« ZurückWeiter »
Gates was the opposite of Lee in his social qualities, being a perfect gentleman in his deportment. He, also, espoused the republican cause at the kindling of the war, was appointed the first adjutant-general of the continental army, and arose to the rank of major-general. He was ambitious and vain; and, during the first half of the war, was seeking to take the place of Washington as supreme commander of the American armies.
His last active military command was in South Carolina, in the summer of 1780, where he lost his whole army. He returned to his estate in Virginia, where he lived until 1790, and then removed to a farm on Manhattan Island, near the city of New York. He was a member of the New York legislature one term, and died in the spring of 1806, at the age of seventy-eight years.
Washington was at Mount Vernon only a few weeks at a time, from the summer of 1774 until his retirement from the army in 1783. He was in the first continental Congress, as we have observed, during the autumn of 1774; was absent upon military services much of the time during the winter of 1775, and was a member of the Virginia Assembly in the spring, when Patrick Henry made his famous war speech, which was closed with the burning words: "What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH!"
With these words of Henry ringing in his ears, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, and prepared for a journey to Philadelphia, there to take his seat as a member of the Second
Continental Congress. Just at the close of a mild April day, while he and his neighbor, Bryan Fairfax, with Major Gates, were discussing the stirring events at Williamsburg, connected with the seizure of powder belonging to the colony, by the royal governor, and the bold stand taken by Patrick Henry— events which were then arousing every republican heart in Virginia to action-a messenger came in haste from Alexandria, bearing intelligence of bloodshed at Lexington and Concord. That intelligence made a deep but widely different impression upon the minds of the three friends. The gentle Fairfax, even then inclined to enter the gospel ministry, which he afterward adorned, was drawn, by the ties of consanguinity and ancestral reverence, to the side of the parent country. He was much distressed by the tidings from the east, for he perceived the gathering of a cloud of miseries for his country, and the peril of all pleasant social relations.
Gates, ambitious of military glory, and eagerly looking for the honors and emoluments of office, for which he had long played the sycophant in London, was delighted by this opening of an avenue to a field of action wherein they might be won; while Washington, communing with the intuitions of his loftier spirit, became thoughtful and reserved, and talked little, but wisely, on the subject. But he resolved nobly and firmly to go zealously into whatever conflicts might arise for the defence of the liberties of his country. All regarded the event as the casting away of the scabbard, as the severing blow to colonial allegiance.
These friends parted company on the following day, and toward the evening of the 4th of May, Benjamin Harrison, one of the immortal fifty-six who afterward signed the Declaration
of Independence, came to Mount Vernon, supped, lodged, and breakfasted, and departed with Washington, early in the morning of the 5th, for Philadelphia. They arrived at Chester on the 9th, and, while riding toward Philadelphia, with other southern delegates, were met, five or six miles from the city, by a cavalcade of five hundred gentlemen. Nearer the city, they were met by military companies, and by these, with bands of music, were escorted into and through the city "with great parade." On the following day, the new England delegates were received in a similar manner; and thus, in the midst of the homage and acclamations of the people, the representatives of thirteen viceroyalties assembled to confederate in the great. work of constructing a new republic.
With the sword of defence in one hand, and the olive-branch of reconciliation in the other, the Congress went on in their solemn labors. The military genius and experience of Washington were continually acknowledged by his being placed as chairman of all the committees appointed for the conduct of military affairs; and to him was entrusted the important task of preparing rules and regulations for an army, and devising measures for the general defence.
Meanwhile, a large, but crude and ill-regulated army, had gathered around Boston, and was keeping the British regulars in close confinement upon that little peninsula. It possessed no other cohesion than that derived from a sense of mutual danger. The Congress perceived this, and resolved to consolidate and organize it by adopting it as a Continental army, with a commander-in-chief and assistant general officers. That adoption was formally made; and on Thursday, the 15th of June, two days before the battle of Bunker's Hill, George
Washington was chosen commander-in-chief of "all the continental forces raised or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty." The appointment was officially announced to him on the following day, and modestly accepted; and on the 18th he wrote a touching letter to his wife on the subject, telling her he must depart immediately for the camp; begging her to summon all her fortitude, and to pass her time as agreeably as possible; and expressing a firm reliance upon that Providence which had ever been bountiful to him, not doubt ing that he should return safe to her in the fall.
But he did not so return. Darker and darker grew the clouds of war; and, during more than seven years, Washington visited his pleasant home upon the Potomac but once, and then only for three days and nights. Mrs. Washington spent the winter in camp with her husband; and many are the traditions concerning her beauty, gentleness, simplicity, and industry, which yet linger around the winter-quarters of the venerated commander-in-chief of the armies of the Revolution. For many long years she was remembered with affection by the dwellers at Cambridge, Morristown, Valley Forge, Newburgh, and New Windsor. When, on each returning spring, she departed for her home on the Potomac, the blessings of thousands-soldiers and citizens-went with her, for she was truly loved by all.
Pleasant would it be to read the scores of letters written by Washington to his charming wife during all that campaigning period, and his subsequent services in civil life. That pleasure can never be enjoyed. Only one letter to her-the message informing her of his appointment to the command of the army -is known to be in existence, and that, with one to her son on
the same subject, written on the following day, is carefully preserved at Arlington House, by her great-granddaughter, Mrs. Mary Custis Lee. Mrs. Washington destroyed all of her husband's other letters to herself, a short time before her death.
It is not our design to follow Washington in his career as a soldier, or even as a statesman, for in these his field of action was far away from Mount Vernon-the object of our illustrations. His career in each was noble; and even in his defeats in battle, he never lost a particle of the dignity of his character, nor the esteem of his countrymen. His caution and prudence were sometimes misunderstood, but they were always found to be the guaranties of success. For nearly nine months he cautiously watched the British army in Boston, and waited for strength sufficient to attack it with success, while the people, and even the Congress, became impatient and clamored for battle. At length the proper time came, and with skill and energy he prepared to strike an annihilating blow. The enemy saw their peril, fled to their ships, and escaped to Halifax, while the whole continent rang with the praises of Washington. The Congress decreed a gold medal to the victor. Duvivier, of Paris, cut the die; and to Mount Vernon the glittering testimonial of a nation's gratitude was afterward borne, upon which was inscribed: "THE AMERICAN CONGRESS TO GEORGE WASHINGTON, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF ITS ARMIES, THE ASSERTORS OF FREEDOM: THE ENEMY FOR THE FIRST TIME put to flight—BOSTON RECOVERED, 17TH MARCH, 1776."
Although excessively prudent, Washington was ever ready to strike a blow in the presence of greatest peril, when his judgment and inclination coalesced in recommending the per