Lafayette in the American Revolution

 

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[General Lafayette Biography] [General Lafayette's Memoirs] [Lafayette's Eulogy]

The American Revolution.-The following is Lafayette's narrative of his service with the American army during the Revolutionary War, from his Memoirs:

General LafayetteYou ask me at what period I first experienced my ardent love of liberty and glory? I recollect no time of my life anterior to my enthusiasm for anecdotes of glorious deeds, and to my projects of traveling over the world to acquire fame. At eight years of age, my heart beat when I heard of an hyena that had done some injury, and caused still more alarm, in our neighborhood, and the hope of meeting it was the object of all my walks. When I arrived at college, nothing ever interrupted my studies, except my ardent wish of studying without restraint. I never deserved to be chastised, but, in spite of my usual gentleness, it would have been dangerous to have attempted to do so; and I recollect with pleasure that, when I was to describe in rhetoric a perfect courser, I sacrificed the hope of obtaining a premium, and described the one who, on perceiving the whip, threw down his rider. Republican anecdotes always delighted me; and, when my new connections wished to obtain for me a place at Court, I did not hesitate displeasing them to preserve my independence. I was in that frame of mind when I first learned the troubles in America: they only became thoroughly known in Europe in 1776, and the memorable declaration of the 4th of July reached France at the close of that same year.

The American Revolution: The last Struggle of Liberty

After having crowned herself with laurels and enriched herself with conquests, after having become mistress of all seas, and after having insulted all nations, England had turned her pride against her own colonies. North America had long been displeasing to her: she wished to add new vexations to former injuries, and to destroy the most sacred privileges. The Americans, attached to the mother-country, contented themselves at first with merely uttering complaints. They only accused the ministry, and the whole nation rose up against them. They were termed insolent and rebellious, and at length declared the enemies of their country: thus did the obstinacy of the King, the violence of the ministers, and the arrogance of the English nation oblige thirteen of their colonies to render themselves independent. Such a glorious cause had never before attracted the attention of mankind: it was the last struggle of Liberty; and had she then been vanquished, neither hope nor asylum would have remained for her. The oppressors and op-pressed were to receive a powerful lesson; the great work was to be accomplished, or the rights of humanity were to fall beneath its ruin. The destiny of France and that of her rival were to be decided at the same moment: England was to lose, with the new States, an important commerce, of which she derived the sole advantage, one-quarter of her subjects, who were constantly augmenting by a rapid increase of population and by emigration from all parts of Europe - in a word, more than half of the most beautiful portion of the British territory. But, if she retained possession of her thirteen colonies, all was ended for our West Indies, our possessions in Asia and Africa, our maritime commerce, and consequently our navy and our political existence.

Lafayette to Aid the Patriot Cause

(1776.) When I first learned the subject of this quarrel, my heart espoused warmly the cause of liberty, and I thought of nothing but of adding also the aid of my banner. Some circumstances, which it would be needless to relate, had taught me to expect only obstacles in this case from my own family: I depended, therefore, solely upon myself; and I ventured to adopt for a device on my arms these words, "Cur non?" that they might equally serve as an encouragement to myself, and as a reply to others. Silas Deane was then at Paris; but the ministers feared to receive him, and his voice was overpowered by the louder accents of Lord Stormont. He dispatched privately to America some oldarms, which were of little use, and some young officers, who did but little good, the whole directed by M. de Beaumarchais; and, when the English ambassador spoke to our Court, it denied having sent any cargoes, ordered those that were preparing to be discharged, and dismissed from our ports all American privateers. While wishing to address myself in a direct manner to Mr. Deane, I became the friend of Kalb, a German in our employ, who was applying for service with the insurgents (the expression in use at the time), and who became my interpreter. He was the person sent by M. de Choiseul to examine the English colonies; and on his return he received some money, but never succeeded in obtaining an audience, so little did that minister in reality think of the revolution whose retrograde movements some persons have inscribed to him! When I presented to Mr. Deane my boyish face (for I was scarcely nineteen years of age), I spoke more of my ardor in the cause than of my experience; but I dwelt much upon the effect my departure would excite in France, and he signed our mutual agreement. The secrecy with which this negotiation and my preparations were made appears almost a miracle: family, friends, ministers, French spies and English spies, all were kept completely in the dark as to my intentions. Among my discreet confidants, I owe much to M. du Boismartin, secretary of the Count de Broglie, and to the Count de Broglie himself, whose affectionate heart, when all his efforts to turn me from this project had proved in vain, entered into my views with even paternal tenderness.

Lafayette to Pay for his Expedition to the Colonies

Preparations were making to send a vessel to America, when very bad tidings arrived from thence. New York, Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and the Jerseys had seen the American forces successively destroyed by 33,000 Englishmen or Germans. Three thousand Americans alone remained in arms, and these were closely pursued by General Howe. From that moment all the credit of the insurgents vanished: to obtain a vessel for them was impossible. The envoys themselves thought it right to express to me their own discouragement, and persuade me to abandon my project. I called upon Mr. Deane, and I thanked him for his frankness. "Until now, sir," said I, "you have only seen my ardor in your cause, and that may not prove at present wholly useless. I shall purchase a ship to carry out your officers. We must feel confidence in the future, and it is especially in the hour of danger that I wish to share your fortune." My project was received with approbation; but it was necessary afterwards to find money, and to purchase and arm a vessel secretly: all this was accomplished with the greatest dispatch.

The period was, however, approaching, which had been long fixed, for my taking a journey to England. I could not refuse to go without risking the discovery of my secret, and by consenting to take this journey I knew I could better conceal my preparations for a greater one. This last measure was also thought most expedient by MM. Franklin and Deane, for the doctor himself was then in France; and, although I did not venture to go to his home, for fear of being seen, I corresponded with him through M. Carmichael, an American less generally known. I arrived in London with M. de Poix; and I first paid my respects to Bancroft, the American, and afterwards to his British Majesty. A youth of nineteen maybe, perhaps too fond of playing a trick upon the King he is going to fight with, of dancing at the house of Lord Germain, minister for the English colonies, and at the house of Lord Rawdon, who had just returned from New York, and of seeing at the opera that Clinton whom he was afterwards to meet at Monmouth. But, while I concealed my intentions, I openly avowed my sentiments. I often defended the Americans; I rejoiced at their success at Trenton; and my spirit of opposition obtained for me an invitation to breakfast with Lord Shelbourne. I refused the offers made me to visit the seaports, the vessels fitting out against the rebels, and everything that might be construed into an abuse of confidence. At the end of three weeks, when it became necessary for me to return home, while refusing my uncle, the ambassador, to accompany him to Court, I confided to him my strong desire to take a trip to Paris. He proposed saying that I was ill during my absence. I should not have made use of this stratagem myself, but I did not object to his doing so.

After having suffered dreadfully in the channel, and being reminded, as a consolation, how very short the voyage would be, I arrived at M. de Kalb's house in Paris, concealed myself three days at Chaillot, saw a few of my friends and some Americans, and set out for Bordeaux, where I was for some time unexpectedly delayed. I took advantage of that delay to send to Paris, from whence the intelligence I received was by no means encouraging; but, as my messenger was followed on the road by one from the government, I lost not a moment in setting sail, and the orders of my sovereign were only able to overtake me at Passage, a Spanish port, at which we stopped on our way. The letters from my own family were extremely violent, and those from the government were peremptory. I was forbidden to proceed to the American continent under the penalty of disobedience; I was enjoined to repair instantly to Marseilles, and await there further orders.* A sufficient number of commentaries were not wanting upon the consequences of such an anathema, the laws of the state, and the power and displeasure of the government; but the grief of his wife, who was pregnant, and the thoughts of his family and friends, had far more effect upon M. de Lafayette. As his vessel could no longer be stopped, he returned to Bordeaux to enter into a justification of his own conduct; and, in a declaration to M. de Fumel, he took upon himself all the consequences of his present evasion. As the Court did not deign to relax in its determination, he wrote to M. de Maurepas that that silence was a tacit consent, and his own departure took place soon after that joking dispatch. After having set out on the road to Marseilles, he retraced his steps, and, disguised as a courier, he had almost escaped all danger, when, at Saint Jean de Luz, a young girl recognized him; but a sign from him silenced her, and her adroit fidelity turned away all suspicion. It was thus that M. de Lafayette rejoined his ship, April 26, 1777; and on that same day, after six months' anxiety and labor, he set sail for the American continent.

* Lafayette here changes his narrative from the first to the third person.

(1777) As soon as M. de Lafayette had recovered from the effects of sea-sickness, he studied the language and trade he was adopting. A heavy ship, two bad cannon, and some guns could not have escaped from the smallest privateer. In his present situation, he resolved rather to blow up the vessel than to surrender. He concerted measures to achieve this end with a brave Dutchman named Bedaulx, whose sole alternative, if taken, would have been the gibbet. The captain insisted upon stopping at the islands; but government orders would have been found there, and he followed a direct course, less from choice than from compulsion. At 40 leagues from shore they were met by a small vessel. The captain turned pale, but the crew were attached to M. de Lafayette, and the officers were numerous: they made a show of resistance. It turned out, fortunately, to be an American ship, whom they vainly endeavored to keep up with; but scarcely had the former lost sight of M. de Lafayette's vessel, when it fell in with two English frigates - and this is not the only time when the elements seemed bent on opposing M. de Lafayette, as if with the intention of saving him. After having encountered for seven weeks various perils and chances, he arrived at Georgetown, in Carolina. Ascending the river in a canoe, his foot touched at length the American soil; and he swore that he would conquer or perish in that cause. Landing at midnight at Major Huger's house, he found a vessel sailing for France, which appeared only waiting for his letters. Several of the officers landed, others remained on board, and all hastened to proceed to Charlestown.

Lafayette Travels to Philadelphia

This beautiful city is worthy of its inhabitants; and everything there announced not only comfort, but even luxury. Without knowing much of M. de Lafayette, the Generals Howe, Moultrie, and Gulden received him with the utmost kindness and attention. The new works were shown him, and also that battery which Moultrie afterwards defended so extremely well, and which the English appear, we must acknowledge, to have seized the only possible means of destroying. Several adventurers, the refuse of the islands, endeavored vainly to unite themselves to M. de Lafayette, and to infuse into his mind their own feelings and prejudices. Having procured horses, he set out with six officers for Philadelphia. His vessel had arrived; but it was no longer protected by fortune, and on its return home it was lost on the bar of Charlestown. To repair to the Congress of the United States, M. de Lafayette rode nearly 900 miles on horseback. Before reaching the capital of Pennsylvania, he was obliged to travel through the two Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. While studying the language and customs of the inhabitants, he observed also new productions of nature and new methods of cultivation. Vast forests and immense rivers combine to give to that country an appearance of youth and majesty. After a fatiguing journey of one month he beheld at length that Philadelphia so well known in the present day, and whose future grandeur Penn appeared to designate when he laid the first stone of its foundation.

After having accomplished his noble manoeuvres at Trenton and Princeton, General Washington had remained in his camp at Middlebrook. The English, finding themselves frustrated in their first hopes, combined to make a decisive campaign. Burgoyne was already advancing with 10,000 men, preceded by his proclamation and his savages. Ticonderoga, a famous stand of arms, was abandoned by Saint-Clair. He drew upon himself much public odium by this deed, but he saved the only corps whom the militia could rally round. While the generals were busied assembling that militia, the Congress recalled them, sent Gates in their place, and used all possible means to support him. At that same time the great English army, of about 18,000 men, had sailed from New York, and the two Howes were uniting their forces for a secret enterprise. Rhode Island was occupied by an hostile corps; and General Clinton, who had remained at New York, was there preparing for an expedition. To be able to withstand so many various blows, General Washington, leaving Putnam on the North River, crossed over the Delaware, and encamped, with 11,000 men, within reach of Philadelphia.

Lafayette Joins the Continental Army

It was under these circumstances that M. de Lafayette first arrived in America; but the moment, although important to the common cause, was peculiarly unfavorable to strangers. The Americans were displeased with the pretensions, and disgusted with the conduct, of many Frenchmen. The imprudent selections they had in some cases made, the extreme boldness of some foreign adventurers, the jealousy of the army, and strong national prejudices, all contributed to confound disinterested zeal with private ambition, and talents with quackery. Supported by the promises which had been given by Mr. Deane, a numerous band of foreigners besieged the Congress. Their chief was a clever but very imprudent man; and, although a good officer, his excessive vanity amounted almost to madness. With M. de Lafayette, Mr. Deane had sent out a fresh detachment; and every day such crowds arrived that the Congress had finally adopted the plan of not listening to any stranger. The coldness with which M. de Lafayette was received might have been taken as a dismissal; but, without appearing disconcerted by the manner in which the deputies addressed him, he entreated them to return to Congress, and read the following note:

"After the sacrifices I have made, I have the right to exact two favors: one is, to serve at my own expense; the other is, to serve at first as volunteer."

The style, to which they were so little accustomed, awakened their attention: the despatches from the envoys were read over; and, in a very flattering resolution, the rank of major-general was granted to M. de Lafayette. Among the various officers who accompanied him, several were strangers to him. He was interested, however, for them all; and to those whose services were not accepted an indemnity for their trouble was granted. Some months afterwards M. drowned himself in the Schuylkill, and the loss of that impetuous and imprudent man was perhaps a fortunate circumstance.

Lafayette Meets George Washington

The two Howes having appeared before the capes of the Delaware, General Washington came to Philadelphia, and M. de Lafayette beheld for the first time that great man. Although he was surrounded by officers and citizens, it was impossible to mistake for a moment his majestic figure and deportment; nor was he less distinguished by the noble affability of his manner. M. de Lafayette accompanied him in his examination of the fortifications. Invited by the general to establish himself in his house, he looked upon it from that moment as his own: with this perfect ease and simplicity was formed the tie that united two friends, whose confidence and attachments were to be cemented by the strongest interests of humanity.

The American army, stationed some miles from Philadelphia, was waiting until the movements of the hostile army should be decided: the general himself reviewed the troops. M. de Lafayette arrived there the same day. About 11,000 men, ill armed, and still worse clothed, presented a strange spectacle to the eye of the young Frenchman. Their clothes were particolored, and many of them were almost naked. The best clad wore hunting shirts, large gray linen coats which were much used in Carolina. As to their military tactics, it will be sufficient to say that, for a regiment ranged in order of battle to move forward on the right of its line, it was necessary for the left to make a continued countermarch. They were always arranged in two lines, the smallest men in the first line: no other distinction as to height was ever observed. In spite of these disadvantages, the soldiers were fine, and the officers zealous; virtue stood in place of science, and each day added both to experience and discipline. Lord Stirling, more courageous than judicious, another general, who was often intoxicated, and Greene, whose talents were only then known to his immediate friends, commanded as majors-general. General Knox, who had changed the profession of bookseller to that of artillery officer, was there also, and had himself formed other officers, and created an artillery. "We must feel embarrassed," said General Washington, on his arrival, "to exhibit ourselves before an officer who has just quitted French troops." " It is to learn, and not to teach, that I come hither," replied M. de Lafayette; and that modest tone, which was not common in Europeans, produced a very good effect.

Wilmington

After having menaced the Delaware, the English fleet again disappeared, and during some days the Americans amused themselves by making jokes at its expense. These jokes, however, ceased when it reappeared in the Chesapeake; and, in order to approach it more closely during the disembarkation, the patriot army crossed through the town. Their heads covered with green branches, and marching to the sound of drums and fifes, these soldiers, in spite of their state of nudity, offered an agreeable spectacle to the eyes of all the citizens. General Washington was marching at their head, and M. de Lafayette was by his side. The army stationed itself upon the heights of Wilmington, and that of the enemy landed in the Elk River, at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. The very day they landed, General Washington exposed himself to danger in the most imprudent manner. After having reconnoitred for a long time the enemy's position, he was overtaken by a storm during a very dark night, entered a farm-house close to the hostile army, and, from a reluctance to change his own opinion, remained there with General Greene, M. de Lafayette, and their aide-de-camp; but, when at daybreak he quitted the farm, he acknowledged that any one traitor might have caused his ruin. Some days later Sullivan's division joined the army, which augmented it in all to 13,000 men. This Major-General Sullivan made a good beginning, but a bad ending, in an intended surprise on Staten Island.

If, by making too extensive a plan of attack, the English committed a great error, it must also be acknowledged that the Americans were not irreproachable in their manner of defence. Burgoyne, leading his army, with their heads bent upon the ground, into woods from whence he could not extricate them, dragged on, upon a single road, his numerous cannon and rich military equipages. Certain of not being attacked from behind, the Americans could dispute every step they took; this kind of warfare attracted the militia, and Gates improved each day in strength. Every tree sheltered a skilful rifleman; and the resources offered by military tactics, and the talents even of their chiefs, had become useless to the English. The corps left in New York could, it is true, laugh at the corps of Putnam, but it was too feeble to succor Burgoyne; and, instead of being able to secure his triumph, its own fate was even dependent upon his. During that time Howe was only thinking of Philadelphia, and it was at the expense of the northern expedition that he was repairing thither by an enormous circuit. But, on the other side, why were the English permitted to land so tranquilly? Why was the moment allowed to pass when their army was divided by the river Elk? Why in the South were so many false movements and so much hesitation displayed? Because the Americans had hitherto had combats, but not battles; because, instead of harassing an army and disputing hollows, they were obliged to protect an open city, and manoeuvre in a plain, close to an hostile army, who, by attacking them from behind, might completely ruin them. General Washington, had he followed the advice of the people, would have enclosed his army in a city, and thus have intrusted to one hazard the fate of America; but, while refusing to commit such an act of folly, he was obliged to make some sacrifice, and gratify the nation by a battle. Europe even expected it; and, although he had been created a dictator for six months, the general thought he ought to submit everything to the orders of Congress and to the deliberations of a council of war.

Brandywine

After having advanced as far as Wilmington, the general had detached 1,000 men under Maxwell, the most ancient brigadier in the army. At the first march of the English, he was beaten by their advance guard near Christiana Bridge. During that time the army took but an indifferent station at Newport. They then removed a little south, waited two days for the enemy, and at the moment when these were marching upon their right wing, a nocturnal council of war decided that the army was to proceed to the Brandywine. The stream bearing that name covered its front. The ford called Chad's Ford, placed nearly in the centre, was defended by batteries. It was in that hardly examined station that, in obedience to a letter from Congress, the Americans awaited the battle. The evening of September 10 Howe advanced in two columns, and, by a very fine movement, the left column (about 8,000 men under Lord Cornwallis, with the grenadiers and guards) directed themselves towards the fords of Birmingham, 3 miles on our right: the other column continued its road, and about nine o'clock in the morning it appeared on the other side of the stream. The enemy was so near the skirts of the wood that it was impossible to judge of his force: some time was lost in a mutual cannonading. General Washington walked along his two lines, and was received with acclamations which seemed to promise him success. The intelligence that was received of the movements of Cornwallis was both confused and contradictory. Owing to the conformity of name between two roads that were of equal length and parallel to each other, the best officers were mistaken in their reports. The only musket-shots that had been fired were from Maxwell, who killed several of the enemy, but was driven back upon the left of the American army, across a ford by which he had before advanced. Three thousand militia had been added to the army, but they were placed in the rear to guard some still more distant militia, and took no part themselves in the action. Such was the situation of the troops when they learned the march of Lord Cornwallis towards the scarcely known fords of Birmingham: they then detached three divisions, forming about 5,000 men, under the Generals Sullivan, Stirling, and Stephen. M. de Lafayette, as volunteer, had always accompanied the general. The left wing remaining in a state of tranquillity, and the right appearing fated to receive all the heavy blows, he obtained permission to join Sullivan. At his arrival, which seemed to inspirit the troops, he found that, the enemy having crossed the ford, the corps of Sullivan had scarcely had time to form itself on a line in front of a thinly wooded forest. A few moments after, Lord Cornwallis formed in the finest order. Advancing across the plain, his first line opened a brisk fire of musketry and artillery. The Americans returned the fire, and did much injury to the enemy; but, their right and left wings having given way, the generals and several officers joined the central division, in which were M. de Lafayette and Stirling, and of which 800 men were commanded in a most brilliant manner by Conway, an Irishman, in the service of France. By separating that division from its two wings, and advancing through an open plain, in which they lost many men, the enemy united all his fire upon the centre: the confusion became extreme; and it was while M. de Lafayette was rallying the troops that a ball passed through his leg. At that moment all those remaining on the field gave way. M. de Lafayette was indebted to Gimat, his aide-de-camp, for the happiness of getting upon his horse. General Washington arrived from a distance with fresh troops. M. de Lafayette was preparing to join him, when loss of blood obliged him to stop and have his wound bandaged: he was even very near being taken. Fugitives, cannon, and baggage now crowded without order into the road leading to Chester. The general employed the remaining daylight in checking the enemy: some regiments behaved extremely well, but the disorder was complete. During that time the ford of Chad was forced, the cannon taken, and the Chester road became the common retreat of the whole army. In the midst of that dreadful confusion, and during the darkness of the night, it was impossible to recover; but at Chester, 12 miles from the field of battle, they met with a bridge which it was necessary to cross. M. de Lafayette occupied himself in arresting the fugitives. Some degree of order was re-established; the generals and the commander-in-chief arrived; and he had leisure to have his wound dressed.

It was thus, at 26 miles from Philadelphia, that the fate of that town was decided (11th September, 1777). The inhabitants had heard every cannon that was fired there. The two parties, assembled in two distinct bands in all the squares and public places, had awaited the event in silence. The last courier at length arrived, and the friends of liberty were thrown into consternation. The Americans had lost from 1,000 to 1,200 men. Howe's army was composed of about 12,000 men. Their losses had been so considerable that their surgeons, and those in the country, were found insufficient; and they requested the American army to supply them with some for their prisoners. If the enemy had marched to Derby, the army would have been cut up and destroyed. They lost an all - important night; and this was perhaps their greatest fault during a war in which they committed so many errors.

M. de Lafayette, having been conveyed by water to Philadelphia, was carefully attended to by the citizens, who were all interested in his situation and extreme youth. That same evening the Congress determined to quit the city. A vast number of the inhabitants deserted their own hearths. Whole families, abandoning their possessions, and uncertain of the future, took refuge in the mountains. M. de Lafayette was carried to Bristol in a boat; he there saw the fugitive Congress, who only assembled again on the other side of the Susquehanna. He was himself conducted to Bethlehem, a Moravian establishment, where the mild religion of the brotherhood, the community of fortune, education, and interests, amongst that large and simple family, formed a striking contrast to scenes of blood and the convulsions occasioned by a civil war.

After the Brandywine defeat the two armies manoeuvred along the banks of the Schuylkill. General Washington still remained on a height above the enemy, and completely out of his reach; nor had they again an opportunity of cutting him off. Waine, an American brigadier, was detached to observe the English; but, being surprised during the night, near the White Horse, by General Grey, he lost there the greatest part of his corps. At length Howe crossed the Schuylkill at Swede's Ford, and Lord Cornwallis entered Philadelphia.

In spite of the declaration of independence of the new States, everything there bore the appearance of a civil war. The names of Whig and Tory distinguished the republicans and royalists; the English army was still called the regular troops; the British sovereign was always designated by the name of the King. Provinces, towns, and families were divided by the violence of party spirit: brothers, officers in the two opposing armies, meeting by chance in their father's house, have seized their arms to fight with each other. Whilst, in all the rancor of their pride, the English committed horrible acts of license and cruelty, whilst discipline dragged in her train those venal Germans who knew only how to kill, burn, and pillage, in that same army were seen regiments of Americans, who, trampling under foot their brethren, assisted in enslaving their wasted country. Each canton contained a still greater number whose sole object was to injure the friends of liberty and give information to those of despotism. To these inveterate Tories must be added the number of those whom fear, private interest, or religion, rendered adverse to the war. If the Presbyterians, the children of Cromwell and Fairfax, detested royalty, the Lutherans, who had sprung from it, were divided among themselves. The Quakers hated slaughter, but served willingly as guides to the royal troops. Insurrections were by no means uncommon: near the enemy's stations, farmers often shot each other; robbers were even encouraged. The republican chiefs were exposed to great dangers when they travelled through the country. It was always necessary for them to declare that they should pass the night in one house, then take possession of another, barricade themselves in it, and only sleep with their arms by their side. In the midst of these troubles, M. de Lafayette was no longer considered as a stranger: never was any adoption more complete than his own; and whilst, in the councils of war, he trembled when he considered that his voice (at twenty years of age) might decide the fate of two worlds, he was also initiated in those deliberations in which, by reassuring the Whigs, intimidating the Tories, supporting an ideal money, and redoubling their firmness in the hour of adversity, the American chiefs conducted that revolution through so many obstacles.

[Here follow accounts of Lafayette's convalescence at Bethlehem and his success at Gloucester, of Gates's campaign, in the north, and the establishment of the melancholy headquarters at Valley Forge.]

Notwithstanding the success in the north, the situation of the Americans had never been more critical than at the present moment. A paper money, without any certain foundation, and unmixed with any specie, was both counterfeited by the enemy and discredited by their partisans. They feared to establish taxes, and had still less the power of levying them. The people, who had risen against the taxation of England, were astonished at paying still heavier taxes now; and the government was without any power to enforce them. On the other side, New York and Philadelphia were overstocked with gold and various merchandises: the threatened penalty of death could not stop a communication that was but too easy. To refuse the payment of taxes, to depreciate the paper currency, and feed the enemy, was a certain method of attaining wealth: privations and misery were only experienced by good citizens. Each proclamation of the English was supported by their seductions, their riches, and the intrigues of the Tories. Whilst a numerous garrison lived sumptuously at New York, some hundreds of men, ill-clothed and ill-fed, wandered upon the shores of the Hudson. The army of Philadelphia, freshly recruited from Europe, abundantly supplied with everything they could require, consisted of 18,000 men: that of Valley Forge was successively reduced to 5,000 men; and two marches on the fine Lancaster road (on which road also was a chain of magazines), by establishing the English in the rear of their right flank, would have rendered their position untenable, from which, however, they had no means of retiring. The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything. They had neither coats, hats, shirts, nor shoes: their feet and legs froze till they became black, and it was often necessary to amputate them. From want of money, they could neither obtain provisions nor any means of transport: the colonels were often reduced to two rations, and sometimes even to one. The army frequently remained whole days without provisions, and the patient endurance of both soldiers and officers was a miracle which each moment served to renew. But the sight of their misery prevented new engagements: it was almost impossible to levy recruits; it was easy to desert into the interior of the country. The sacred fire of liberty was not extinguished, it is true, and the majority of the citizens detested British tyranny; but the triumph of the north and the tranquillity of the south had lulled to sleep two-thirds of the continent. The remaining part was harassed by two armies; and throughout this revolution the greatest difficulty was that, in order to conceal misfortunes from the enemy, it was necessary to conceal them from the nation also; that, by awakening the one, information was likewise given to the other; and that fatal blows would have been struck upon the weakest points before democratic tardiness could have been roused to support them. It was from this cause that during the whole war the real force of the army was always kept a profound secret. Even Congress was not apprised of it, and the generals were often themselves deceived. General Washington never placed unlimited confidence in any person, except in M. de Lafayette, because for him alone, perhaps, confidence sprung from warm affection. As the situation grew more critical, discipline became more necessary. In the course of his nocturnal rounds, in the midst of heavy snows, M. de Lafayette was obliged to break some negligent officers. He adopted in every respect the American dress, habits, and food. He wished to be more simple, frugal, and austere than the Americans themselves. Brought up in the lap of luxury, he suddenly changed his whole manner of living; and his constitution bent itself to privation as well as to fatigue. He always took the liberty of freely writing his ideas to Congress, or, in imitation of the prudence of the general, he gave his opinion to some members of a corps or State Assembly, that, being adopted by them, it might be brought forward in the deliberations of Congress.

Winter at Valley Forge

In addition to the difficulties which lasted during the whole of the war the winter of Valley Forge recalls others still more painful. At Yorktown, behind the Susquehanna, Congress was divided into two factions, which, in spite of their distinction of south and east, did not the less occasion a separation between members of the same State. The deputies substituted their private intrigues for the wishes of the nation. Several impartial men had retired: several States had but one Representative, and in some cases not even one. Party spirit was so strong that three years afterwards Congress still felt the effects of it. Any great event, however, would awaken their patriotism; and, when Burgoyne declared that his treaty had been broken, means were found to stop the departure of his troops, which everything, even the few provisions for the transports, had foolishly betrayed. But all these divisions failed to produce the greatest of calamities - the loss of the only man capable of conducting the revolution.

Gates was at Yorktown, where he inspired respect by his manners, promises, and European acquirements. Amongst the deputies who united themselves to him may be numbered the Lees, Virginians, enemies of Washington, and the two Adamses. Mifflin, quartermaster-general, aided him with his talents and brilliant eloquence. They required a name to bring forward in the plot, and they selected Conway, who fancied himself the chief of a party. To praise Gates, with a certain portion of the continent and the troops, was a pretext for speaking of themselves. The people attach themselves to prosperous generals, and the commander-in-chief had been unsuccessful. His own character inspired respect and affection; but Greene, Hamilton, Knox, his best friends, were sadly defamed. The Tories fomented these dissensions. The presidency of the war office, which had been created for Gates, restricted the power of the general. This was not the only inconvenience. A committee from Congress arrived at the camp, and the attack of Philadelphia was daringly proposed. The most shrewd people did not believe that Gates was the real object of this intrigue. Though a good officer, he had not the power to assert himself. He would have given place to the famous General Lee, then a prisoner of the English, whose first care would have been to have made over to them his friends and all America. (SEE CONWAY CABAL)

Attached to the general, and still more so to the cause, M. de Lafayette did not hesitate for a moment; and, in spite of the caresses of one party, he remained faithful to the other whose ruin seemed then impending. He saw and corresponded frequently with the general, and often discussed with him his own private situation, and the effect that various meliorations in the army might produce. Having sent for his wife to the camp, the general preserved in his deportment the noble composure which belongs to a strong and virtuous mind. "I have not sought for this place," said he to M. de Lafayette: "if I am displeasing to the nation, I will retire; but until then I will oppose all intrigues."

Expedition to Canada

(1778.) The 22d of January Congress resolved that Canada should be entered, and the choice fell upon M. de Lafayette.

The generals Conway and Stark were placed under him. Hoping to intoxicate and govern so young a commander, the war office, without consulting the commander-in-chief, wrote to him to go and await his further instructions at Albany. But, after having won over by his arguments the committee which Congress had sent to the camp, M. de Lafayette hastened to Yorktown, and declared there "that he required circumstantial orders, a statement of the means to be employed, the certainty of not deceiving the Canadians, an augmentation of generals, and rank for several Frenchmen, fully impressed," he added, " with the various duties and advantages they derived from their name; but the first condition he demanded was not to be made, like Gates, independent of General Washington." At Gates's own house he braved the whole party, and threw them into confusion by making them drink the health of their general.*

* After having thus declared himself, he wrote to Congress that "he could only accept the command on condition of remaining subordinate to General Washington, of being but considered as an officer detached from him, and of addressing all his letters to him, of which those received by Congress would be but duplicates." These requests and all the others he made were granted.

[Here follow accounts of Lafayette's expedition to Albany, and the Mohawk, and his return in the spring to Philadelphia, where a short time after Silas Deane arrived with the treaty between France and the United States.]

By quitting France in so public a manner, M. de Lafayette had served the cause of the Revolution. One portion of society was anxious for his success; and the attention of the other had become, to say the least, somewhat occupied in the struggle. If a spirit of emulation made those connected with the Court desirous of war, the rest of the nation supported the young rebel, and followed with interest all his movements; and it is well known that the rupture that ensued was truly a national one. Some circumstances relating to his departure having displeased the Court of London, M. de Lafayette omitted nothing that could draw more closely together the nations whose union he so ardently desired. The incredible prejudices of the Americans had been augmented by the conduct of the first Frenchmen who had joined them. These men gradually disappeared, and all those who remained were remarkable for talents, or at least for probity. They became the friends of M. de Lafayette, who sincerely sought out all the national prejudices of the Americans against his countrymen for the purpose of overcoming them. Love and respect for the name of Frenchmen animated his letters and speeches, and he wished the affection that was granted to him individually to become completely national. On the other side, when writing to Europe, he denied the reports made by discontented adventurers, by good officers who were piqued at not having been employed, and by those men who, serving themselves in the army, wished to be witty or amusing by the political contrasts they described in their letters. But, without giving a circumstantial account of what private influence achieved, it is certain that enthusiasm for the cause, and esteem for its defenders, had electrified all France, and that the affair of Saratoga decided the ministerial commotion. Bills of conciliation passed in the English House of Parliament, the five commissioners were sent to offer far more than had been demanded until then. No longer waiting to see how things would turn out, M. de Maurepas yielded to the public wish, and what his luminous mind had projected the more unchanging disposition of M. de Vergennes put in execution. A treaty was generously entered into with Franklin, Deane, and Arthur Lee, and that treaty was announced with more confidence than had been for some time displayed. But the war was not sufficiently foreseen, or at least sufficient preparations were not made. The most singular fact is that, at the very period when the firm resistance of the Court of France had guided the conduct of two courts, America had fallen herself into such a state of weakness that she was on the very brink of ruin. The 2d of May the army made a bonfire; and M. de Lafayette, ornamented with a white scarf, proceeded to the spot, accompanied by all the French. Since the arrival of the conciliatory bills he had never ceased writing against the commission, and against every commissioner. The advances of these men were ill-received by Congress; and, foreseeing a French co-operation, the enemy began to think of quitting Philadelphia.

[Here follows the account of the battle of Monmouth, after which Lafayette and Washington " passed the night lying on the same mantle, talking over the conduct of Lee"; and the account of the Rhode Island campaign.]

Soon afterwards, during M. de Lafayette's residence at Philadelphia, the commission received its death-blow. Whilst he was breakfasting with the members of Congress, the different measures proper to be pursued were frankly and cheerfully discussed. The correspondence which took place at that time is generally known. The Congress remained ever noble, firm, and faithful to its allies. Secretary Thomson, in his last letter to Sir Henry Clinton, informs him that " the Congress does not answer impertinent letters." To conceal nothing from the people, all the proposals were invariably printed; but able writers were employed in pointing out the errors they contained. In that happy country, where each man understood and attended to public affairs, the newspapers became powerful instruments to aid the revolution. The same spirit was also breathed from the pulpit, for the Bible in many places favors republicanism. M. de Lafayette, having once reproached an Anglican minister with speaking only of heaven, went to hear him preach the following Sunday, and the words the execrable house of Hanover proved the docility of the minister.

M. de Lafayette addressed a polite letter to the French minister, and wrote also to the Congress that, " whilst he believed himself free, he had supported the cause under the American banner; that his country was now at war, and that his services were first due to her; that he hoped to return; and that he should always retain his zealous interest for the United States." The Congress not only granted him an unlimited leave of absence, but added to it the most flattering expressions of gratitude. It was resolved that a sword, covered with emblems, should be presented to him, in the name of the United States, by their minister in France: they wrote to the King; and the Alliance, of thirty-six guns, their finest ship, was chosen to carry him back to Europe. M. de Lafayette would neither receive from them anything farther, nor allow them to ask any favor for him at the Court of France. But the Congress, when proposing a co-operation in Canada, expressed its wish of seeing the arrangement of the affair confided to him. This project was afterwards deferred from the general's not entertaining hopes of its ultimate success; but, although old prejudices were much softened—although the conduct of the admiral and the squadron had excited universal approbation—the Congress, the general, and, in short, every one, told M. de Lafayette that, in the whole circuit of the thirteen States, vessels only were required, and that the appearance of a French corps would alarm the nation. As M. de Lafayette was obliged to embark at Boston, he set out again on this journey of 400 miles. He hoped, also, that he should be able to take leave of M. d'Estaing, who had offered to accompany him to the islands, and whose friendship and misfortunes affected him as deeply as his active genius and patriotic courage excited his admiration.

Heated by fatiguing journeys and overexertion, and still more by the grief he had experienced at Rhode Island, and having afterwards labored hard, drunk freely, and passed several sleepless nights at Philadelphia, M. de Lafayette proceeded on horseback, in a high state of fever, and during a pelting autumnal rain. Fetes were given in compliment to him through-out his journey, and he endeavored to strengthen himself with wine, tea, and rum; but at Fishkill, 8 miles from head-quarters, he was obliged to yield to the violence of an inflammatory fever. He was soon reduced to the last extremity, and the report of his approaching death distressed the army, by whom he was called the soldier's friend; and the whole nation were unanimous in expressing their good wishes and regrets for the marquis, the name by which he was exclusively designated. From the first moment, Cockran, director of the hospitals, left all his other occupations to attend to him alone. General Washington came every day to inquire after his friend; but, fearing to agitate him, he only conversed with the physician, and returned house with tearful eyes, and a heart oppressed with grief. Suffering acutely from a raging fever and violent headache, M. de Lafayette felt convinced that he was dying, but did not lose for a moment the clearness of his understanding. Having taken measures to be apprised of the approach of death, he regretted that he could not hope again to see his country and the dearest objects of his affection. Far from foreseeing the happy fate that awaited him, he would willingly have exchanged his future chance of life, in spite of his one-and-twenty years, for the certainty of living but for three months, on the condition of again seeing his friends and witnessing the happy termination of the American war. Put to the assistance of medical art and the assiduous care of Dr. Cockran nature added the alarming, though salutary, remedy of an hemorrhage.

At the expiration of three months, M. de Lafayette's life was no longer in danger: he was at length allowed to see the general, and think of public affairs. After having spent some days together, and spoken of their past labors, present situations, and future projects, General Washington and he took a tender and painful leave of each other. At the same time that the enemies of this great man have accused him of insensibility, they have acknowledged his tenderness for M. de Lafayette; and how is it possible that he should not have been warmly cherished by his disciple, he who, uniting all that is good to all that is great, is even more sublime from his virtues than from his talents? find he been a common soldier, he would have been the bravest in the ranks; had he been an obscure citizen, all his neighbors would have respected him. With a heart and mind equally correctly formed, he judged both of himself and circumstances with strict impartiality. Nature, whilst creating him expressly for that revolution, conferred an honor upon herself; and, to show her work to the greatest possible advantage, she constituted it in such a peculiar manner that each distinct quality would have failed in producing the end required, had it not been sustained by all the others.

In spite of his extreme debility, M. de Lafayette, accompanied by his physician, repaired on horseback to Boston, where Madeira wine effectually restored his health. The crew of the Alliance was not complete, and the council offered to institute a press; but M. de Lafayette would not consent to this method of obtaining sailors, and it was at length resolved to make up the required number by embarking some English deserters, together with some volunteers from among the prisoners. After he had written to Canada, and sent some necklaces to a few of the savage tribes, Brice and Nevil, his aides-de-camp, bore his farewell addresses to the Congress, the general, and his friends. The inhabitants of Boston, who had given him so many proofs of their kindness and attention, renewed their marks of affection at his departure; and the Alliance sailed on the 11th of January. . . .

When I saw the port of Brest receive and salute the banner which floated on my frigate, I recalled to mind the state of my country and of America, and my peculiar situation when I quitted France.

[Here follows the account of his warm welcome at Paris.]

Amidst the various tumultuous scenes that occupied my mind, I did not forget our revolution, of which the ultimate success still appeared uncertain. Accustomed to see great interests supported by slender means, I often said to myself that the expense of one fete would have organized the army of the United States; and, to clothe that army, I would willingly, according to the expression of M. de Maurepas, have unfurnished the palace of Versailles.

 

 

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