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WASHINGTON VINDICATES HIS CONDUCT TO LORD LOUDOUN--HIS RECEPTION BY HIS LORDSHIP--MILITARY PLANS--LORD LOUDOUN AT HALIFAX--MONTCALM ON LAKE GEORGE--HIS TRIUMPHS--LORD LOUDOUN'S FAILURES--WASHINGTON AT WINCHESTER-- CONTINUED MISUNDERSTANDINGS WITH DINWIDDIE--RETURN TO MOUNT VERNON.
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.
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 Acadia.
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 Indians.
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 pleasure.
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 enlightened.
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