It would be foolish to say that the Revolutionary soldiers never quailed. Militia too often gave way before the steady bayonet charge of British regulars, at times fleeing panic-stricken. Troops whose term of service was out would go home at critical moments. Hardships and lack of pay in a few instances led to mutiny and desertion.
But the marvel is that they fought so bravely, endured so much, and complained so little. One reason was the patriotism of the people at large behind them. Soldiers who turned their backs on Boston, leaving Washington in the lurch, were refused food along the road home. Women placed rifles in the hands of husbands, sons, or lovers, and said "Go!"
The rank and file in this war, coming from farm, work-bench, logging-camp, or fisher's boat, had a superb physical basis for camp and field life. Used to the rifle from boyhood, they kept their powder dry and made every one of their scanty bullets tell. The Revolutionary soldier's splendid courage has glorified a score of battle-fields; while Valley Forge, with its days of hunger and nights of cold, its sick-beds on the damp ground, and its bloody footprints in the snow, tell of his patient endurance.
At Bunker Hill an undisciplined body of farmers, ill-armed, weary, hungry and thirsty, calmly awaited the charge of old British campaigners, and by a fire of dreadful precision drove them back. "They may talk of their Mindens and their Fontenoys," said the British general, Howe, "but there was no such fire there." At Charleston, while the wooden fort shook with the British broadsides, Moultrie and his South Carolina boys, half naked in the stifling heat, through twelve long hours smoked their pipes and carefully pointed their guns. At Long Island, to gain time for the retreat of the rest, five Maryland companies flew again and again in the face of the pursuing host. At Monmouth, eight thousand British were in hot pursuit of the retreating Americans. Square in their front Washington planted two Pennsylvania and Maryland regiments, saying, "Gentlemen, I depend upon you to hold the ground until I can form the main army." And hold it they did.
Heroism grander than that of the battlefield, which can calmly meet an ignominious death, was not lacking. Captain Nathan Hale, a quiet, studious spirit, just graduated from Yale College, volunteered to enter the British lines on Long Island as a spy. He was caught, and soon swung from an apple tree in Colonel Rutgers's orchard, a corpse. Bible and religious ministrations denied him, his letters to mother and sister destroyed, women standing by and sobbing, he met his fate without a tremor. "I only regret," comes his voice from yon rude scaffold, "that I have but one life to give for my country." It is a shame that America so long had no monument to this heroic man. One almost rejoices that the British captain, Cunningham, author of the cruelty to Hale, himself met death on the gallows, in London, 1791. How different from Hale's the treatment bestowed upon Andre, the British spy who fell into our hands. He was fed from Washington's table, and supported to his execution by every manifestation of sympathy for his suffering.
[Illustration: Portrait.] John Paul Jones.
The stanch and useful loyalty of the New England clergy in the Revolution has been much dwelt upon--none too much, however. With them should be mentioned the Rev. James Caldwell, Presbyterian pastor at Elizabeth, N. J., who, when English soldiers raided the town, and its defenders were short of wadding, tore up his hymn-book for their use, urging: "Give them Watts, boys, give them Watts."
No fiercer naval battle was ever fought than when Jones, in the old and rotten Bon Homme Richard, grappled with the new British frigate Serapis. Yard-arm to yardarm, port-hole to port-hole, the fight raged for hours. Three times both vessels were on fire. The Serapis's guns tore a complete breach in the Richard from main-mast to stern. The Richard was sinking, but the intrepid Jones fought on, and the Serapis struck.
[Illustration: Hand-to-hand fighting; a shell explodes in the background.] Fight between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis.
As the roll of Revolutionary officers is called, what matchless figures file past the mind's eye! We see stalwart Ethan Allen entering Ticonderoga too early in the morning to find its commander in a presentable condition, and demanding possession "in the name of Almighty God and the Continental Congress "--destined, himself, in a few months, to be sailing down the St. Lawrence in irons, bound for long captivity in England. We behold gallant Prescott leisurely promenading the Bunker Hill parapet to inspirit his men, shot and shell hurtling thick around. There is Israel Putnam--"Old Put" the boys dubbed him. He was no general, but we forgive his costly blunders at Brooklyn Heights and Peekskill as we think of him leaving plough in furrow at the drum-beat to arms, and speeding to the deadly front at Boston, or with iron firmness stemming the retreat from Bunker Hill. Young Richard Montgomery might have been next to Washington in the war but for Sir Guy Carleton's deadly grape-shot from the Quebec walls the closing moments of 1775. Buried at Quebec, his remains were transferred by the State of New York, July 8, 1818, to their present resting-place in front of St. Paul's, New York City, the then aged widow tearfully watching the funeral barge as it floated past Montgomery Place on the Hudson.
[Illustration: Portrait.] General Anthony Wayne.
During a four years' apprenticeship under Washington, General Greene had caught more of his master's spirit and method than did any other American leader, and one year's separate command at the South gave him a martial fame second only to Washington's own. In him the great chief's word was fulfilled, "I send you a general." A naked, starving army, an empty military chest, the surrounding country impoverished and full of loyalists--these were his difficulties. Three States practically cleared of the royal army in ten months--this was his achievement. He retreated only to advance, was beaten only to fight again. One hardly knows which to admire most, his tireless energy and vigilance, his prudence in retreat, his boldness and vigor in attack, his cheerful courage in defeat, or his mingled kindness and firmness toward a suffering and mutinous army.
John Stark, eccentric but true, famous for cool courage--how stubbornly, with his New Hampshire boys, he held the rail fence at Bunker Hill, and covered the retreat when ammunition was gone! But Stark's most brilliant deed was at Bennington. "There they are, boys--the redcoats, and by night they're ours, or Molly Stark's a widow." Those "boys," without bayonets, their artillery shooting stones for balls, were little more than a mob. But with confidence in him, on they rush, up, over, sweeping Baume's Hessians from the field like a tornado. The figure of General Schuyler comes before us--quieter but not less noble, an invalid, set to hard tasks with little glory. His magnanimous soul forgets self in country as he cheerfully gives all possible help to Gates, his supplanter, and puts the torch to his own grain-fields at Saratoga lest they feed the foe.
[Illustration: Several soldiers on horseback, fighting with swords and pistols.] The Encounter between Tarleton and Colonel Washington.
And matchless Dan Morgan of Virginia, with his band of riflemen, tall, sinewy fellows, in hunting-shirts, leggins, and moccasins, each with hatchet, hunter's knife, and rifle, dead sure to hit a man's head every time at two hundred and fifty yards. It was one of these men who shot the gallant Briton, Fraser, at Bemis's Heights. Morgan became the ablest leader of light troops then living. How gallantly he headed the forlorn hope under the icy walls of Quebec, where he was taken prisoner, and at Saratoga with his shrill whistle and stentorian voice called his dauntless braves where the fight was thickest! But Cowpens was Morgan's crowning feat. Inspiring militia and veterans alike with a courage they had never felt before, he routs Tarleton's trained band of horse, and then, skilful in retreat as he had been bold in fight, laughs at baffled Cornwallis's rage.
Gladly would one form fuller acquaintance with other Revolutionary leaders: Stirling, Sullivan, Sumter, Mad Anthony Wayne, of Monmouth and Stony Point fame, Glover with his brave following of Marblehead fishermen, who, able to row as well as shoot, manned the oars that critical night when General Washington crossed to Trenton. But space is too brief. Colonel Washington, the dashing cavalryman, was the Custer of the Revolution. All the patriot ladies idolized him. In a hot sword-fight with the Colonel, Tarleton had had three fingers nearly severed. Subsequently in conversation with a South Carolina lady Tarleton said: "Why do you ladies so lionize Colonel Washington? He is an ignorant fellow. He can hardly write his name." "But you are a witness that he can make his mark," was the reply.
[Illustration: An officer on horseback looking down at a wounded man lying on the ground.] DeKalb Wounded at Camden.
DeKalb was an American, too--by adoption. It is related that he expostulated with Gates for fighting so unprepared at Camden, and that Gates intimated cowardice. "Tomorrow will tell, sir, who is the coward," the old fellow rejoined. And tomorrow did tell. As the battle reddened, exit Gates from Camden and from fame. We have recounted elsewhere how like a bull De Kalb held the field. A monster British grenadier rushed on him, bayonet fixed. DeKalb parried, at the same time burying his sword in the grenadier's breast so deep that he was unable to extract it. Then seizing the dead man's weapon he fought on, thrusting right and left, till at last, overpowered by numbers, he slipped and fell, mortally hurt.
Among the civilian heroes of the Revolution, Robert Morris, the financier, deserves exceeding praise. Now turning over the lead ballast of his ships for bullets, now raising $50,000 on his private credit and sending it to Washington in the nick of time, now leading the country back to specie payment in season to save the national credit, the Philadelphia banker aided the cause as much as the best general in the field.
Faithful and successful envoys as Jay and John Adams were, the Revolution brought to light one, and only one, true master in the difficult art of diplomacy--Franklin. Wise with a lifetime's shrewd observation, venerable with years, preceded by his fame as scientist and Revolutionary statesman, grand in his plain dignity, the Philadelphia printer stood unabashed before the throne of France, and carried king and diplomats with an art that surprised Europe's best-trained courtiers. Never missing an opportunity, he yet knew, by delicate intuition, when to speak and when to hold his tongue. Through concession, intrigue, and delay, his resolute will kept steady to its purpose. To please by yielding is easy. To carry one's point and be pleasing still, requires genius. This Franklin did--how successfully, our treaty of alliance with France and our treaty of peace with England splendidly attested.
Towering above Revolutionary soldier, general, and statesman stands a figure summing up in himself all these characters and much more. That figure is George Washington, the most perfect human personality the world has known. Washington's military ability has been much underrated. He was hardly more First in Peace than First in War. That he had physical courage and could give orders calmly while bullets whizzed all about, one need not repeat. He was strategist and tactician too. Trenton and Yorktown do not cover his whole military record. With troops inferior in every single respect except natural valor, he out-generalled Howe in 1776, and he almost never erred when acting upon his own good judgment instead of yielding to Congress or to his subordinates. His movements on the Delaware even such a captain as Frederick the Great declared "the most brilliant achievements in the annals of military action." Washington advised against the attempt to hold Fort Washington, which failed; against the Canada campaign, which failed; against Gates for commander in the South, who failed; and in favor of Greene for that post, who succeeded. His army was indeed driven back in several battles, but never broken up. At Monmouth his plan was perfect, and it seems that he must have captured Clinton but for the treason of Charles Lee, set, by Congress's wish, to command the van. Indeed, of Washington's military career, "take it all in all, its long duration, its slender means, its vast theatre, its glorious aims and results, there is no parallel in history." [Footnote: Winthrop, Washington Monument Oration. February 23, 1885.]
Yet we are right in never thinking of the Great Man first as a soldier, he was so much besides. Washington's consummate intellectual trait was sound judgment, only matched by the magnificent balance which subsisted between his mental and his moral powers. "George had always been a good son," his mother said. Nature had endowed him with intense passions and ambitions, but neither could blind him or swerve him one hair from the line of rectitude as he saw it. And he made painful and unremitting effort to see it and see it correctly. He was approachable, but repelled familiarity, and whoever attempted this was met with a perfectly withering look. He rarely laughed, and he was without humor, though he wrote and conversed well. He had the integrity of Aristides. His account with Congress while general shows scrupulousness to the uttermost farthing. To subordinate, to foe, even to malicious plotters against him, he was almost guiltily magnanimous. He loved popularity, yet, if conscious that he was right, would face public murmuring with heart of flint. Became the most famous man alive, idolized at home, named by every tongue in Europe, praised by kings and great ministers, who compared him with Caesar, Charlemagne, and Alfred the Great, his head swam not, but with steadfast heart and mind he moved on in the simple pursuit of his country's weal. "In Washington's career," said Fisher Ames, "mankind perceived some change in their ideas of greatness; the splendor of power, and even the name of conqueror had grown dim in their eyes." Lord Erskine wrote him: "You are the only being for whom I have an awful reverence." "Until time shall be no more," said Lord Brougham, "will a test of the progress which our race has made in Wisdom and Virtue be derived from the veneration paid to the immortal name of Washington." And Mr. Gladstone: "If among all the pedestals supplied by history for public characters of extraordinary nobility and purity I saw one higher than all the rest, and if I were required at a moment's notice to name the fittest occupant for it, my choice would light upon WASHINGTON." [Footnote: See Winthrop's Oration for these and other encomia.]