« PreviousContinue »
pendence; in these old head-quarters it brance in the hearts of the people of this was decided whether we should be a re- country. public or not.
No spot on earth rep- But Washington by his lofty patriotresents a more momentous event, or one ism had warded off one danger to his more worthy to live in eternal remem- | country only to be confronted by one still more appalling. He had been offered when I consider these irritating circumthe kingship and refused: the army must stances, without one thing to soothe their now look to itself for protection. He feelings or dispel their prospects, I can would not go with them: then they must not avoid apprehending that a train of go on without him. The army with its evils will follow of a very serious and dispay withheld, Congress deaf to its peti- tressing nature.... You may rely upon it tions and indifferent to its wants, and yet the patriotism and long-suffering of this its dissolution near, when it would be army is well-nigh exhausted, and there powerless to act, grew wrathful and mu- never was so great a spirit of discontent tinous.
as at present. What a terrible state of Washington heard the deep mutter- things must have existed that could wring ings of the gathering storm around him. such strong language from the prudent, The following strong language, in a let- self-contained Washington, and what an ter to the Secretary of War, shows how extraordinary position did this man ocimminent was the peril and how deeply cupy! When his faithful army, in view he was moved. Said he: “Under pre- of their suffering condition and the helpsent circumstances, when I see a num- lessness or indifference of the governber of men goaded by a thousand stings ment, asked him to become king and take of reflections on the past and anticipa- charge of them and the country, he turned tions of the future about to be turned on on them with a fierceness that was appallthe world, forced by penury and by what ing, as if they were traitors to freedom. they call the ingratitude of the public, The next moment he turned on that gorinvolved in debt, without one farthing ernment with equal sternness for its cruel to carry them home, after spending the treatment of that army of long-suffering, flower of their days, and many of them noble patriots. He stood alone between their patrimonies, in establishing the free- a starving mutinous army on the one dom of their country, and suffering ev- side and an inefficient blind Congress on erything this side death-I repeat it- the other, assailing and defending both
by turns, and with a lofty patriotism and * Twice during the war, Washington, while on a far-seeing wisdom, acting only for his visit to that wing of the army operating in the country. But his appeals to both were of Highlands, made the old Ellison house in New Windsor bis head-quarters for a short time. But
no avail, and as winter with its increasthe mansion has long since disappeared, and the ing suffering came on, the low rumbling old homestead been converted into a brick-yard. of the coming earthquake grew louder,
and fearful of a convulsion that would and was well adapted to arouse and kinbury everything in indiscriminate ruin, dle into conflagration the smouldering he got the officers to assemble and ap- fires in the army. This was plainly the point a committee to visit Congress and purpose of the writer. He began by statlay before it their grievances and ask for ing how ineffectual had been their appeal redress. But Congress, though full of con- to Congress, and declared that the govditional promises, refused to do anything ernment had shown itself totally indiffertill the separate States were consulted, ent to their rights, and it was folly to which meant, of course, till peace was se- trust longer to its sense of justice, saying, cured and the army disbanded and pow- "Faith has its limits as well as its temerless.
per, and there are points beyond which When this committee returned and re- neither can be stretched without sinking ported its ill success, the murmuring grew into cowardice or plunging into credulilouder and deeper, and Washington saw ty.” He then took a rapid survey of the an abyss opening before him whose depths past, spoke of their devotion to their he could not fathom. What shape the country, their unparalleled sufferings and dark shadow of coming evil would take hardships endured without a murmur, he did not know; he only knew it was and then in a series of scornful questions near at hand. At last it took definite asked them how they had been rewarded. form. One day a paper was handed him After arousing their indignation with this that had been freely circulated through recital of their wrongs, and the contemptthe army, calling on the officers to assem- uous treatment with which their humble ble the next day at the “Temple” to de- petitions had been received, he burst forth: cide on the measures the army should “ If this be your treatment while the take in the present disastrous condition swords you wear are necessary to the proof things. This paper bore no signature, tection of your country, what have you but was evidently written by an able hand, to expect from peace when your voice
shall sink and your strength dissipate by These fiery words fell on the excited division, when those very swords, the in- feelings of the army like fire on gunstruments and companions of your glory, powder. A frightful gulf had opened at shall be taken from your sides, and no re- the very feet of Washington, and he gazed maining mark of your military distinc- with a beating heart and like one stunned tion left you but your infirmities and into its gloomy depths. These brave men scars? Can you consent to retire from whom he had borne on his great heart the field and grow old in poverty, wretch- these seven long years were asked to throw edness, and contempt ? Can you consent him overboard at last! Must it be, then, to wade through the vile mire of depend that the stormy and bloody road they had ency, and owe the remnant of that life to travelled together so long was to end in charity which has hitherto been spent in this awful abyss in which home and counhonor? If you can, go and carry with try and honor were to go down in one you the jest of Tories, the scorn of Whigs, black ruin? As he looked on the appalling and, what is worse, the pity of the world. prospect his heart sank within him, and Go, starve and be forgotten. Growing he afterward said it was the darkest day bold in his indignation, he swooped down of his life.” Not in the gloomy encampon Washington himself, and exclaims, ment of Valley Forge, when he gazed on his
Suspect the man who would advise to half-naked, starving army dying around more moderation and longer forbear- him, did the future look so hopeless. No ance."
lost battle-field ever bore so terrible an "If you revolt at this,” he added, “and aspect. But what was to be done? The would oppose tyranny under whatever meeting had been called for the next day, garb it may assume, awake, attend to your so that there would be no time for passion situation, and redeem yourselves. If the to subside or cooler counsels to prevail. present moment be lost, every future ef- Should he forbid the meeting, as he had fort will be in vain, and your threats will the power to do? No; the army was in be empty as your entreaties are now.” He no temper to submit to dictation. Besides, closed this stirring appeal with this dire- if he did, the evil would not be remedied. ful proposition: “Tell Congress that with He must have something more than obethem rests the responsibility of the future; dience; he must win back the love and that if peace returns, nothing but death confidence of the army, or all would be shall separate you from your arms; if lost. He well knew that when that army the war continues, you will retire to some once broke away from him in anger and unsettled country to smile in turn, and defiance, nothing but the blackness of desmock when their fear cometh.'"
olation awaited his country. With that wonderful sagacity which in him seemed ton should attend the meeting and open like prophecy, he simply issued an order it in person. This deferring the meeting postponing the meeting until Saturday, till passion could subside, and the resolufour days in advance, and designating the tion to practically take charge of it in rank of the officers that should compose it. person, was a grand stroke of policy. It This would give him time to mature his broke the whole force of the movement at plans. He then summoned to his head- the outset. quarters his most trusted officers to con- The morning of the 15th of March dawnsult on the proper course of action. Ited sombre and bleak, and the leaden clouds was a cold, chilly day, and the great open hung heavy and dark over the wintry fire-place was heaped with blazing logs, landscape. The snow still lay on the
before which Washington was slowly pa- | mountain-tops and in the deep hollows as cing when the generals, one after anoth- Washington and his staff turned away er, rode up and dismounted at the door. from these head-quarters and began slowWayne, Putnam, and Sullivan entered ly to climb the hill back of Newburgh toone after another, Steuben rode up from ward the “ Temple," a frame building that over the river, and Knox and Greene from stood in an open clearing. It was a large New Windsor, and others, until they form- structure which had been erected as a place ed a noble group around their great chief- of worship for the army. As he approachtain. Of that deliberation no record has ed it, absorbed in painful, anxious thought, come down to us, but if the walls of the he saw the open space around it filled with old room could speak, they would utter horses in military trappings held by orderwords of noble devotion and patriotism lies or hitched to the trees, showing that that would stir the heart like a trumpet the officers had already assembled. On call. It was determined that Washing- an opposite ridge across a morass, peeping