Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER FOUR: Trials and Triumph 1780-1781 - George Washington: A Collection
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER FOUR: Trials and Triumph 1780-1781 - George Washington, George Washington: A Collection 
George Washington: A Collection, compiled and edited by W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
Trials and Triumph
WASHINGTON had urged the notion of an American union, in the context of the Revolution, as early as 1775. The progress of the war made his appeals ever more insistent and strident. In the final two years of the war, when enormous labors were required to maintain his position in the face of a determined enemy, his appeals attained the status of virtual demands. Even as the Articles of Confederation, drafted and sent out to the states in 1777, were finally being ratified in 1781 (Maryland acceding and producing ratification March 1), Washington was urging upon legislators and others the necessity for a stronger national union. The struggle of the war years and the ongoing problem of maintaining a cohesive policy in the face of both a factious Congress and a populace that did not possess a clear national vision caused Washington to observe that human nature must receive its due consideration: “we must take the passions of men as nature has given them, and those principles as a guide which are generally the rule of action.”
Though few could know it, the war was swiftly approaching its end. Throughout the entire effort, or nearly so, there existed no formal apparatus of government to direct the effort. When finally in early 1781 “The United States in Congress Assembled” was born, there was no place for celebration; a dangerous enemy, from Washington’s perspective, still loomed before them, while inadequate provision for sustaining American forces had been made. In fact, the end of the severe trials of the war was but another step toward securing the ultimate triumph—nationhood.
Siege of Yorktown. Washington and Rochambeau pressed General Clinton so closely in late August 1781 that Clinton believed their feints toward New York were real movements; on August 25 he ordered Cornwallis to send troops from the South to resist a threatened siege of New York. The American and French armies moved toward Yorktown, where Lafayette was checking Cornwallis’s movements. On September 8, Washington received long-awaited news that Count de Grasse had arrived off the coast of Virginia. The combined strength of the allied forces was then 16,400; the British forces stood at 8,500. On September 25, the army concentrated at Williamsburg took a position within two miles of the British; four days later they had environed Yorktown. The lines fought on October 6, 9, and 11. On October 19, the British army surrendered.
TO GEORGE MASON
Head Quarters, Passaic Falls, October 22, 1780
In consequence of a resolve of Congress directing an enquiry into the conduct of Genl. Gates, and authorising me to appoint some other Officer in his place during this enquiry, I have made choice of Majr. Genl. Greene who will,Appointment of General Greene I expect, have the honor of presenting you with this Letter.
I can venture to introduce this Gentn. to you as a man of abilities bravery and coolness. He has a comprehensive knowledge of our affairs, and is a man of fortitude and resources. I have not the smallest doubt therefore, of his employing all the means which may be put into his hands to the best advantage; nor of his assisting in pointing out the most likely ones to answer the purposes of his command. With this character, I take the liberty of recommending him to your civilities and support; for I have no doubt, from the embarrassed situation of Southern affairs; of his standing much in need of the latter from every Gentn. of Influence in the Assemblies of those States.
As General Greene can give you the most perfect information, in detail of our present distresses, and future prospects, I shall content myself with giving the agregate acct. of them; and with respect to the first, they are so great and complicated, that it is scarcely within the powers of description to give an adequate idea of them; with regard to the second, unless there is a material change both in our military, and civil policy, it will be in vain to contend much longer.
We are without money, and have been so for a great length of time, without provision and forage except what is taken by Impress; without Cloathing; and shortly shall be (in a manner) without Men. In a word, we have lived upon expedients till we can live no longer, and it may truly be said that, the history of this War is a history of false hopes, and temporary devices, instead of System, and oeconomy which results from it.
Call for a new plan to conduct warIf we mean to continue our struggles (and it is to be hoped we shall not relinquish our claim) we must do it upon an entire new plan. We must have a permanent force; not a force that is constantly fluctuating and sliding from under us as a pedestal of Ice would do from a Statue in a Summers day. Involving us in expence that baffles all calculation, an expence which no funds are equal to. We must at the same time contrive ways and means to aid our Taxes by Loans, and put our finance upon a more certain and stable footing than they are at prest. Our Civil government must likewise undergo a reform, ample powers must be lodged in Congress as the head of the Federal Union, adequate to all the purposes of War. Unless these things are done, our efforts will be in vain, and only serve to accumulate expence, add to our perplexities, and dissatisfy the people without a prospect of obtaining the prize in view. but these Sentimts. do not appear well in a hasty letter, without digestion or order. I have not time to give them otherwise; and shall only assure you that they are well meant, however crude they may appear. With sincere Affectn. and esteem etc.
TO WILLIAM FITZHUGH
Hd. Qrs. Passaic Falls, October 22, 1780
General Greene to command Southern ArmyThe Gentn. who will have the honor of presenting you with this letter, is Majr. Genl. Greene, a particular friend of mine, and one who I would beg leave to recommend to your civilities. He is going to take command of the Southern Army, and calls at Annapolis to make some arrangements with the State respecting its supplies which are turned into that direction.
This Gentleman is so intimately acquainted with our situation and prospects, and can relate them with such accuracy, that I shall not trouble you with them. My best respects attend Mrs. Fitzhugh and the young Officer, whose final exchange is, I hope, not far distant; if the Prisoners we have in this quarter will reach the date of his captivity in the exchange we are about to make. The Comy. is now gone in with powers to effect this purpose. I am etc.
Appeal to state assembliesPS: I hope the Assemblies that are now sitting, or are about to sit, will not rise till they put three things in a fair and proper train.
First, to give full and ample powers to Congress, competent to all the purposes of War.
Secondly, by Loans and Taxes to put our finances upon a more respectable footing than they are at present. and
Thirdly, that they will endeavour to establish a permanent force. These things will secure our Independency beyond dispute, but to go on in our present Systemn; Civil as well as military is a useless and vain attempt. Tis idle to suppose that raw and undisciplined Men are fit to oppose regular Troops, and if they were, our present Military System is too expensive, for any funds except that of an Eastern Nabob; and in the Civil line instead of one head and director we have, or soon shall have, thirteen, which is as much a monster in politicks as it would be in the human form. Our prest. distresses, and future prospects of distress, arising from these and similar causes, is great beyond the powers of description and without a change must end in our ruin.
TO JAMES DUANE
New Windsor, December 26, 1780
My dear Sir:
I received with much thankfulness your confidential letter of the 9th. Instt. and am greatly obliged by the affectionate expressions of personl. regard wch are contained in it. An unreserved communication of Sentiments, accompanying such infomation as you are at liberty to give, will ever be pleasing to me, and cannot fail of being useful, in this light I view, and value, your last letter; some parts of wch are new, agreeable and instructive, while that part of it wch. relates to the transactn. at the Ct. of V—is wonderfully astonishing.
Greater powers to Congress, permanency in executive bodiesThere are two things (as I have often declared) which in my opinion, are indispensably neccessary to the well being and good Government of our public Affairs; these are, greater powers to Congress, and more responsibility and permanency in the executive bodies. If individual States conceive themselves at liberty to reject, or alter any act of Congress, which in a full representation of them, has been solemnly debated and decided on; it will be madness in us, to think of prosecuting the War. And if Congress suppose, that Boards composed of their own body, and always fluctuating, are competent to the great business of War (which requires not only close application, but a constant and uniform train of thinking and acting) they will most assuredly deceive themselves. Many, many instances might be adduced in proof of this, but to a mind as observant as yours there is no need to enumerate them. One however, as we feelingly experience it, I shall name. It is the want of cloathing, when I have every reason to be convinced that the expence wch. the Public is run to in this article would Cloath our Army as well as any Troops in Europe; in place of it, we have enumerable objects of distresg. want.
Necessity alone can justify the present mode of obtaining supplies; for besides the hazard and difficulty we meet with in procuring them, I am well convinced, that the public is charged with dble. what it receives, and what it receives is doubly charged so expensive and precarious is the prest. System. When the Army marched for Winter Quarters, I visited the Hospitals and back communication from Pensa. to this place. In the Neighbourhood of Pitts town, I fell in with a parcel of Cattle that were going to be slaughtered and Salted; and can assure you upon my honor, that besides being immensely poor, they were so small that I am convinced they would not average 175 lbs. the 4 nett quarters. some could not exceed One hundd. weight, and others were mere Calves. These pass by the head and the State, or States that furnish them, will have the reputation of supplying that Numbr. of Merchantable Bullocks, when the fact is, that next Summer a starving man wd. scarce eat the Beef they were about to put up after the Salt had extracted the little fat and juices that were in it; there were about 100 in the drove I saw, and my information extended to abt. 8 or 900 more of the same kind, in the neighbourhood. I directed the Commissary to select the best for Salting, and let the others be eaten fresh, as it would be a waste of Salt, Barrels and time to put it up. I relate this as a matter coming under my own observation, many other instances of a similar nature might be given from information, but I avoid it.
This letter will accompany one to Congress on the subject of promotion. That of a lineal, instead of Regimental, I am perswaded, as well from the opinions I have heard, as from the reason and nature of the thing; will be most consistt. with justice and most pleasing to each State line. With respect to the rise of Colonels and promotion of General Officers, I have no wish to gratify, except that which I have expressed in my public letter of fixing some principle, to avoid discontent and the consequences which flow from it. Irregular promotion, unless there is obvious cause for it, is not only injurious in any Service, but in ours is derogatory of the dignity of Congress for the Officer who is superceded and afterwards restored, is hurt by the first act and does not feel himself obliged by the latter (considering it as an act of justice only); while the two acts stands as an undeniable proof on record, that there is an establishd principle wanting, or that there is a want of information, or a want of firmness in Congress to resist importunity because the restoring act, as I have obsd. is an incontestable proof of one or the other of these three things.
At present we are in no want of Major Generals, in this part of the Army at least; but while I am on the subject of promotion, and while the thing is in my mind, I will beg leave to mention, that if at any time hereafter, there should be a Brigr., junr. to Genl. Knox, promoted before him, he will be lost to the Service; tho’ he should, thereafter, be restored to his place. I mention it because under the idea of State promotion he can never rise, and because I am well perswaded that the want of him at the head of the Artillery, would be irrepairable.
I cannot conclude without mentioning the case of Lt. Colo. Smith as deserving of notice, if a remedy can be applied. This Gentn. is of the remaining Sixteen Regiments, and though one of the oldest and (without disparagement to others) one of the best Battalion Officers of the whole line, must quit the Service without a chance of staying altho’ he is extremely anxious to do so. He has, during the last Campaign, been in the Inspectorate department where I think he may still be continued in his present Rank without injury to any one, to his own satisfaction, and the public benefit, without locating his services to any particular Corps, but to be employed as circumstances may require.
Mrs. Washington, impressed with a grateful sence of your kind intention of accompanying her to Trenton, joins me in thanks for it, and complimts. to you. Mr. Tilghman (the only person of my family at this momt. with me) also prests. his compts. with every Sentimt. of estm. etc.
CIRCULAR TO THE NEW ENGLAND STATES
Head Quarters, New Windsor, January 5, 1781
It is with extreme anxiety, and pain of mind, I find myself constrained to inform Your Excellency that the event I have long apprehended would be the consequence of the complicated distresses of the Army, has at length taken place. On the night of the 1st instant a mutiny was excited by the Non Commissioned Officers and Privates of the Pennsylvania Line,Mutiny in the Pennsylvania line which soon became so universal as to defy all opposition; in attempting to quell this tumult, in the first instance, some Officers were killed, others wounded, and the lives of several common Soldiers lost. Deaf to the arguments, entreaties, and utmost efforts of all their Officers to stop them, the Men moved off from Morris Town, the place of their Cantonment, with their Arms, and six pieces of Artillery: and from Accounts just received by Genl. Wayne’s Aid De Camp, they were still in a body, on their March to Philadelphia, to demand a redress of their grievances. At what point this defection will stop, or how extensive it may prove God only knows; at present the Troops at the important Posts in this vicinity remain quiet, not being acquainted with this unhappy and alarming affair; but how long they will continue so cannot be ascertained, as they labor under some of the pressing hardships, with the Troops who have revolted.
Poor conditions in armyThe aggravated calamities and distresses that have resulted, from the total want of pay for nearly twelve Months, for want of cloathing, at a severe season, and not unfrequently the want of provisions; are beyond description. The circumstances will now point out much more forcibly what ought to be done, than any thing that can possibly be said by me, on the subject.
It is not within the sphere of my duty to make requisitions, without the Authority of Congress, from individual States: but at such a crisis, and circumstanced as we are, my own heart will acquit me; and Congress, and the States (eastward of this) whom for the sake of dispatch, I address, I am persuaded will excuse me, when once for all I give it decidedly as my opinion, that it is in vain to think an Army can be kept together much longer, under such a variety of sufferings as ours has experienced: and that unless some immediate and spirited measures are adopted to furnish at least three Months pay to the Troops, in Money that will be of some value to them; And at the same time ways and means are devised to cloath and feed them better (more regularly I mean) than they have been, the worst that can befall us may be expected.
I have transmitted Congress a Copy of this Letter, and have in the most pressing manner requested them to adopt the measure which I have above recommended, or something similar to it, and as I will not doubt of their compliance, I have thought proper to give you this previous notice, that you may be prepared to answer the requisition.
As I have used every endeavour in my power to avert the evil that has come upon us, so will I continue to exert every means I am possessed of to prevent an extension of the Mischief, but I can neither fortell, or be answerable for the issue.
That you may have every information that an officer of rank and abilities can give of the true situation of our affairs, and the condition and temper of the Troops I have prevailed upon Brigadier Genl Knox to be the bearer of this Letter, to him I beg leave to refer your Excellency for many Matters which would be too tedious for a Letter. I have the honor etc.
TO LIEUTENANT COLONEL JOHN LAURENS
[New Windsor, January 15, 1781]
State of American affairsIn compliance with your reguest I shall commit to writing the result of our conferences on the present state of American affairs; in which I have given you my ideas, with that freedom and explicitness, which the objects of your commission, my intire confidence in you, and the exigency demand. To me it appears evident:
1st. That, considering the diffused population of these states, the consequent difficulty of drawing together its resources; the composition and temper of a part of its inhabitants; the want of a sufficient stock of national wealth as a foundation for Revenue and the almost total extinction of commerce; the efforts we have been compelled to make for carrying on the war, have exceeded the natural abilities of this country and by degrees brought it to a crisis, which renders immediate and efficacious succours from abroad indispensable to its safety.
2dly. That, notwithstanding from the confusion, always attendant on a revolution, from our having had governments to frame, and every species of civil and military institution to create; from that inexperience in affairs, necessarily incident to a nation in its commencement,Errors in financial administration some errors may have been committed in the administration of our finances, to which a part of our embarrassments are to be attributed, yet they are principally to be ascribed to an essential defect of means, to the want of a sufficient stock of wealth, as mentioned in the first article; which, continuing to operate, will make it impossible, by any merely interior exertions, to extricate ourselves from those embarrassments, restore public credit, and furnish the funds requisite for the support of the war.
3dly. That experience has demonstrated the impracticability,Paper credit long to maintain a paper credit without funds for its redemption. The depreciation of our currency was, in the main, a necessary effect of the want of those funds; and its restoration is impossible for the same reason; to which the general diffidence, that has taken place among the people, is an additional, and in the present state of things, an insuperable obstacle.
4thly. That the mode, which for want of money has been substituted for supplying the army; by assessing a proportion of the productions of the earth, has hitherto been found ineffectual, has frequently exposed the army to the most calamitous distress, and from its novelty and incompatibility with ancient habits, is regarded by the people as burthensome and oppressive; has excited serious discontents, and, in some places, alarming symptoms of opposition. This mode has besides many particular inconveniences which contribute to make it inadequate to our wants, and ineligible, but as an auxiliary.
5thly. That from the best estimates of the annual expence of the war, and the annual revenues which these states are capable of affording, there is a large balance to be supplied by public credit. The resource of domestic loans is inconsiderable because there are properly speaking few monied men, and the few there are can employ their money more profitably otherwise; added to which, the instability of the currency and the deficiency of funds have impaired the public credit.
6thly. That the patience of the army from an almost uninterrupted series of complicated distress is now nearly exhausted; their discontents matured to an extremity, which has recently had very disagreeable consequences, and which demonstrates the absolute necessity of speedy relief, a relief not within the compass of our means. You are too well acquainted with all their sufferings, for want of cloathing, for want of provisions, for want of pay.
Dissatisfaction of the people7thly. That the people being dissatisfied with the mode of supporting the war, there is cause to apprehend, evils actually felt in the prosecution, may weaken those sentiments which begun it; founded not on immediate sufferings, but in a speculative apprehension of future sufferings from the loss of their liberties. There is danger that a commercial and free people, little accustomed to heavy burthens, pressed by impositions of a new and odious kind, may not make a proper allowance for the necessity of the conjuncture, and may imagine, they have only exchanged one tyranny for another.
8thly. That from all the foregoing considerations result:
1st. The absolute necessity of an immediate, ample and efficacious succour of money; large enough to be a foundation for substantial arrangements of finance, to revive public credit and give vigor to future operations.
2dly. The vast importance of a decided effort of the allied arms on this Continent, the ensuing campaign, to effectuate once and for all the great objects of the alliance; the liberty and independence of these states.
Without the first, we may make a feeble and expiring effort the next campaign, in all probability the period to our opposition. With it, we should be in a condition to continue the war, as long as the obstinacy of the enemy might require. The first is essential to the last; both combined would bring the contest to a glorious issue, crown the obligations, which America already feels to the magnanimity and generosity of her ally, and perpetuate the union, by all the ties of gratitude and affection, as well as mutual advantage, which alone can render it solid and indissoluble.
Need for naval superiority9thly. That next to a loan of money a constant naval superiority on these coasts is the object most interesting. This would instantly reduce the enemy to a difficult defensive, and by removing all prospect of extending their acquistions, would take away the motives for prosecuting the war. Indeed it is not to be conceived, how they could subsist a large force in this country, if we had the command of the seas, to interrupt the regular transmission of supplies from Europe. This superiority (with an aid of money) would enable us to convert the war into a vigorous offensive. I say nothing of the advantages to the trade of both nations, nor how infinitely it would facilitate our supplies. With respect to us, it seems to be one of two deciding points; and it appears too, to be the interest of our allies, abstracted from the immediate benefits to this country, to transfer the naval war to America. The number of ports friendly to them, hostile to the British; the materials for repairing their disabled ships; the extensive supplies towards the subsistence of their fleet, are circumstances which would give them a palpable advantage in the contest of these seas.
10thly. That an additional succour of troops would be extremely desirable. Besides a reinforcement of numbers, the excellence of the French troops, that perfect discipline and order in the corps already sent, which have so happily tended to improve the respect and confidence of the people for our allies; the conciliating disposition and the zeal for the service, which distinguish every rank, sure indications of lasting harmony, all these considerations evince the immense utility of an accession of force to the corps now here. Correspondent with these motives, the inclosed minutes of a conference between Their Excellencies The Count De Rochambeau, The Chevalier De Ternay and myself will inform you that an augmentation to fifteen thousand men was judged expedient for the next campaign; and it has been signified to me, that an application has been made to the Court of France to this effect. But if the sending so large a succour of troops, should necessarily diminish the pecuniary aid, which our allies may be disposed to grant, it were preferable to diminish the aid in men; for the same sum of money, which would transport from France and maintain here a body of troops with all the neccessary apparatus, being put into our hands to be employed by us would serve to give activity to a larger force within ourselves, and its influence would pervade the whole administration.
On repayment of debts11thly. That no nation will have it more in its power to repay what it borrows than this. Our debts are hitherto small. The vast and valuable tracts of unlocated lands, the variety and fertility of climates and soils; the advantages of every kind, which we possess for commerce, insure to this country a rapid advancement in population and prosperity and a certainty, its independence being established, of redeeming in a short term of years, the comparitively inconsiderable debts it may have occasion to contract.
That notwithstanding the difficulties under which we labour and the inquietudes prevailing among the people, there is still a fund of inclination and resource in the country equal to great and continued exertions, provided we have it in our power to stop the progress of disgust, by changing the present system and adopting another more consonant with the spirit of the nation, and more capable of activity and energy in public measures; of which a powerful succour of money must be the basis. The people are discontented, but it is with the feeble and oppressive mode of conducting the war, not with the war itself. They are not unwilling to contribute to its support, but they are unwilling to do it in a way that renders private property precarious, a necessary consequence of the fluctuation of the national currency, and of the inability of government to perform its engagements, oftentimes coercively made. A large majority are still firmly attached to the independence of these states, abhor a reunion with great Britain, and are affectionate to the alliance with France, but this disposition cannot supply the place of means customary and essential in war, nor can we rely on its duration amidst the perplexities, oppressions and misfortunes, that attend the want of them.
If the foregoing observations are of any use to you I shall be happy. I wish you a safe and pleasant voyage, the full accomplishment of your mission and a speedy return; being with sentiments of perfect friendship etc.
Tuesday, January 30, 1781
Parole ———. Countersigns ———.
The General returns his thanks to Major General Howe for the judicious measures he pursued and to the officers and men under his command for the good conduct and alacrity with which they executed his orders for suppressing the late Mutiny in a part of the New Jersey line.Mutiny of the New Jersey line It gave him inexpressible pain to have been obliged to employ their arms upon such an occasion and convinced that they themselves felt all the Reluctance which former Affection to fellow Soldiers could inspire. He considers the patience with which they endured the fatigues of march through rough and mountainous roads rendered almost impassable by the depth of the Snow and the cheerfulness with which they performed every other part of their duty as the strongest proof of their Fidelity, attachment to the service, sense of subordination and abhorrence of the principles which actuated the Mutineers in so daring and atrocious a departure from what they owed to their Country, to their Officers to their Oaths and to themselves.
The General is deeply sensible of the sufferings of the army. He leaves no expedient unessayed to relieve them, and he is persuaded Congress and the several States are doing every thing in their power for the same purpose. But while we look to the public for the fullfilment of its engagements we should do it with proper allowance for the embarrassments of public affairs. We began a Contest for Liberty and Independence ill provided with the means for war, relying on our own Patriotism to supply the deficiency. We expected to encounter many wants and distresses and We should neither shrink from them when they happen nor fly in the face of the Law and Government to procure redress. There is no doubt the public will in the event do ample justice to men fighting and suffering in its defence. But it is our duty to bear present Evils with Fortitude looking forward to the period when our Country will have it more in its power to reward our services.
History is full of Examples of armies suffering with patience extremities of distress which exceed those we have suffered, and this in the cause of ambition and conquest not in that of the rights of humanity of their country, of their families of themselves;The distinction of a patriot army shall we who aspire to the distinction of a patriot army, who are contending for every thing precious in society against every thing hateful and degrading in slavery, shall We who call ourselves citizens discover less Constancy and Military virtue than the mercenary instruments of ambition? Those who in the present instance have stained the honor of the American soldiery and sullied the reputation of patient Virtue for which they have been so long eminent can only atone for their pusillanimous defection by a life devoted to a Zealous and examplary discharge of their duty. Persuaded that the greater part were influenced by the pernicious advice of a few who probably have been paid by the enemy to betray their Associates; The General is happy in the lenity shewn in the execution of only two of the most guilty after compelling the whole to an unconditional surrender, and he flatters himself no similar instance will hereafter disgrace our military History. It can only bring ruin on those who are mad enough to make the attempt; for lenity on any future occasion would be criminal and inadmissible.
The General at the same time presents his thanks to Major General Parsons for the prudent and Military dispositions he made and to Lieutenant Colonel Hull and the officers and Men under his command for the good conduct address and Courage with which they executed the enterprize against a Corps of the enemy in West Chester, having destroyed their Barracks and a large quantity of Forage, burnt a bridge across Haerlem, under the protection of one of their redoubts, brought off fifty two prisoners and a number of Horses and Cattle with inconsiderable Loss except in the death of Ensign Thompson of the 6th. Massachusett’s regiment an active and enterprizing officer.
The General also thanks Colonel Hazen and his party for their Conduct and bravery in covering Lieutenant Colonel Hull’s retreat and repelling the Enemy and the Colonels Scammell and Sherman and in general all the Officers and men of General Parsons’s command for their good Conduct in supporting the advanced Corps.
TO JOHN SULLIVAN
New Windsor, February 4, 1781
Appointment of Ministers of War, Finance, and Foreign AffairsColo. Armand deliver’d me your favor of the 29th. Ulto. last Evening and I thank you for the sevl. communications contained in it. The measure adopted by Congress of appointing a Minister of War, Finance, and for Foreign Affairs I think a very wise one. To give efficacy to it, proper characters will, no doubt, be chosen to conduct the business of these departments. How far Colo. Hamilton, of whom you ask my opinion as a financier, has turned his thoughts to that particular study I am unable to ansr. because I never entered upon a discussion on this point with him; but this I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue.
I am clearly in Sentiment with you that our cause only became distressed, and apparently desperate from an imprr. management of it. and that errors once discovered are more than half amended; I have no doubt of our abilities or resources, but we must not slumber nor Sleep; they never will be drawn forth if we do; nor will violent exertions which subside with the occasion answer our purposes. It is a provident foresight; a proper arrangement of business, system and order in the execution that is to be productive of that oeconomy which is to defeat the efforts and hopes of Great Britain. And I am happy, thrice happy on private as well as public acct; to find that these are in train; for it will ease my shoulders of an immense burthen which the deranged and perplexed situation of our Affairs and the distresses of every department of the Army which concentred in the Comr. in chief had placed upon them.
I am not less pleased to hear that, Maryland has acceded to the confederation, and that Virginia has relinquished its claim to the Land West of the Ohio, which for fertility of Soil, pleasantness of clime and other Natu’l advantages is equal to any known tract of Country in the Universe of the same extent, taking the great Lakes for its Northern boundary.
I wish most devoutly a happy completion to your plan of finance (which you say is near finished); and much success to your scheme of borrowing Coined specie, and Plate. but in what manner do you propose to apply the latter? as a fund to redeem its value in Paper, to be emitted; or to coin it? If the latter it will add one more to a thousand other reasons wch. might be offered in proof of the necessity of vesting legislative or dictatorial powers in Congress to make Laws of general utility for the purposes of War &c.Business with the enemy that they might prohibit under the pains, and penalty of death specie and Provisions going into the Enemy for Goods. The Traffic with New York is immense. Individual States will not make it felony, lest (among other reasons) it should not become general, and nothing short of it will ever check, much less stop a practice which at the same time that it serves to drain us of our Provisions and Specie removes the barrier between us and the enemy, corrupt the morals of our people by a lucrative traffic and by degrees weaken the opposition, affords a mean to obtain regular and perfect intelligence of everything among us while even in this respect we benefit nothing from a fear of discovery. Men of all descriptions are now indiscriminately engaging in it, Whig, Tory, Speculator. By its being practiced by those of the latter class, in a mannr. with impunity, Men who, two or three yrs. ago, would have shuddered at the idea of such connexions now pursue it with avidity and reconcile it to themselves (in which their profits plead powerfully) upon a principle of equality, with the Tory, who being actuated by principle, (favourable to us) and knowing that a forfeiture of the Goods to the Informer was all he had to dread and that this was to be eluded by an agreemt. to inform against each other, went into the measure witht. risk.
This is a degression, but the subject is of so serious a nature, and so interesting to our well being as a Nation, that I never expect to see a happy termination of the War; nor great national concerns well conducted in Peace, till there is something more than a recommendatory power in Congress. It is not possible in time of War that business can be conducted well without it. The last words therefore of my letter and the first wish of my heart concur in favor of it. I am etc.
TO JOHN PARKE CUSTIS
New Windsor, February 28, 1781
If you will accept a hasty letter in return for yours of last month I will devote a few moments for this purpose, and confine myself to an interesting point, or two.
Suggestions to a young SenatorI do not suppose that so young a Senator, as you are, little versed in political disquisitions can yet have much influence in a populous assembly; composed of Gentn. of various talents and of different views. But it is in your power to be punctual in your attendance (and duty to the trust reposed in you exacts it of you), to hear dispassionately, and determine cooly all great questions. To be disgusted at the decision of questions because they are not consonant to your own ideas, and to withdraw ourselves from public assemblies, or to neglect our attendance at them upon suspicion that there is a party formed who are enimical to our Cause, and to the true interest of our Country is wrong because these things may originate in a difference of opinion; but supposing the fact is otherwise and that our suspicions are well founded it is the indispensable duty of every patriot to counteract them by the most steady and uniform opposition. This advice is the result of information, that you and others being dissatisfied at the proceedings of the Virginia Assembly and thinking your attendance of little avail (as their is a majority for measures which you and a minority conceive to be repugnant to the interest of your Country) are indifferent about the Assembly.
Need for a permanent military forceThe next and I believe the last thing I shall have time to touch upon is our military establishment. and here if I thought the conviction of having a permanent force had not, ere this, flashed upon every mans mind I could write a volume in support of the utility of it; for no day, nor hour arrives unaccompd. with proof of some loss, some expence, or some misfortune consequent of the want of it. No operation of War offensive or defensive can be carried on, for any length of time without it. No funds are adequate to the supplies of a fluctuating army; tho’ it may go under the denomination of a regular one; much less are they competent to the support of Militia. In a word, for it is, unnecessary to go into all the reasons the subject will admit of, we have brought a cause which might have been happily terminated years ago by the adoption of proper measures to the verge of ruin by temporary enlistments and a reliance on Militia. The sums expended in bounties, waste of Arms, consumption of Military Stores, Provisions, Camp Utensils &ca.; to say nothing of Cloathing which temporary Soldiers are always receiving, and always in want of, are too great for the resources of any Nation; and prove the falacy and danger of temporary expedients which are no more than Mushrooms and of as short duration, but leave a sting (that is a debt) which is continually revolving upon us behind them.
It must be a settled plan, founded on System, order and oeconomy that is to carry us triumphantly through the war. Supiness, and indifference to the distresses and cries of a sister State when danger is far of, and a general but momentary resort to arms when it comes to our doors, are equally impolitic and dangerous,Necessity of Congressional power and proves the necessity of a controuling power in Congress to regulate and direct all matters of general concern; without it the great business of war never can be well conducted, if it can be conducted at all; while the powers of congress are only recommendatory; while one State yields obedience, and another refuses it; while a third mutilates and adopts the measure in part only, and all vary in time and manner, it is scarcely possible our affairs should prosper, or that any thing but disappointmt. can follow the best concerted plans; the willing States are almost ruined by their exertions, distrust and jealousy succeeds to it; hence proceed neglect and ill-timed compliances (one state waiting to see what another will do), this thwarts all our measures after a heavy tho’ ineffectual expence is incurred.
Does not these things shew then in the most striking point of view the indispensable necessity, the great and good policy of each State’s sending its ablest and best men to Congress? Men who have a perfect understanding of the constitution of their Country, of its policy and Interests, and of vesting that body with competent powers. Our Independence depends upon it; our respectability and consequence in Europe depends upon it; our greatness as a Nation, hereafter, depends upon it. the fear of giving sufficient powers to Congress for the purposes I have mentioned is futile, without it, our Independence fails, and each Assembly under its present Constitution will be annihilated, and we must once more return to the Government of G: Britain, and be made to kiss the rod preparing for our correction. A nominal head, which at present is but another name for Congress, will no longer do. That honble body, after hearing the interests and views of the several States fairly discussed and explained by their respective representatives, must dictate, not merely recommend, and leave it to the States afterwards to do as they please, which, as I have observed before, is in many cases, to do nothing at all.
When I began this letter I did not expect to have filled more than one side of the sheet but I have run on insensibly. If you are at home, give my love to Nelly and the Children. if at Richmond present my complimts. to any enquiring friends. Sincerely and affectly. I am etc.
PS: The Public Gazettes will give you all the news and occurrances of this Quarter, our eyes are anxiously turned towards the South for events.
TO LUND WASHINGTON
New Windsor, April 30, 1781
The British at Washington’s homeYour letter of the 18th. came to me by the last Post. I am very sorry to hear of your loss; I am a little sorry to hear of my own; but that which gives me most concern, is, that you should go on board the enemys Vessels, and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me, to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House, and laid the Plantation in ruins. You ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them with a view to prevent a conflagration.
It was not in your power, I acknowledge, to prevent them from sending a flag on shore, and you did right to meet it; but you should, in the same instant that the business of it was unfolded, have declared, explicitly, that it was improper for you to yield to the request; after which, if they had proceeded to help themselves, by force, you could but have submitted (and being unprovided for defence) this was to be prefered to a feeble opposition which only serves as a pretext to burn and destroy.
I am thoroughly perswaded that you acted from your best judgment; and believe, that your desire to preserve my property, and rescue the buildings from impending danger, were your governing motives. But to go on board their Vessels; carry them refreshments; commune with a parcel of plundering Scoundrels, and request a favor by asking the surrender of my Negroes, was exceedingly ill-judged, and ‘tis to be feared, will be unhappy in its consequences, as it will be a precedent for others, and may become a subject of animadversion.
I have no doubt of the enemys intention to prosecute the plundering plan they have begun. And, unless a stop can be put to it by the arrival of a superior naval force, I have as little doubt of its ending in the loss of all my Negroes, and in the destruction of my Houses; but I am prepared for the event, under the prospect of which, if you could deposit, in safety, at some convenient distance from the Water, the most valuable and least bulky articles, it might be consistent with policy and prudence, and a mean of preserving them for use hereafter. Such, and so many things as are necessary for common, and present use must be retained and run their chance through the firy trial of this summer.
Mrs. Washington joins me in best and affectionate regard for you, Mrs. Washington and Milly Posey; and does most sincerely regret your loss. I do not know what Negros they may have left you; and as I have observed before, I do not know what number they will have left me by the time they have done; but this I am sure of, that you shall never want assistance, while it is in my power to afford it. I am etc.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS
Head Quarters near York, October 19, 1781
Surrender at YorktownI have the Honor to inform Congress, that a Reduction of the British Army under the Command of Lord Cornwallis, is most happily effected. The unremitting Ardor which actuated every Officer and Soldier in the combined Army on this Occasion, has principally led to this Important Event, at an earlier period than my most sanguine Hopes had induced me to expect.
The singular Spirit of Emulation, which animated the whole Army from the first Commencement of our Operations, has filled my Mind with the highest pleasure and Satisfaction, and had given me the happiest presages of Success.
On the 17th instant, a Letter was received from Lord Cornwallis, proposing a Meeting of Commissioners, to consult on Terms for the Surrender of the Posts of York and Gloucester. This Letter (the first which had passed between us) opened a Correspondence, a Copy of which I do myself the Honor to inclose; that Correspondence was followed by the Definitive Capitulation, which was agreed to, and Signed on the 19th. Copy of which is also herewith transmitted, and which I hope, will meet the Approbation of Congress.
Gratitude for French cooperationI should be wanting in the feelings of Gratitude, did I not mention on this Occasion, with the warmest Sense of Acknowledgements, the very chearfull and able Assistance, which I have received in the Course of our Operations, from his Excellency the Count de Rochambeau, and all his Officers of every Rank, in their respective Capacities. Nothing could equal this Zeal of our Allies, but the emulating Spirit of the American Officers, whose Ardor would not suffer their Exertions to be exceeded.
The very uncommon Degree of Duty and Fatigue which the Nature of the Service required from the Officers of Engineers and Artillery of both Armies, obliges me particularly to mention the Obligations I am under to the Commanding and other Officers of those Corps.
I wish it was in my Power to express to Congress, how much I feel myself indebted to The Count de Grasse and the Officers of the Fleet under his Command for the distinguished Aid and Support which have been afforded by them; between whom, and the Army, the most happy Concurrence of Sentiments and Views have subsisted, and from whom, every possible Cooperation has been experienced, which the most harmonious Intercourse could afford.
Returns of the Prisoners, Military Stores, Ordnance Shipping and other Matters, I shall do myself the Honor to transmit to Congress as soon as they can be collected by the Heads of Departments, to which they belong.
Colo. Laurens and the Viscount de Noiailles, on the Part of the combined Army, were the Gentlemen who acted as Commissioners for formg and settg the Terms of Capitulation and Surrender herewith transmitted, to whom I am particularly obliged for their Readiness and Attention exhibited on the Occasion.
Colo. Tilghman, one of my Aids de Camp, will have the Honor to deliver these Dispatches to your Excellency; he will be able to inform you of every minute Circumstance which is not particularly mentioned in my Letter; his Merits, which are too well known to need my observations at this time, have gained my particular Attention, and could wish that they may be honored with the Notice of your Excellency and Congress.
Your Excellency and Congress will be pleased to accept my Congratulations on this happy Event, and believe me to be With the highest Respect etc.
PS: Tho’ I am not possessed of the Particular Returns, yet I have reason to suppose that the Number of Prisoners will be between five and Six thousand, exclusive of Seamen and others.
Head Quarters Before York, Saturday, October 20, 1781
Parole Congress. Countersigns York, Gloucester.
Major General the Marqs. de la Fayette
For the Day tomorrow Colonel Walter Stewart
Brigade Major Cox
Brigadier General Hazen’s Brigade for duty tomorrow to parade at ten o’clock on their own parade.
As a great number of the axes delivered to working parties during the siege have not been returned the Commander in Chief directs that the Commandants of Corps, continental and militia, may have an immediate and strict search made in their respective commands and that all the axes found which have not been issued for their particular use may be returned to General Elbert Superintendant of the deposit of the trenches.
The Provost Guard consisting of one sub, two serjeants, Two Corporals and twenty privates to be relieved by divisions in rotation daily. The Marquis de la Fayettes will furnish it this day; Major General Lincolns division tomorrow, and the Baron’s the next day.
Congratulations to French and American armiesThe General congratulates the Army upon the glorious event of yesterday.
The generous proofs which his most Christian Majesty has given of his attachment to the Cause of America must force conviction on the minds of the most deceived among the Enemy: relatively to the decisive good consequences of the Alliance and inspire every citizen of these States with sentiments of the most unalterable Gratitude.
His Fleet the most numerous and powerful that ever appeared in these seas commanded by an Admiral whose Fortune and Talents ensure great Events.
An Army of the most admirable composition both in officers and men are the Pledges of his friendship to the United States and their cooperation has secured us the present signal success.
The General upon his occasion entreats his Excellency Count de Rochambeau to accept his most grateful acknowledgements for his Counsels and assistance at all times. He presents his warmest thanks to the Generals Baron Viomenil, Chevalier Chastellux, Marquis de St. Simond and Count Viomenil and to Brigadier General de Choissy (who had a separate command) for the illustrious manner in which they have advanced the interest of the common cause.
He requests that Count de Rochambeau will be pleased to communicate to the Army under his immediate command the high sense he entertains of the distinguished merits of the officers and soldiers of every corps and that he will present in his name to the regiments of Gattinois and Deuxponts the two Pieces of Brass Ordnance captured by them; as a testimony of their Gallantry in storming the Enemy’s Redoubt on the Night of the 14th. instant, when officers and men so universally vied with each other in the exercise of every soldierly virtue.
The General’s Thanks to each individual of Merit would comprehend the whole Army. But He thinks himself bound however by Affection Duty and Gratitude to express his obligations to Major Generals Lincoln, de La Fayette and Steuben for their dispositions in the Trenches.
To General Du Portail and Colonel Carney for the Vigor and Knowledge which were conspicuous in their Conduct of the Attacks, and to General Knox and Colonel D’Aberville for their great care and attention and fatigue in bringing forward the Artillery and Stores and for their judicious and spirited management of them in the Parallels.
He requests the Gentlemen above mentioned to communicate his thanks to the officers and soldiers of their respective commands.
Ingratitude which the General hopes never to be guilty of would be conspicuous in him was he to omit thanking in the warmest terms His Excellency Governor Nelson for the Aid he has derived from him and from the Militia under his Command to whose Activity Emulation and Courage much Applause is due; the Greatness of the Acquisition will be an ample Compensation for the Hardships and Hazards which they encountered with so much patriotism and firmness.
In order to diffuse the general Joy through every Breast the General orders that those men belonging to the Army who may now be in confinement shall be pardoned released and join their respective corps.
Divine Service is to be performed tomorrow in the several Brigades or Divisions.
The Commander in Chief earnestly recommends that the troops not on duty should universally attend with that seriousness of Deportment and gratitude of Heart which the recognition of such reiterated and astonishing interpositions of Providence demand of us.