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Washington continues his precautions
— Sir Guy Carleton brings pacific news — Discontents of the army - Extraordinary letter from Colonel Nicola — Indignant reply of Washington - Joint letter of Sir Guy Carleton and Admiral Digby – Junction of the allied armies on the
Hudson Contemplated reduction of the army. In disposing of the case of Captain Asgill we have anticipated dates, and must revert to the time when Washington again established his head-quarters at Newburg on the Hudson. The solicitude felt by him on account of the universal relaxation of the sinews of war was not allayed by reports of pacific speeches and motions made in the British parliament, which might be delusive. “Even if the nation and parliament, said he, “are really in earnest to obtain peace with America, it will, undoubtedly, be wisdom in us to meet them with great caution and circumspection, and by all means to keep our arms firm in our hands; and instead of relaxing one iota in our exertions, rather to spring forward with redoubled vigour, that we may take the advantage of every favourable opportunity, until our wishes are fully obtained. No nation yet suffered in treaty by preparing, even in the moment of negotiation, most vigorously for the field.”
Sir Guy Carleton arrived in New York early in May to take the place of Sir Henry Clinton, who had solicited his recall. In a letter dated May 7th Sir Guy informed Washington of his being joined with Admiral Digby in the commission of peace; he transmitted at the same time printed copies of the proceedings in the House of Commons on the 4th of March, respecting an address to the king in favour of peace; and of a bill reported in consequence thereof, authorizing the king to conclude a peace or truce with the revolted provinces of North America. As this bill, however, had not passed into a law when Sir Guy left England, it presented no basis for a negotiation; and was only cited by him to show the pacific disposition of the British nation, with which he professed the most zealous concurrence. Still, though multiplied circumstances gra1782.] EXTRAORDINARY LETTER OF NICOLÁ. 1361 dually persuaded Washington of a real disposition on the part of Great Britain to terminate the war, he did not think fit to relax his preparations for hostilities.
Great discontents prevailed at this time in the army, both among officers and men.
The neglect of the States to furnish their proportions of the sum voted by Congress for the prosecution of the war, had left the army almost destitute. There was scarce money sufficient to feed the troops from day to day ; indeed there were days when they were absolutely in want of provisions. The pay of the officers, too, was greatly in arrear; many of them doubted whether they would ever receive the half-pay decreed to them by Congress for a term of years after the conclusion of the war, and fears began to be expressed that, in the event of peace, they would all be disbanded with their claims unliquidated, and themselves cast upon the community penniless, and unfitted by long military habitudes for the gainful pursuits of peace.
At this juncture Washington received an extraordinary letter from Colonel Lewis Nicola, a veteran officer, once commandant of Fort Mifflin, who had been in habits of intimacy with him, and had warmly interceded in behalf of the suffering army. In this letter he attributed all the ills experienced and anticipated by the army and the public at large to the existing form of government. He condemned a republican form, as incompatible with national prosperity, and advised a mixed government, like that of England, which, he had no doubt, on its benefits being properly pointed out, would be readily adopted. “In that case, adds he,
“it will, I believe, be uncontroverted, that the same abilities which have led us through difficulties apparently insurmountable by human power to victory and glory, those qualities that have merited and obtained the universal esteem and veneration of an army, would be most likely to conduct and direct us in the smoother paths of peace. Some people have so connected the idea of tyranny and monarchy, as to find it very difficult to separate them. It may therefore be requisite to give the head of such constitution as I propose some title apparently more moderate; but, if all other things were once adjusted, I believe strong arguments might be produced for admitting the title
of KING, which, I conceive, would be attended with some material advantages.”
Washington saw at once that Nicola was but the organ of a military faction, disposed to make the army the basis of an energetic government, and to place him at the head. The suggestion, backed by the opportunity, might have tempted a man of meaner ambition; from him it drew the following indignant letter :
“With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment I have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, Sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, and I must view with abhorrence, and reprehend with severity. For the present the communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.
I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own feelings, I must add, that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice done to the army than I do; and as far as my powers and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of
abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate as from yourself or any one else a sentiment of the like nature.
On the 2nd of August Sir Guy Carleton and Admiral Digby wrote a joint letter to Washington, informing him that they were acquainted, by authority, that negotiations for a general peace had already been commenced at Paris, and that the independence of the United States would be proposed in the first instance by the British commissioner, instead of being made a condition of a general treaty.
1782.] JUNCTION OF THE ALLIED ARMIES.
1363 Even yet Washington was wary.
“ From the former infatuation, duplicity, and perverse system of British policy,” said he, “I confess I am induced to doubt everything—to suspect everything." 66 Whatever the real intention of the enemy may be, I think the strictest attention and exertion which have ever been exercised on our part, instead of being diminished, ought to be increased. Jealousy and precaution at least can do no harm. Too much confidence and supineness may be pernicious in the extreme.”
What gave force to this policy was, that as yet no offers had been made on the part of Great Britain for a general cessation of hostilities, and, although the British commanders were in a manner tied down by the resolves of the House of Commons to a defensive war only, in the United States, they might be at liberty to transport part of their force to the West Indies to act against the French possessions in that quarter.
With these considerations he wrote to the Count de Rochambeau, then at Baltimore, advising him, for the good of the common cause, to march his troops to the banks of the Hudson, and form a junction with the
The junction took place about the middle of September. The French army crossed the Hudson at King's Ferry to Verplanck's Point, where the American forces were paraded under arms to welcome them. The clothing and arms recently received from France, or captured at Yorktown, enabled them to make an unusually respectable appear
Two lines were formed from the landing-place to head-quarters, between which Count Rochambeau passed, escorted by a troop of cavalry; after which he took his station beside General Washington: the music struck up French march, and the whole army passed in review before them.
The French army encamped on the left of the American, near Crompond, about ten miles from Verplanck's Point. The greatest good will continued to prevail between the allied
forces, though the Americans had but little means of showing hospitality to their gay Gallic friends.
" Only conceive the mortification they must suffer, even the general officers,” says Washington in a letter to the secretary of
“when they cannot invite a French officer, a visiting friend, or a travelling acquaintance, to a better repast than whisky hot from the still, and not always that, and a bit of beef without vegetables, will afford them.”
Speaking of a contemplated reduction of the army to take place on the 1st of January, " While I premise,” said he, " that no one I have seen or heard of appears opposed to the principle of reducing the army as circumstances may require, yet I cannot help fearing the result of the measure in contemplation, under present circumstances, when I see such a number of men, goaded by a thousand stings of reflection on the past, and of anticipation on the future, about to be turned into the world, soured by penury, and what they call the ingratitude of the public, involved in debts, without one farthing of money to carry them home, after having spent the flower of their days, and many of them their patrimonies, in establishing the freedom and independence of their country, and suffered everything that human nature is capable of enduring on this side of death. I repeat it, that when I consider these irritating circumstances, without one thing to soothe their feelings or dispel the gloomy prospects, I cannot avoid apprehending that a train of evils will follow of a very serious and distressing nature.
“ I wish not to heighten the shades of the picture so far as the reality would justify me in doing it. I could give anecdotes of patriotism and distress which have scarcely ever been paralleled, -never surpassed in the history of mankind. But you may rely upon it, the patience and long-suffering of this army are almost exhausted, and that there never was so great a spirit of discontent as at this instant. While in the field I think it may be kept from breaking out into acts of outrage; but when we retire into winter-quarters, unless the storm is previously dissipated, I cannot be at ease respecting the consequences. It is high time for a peace.”