Life of George Washington

His representations with respect to Fort Cumberland had the desired effect
in counteracting the mischievous intermeddling of Dinwiddie. The Virginia
troops and stores were ordered to be again removed to Fort Loudoun, at
Winchester, which once more became head-quarters, while Fort Cumberland was
left to be occupied by a Maryland garrison. Washington was instructed,
likewise, to correspond and co-operate, in military affairs, with Colonel
Stanwix, who was stationed on the Pennsylvania frontier, with five hundred
men from the Royal American regiment, and to whom he would be, in some
measure, subordinate. This proved a correspondence of friendship, as well
as duty; Colonel Stanwix being a gentleman of high moral worth, as well as
great ability in military affairs.

The great plan of operations at the north was again doomed to failure. The
reduction of Crown Point, on Lake Champlain, which had long been meditated,
was laid aside, and the capture of Louisburg substituted, as an acquisition
of far greater importance. This was a place of great consequence, situated
on the isle of Cape Breton, and strongly fortified. It commanded the
fisheries of Newfoundland, overawed New England, and was a main bulwark to

In the course of July, Lord Loudoun set sail for Halifax with all the
troops he could collect, amounting to about six thousand men, to join with
Admiral Holbourne, who had just arrived at that port with eleven ships of
the line, a fire-ship, bomb-ketch, and fleet of transports, having on board
six thousand men. With this united force Lord Loudoun anticipated the
certain capture of Louisburg.

Scarce had the tidings of his lordship’s departure reached Canada, when the
active Montcalm again took the field, to follow up the successes of the
preceding year. Fort William Henry, which Sir Wm. Johnson had erected on
the southern shore of Lake George, was now his object; it commanded the
lake, and was an important protection to the British frontier. A brave old
officer, Colonel Monro, with about five hundred men, formed the garrison;
more than three times that number of militia were intrenched near by.
Montcalm had, early in the season, made three ineffectual attempts upon the
fort; he now trusted to be more successful. Collecting his forces from
Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and the adjacent posts, with a considerable
number of Canadians and Indians, altogether nearly eight thousand men, he
advanced up the lake, on the 1st of August, in a fleet of boats, with
swarms of Indian canoes in the advance. The fort came near being surprised;
but the troops encamped without it, abandoned their tents and hurried
within the works. A summons to surrender was answered by a brave defiance.
Montcalm invested the fort, made his approaches, and battered it with his
artillery. For five days its veteran commander kept up a vigorous defence,
trusting to receive assistance from General Webb, who had failed to relieve
Fort Oswego in the preceding year, and who was now at Fort Edward, about
fifteen miles distant, with upwards of five thousand men. Instead of this,
Webb, who overrated the French forces, sent him a letter, advising him to
capitulate. The letter was intercepted by Montcalm, but still forwarded to
Monro. The obstinate old soldier, however, persisted in his defence, until
most of his cannon were burst, and his ammunition expended. At length, in
the month of August, he hung out a flag of truce, and obtained honorable
terms from an enemy who knew how to appreciate his valor. Montcalm
demolished the fort, carried off all the artillery and munitions of war,
with vessels employed in the navigation of the lake; and having thus
completed his destruction of the British defences on this frontier,
returned once more in triumph with the spoils of victory, to hang up fresh
trophies in the churches of Canada.

Lord Loudoun, in the mean time, formed his junction with Admiral Holbourne
at Halifax, and the troops were embarked with all diligence on board of the
transports. Unfortunately, the French were again too quick for them.
Admiral de Bois de la Mothe had arrived at Louisburg, with a large naval
and land force; it was ascertained that he had seventeen ships of the line,
and three frigates, quietly moored in the harbor; that the place was well
fortified and supplied with provisions and ammunition, and garrisoned with
six thousand regular troops; three thousand natives, and thirteen hundred

Some hot-heads would have urged an attempt against all such array of force,
but Lord Loudoun was aware of the probability of defeat, and the disgrace
and ruin that it would bring upon British arms in America. He wisely,
though ingloriously, returned to New York. Admiral Holbourne made a silly
demonstration of his fleet off the harbor of Louisburg, approaching within
two miles of the batteries, but retired on seeing the French admiral
preparing to unmoor. He afterwards returned with a reinforcement of four
ships of the line; cruised before Louisburg, endeavoring to draw the enemy
to an engagement, which De la Mothe had the wisdom to decline; was
overtaken by a hurricane, in which one of his ships was lost, eleven were
dismasted, others had to throw their guns overboard, and all returned in a
shattered condition to England. Thus ended the northern campaign by land
and sea, a subject of great mortification to the nation, and ridicule and
triumph to the enemy.

During these unfortunate operations to the north, Washington was stationed
at Winchester, shorn of part of his force by the detachment to South
Carolina, and left with seven hundred men to defend a frontier of more than
three hundred and fifty miles in extent. The capture and demolition of
Oswego by Montcalm had produced a disastrous effect. The whole country of
the five nations was abandoned to the French. The frontiers of
Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia were harassed by repeated inroads of
French and Indians, and Washington had the mortification to see the noble
valley of the Shenandoah almost deserted by its inhabitants, and fast
relapsing into a wilderness.

The year wore away on his part in the harassing service of defending a wide
frontier with an insufficient and badly organized force, and the vexations
he experienced were heightened by continual misunderstandings with Governor
Dinwiddie. From the ungracious tenor of several of that gentleman’s
letters, and from private information, he was led to believe that some
secret enemy had been making false representations of his motives and
conduct, and prejudicing the governor against him. He vindicated himself
warmly from the alleged aspersions, proudly appealing to the whole course
of his public career in proof of their falsity. “It is uncertain,” said he,
“in what light my services may have appeared to your honor; but this I
know, and it is the highest consolation I am capable of feeling, that no
man that ever was employed in a public capacity has endeavored to discharge
the trust reposed in him with greater honesty and more zeal for the
country’s interest than I have done; and if there is any person living who
can say, with justice, that I have offered any intentional wrong to the
public, I will cheerfully submit to the most ignominious punishment that an
injured people ought to inflict. On the other hand, it is hard to have my
character arraigned, and my actions condemned, without a hearing.”

His magnanimous appeal had but little effect. Dinwiddie was evidently
actuated by the petty pique of a narrow and illiberal mind, impatient of
contradiction, even when in error. He took advantage of his official
station to vent his spleen and gratify his petulance in a variety of ways
incompatible with the courtesy of a gentleman. It may excite a grave smile
at the present day to find Washington charged by this very small-minded man
with looseness in his way of writing to him; with remissness in his duty
towards him; and even with impertinence in the able and eloquent
representations which he felt compelled to make of disastrous mismanagement
in military affairs; and still more, to find his reasonable request, after
a long course of severe duty, for a temporary leave of absence to attend to
his private concerns peremptorily refused, and that with as little courtesy
as though he were a mere subaltern seeking to absent himself on a party of

The multiplied vexations which Washington had latterly experienced from
this man, had preyed upon his spirits, and contributed, with his incessant
toils and anxieties, to undermine his health. For some time he struggled
with repeated attacks of dysentery and fever, and continued in the exercise
of his duties; but the increased violence of his malady, and the urgent
advice of his friend Dr. Craik, the army surgeon, induced him to relinquish
his post towards the end of the year and retire to Mount Vernon.

The administration of Dinwiddie, however, was now at an end. He set sail
for England in January, 1758, very little regretted, excepting by his
immediate hangers-on, and leaving a character overshadowed by the
imputation of avarice and extortion in the exaction of illegal fees, and of
downright delinquency in regard to large sums transmitted to him by
government to be paid over to the province in indemnification of its extra
expenses; for the disposition of which sums he failed to render an account.

He was evidently a sordid, narrow-minded, and somewhat arrogant man;
bustling rather than active; prone to meddle with matters of which he was
profoundly ignorant, and absurdly unwilling to have his ignorance



For several months Washington was afflicted by returns of his malady,
accompanied by symptoms indicative, as he thought, of a decline. “My
constitution,” writes he to his friend Colonel Stanwix, “is much impaired,
and nothing can retrieve it but the greatest care and the most circumspect
course of life. This being the case, as I have now no prospect left of
preferment in the military way, and despair of rendering that immediate
service which my country may require from the person commanding its troops,
I have thoughts of quitting my command and retiring from all public
business, leaving my post to be filled by some other person more capable of
the task, and who may, perhaps, have his endeavors crowned with better
success than mine have been.”

A gradual improvement in his health, and a change in his prospects,
encouraged him to continue in what really was his favorite career, and at
the beginning of April he was again in command at Fort Loudoun. Mr. Francis
Fauquier had been appointed successor to Dinwiddie, and, until he should
arrive, Mr. John Blair, president of the council, had, from his office,
charge of the government. In the latter Washington had a friend who
appreciated his character and services, and was disposed to carry out his

The general aspect of affairs, also, was more animating. Under the able and
intrepid administration of William Pitt, who had control of the British
cabinet, an effort was made to retrieve the disgraces of the late American
campaign, and to carry on the war with greater vigor. The instructions for
a common fund were discontinued; there was no more talk of taxation by
Parliament. Lord Loudoun, from whom so much had been anticipated, had
disappointed by his inactivity, and been relieved from a command in which
he had attempted much and done so little. His friends alleged that his
inactivity was owing to a want of unanimity and co-operation in the
colonial governments, which paralyzed all his well meant efforts. Franklin,
it is probable, probed the matter with his usual sagacity when he
characterized him as a man “entirely made up of indecision.”–“Like St.
George on the signs, he was always on horseback, but never rode on.”

On the return of his lordship to England, the general command in America
devolved on Major-general Abercrombie, and the forces were divided into
three detached bodies; one, under Major-general Amherst, was to operate in
the north with the fleet under Boscawen, for the reduction of Louisburg and
the island of Cape Breton; another, under Abercrombie himself, was to
proceed against Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain; and the
third, under Brigadier-general Forbes, who had the charge of the middle and
southern colonies, was to undertake the reduction of Fort Duquesne. The
colonial troops were to be supplied, like the regulars, with arms,
ammunition, tents, and provisions, at the expense of government, but
clothed and paid by the colonies; for which the king would recommend to
Parliament a proper compensation. The provincial officers appointed by the
governors, and of no higher rank than colonel, were to be equal in command,
when united in service with those who held direct from the king, according
to the date of their commissions. By these wise provisions of Mr. Pitt a
fertile cause of heartburnings and dissensions was removed.

It was with the greatest satisfaction Washington saw his favorite measure
at last adopted, the reduction of Fort Duquesne; and he resolved to
continue in the service until that object was accomplished. In a letter to
Stanwix, who was now a brigadier-general, he modestly requested to be
mentioned in favorable terms to General Forbes, “not,” said he, “as a
person who would depend upon him for further recommendation to military
preferment (for I have long conquered all such inclinations, and shall
serve this campaign merely for the purpose of affording my best endeavors
to bring matters to a conclusion), but as a person who would gladly be
distinguished in some measure from the _common run_ of provincial
officers, as I understand there will be a motley herd of us.” He had the
satisfaction subsequently of enjoying the fullest confidence of General
Forbes, who knew too well the sound judgment and practical ability evinced
by him in the unfortunate campaign of Braddock not to be desirous of
availing himself of his counsels.

Washington still was commander-in-chief of the Virginia troops, now
augmented, by an act of the Assembly, to two regiments of one thousand men
each; one led by himself, the other by Colonel Byrd; the whole destined to
make a part of the army of General Forbes in the expedition against Fort

Of the animation which he felt at the prospect of serving in this
long-desired campaign, and revisiting with an effective force the scene of
past disasters, we have a proof in a short letter, written during the
excitement of the moment, to Major Francis Halket, his former companion in

“My dear Halket:–Are we to have you once more among us? And shall we
revisit together a hapless spot, that proved so fatal to many of our former
brave companions? Yes; and I rejoice at it, hoping it will now be in our
power to testify a just abhorrence of the cruel butcheries exercised on our
friends in the unfortunate day of General Braddock’s defeat; and, moreover,
to show our enemies, that we can practise all that lenity of which they
only boast, without affording any adequate proof.”

Before we proceed to narrate the expedition against Fort Duquesne, however,
we will briefly notice the conduct of the two other expeditions, which
formed important parts in the plan of military operations for the year. And
first, of that against Louisburg and the Island of Cape Breton.

Major-general Amherst, who conducted this expedition, embarked with between
ten and twelve thousand men, in the fleet of Admiral Boscawen, and set sail
about the end of May, from Halifax, in Nova Scotia. Along with him went
Brigadier-general James Wolfe, an officer young in years, but a veteran, in
military experience, and destined to gain, an almost romantic celebrity.
He may almost be said to have been born in the camp, for he was the son of
Major-general Wolfe, a veteran officer of merit, and when a lad had
witnessed the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy. While a mere youth he had
distinguished himself at the battle of Laffeldt, in the Netherlands; and
now, after having been eighteen years in the service, he was but thirty-one
years of age. In America, however, he was to win his lasting laurels.

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