Life of George Washington

When the militia were drafted, and appeared under arms, the case was not
much better. It was now late in the autumn; their term of service, by the
act of the Legislature, expired in December,–half of the time, therefore,
was lost in marching out and home. Their waste of provisions was enormous.
To be put on allowance, like other soldiers, they considered an indignity.
They would sooner starve than carry a few days’ provisions on their backs.
On the march, when breakfast was wanted, they would knock down the first
beeves they met with, and, after regaling themselves, march on till dinner,
when they would take the same method; and so for supper, to the great
oppression of the people. For the want of proper military laws, they were
obstinate, self-willed, and perverse. Every individual had his own crude
notion of things, and would undertake to direct. If his advice were
neglected, he would think himself slighted, abused, and injured, and, to
redress himself, would depart for his home.

The garrisons were weak for want of men, but more so from indolence and
irregularity. None were in a posture of defence; few but might be surprised
with the greatest ease. At one fort, the Indians rushed from their
lurking-place, pounced upon several children playing under the walls, and
bore them off before they were discovered. Another fort was surprised, and
many of the people massacred in the same manner. In the course of his tour,
as he and his party approached a fort, he heard a quick firing for several
minutes; concluding that it was attacked, they hastened to its relief, but
found the garrison were merely amusing themselves firing at a mark, or for
wagers. In this way they would waste their ammunition as freely as they did
their provisions. In the mean time, the inhabitants of the country were in
a wretched situation, feeling the little dependence to be put on militia,
who were slow in coming to their assistance, indifferent about their
preservation, unwilling to continue, and regardless of every thing but of
their own ease. In short, they were so apprehensive of approaching ruin,
that the whole back country was in a general motion towards the southern

From the Catawba, he was escorted along a range of forts by a colonel, and
about thirty men, chiefly officers. “With this small company of
irregulars,” says he, “with whom order, regularity, circumspection, and
vigilance were matters of derision and contempt, we set out, and, by the
protection of Providence, reached Augusta court-house in seven days,
without meeting the enemy; otherwise, we must have fallen a sacrifice,
through the indiscretion of these whooping, hallooing, _gentlemen_

How lively a picture does this give of the militia system at all times,
when not subjected to strict military law.

What rendered this year’s service peculiarly irksome and embarrassing to
Washington, was the nature of his correspondence with Governor Dinwiddie.
That gentleman, either from the natural hurry and confusion of his mind, or
from a real disposition to perplex, was extremely ambiguous and
unsatisfactory in most of his orders and replies. “So much am I kept in the
dark,” says Washington, in one of his letters, “that I do not know whether
to prepare for the offensive or defensive. What would be absolutely
necessary for the one, would be quite useless for the other.” And again:
“The orders I receive are full of ambiguity. I am left like a wanderer in
the wilderness, to proceed at hazard. I am answerable for consequences, and
blamed, without the privilege of defence.”

In nothing was this disposition to perplex more apparent than in the
governor’s replies respecting Fort Cumberland. Washington had repeatedly
urged the abandonment of this fort as a place of frontier deposit, being
within the bounds of another province, and out of the track of Indian
incursion; so that often the alarm would not reach there until after the
mischief had been effected. He applied, at length, for particular and
positive directions from the governor on this head. “The following,” says
he, “is an exact copy of his answer:–‘Fort Cumberland is a _king_’s
fort, and built chiefly at the charge of the colony, therefore properly
under our direction until a new governor is appointed.’ Now, whether I am
to understand this aye or no to the plain simple question asked, Is the
fort to be continued or removed? I know not. But in all important matters I
am directed in this ambiguous and uncertain way.”

Governor Dinwiddie subsequently made himself explicit on this point. Taking
offence at some of Washington’s comments on the military affairs of the
frontier, he made the stand of a self-willed and obstinate man, in the case
of Fort Cumberland; and represented it in such light to Lord Loudoun, as to
draw from his lordship an order that it should be kept up: and an implied
censure of the conduct of Washington in slighting a post of such paramount
importance. “I cannot agree with Colonel Washington,” writes his lordship,
“in not drawing in the posts from the stockade forts, in order to defend
that advanced one; and I should imagine much more of the frontier will be
exposed by retiring your advanced posts near Winchester, where I understand
he is retired; for, from your letter, I take it for granted he has before
this executed his plan, without waiting for any advice. If he leaves any of
the great quantity of stores behind, it will be very unfortunate, and he
ought to consider that it must lie at his own door.”

Thus powerfully supported, Dinwiddie went so far as to order that the
garrisons should be withdrawn from the stockades and small frontier forts,
and most of the troops from Winchester, to strengthen Fort Cumberland,
which was now to become headquarters; thus weakening the most important
points and places, to concentrate a force where it was not wanted, and
would be out of the way in most cases of alarm. By these meddlesome moves,
made by Governor Dinwiddie from a distance, without knowing any thing of
the game, all previous arrangements were reversed, every thing was thrown
into confusion, and enormous losses and expenses were incurred.

“Whence it arises, or why, I am truly ignorant,” writes Washington to Mr.
Speaker Robinson, “but my strongest representations of matters relative to
the frontiers are disregarded as idle and frivolous; my propositions and
measures as partial and selfish; and all my sincerest endeavors for the
service of my country are perverted to the worst purposes. My orders are
dark and uncertain; to-day approved, to-morrow disapproved.”

Whence all this contradiction and embarrassment arose has since been
explained, and with apparent reason. Governor Dinwiddie had never recovered
from the pique caused by the popular elevation of Washington to the command
in preference to his favorite, Colonel Innes. His irritation was kept alive
by a little Scottish faction, who were desirous of disgusting Washington
with the service, so as to induce him to resign, and make way for his
rival. They might have carried their point during the panic at Winchester,
had not his patriotism and his sympathy with the public distress been more
powerful than his self-love. He determined, he said, to bear up under these
embarrassments in the hope of better regulations when Lord Loudoun should
arrive; to whom he looked for the future fate of Virginia.

While these events were occurring on the Virginia frontier, military
affairs went on tardily and heavily at the north. The campaign against
Canada, which was to have opened early in the year, hung fire. The armament
coming out for the purpose, under Lord Loudoun, was delayed through the
want of energy and union in the British cabinet. General Abercrombie, who
was to be next in command to his lordship, and to succeed to General
Shirley, set sail in advance for New York with two regiments, but did not
reach Albany, the head-quarters of military operation, until the 25th of
June. He billeted his soldiers upon the town, much to the disgust of the
inhabitants, and talked of ditching and stockading it, but postponed all
exterior enterprises until the arrival of Lord Loudoun; then the campaign
was to open in earnest.

On the 12th of July, came word that the forts Ontario and Oswego, on each
side of the mouth of the Oswego River, were menaced by the Drench. They had
been imperfectly constructed by Shirley, and were insufficiently
garrisoned, yet contained a great amount of military and naval stores, and
protected the vessels which cruised on Lake Ontario.

Major-general Webb was ordered by Abercrombie to hold himself in readiness
to march with one regiment to the relief of these forts, but received no
further orders. Every thing awaited the arrival at Albany of Lord Loudoun,
which at length took place, on the 29th of July. There were now at least
ten thousand troops, regulars and provincials, loitering in an idle camp at
Albany, yet relief to Oswego was still delayed. Lord Loudoun was in favor
of it, but the governments of New York and New England urged the immediate
reduction of Crown Point, as necessary for the security of their frontier.
After much debate, it was agreed that General Webb should march to the
relief of Oswego. He left Albany on the 12th of August, but had scarce
reached the carrying-place, between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek, when
he received news that Oswego was reduced, and its garrison captured. While
the British commanders had debated, Field-marshal the Marquis De Montcalm,
newly arrived from France, had acted. He was a different kind of soldier
from Abercrombie or Loudoun. A capacious mind and enterprising spirit
animated a small, but active and untiring frame. Quick in thought, quick in
speech, quicker still in action, he comprehended every thing at a glance,
and moved from point to point of the province with a celerity and secrecy
that completely baffled his slow and pondering antagonists. Crown Point and
Ticonderoga were visited, and steps taken to strengthen their works, and
provide for their security; then hastening to Montreal, he put himself at
the head of a force of regulars, Canadians, and Indians; ascended the St.
Lawrence to Lake Ontario; blocked up the mouth of the Oswego by his
vessels, landed his guns, and besieged the two forts; drove the garrison
out of one into the other; killed the commander, Colonel Mercer, and
compelled the garrisons to surrender prisoners of war. With the forts was
taken an immense amount of military stores, ammunition, and provisions; one
hundred and twenty-one cannon, fourteen mortars, six vessels of war, a vast
number of batteaux, and three chests of money. His blow achieved, Montcalm
returned in triumph to Montreal, and sent the colors of the captured forts
to be hung up as trophies in the Canadian churches.

The season was now too far advanced for Lord Loudoun to enter upon any
great military enterprise; he postponed, therefore, the great northern
campaign, so much talked of and debated, until the following year; and
having taken measures for the protection of his frontiers, and for more
active operations in the spring, returned to New York, hung up his sword,
and went into comfortable winter-quarters.



Circumstances had led Washington to think that Lord Loudoun “had received
impressions to his prejudice by false representations of facts,” and that a
wrong idea prevailed at head-quarters respecting the state of military
affairs in Virginia. He was anxious, therefore, for an opportunity of
placing all these matters in a proper light; and, understanding that there
was to be a meeting in Philadelphia in the month of March, between Lord
Loudoun and the southern governors, to consult about measures of defence
for their respective provinces, he wrote to Governor Dinwiddie for
permission to attend it.

“I cannot conceive,” writes Dinwiddie in reply, “what service you can be of
in going there, as the plan concerted will, in course, be communicated to
you and the other officers. However, as you seem so earnest to go, I now
give you leave.”

This ungracious reply seemed to warrant the suspicions entertained by some
of Washington’s friends, that it was the busy pen of Governor Dinwiddie
which had given the “false representation of facts,” to Lord Loudoun. About
a month, therefore, before the time of the meeting, Washington addressed a
long letter to his lordship, explanatory of military affairs in the quarter
where he had commanded. In this he set forth the various defects in the
militia laws of Virginia; the errors in its system of defence, and the
inevitable confusion which had thence resulted.

Adverting to his own conduct: “The orders I receive,” said he, “are full of
ambiguity. I am left like a wanderer in the wilderness to proceed at
hazard. I am answerable for consequences, and blamed, without the privilege
of defence. … It is not to be wondered at, if, under such peculiar
circumstances, I should be sick of a service which promises so little of a
soldier’s reward.

“I have long been satisfied of the impossibility of continuing in this
service, without loss of honor. Indeed, I was fully convinced of it before
I accepted the command the second time, seeing the cloudy prospect before
me; and I did, for this reason, reject the offer, until I was ashamed any
longer to refuse, not caring to expose my character to public censure. The
solicitations of the country overcame my objections, and induced me to
accept it. Another reason has of late operated to continue me in the
service until now, and that is, the dawn of hope that arose, when I heard
your lordship was destined, by his majesty, for the important command of
his armies in America, and appointed to the government of his dominion of
Virginia. Hence it was, that I drew my hopes, and fondly pronounced your
lordship our patron. Although I have not the honor to be known to your
lordship, yet your name was familiar to my ear, on account of the important
services rendered to his majesty in other parts of the world.”

The manner in which Washington was received by Lord Loudoun on arriving in
Philadelphia, showed him at once, that his long, explanatory letter had
produced the desired effect, and that his character and conduct were justly
appreciated. During his sojourn in Philadelphia he was frequently consulted
on points of frontier service, and his advice was generally adopted. On one
point it failed. He advised that an attack should be made on Fort Duquesne,
simultaneous with the attempts on Canada. At such time a great part of the
garrison would be drawn away to aid in the defence of that province, and a
blow might be struck more likely to insure the peace and safety of the
southern frontier, than all its forts and defences.

Lord Loudoun, however, was not to be convinced, or at least persuaded.
According to his plan, the middle and southern provinces were to maintain a
merely defensive warfare; and as Virginia would be required to send four
hundred of her troops to the aid of South Carolina, she would, in fact, be
left weaker than before.

Washington was also disappointed a second time, in the hope of having his
regiment placed on the same footing as the regular army, and of obtaining a
king’s commission; the latter he was destined never to hold.

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