Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 19

REFORM IN THE MILITIA LAWS--DISCIPLINE OF THE TROOPS--DAGWORTHY AND THE QUESTION OF PRECEDENCE--WASHINGTON'S JOURNEY TO BOSTON--STYLE OF TRAVELLING--CONFERENCE WITH SHIRLEY--THE EARL OF LOUDOUN--MILITARY RULE FOR THE COLONIES--WASHINGTON AT NEW YORK--MISS MARY PHILIPSE.


Mortifying experience had convinced Washington of the inefficiency of the militia laws, and he now set about effecting a reformation. Through his great and persevering efforts, an act was passed in the Virginia Legislature giving prompt operation to courts-martial; punishing insubordination, mutiny and desertion with adequate severity; strengthening the authority of a commander, so as to enable him to enforce order and discipline among officers as well as privates; and to avail himself, in time of emergency, and for the common safety, of the means and services of individuals.

This being effected, he proceeded to fill up his companies, and to enforce this newly defined authority within his camp. All gaming, drinking, quarrelling, swearing, and similar excesses, were prohibited under severe penalties.

In disciplining his men, they were instructed not merely in ordinary and regular tactics, but in all the strategy of Indian warfare, and what is called "bush-fighting,"--a knowledge indispensable in the wild wars of the wilderness. Stockaded forts, too, were constructed at various points, as places of refuge and defence, in exposed neighborhoods. Under shelter of these, the inhabitants began to return to their deserted homes. A shorter and better road, also, was opened by him between Winchester and Cumberland, for the transmission of reinforcements and supplies.

His exertions, however, were impeded by one of those questions of precedence, which had so often annoyed him, arising from the difference between crown and provincial commissions. Maryland having by a scanty appropriation raised a small militia force, stationed Captain Dagworthy, with a company of thirty men, at Fort Cumberland, which stood within the boundaries of that province. Dagworthy had served in Canada in the preceding war, and had received a king's commission. This he had since commuted for half-pay, and, of course, had virtually parted with its privileges. He was nothing more, therefore, than a Maryland provincial captain, at the head of thirty men. He now, however, assumed to act under his royal commission, and refused to obey the orders of any officer, however high his rank, who merely held his commission from a governor. Nay, when Governor, or rather Colonel Innes, who commanded at the fort, was called away to North Carolina by his private affairs, the captain took upon himself the command, and insisted upon it as his right.

Parties instantly arose, and quarrels ensued among the inferior officers; grave questions were agitated between the Governors of Maryland and Virginia, as to the fort itself; the former claiming it as within his province, the latter insisting that, as it had been built according to orders sent by the king, it was the king's fort, and could not be subject to the authority of Maryland.

Washington refrained from mingling in this dispute; but intimated that if the commander-in-chief of the forces of Virginia must yield precedence to a Maryland captain of thirty men, he should have to resign his commission, as he had been compelled to do before, by a question of military rank.

So difficult was it, however, to settle these disputes of precedence, especially where the claims of two governors came in collision, that it was determined to refer the matter to Major-General Shirley, who had succeeded Braddock in the general command of the colonies. For this purpose Washington was to go to Boston, obtain a decision from Shirley of the point in dispute, and a general regulation, by which these difficulties could be prevented in future. It was thought, also, that in a conference with the commander-in-chief he might inform himself of the military measures in contemplation.

Accordingly, on the 4th of February (1756), leaving Colonel Adam Stephen in command of the troops, Washington set out on his mission, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, Captain George Mercer of Virginia, and Captain Stewart of the Virginia light horse; the officer who had taken care of General Braddock in his last moments.

In those days the conveniences of travelling, even between our main cities, were few, and the roads execrable. The party, therefore, travelled in Virginia style, on horseback, attended by their black servants in livery.

[Footnote: We have hitherto treated of Washington in his campaigns in the wilderness, frugal and scanty in his equipments, often, very probably, in little better than hunter's garb. His present excursion through some of the Atlantic cities presents him in a different aspect. His recent intercourse with young British officers, had probably elevated his notions as to style in dress and appearance; at least we are inclined to suspect so from the following aristocratical order for clothes, sent shortly before the time in question, to his correspondent in London.

"2 complete livery suits for servants; with a spare cloak, and all other necessary trimmings for two suits more. I would have you choose the livery by our arms, only as the field of the arms is white, I think the clothes had better not be quite so, but nearly like the inclosed. The trimmings and facings of scarlet, and a scarlet waistcoat. If livery lace is not quite disused, I should be glad to have the cloaks laced. I like that fashion best, and two silver-laced hats for the above servants.

"1 set of horse furniture, with livery lace, with the Washington crest on the housings, &c. The cloak to be of the same piece and color of the clothes.

"3 gold and scarlet sword-knots. 3 silver and blue do. 1 fashionable gold-laced hat."]

In this way they accomplished a journey of five hundred miles in the depth of winter; stopping for some days at Philadelphia and New York. Those cities were then comparatively small, and the arrival of a party of young Southern officers attracted attention. The late disastrous battle was still the theme of every tongue, and the honorable way in which these young officers had acquitted themselves in it, made them objects of universal interest. Washington's fame, especially, had gone before him; having been spread by the officers who had served with him, and by the public honors decreed him by the Virginia Legislature. "Your name," wrote his former fellow-campaigner, Gist, in a letter dated in the preceding autumn, "is more talked of in Philadelphia than that of any other person in the army, and every body seems willing to venture under your command."

With these prepossessions in his favor, when we consider Washington's noble person and demeanor, his consummate horsemanship, the admirable horses he was accustomed to ride, and the aristocratical style of his equipments, we may imagine the effect produced by himself and his little cavalcade, as they clattered through the streets of Philadelphia, and New York, and Boston. It is needless to say, their sojourn in each city was a continual fête.

The mission to General Shirley was entirely successful as to the question of rank. A written order from the Commander-in-chief determined that Dagworthy was entitled to the rank of a provincial captain, only, and, of course, must on all occasions give precedence to Colonel Washington, as a provincial field officer. The latter was disappointed, however, in the hope of getting himself and his officers put upon the regular establishment, with commissions from the king, and had to remain subjected to mortifying questions of rank and etiquette, when serving in company with regular troops.

From General Shirley he learnt that the main objects of the ensuing campaign would be the reduction of Fort Niagara, so as to cut off the communication between Canada and Louisiana, the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, as a measure of safety for New York, the besieging of Fort Duquesne, and the menacing of Quebec by a body of troops which were to advance by the Kennebec River.

The official career of General Shirley was drawing to a close. Though a man of good parts, he had always, until recently, acted in a civil capacity, and proved incompetent to conduct military operations. He was recalled to England, and was to be superseded by General Abercrombie, who was coming out with two regiments.

The general command in America, however, was to be held by the Earl of Loudoun, who was invested with powers almost equal to those of a viceroy, being placed above all the colonial governors. These might claim to be civil and military representatives of their sovereign, within their respective colonies; but, even there, were bound to defer and yield precedence to this their official superior. This was part of a plan devised long since, but now first brought into operation, by which the ministry hoped to unite the colonies under military rule, and oblige the Assemblies, magistrates, and people to furnish quarters and provide a general fund subject to the control of this military dictator.

Beside his general command, the Earl of Loudoun was to be governor of Virginia and colonel of a royal American regiment of four battalions, to be raised in the colonies, but furnished with officers who, like himself, had seen foreign service. The campaign would open on his arrival, which, it was expected, would be early in the spring; and brilliant results were anticipated.

Washington remained ten days in Boston, attending, with great interest, the meetings of the Massachusetts Legislature, in which the plan of military operations was ably discussed; and receiving the most hospitable attentions from the polite and intelligent society of the place, after which he returned to New York.

Tradition gives very different motives from those of business for his two sojourns in the latter city. He found there an early friend and school-mate, Beverly Robinson, son of John Robinson, speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was living happily and prosperously with a young and wealthy bride, having married one of the nieces and heiresses of Mr. Adolphus Philipse, a rich landholder, whose manor-house is still to be seen on the banks of the Hudson. At the house of Mr. Beverly Robinson, where Washington was an honored guest, he met Miss Mary Philipse, sister of and co-heiress with Mrs. Robinson, a young lady whose personal attractions are said to have rivalled her reputed wealth.

We have already given an instance of Washington's early sensibility to female charms. A life, however, of constant activity and care, passed for the most part in the wilderness and on the frontier, far from female society, had left little mood or leisure for the indulgence of the tender sentiment; but made him more sensible, in the present brief interval of gay and social life, to the attractions of an elegant woman, brought up in the polite circle of New York.

That he was an open admirer of Miss Philipse is an historical fact; that he sought her hand, but was refused, is traditional, and not very probable. His military rank, his early laurels and distinguished presence, were all calculated to win favor in female eyes; but his sojourn in New York was brief; he may have been diffident in urging his suit with a lady accustomed to the homage of society and surrounded by admirers. The most probable version of the story is, that he was called away by his public duties before he had made sufficient approaches in his siege of the lady's heart to warrant a summons to surrender. In the latter part of March we find him at Williamsburg attending the opening of the Legislature of Virginia, eager to promote measures for the protection of the frontier and the capture of Fort Duquesne, the leading object of his ambition. Maryland and Pennsylvania were erecting forts for the defence of their own borders, but showed no disposition to co-operate with Virginia in the field; and artillery, artillerymen, and engineers were wanting for an attack on fortified places. Washington urged, therefore, an augmentation of the provincial forces, and various improvements in the militia laws.

While thus engaged, he received a letter from a friend and confidant in New York, warning him to hasten back to that city before it was too late, as Captain Morris, who had been his fellow aide-de-camp under Braddock, was laying close siege to Miss Philipse. Sterner alarms, however, summoned him in another direction. Expresses from Winchester brought word that the French had made another sortie from Fort Duquesne, accompanied by a band of savages, and were spreading terror and desolation through the country. In this moment of exigency all softer claims were forgotten; Washington repaired in all haste to his post at Winchester, and Captain Morris was left to urge his suit unrivalled and carry off the prize.


Washington Irving