[Washington as Commander-in-chief.]

George Washington had been assigned to the command-in-chief of the colonial troops, just before the Battle of Bunker Hill. Thus, at the very start, wisdom ruled the counsels and Providence guided the action of our forefathers. The military abilities and lofty patriotism of Washington could scarcely have been foreseen at the first in all their breadth and scope; yet he was already known as a soldier of tried courage and of prudent conduct, and as a Virginia gentleman of conspicuous social and private virtues.

[Continental Generals.]

Washington assumed the chief direction of the Continental forces, under the famous old elm which still stands, but a few steps from Harvard College, in Old Cambridge, on the third day of July, 1775. At the same time of his appointment, four major-generals - Artemus Ward, Israel Putnam, Philip Schuyler, and Charles Lee - were designated. The principal troops of the colonies were at this time gathered in an irregular cordon around Boston. Their position was almost unchanged from that which they had occupied before the Battle of Bunker Hill; for the British were unable to follow up the success which they had achieved on that occasion.

[The Continental Forces.]

The general-in-chief, on inspecting his forces, saw how ill disciplined and ill supplied they were. They had but little clothing, a scant supply of arms, and still less ammunition. Washington's first task was by no means the least difficult of those which lay before him. It was to create an army out of a brave but heterogeneous multitude of patriots. It was to collect arms and supplies; to keep vigilant watch on the British in Boston; to fortify and defend the surrounding circle; and prepare to meet and drive out the pent-up foe.

At last, after preparations extending through nearly eight months, Boston was attacked by batteries from Dorchester Heights, and on the 17th of March, 1776, Howe evacuated the town, and the first decisive struggle of the seven years' contest had been decided in favor of the Americans.

[First Campaign.]

The scene is now transferred further south. Charleston had, it is true, already been attacked, but without favorable results to the English; on the other hand, Arnold and Montgomery had vainly essayed to assail British power in the Canadas. New York was the objective point of those who had now come to be regarded as the invaders of our soil. Its splendid harbor and its central position afforded a good standpoint. The concentration of the troops of Howe, which had evacuated Boston, the war ships commanded by his brother, Lord Howe, and the forces under Clinton, which had been occupied in futile operations in the South, enabled the British to force Washington out of New York, and to occupy it themselves.

[Numerical Force of the Contestants.]

The whole British force engaged in this enterprise was scarcely less than twenty-five thousand men; the American force did not exceed twelve thousand; and the contrast in discipline and equipment still further increased this inequality of strength. Then came the retreat across New Jersey, succeeded by one of the most brilliant strokes of the war. This was the midnight and midwinter crossing of the Delaware by the American general and his troops, the forced march upon Trenton through the snow and cold, and the surprise and utter defeat of the Hessians at that place on Christmas morning.

[Valley Forge.]

But the colonists, though waxing in strength, were not yet able to cope in a prolonged and active campaign with the royal army. Philadelphia, like New York, had to be given up. The terrible winter months spent at Valley Forge formed one of the saddest and most heroic romances of the Revolution. The army lived in huts, which, as Lafayette exclaimed, "were no gayer than dungeons." Bread and clothing were sadly wanting. The cold was intense, and almost unremitting. The Pilgrims during their first winter at Plymouth were scarcely more comfortless.


It was early in the following year (1777) that General Burgoyne made an offensive movement southward from Canada, by way of Lake Champlain and Fort Ticonderoga. A portion of his troops were sent to Bennington to capture some stores collected there by the Vermont patriots. A vigorous defence of these stores by the intrepid Stark resulted in the repulse, first of the British, then of the Hessian troops. The next scene in the drama was what may be called the second decisive action of the war. Burgoyne, with his whole force of five thousand men, encamped at Saratoga. There he was confronted by General Horatio Gates, who engaged him in two battles, which, however uncertain their immediate issue, were followed by a retreat on Burgoyne's part. The Americans succeeded in turning his flank, and hemming him in; and then came the surrender of Burgoyne and his entire force.

[Surrender of Burgoyne.]

The consequences of this event were of far greater moment than the elimination from the contest of an able British general and five thousand well drilled British and mercenary soldiers. It silenced the complaints which were growing loud against the inactivity of Washington. It once more harmonized the colonial counsels, which were becoming seriously discordant. It inspired new effort throughout the colonies. And it decided France to make open cause with the struggling patriots. To the masterly diplomacy of Franklin we owe it that the great European rival of England threw the weight of her sympathy and material assistance on our side.

[Charleston Taken.]

[Capture of Stony Point.]

From the moment of Burgoyne's surrender, the tide of the war was fitful, but on the whole, towards American success. There were still vicissitudes, now and then an apparent back-sliding; Charleston was taken by Clinton; massacres by Indians took place in Pennsylvania; the progress of the cause at times seemed grievously slow. On the other hand, "mad" Anthony Wayne assaulted and took Stony Point, on the Hudson; Paul Jones made vigorous havoc with the British war-ships, conquering the Serapis and carried terror to the English by approaching close to their coast with his doughty Bonhomme Richard ; Marion and Sumter kept up constant hostilities with the British in South Carolina; and the vexatious character of the war was evidently wearying the patience, and wearing upon the determination, of the royal government.

[Surrender of Cornwallis.]

The final scene of the war, at least that which most obtrusively stands forth in its panorama, was the siege and capture of Yorktown, in Virginia, and the surrender of General Lord Cornwallis with seven thousand troops. On this occasion the Americans had the aid of a corps of French troops under Count Rochambeau, while the French Admiral de Grasse guarded York River. The siege was so vigorous that in ten days Lord Cornwallis found himself unable to hold the town. But for a propitious rain-storm, he might yet have saved his army, and thus protracted the war. His attempt to leave Yorktown under cover of night was, however, frustrated by the outburst of a tempest; and he was forced to send word to Washington that he would surrender.


This he did, with all the customary formalities of war, on the 19th of October, 1781. By this act seven thousand British troops, the largest force left on American soil, were withdrawn from the conflict. It was the death-blow to British hopes. The war dragged on, however, for two years more. The royalist troops held New York, Charleston, and Savannah, but did not venture upon aggressive projects. At last, a treaty was made at Paris, on the 3d of September, 1783, by the conditions of which Great Britain grudgingly acknowledged the independence of the United States of America.

[The Revolutionary Heroes.]

There would be no justice in presenting even an outline of the American Revolution, without referring to its triumphs of statesmanship and diplomacy, as well as its triumphs of military achievement. Washington, Greene, Stark, Putnam, Wayne, Lafayette, De Kalb, Steuben, Schuyler, and their fellow-soldiers, performed a great part, and that which was the most brilliant and conspicuous, in accomplishing our liberties. But in the Congress were patriots quite as devoted, and not less efficient; while Franklin, during his sojourn abroad, exercised with great skill the delicate and subtle generalship of diplomacy. It would have been easy for the statesmen of the Revolution to render all of Washington's efforts vain and futile. The triumph of unworthy ambitions in the colonial counsels might well have brought wreck and ruin upon the cause.

[Revolutionary Statesmanship.]

Had the revolutionary statesmen lacked capacity or courage, they would have loaded the army with a burden which it probably could not have supported. The marvel of the period was the almost undisturbed unity, readiness, and practical energy of every branch of the public service; the devotion of each one in his own sphere to the common end; the general co-operation in the means by which that end was to be reached; the remarkable rarity of treason, even of self-seeking; the steadfast exercise, amid the comfortlessness of camps and the temptations of the council-hall of the highest and worthiest public virtues.