The War of Independence Part 7

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Thus Burgoyne was left to himself. He supposed that Howe was coming up the Hudson river to meet him, and so on September 13 he crossed the river and advanced to attack Gates’s army, which was occupying a strong position at Bemis Heights, between Stillwater and Saratoga. It was a desperate move. While Burgoyne was making it, Lincoln’s men cut his communications with Ticonderoga, so that his only hope lay in help from below; and such help never came. In this extremity he was obliged to fight on ground chosen by the Americans, because he must either fight or starve.

[Sidenote: Burgoyne is defeated by Arnold, and surrenders his army, Oct. 17, 1777.]

Under these circ.u.mstances Burgoyne fought two battles with consummate gallantry. The first was on September 19, the second on October 7. In each battle the Americans were led by Arnold and Morgan, and Gates deserves no credit for either. In both battles Arnold was the leading spirit, and in the second he was severely wounded at the moment of victory. In the first battle the British were simply repulsed, in the second they were totally defeated. This settled the fate of Burgoyne, and on the 17th of October he surrendered his whole army, now reduced to less than 6000 men, as prisoners of war. Before the final catastrophe Sir Henry Clinton had sent a small force up the river to relieve him, but it was too late. The relieving force succeeded in capturing some of the Highland forts, but turned back on hearing of Burgoyne’s surrender.

CHAPTER VII.

THE FRENCH ALLIANCE.

[Sidenote: Lord North changes front, and France interferes, Feb., 1778.]

This capture of a British army made more ado in Europe than anything which had happened for many a day. It was compared to Leuktra and the Caudine Fork. The immediate effect in England was to weaken the king and cause Lord North to change his policy. The tea-duty and the obnoxious acts of 1774 were repealed, the principles of colonial independence of Parliament laid down by Otis and Henry were admitted, and commissioners were sent over to America to negotiate terms of peace. It was hoped that by such ample concessions the Americans might be so appeased as to be willing to adopt some arrangement which would leave their country a part of the British Empire. As soon as the French government saw the first symptoms of such a change of policy on the part of Lord North, it decided to enter into an alliance with the United States. There was much sympathy for the Americans among educated people of all grades of society in France; but the action of the government was determined purely by hatred of England. While Great Britain and her colonies were weakening each other by war, France had up to this moment not cared to interfere. But if there was the slightest chance of a reconciliation, it was high time to prevent it; and besides, the American cause was now prosperous, and something might be made of it. The moment had come for France to seek revenge for the disasters of the Seven Years’ War; and on the 6th of February, 1778, her treaty of alliance with the United States was signed at Paris.

[Sidenote: Untimely death of Lord Chatham, May 11, 1778.]

At the news of this there was an outburst of popular excitement in England. There was a strong feeling in favour of peace with America and war with France, and men of all parties united with Lord North himself in demanding that Lord Chatham, who represented such a policy, should be made prime minister. It was rightly believed that he, if any one, could both conciliate America and humiliate France. There was only one way in which Chatham could have broken the new alliance which Congress had so long been seeking. The faith of Congress was pledged to France, and the Americans would no longer hear of any terms that did not begin with the acknowledgment of their full independence. To break the alliance, it would have been necessary to concede the independence of the United States. The king felt that if he were now obliged to call Chatham to the head of affairs and allow him to form a strong ministry, it would be the end of his cherished schemes for breaking down cabinet government.

There was no man whom George III. hated and feared so much as Lord Chatham. Nevertheless the pressure was so great that, but for Chatham’s untimely death, the king would probably have been obliged to yield. If Chatham had lived a year longer, the war might have ended with the surrender of Burgoyne instead of continuing until the surrender of Cornwallis. As it was, Lord North consented, against his own better judgment, to remain in office and aid the king’s policy as far as he could. The commissioners sent to America accomplished nothing, because they were not empowered to grant independence; and so the war went on.

[Sidenote: Change in the conduct of the war.]

There was a great change, however, in the manner in which the war was conducted. In the years 1776 and 1777 the British had pursued a definite plan for conquering New York and thus severing the connection between New England and the southern states. During the remainder of the war their only definite plan was for conquering the southern states. Their operations at the north were for the most part confined to burning and plundering expeditions along the coast in their ships, or on the frontier in connection with Tories and Indians. The war thus a.s.sumed a more cruel character. This was chiefly due to the influence of Lord George Germaine, the secretary of state for the colonies. He was a contemptible creature, weak and cruel. He had been dismissed from the army in 1759 for cowardice at the battle of Minden, and he was so generally despised that when in 1782 the king was obliged to turn him out of office and tried to console him by raising him to the peerage as Viscount Sackville, the House of Lords protested against the admission of such a creature. George III. had made this man his colonial secretary in the autumn of 1775, and he had much to do with planning the campaigns of the next two years. But now his influence in the cabinet seems to have increased. He was much more thoroughly in sympathy with the king than Lord North, who at this time was really to be pitied. Lord North would have been a fine man but for his weakness of will. He was now keeping up the war in America unwillingly, and was obliged to sanction many things of which he did not approve. In later years he bitterly repented this weakness. Now the truculent policy of Lord George Germaine began to show itself in the conduct of the war. That minister took no pains to conceal his willingness to employ Indians, to burn towns and villages, and to inflict upon the American people as much misery as possible, in the hope of breaking their spirit and tiring them out.

[Sidenote: The Conway Cabal.]

In America the first effect of Burgoyne’s surrender was to strengthen a feeling of dissatisfaction with Washington, which had grown up in some quarters. In reality, as our narrative has shown, Washington had as much to do with the overthrow of Burgoyne as anybody; for if it had not been for his skilful campaign in June, 1777, Howe would have taken Philadelphia in that month, and would then have been free to a.s.sist Burgoyne. It is easy enough to understand such things afterward, but people never can see them at the time when they are happening. This is an excellent ill.u.s.tration of what was said at the beginning of this book, that when people are down in the midst of events they cannot see the wood because of the trees, and it is only when they have climbed the hill of history and look back over the landscape that they can see what things really meant. At the end of the year 1777 people could only see that Burgoyne had surrendered to Gates, while Washington had lost two battles and the city of Philadelphia. Accordingly there were many who supposed that Gates must be a better general than Washington, and in the army there were some discontented spirits that were only too glad to take advantage of this feeling. One of these malcontents was an Irish adventurer, Thomas Conway, who had long served in France and came over here in time to take part in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown.

He had a grudge against Washington, as Charles Lee had. He thought he could get on better if Washington were out of the way. So he busied himself in organizing a kind of conspiracy against Washington, which came to be known as the “Conway Cabal.” The purpose was to put forward Gates to supersede Washington, as he had lately superseded the n.o.ble Schuyler. Gates, of course, lent himself heartily to the scheme; such intrigues were what he was made for. And there were some of our n.o.blest men who were dissatisfied with Washington, because they were ignorant of the military art, and could not understand his wonderful skill, as Frederick the Great did. Among these were John and Samuel Adams, who disapproved of “Fabian strategy.” Gates and Conway tried to work upon such feelings. They hoped by thwarting and insulting Washington to wound his pride and force him to resign. In this wretched work they had altogether too much help from Congress, but they failed ignominiously because Gates’s lies were too plainly discovered. The attempts to injure Washington recoiled upon their authors. Never, perhaps, was Washington so grand as in that sorrowful winter at Valley Forge.

When the news of the French alliance arrived, in the spring of 1778, there was a general feeling of elation. People were over-confident. It seemed as if the British might be driven from the country in the course of that year. Some changes occurred in both the opposing armies. A great deal of fault was found in England with Howe and Burgoyne. The latter was allowed to go home in the spring, and took his seat in Parliament while still a prisoner on parole. He was henceforth friendly to the Americans, and opposed the further prosecution of the war. Sir William Howe resigned his command in May and went home in order to defend his conduct. Shortly before his appointment to the chief command in America, he had uttered a prophecy somewhat notable as coming from one who was about to occupy such a position. In a speech at Nottingham he had expressed the opinion that the Americans could not be subdued by any army that Great Britain could raise!

[Sidenote: Howe is superseded by Clinton.]

Howe was succeeded in the chief command by Sir Henry Clinton. His brother, Lord Howe, remained in command of the fleet until the autumn, when he was succeeded by Admiral Byron. During the winter the American army had received a very important reinforcement in the person of Baron von Steuben, an able and highly educated officer who had served on the staff of Frederick the Great. Steuben was appointed inspector-general and taught the soldiers Prussian discipline and tactics until the efficiency of the army was more than doubled. About the time of Sir William Howe’s departure, Charles Lee was exchanged, and came back to his old place as senior major-general in the Continental army. Since his capture there had been a considerable falling off in his reputation, but nothing was known of his treasonable proceedings with the Howes.

Probably no one in the British army knew anything about that affair except the Howes and their private secretary Sir Henry Strachey. Lee saw that the American cause was now in the ascendant, and he was as anxious as ever to supplant Washington.

[Sidenote: The Americans take the offensive; Lee’s misconduct at Monmouth, June 28, 1778.]

The Americans now a.s.sumed the offensive. Count d’Estaing was approaching the coast with a powerful French fleet. Should he be able to defeat Lord Howe and get control of the Delaware river, the British army in Philadelphia would be in danger of capture. Accordingly on the 18th of June that city was evacuated by Sir Henry Clinton and occupied by Washington. As there were not enough transports to take the British army around to New York by sea, it was necessary to take the more hazardous course of marching across New Jersey. Washington pursued the enemy closely, with the view of forcing him to battle in an unfavourable situation and dealing him a fatal blow. There was some hope of effecting this, as the two armies were now about equal in size–15,000 in each–and the Americans were in excellent training. The enemy were overtaken at Monmouth Court House on the morning of June 28, but the attack was unfortunately entrusted to Lee, who disobeyed orders and made an unnecessary and shameful retreat. Washington arrived on the scene in time to turn defeat into victory. The British were driven from the field, but Lee’s misconduct had broken the force of the blow which Washington had aimed at them. Lee was tried by court-martial and at first suspended from command, then expelled from the army. It was the end of his public career. He died in October, 1782.

After the battle of Monmouth the British continued their march to New York, and Washington moved his army to White Plains. Count d’Estaing arrived at Sandy Hook in July with a much larger fleet than the British had in the harbour, and a land force of 4000 men. It now seemed as if Clinton’s army might be cooped up and compelled to surrender, but on examination it appeared that the largest French ships drew too much water to venture to cross the bar. All hope of capturing New York was accordingly for the present abandoned.

[Siege of Newport, Aug. 1778.]

The enemy, however, had another considerable force near at hand, besides Clinton’s. Since December, 1776, they had occupied the island which gives its name to the state of Rhode Island. Its position was safe and convenient. It enabled them, if they should see fit, to threaten Boston on the one hand and the coast of Connecticut on the other, and thus to make diversions in aid of Sir Henry Clinton. The force on Rhode Island had been increased to 6000 men, under command of Sir Robert Pigott. The Americans believed that the capture of so large a force, could it be effected, would so discourage the British as to bring the war to an end; and in this belief they were very likely right. The French fleet accordingly proceeded to Newport; to the 4000 French infantry Washington added 1500 of the best of his Continentals; levies of New England yeomanry raised the total strength to 13,000; and the general command of the American troops was given to Sullivan.

The expedition was poorly managed, and failed completely. There was some delay in starting. During the first week of August the Americans landed upon the island and occupied b.u.t.ts Hill. The French had begun to land on Conanicut when they learned that Lord Howe was approaching with a powerful fleet. The count then reembarked his men and stood out to sea, manoeuvring for a favourable position for battle. Before the fight had begun, a terrible storm scattered both fleets and damaged them severely.

When D’Estaing had got his ships together again, which was not till the 20th of August, he insisted upon going to Boston for repairs, and took his infantry with him. This vexed Sullivan and disgusted the yeomanry, who forthwith dispersed and went home to look after their crops. General Pigott then tried the offensive, and attacked Sullivan in his strong position on b.u.t.ts Hill, on the 29th of August. The British were defeated, but the next day Sullivan learned that Clinton was coming with heavy reinforcements, and so he was obliged to abandon the enterprise and lose no time in getting his own troops into a safe position on the mainland. In November the French fleet sailed for the West Indies, and Clinton was obliged to send 5000 men from New York to the same quarter of the world.

[Sidenote: Wyoming and Cherry Valley, July-Nov., 1778.]

In the years 1778 and 1779 the warfare on the border a.s.sumed formidable proportions. The Tories of central New York, under the Johnsons and Butlers, together with Brant and his Mohawks, made their headquarters at Fort Niagara, from which they struck frequent and terrible blows at the exposed settlements on the frontier. Early in July, 1778, a force of 1200 men, under John Butler, spread death and desolation through the beautiful valley of Wyoming in Pennsylvania. On the 10th of November, Brant and Walter Butler destroyed the village of Cherry Valley in New York, and ma.s.sacred the inhabitants. Many other dreadful things were done in the course of this year; but the affairs of Wyoming and Cherry Valley made a deeper impression than all the rest. During the following spring Washington organized an expedition of 5000 men, and sent it, under Sullivan, to lay waste the Iroquois country and capture the nest of Tory malefactors at Fort Niagara. While they were slowly advancing through the wilderness, Brant sacked the town of Minisink and destroyed a force of militia sent against him. But on the 29th of August a battle was fought on the site of the present town of Elmira, in which the Tories and Indians were defeated with great slaughter. The American army then marched through the country of the Cayugas and Senecas, and laid it waste. More than forty Indian villages were burned and all the corn was destroyed, so that the approach of winter brought famine and pestilence.

Sullivan was not able to get beyond the Genesee river for want of supplies, and so Fort Niagara escaped. The Iroquois league had received a blow from which it never recovered, though for two years more their tomahawks were busy on the frontier.

[Sidenote: Conquest of the northwestern territory, 1778-79.]

At intervals during the Revolution there was more or less Indian warfare all along the border. Settlers were making their way into Kentucky and Tennessee. Feuds with these encroaching immigrants led the powerful tribe of Cherokees to take part with the British, and they made trouble enough until they were crushed by John Sevier, the “lion of the border.”

In 1778 Colonel Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit, attempted to stir up all the western tribes to a concerted attack upon the frontier.

When the news of this reached Virginia, an expedition was sent out under George Rogers Clark, a youth of twenty-four years, to carry the war into the enemy’s country. In an extremely interesting and romantic series of movements, Clark took the posts of Kaskaskia and Cahokia, on the Mississippi river, defeated and captured Colonel Hamilton at Vincennes, on the Wabash, and ended by conquering the whole northwestern territory for the state of Virginia.

[Sidenote: Storming of Stony Point, July 15, 1779.]

The year 1779 saw very little fighting in the northern states between the regular armies. The British confined themselves chiefly to marauding expeditions along the coast, from Martha’s Vineyard down to the James river. These incursions were marked by cruelties unknown in the earlier part of the war. Their chief purpose would seem to have been to carry out Lord George Germaine’s idea of hara.s.sing the Americans as vexatiously as possible. But in Connecticut, which perhaps suffered the worst, there was a military purpose. In July, 1779, an attack was made upon New Haven, and the towns of Fairfield and Norwalk were burned. The object was to induce Washington to weaken his force on the Hudson river by sending away troops to protect the Connecticut towns. Clinton now held the river as far up as Stony Point, and he hoped by this diversion to prepare for an attack upon Washington which, if successful, might end in the fall of West Point. If the British could get possession of West Point, it would go far toward retrieving the disaster which had befallen them at Saratoga. Washington’s retort was characteristic of him. He did, as always, what the enemy did not expect. He called Anthony Wayne and asked him if he thought he could carry Stony Point by storm. Wayne replied that he could storm a very much hotter place than any known in terrestrial geography, if Washington would plan the attack. Plan and performance were equally good. At midnight of July 15 the fort was surprised and carried in a superb a.s.sault with bayonets, without the firing of a gun on the American side. It was one of the most brilliant a.s.saults in all military history. It instantly relieved Connecticut, but Washington did not think it prudent to retain the fortress. The works were all destroyed, and the garrison, with the cannon and stores, withdrawn. The American army was as much as possible concentrated about West Point. In the general situation of affairs on the Hudson there was but little change for the next two years.

It may seem strange that so little was done in all this time. But, in fact, both England and the United States were getting exhausted, so far as the ability to carry on war was concerned.

[Sidenote: How England was weakened and hampered, 1778-81.]

As regards England, the action of France had seriously complicated the situation. England had now to protect her colonies and dependencies on the Mediterranean, in Africa, in Hindustan, and in the West Indies. In 1779 Spain declared war against her, in the hope of regaining Gibraltar and the Floridas. For three years Gibraltar was besieged by the allied French and Spanish forces. A Spanish fleet laid siege to Pensacola.

France strove to regain the places which England had formerly won from her in Senegambia. War broke out in India with the Mahrattas, and with Hyder Ali of Mysore, and it required all the genius of Warren Hastings to save England’s empire in Asia. We have already seen how Clinton, in the autumn of 1778, was obliged to weaken his force in New York by sending 5,000 men to the West Indies. Before the end of 1779 there were 314,000 British troops on duty in various parts of the world, but not enough could be spared for service in New York to defeat Washington’s little army of 15,000. We thus begin to realize what a great event was the surrender of Burgoyne. The loss of 6,000 men by England was not in itself irreparable; but in leading to the intervention of France it was like the touching of a spring or the drawing of a bolt which sets in motion a vast system of machinery.

Under these circ.u.mstances George III. tried to form an alliance with Russia, and offered the island of Minorca as an inducement. Russia declined the offer, and such action as she took was hostile to England.

It had formerly been held that the merchant ships of neutral nations, employed in trade with nations at war, might lawfully be overhauled and searched by war ships of either of the belligerent nations, and their goods confiscated. England still held this doctrine and acted upon it.

But during the eighteenth century her maritime power had increased to such an extent that she could damage other nations in this way much more than they could damage her. Other nations accordingly began to maintain that goods carried in neutral ships ought to be free from seizure. Early in 1780 Denmark, Sweden, and Russia entered into an agreement known as the Armed Neutrality, by which they pledged themselves to unite in retaliating upon England whenever any of her cruisers should molest any of their ships. This league was a new source of danger to England, because it entailed the risk of war with Russia.

[Sidenote: Paul Jones, 1779.]

During these years several bold American cruisers had made the stars and stripes a familiar sight in European waters. The most famous of these cruisers, Paul Jones, made his name a terror upon the coasts of England, burned the ships in a port of c.u.mberland, sailed into the Frith of Forth and threatened Edinburgh, and finally captured two British war vessels off Flamborough Head, in one of the most desperate sea-fights on record.

[Sidenote: St. Eustatius, Feb., 1781.]

Paul Jones was a regularly commissioned captain in the American navy, but because the British did not recognize Congress as a legal body they called him a pirate. When he took his prizes into a port in Holland, they requested the Dutch government to surrender him into their hands, as if he were a mere criminal to be tried at the Old Bailey. But the Dutch let him stay in port ten weeks and then depart in peace. This caused much irritation, and as there was also perpetual quarrelling over the plunder of Dutch ships by British cruisers, the two nations went to war in December, 1780. One of England’s reasons for entering into this war was the desire to capture the little Dutch island of St. Eustatius in the West Indies. An immense trade was carried on there between Holland and the United States, and it was believed that the stoppage of this trade would be a staggering blow to the Americans. It was captured in February, 1781, by Admiral Rodney, private property was seized to the amount of more than twenty million dollars, and the inhabitants were treated with shameful brutality.

[Sidenote: How the Americans were weakened and hampered. The want of union.]

As England was thus fighting single-handed against France, Spain, Holland, and the United States, while the att.i.tude of all the neutral powers was unfriendly, we can find no difficulty in understanding the weakness of her military operations in some quarters. The United States, on the other hand, found it hard to carry on the war for very different reasons. In the first place the country was really weak. The military strength of the American Union in 1780 was inferior to that of Holland, and about on a level with that of Denmark or Portugal. But furthermore the want of union made it hard to bring out such strength as there was.

In the autumn of 1777 the Articles of Confederation were submitted to the several states for adoption; but the spring of 1781 had arrived before all the thirteen states had ratified them. These articles left the Continental Congress just what it was before, a mere advisory body, without power to enlist soldiers or levy taxes, without federal courts or federal officials, and with no executive head to the government. As we have already seen, the only way in which Congress could get money from the people was by requisitions upon the states, by _asking_ the state-governments for it. This was always a very slow way to get money, and now the states were unusually poor. There was very little acc.u.mulated capital. Farming, fishing, ship-building, and foreign trade were the chief occupations. Farms and plantations suffered considerably from the absence of their owners in the army, and many were kept from enlisting, because it was out of the question to go and leave their families to starve. As for ship-building, fishing, and foreign trade, these occupations were almost annihilated by British cruisers. No doubt the heaviest blows that we received were thus dealt us on the water.

[Sidenote: Fall of the Continental currency:–“Not worth a Continental.”]

The people were so poor that the states found it hard to collect enough revenue for their own purposes, and most of them had a way of issuing paper money of their own, which made things still worse. Under such circ.u.mstances they had very little money to give to Congress. It was necessary to borrow of France, or Spain, or Holland, and by the time these nations were all at war, that became very difficult. From the beginning of the war Congress had issued paper notes, and in 1778 the depreciation in their value was already alarming. But as soon as the exultation over Burgoyne’s surrender had subsided, as soon as the hope of speedily driving out the British had been disappointed, people soon lost all confidence in the power of Congress to pay its notes, and in 1779 their value began falling with frightful rapidity. In 1780 they became worthless. It took $150 in Continental currency to buy a bushel of corn, and an ordinary suit of clothes cost $2000. Then people refused to take it, and resorted to barter, taking their pay in sheep or ploughs, in jugs of rum or kegs of salt pork, or whatever they could get. It thus became almost impossible either to pay soldiers, or to clothe and feed them properly and supply them with powder and ball. We thus see why the Americans, as well as the British conducted the war so languidly that for two years after the storming of Stony Point their main armies sat and faced each other by the Hudson river, without any movements of importance.

[Sidenote: The British conquer Georgia, 1779.]

In one quarter, however, the British began to make rapid progress. They possessed the Floridas, having got them from Spain by the treaty of 1763. Next them lay Georgia, the weakest of the thirteen states, and then came the Carolinas, with a strong Tory element in the population.

For such reasons, after the great invasion of New York had failed, the British tried the plan of starting at the southern extremity of the Union and lopping off one state after another. In the autumn of 1778 General Prevost advanced from East Florida, and in a brief campaign succeeded in capturing Savannah, Sunbury, and Augusta. General Lincoln, who had won distinction in the Saratoga campaign, was appointed to command the American forces in the South. He sent General Ashe, with 1500 men, to threaten Augusta. At Ashe’s approach, the British abandoned the town and retreated toward Savannah. Ashe pursued too closely and at Briar Creek, March 3, 1779, the enemy turned upon him and routed him.

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