Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 11: The Character of Washington: Preserving Army and Command at Valley Forge (December 1777 to May 1778) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 11: “The Character of Washington”: Preserving Army and Command at Valley Forge (December 1777 to May 1778) - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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“The Character of Washington”: Preserving Army and Command at Valley Forge (December 1777 to May 1778)
Distresses of the army.—It is subsisted by impressment.—Combination against General Washington.—Congress send a committee to camp.—Attempt to surprise Captain Lee.—Congress determines on a second expedition to Canada.—Abandons it.—General Conway resigns.—The Baron Steuben appointed Inspector-General.—Congress forbids the embarkation of Burgoyne’s army.—Plan of reconciliation agreed to in Parliament.—Rejected by Congress.—Information of treaties with France.—Great Britain declares war against France.—Treatment of prisoners.—Partial exchange.
Dec. 1777The army under the immediate command of General Washington, was engaged through the winter in endeavoring to stop the intercourse between Philadelphia and the country. One of the first operations meditated after crossing the Schuylkill, was the destruction of a large quantity of hay, on the islands above the mouth of Darby Creek, within the power of the British. EarlyDec. 22 in the morning, after orders for this purpose had been given, Sir William Howe marched out of Philadelphia, and encamped so as completely to cover the islands; while a foraging party removed the hay, Washington, with the intention of disturbing this operation, gave orders for putting his army in motion, when the alarming fact was disclosed that the commissary’s stores were exhausted, and that the last ration had been delivered and consumed.
On receiving intelligence of the fact, General Washington ordered the country to be scoured, and provisions to be seized wherever found. In the mean time, light parties were detached to harass the enemy; but Sir William Howe, with his accustomed circumspection, kept his army so compact that an opportunity to annoy him was seldom afforded even to the vigilance of Morgan1 and Lee.2 After completing his forage, he returned with inconsiderable loss to Philadelphia.
That the American army, while the value still retained by paper bills placed ample funds in the hands of government, should be destitute of food in a country abounding with provisions, is one of those extraordinary facts which cannot fail to excite attention.
Early in the war the office of Commissary-General had been conferred on Colonel Trumbull of Connecticut, a gentleman fitted for that important station. Yet from the difficulty of arranging so complicated a department, complaints were repeatedly made of the insufficiency of supplies. The subject was taken up by Congress;June 1777 but the remedy administered served only to increase the disease. The system was not completed till near midsummer; and then its arrangements were such that Colonel Trumbull refused the office assigned to him. The new plan contemplated a number of subordinate officers, all to be appointed by Congress, and neither accountable to, or removeable by, the head of the department.
This imperium in imperio,3 erected in direct opposition to the opinion of the commander-in-chief, drove Colonel Trumbull from the army. Congress, however, persisted in the system; and its effects were not long in unfolding themselves. In every military division of the continent, loud complaints were made of the deficiency of supplies. The armies were greatly embarrassed, and their movements suspended, by the want of provisions. The present total failure of all supply was preceded by issuing meat unfit to be eaten. Representations on this subject had been made to the commander-in-chief, and communicated to Congress. That body had authorized him to seize provisions for the use of his army within seventy miles of head-quarters, and to pay for them in money or in certificates. The odium of this measure was increased by the failure of government to provide funds to take up these certificates when presented.
At the same time, the provisions carried into Philadelphia were paid for in specie at a fair price. The temptation was too great to be resisted.4 Such was the dexterity employed by the inhabitants in eluding the laws, that notwithstanding the vigilance of the troops stationed on the lines, they often succeeded in concealing their provisions from those authorized to impress5 for the army, and in conveying them to Philadelphia.
General Washington exercised the powers confided to him only in real necessity; and Congress appeared to be as much dissatisfied with his lenity as the people were with his rigour. His forbearance was disapproved, and instructions given for the regular exertion, in future, of the power with which he was invested.
Though still retaining his opinion that such violent measures would be less offensive if executed by the civil authority, he issued a proclamation, in obedience to the will of Congress, requiring the farmers, within seventy miles of head quarters, to thresh out one half of their grain by the 1st of February, and the residue by the 1st of March, under the penalty of having the whole seized as straw.
The success of this experiment did not correspond with the wishes of Congress. It was attended with the pernicious consequences which had been foreseen and suggested by the General, to avoid which he had been desirous of reserving military impressment as a dernier resort,6 to be used only in extreme cases.
Oct. 1777 to Jan. 1778About this time a strong combination was forming against the commander-in-chief, in which several members of Congress, and a very few officers of the army, are believed to have entered.7
The splendour with which the capture of a British army had surrounded the military reputation of General Gates, acquired some advocates for the opinion that the arms of America would be more fortunate should that gentleman be elevated to the supreme command. He could not be supposed hostile himself to the prevalence of this opinion; and some parts of his conduct warrant a belief that, if it did not originate with him, he was not among the last to adopt it.
The state of Pennsylvania, too, chagrined at the loss of its capital, furnished many discontented individuals. They imputed it to General Washington as a fault that, with forces inferior to his enemy in numbers, and in every equipment, he had not effected the same result which had been produced in the north by a continental army, in itself much stronger than its adversary, and so reinforced by militia as to treble its numbers. On the report that General Washington was moving into winter quarters, the Legislature of that state addressed a remonstrance to Congress on the subject, manifesting their dissatisfaction with the commander-in-chief. About the same time a new Board of War was created, of which General Gates was appointed president; and General Mifflin, who was supposed to be of the party unfriendly to the commander-in-chief, was one of its members.8 General Conway, the only brigadier in the army who had joined this faction, was appointed Inspector-General, and was promoted above senior brigadiers, to the rank of Major-General.
These machinations to diminish the well-earned reputation of General Washington, could not escape his notice. They made, however, no undue impression on his steady mind. When he unbosomed himself to his private friends, the feelings and sentiments he expressed were worthy of Washington. To Mr. Laurens, the President of Congress, who, in an unofficial letter, had communicated an anonymous accusation, made to him as president, containing many heavy charges against the commander-in-chief, he said, “I was not unapprised that a malignant faction had been for some time forming to my prejudice, which, conscious as I am of having done all in my power to answer the important purposes of the trusts reposed in me, could not but give me some pain on a personal account; but my chief concern arises from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences which intestine dissensions may produce to the common cause.” * * *
“The anonymous paper handed you exhibits many serious charges, and it is my wish that it may be submitted to Congress.” * * *
“My enemies take an ungenerous advantage of me. They know the delicacy of my situation, and that motives of policy deprive me of the defence I might otherwise make against their insidious attacks. They know I cannot combat their insinuations, however injurious, without disclosing secrets it is of the utmost moment to conceal.” * * *
Fortunately for America, these combinations only excited resentment against those who were believed to be engaged in them.
Soon after they were communicated, the General also discovered the failure, already mentioned, in the commissary department.Dec. 1777 On this occasion he addressed Congress in terms of energy and plainness never used before. This letter contains a faithful as well as vivid description of the condition of the army and of the country.
The distresses it describes, however, so far as respected clothing, were not attributable to the inattention of Congress. Measures for the importation of cloths had been adopted early in the war, but had not produced the effect expected from them. Vigorous but ineffectual means had also been taken to obtain supplies from the interior. The unfortunate non-importation agreements which preceded the commencement of hostilities, had reduced the quantity of goods in the country below the ordinary amount, and the war had almost annihilated foreign commerce. The progress of manufactures did not equal the consumption; and such was the real scarcity, that exactions from individuals produced great distress, without relieving the wants of the soldiers.
To recruit the army for the ensuing campaign became again an object of vital importance; and the commander-in-chief again pressed its necessity on Congress and on the states. To obtain a respectable number of men by voluntary enlistment was obviously impossible. Coercion could be employed only by the state governments; and it required all the influence of General Washington to induce the adoption of a measure so odious in itself, yet so indispensable to the successful termination of the war.
To the causes which had long threatened the destruction of the army, the depreciation of paper-money was now to be added. It had become so considerable, that the pay of an officer would not procure even those absolute necessaries which might protect his person from the extremes of heat and cold. The very few who possessed small patrimonial estates9 found them melting away; and others were unable to appear as gentlemen.10 Such circumstances could not fail to excite disgust with the service, and a disposition to leave it.
With extreme anxiety the commander-in-chief watched the progress of a temper which would increase, he feared, with the cause which produced it. He was therefore early and earnest in pressing the consideration of this important subject on the attention of Congress.
The weak and broken condition of the continental regiments, the strong remonstrances of the General, the numerous complaints received from every quarter, determined Congress to depute a committee to reside in camp during the winter, for the purpose of investigating the whole military establishment, and reporting such reforms as the public good might require.
1778This committee repaired to head quarters in the month of January. The commander-in-chief laid before them a general statement, taking a comprehensive view of the condition of the army, and detailing the remedies necessary for the correction of existing abuses, as well as those regulations which he deemed essential to its future prosperity. This paper discloses defects of real magnitude in the existing arrangements. In perusing it, the reader is struck with the numerous difficulties in addition to those resulting from inferiority of numbers, with which the commander-in-chief was under the necessity of contending. The neglect of the very serious representation it contained respecting a future permanent provision for the officers, threatened, at an after period, the most pernicious effects.
The wants and distresses of the army actually seen by the committee, made a much deeper impression than could have been received from a statement of them. They endeavored to communicate their impressions to Congress, and urged a correction of the errors they perceived.
Much of the sufferings of the army was attributed to mismanagement in the quarter-master’s department. This subject was taken up early by the committee, and proper representations made respecting it. But Congress still remained under the influence of those opinions which had produced such mischievous effects, and were still disposed to retain the subordinate officers of the department in a state of immediate dependence on their own body.
While the reforms proposed were under consideration, the distresses of the army approached their acme. Early in February the commissaries gave notice that the country, to a great distance, was actually exhausted; and that it would be impossible to obtain supplies longer than to the end of that month. General Washington found it necessary again to interpose his personal exertions to procure provisions from a distance.
In the apprehension that the resources of the commissary department might fail before these distant supplies could reach him, and that the enemy designed to make another foraging incursion into the country around Philadelphia, he detached General Wayne with orders to seize every article required by his troops within fifteen miles of the Delaware, and to destroy the forage on the islands between Philadelphia and Chester. The inhabitants concealed their provisions and teams; and before sufficient aid could be procured by these means, the bread as well as the meat was exhausted, and famine prevailed in camp.
In an emergency so pressing, the commander-in-chief used every effort to feed his hungry army. Parties were sent out to glean the country; officers of influence were deputed to Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland; and circular letters were addressed to the Governors of States, describing the wants of the troops, and urging the greatest exertions for their immediate relief.
Fortunately for America, there were features in the character of Washington which, notwithstanding the discordant materials of which his army was composed, attached his officers and soldiers so strongly to his person, that no distress could weaken their affection nor impair the respect and veneration in which they held him. To this sentiment is to be attributed, in a great measure, the preservation of a respectable military force, under circumstances but too well calculated for its dissolution.11
In a few days the army was rescued from the famine with which it had been threatened. It was perceived that the difficulties which had produced such melancholy effects, were occasioned more by the want of due exertion in the commissary department, and by the efforts of the people to save their stock for a better market, than by a real deficiency of food in the country.
This same demonstration seems to have convinced Congress that their favorite system was radically vicious; and the subject was taken up with the serious intention of remodelling the commissary department on principles recommended by experience. But such were the delays inherent in the organization of that body, that the new system was not adopted until late in April.
The vigilance of the parties on the lines throughout the winter intercepted a large portion of the supplies intended for Philadelphia; and corporal punishment was often inflicted on those who were detected in attempting this infraction of the laws. As Captain Lee was particularly active, a plan was formed late in January to surprise him in his quarters. A large body of cavalry, having made an extensive circuit and seized four of his patroles without communicating an alarm, appeared at his quarters about break of day. The troopers in the houses were immediately placed at the doors and windows, and, without the loss of a man, repulsed the assailants. Lieutenant Lindsay and one private were wounded. The whole number in the house did not exceed ten. That of the British was supposed to be two hundred. They lost a serjeant and three men, with several horses killed; and an officer and three men wounded.
The result of this affair gave great pleasure to the commander-in-chief, who had formed a high opinion of Lee’s talents as a partisan. He mentioned it with approbation in his orders, and in a private letter to the Captain. For his merit through the preceding campaign, Congress promoted him to the rank of Major, and gave him an independent partisan corps, to consist of three troops of horse.
While the deficiency of the public resources was felt in all the military departments, a plan was matured in Congress and in the board of war, for a second irruption into Canada. It was proposed to place the Marquis de Lafayette12 at the head of this expedition, and to employ Generals Conway and Starke as second and third in command.
The first intimation to General Washington that the expedition was contemplated, was given in a letter of the 24th of January, from the President of the board of war, inclosing one of the same date for the Marquis, requiring the attendance of that nobleman on Congress to receive his orders. The commander-in-chief was requested to furnish Colonel Hazen’s regiment for the expedition; his advice and opinion respecting which were asked. The northern States were to furnish the necessary troops.
General Washington, without noticing the marked want of confidence betrayed in this whole transaction, ordered Hazen’s regiment to Albany; and the Marquis proceeded immediately to the seat of Congress. At his request, he was to remain under the orders of Washington. He then repaired to Albany, where the troops for the expedition were to assemble. On finding that no preparations had been made, that nothing which had been promised was in readiness, he abandoned the enterprise as impracticable. It was soon afterwards relinquished by Congress also.
Feb. 1778While his army lay at Valley Forge, the Baron Steuben arrived in camp. This gentleman was a Prussian officer, who came to the United States with ample recommendations, and was well qualified to instruct raw troops in that system of field exercise which the great Frederick had introduced. He offered to render his services as a volunteer; and, after a conference with Congress, proceeded to Valley Forge.13
Although the office of Inspector-General had been bestowed on Conway, he had never entered on its duties. His promotion over senior officers had given much umbrage, and, added to the knowledge of his being in a faction hostile to the commander-in-chief, had made his situation in the army so uncomfortable, that he withdrew to York, in Pennsylvania, then the seat of Congress. Not being directed to rejoin the army when the expedition to Canada was abandoned, and entertaining no hope of being permitted to exercise the functions of his new office, he resigned his commission and returned to France. On his resignation, the Baron Steuben, who had performed the duties of Inspector-General as a volunteer, was, on the recommendation of General Washington, appointed to that office with the rank of Major-General. This gentleman was of real service to the American troops.
1777During the winter, Congress was occupied with several matters of great interest. Among them was the stipulation in the convention at Saratoga, for the return of the British army to England.
The facility with which the convention might be violated on the part of the British, and the captured army be employed in the United States, seems to have suggested itself to the American government as soon as the first rejoicings were over; and a resolution was passed early in November, directing General Heath to transmit to the board of war, a descriptive list of all persons comprehended in the convention. The hope was entertained, that as the port of Boston, the place of embarkation, was often rendered extremely difficult of access early in the winter, it might be closed before a sufficient number of vessels for the transportation of the troops to Europe could be collected.
Contrary to expectation, a fleet of transports reached Rhode Island early in December. Several circumstances had combined to ripen the previous suspicions of Congress into conviction. General Burgoyne had addressed a letter to General Gates, in which he complained of the inconvenient quarters assigned his officers, as a breach of the convention—a complaint supposed to be made for the purpose of letting in the principle, that the breach of one article of the treaty discharges the injured party from its obligations. This suspicion derived strength from the indiscreet hesitation of General Burgoyne to permit the resolution requiring a descriptive list of his troops to be executed.
It was also alleged that the number of transports was not sufficient to convey the troops to Europe; and that General Howe could not possibly have laid in a sufficient stock of provisions for the voyage. The objections were strengthened by some trivial inadvertent infractions of the convention, which, it was contended, gave Congress a strict right to detain the troops.
The whole subject was referred to a committee, on receivingJan. 1778 whose report, Congress resolved “that the embarkation of Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and the troops under his command be suspended until a distinct and explicit ratification of the convention of Saratoga shall be properly notified by the court of Great Britain to Congress.” A request subsequently made by General Burgoyne, to be permitted to embark for England in consideration of the state of his health, was readily granted.
Feb. 1778The impression made on the British nation by the capitulation of Burgoyne, at length made its way into the cabinet, notwithstanding the persevering temper of the king; and Lord North14 moved for leave to bring in two bills having conciliation for their object. The first surrendered the principle of taxation, and the second empowered the crown to appoint commissioners to treat of peace.
General Washington received early intimation of their arrival, and immediately forwarded copies of them to Congress, in a letter suggesting the policy of preventing their pernicious influence on the public mind by all possible means.
April 1778This letter was referred to a committee consisting of Messrs. Morris, Drayton, and Dana,15 by whom a report was made, investigating the bills with much acuteness and asperity.16 The report and resolutions founded on it were ordered to be published.
During these transactions, a frigate arrived with the important intelligence that treaties of alliance and of commerce had been formed between the United States of America and France. This event had been long anxiously expected; and had been so long delayed as to excite serious apprehensions that it might not take place.
France, still sore under the wounds which had been inflicted during the war of 1756, had viewed the growing discontents between Great Britain and her colonies with secret satisfaction; but rather as a circumstance to be encouraged from motives of general policy, than as one from which any definite advantage was to be derived. The system17 on which the cabinet of Versailles appears to have acted, for a time, was to aid and encourage the colonies secretly, in order to prevent a reconciliation with the mother country, and to prepare privately for hostilities, but to avoid every thing which might give occasion for open war.
During the public demonstration of dispositions favorable to England, means were taken to furnish aids of ammunition and arms, and to facilitate the negotiation of loans to the United States; and the owners of American privateers, though forbidden to sell their prizes, or to procure their condemnation, found means to dispose of them privately.18
Matters remained in a fluctuating state until December 1777, when intelligence of the convention of Saratoga reached France. The American deputies took that opportunity to press the treaty which had been under consideration for twelve months; and to urge the importance at this juncture, when Britain would most probably make proposals for an accommodation, of communicating to Congress precisely what was to be expected from France and Spain.
They were informed by M. Gérard, one of the secretaries of the king’s Council of State, that it was determined to acknowledge the independence of the United States, and to make a treaty with them.
A courier was despatched to his Catholic Majesty19 with information of the line of conduct about to be pursued by France; on whose return, a treaty of friendship and commerce was concluded. This was accompanied by a treaty of alliance, eventual and defensive,20 stipulating that if war should break out between France and England during the existence of that with the United States, it should be made a common cause; and that neither party should conclude either truce or peace with Great Britain, without the formal consent of the other.
In a few weeks the Marquis de Noailles announced officially to the court of London, the treaty of friendship and commerce France had formed with the United States. The British government, considering this notification as a declaration of open war, published a memorial for the purpose of justifying to all Europe the hostilities it had determined to commence.
The despatches containing these treaties were received by the President on Saturday the 2d of May, after Congress had adjourned. That body was immediately convened, the despatches were opened, and their joyful contents communicated.
From this event, the attention must be directed to the proceedings respecting the exchange of prisoners.
General Gage, in the harshness of spirit which had been excited while governor of Massachusetts, not only threw all his prisoners into a common jail, but rejected every proposition for an exchange of them. General Howe abandoned this absurd system; but the Americans did not possess a sufficient number of prisoners to relieve all their citizens, and many of them still remained in confinement. Representations were continually received from these unfortunate men, describing in strong terms the severity of their treatment. When charged with conduct so unworthy of his character, Sir William Howe positively denied its truth.
The capture of General Lee furnished an additional ground of controversy. The resignation of his commission in the British service not having been received when he entered into that of America, a disposition was at first manifested to consider him as a deserter, and he was closely confined. Congress directed General Howe to be assured that Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell and five Hessian field-officers should experience precisely the fate of General Lee. These officers were taken into close custody, and informed that the resolution announced by General Howe would be strictly enforced.
The resolutions of Congress not to observe a convention respecting the prisoners taken at the Cedars,21 was also the source of much embarrassment to the commander-in-chief. Alleging that the capitulation had been violated on the part of the enemy, they withheld their sanction from the agreement entered into by General Arnold, and refused to allow other prisoners to be returned in exchange for those liberated under that agreement, until the Indians alleged to have murdered some of the prisoners should be given up, and compensation made for the baggage said to have been plundered. As the fact alleged was not clearly proved, Sir William Howe continued to press General Washington on the subject, and to urge the importance of a punctilious observance of faith plighted22 in such engagements.
The remonstrances of General Washington to Congress could not, for a long time, procure a change of their resolution.
After the sufferings of the prisoners in New York had been extreme, and great numbers had perished in confinement, the survivors were liberated for the purpose of being exchanged; but so miserable was their condition, that many of them died on their way home. For the dead as well as the living, General Howe claimed a return of prisoners; while General Washington contended that reasonable deductions should be made for those who were actually dead of diseases under which they labored when permitted to leave the British prisons. Until this claim should be admitted, General Howe rejected any partial exchange.
Information was continually received that the American prisoners suffered almost the extremity of famine. The British General answered the repeated remonstrances on this subject by a denial of the fact. He continued to aver that the same food was issued to the prisoners as to British troops while in transports, or elsewhere, not on actual duty; and yielded to a request to permit a commissary to visit the jails. Mr. Boudinot, the American commissary of prisoners, was met by Mr. Ferguson, the British commissary, and informed that General Howe thought it unnecessary for him to come into the city, and would himself inspect the situation and treatment of prisoners. There is reason to believe that their causes of complaint were considerably diminished, at least so far as respected provisions. But clothes and blankets were also necessary. General Howe would not permit the purchase of those articles in Philadelphia, and they could not be procured elsewhere.23
Dec. 19, 1777To compel him to abandon this distressing restriction, and to permit the use of paper-money within the British lines, Congress resolved that no prisoner should be exchanged until all the expenditures made in paper, for the supplies they received from the United States, should be paid in specie, at the rate of four-and-six-pence for each dollar. They afterwards determined that, from the 1st day of February, no British commissary should be permitted to purchase any provisions for the use of prisoners west of New Jersey; but that all supplies should be furnished from British stores.24
Sir William Howe remonstrated against the last resolution, as a decree which doomed a considerable number of prisoners to a slow and painful death by famine. Its severity was, in some degree, mitigated by a resolution that each British commissary of prisoners might receive provisions from the American commissary of purchases, to be paid for in specie, according to the resolution of the 19th of December, 1777.
About the same time, an order was hastily given by the Board of War, which produced no inconsiderable embarrassment.
General Washington had consented that a quartermaster, with a small escort, should come out of Philadelphia with clothes and other comforts for prisoners. He had expressly stipulated for their security, and had given them a passport.
Jan. 1778While they were travelling through the country, information was given to the Board of War that Sir William Howe had refused to permit provisions to be sent to the American prisoners by water. This information was not correct. The board, however, ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Smith to seize the party, their carriages and provisions, and detain them.
General Washington despatched one of his aids, with directions for the immediate release of the persons and property seized; but the officers refused to proceed on their journey, and returned to Philadelphia.
After all hope of inducing General Howe to recede from the high ground he had taken respecting the compensation for prisoners released in Philadelphia had been abandoned, he suddenly relinquished it himself, and acceded completely to the proposition made by General Washington. Commissaries were mutually appointed, who were to meet on the 10th of March in Germantown, to arrange the details of a general cartel.25 On the 4th of that month, a resolution of Congress appeared in a newspaper, calling on the several states for the amount of supplies furnished the prisoners, that they might be adjusted according to the rule of the 19th of December, before the exchange should take place.26
This embarrassing resolution obliged General Washington to request a postponement of the meeting of the commissaries till the 21st of the month. The interval was successfully employed in procuring a repeal of the resolution.
The commissioners met according to the second appointment; but, on examining their powers, it appeared that those given by General Washington were expressed to be in virtue of authority vested in him; while those given by Sir William Howe contained no such declaration.
This omission produced an objection on the part of the United States; and General Howe refusing to change the language, the negotiation was broken off.27 Some time afterwards Sir William Howe proposed that all prisoners, actually exchanged, should be sent into the nearest posts, and returns made of officer for officer, and soldier for soldier; and that if a surplus of officers should remain, they should be exchanged for an equivalent in privates.
On the application of General Washington, Congress acceded to this proposal, so far as related to the exchange of officer for officer, and soldier for soldier; but rejected the part which admitted an equivalent in privates for a surplus of officers, because the officers captured with Burgoyne were exchangeable. Under this agreement an exchange took place to a considerable extent.
[1. ]Daniel Morgan (1736–1802) of New Jersey (Pennsylvania?) and Virginia, by 1777 Colonel of the Eleventh Virginia regiment of riflemen and sharpshooters, dubbed by Washington “the Corps of Rangers”; eventually Brigadier General in the Continental army.
[2. ]Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee (1756–1818) of Virginia, in late 1777 Captain in the First Continental Dragoons or “Light Dragoons,” a cavalry corps distinguished for its partisan warfare (an irregular unit skilled in harassing and skirmishing with the enemy); subsequently Lieutenant Colonel in command of “Lee’s Legion,” an elite irregular force of infantry and cavalry instrumental to success in the South; later governor of Virginia, and chosen by his friend Washington to quell the Whiskey Rebellion (see chapter 32); drafter of the Congressional resolutions which on Washington’s death called him “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” Lee also delivered the eulogy at Washington’s official funeral ceremony (see chapter 33). Father of Robert E. Lee.
[3. ]Empire (or power) within an empire (Latin).
[4. ]Specie is coin or hard money, as opposed to paper money. The Continental Congress began issuing notes in 1775, the states thereafter, yet with minimal taxation at either level of government there was little revenue to back up these notes; by 1777 serious depreciation of value (thus inflation of prices) had set in. In 1781 the paper currency collapsed (the phrase “not worth a Continental” arose), with only hard money being accepted in the market. British offers to pay Americans in hard money for their provisions were therefore quite tempting.
[5. ]To seize persons or (in this instance) property for public service, especially for military purposes.
[6. ]Last resort (from the French, dernier, last or final).
[7. ]This “combination” or secret league is referred to by later historians as “The Conway Cabal,” though some argue this gives too prominent a portion of blame to Thomas Conway (1733–1800?) of Ireland and France, a French army volunteer and Brigadier (later Major) General in the Continental army.
[8. ]Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800) of Pennsylvania, from 1775 one of Washington’s aides-de-camp with rank of Major, and soon thereafter Quartermaster General, an office in charge of procurement and distribution of food, clothing, etc. (and, early in the American Revolutionary War, responsible for all the logistics of troop movements). By 1777 he was Major General in the Continental army.
[9. ]Estate or wealth possessed by inheritance.
[10. ]In the English usage of the time, a gentleman in the strict sense was a man of some distinguished ancestry, though not noble; applied to Americans, the term more generally meant any man raised to distinction by his honorable character or his office. Honorable character was understood to include not only conduct but appearance and bearing.
[11. ]Captain-Lieutenant John Marshall of the Fifteenth Virginia regiment spent the winter of 1777–78 in Valley Forge under Washington; see Beveridge, Life of Marshall, I, chapter 4.
[12. ]Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834) of France, volunteer and Major General in the Continental army from 1777, close friend and trusted adviser of Washington, vital conduit to the French government; later republican leader, then casualty, of the French Revolution.
[13. ]Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von (or de) Steuben (1730–94), former member of the Prussian army General Staff (an institution then unique to the Prussians, comprising a special administrative unit under the commander in chief responsible for training, intelligence, operations, etc.), later an army Captain serving in King Frederick the Great’s headquarters before leaving Prussia for France and America.
[14. ]Sir (later Lord) Frederick North (1732–92), British Prime Minister under King George III from 1770 to 1782.
[15. ]Robert Morris (1734–1806) of Pennsylvania (later appointed Superintendent of Finance by Congress), William Henry Drayton (1742–79) of South Carolina, and Francis Dana (1743–1811) of Massachusetts.
[16. ]Perceptiveness, penetration; severity, harshness.
[17. ]Literally, a method or scheme; throughout the Life of Washington Marshall uses “system” much as “policy” might be used today, though his meaning is somewhat broader: a set of principles, ideas, or practices which form a particular political plan or mode of governing.
[18. ]Privateers are armed vessels belonging to a private owner but commissioned by a government under letters of marque (see chapter 2, note 5 above) to carry on operations of war; privateers could keep the captured property of enemy governments or their citizens as prizes of war, often by having it condemned in accordance with prize law.
[19. ]The King of Spain.
[20. ]A treaty alliance contingent upon certain events and pledging mutual defense if either is attacked by a third party or parties.
[21. ]An American post in Canada, surrendered to a British and Indian force in May 1776 on condition that prisoners would be protected from the Indians. The small American garrison was captured just before a relief force led by then Brigadier General Benedict Arnold reached the area and bargained with the British to forgo attack if all the Americans were released to him; Arnold agreed that the Americans would be exchanged for British prisoners at a later date.
[23. ]During the Revolutionary War, each army appointed a commissary general of prisoners not only to petition the opposing army for inspections of the prisoners, but to provide them with food, clothing, and medicine not being adequately furnished by their captors. Here, the American commissary wishes to purchase (with Continental paper money) blankets in British-occupied Philadelphia for prisoners held there, which the British commander in chief has refused.
[24. ]That is, no American-held prisoner, for which the Americans had provided goods purchased with paper money, would be released until the British had compensated the Americans in hard money at the exchange rate of four shillings and six pence per paper dollar; at twelve pence to a shilling and twenty shillings to a pound that put the dollar at $4.44 to the pound—the Bank of New York’s exchange rate when it opened in 1784 after the war—in 1778 a very favorable exchange given the price inflation and currency devaluation then suffered by the Americans (see note 4 above). In addition, Congress would require that British commissaries supply any extra needs of British prisoners from their own stores, forbidding them to purchase even provisions for prisoners from Americans.
[25. ]An agreement for the exchange of prisoners.
[26. ]That is, Congress was seeking to enforce upon both General Washington and General Howe, prior to their negotiations on an exchange, the terms of its December 19 resolution which required the British to compensate the Americans in hard money for all expenditures made on captured British soldiers (see note 24 above).
[27. ]While General Howe sought an agreement between officers (gentlemen) regarding an exchange of prisoners, the Americans sought an agreement binding two governments, not just two officers, to their word.