Life of George Washington Vol. II, Washington Irving
Life of George Washington Vol. II
Washington Irving
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Washington Irving was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. Irving's mother named him after George Washington. Irving met his namesake at age 6, when George Washington was living in New York after his inauguration as President in 1789. The President blessed young Irving, an encounter that Irving had commemorated in a small watercolor painting which continues to hang in his home. Washington Irving completed a five-volume biography of George Washington just eight months before his death at age 76. Five volumes of the biography were published between 1855 and 1859.

Life of George Washington, Volume II

Washington Irving

Life of George Washington Vol. II

Chapter I


On the 3d of July, the morning after his arrival at Cambridge, Washington took formal command of the army. It was drawn up on the Common about half a mile from head-quarters. A multitude had assembled there, for as yet military spectacles were novelties, and the camp was full of visitors, men, women and children, from all parts of the country, who had relatives among the yeoman soldiery.

An ancient elm is still pointed out, under which Washington, as he arrived from head-quarters accompanied by General Lee and a numerous suite, wheeled his horse, and drew his sword as commander-in-chief of the armies. We have cited the poetical description of him furnished by the pen of Mrs. Adams; we give her sketch of his military compeer — less poetical, but no less graphic.

“General Lee looks like a careless, hardy veteran; and by his appearance brought to my mind his name-sake, Charles XII. of Sweden. The elegance of his pen far exceeds that of his person.”

Accompanied by this veteran campaigner, on whose military judgment he had great reliance, Washington visited the different American posts, and rode to the heights, commanding views over Boston and its environs, being anxious to make himself acquainted with the strength and relative position of both armies: and here we will give a few particulars concerning the distinguished commanders with whom he was brought immediately in competition.

Congress, speaking of them reproachfully, observed, “Three of England’s most experienced generals are sent to wage war with their fellow-subjects.” The first here alluded to was the Honorable William Howe, next in command to Gage. He was a man of fine presence, six feet high, well proportioned, and of graceful deportment. He is said to have been not unlike Washington in appearance, though wanting his energy and activity. He lacked also his air of authority; but affability of manners, and a generous disposition, made him popular with both officers and soldiers.

There was a sentiment in his favor even among Americans at the time when he arrived at Boston. It was remembered that he was brother to the gallant and generous youth, Lord Howe, who fell in the flower of his days, on the banks of Lake George, and whose untimely death had been lamented throughout the colonies. It was remembered that the general himself had won reputation in the same campaign, commanding the light infantry under Wolfe, on the famous plains of Abraham. A mournful feeling had therefore gone through the country, when General Howe was cited as one of the British commanders, who had most distinguished themselves in the bloody battle of Bunker’s Hill. Congress spoke of it with generous sensibility, in their address to the people of Ireland already quoted. “America is amazed,” said they, “to find the name of Howe on the catalogue of her enemies ― she loved his brother!

General Henry Clinton, the next in command, was grandson of the Earl of Lincoln, and son of George Clinton, who had been Governor of the Province of New York for ten years, from 1743. The general had seen service on the continent in the Seven Years’ War. He was of short stature, and inclined to corpulency; with a full face, and prominent nose. His manners were reserved, and altogether he was in strong contrast with Howe, and by no means so popular.

Burgoyne, the other British general of note, was natural son of Lord Bingley, and had entered the army at an early age. While yet a subaltern, he had made a runaway match with a daughter of the Earl of Derby, who threatened never to admit the offenders to his presence. In 1758, Burgoyne was a Lieutenant-colonel of light dragoons. In 1761, he was sent with a force to aid the Portuguese against the Spaniards, joined the army commanded by the Count de la Lippe, and signalized himself by surprising and capturing the town of Alcantara. He had since been elected to Parliament for the borough of Middlesex, and displayed considerable parliamentary talents. In 1772, he was made a Major-general. His taste, wit, and intelligence, and his aptness at devising and promoting elegant amusements, made him for a time a leader in the gay world; though Junius accuses him of unfair practices at the gaming table. His reputation for talents and services had gradually mollified the heart of his father-in-law, the Earl of Derby. In 1774, he gave celebrity to the marriage of a son of the Earl with Lady Betty Hamilton, by producing an elegant dramatic trifle, entitled, “The Maid of the Oaks,” afterwards performed at Drury Lane, and honored with a biting sarcasm by Horace Walpole. “There is a new puppet-show at Drury Lane,” writes the wit, “as fine as the scenes can make it, and as dull as the author could not help making it.”

It is but justice to Burgoyne’s memory to add, that, in after years, he produced a dramatic work, “The Heiress,” which extorted even Walpole’s approbation, who pronounced it the genteelest comedy in the English language.

Such were three British commanders at Boston, who were considered especially formidable; and they had with them eleven thousand veteran troops, well appointed and well disciplined.

In visiting the different posts, Washington halted for a time at Prospect Hill, which, as its name denotes, commanded a wide view over Boston and the surrounding country. Here Putnam had taken his position after the battle of Bunker’s Hill, fortifying himself with works which he deemed impregnable; and here the veteran was enabled to point out to the commander-in-chief, and to Lee, the main features of the belligerent region, which lay spread out like a map before them.

Bunker’s Hill was but a mile distant to the west; the British standard floating as if in triumph on its summit. The main force under General Howe was intrenching itself strongly about half a mile beyond the place of the recent battle. Scarlet uniforms gleamed about the hill; tents and marquees whitened its sides. All up there was bright, brilliant, and triumphant. At the base of the hill lay Charlestown in ashes, “nothing to be seen of that fine town but chimneys and rubbish.”

Howe’s sentries extended a hundred and fifty yards beyond the neck or isthmus, over which the Americans retreated after the battle. Three floating batteries in Mystic River commanded this isthmus, and a twenty-gun ship was anchored between the peninsula and Boston.

General Gage, the commander-in-chief, still had his head-quarters in the town, but there were a few troops there besides Burgoyne’s light-horse. A large force, however, was intrenched south of the town on the neck leading to Roxbury, ― the only entrance to Boston by land.

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