Life of George Washington Vol. II
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Washington Irving is a great American writer known for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving is named after President George Washington, whom he met when he was six. Life of George Washington Vol. II is the second half of the biography written by Irving about his hero. George Washington was one of the founding fathers of the country, the first president, and an American legend. Read this conclusion of the great American hero's life written by a true fan.

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.

The American troops were irregularly distributed in a kind of semicircle eight or nine miles in extent; the left resting on Winter Hill, the most northern post; the right extending on the south to Roxbury and Dorchester Neck.

Washington reconnoitred the British posts from various points of view. Every thing about them was in admirable order. The works appeared to be constructed with military science, the troops to be in a high state of discipline; the American camp, on the contrary, disappointed him. He had expected to find eighteen or twenty thousand men under arms; there were not much more than fourteen thousand. He had expected to find some degree of system and discipline, whereas all were raw militia. He had expected to find works scientifically constructed, and proofs of knowledge and skill in engineering; whereas, what he saw of the latter, was very imperfect, and confined to the mere manual exercise of cannon. There was abundant evidence of aptness at trenching and throwing up rough defences; and in that way General Thomas had fortified Roxbury Neck, and Putnam had strengthened Prospect Hill. But the semicircular line which linked the extreme posts, was formed of rudely-constructed works, far too extensive for the troops which were at hand to man them.

Within this attenuated semicircle, the British forces lay concentrated and compact; and having command of the water, might suddenly bring their main strength to bear upon some weak point, force it, and sever the American camp.

In fact, when we consider the scanty, ill-conditioned and irregular force which had thus stretched itself out and beleaguer a town and harbour defended by ships and floating batteries, and garrisoned by eleven thousand strongly posted veterans, we are at a loss whether to attribute its hazardous position to ignorance, or to that daring self-confidence, which at times, in our military history, has snatched success in defiance of scientific rule. It was revenge for the slaughter at Lexington which, we are told, first prompted the investment of Boston. “The universal voice,” says a contemporary, “is, starve them out. Drive them from the town, and let His Majesty’s ships be their only place of refuge.”

In riding throughout the camp, Washington observed that nine thousand of the troops belonged to Massachusetts; the rest were from other provinces. They were encamped in separate bodies, each with its own regulations, and officers of its own appointment. Some had tents, others were in barracks, and others sheltered themselves as best they might. Many were sadly in want of clothing, and all, said Washington, were strongly imbued with the spirit of insubordination, which they mistook for independence.

A chaplain of one of the regiments has left on record a graphic sketch of this primitive army of the Revolution. “It is very diverting,” writes he, “to walk among the camps. They are as different in their forms, as the owners are in their dress; and every tent is a portraiture of the temper and taste of the persons who encamp in it. Some are made of boards, and some are made of sail-cloth; some are partly of one, and partly of the other. Again others are made of stone and turf, brick and brush. Some are thrown up in a hurry, others curiously wrought with wreaths and withes.”

One of the encampments, however, was in striking contrast with the rest, and might vie with those of the British for order and exactness. Here were tents and marquees pitched in the English style; soldiers well drilled and well equipped; every thing had an air of discipline and subordination. It was a body of Rhode Island troops, which had been raised, drilled, and brought to the camp of Brigadier-general Greene, of that province, whose subsequent renown entitles him to an introduction to the reader.

Nathaniel Greene was born in Rhode Island, on the 26th of May, 1742. His father was a miller, an anchor-smith, and a Quaker preacher. The waters of the Potowhammet turned the wheels of the mill, and raised the ponderous sledge-hammer of the forge. Greene, in his boyhood, followed the plough, and occasionally worked at the forge of his father. His education was of an ordinary kind; but having an early thirst for knowledge, he applied himself sedulously to various studies, while subsisting by the labor of his hands. Nature had endowed him with quick parts, and a sound judgment, and his assiduity was crowned with success. He became fluent and instructive in conversation, and his letters, still extant, show that he held an able pen.

In the late turn of public affairs, he had caught in the belligerent spirit prevalent throughout the country. Plutarch and Caesar’s Commentaries became his delight. He applied himself to military studies, for which he was prepared by some knowledge of mathematics. His ambition was to organize and discipline a corps of militia to which he belonged. For this purpose, during a visit to Boston, he had taken note of every thing about the discipline of the British troops. In the month of May, he had been elected commander of the Rhode Island contingent of the army of observation, and in June had conducted to the lines before Boston, three regiments, whose encampment we have just described, and who were pronounced the best disciplined and appointed troops in the army.

Greene made a soldier-like address to Washington, welcoming him to the camp. His appearance and manner were calculated to make a favorable impression. He was about thirty-nine years of age, nearly six feet high, well built, and vigorous, with an open, animated, intelligent countenance, and a frank, manly demeanor. He may be said to have stepped at once into the confidence of the commander-in-chief, which he never forfeited, but became one of his most attached, faithful, and efficient coadjutors throughout the war.

Having taken his survey of the army, Washington wrote to the President of Congress, representing its various deficiencies, and, among other things, urging the appointment of a commissary-general, a quarter-master-general, a commissary of musters, and a commissary of artillery. Above all things, he requested a supply of money as soon as possible. “I find myself already much embarrassed for want of a military chest.”

In one of his recommendations, we have an instance of frontier expediency, learnt in his early campaigns. Speaking of the ragged condition of the army, and the difficulty of procuring the requisite kind of clothing, he advises that a number of hunting-shirts, not less than ten thousand, should be provided, as being the cheapest and quickest mode of supplying this necessity. “I know nothing in a speculative view more trivial,” observes he, “yet which, if put in practice, would have a happier tendency to unite the men, and abolish those provincial distinctions that lead to jealousy and dissatisfaction.”

Among the troops most destitute, were those belonging to Massachusetts, which formed the larger part of the army. Washington made a noble apology for them. “This unhappy and devoted province,” said he, “has been so long in a state of anarchy, and the yoke has been laid so heavily on it, that great allowances are to be made for troops raised under such circumstances. The deficiency of numbers, discipline, and stores, can only lead to this conclusion, that their spirit has exceeded their strength.”

This apology was the more generous, coming from a Southerner; for there was a disposition among the Southern officers to regard the Eastern troops disparagingly. But Washington already felt as commander-in-chief, who looked with an equal eye on all; or rather as a true patriot, who was above all sectional prejudices.

One of the most efficient co-operators of Washington at this time, and throughout the war, was Jonathan Trumbull, the Governor of Connecticut. He was a well educated man, experienced in public business, who had sat for many years in the legislative councils of his native province. Misfortune had cast him down from affluence, at an advanced period of life, but had not subdued his native energy. He had been one of the leading spirits of the Revolution, and the only colonial governor who, at its commencement, proved true to the popular cause. He was now sixty-five years of age, active, zealous, devout, a patriot of the primitive New England stamp, whose religion sanctified his patriotism. A letter addressed by him to Washington, just after the latter had entered upon the command, is worthy of the purest days of the Covenanters. “Congress,” writes he, “have, with one united voice, appointed you to the high station you possess. The Supreme Director of all events hath caused a wonderful union of hearts and counsels to subsist among us.

“Now, therefore, be strong, and very courageous. May the God of the armies of Israel shower down the blessings of his Divine providence on you; give you wisdom and fortitude, cover your head in the day of battle and danger, add success, convince our enemies of their mistaken measures, and that all their attempts to deprive these colonies of their inestimable constitutional rights and liberties, are injurious and vain.”


We are obliged to Professor Felton, of Cambridge, for correcting an error in our first volume in regard to Washington’s head-quarters and for some particulars concerning a house, associated with the history and literature of our country.

The house assigned to Washington for head-quarters was that of the president of the Provincial Congress, not of the University. It had been one of those tory mansions noticed by the Baroness Reidesel, in her mention of Cambridge. “Seven families, who were connected by relationship, or lived in great intimacy, had here farms, gardens, and splendid mansions, and not far off, orchards; and the buildings were at a quarter of a mile distant from each other. The owners had been in the habit of assembling every afternoon in one or other of these houses, and of diverting themselves with music or dancing; and lived in affluence, in good humor, and without care, until this unfortunate war dispersed them, and transformed all these houses into solitary abodes.”

The house in question was confiscated by Government. It stood on the Watertown road, about half a mile west of the college, and has long been known as the Cragie House, from the name of Andrew Cragie, a wealthy gentleman, who purchased it after the war, and revived its former hospitality. He is said to have acquired great influence among the leading members of the “great and general court,” by dint of jovial dinners. He died long since, but his widow survived until within fifteen years. She was a woman of much talent and singularity. She refused to have the canker worms destroyed, when they were making sad ravages among the beautiful trees on the lawn before the house. “We are all worms,” said she, “and they have as good a right here as I have.” The consequence was that more than half of the trees perished.

The Craige House is associated with American literature through some of its subsequent occupants. Mr. Edward Everett resided in it the first year or two after his marriage. Later, Mr. Jared Sparks, during part of the time that he was preparing his collection of Washington’s writings; editing a volume or two of his letters in the very room from which they were written. Next came Mr. Worcester, author of the pugnacious dictionary, and of many excellent books, and lastly Longfellow, the poet, who having married the heroine of Hyperion, purchased the house of the heirs of Mr. Cragie, and refitted it.

Chapter II


The justice and impartiality of Washington were called into exercise as soon as he entered upon his command, in allaying discontents among his general officers, caused by the recent appointments and promotions made by the Continental Congress. General Spencer was so offended that Putnam should be promoted over his head, that he left the army, without visiting the commander-in-chief; but was subsequently induced to return. General Thomas felt aggrieved by being outranked by the veteran Pomeroy; the latter, however, declining to serve, he found himself senior brigadier, and was appeased.

The sterling merits of Putnam soon made every one acquiesce in his promotion. There was a generosity and bouyancy about the brave old man that made him a favorite throughout the army; especially with the younger officers, who spoke of him familiarly and fondly as “Old Put;” a soubriquet by which he is called even in one of the private letters of the commander-in-chief.

The Congress of Massachusetts manifested considerate liberality with respect to head-quarters. According to their minutes, a committee was charged to procure a steward, a housekeeper, and two or three women cooks; Washington, no doubt, having brought with him none but the black servants who had accompanied him to Philadelphia, and who were but little fitted for New England housekeeping. His wishes were to be consulted in regard to the supply of his table. This his station, as commander-in-chief, required should be kept up in ample and hospitable style. Every day a number of his officers dined with him. As he was in the neighborhood of the seat of the Provincial Government, he would occasionally have members of the Congress and other functionaries at his board. Though social, however, he was not convivial in his habits. He received his guests with courtesy; but his mind and time were too much occupied by grave and anxious concerns, to permit him the genial indulgence of the table. His own diet was extremely simple. Sometimes nothing but baked apples or berries, with cream and milk. He would retire early from the board, leaving an aide-de-camp or one of his officers to take his place. Colonel Mifflin was the first person who officiated as aide-de-camp. He was a Philadelphia gentleman of high respectability, who had accompanied him from that city, and received his appointment shortly after their arrival at Cambridge. The second aide-de-camp, was John Trumbull, son of the Governor of Connictecut. He had accompanied General Spencer to the camp, and had caught the favorable notice of Washington by some drawings which he had made of the enemy’s works. “I now suddenly found myself,” writes Trumbull, “in the family of one of the most distinguished and dignified men of the age; surrounded at his table by the principal officers of the army, and in constant intercourse with them — it was further my duty to receive company, and do the honors of the house to many of the first people of the country of both sexes.” Trumbull was young, and unaccustomed to society, and soon found himself, he says, unequal to the elegant duties of his situation; he gladly exchanged it, therefore, for that of major of brigade.

The member of Washington’s family most deserving of mention at present, was his secretary, Mr. Joseph Reed. With this gentleman he had formed an intimacy in the course of his visits to Philadelphia, to attend the sessions of the Continental Congress. Mr. Reed was an accomplished man, had studied law in America, and at the Temple in London, and had gained a high reputation at the Philadelphia bar. In the dawning of the Revolution he had embraced the popular cause, and carried on a correspondence with the Earl of Dartmouth, endeavoring to englighten that minister on the subject of colonial affairs. He had since been highly instrumental in rousing the Philadelphians to co-operate with the patriots of Boston. A sympathy of views and feelings had attached him to Washington, and induced him to accompany him to the camp. He had no definite purpose when he left home, and his friends in Philadelphia were surprised, on receiving a letter from him written from Cambridge, to find that he had accepted the post of secretary to the commander-in-chief.

They expostulated with him by letter. That a man in the thirty-fifth year of his age, with a lucrative profession, a young wife and growing family, and a happy home, should suddenly abandon all to join the hazardous fortunes of a revolutionary camp, appeared to them the height of infatuation. They remonstrated on the peril of the step. “I have no inclination,” replied Reed, “to be hanged for half treason. When a subject draws his sword against his prince, he must cut his way through, if he means to sit down in safety. I have taken too active a part in what may be called the civil part of opposition, to renounce, without disgrace, the public cause when it seems to lead to danger; and have a most sovereign contempt for the man who can plan measures he has not the spirit to execute.”

Washington has occasionally been represented as cold and reserved; yet his intercourse with Mr. Reed is a proof to the contrary. His friendship towards him was frank and cordial, and the confidence he reposed in him full and implicit. Reed, in fact, became, in a little time, the intimate companion of his thoughts, his bosom counsellor. He felt the need of such a friend in the present exigency, placed as he was, in a new and untried situation, and having to act with persons hitherto unknown to him.

In military matters, it is true he had a shrewd counsellor in General Lee; but Lee was a wayward character; a cosmopolite, without attachment to country, somewhat splenetic, and prone to follow the bent of his whims and humors, which often clashed with propriety and sound policy. Reed on the contrary, though less informed on military matters, had a strong common sense, unclouded by passion or prejudice, and a pure patriotism, which regarded every thing as it bore upon the welfare of his country.

Washington’s confidence in Lee had always to be measured and guarded in matters of civil policy.

The arrival of Gates in camp, was heartily welcomed by the commander-in-chief, who had received a letter from that officer, gratefully acknowledging his friendly influence in procuring him the appointment of adjutant-general. Washington may have promised himself much cordial co-operation from him, recollecting the warm friendship professed by him when he visited at Mount Vernon, and they talked together over their early companionship in arms; but of that kind of friendship there was no further manifestation. Gates was certainly of great service, from his practical knowledge and military experience at this juncture, when the whole army had in a manner to be organized; but from the familiar intimacy of Washington he gradually estranged himself. A contemporary has accounted for this, by alleging that he was secretly chagrined at not having received the appointment of major-general, to which he considered himself well fitted by his military knowledge and experience, and which he thought Washington might have obtained for him had he used his influence with Congress. We shall have to advert to his estrangement of Gates on subsequent occasions.

The hazardous position of the army from the great extent and weakness of its lines, was what most pressed on the immediate attention of Washington; and he summoned a council of war, to take the matter into consideration. In this it was urged that, to abandon the line of works, after the great labor and expense of their construction, would be dispiriting to the troops and encouraging to the enemy, while it would expose a wide extent of the surrounding country to maraud and ravage. Beside, no safer position presented itself, on which to fall back. This being generally admitted, it was determined to hold on to the works and defend them as long as possible; and, in the mean time, to augment the army to at least twenty thousand men.

Washington now hastened to improve the defences of the camp, strengthen the weak parts of the line, and throw up additional works round the main forts. No one seconded him more effectually in this matter than General Putnam. No works were thrown up with equal rapidity to those under his superintendence. “You seem, general,” said Washington, “to have the faculty of infusing your own spirit into all the workmen you employ;” — and it was the fact.

The observing chaplain already cited, gazed with wonder at the rapid effects soon produced by the labors of an army. “It is surprising,” writes he, “how much work has been done. The lines are extended almost from Cambridge to Mystic River; very soon it will be morally impossible for the enemy to get between the works, except in one place, which is supposed to be left purposely unfortified, to entice the enemy out of their fortresses. Who would have thought, twelve months past, that all Cambridge and Charlestown would be covered over with American camps, and cut up into forts and intrenchments, and all the lands, fields, orchards, laid common, — horses and cattle feeding on the choicest mowing land, whole fields of corn eaten down to the ground, and large parks of well-regulated forest trees cut down for firewood and other public uses.”

Beside the main dispositions above mentioned, about seven hundred men were distributed in the small towns and villages along the coast to prevent depredations by water; and horses were kept ready saddled at various points of the widely extended lines, to convey to head-quarters intelligence of any special movement of the enemy.

The army was distributed by Washington into three grand divisions. One, forming the right wing, was stationed on the heights of Roxbury. It was commanded by Major-general Ward, who had under him Brigadier-generals Spencer and Thomas. Another, forming the left wind under Major-general Lee, having with him Brigadier-generals Sullivan and Greene, was stationed on Winter and Prospect Hills; while the centre under Major-general Putnam and Brigadier-general Heath, was stationed at Cambridge. With Putnam was encamped his favorite officer Knowlton, who had been promoted by Congress to the rank of major for his gallantry at Bunker’s Hill.

At Wasshington’s recommendation, Joseph Trumbull, the eldest son of the governor, received on the 24th of July the appointment of commissary-general of the continental army. He had already officiated with talent in that capacity in the Connecticut militia. “There is a great overturning in the camp as to order and regularity,” writes the military chaplain; “new lords, new laws. The generals Washington and Lee are upon the lines every day. New orders from his excellency are read to the respective regiments every morning after prayers. The strictest government is taking place, and great distinction is made between officers and soldiers. Every one is made to know his place and keep it, or be tied up and receive thirty or forty lashes according to his crime. Thousands are at work every day from four till eleven o’clock in the morning.”

Lee was supposed to have been at the bottom of this rigid discipline; the result of his experience in European campaigning. His notions of military authority were acquired in the armies of the North. Quite a sensation was, on one occasion, produced in camp by his threatening to cane an officer for unsoldierly conduct. His laxity in other matters occasioned almost equal scandal. He scoffed, we are told, “with his usual profaneness,” at a resolution of Congress appointing a day of fasting and prayer, to obtain the favor of Heaven upon their cause. “Heaven,” he observed, “was ever found favorable to strong battalions.”

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