George Washington and Valley Forge: spring of 1778



During the spring of 1778, the little army at Valley Forge had not only suffered great privations in camp, but were subjected to attacks upon their feeble outposts, and detachments sent out for food and forage, by parties sent from Philadelphia. Among the most active of these was a corps of American Loyalists, called the "Queen's Rangers," led by Major Simcoe, and numbering about five hundred men. In February, these went into New Jersey to capture Wayne, who was there gathering up horses and provisions, but failed. Another party, more than a thousand strong, led by Colonel Mawhood, went to Salem in March, and on the 18th, had a severe skirmish at Quintin's bridge, near that town, with a small force of Americans under Colonel Holmes. The latter were dispersed, but were saved from capture or destruction, by Colonel Hand, who arrived with some troops and two pieces of cannon, and checked the pursuers. Mawhood then sent Simcoe to attack another detachment at Hancock's bridge, not far from Quintin's, on the night of the 20th. But few Americans were there, and most of them were non-combatants, who made no resistance. They were all murdered while begging for quarter. This cruel act was done by unprincipled Tories, who, in arms, were called "The blood-hounds of the Revolution."

At that time a committee of the Congress were at Valley Forge, where they had been for several weeks, conferring with the commander-in-chief on the subject of future military operations, and especially upon reforms of present abuses in the army, the increase in its efficiency, and the revival of the hopes of the country. Washington presented to the committee a very long memorial, in which he had embodied the views of himself and his officers. He specially urged as a necessity, as well as equity, of insuring to the officers of the army, half-pay for life. This memorial formed the basis of the report of the committee to the Congress. Washington also wrote many letters to members of that body, urging the measure of half-pay with great earnestness and good arguments, pleading for this act of justice toward his companions in arms, and disclaiming all selfish motives, for he had often declared that he would not receive pay for his own services. The Congress finally agreed to secure to each officer half-pay for the term of seven years next ensuing after the close of the contest, and a gratuity of eighty dollars to every non-commissioned officer and private who should continue in the service until the close of the war. These equitable provisions doubtless saved the Continental Army from dissolution in the spring of 1778.

Meanwhile the service had been strengthened by the appointment of General Greene quartermaster-general, in place of General Mifflin, and the Baron de Steuben as inspector-general of the Continental Army, in place of General Conway. Steuben was a skillful Prussian officer, who had served on the staff of Frederick the Great. He arrived in America at the beginning of December, 1777, and presenting himself to the Congress at York, offered his services. His certificates of character were so ample, that they were accepted; and at the urgent solicitation of Washington he was appointed inspector-general of the armies, with the rank and pay of major-general. Joining the army at Valley Forge, he so thoroughly disciplined the crude soldiery there, in military maneuvers, that before the opening of the campaign in June, they had acquired much of the skill of European veterans. Our regular soldiers were never beaten in a fair fight, after their drilling at Valley Forge.

As the spring advanced and warm weather prevailed, the comforts of the soldiers were increased and their daily wants were more bountifully supplied. Their shattered regiments were filled, and a more hopeful feeling prevailed throughout the country, when, on the night of the 3d of May, a despatch reached Washington, from the President of Congress, announcing the alliance between France and the United States. Washington communicated the important news in general orders on the 6th, and great joy was thereby produced. He set apart the following day to be devoted to a grateful acknowledgement of the Divine goodness in raising up a powerful friend in "one of the princes of the earth, to establish liberty and independence upon a solid foundation," and to celebrate the great event by tokens of delight. He directed the several brigades of the army to be assembled at nine o'clock in the morning to hear prayers and appropriate discourses from their respective chaplains. At a given signal the men were to be under arms for inspection and parade, when they were to be led to a specified position to fire a feu de joie with cannon and small guns. At a given signal, there was to be a discharge of thirteen cannon and a running fire of small-arms, when the whole army were to huzza--"Long live the king of France!" Then another discharge of thirteen cannon and all the muskets was to be given, followed by a shout of the army--"Long live the friendly European powers!" Then a third discharge of cannon and musketry in like manner, and a shout--"The American States."

These orders were faithfully obeyed. Washington, with his wife and suite and other general officers with their wives, attended the religious services of the New Jersey brigade. The army made a brilliant appearance in their new suits of clothing and polished arms. After the soldiers had retired, the commander-in-chief dined in public with all his officers, attended by a band of music; and the entertainment ended with a number of patriotic toasts, and loud huzzas for Washington, when he left the table.

The "Conciliatory Bills" had arrived in America a fortnight before the news of the treaty was received by the Congress, and attracted much attention in and out of that body. Governor Tryon, at New York, caused them to be printed and widely circulated, to produce disaffection among the Americans. As they did not propose independence as a basis for negotiations, they were regarded by the patriots with suspicion, and were denominated "deceptionary bills." Washington and the Congress rejected them as inadequate, in scope, to form a foundation for discussion. "Nothing short of independence, it appears to me, will do," Washington wrote. "A peace on other terms would, if I may be allowed the expression, be a peace of war." The Congress resolved that the terms were totally inadequate, and that no advances on the part of the British government would be met, unless, as a preliminary step, they should either withdraw their fleets and armies, or acknowledge, unequivocally, the independence of the United States.





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