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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

To justify our putting pressure upon Count de Rochambeau


"The

history of the War of Independence is a history of hopes deceived," said Washington. He had conceived the idea of making himself master of New York with the aid of the French. The transport of the troops had been badly calculated; Rochambeau brought to Rhode Island only the first division of his army, about five thousand men; and Count de Guichen, whose squadron had been relied upon, had just been recalled to France. Washington was condemned to inaction. "Our position is not sufficiently brilliant," he wrote to M. de La Fayette, "to justify our putting pressure upon Count de Rochambeau; I shall continue our arrangements, however, in the hope of more fortunate circumstances." The American army was slow in getting organized, obliged as it had been to fight incessantly and make head against constantly recurring difficulties; it was getting organized, however; the example of the French, the discipline which prevailed in the auxiliary corps, the good understanding thenceforth established among the officers, helped Washington in his difficult task. From the first the superiority of the general was admitted by the French as well as by the Americans; naturally, and by the mere fact of the gifts he had received from God, Washington was always and everywhere chief of the men placed within his range and under his influence.

This natural ascendency, which usually triumphed over the base jealousies and criminal manoeuvres into which the rivals of General

Washington had sometimes allowed themselves to be drawn, had completely failed in the case of one of his most brilliant lieutenants; in spite of his inveterate and well-known vices, Benedict Arnold had covered himself with glory by daring deeds and striking bravery exhibited in a score of fights, from the day when, putting himself at the head of the first bands raised in Massachusetts, he had won the grade of general during his expedition to Canada. Accused of malversation, and lately condemned by a court-martial to be reprimanded by the general-in-chief, Arnold, through an excess of confidence on Washington's part, still held the command of the important fort of West Point: he abused the trust. Washington, on returning from an interview with Count de Rochambeau, went out of his way to visit the garrison of West Point: the commandant was absent. Surprised and displeased, the general was impatiently waiting for his return, when his aide-de-camp and faithful friend, Colonel Hamilton, brought him important despatches. Washington's face remained impassible; but throughout the garrison and among the general's staff there had already spread a whisper of Arnold's treachery: he had promised, it was said, to deliver West Point to the enemy. An English officer, acting as a spy, had actually been arrested within the American lines.

It was true; and General Arnold, turning traitor to his country from jealousy, vengeance, and the shameful necessities entailed by a disorderly life, had sought refuge at New York with Sir Henry Clinton. Major Andre was in the hands of the Americans. Young, honorable, brave, endowed with talents, and of elegant and cultivated tastes, the English officer, brought up with a view to a different career, but driven into the army from a disappointment in love, had accepted the dangerous mission of bearing to the perfidious commandant of West Point the English general's latest instructions. Sir Henry Clinton had recommended him not to quit his uniform; but, yielding to the insinuating Arnold, the unhappy young man had put on a disguise; he had been made prisoner. Recognized and treated as a spy, he was to die on the gallows. It was the ignominy alone of this punishment which perturbed his spirit. "Sir," he wrote to Washington, "sustained against fear of death by the reflection that no unworthy action has sullied a life devoted to honor, I feel confident that in this my extremity, your Excellency will not be deaf to a prayer the granting of which will soothe my last moments. Out of sympathy for a soldier, your Excellency will, I am sure, consent to adapt the form of my punishment to the feelings of a man of honor. Permit me to hope that, if my character have inspired you with any respect, if I am in your eyes sacrificed to policy and not to vengeance, I shall have proof that those sentiments prevail in your heart by learning that I am not to die on the gallows."


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