soon found that he was not first in the field. For the people of Connecticut, too, had felt the value of this waterway and Ethan Allen with a hundred and fifty volunteers who went by the name of Green Mountain Boys had set out for the same purpose. These Green Mountain Boys took their name from the district of Vermont which means Green Mountain. That district, under the name of New Hampshire Grants, had been claimed by New York colony. But the Green Mountain Boys had resisted the claim, and by force of arms proved their right to be considered a separate colony. Thus having settled their own little revolution they were now ready to take part in the great one.
At Castleton, Vermont, Arnold met Ethan Allen and his men, and claimed the leadership of the expedition. But the Green Mountain Boys scouted the idea. They would fight under their own leader or not fight at all, they said, and as Arnold had gathered very few of his four hundred men he had to give way. So instead of leading the expedition he joined it as a volunteer.
This matter settled the little company marched on to Lake Champlain, and in the middle of the night they arrived at the southern end, opposite Fort Ticonderoga. Here the lake is hardly more than a quarter of a mile wide and the men began at once to row across. But they had only two or three boats and when day began to dawn only about eighty men had got over. With these Allen decided to attack, for he feared if he waited till daylight that the garrison would be awake and would no doubt resist stubbornly. So placing himself at the head of his men with Arnold beside him, he marched quickly and silently up the hill to the gateway of the fort. When the astonished sentinel saw this body of men creeping out of the morning dusk he fired at their leader. But his gun missed fire and he fled into the fort.
After him dashed the colonists uttering a loud, blood-curdling, Indian yell as they reached the parade ground within the fort. The garrison which consisted of about forty men was completely taken by surprise, and yielded with little resistance. They Allen marched to the door of the commandment's quarters, and striking three blows upon it with his sword hilt, commanded him to come forth and surrender.
As Allen struck, the door was flung open, and half dressed and half awake the commandment appeared.
"In whose name," he demanded, "do you order me to surrender!"
"In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress," thundered Allen.
Really the Continental Congress had nothing to do with the matter. The commandment could not know that. But he had only to look about him to see that the fort was already in the hands of the enemy. So seeing no help for it he yielded; and all his great stores of cannon and ammunition were sent to supply the needs of the New England army.
Two days after this Crown Point, further down the lake, was also seized, for it was only guarded by twelve men. Here a small ship was found and Arnold's chance to lead came. For he was a sailor, and going on board with his own men he made a dash for St. John's at the northern end of the lake. When he was about thirty miles from the fort the wind dropped, and his ship lay rocking idly on the water. Arnold, however, was not the man to be easily beaten. He had boats enough to carry thirty men, and with these he set off to row to the fort. All night the men bent to the oars, and at six o'clock in the morning they reached St. John's.
Once more the fort was easily taken. For here too, there were no more than twelve men. Arnold, however, was only just in time, for he learned from his prisoners that troops were expected from Canada. He felt therefore that St. John's was no safe place for him and his little band of thirty. So he seized a small ship which lay in the harbour, sank everything else in the shape of a boat, and made off. And when the Canadian troops arrived next day they found the fort deserted alike by friend and foe, and the boats which should have carried them on their way to Ticonderoga at the bottom of the lake.
By these quick bold attacks the control of the great waterway was for a time at least in the hands of the colonists. It was, moreover, rendered useless to the British, for their boats being destroyed they had no means of transporting soldiers southwards until new boats could be built. This caused a long delay, a delay very useful to the colonists.
In the meantime Allen was appointed commandment of Ticonderoga, and Arnold, with a little soreness at his heart returned to Cambridge. He had been appointed leader of the expedition, but had been forced to join it as a volunteer under another leader. His knowledge and dash had crowned the expedition with success, but another received the rewards and praise.
When however the Continental Congress heard what had been done it was rather taken aback. It was not at all sure at first whether it was a case for rewards or reprimands, for it was still vainly hoping for peace. So it ordered that an exact list of all cannon and supplies which had been captured should be made, in order that they might be given back to the Mother Country, "when the restoration of the former harmony between Great Britain and these colonies shall render it prudent and consistent."
Meanwhile the new army grew daily larger. It was still almost entirely made up of New Englanders, but it was now called the Continental Army, and the Continental Congress appointed George Washington to be commander-in-chief.
Washington was now a tall, handsome man, little over forty. He was as modest as he was brave, and he accepted the great honour and heavy duties laid upon him with something of dread.
"Since the Congress desire it," he said, "I will enter upon this momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service. But I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in this room that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honoured with,"
Meantime things had not been standing still; while Congress had been choosing a commander-in-chief the army had been fighting. By this time, too, new troops had come out from England, and the British force was now ten thousand strong. Feeling sure that the Americans would not stand against such a force, Governor Gage issued a proclamation offering pardon to all who would lay down their arms, except Samuel Adams and John Hancock. These two, he said, were too bad to be forgiven. Instead they prepared to take possession of the hills commanding Boston.
It was at Bunker Hill that the first real battle of the war was fought. For Lexington had after all been a mere skirmish, only of importance because it was the first in this long and deadly war. The forts on Lake Champlain had been taken without the shedding of blood.
The battle is called Bunker Hill although it was really fought on Breed's Hill which is quite close. The mistake of the name was made because the Americans had been sent to take possession of Bunker Hill, but instead took possession of Breed's Hill.
It was during the night that the Americans took up their position on the hill. And when day dawned and the British saw them there, they determined to dislodge them, and the battle began.
Up the hill the British charged with splendid courage, only to be met and driven back by a withering fire from the American rifles. Their front riles were mowed down, and the hillside was strewn with dead and dying. But again and yet again they came on. At the third charge they reached the top, for the Americans had used up all their ammunition, and could fire no longer. Still they would not yield, and there was a fierce hand to hand fight before the Americans were driven from their trenches and the hill was in possession of the British.
For the British, it was a hard won victory, for they lost nearly three times as many men as the Americans, among them some gallant officers. As to the Americans in spite of their defeat they rejoiced; for they knew now what they could do. They knew they could stand up to the famous British regulars.
And now as Washington rode towards Charleston to take command of the army, news of this battle was brought to him.
"Did our men fight?" asked Washington. And when he was told how well, his grave face lighted up.
"Then the liberties of the country are safe," he cried.
So with hope in his heart Washington rode on, and at length after a journey of eleven days reached Cambridge, the headquarters of the army.
The next day, the 3rd of July, the whole army was drawn up upon the plain. And mounted on a splendid white horse Washington rode to the head of it. Under a great elm tree he wheeled his horse, and drawing his sword solemnly took command of the army of the United Colonies. And as the blade glittered in the sunshine, a great shout went up from the soldiers. They were New Englanders, for the most part, but they welcomed their Virginian commander whole heartedly. For were they not all Americans? Were they not all ready to stand shoulder to shoulder for the one great cause?
But the army of which Washington had taken command was, perhaps, the rawest, worst equipped army which ever marched into the field.
The men had neither uniforms, tents, stores nor ammunition, many of them had no arms. There was no organisation, and little discipline. Even the exact numbers composing this army were not known. They were, in fact, as one of Washington's own officers said, "only a gathering of brave, enthusiastic, undisciplined country lads."
But out of this crowd of brave enthusiastic men, Washington set himself to make an army fit to do great deeds. So he worked, and rode, and wrote, unceasingly and unwearyingly. For he had not only to deal with the army but with Congress also. He had to awaken them to the fact that the country had to do great deeds, and that to do them well money, and a great deal of money, was needed.
Meanwhile George III also was making free at preparations. More soldiers he saw were needed to subdue these rebel farmers. And as it was difficult to persuade Britons to go to fight their brothers he hired a lot of Germans, and sent them out to fight the Americans. Nothing hurt the Americans more than this; more than anything else this act made them long to be independent. After this there was no more talk of making friends.
Chapter 54 - The War In Canada
After Bunker Hill there was a pause in the fighting round Boston which gave Washington time to get his raw recruits in hand a little. Then during the summer news came that Sir Guy Carleton, the Governor of Canada, was making plans to retake Ticonderoga, and the colonists determined to invade Canada. General Philip Schuyler was given command of the expedition, and with two thousand men he set out for St. John's, which Arnold had taken, but had been unable to hold, earlier in the year.
This time the colonists found St. John's better guarded, and only at the end of a two months' siege did it yield. By this time Schuyler had become ill, and the command was given to General Richard Montgomery who crossed the St. Lawrence, and entered Montreal in triumph.
Almost at the same time Benedict Arnold set out with twelve hundred men to attack Quebec. He marched through the forest of Maine, then an almost unknown country and uninhabited save by Indians. It was a tremendous march, and one that needed all the grit and endurance of brave, determined men. They climbed hills, struggled through swamps, paddled across lakes and down unknown streams. Sometimes they waded up to their knees in icy waters pushing their canoes before them against the rapid current, or again they carried them over long portages, shouldering their way through forest so dense that they could scarcely advance a mile an hour. At night soaked with rain and sleet they slept upon the snowy ground. Their food gave out, and the pangs of hunger were added to their other miseries. Many died by the way; others, losing heart, turned back. But sick and giddy, starving and exhausted the rest stumbled onward, and at length little more than five hundred ragged half armed, more than half famished men, reached the shores of the St. Lawrence.
They were a sorry little company with which to invade a vast province. But their courage was superb, their hope sublime, and without delay they set out to take the great fortress which had withstood so many sieges, and had only fallen at last before the genius and daring of Wolfe.
Across the St. Lawrence this little company of intrepid colonists paddled, up the path where Wolfe had led his men they climbed, and stood at length where they had stood upon the heights of Abraham. They had no cannon, and half their muskets were useless. Yet Arnold at the head of his spectral little company boldly summoned the town to surrender.
The town did not surrender, the Governor refused to come out and fight. So seeing the uselessness of his summons Arnold marched away about twenty miles, and encamped to wait for Montgomery's arrival from Montreal. He soon arrived. But even with hid men the colonists only numbered about eight hundred, far too small a company with which to besiege a fortress such as Quebec. Still they resolved to take the place by storm.
It was early on the morning of the 1st of January, 1776, that they made the attempt in the teeth of a blinding snow storm. Arnold led the assault on one side of the town, Montgomery on the other. With tremendous dash and bravery the colonists carried the first barricades, and forced their way into the town. But almost at the outset Montgomery was killed. A little later Arnold was sorely wounded, and had to be carried back to the camp. Both leaders gone, the heart went out of the men, and they retreated, leaving many prisoners at the hands of the British.
The great assault had failed, but sick and wounded though he was, Arnold did not lose heart. He still kept up a show of besieging Quebec. "I have no thought of leaving this proud town, " he said, "until I first enter it in triumph. I am in the way of my duty and know no fear." But the only chance of taking Quebec was to take it in the winter, while the St. Lawrence was closed with ice, so that the British ships could not reach it with reinforcements and supplies. Arnold therefore sent to Washington begging for five thousand troops. Such a number it was impossible for Washington to spare from his little army, and only a few reinforcements were sent, most of whom reached Arnold utterly exhausted with their long tramp through the pathless wilderness. Smallpox, too, became rife in the camp, so although there at length two thousand men before Quebec not more that a thousand were fit for duty. Yet what mere men could do they did.
But winter passed and Quebec remained untaken. Then on April morning Captain Charles Douglas arrived off the mouth of the St. Lawrence with a fleet of British ships. He found the river still packed with ice. But Quebec he knew must be in sore straits. It was no time for caution, so by way of experiment he ran his flag ship full speed against a mass of ice. The ice was shivered to pieces, and the good ship sailed unharmed. For nine days the gallant vessel ploughed on through fields of ice, but suffering no serious damage, her stout-hearted captain having no thought but to reach and relieve the beleaguered city.
His boldness was rewarded. Other vessels followed in his track, and at their coming the colonists gave up their attempt to conquer Canada, and marched away.
The attack on Canada had been an utter failure, but Arnold still clung to the hope of commanding the great waterway from the St. Lawrence to the Hudson. At Crown Point he began to build ships, and by the end of September had a little fleet of nine. The British also busied themselves building ships, and on the 11th of October a fight between the two fleets took place on Lake Champlain, between the island of Valcour and the mainland.
The British ships were far larger and more numerous than the American, indeed in comparison with the British the American boats were mere cockle shells, but the colonists put up a gallant fight which lasted five hours, and the sun went down leaving them sadly shattered but still unbeaten.
The British commander, however, felt sure of finishing them off in the morning. So he anchored his ships in a line across the southern end of the channel, between the island and the mainland, thus cutting off all retreat. But Arnold knew his danger, and determined to make a dash for freedom. The night was dark and foggy. The British were so sure of their prey that they kept no watch. So while they slept one by one the American ships crept silently through their lines and sped away.
When day dawned the British with wrath and disgust saw an empty lake where they had expected to see a stricken foe. They immediately gave chase and the following day they again came up with the little American fleet, for many of the ships were so crippled that they could move but slowly. Again a five hours' battle was fought. One ship, the Washington, struck her flag. But Arnold in his little Congress fought doggedly on. Then seeing he could resist no more he drove the Congress and four other small boats ashore in a creek too narrow for any but the smallest one of the British ships to follow. Here he set them on fire, and bade his men leap for the shore, he himself being the last to leave the burning decks. On land he waited until he was certain that the ships were safe from capture, and that they would go down with their flags flying. Then he marched off with his men, and brought them all safely to Ticonderoga.
The attack on Canada had been an utter failure, the little American fleet had been shattered, save for Ticonderoga the coveted waterway was in the hands of the British. Had the British commander known it too he might have attacked Ticonderoga then and there, and taken it with ease. But Arnold was there, and Arnold had made such a name for himself by his dash and courage that Carleton did not dare attack the fort. And contenting himself for the moment with having gained control of Lake Champlain he turned to attack Canada. Arnold had failed to take Quebec, and he has lost his little fleet. But against his failure to take Quebec his countrymen put his wonderful march through pathless forest; against the loss of the fleet the fact that but for Arnold it would never have been built at all. So the people cheered him as a hero, and Washington looked upon him as one of his best officers.
But Arnold's temper was hot if his head was cool, he was ambitious and somewhat arrogant. And while he had been fighting so bravely he had quarreled with his brother officers, and made enemies of many. They declared that he fought not for his country's honour but for the glory of Benedict Arnold. So it came about that he did not receive the reward of promotion which he felt himself entitled to. When Congress appointed several new Major Generals he was passed over, and once again, as after the taking of Ticonderoga, bitterness filled his heart.
Chapter 55 - The Birth of A Great Nation
While these things were happening in the north the British had been forced to march away from Boston.
At first Washington could do little but keep his army before the town, for he had no siege guns with which to bombard it. Nor had he any desire to destroy the town." Burn it," said some, "if that is the only way of driving out the British." Even John Hancock to whom a great part of Boston belonged advised this. "Burn Boston," he said," and make John Hancock a beggar, if the public good requires it." But Washington did not attempt to burn it.
After the taking of Ticonderoga and Crown Point however he got guns. For many of the cannon taken at these forts were put on sledges and dragged over the snow to Boston. It was Colonel Henry Knox who carried out this feat. He was a stout young man with a lovely smile and jolly fat laugh, who greatly enjoyed a joke. He had been a bookseller before the war turned him into a soldier. And now as he felled trees, and made sledges, and encouraged his men over the long rough way he hugely enjoyed the joke of bringing British guns to bombard the British out of Boston.
When Washington got these guns he quietly one night took possession of Dorchester Heights, which commanded both Boston town and harbour. So quick had been his action that it seemed to General Howe, the British commander, as if the fortifications on Dorchester Heights had been the work of magic. But magic or no magic they were, he saw, a real and formidable danger. With siege guns frowning above both town and harbour it was no longer possible to hold Boston. So hastily embarking his troops General Howe sailed away to Halifax in Nova Scotia, and Boston was left in peace for the rest of the war.
By this time there had been fighting in the south as well as in New England. For King George had taken it into his stubborn head that it would be a good plan to attack the southern colonies in spite of the fact that the war in the north was already more that he could manage. Sir Peter Parker, therefore, was sent out from England with a fleet of about fifty ships, and Lord Cornwallis with two thousand men, to attack Charleston in South Carolina. Howe was also ordered to send some soldiers southward, and although he could ill spare them from Boston he sent General Sir Henry Clinton with a small detachment.
According to arrangement the troops from Boston and England were to attack together with the loyalists of the south and the friendly Indians. But everything was bungled. The fleet, the land force, the loyalists and the Indians all seemed to be pulling different ways, and attacked at different times. The assault on Charleston was a miserable failure, and to the delight of the colonists the whole British force sailed away to join Howe in the north, and for more than two years there was no fighting in the southern colonies.
The commander of the colonists in Charleston was General Charles Lee. He was not really an American at all, but an Englishman, a soldier of fortune and adventure. He had wandered about the world, fighting in many lands, and had been in Braddock's army when it was defeated. He never became an American at heart like some other Englishmen who fought on their side. He cared little for them, he cared as little for the cause in which they were fighting, merely seeing in it a chance of making himself famous, and he had a very poor opinion of their fighting qualities. He was a tall, spare man with a hollow-cheeked, ugly face, and a disagreeable manner. He had a great opinion of himself, and boasted to such purpose that the Americans believed him to be a military genius. And in this first tussle with the British in the south he did so well that their belief in him seemed justified. He seemed to the people a hero and a genius rolled in one. In all the war after he did nothing to uphold the fame he gained at Charleston.
South as well as north had now had a taste of war. South as well as north had seen the British sail away, foiled. Every royal governor had by this time been driven from his post, and for six months and more the colonies had practically ruled themselves. What then, said many, was the use of talking any more about allegiance to the mother country? It was time, they said, to announce to all the world that the colonies of America were a free and independent nation.
There was much grave discussion in Congress and throughout the country. Some patriots, even those who longed most ardently to see America a free country, thought that it was too soon to make the claim. Among those was Patrick Henry who had already ranged himself so passionately on the side of freedom." The struggle is only beginning," he said," and we are not yet united. Wait till we are united. Wait until we have won our freedom, then let us proclaim it."
But by degrees all those who hesitated were won over, and on the 4th of July, 1776, the colonies declared themselves to be free.
Many meetings were held in what has since been called Independence Hall at Philadelphia. Much discussion there was, but at length the solemn declaration was drawn up. "We, the Representatives of the United States of America," so it ran," in General Congress assembled, appealing to the supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our intention, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States." These are but a few words of the long, gravely worded declaration which was drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, and which is familiar to every American to this day.
John Hancock was President of Congress at this time, and he was the first to sign the declaration. Large, and clear, and all across the page the signature runs, showing, as it were, the calm mind and firm judgment which guided the hand that wrote. It was not until a few days later that it was signed by the other members.
It was on the 4th of July that Congress agreed to the declaration, and so that day has ever since been kept as a national holiday. It was the birthday of the United States as a Nation. But it was not until a few days later that the Declaration was read to the people of Philadelphia from Independence Hall. It was greeted with cheers and shouts of delight. The old bell upon the tower pealed joyfully, and swift riders mounted and rode to bear the news in all directions. The next day it was read at the head of each brigade of the army, and was greeted with loud cheers.
This Declaration of Independence was a bold deed, it might almost seem a rash one. For the British army was still in the land, and the Americans by no means always victorious. But the very fact of the boldness of the deed made them feel that they must be brave and steadfast, and that having claimed freedom they must win it. The Declaration drew the colonies together as nothing else had done, and even those who had thought the deed too rash came to see that it had been wise.
Chapter 56 - The Darkest Hour - Trenton and Princeton
In many places the news of the Declaration of Independence and the news of the victory at Charleston came at the same time, and gave a double cause for rejoicing. It was the last good news which was to come for many a long day. Indeed for months misfortune followed misfortune, until it almost seemed as if the Declaration of Independence had been the rash and useless action some had held it to be.
By the end of June General Howe sailed southward from Halifax, and landed on Staten Island southwest of New York, to await the arrival from England of his brother, Admiral Howe. On July 12th, just eight days after the declaration of independence, Admiral Howe arrived with strong reinforcements of ships and men. But before he began to fight he tried to come to terms with the rebel colonies, and for a second time free pardon was offered to all who would submit and own British rule once more. But the Americans were in no mood to submit, and had no wish for "pardon."
"No doubt," said one, "we all need pardon from heaven, but the American who needs pardon from his Britannic Majesty is yet to be found."
So instead of submitting they made ready to fight. The British also prepared to fight, and the force of the next blow fell upon New York. There were now more than thirty thousand British troops gathered here. It was the largest army which had ever been sent out of England, and King George had never a doubt that this great force, backed by his unconquerable navy, would soon bring the ten or twenty thousand ragged, half starved rebels to their knees.
He little knew the men or the man which who he had to deal. The army was indeed ragged and undisciplined. But as the great Napoleon said later, "In war the man is everything." And Washington was soon to show the world what could be done by brave undisciplined men whose hearts were behind their muskets.
As soon as Washington had gained possession of Boston he left an old general with a small force to guard it, and transported the main body of his army to New York, feeling sure that the next attack would be made there.
Brooklyn Heights on Long Island commanded New York, very much in the same way as Bunker Hill and Dorchester Heights commanded Boston, and Washington knew he must keep possession of those heights, if New York was not to be given up without a blow being struck. He did not want to give it up without striking a blow, for he feared the effect on the spirits of the country. So he send General Putnam with about eight thousand men to occupy the Heights.
In doing this Washington placed his army in a very dangerous position, for the East River was large enough to allow British war ships to sail up it and thus cut his army in two. But he could do nothing else, for if the enemy got possession of the Heights the town was at his mercy.
Howe was not slow to see this, and, having carefully and secretly made his plans, he attacked the forces on Brooklyn Heights in the early morning of August 27th in front, and flank, and rear, all at once.
One division of the Americans was nearly wiped out, many being killed and the rest being taken prisoner. A little band of Marylanders put up a fine but hopeless fight for nearly four hours, the remnant of them at length taking refuge in the fortifications. To make the defeat a disaster for the colonists Howe had but to storm these fortifications. But he refused to do so. Enough had been done for one day, he said. Bunker Hill had taught the British to beware of storming heights. A siege would be less costly, thought Howe.
Within the fortifications the colonists were in a miserable plight. They had little shelter, the rain fell in torrents, and a cold northeast wind chilled them to the bone. They had nothing to eat except dry biscuit and raw pork. They were hungry and weary, wet and cold. Yet one of their miseries was a blessing. For as long as the northeast wind blew Howe could not bring his ships up the East River and cut communications between Long Island and New York. For in those days, it must be remembered, there were no steamers, and sailing vessels had to depend on wind and tide.
Washington, however, knew his danger. He knew that he must withdraw from Long Island. So secretly he gave orders that everything which could be found in the shape of a boat was to be brought to Brooklyn Ferry. They were soon gathered, and at eight o'clock in the evening, two days after the battle of Long Island, quickly and quietly the army was ferried across the wide river to the New York side. All night the rowers laboured, but the work was by no means finished when day dawned. The weather, however, still helped the colonists, for a thick fog settled over the river and hid what was going on from the British. Wounded, prisoners, cannon, stores, horses, were all ferried over, and when later in the day the British marched into the deserted camp they found not so much as a crust of bread.
It was about six in the morning when the last boat put off, and in it was Washington, the last man to leave. For forty hours he had hardly been off his horse, and had never for a minute lain down to rest. He was unwearyingly watchful, and left nothing to chance, and this retreat is looked upon as one of the most masterly in all military history.
Having abandoned Brooklyn Washington knew that he could not hope to hold New York against an attack. But for a fortnight neither Admiral nor General Howe made any attack. Instead they talked once more of peace. It almost seemed as if Lord Howe were on the side of the Americans, as indeed he had always said he was, until he was ordered out to fight against them. "He is either a very slow officer, or else he is our very good friend," said one of them.
The fortnight which he now wasted gave Washington time to decide what it was best to do, and when at last the British began the attack on New York nearly all the stores and cannon had already been removed to Harlem Heights, about ten miles away at the north of Manhattan Island. All the troops, too, had gone except about four thousand under General Putnam, who stayed to keep order, and look after the removal of the last of the stores. When the attack came these were very nearly caught. For the regiment who ought to have guarded the landing place, and have kept the enemy from advancing until Putnam could retire, ran away as soon as they saw the red coats.
In vain their officers tried to rally them; panic had seized them, and they fled like frightened sheep. In the confusion Washington rode up. He was a man of fiery temper, and now when he saw his men show such a lack of courage in the face of the enemy he lost all control. Dashing his had upon the ground, and, drawing his sword, he bade them cease their cowardly retreat. But even Washington could not rally the fleeing men. Then his wrath and despair knew no bounds, and spurring his horse, he rode alone towards the enemy. Death, he felt, was better than such shame. But one of his officers, dashing after him, seized his bridle and turned him back to safety.
Meanwhile Putnam was making frantic efforts to gather his men and march them off to Harlem Heights. It was a day of violent heat, and as the men struggled on, laden with their baggage, their breath came short, and the perspiration trickled down their faces. Every moment they expected to be attacked in the rear.
But the attack did not come. For as Howe and his officers were passing the pleasant country house of Mrs. Robert Murray a servant came out to ask them to lunch. It was a tempting invitation on a hot day, —too tempting to be refused. So a halt was called, and while Howe and his officers enjoyed a pleasant meal, and listened to the talk of a clever, handsome lady, Putnam marched his panting men to safety.
Washington was greatly cast down at what he called the "disgraceful and dastardly" conduct of some of his troops that day. He knew that an attack on Harlem Heights must come, and come soon. But what would be the result? Would his men run away, or would they fight? "Experience, to my extreme affliction," he wrote sadly, "has convinced me that this is rather to be wished for than expected. However, I trust there are many who will act like men, and show themselves worthy of the blessings of freedom."
Washington had no real cause for fear. Next day the test came, and the Americans wiped out the memory of the day before. In wave after wave the British attacked, but again and again the colonists met them, and at last drove them to their trenches; and there was joy in the patriot camp.
Howe still pursued the war very slowly. After the battle of Harlem Heights he left Washington along for nearly a month, during which time the colonist fortified their camp strongly. But the commander-in-chief soon became convinced that the place was little better than a trap, in which Howe might surround him, and force him to surrender with all his army. So he retreated northward to White Plains, and the British settled down in New York, which they held till the end of the war.
And now misfortunes fell thick and fast upon the patriots. They still held Fort Washington on Manhattan Island, and Fort Lee on the opposite side of the Hudson, the garrisons of which were under the command of General Greene. Washington now advised him to abandon the forts, but did not give him absolute orders to do so. It is probably that he would have taken his commander's advice had not Congress interfered and sent orders that Fort Washington was not to be given up, except as a last necessity. Greene, believing that it was possible to hold it, tried to obey Congress. But on the 16th of November, after a fierce fight against tremendous odds, the fort was surrounded, and all the defenders to the number of about three thousand were taken prisoner.
The loss was a bitter blow to Washington, for the men taken prisoners were some of his best soldiers. Four days later Fort Lee was also taken, and although the garrison escaped they left behind them large stores of food, ammunition, baggage of all sorts, as well as cannon, which they could ill spare.
Washington now resolved on a retreat towards Philadelphia, and gloom settled on the ragged little army of patriots. They were weary of retreats and defeats, and felt that their cause was already lost. Winter was fast coming on and many shouldered their arms and marched homeward. And so the once buoyant enthusiastic army melted away to a hungry and dispirited troop of little more than four thousand.
General Lee had at this time but lately returned from his triumphs in South Carolina, and he was more boastful and arrogant than ever. After Washington he was second in command, but he had no doubt in his own mind that he ought to be first. Now he was not slow to let others know what he thought. And while Washington, noble and upright gentleman as he was, trusted Lee as a friend, and believed in him as a soldier, Lee schemed to supplant him.
Washington had left Lee at North Castle with seven thousand men. Now he sent him orders to join him at once, so that if he should have to fight a battle he could have at least some sort of army to fight with. But Lee pretended to misunderstand. He made excuses for delay, he argued, and lied, and stayed where he was. Perhaps he thought that it would be no bad thing if Washington should be defeated and captured. Then he would be commander-in-chief.
But it was Lee who was captured, not Washington. He had in a leisurely fashion at last begun to move, and on the march he spent a night at a wayside inn. The British, hearing of his whereabouts, surrounded the inn and took him prisoner. For more than a year he remained in their hands, a very comfortable captive, and his army, under General John Sullivan, marched to join Washington, who was still retreating southward through New Jersey before the overwhelming force of the British.
It was weary work retreating. But with masterly generalship, and untiring watchfulness, Washington avoided a battle, and slipped through the toils. As the pursued and pursuers neared Philadelphia something like panic laid hold of the city. All day long the rumble of wagons might be heard carrying women and children to places of safety. Congress was hurriedly removed to Baltimore; but hundreds of men seized their rifles and marched to join the army to fight for their country in its darkest hour.
But already the worst was over. Washington's army was now well reinforced. He had the recruits from Philadelphia, he had Lee's army, and he also had two thousand men sent him by Schuyler from the north. So he resolved to make a bold bid for fortune. He resolved to do or die. He gave as the password, "Victory or death," and in the dark of Christmas night, 1771, he and his men crossed the Delaware River above the town of Trenton, where the British lay, together with a large company of the Hessian troops who had been hired to fight the Americans. The river was full of floating ice, which made the crossing dangerous and slow. But through the darkness the men toiled on, fending off the ice blocks as best they could as they steered their boats through the drifting mass. At length, after ten hours' labour, they reached the other side without the loss of one man.