« ZurückWeiter »
reached his point of destination about sun-rise, entirely undiscovered. Here, the roads fork ; the one leading to the camp of la Fayette, and the other to Matson's ford over the Schuylkill. Gen. Gray, on the night of the 19th of May, marched with seven thousand men, and by a skilful movement got into the marquis' rear, while another detachment was advancing to his front. Thus perilous was the situation of the marquis, when he first discovered the danger which threatened him. It was about the same time perceived from the camp at Valley Forge. Alarm guns were fired to announce it to him, and the whole army was put under arms to act as circumstances might require. Thus surrounded with danger, la Fayette took, with promptitude and decision, the only course which could have preserved him. He put his troops instantly in motion and passed over at Matson's ford, which was rather nearer to general Grant than himself, without being intercepted by that officer, or sustaining a greater loss than nine men. Having crossed the river, and taken possession of the high grounds on the other side, he sent back a small party to bring over his field pieces, which were also secured. General Grant, who had reached the ground lately occupied by la Fayette, soon after it was abandoned, followed his rear, and appeared at the ford just after the Americans had crossed it; but finding them very advantageously posted, he did not choose to attack them, and the whole army returned to Philadelphia, having effected nothing. In the statement of this affair made by the marquis, he represents himself to have advanced the head of a column towards Grant, as if to attack him, while the rear filed off rapidly towards the Schuylkill. This movement gained ground even for the front, which, while it advanced towards the enemy, also approached the river, and at the same time induced general Grant to halt, in order to prepare for battle. While this manoeuvre was performing in the face of the detachment under Grant, a small party was thrown into the church-yard, which was surrounded by a wall, on the road towards general Gray, which also gave the appearance of an intention to attack in that quarter. By these dispositions, happily conceived, and executed with regularity, the marquis extricated himself and his party from the destruction which had appeared almost inevitable. In his letter to Congress, general Washington termed it “a timely and handsome retreat ;” and certainly the compliment was merited. In August, 1778, he repaired to Rhode Island, to assist in the expedition under major general Sullivan, in conjunction with the French fleet, and he received the particular approbation and applause of Congress, for his Judicious and highly important services. In January, 1779, the marquis embarked at Boston, on a voyage to France, and was subjected to imminent danger from a conspiracy
among the sailors, a great part of whom were British. He returned in May, 1780, bringing the joyful intelligence that a French fleet and army would soon arrive on our coast. Through his great zeal for the cause of the United States, he exerted his influence with his gov. ernment, no longer fearful of giving offence to the English, to afford money and troops and other important succours. He was soon put at the head of a select corps of light infantry for the service of the campaign. This afforded him a new opportunity for the display of his munificence. He presented to every officer under his command, an elegant sword, and his soldiers were clothed in uniform principally at his expense. He infused into this corps a spirit ef pride and em. ulation, viewing it as one formed and modelled according to his own wishes, and as deserving his highest confidence. They were the pride of his heart and he the idol of their regard ; constantly panting for an opportunity of accomplishing some signal achievement worthy of his and their character. This corps was pronounced equal to any that could be produced in any country. Hm December, 1780, he marched with one thousand two hundred light infantry for Virginia, to counteract the devastations of Arnold and Phillips. He made a forced march of two hundred miles and prevented general Phillips possessing himself of Richmond, and secured the stores of that place. At one period there was not a single pair of shoes in his whole com. mand, and such was his zeal and generous spirit, and such the confi. dence and respect of the people, that he was enabled to borrow of the merchants of Baltimore two thousand guineas on his own credit, with which he purchased shoes, and other necessary articles for his troops. The marquis was employed in watching the motions of ord Cornwallis in Virginia, with an inferior force; in this arduous duty he displayed the judgment, skill and prudence of a veteran, with the ardor of youth. In a skirmish near Jamestown, not a man in the lo. detachment was more exposed, and one of his horses was illed. Lord Cornwallis having encamped near Jamestown, the marquis la Fayette sent general Wayne with the Pennsylvania troops to take their station within a small distance of the British army, and watch their motions. The two advanced parties were soon engaged, and general Wayne drove that of the enemy back to their lines, and with: out stopping there, attacked the whole British army, drawn up in order of battle, and charged them with bayonets. The action was extremely severe for the little time it lasted, but the disproportion of numbers was so great, that the enemy was on the point of sur rounding our troops, when the marquis arrived in person, just time enough to order a retreat, by which they were rescued from their hazardous situation, after suffering considerable loss. General Henry Lee, in his Memoirs of the War in the Southern States, eulogizes the character and conduct of La Fayette, when
compelled to fly before the British commander, in the following lanuage. o: this period of gloom, of disorder, and of peril, la Fayette was collected and undismayed. With zeal, with courage, and with sagacity, he discharged his arduous duties; and throughout his difficult retreat, was never brought even to array but once in order for battle. Invigorating our councils by his precepts; dispelling our despondency by his example ; and encouraging his troops to submit to their many privations, by the cheerfulness with which he participated in their wants; he imparted the energy of his own mind to the country, and infused his high-toned spirit into the army.” Great encomiums were passed on the marquis for his humanity and goodness in visiting and administering to the relief of the wounded soldiers. Lord Cornwallis having received a reinforcement, was so confident of success against his young antagonist, that he imprudently said in a letter which was intercepted, “the boy cannot escape me.” He planned the surprize of the marquis while on the same side of James' river with himself, but in this he was baffled by means of a spy, whom the marquis sent into the enemy’s camp to obtain some necessary intelligence. A combination of talents and skill defeated all the energies of physical power. During the siege of lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, the marquis was among the most active and intrepid of the general officers, and he commanded a detachment of our light infantry, which successfully assaulted the British redoubt on the right of our lines. Previous to his departure from Yorktown, he issued his last order to his favorite corps of infantry, in which are contained the following expressions. “In the moment the major general leaves this place, he wishes once more to express his gratitude to the brave corps of light infantry, who for nine months past, have been the companions of his fortunes. He will never forget that with them alone, of regular troops, he had the good fortune to manoeuvre before an army which after all its reductions is still six times superior to the regular force he had at that time.” The marquis now perceiving that the mighty contest for American Independence, in which he had been so nobly engaged, was near its completion, was about to return with the well earned laurels on his brow, to his king and country. Congress resolved, November 23, 1781, “that major general the marquis La Fayette be informed, that on a review of his conduct throughout the past campaign, and particularly during the period when he had the chief command in Virginia, the many new proofs which present themselves of his zealous attachment to the cause he has espoused, and of hisjudgment, vigilance, gallantry and address in its defence, have greatly added to the high opinion entertained by Congress of his merit in military talents.” During his military career in America, the marquis displayed that patriotism, integrity, humanity, and every other virtue which characterizes real greatness of soul. His manners being easy, affable and engaging, he was particularly endeared to the officers and soldiers under his command ; they admired, loved, and revered him as their guide and support when in peril, and their warmest friend when in perplexity and trouble. The most affectionate attachment subsisted between him and the illustrious chief under whose banners it was his delight to serve, and whose language was, “this nobleman unites to all the military fire of youth, an uncommon maturity of judgment.” His very soul burned with the spirit of enterprize, and he manifested a disinterestedness and devotion to the cause of freedom, ever to be admired and applauded by a grateful people. He ever discovered both in design and execution, those traits of genius and that intuitive knowledge of tactics, which designate the great man, and the successful warrior. The people of the United States are fully apprized of their high obligations to him, and their history will transmit the name of LA FAYETTE with grateful acknowledgments to the latest posterity. It is gratifying to learn that Congress granted him a valuable tract of land, as a compensation in part for his disinterested patriot. ism and important services. When in December, 1784, the Marquis was about to take his final departure from America, congress appointed a committe, consisting of one member from each state, to receive him, and in the name of congress to take leave of him, in such a manner as might strongly manifest their esteem and regard for him. That they be instructed to assure him, that congress continued to entertain the same high sense of his abilities and zeal to promote the welfare of America, both here and in Europe, which they frequently expressed and manifested on former occasions. That the United States regard him with particular affection, and will not cease to feel an interest in whatever may concern his honor and prosperity, and that their best and kindest wishes will always attend him. Congress resolved also, that a letter be written to his most Christian Majesty, expressive of the high sense which the United States, in congress assembled, entertain of the zeal, talents and meritorious services of the marquis de la Fayette, and recommending him to the favor and patronage of his Majesty. The marquis made a very respectful and affectionate reply, in which he expressed the lively feelings of a heart devoted to the welfare of our rising empire, and gratefully acknowledged, that at a time when an inexperienced youth, he was favoured with his respected friend's paternal adoption. He thus concludes his address. ‘May this immense temple of freedom ever stand as a lesson to oppressors, an example to the oppressed, a sanctuary for the rights of mankind; and may these happy United States attain that complete splendor and prosperity which will illustrate the blessings of their government, and for ages to come, rejoice in the departed souls of its founders. Never can congress oblige me so much, as when they put it in my power in every part of the world, to the latest day of
my life, to gratify the attachment which will ever rank me among the most zealous and respectful servants of the United States.” On his arrival in France he was received in the most enthusiastic manner. His praises were sung in the streets, busts and pictures of him filled the shops, and universal popularity attended him. He was selected without opposition a deputy to the States General by his native province. When these were superseded by the National Assembly, he came forward in that body, (1789) with his celebrated declaration of the rights of man. He opposed the measures of the court with such firmness, that he was made president of the Assembly, and commandant of the National guard. He accepted the latter post with pleasure, and swore to be faithful to the liberties of his country. It is unnecessary to mention with too much minuteness the numerous affrays and quarrels that took place at this period between the king's body guards and the national troops. It is sufficient to remark, that the whole influence of la Fayette was used to preserve order and regularity in the French capital, and to alleviate the public distresses. When he was ordered by the commune of Paris to proceed to Versailles with his army, and take possession of the out posts, he restrained the violence of his soldiers, assured the king and queen of their safety, and saved the lives of fifteen of the household troops, who had been selected as the victims of the infuriated assailants.-He also advised the duke of Orleans to leave the kingdom, as his presence gave countenance to many sanguinary procedures. The popularity of la Fayette continuing to increase, he was on the 14th of July, 1790, made general in chief of the national guards of France. At this time he occupied a most important situation— the eyes of the whole world were turned on him. A boundless influence and a devoted army might have carried him successfully to the highest grade of power. In a word, on him reposed all the destinies of France. This was the crisis of his reputation, and from his course at that time, his friends and enemies took their opinions of his character. There was but one course for la Fayette to pursue, and that was the support of liberty, and the maintenance of public tranquillity. He held, as it were, a magnanimous neutrality between the different parties, whenever their projects went beyond the laws of justice and moderation. He gave his vote for the trial by jury, and emancipation of the people of color. But in the spring of io91, the tide of public feeling began to change. Nothing had been done to settle the affairs of the nation, and the violent reaction of parties commenced, in spite of the restraint imposed upon them. Even his army became affected by the intrigues of enemies, and when Louis XVI. wished to visit St. Cloud, and la Fayette gave orders to let him pass—he was for the first time disobeyed. Disgusted with this want of subordination, la Fayette threw up his commission, and did not resume it until the most humble apologies were made to him.