« AnteriorContinuar »
orders in a splendid manner. Of another officer one would wish to speak here. In military sagacity, bravery, and enthusiasm Benedict Arnold was a great soldier. His faults, leading to presumption and extravagance in living, hindered his advancement, and finally drove him to commit treason. But as the leader of a division in a hardly contested fight, few men have stood higher than he. Among the foreign officers who gathered beneath the standard of the young republic, Lafayette was first in place and merit. Like Washington, he was a man of means and of high social position. Although very young at this time, he never failed to justify the confidence which intrusted him with important commands. Another foreigner, Steuben, a Prussian veteran, who was appointed Inspector-General, made the Continental Line — as the more permanent American forces were termed an efficient body of troops. Many foreign officers were given positions which they could not sustain. Charles Lee, a renegade Englishman, committed treason many times; and of Horatio Gates, a recent immigrant to Virginia, it is difficult to speak with calmness. He was self-sufficient and cowardly; and he treated his subordinates with a spirit of unfairness and jealousy hardly to be conceived.
It is not necessary to say much concerning the British commanders. Gage's reputation was so shattered at
Howe, Bunker Hill that no one has ever tried to rehabilitate it. Sir William Howe, Gage's suc
Burgoyne. cessor, commanded in the field on that memorable occasion, and ever afterwards evinced the greatest caution in assailing works defended by the colonists. He was also fond of luxury and ease.
At all events, he threw away every opportunity of crushing his enemy in 1776, the most critical year for the colonists. Burgoyne might have done well on the open
fields of Europe, but in the woods of northern New York he was surely out of place. Sir Henry Clinton seems to have had
ability; but he, like Howe, was fond of winter-quarters; so fond of them, indeed, that Rodney, who passed a few weeks in New York in 1780, felt obliged to protest against his inactivity. Another obstacle to Clinton's success was the fact that Lord George Germaine, who, as Colonial Secretary, managed the war, had more confidence in Cornwallis, Clinton's subordinate, than he had in the commander-in-chief. This was in a measure justifiable, as Cornwallis showed more enterprise than any other British general. But the difficulties of the theatre of his campaigns were nearly insuperable. The great blot on the military reputations of Clinton and Cornwallis was the fortification of Yorktown. Each sought to throw the blame for that blunder on the other. A careful consideration of all the documents produced by the two contestants points irresistibly to the conclusion that neither was responsible for it, and that it was due to an excusable misunderstanding of Clinton's orders by Cornwallis. Many of the subordinate commanders were men of ability, but the shadow of Lord George Germaine was over the whole enterprise. Had an able man, like the elder Pitt, been in control, many disasters would have been avoided. The caution so often displayed by the British commanders
was combined with a rashness produced by contempt for their opponents, and ignorance of
the problem in hand, that is sometimes almost beyond belief. A few examples will well illustrate this point. Gage sent one thousand men on an expedition, eighteen miles away from the main army, into a region where twelve thousand armed soldiers gathered about them in less than twelve hours. Howe led three thousand men, burdened with heavy knapsacks, up a steep hill, across fences and over ploughed land, on an intensely hot day, against soldiers commanded by veterans and protected by earthworks, and in consequence lost one-half his command. Burgoyne sent five hundred men away from his
Results of British rashness.
The Theatre of War.
main army into a region whence the captors of Ticonderoga had issued, and within reach of five times their own number of the enemy, commanded by one of the defenders of Bunker Hill. He lost the original detachment and part of another sent to its assistance. Tarleton attacked an American force of the same size as his own, commanded by Daniel Morgan, a man of great ability, without waiting to form his troops in line of battle. He lost nearly all of them, and barely escaped capture himself. These are a few examples of operations which might have been justified against the inhabitants of India, but against an enemy of British stock such rashness was criminal. The rank and file of the British army was excellent, and the terrible loss suffered at Bunker Hill was as much to their credit as it was to the discredit of their chiefs.
The theatre of war measured some thousand miles in extent from north to south - from the Penobscot to the Savannah. It was intersected by deep rivers and large arms of the sea. Indeed, in place of one field of operations, there were a dozen. Thus the Hudson River separated the Eastern from the Middle Colonies, and the Mohawk divided the Hudson valley again into two distinct geographical districts. The Delaware River and Bay bisected the Middle Colonies, and Virginia was cut up into many long slender tracts of land by numerous large streams, the James, the York, the Potomac, and others. These rivers, flowing generally from west to east, made an invasion from north to south, or the reverse, a matter of great difficulty. In the extreme south, the settlements on the seaboard were separated from those on the mountain slopes by long stretches of sandy barren land, sparsely inhabited. In the south, too, there were many rivers subject to sudden freshets and fordable, even at low water, only at long intervals. It was possible to seize the towns on the seaboard; but it proved to be exceedingly difficult to sustain an army in the interior. Everything, in
The Theatre of War.
short, so far as natural conditions of the country were concerned, made in favour of the defence. Under these circumstances, the American army should have
been followed wherever it went and fought to the
end. Instead of making that army the objective, strategy.
the British plan of operations consisted in the occupation of territory. A base for the storage of munitions of war, for hospitals, and for a repairing station for the fleets was necessary.
The seizure of New York for that purpose was, therefore, justifiable. But that should have been all. As long as Washington, with his poorly-clad army, could keep the field, the British soldiers, supplied with an abundance of everything, should have followed him. Instead of so doing, no sooner was one town captured, than preparations were made to capture another. Each place as it was occupied required an army to maintain it. The rebellion could have been crushed only by stamping out opposition, not by seizing land. It will be well to note two leading errors of this kind. Boston was of no conceivable use to the British from a military standpoint. The army was necessarily at Boston in the beginning of the conflict, but Boston should have been evacuated the moment it became clear that Massachusetts would have the support of the other colonies, and this seems to have been the opinion of both Gage and Howe. Yet a British army was blockaded in that town for nearly eleven months, and the opportunity thus given the other colonies to organize their governments and armies was well used. The capture of Philadelphia in 1777 was even more inexcusable. The Continental Congress held its meetings at Philadelphia, but that town was not a capital in the sense that its capture would disorganize the government. Congress was obliged to move to some other town — that was all. But the occupation of Philadelphia withdrew another army from the field, as it was beyond supporting-distance from New York.
Character of the contest.
The war begun in New England was recommenced in the Middle Colonies. Before the conquest of either of those sections was even fairly certain, the conquest of the South was undertaken. The New Englanders proved themselves able to deal with every force the British government placed in that section. With some help from the other colonies, the people of the Middle Colonies held the British in one or two seaboard towns. In the South, Cornwallis seemed to be supreme for a time. But Greene, with fifteen hundred regulars, assisted by large bodies of Southern militiamen, compelled the evacuation of the Carolinas. Cornwallis marched up and down Virginia, attended closely by Lafayette, but at the end of the campaign he held only one town. Thus each section when attacked seemed able to defend itself. Under these circumstances, had there been no interference from outside, the struggle would have continued until the people either of America or of Great Britain should become exhausted. It is by no means certain that the Americans would have been the first to succumb. We of the present day lay too much stress on the evil effects of a depreciated currency and large debts. The social organization of the colonies, outside of the few large towns, was very simple. The people as a whole could have got on well enough had there been no currency at all. The farmers ploughed, planted, and reaped in comparative security. In the intervals of farm work, they would shoulder their muskets and fight Burgoyne or Cornwallis, then return home and go on with their labour. The sea-faring inhabitants of the coast engaged in privateering, and made a fair living from that precarious calling.
War conducted on these lines might have continued indefinitely. The contest, however, was not to be thus decided. France, anxious to regain her lost prestige, joined the colonists as soon as Burgoyne's surrender made it reasonably certain that they could maintain themselves. Later, Spain and Holland took part in