In June following Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the American armies by the unanimous voice of Congress. He accepted the high command with great reluctance and diffidence--knowing that it involved responsibilities, consequences and results too mighty for him hastily to assume, too vast for him confidently to encounter. He did not view the camp as the field of glory, ambition, conquest or fame. He did not thirst for human blood or exult in the profession of arms. Love of country, liberty, human rights, liberal principles--the duty to resist the oppressions of tyranny, prompted him to action. For these reasons he consented to serve his country at the perilous post assigned him.
As soon as practicable he hastened to Cambridge Mass. and entered upon the duties of his office in July. Before his arrival there, Crown Point and Ticonderoga had been surrendered to the patriots--the sanguinary battle of Bunker's Hill had been fought and the British convinced that men contending for their just rights, their dearest interests--their bosoms charged with fiery indignation and burning patriotism--could not be made to yield to the glittering arms of a haughty monarch without a bold and desperate effort to maintain that Liberty which they inherited from their Creator and which was guarantied by the British constitution.
The horrors of war were accumulating like electrified clouds preparing a tornado. The bloody toils of the Revolution had commenced. England poured in her legions by thousands. To cap the climax of barbarity she called to her aid the blood thirsty Indian with his tomahawk and scalping knife and bid a premium for scalps. The welkin rang with the savage war-whoop. The terrific screams, the expiring groans of mothers and babes were enough to draw tears from rocks and dress all nature in deep mourning. The contest was that of an infant with a giant--a lamb with a wolf. The dark clouds blackened as they rose and were surcharged with the lightning of revenge and thunder of malice. Washington viewed their fiery aspect with calm serenity, heard their portentous roar without a tremor. With his soul reaching to Heaven he met the awful crisis with firmness and prudence before unknown. His gigantic genius soared above the loftiest barriers his enemies could rear. His course was onward--right onward towards the goal of LIBERTY. Beneath his conquering arm monarchy trembled, tottered, fell. His whole energy was at once directed to the complete organization and perfect discipline of the army. By the aid of the king's troops some of the royal governors still maintained a show of authority in several of the colonies. As opposition assumed a systematic form and military arrangements increased, they retired on board the British armed vessels from whence they issued their proclamations with about the same effect as the puffing of a porpoise would have upon old Boreas.
Early in March 1776, Washington planted his army before Boston where Lord Howe had concentrated his forces. On the 17th this caused his lordship very modestly to evacuate the town. On the 2d of July Gen. Howe landed nine miles below the city of New York with 24,000 men. He sent an insulting communication to Washington which he very properly refused to receive. On the 27th of August that part of the army stationed at Brooklyn under Gen. Sullivan was attached and defeated with great loss and Generals Sullivan, Sterling and Woodhull taken prisoners. Two days after, Gen. Washington effected a retreat and landed his troops safely in New York without the movement being discovered by the enemy until completed. Chagrined and mortified at the loss of their prey the British prepared to attack the city which induced the Americans to evacuate it and retire to White Plains. Here they were attacked on the 28th of September--the British were repulsed, a considerable loss was sustained on both sides and no victory to either. The disasters of the patriots multiplied--Fort Washington and Lee fell into the hands of the English--the American army was flying before a relentless foe. Washington crossed the Hudson and retreated through Jersey into Pennsylvania with Lord Cornwallis pressing on his rear. His army was now reduced to 3000 men who were destitute of almost every comfort of life. They could be tracked by blood from their naked feet upon the frozen ground. Think of this ye who are now enjoying the rich behest of Liberty so dearly purchased and but by few properly appreciated. Reverses had chilled the zeal of many leading men who at first espoused the cause of freedom but whose hearts were not yet sufficiently harrowed by oppression to have the good seed take root. A fiery cloud of indignation, ready to devour them, hung over the bleeding colonies. Washington was still confident of ultimate success. He believed that in the archives of eternal justice their FREEDOM was written. Guardian angels listened to the vesper orisons of those who were true to themselves, their country and their God who directed their destiny. The bold career of the roaring lion was arrested. This Spartan band was crowned with victory. On the night of the 25th of December Washington crossed the Delaware to Trenton amidst floating ice--surprised and took one thousand prisoners--pushed on to Princeton, killed sixty and took three hundred prisoners, spreading consternation in the ranks of the enemy. This success re-animated many of the cold hearts that could be warmed only by prosperity--sunshine patriots whose love of freedom was very similar to self-righteousness. Washington retired to Morristown N. J. for the winter--the English occupied Brunswick.
In the spring of 1777 the army of Washington amounted to about 7000 men. No action occurred between the main armies until August when the British landed in Maryland with the intention of capturing Philadelphia. On the 11th of September the two armies met at Brandywine--a desperate battle ensued and a partial dearly purchased victory was gained by the English. On the approach of the enemy the City of Penn was abandoned. On the 4th of October another severe battle was fought at Germantown which proved disastrous to the American troops in consequence of their becoming separated and confused by a thick fog. These keen misfortunes were more than balanced by the capture of the entire British army in the north under Burgoyne by Gen. Gates on the 17th of October. On the reception of this news France recognised the Independence of the United States, entered into a treaty of alliance and furnished important aid by sending many of her brave sons to the rescue. The English retreated to New York in the spring of 1778 from which place they made frequent descents upon various places, destroying private property, murdering the inhabitants and spreading desolation wherever they went. They sent an expedition to Georgia and were crowned with victory. During this year no decisive battle was fought. The same during 1779. The British seemed to be better pleased with a predatory warfare than pitched battles which they carried on in a manner that put savage barbarity in the shade and made the inquisitor general of Madrid mourn for lost humanity. Alas for the Christian majesty of mother Britain.
Again the exertions of Washington were almost paralyzed for the want of men and money. The French Admiral D'Estaing was unfortunate in all his movements. The British lion was prowling through the land in all the majesty of cruelty. The anchor of hope could scarcely keep the shattered bark of Liberty to its moorings--the cable of exertion lost thread after thread until but a small band of _genuine_ patriots and heroes were left as a nucleus to breast the fury of the storm that rolled its dashing surges over them. But they clung to the creaking craft with a death grip and weathered the terrific gale. The campaign of 1780 terminated more favorably to the American arms. The south had become the main theatre of action. The cruelties of the enemy had prepared more hearts to do service in the cause of Liberty. The people were brought to see their true interests and rallied under the banner of freedom determined on victory or death. Gates, the hero of Saratoga, was put in command of the southern army--fresh aid arrived from France--the conflict was one of desperation. On the 18th of August a severe battle was fought near Camden, S. C. The British were the victors. Defeat now only served to rally the bone and sinew of the land. The hardy sons of Columbia rose like a phœnix from ashes and hurled the thunderbolts of vengeance among their savage foes with the fury of Mars. Every battle weakened and disheartened the enemy when a victory was gained. A few more conquests like those at Camden and Guilford Court House would seal their doom. The energetic Greene succeeded Gates. The campaign of 1781 opened. Washington moved to the south. Wayne, Lee, Greene, La Fayette, Nelson and other brave officers were there. Count de Grasse was co-operating with his fleet. In their turn the British lords, admirals and generals found themselves surrounded with impending dangers. An awful crisis was pressing upon them. Retribution stared them in the face. Their deeds of blood haunted their guilty souls--consternation seized their troubled minds. Lord Cornwallis concentrated his forces at Yorktown which he fortified in the best possible manner.
On the 6th of October the combined forces of Washington and Rochambeau commenced a siege upon this place which surrendered on the 19th of the same month. The grand Rubicon was passed--the work was done--the Colonies were free. That was the dying struggle of British monarchy in America. Hope of conquering her indomitable sons expired like the death flickering of a glow-worm. Heaven had decreed they should be free--that decree was consummated. Like Jordan's dove, the Eagle of Liberty descended to cheer the conquering heroes--snatched the laurels from Britain's brow and placed them triumphantly upon the CHAMPIONS OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE. To the friends of FREEDOM the scene was joyful, sublime--to its enemies--painful, humiliating. This victory was hailed with enthusiastic gratitude. It placed Washington on the loftiest summit, of immortal fame--secured Liberty to his beloved country, stopped the effusion of human blood, sealed the foundations of our Republic--prepared an asylum for the oppressed--planted deep the long nursed TREE OF LIBERTY.
On the 30th of September 1783 a definitive treaty was signed at Paris by Messrs. Fitzherbert and Oswald on the part of Great Britain and Messrs. John Adams, Franklin, Jay and Laurens on the part of the United States. On the 2d of November Washington issued his farewell orders to his army in terms of affectionate eloquence and parental solicitude. On the 3d the troops were disbanded by Congress. With mingling tears of joy and gratitude they parted and repaired finally to their homes to meet the warm embrace, the fervent grasp of their families and friends--there to reap the rich fruit of their perilous toils free from the iron scourge of despotism. On the 23d of December Washington appeared in the hall of Congress and resigned his commission. This act was one of sublimity and thrilling interest. The past, present and future--all rushed upon the mind of this great and good man as he invoked the blessings of Heaven to descend and guard the Liberty of his beloved emancipated country. Every eye was fixed upon him--every heart beat quicker--emotion rose to its zenith--he laid the commission on the table--a burst of applause rent the air--a flood of tears closed the scene.