True Stories Of Great Americans
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MARTHA FOOTE CROW
And what gave he to us? He gave his starry youth, His quick, audacious sword, His name, his crested plume. And what gave we? We gave—a nation's heart!
New York The MacMillan Company 1918
All rights reserved
Copyright, 1916, by The MacMillan Company.
Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1916. Reprinted October, 1917.
Norwood Press J.S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
CHAPTER I PAGE A BOY OF THE FRENCH NOBILITY 1
CHAPTER II COLLEGE AND COURT 10
CHAPTER III A BOY'S IDEALS 21
CHAPTER IV THE GREAT INSPIRATION 27
CHAPTER V FIRST DAYS IN AMERICA 42
CHAPTER VI LAFAYETTE AT THE BRANDYWINE 52
CHAPTER VII A SUCCESSFUL FAILURE 62
CHAPTER VIII LAFAYETTE AT MONMOUTH 73
CHAPTER IX THE RETURN TO FRANCE 86
CHAPTER X LAFAYETTE IN VIRGINIA 100
CHAPTER XI THE TWO REDOUBTS 111
CHAPTER XII THE SURRENDER OF YORKTOWN 119
CHAPTER XIII LIONIZED BY TWO WORLDS 128
CHAPTER XIV GATHERING CLOUDS 137
CHAPTER XV LAFAYETTE IN PRISON 144
CHAPTER XVI AN ATTEMPTED RESCUE 154
CHAPTER XVII A WELCOME RELEASE 171
CHAPTER XVIII A TRIUMPHAL TOUR 179
CHAPTER XIX LAST DAYS OF LAFAYETTE 193
* * * * *
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PORTRAIT OF LAFAYETTE Frontispiece
FACING PAGE THE COUNCIL AT HOPEWELL 78
THE SURRENDER OF CORNWALLIS 126
FRANCIS KINLOCH HUGER 160
A CARRIAGE IN WHICH LAFAYETTE RODE 186
THE CHILDREN'S STATUE OF LAFAYETTE 196
A BOY OF THE FRENCH NOBILITY
Among the rugged Auvergne Mountains, in the southern part of France, stands a castle that is severe and almost grim in its aspect. Two bare round towers flank the building on the right and on the left. Rows of lofty French windows are built across the upper part of the front, and the small, ungenerous doorway below has a line of portholes on either side that suggest a thought of warlike days gone by.
This castle, built in the fourteenth century, is called the Chateau de Chaviniac de Lafayette. Though it was burned to the ground in 1701, it was rebuilt as nearly like the earlier structure as possible; hence it represents, as it stands, the chivalrous days of the crusading period and so forms a fitting birthplace for a hero. In this half-military chateau was born one of the most valiant champions of liberty that any country has ever produced—the Marquis de Lafayette.
The climate of the Haute-Loire—the highlands of Auvergne—is harsh; it has been called the French Siberia. There are upland moors like deserts across which sweep fierce winds, where the golden broom and the purple heather—flowers of the barren heights—are all that will flourish. There are, indeed, secluded valleys filled with muskmallows and bracken, but these are often visited by wild tempests, and sudden floods may make the whole region dreary and dangerous.
In Lafayette's time the violence of the elements was not the only thing to be dreaded. When the children wandered too near the edge of the forest, they might catch sight of a wild boar nozzling about for mushrooms under the dead oak leaves; and if it had been a severe winter, it was quite within possibility that wolves or hyenas might come from their hiding places in the rocky recesses of the mountains and lurk hungrily near the villages.
The family living in the old chateau was one whose records could be traced to the year one thousand, when a certain man by the name of Motier acquired an estate called Villa Faya, and thereafter he became known as Motier de la Fayette. In 1240 Pons Motier married the noble Alix Brun de Champetieres; and from their line descended the famous Lafayettes known to all Americans. Other Auvergne estates were added to the Chaviniac acres as the years went by, some with old castles high up in the mountains behind Chaviniac, and all these were inherited by the father of America's famous champion.
Lafayette's father was a notable warrior, as his father had been—and his—and his—away back to the days of the Crusades. Pons Motier de la Fayette fought at Acre; Jean Motier de la Fayette fell at Poitiers. There were marshals who bore the banner in many a combat of olden times when the life of the country was at stake. It was a Lafayette who won the battle at Beauge in 1421, when the English Duke of Clarence was defeated and his country was compelled to resign hope of a complete conquest of France. Among other men who bore the name, there were military governors of towns and cities, aids to kings in war, captains and seneschals. Many of them spent their lives in camps and on battlefields. One of them saw thirty years of active service; another found that after thirty-eight years of military life he had been present at no less than sixty-five sieges besides taking part in many pitched battles. Lafayette's grandfather was wounded in three battles; and his uncle, Jacques Roch Motier, was killed in battle at the age of twenty-three.
During the summer before Lafayette's birth, his father, the young chevalier and colonel, not then twenty-five, had been living quietly in the Chateau Chaviniac. But a great conflict was going on—the Seven Years' War was being waged. He heard the call of his country and he felt it his duty to respond.
There was a sad parting from his beautiful young wife; then he dashed down the steep, rocky roadway from the chateau to the village, and so galloped away—over the plains, through fords and defiles, toward the German border—never to return.
Lafayette's ancestors on his mother's side were equally distinguished for military spirit. His mother was the daughter of the Comte de la Riviere, lieutenant general and captain of the second company of the King's Musketeers.
But this "hero of two worlds" inherited something more than military spirit. The ancestors from which he descended formed a line of true gentlefolk. For hundreds of years they had been renowned throughout the region of their Auvergne estates for lofty character and a kindly attitude toward their humble peasant neighbors. It was only natural that this most famous representative of the line should become a valiant champion of justice and freedom.
This great man was destined to have as many adventures as any boy of to-day could wish for. To recount them all would require not one book, but a dozen. Think of a lad of nineteen being a general in our Revolutionary War, and the trusted friend and helper of Washington! Lafayette was present at the surrender of Cornwallis, boyishly happy at the achievements of the American soldiery, and taking especial pride in his own American regiment. This period was followed by a worthy career in France, but for five years—from his thirty-fifth year to his fortieth—he was unjustly imprisoned in a grim old Austrian fortress. At the age of sixty-seven he made a wonderful tour through our country, being received with ceremonies and rejoicings wherever he went; for every one remembered with deep gratitude what this charming, courteous, elderly man had done for us in his youth. He lived to the ripe age of seventy-seven, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and interested in the work of the world up to the very last.
The birth of Lafayette is recorded in the yellow and timeworn parish register of Chaviniac. This ancient document states that on September 6, 1757, was born that "very high and very puissant gentleman Monseigneur Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert Dumotier de Lafayette, the lawful son of the very high and the very puissant Monseigneur Michel-Louis-Christophe-Roch-Gilbert Dumotier, Marquis de Lafayette, Baron de Wissac, Seigneur de Saint-Romain and other places, and of the very high and very puissant lady Madame Marie-Louise-Julie de la Riviere."
But it was only on official documents that Lafayette's full name, terrifying in its length, was used. Reduced to republican simplicity, the Marquis de Lafayette's name was Gilbert Motier, although he was always proud of the military title, "General," bestowed on him by our country. To tell the truth, imposing names meant little to this friend of liberty, who was a true republican at heart and who, during the French Revolution, voluntarily resigned all the titles of nobility he had inherited.
During his earliest childhood Lafayette was somewhat delicate. The child first opened his eyes in a sorrowful home at the old Chateau Chaviniac, for word had come, only a month before, that Lafayette's father had been killed at the battle of Minden, leaving the young mother a widow. The boy, however, grew in strength with the years. Naturally, all was done that could be done to keep him in health. At any rate, either through those mountain winds, or in spite of them, he developed a constitution so vigorous as to withstand the many strains he was to undergo in the course of his long and adventurous life.
The supreme characteristic of the man showed early in the boy when, at only eight years of age, he became possessed of an unselfish impulse to go out and perform a feat which for one so young would have been heroic. It was reported in the castle that a dangerous hyena was prowling about in the vicinity of the estate, terrifying everybody. The boy's sympathy was roused, and, from the moment he first heard of it, his greatest longing was to meet the cruel creature and have it out with him.
It is not recorded that the eight-year-old boy ever met that wild animal face to face, and it is well for the world that he did not. He was preserved to stand up against other and more significant spoilers of the world's welfare.
His education was begun under the care of his mother, assisted by his grandmother, a woman of unusually strong character; these, together with two aunts, formed a group whose memory was tenderly revered by Lafayette to the end of his life.
The boy Lafayette cared a great deal for hunting. Writing back to a cousin at home after he had been sent to Paris to school, he told her that what he would most like to hear about when she wrote to him would be the great events of the hunting season. His cousin, it appears, had written him an account of a hunt in the neighborhood, but she had not written enough about it to satisfy his desire. Why did she not give details? he asked. He reproachfully added that if he had been writing to her of a new-fashioned cap, he would have taken compass in hand and described it with mathematical accuracy. This she should have done concerning the great hunt if she had really wished to give him pleasure!
This fortunate boy could select any career he liked; courtier, lawyer, politician, writer, soldier—whatever he chose. Never came opportunity more richly laden to the doorway of any youth.
He chose to be a soldier. The double-barred doors of iron, the lofty, protected windows, the military pictures on the walls of his home—all spoke to the Chaviniac child of warfare and conflict. There was the portrait of his father in cuirass and helmet. There were far-away ancestors in glistening armor and laced jackets. There was also the military portrait of that Gilbert Motier de Lafayette who was marshal in the time of Charles VII, and whose motto "Cur non" (Why not?) was chosen by Lafayette for his own when he started on his first voyage. The instinct for warfare, for the organization of armies, for struggle and conquest, were strong in him, and were fostered and nourished by every impression of his boyhood's home.
COLLEGE AND COURT
In the year 1768 the boy Lafayette, then eleven years old, left his mountain home and went to Paris, where he was placed by his mother in the College du Plessis, a school for boys of the nobility.
The arrangements for the student in a French college at that time were simple. A room scarcely wider than a cell was assigned to each boy. It was locked at night; but holes were cut in the door so that the fresh air might come in. This, at least, was the theory. Practically, however, the little cell must have been very stuffy, for the windows in the halls were shut tight in order that the health of the pupils might not be injured by currents of damp air from outside.
Special attention was given to diet, care being taken that the boys should not eat any uncooked fruit lest it should injure them. Parents might come to visit their children, but they were not allowed to pass beyond the threshold—a familiar chat on home matters might interfere with the studious mood of the scholars.
What were the studies of this young aristocrat?
First and foremost, heraldry. From earliest days his tutors had instilled into him the idea that the study of the coats of arms of reigning and noble families, together with all that they stood for, was first in importance.
Then the young student must dance, write, and draw. He must be able to converse wittily and with apt repartee. Fencing and vaulting were considered essential, as well as riding with grace and skill and knowing all about the management of the horse.
As far as books were concerned, the Latin masters—Caesar, Sallust, Virgil, Terence, Cicero—were carefully studied. The boys were obliged to translate from Latin into French and from French into Latin. Occasionally this training proved useful. It is related that one of the French soldiers who came to New England and who could not speak English resorted to Latin and found to his joy that the inhabitant of Connecticut, from whom he wished to purchase supplies for his regiment, could be communicated with by that obsolete medium; and what would Lafayette have done when imprisoned in an Austrian dungeon if he had not been able to converse with his official jailers in the Latin tongue!
In historical studies the greatest attention was given to wars and treaties and acquisitions of territory. The royal families of his native country and of neighboring kingdoms were made familiar. History was taught as if it were a record of battles only. Swords and coats of mail decorated the mantelpieces in the school and the latest methods of warfare were studied.
In addition to all these military matters, a great deal of attention must have been given to acquiring the power of clear and forcible expression in the French language. While Lafayette can never be included among the great orators of the world, he possessed a wonderfully pellucid and concise diction. He was a voluminous writer. If all the letters he sent across the ocean from America could be recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic, there would be enough to make several large volumes. Sometimes he dispatched as many as thirty letters at one time. He sent them by way of Spain, by way of Holland, or by any other roundabout route that offered promise of final delivery. But privateersmen frequently captured the boats that carried them, and very often the letter-bags were dropped overboard. Still another circumstance deprived the world of many of his writings. When revolutionists took possession of the Lafayette home in Chaviniac, they sought in every nook and cranny to find evidence that they would have been glad to use against these representatives of the nobility. Madame de Lafayette had carefully stuffed all the letters she could find into the maw of the immense old range in the castle kitchen. Other treasures were buried in the garden, there to rot before they could be found again.
Of the extant writings of Lafayette there are six volumes in French, made up of letters and miscellaneous papers, many of them on weighty subjects, while numerous letters of Lafayette are to be found among the correspondence of George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and other statesmen and generals of Revolutionary days.
Of the English language Lafayette's knowledge was mainly gained during the six long weeks of his first voyage to America. And what he acquired he at once put into practice. He learned the language from books, and from good books. As a result his English, both spoken and written, had a special polish.
At the College du Plessis Lafayette was an industrious student. All his life he regarded time as a gift of which the best use was to be made, and, according to his own expression, he was "not at liberty to lose it himself, and still less to be the occasion of the loss of it to others." Therefore he would not, unless it was absolutely unavoidable, be unpunctual to engagements, or keep people waiting his pleasure. As a boy in college he never had to be urged to study; neither was he in any way an unmanageable boy. In spite of the intensity of his nature, he never deserved to be chastised.
It should be understood that corporal chastisement was the rule in the schools of that time. In the year 1789 one simple-hearted old school-master solemnly reported that during the fifty years of his experience as teacher he administered nine hundred thousand canings, twenty thousand beatings, one hundred thousand slaps, and twenty thousand switchings. Among smaller items he mentions ten thousand fillips and a million and a quarter raps and hits. He hurled a Bible, a catechism, or a singing-book at some hapless child twelve thousand times, and caused seven hundred to kneel on peas as a punishment. Then he punished eight hundred thousand for not learning their lessons and seventy-six thousand for not learning their Bible verses. So much for one teacher a half century before Lafayette's day! And people still talk and write about "the good old times"!
The surroundings of Lafayette during his youth must have been of a kind to develop strength of character. He was to be one of the historical personages against whom scandalmongers have not been able to unearth a mass of detraction. His close companions during army days testified that they never heard him swear or use gross language of any kind. As Edward Everett in his great eulogy said, from Lafayette's home, his ancestry, his education, his aristocratic marriage, and his college life, he "escaped unhurt."
Lafayette's mother took up her residence in Paris in order to be near her son. She allowed herself to be presented at court that she might be in touch with what was going on and give her boy all the aid possible. She saw to it that her uncle should place him in the army lists that he might secure the advantage of early promotion.
After a while the tall boy was entered in the regiment of the Black Musketeers, and it became a favorite occupation of his to watch the picturesque reviews of those highly trained soldiers. This entertainment was for holidays, however, and did not interfere with his studies.
It was not for very many years that Lafayette was to profit by his highborn mother's devoted care and foresight. In 1770, when her son was only thirteen years old, she died in Paris. In a painting on the walls of the chateau to-day the face of that aristocratic lady shines out in its delicate beauty. A pointed bodice of cardinal-colored velvet folds the slender form and loose sleeves cover the arms. In the romantic fashion of the pre-revolutionary period, the arm is held out in a dramatic gesture, and one tiny, jeweled hand clasps the shepherd's crook, the consecrated symbol of the story-book lady of that period.
About the time of her death, one of her uncles passed away, leaving to the young student at the College du Plessis a large and valuable estate. This placed Lafayette in a very advantageous position so far as worldly matters were concerned. His fortune being now princely, his record at college without blemish, his rank unexceptionable among the titles of nobility, he was quickly mentioned as an eligible partner in marriage for a young daughter of one of the most influential families in France,—a family that lived, said one American observer, in the splendor and magnificence of a viceroy, which was little inferior to that of a king. This daughter was named, in the grand fashion of the French nobility, Marie-Adrienne-Francoise de Noailles. In her family she was called simply Adrienne.
Adrienne de Noailles was not old enough to give promise of the greatness of character of which she later showed herself possessed; but, as it proved, Lafayette found that in her he had a companion who was indeed to be his good genius. She became the object of the unwavering devotion of his whole life; and she responded with an affection that was without limit; she gave a quick and perfect understanding to all his projects and his ideals; she followed his career with an utterly unselfish zeal; and when heavy sorrows came, her courage and her cleverness were Lafayette's resource. Her name should appear among those of the world's heroines.
At the time of the proposed alliance, Lafayette was fourteen; the suggested fiancee was scarcely twelve. Her mother, the Duchess d'Ayen, a woman of great efficiency and of lofty character, knew that the Marquis de Lafayette was almost alone in the world, with no one to guide him in his further education or to lend aid in advancing his career. Moreover, she held that to have so large a fortune was rather a disadvantage than otherwise, since it might be a help or a hindrance, according to the wisdom of the owner, and she rightly saw that the allurements of the Paris of 1770 to an unprotected youth of fortune would be almost irresistible. She therefore refused to allow a daughter of hers to accept the proposal. For several months she withheld her consent, but at last she relented, on consideration that the young people should wait for two years before the marriage should take place. This admirable mother, who had carefully educated and trained her daughters, now took the further education of Lafayette into her care; she soon became very fond of him and cherished him as tenderly as if he had been her own son.
The marriage took place in Paris on the 11th of April, 1774. It was an affair of great splendor. There were many grand banquets; there were visits of ceremony, with new and elaborate toilettes for each visit; there were numberless beautiful presents, the families represented and their many connections vying with each other in the richness and fineness of their gifts. Diamonds and jewels in settings of quaint design were among them, and besides all these there were the ancestral jewels of Julie de la Riviere, the mother of Lafayette, to be received by the new bride, and by her handed down to her descendants.
The arrangement was that the wedded pair should make their home with the mother of the bride, the young husband paying eight thousand livres a year as his share of the expense. The sumptuous home was the family mansion of the Noailles family; it was situated in the rue St. Honore, not far from the palace of the Tuileries, at the corner where the rue d'Alger has now been cut through. The Hotel de Noailles it was called, and it was so large that to an observer of to-day it would appear more like a splendid hotel than like a private residence. When, a few years after Lafayette's wedding, John Adams was representing the United States in Paris, and was entertained in this palatial home, he was so amazed that he could not find words in English or in French to describe the elegance and the richness of the residence. In it were suites of rooms for several families, for troops of guests, and for vast retinues of servants. The building measured from six hundred to seven hundred feet from end to end. There were splendid halls and galleries and arcades. Toward the street the facade was plain but the interior was decorated with astonishing richness. The inner rooms faced on a garden so large that a small hunt could be carried on within it, with fox, horses, and hounds, all in full cry. Magnificent trees waved their branches above the great garden, and rabbits burrowed below.
Here was a delightful place for a few people to pursue beautiful lives. John Adams made a note of the fact that the Noailles family held so many offices under the king that they received no less than eighteen million livres (more than three and a half million dollars) income each year. It must be remembered that the streets of Paris about this time were crowded with a rabble of beggars. But of this the dwellers in such magical palaces and parks saw but little and thought less.
Conditions such as these give a hint of the causes that led to the French Revolution and explain in some degree why thoughts of liberty, fraternity, and equality were haunting the minds of the youth of France, and, to some of the more open-minded among them, suggesting dreams of noble exploit.
A BOY'S IDEALS
By this time Lafayette was a tall, slender young fellow, of commanding height, and with a look of piercing and imperative sincerity in his clear, hazel eyes. His hair was red—some one in the family used to call him "the big boy with red hair"; but hero worshipers need have no misgivings about this characteristic, nor feel that they must apologize for it as a defect. Lafayette said of himself that he was an awkward boy. It may be that the youth who was rapidly growing to a height of "five feet eleven" may have felt, as most boys do at that age, as if he were all hands and feet. But that Lafayette was really awkward—it is unthinkable! Not one single lady of all the beauties in France and America, who handed it down to her descendants that she "once danced with Lafayette," ever mentioned the fact that her partner lacked any element of grace, while many speak of the ease of manner and address of the distinguished man. One friend of Lafayette's early days reports that he was too tall to make a distinguished appearance on horseback or to dance with special grace; but this was said in a period when the dancing-master's art was the ideal of social conduct. Those who did not know Lafayette very well at this time thought him cold and serious and stiff. Perhaps he was shy; yet beneath that calm exterior seethed a volcano of emotion of which no casual onlooker dreamed.
Lafayette was fortunate in having a cousin, the Count de Segur, who understood him and who realized that under that surface of gravity was hidden, as he said, "a spirit the most active, a character the most firm, a soul the most burning with passionate fervor."
After his marriage Lafayette continued his studies at the College du Plessis, and later he spent a year at the military academy at Versailles, that his education as an officer might be complete.
In the summer his inclinations led him to make various journeys to the fortified city of Metz, where the regiment "de Noailles" was in garrison under the charge of the Prince de Poix who was a brother-in-law of Adrienne, Lafayette's wife. On his way back from one of these visits he stayed at Chaillot for a time and there was inoculated for smallpox. This preventive method was a medical novelty at that time. To submit to the experiment showed a great freedom from prejudice on the part of the youth. The Duchess d'Ayen had once suffered from the ravages of this disease, so she could safely stay with the now adored son-in-law through this disagreeable period of seclusion.
Soon after this the youthful Marquis de Lafayette and his shy girl bride were presented at court. The benevolent king, Louis XVI, was then reigning. The queen, Marie Antoinette, was the head of a social life that was elaborately formal and splendid. Marie Antoinette herself was young and light-hearted, and was at this time without fears from misadventure at the hands of the state or from any personal enemies. The king had thousands of servants and attendants in his military and personal households. A court scene was a display of knots of ribbon, lace ruffles, yellow and pink and sky-blue satin coats, shoes with glittering buckles, red-painted heels, and jeweled trimmings. Fountains threw their spray aloft, and thousands of candles flung radiance broadcast. Said Chateaubriand, "No one has seen anything who has not seen the pomp of Versailles." And no one dreamed that the end was nearing, or realized that no nation can live when the great mass of the people are made to toil, suffer, and die, in order that a favored few may have luxuries and amusement.
Into this Vanity Fair the young Marquis de Lafayette was now plunged. The grand world flowed to the feet of the Marquis and Marchioness de Lafayette. More than that, the queen at once took the tall, distinguished-looking young chevalier into the circle of her special friends. The circle included some who were to follow Lafayette in his adventure to the New World in aid of American independence, and some who were to follow in another long procession equally adventurous and as likely to be fatal—the Revolution in their own country. During the Terror some of them, including their beautiful and well-meaning queen, were to lose their lives. Of any such danger as this, these young nobles, in the present state of seemingly joyous and abundant prosperity, were farthest from dreaming.
On the whole, however, court life did not have much charm for Lafayette. It was a part of the duty of the Marquis and Marchioness de Lafayette to take part in the plays and merrymakings that centered about a queen who loved amusement only too well. But Lafayette could not throw his whole heart into the frivolity of the social sphere in which he was now moving. There were features of life at court that he could not tolerate. His knee would not crook; he already knew, as Everett said, that he was not born "to loiter in an antechamber."
It was liberty itself—the revolt against tyranny in every realm of life—that interested him from the first. Lafayette was against whatever stood for tyranny, against whatever appeared to be an institution that could foster despotism. He believed that the well-being of society would be advanced by giving the utmost freedom to all, high and low, educated and uneducated. He saw a world in chains only waiting for some hero to come along and strike off the fetters.
Where did Lafayette, a born aristocrat, get these ideas? Certainly not from the peasants as they knelt beside the road when he, their prospective liege lord, rode by. He was brought up to believe that it was the sacred privilege of the ruling class to throw largesse to the poor, who stood aside, waiting and expectant, to receive the gifts.
It is hard to say where Lafayette imbibed his love of freedom. One might as well ask where that "wild yeast in the air" comes from that used to make the bread rise without "emptins." There was a "wild yeast in the air" in the France of 1760 and 1770, and all the young people of that country, whether highborn or lowborn, were feeling the ferment.
If Lafayette had pursued the course that his circumstances urged, he would soon have crystallized into a narrow, subservient character, without purpose or ideals. By all the standards of his time, he would be thought to be throwing away his life if he should take steps to alienate himself from the glittering, laughing, sympathetic friends who stood about him at court. All advancement for him appeared to be in line with the influences there. But if he had done this, if he had followed the star of court preferment, he would have remained only one of many highly polished nonentities—and would have lost his head at last. By throwing away his life, by choosing the way of self-sacrifice, he won the whole world; by throwing away his world, the natural world of compliance and ease about him, he won a world, nay, two worlds. He became what Mirabeau named him, the "hero of two worlds."
THE GREAT INSPIRATION
In the summer of 1775 Lafayette was stationed at the French garrison of Metz, where the Prince de Poix commanded the regiment "de Noailles." While he was there the Duke of Gloucester, brother of George III, king of England, came to that city and was present at a dinner given in his honor at the house of the governor of the garrison, the Count de Broglie. This count was a person of great sympathy and discernment. He had been observing the tall, red-haired boy of quiet, assured manner and few words, who represented so distinguished a family and gave so great promise for a future career. Eighteen years before he had seen this boy's father fall in battle, so he had a special interest in him. He now included young Lafayette among the guests at the dinner.
It appears that the Duke of Gloucester had just received letters from England telling about the revolt of the American colonies against the British government—about their prejudice in the little matter of a tax on tea, and about the strong measures to be taken by the English ministry to crush the rebellion. As the Duke of Gloucester was not on very good terms with his brother, King George, he told the story with somewhat vindictive glee.
This was probably the first that Lafayette had heard of American independence. Instantly his sympathy was touched to the quick. All the warlike and chivalric sentiments that he had inherited, all that had been carefully instilled by family tradition and by education, rose at once to the highest intensity. To the long and eager conversations that followed the news brought by the guest of the evening, Lafayette eagerly listened, and afterwards requested the duke to explain the situation more fully. His curiosity was deeply excited, his heart was at once enlisted. The idea of a people fighting against oppression stirred his imagination. From what he learned from the duke, the cause appealed to his sense of justice; it seemed the noblest that could be offered to the judgment of man. Before he left the table he had determined in his own mind to go to America and offer himself to the people who were struggling for freedom and independence.
From that moment his purpose was fixed. To realize his design he must go at once to Paris. Arriving there, he confided his plan to his two friends, the Viscount de Noailles and the Count de Segur, inviting them to share his project. Noailles had just turned nineteen, and Segur was twenty-two; Lafayette was eighteen. But the youngest differed from the others in one respect; he had already come into his fortune, and controlled an income of about two thousand livres, an amount that in purchasing power represented a fortune such as few young men in any country or at any time have commanded. The others could contribute nothing to Lafayette's plans but cordial sympathy. They did indeed go so far as to consult their parents, expressing their desire to join in Lafayette's chivalrous adventure, but their parents promptly and emphatically refused consent.
The surprise of the Noailles family can be imagined when they heard that the quiet, reserved youth had suddenly decided to cross the sea and take up the fragile cause of a few colonists revolting against a great monarchy. It was not long before all came to admit that the soul of the big boy had in it a goodness and a valor that nothing could daunt.
Many, however, who heard about the project Lafayette entertained felt a new admiration for the spirited boy. One of these smartly said that if Madame de Lafayette's father, the Duc d'Ayen, could have the heart to thwart such a son-in-law, he ought never to hope to marry off his remaining daughters! It made no difference to this lordly family that the tidings of the American revolt were echoing through Europe and awakening emotions that those monarchies had never experienced before; nor did they notice that the young nobility of France were feeling the thrill of a call to serve in a new cause. They were blind to those signs of the times; and no one dared to speak of them to the Duke d'Ayen, for he, with the other ruling members of the family, violently opposed Lafayette's plan.
While these things were going on, word came that those audacious colonists had carried their project so far as to issue a Declaration of Independence of the British government and to set up for themselves as a nation. The Noailles family were amazed, but they could not change their point of view.
Not being able to unravel all the threads of destiny that were enmeshing him, Lafayette was working in the dark, only knowing that he wanted to go, and that he could not bring himself to give up the project. He knew also that he must depend solely upon himself. Then there came into his mind the motto that he had since boyhood seen upon the shield of one of his famous ancestors in the castle at Chaviniac—"Cur non," Why not? He adopted this motto for his own and placed it as a device upon his coat of arms, that it might be an encouragement to himself as well as an answer to the objections of others.
Lafayette consulted his commander and relative, the Count de Broglie. He on his part did all he could to dissuade the lad; he pointed out that the scheme was Utopian; he showed up its great hazards; he said that there was no advantage to be had in going to the aid of those insignificant rebels—that there was no glory to be gained. Lafayette listened respectfully and said that he hoped his relative would not betray his confidence; for, as soon as he could arrange it, go to America he would! The Count de Broglie promised not to reveal his secret, but he added:
"I have seen your uncle die in the wars of Italy; I witnessed your father's death at the battle of Minden; and I will not be accessory to the ruin of the only remaining branch of the family."
These things made no impression upon the determination of the young hero, and the Count de Broglie was in despair. When he finally found, however, that the boy's determination was fixed, he entered into his plans with almost paternal tenderness. Though he would give him no aid, he introduced him to the Baron de Kalb who was also seeking an opportunity to go to America, and he thought his age and experience would be of value to the young adventurer.
This Baron de Kalb was an officer in the French army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was a man of fifty-five, who had served in the Seven Years' War and who had been employed by the French government ten years before to go secretly to the American colonies in order to discover how they stood on the question of their relations with England.
At that time there was a representative of the colonies in Paris to whom all who felt an interest in American liberty had recourse. This man was Silas Deane. To him Lafayette secretly went.
"When I presented to Mr. Deane my boyish face," said Lafayette later in life, "I dwelt more (for I was scarcely nineteen years of age) upon my ardor in the cause than on my experience."
Naturally, for he had had no experience whatever. But he could speak of the effect that his going would have upon France, since because of his family and connections notice would surely be taken of his action. This might influence other young men and might win favor for the colonies in their struggle. Silas Deane was quick to see this and to draw up an agreement which he asked Lafayette to sign. It was as follows:
"The wish that the Marquis de Lafayette has shown to serve in the army of the United States of North America and the interest that he takes in the justice of their cause, making him wish for opportunities to distinguish himself in the war, and to make himself useful to them as much as in him lies; but not being able to obtain the consent of his family to serve in a foreign country and to cross the ocean, except on the condition that he should go as a general officer, I have believed that I could not serve my country and my superiors better than by granting to him, in the name of the very honorable Congress, the rank of Major-General, which I beg the States to confirm and ratify and to send forward his commission to enable him to take and hold rank counting from to-day, with the general officers of the same grade. His high birth, his connections, the great dignities held by his family at this court, his disinterestedness, and, above all, his zeal for the freedom of our colonies, have alone been able to induce me to make this promise of the said rank of Major-General, in the name of the United States. In witness of which I have signed these presents, done at Paris, this seventh of October, seventeen hundred and seventy-six."
To this startling document the undaunted boy affixed the following:
"To the above conditions I agree, and promise to start when and how Mr. Deane shall judge it proper, to serve the said States with all possible zeal, with no allowance nor private salary, reserving to myself only the right to return to Europe whenever my family or my king shall recall me; done at Paris this seventh day of October, 1776.
(signed) "THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE."
About this time Dr. Benjamin Franklin was added to the group of American envoys. He was an instant success in the Parisian world. With his baggy coat, his coonskin cap, and his one-eyed spectacles, Franklin was the admired of all the grand ladies of the court, while his ability to "bottle lightning" was a favorite topic for discussion. The queen favored Franklin and the American cause; the king also; but neither dared to say so openly lest the spies of England, France's hereditary enemy, should find it out. Lafayette was obliged to preserve the utmost secrecy in making his arrangements and to secure the interviews in such a way that no one would suspect what he was planning.
Unfortunately, bad news began to come from America. The disasters of Long Island and White Plains had befallen, and the English army was being reenforced by regiments of Hessians. This news destroyed what credit the colonies had in France. No one now had any hope for their endeavors, and no one could be found who would consider fitting out a vessel for Lafayette and his friends.
The American envoys thought it no more than right to tell this to the eager Lafayette and to try to dissuade him from his project to go to America. To this end they sent him word to come for another secret conference. He did so, and the envoys explained to him the discouraging situation.
One of the points wherein this young Lafayette approached nearest to greatness was in the way he could face some black disaster, and, with an absolutely quenchless spirit and the most adroit cleverness, turn the disaster into an advantage. This happened when Lafayette went to see these envoys. He received the news with a brow of unruffled calm. He thanked Mr. Deane for his kindness in trying to save him from disaster. Then he added: "Until now, Sir, you have only seen my ardor in your cause; I may now prove to be really useful. I shall myself purchase a ship to carry out your officers. We must show our confidence in the future of the cause, and it is especially in the hour of danger that I wish to share your fortunes."
This reply cast another light upon the circumstances. The American envoys regarded the enthusiasm of the young nobleman with approbation; the plan was pressed forward, preparations were made to find a vessel, to buy it, and fit it out. All this had to be done secretly, as the eagerness of Lafayette called for haste.
Meantime, a plan had been made for Lafayette to go on a visit to England with his relative, the Prince de Poix. It would be better not to interfere with the arrangement already made, it was thought; though Lafayette was impatient to carry out his plan for embarking, he wisely agreed to visit England first. In this plan Mr. Deane and Dr. Franklin concurred.
Lafayette made the journey with the Prince de Poix, and for three weeks had a busy time, being richly entertained and observing English life. He was in a rather delicate situation, for he was now a guest among a people with whom in one respect he could not sympathize and toward whom he entertained a hostile feeling. But in all he did he carefully drew the line between the honor of the guest and the attitude of the diplomatist. Though he went to a dance at the house of Lord Germain, minister of the English colonies, and at that of Lord Rawdon, who had but just come from New York, and though he made the acquaintance of the Clinton whom he was soon to meet on opposing sides of the battle line at Monmouth, he chivalrously denied himself the pleasure and profit of inspecting the fortifications and seaports where ships were being fitted out to fight the American rebels. More than that; he openly avowed his feelings about the hazardous and plucky attempt of the colonies to free themselves from England; and he frankly expressed his joy when news of their success at Trenton was received. This very spirit of independence in the young French noble made him all the more a favorite among the English who, together with their king, did not in the least dream that the foolish rebels across the sea could accomplish anything by their fantastic revolt.
Among other acquaintances made in England at this time was one Fitzpatrick, whose life was to be strangely mingled with Lafayette's in later days. Fighting on opposite sides of the conflict in America, they were yet to meet cordially between battles, and Lafayette was to send letters in Fitzpatrick's care to his wife in France—letters in which he took pains to inclose no matters relating to the war, since that would have been unsportsmanlike; still later, owing to a tragic concurrence of events, this even-minded and generous Englishman was to make persistent appeals to the English government to take measures to free Lafayette from a hateful imprisonment in an Austrian stronghold, gallant appeals, made, alas, in vain!
As soon as Lafayette could conveniently withdraw from his English hosts he did so, and hurried back to Paris, where he kept himself as much out of sight as possible until the final preparations for the voyage were completed. At last all was ready and Lafayette reached Bordeaux where the boat was waiting. Here swift messengers overtook him to say that his plans were known at Versailles. Lafayette set sail, but he went only as far as Los Pasajos, a small port on the north coast of Spain. Here letters of importance awaited the young enthusiast, impassioned appeals from his family and commands from his king. The sovereign forbade his subject to proceed to the American continent under pain of punishment for disobedience; instead, he must repair to Marseilles and there await further orders.
Lafayette knew what this meant. His father-in-law was about to go to Italy and would pass Marseilles on the way. Lafayette was to be made to go with him on an expedition where he knew he would be monotonously employed, with no prospect of exercising his energies in any congenial project. He was not without many proofs as to what might happen to him if he disobeyed these orders and risked the displeasure of the king. The Bastille was still standing and the royal power was absolute!
Letters from his wife also made a strong appeal. A little child now brightened their home; yet the young husband and father must have reflected that his own father had left a young and beautiful wife; that the young soldier had torn himself away from his home and bride in Chaviniac, following the lure of arms, and had, but a few weeks before his own son's birth, rushed off to the battlefield where he ran the risk of returning no more. Why should not the son take the same risk and leave all for a great cause? To be sure, the father lost in the venture, but perhaps the son would not. It was in the Lafayette blood to seek for hazard and adventure. Cur non? Why not?
He was convinced that he would do no harm to any one but himself by following out his purpose, and he decided not to risk further interference from family or ministry. To get away safely he adopted a ruse. He started out as if to go to Marseilles; but costuming himself as a courier, he proceeded instead toward Los Pasajos, where his ship and friends were awaiting him. The masquerade was successful until he reached St. Jean de Luz where a hairbreadth escape was in store for him. Here certain officers were watching for Lafayette. The clever daughter of an innkeeper recognized him as the young nobleman who had passed some days before on the way to Bordeaux. A sign from Lafayette was enough to keep her from making known her discovery, and he slept, unrecognized, on the straw in the stable, while one of his fellow-adventurers played the part of passenger. This is why it has been said that but for the clever wit of an innkeeper's daughter, Lafayette might have languished for the next few years in the Bastille instead of spending them gloriously in aiding us to gain our independence.
Lafayette reached Los Pasajos in safety. From the picturesque cliffs back of the harbor he saw his ship, La Victoire—name of good omen!—lying at anchor. There was the happy meeting of friends who were to share his adventures and successes in the New World, and on the 20th of April, 1777, they sailed forth on their voyage.
Two letters followed the enthusiastic fugitive. One was from Silas Deane, who testified to the American Congress that a young French nobleman of exalted family connections and great wealth had started for America in order to serve in the American army. He affirmed that those who censured his act as imprudent still applauded his spirit; and he assured Congress that any respect shown Lafayette in America would be appreciated by his powerful relations, by the court, and by the whole French nation.
The other letter was a royal mandate calling upon the American Congress to refuse all employment whatsoever to the young Marquis de Lafayette. The first letter traveled fast; the second missive was subjected to intentional delays and did not reach its destination until Lafayette had been made an officer in the American army.
FIRST DAYS IN AMERICA
"Here one day follows another, and what is worse, they are all alike. Nothing but sky and nothing but water; and to-morrow it will be just the same."
So wrote the restless Lafayette when he had been four weeks on the ship. The time had thus far been spent, after a sharp affliction of seasickness, in studying books on military science, and on the natural features of the country he was approaching.
In time land-birds were seen, and he sat down to write to Adrienne a fifteen-hundred-word letter which should be sent back by the first returning ship.
"It is from very far that I am writing to you, dear heart," he began, "and to this cruel separation is added the still more dreadful uncertainty of the time when I shall hear from you again. I hope, however, that it is not far distant, for, of all the many causes that make me long to get ashore again, there is nothing that increases my impatience like this."
The thought of his little daughter Henriette comes forward again and again. "Henriette is so delightful that she has made me in love with all little girls," he wrote.
Never did a more gallant company set sail than these young noblemen of France who were following a course across the sea only a little more northerly than that which Columbus first traced, and with something of the same high hazard that inspired the great discoverer. Their names should be remembered by a people that profited by their bravery. Besides the Baron de Kalb, with his fifty-five years, and the Viscount de Maury (who rode out of Bordeaux as a grand gentleman while the disguised Lafayette went before as courier), there was Major de Gimat, first aid-de-camp to Lafayette and always his special favorite, who gave up his horse to his young commander, thereby saving his life at the battle of Brandywine, and who was wounded in an attack on a redoubt at Yorktown. Then there was Captain de la Colombe who, after the close of the war in America, pursued closely the fortunes of Lafayette, following him even into prison. There was Colonel de Valfort who, in later years, became an Instructor of Napoleon; and Major de Buysson who was at the battle of Camden and brought word of the eleven wounds that were needed to cause the death of the intrepid Baron de Kalb. The list included still other names of members of noble families in France.
Something was indeed happening to the youth of France in 1750 and 1760. A restless ardor, a love of adventure, a love of glory, together with the bewitchment of that beautiful word "liberty," were among the motives that inspired their actions. They went into the military service at fourteen or even earlier, and were colonels of regiments at twenty-two or twenty-four. They were "sick for breathing and exploit."
An amusing story is told of one of these adventurous boys. He got into a quarrel with a school-mate about the real positions of the Athenians and Persians at the battle of Plataea. He even made a small wager on it and then set out to find whether he had been right or not. He actually went on foot to Marseilles and from there sailed as cabin-boy to Greece, Alexandria, and Constantinople. There a French ambassador caught the young investigator and sent him home! Before he was twenty-four, however, he was in America, covering himself with glory at Germantown and at Red Bank. This was the kind of youths they were; and many thrilling stories could be told about the lives of these gallant young Frenchmen.
And how young they were! More than a hundred of the French officers who came to America to serve in the Revolution were in the early twenties. There were a few seasoned old warriors, of course, but the majority of them were young. Such were the companions-in-arms of Lafayette, himself still in his teens.
Lafayette's voyage was not without adventure. He had a heavy ship with but two inferior cannon and a few guns—he could not have escaped from the smallest privateer. But should they be attacked, he resolved to blow up the ship rather than surrender. When they had gone some forty leagues, they met a small ship. The captain turned pale; but the crew were now much attached to Lafayette and had great confidence in him, and the officers were numerous. They made a show of resistance; but it proved to be only a friendly American ship.
As they proceeded on their way, Lafayette noticed that the captain was not keeping the boat due west. He commanded that the point aimed for should be Charleston, South Carolina. The man was evidently turning southward toward the West Indies, this being the sea-crossing lane at that time. Lafayette soon found out that the captain had smuggled aboard a cargo which he intended to sell in a southern port. Only by promising to pay the captain the large sum he would have made by that bargain did Lafayette succeed in getting him to sail directly to the coast of the colonies.
After a seven weeks' voyage the coast was near. Unfortunately, it swarmed with hostile English vessels, but after sailing for several days along the shore, Lafayette met with an extraordinary piece of good fortune. A sudden gale of wind blew away the frigates for a short time, and his vessel passed without encountering either friend or foe.
They were now near Charleston; but in order to reach the harbor they were obliged to go ashore in the ship's yawl to inquire their way and if possible to find a pilot. Lafayette took with him in the small boat the Baron de Kalb, Mr. Price, an American, the Chevalier de Buysson, and some of the other officers, together with seven men to row. Night came on as they were making toward a light they saw on shore. At last a voice called out to them. They answered, telling who they were and asking for a night's shelter. They were cordially invited to come ashore and into a house, where they were received with great hospitality by the owner. They found themselves in the summer residence of Major Benjamin Huger (pronounced as if spelled Eugee), member of a notable Carolina family having French Huguenot antecedents, who, when he learned the purpose of the visitors, did everything in his power to make them comfortable and to further them on their way.
It was one of the curious coincidences that make up so large a part of the story of Lafayette's life that the first family to meet him on his arrival in this country had in its circle a small child who, when he grew up, was to take upon himself the dangerous task of rescuing Lafayette from the prison in which he was unjustly immured. That story will be told in its proper place.
Lafayette was soon in Charleston, making preparations for the long journey to Philadelphia, where Congress was in session at that time. He was charmed with everything he found.
The Chevalier de Buysson has left us a description of the uncomfortable journey to Philadelphia. The procession was as follows: first came one of Lafayette's companions in hussar uniform; next, Lafayette's carriage—a clumsy contrivance which was a sort of covered sofa on four springs; at the side one of his servants rode as a squire. The Baron de Kalb occupied the carriage with Lafayette. Two colonels, Lafayette's counselors, rode in a second carriage; the third was for the aids, the fourth for the luggage, and the rear was brought up by a negro on horseback. By the time they had traveled four days, the bad roads had reduced the carriages to splinters, the horses gave out, and buying others took all the ready money. After that the party traveled on foot, often sleeping in the woods. They were almost dead with hunger; they were exhausted with the heat; several were suffering from fever. After thirty days of this discouraging travel, they at last reached Philadelphia.
No campaign in Europe, declared de Buysson, could have been more difficult than this journey; but, he said, they were encouraged by the bright prospects of the reception they would surely have when they reached Philadelphia. All were animated by the same spirit, he said, and added, "The enthusiasm of Lafayette would have incited all the rest of us if any one had been less courageous than he."
But the reception of these wayworn strangers at the seat of government proved to be rather dubious. It appeared that at this time Congress was being bothered by many applications from foreigners who demanded high rank in the American army. The Committee of Foreign Affairs, being practical men of business, looked askance at men who traveled three thousand miles to help an unknown people; they did not wholly believe in the disinterested motives of the strangers; and they allowed Lafayette and his French officers to trail from office to office, presenting their credentials to inattentive ears.
Finally that sense of power which always buoyed Lafayette's spirit in critical moments came to his rescue. He determined to gain a hearing. He wrote to Congress a letter in which he said:
"After the sacrifices that I have made in this cause, I have the right to ask two favors at your hands; one is that I may serve without pay, at my own expense; and the other is that I may be allowed to serve at first as a volunteer."
Congress was clear-sighted enough to recognize in this letter a spirit quite different from that which had seemed to actuate some of the foreign aspirants for glory. And by this time they had received an informing letter from Silas Deane; so they hastened to pass a resolution (on July 31, 1777) accepting Lafayette's services and "in consideration of his zeal, illustrious family, and connections," they bestowed on him the rank of Major General in the Army of the United States.
The second letter with its royal command from Louis XVI might now follow, but it could have no effect. Lafayette was definitely committed to the American cause to which, as he said in his answer to Congress, the feelings of his heart had engaged him; a cause whose import concerned the honor, virtue, and universal happiness of mankind, as well as being one that drew from him the warmest affection for a nation who, by its resistance of tyranny, exhibited to the universe so fine an example of justice and courage.
Lafayette's letter to Congress asked that he might be placed as near to General Washington as possible and serve under his command.
A day or two after this a military dinner was given in Philadelphia which was attended by General Washington. Lafayette also was invited. That was Lafayette's first introduction to Washington. Lafayette had admired Washington almost from the time he first heard his name. To the young Frenchman, the occasion was momentous. He now saw before him a man whose face was somewhat grave and serious yet not stern. On the contrary, it was softened by a most gracious and amiable smile. He observed that the General was affable in manner and that he conversed with his officers familiarly and gayly. General Washington, with his customary prudence, looked closely at the nineteen-year-old volunteer, and wondered whether the stuff was to be found in that slight figure and intent gaze that would make a helper of value to the colonies, one whose judgment and loyalty could be relied upon. It must be that his decision was favorable to the youth, for after the dinner he drew him aside and conversed with him in the friendliest way. He spoke with him of his plans and aspirations, showed that he appreciated Lafayette's sacrifices, and that he realized the greatness of the effort he had made in order to bring aid to the colonies. Then Washington invited him to become one of his military family, which offer Lafayette accepted with the same frankness with which it was made.
Perhaps Lafayette was in a mood to be pleased, for in spite of the assailing mosquitoes at night and the many difficulties he had to overcome, everything he saw in America gave him great satisfaction.
LAFAYETTE AT THE BRANDYWINE
When Lafayette joined the army at Washington's headquarters, a few miles north of Philadelphia, he was very much surprised by what he saw. Instead of the ample proportions and regular system of European encampments, with the glitter and finish of their appointments; instead of feather-trimmed hats and violet-colored facings, with marching and countermarching in the precision and grace of a minuet, he saw a small army of eleven thousand men, poorly clad, with nothing that could by the utmost courtesy be called a uniform, and woefully lacking in knowledge of military tactics.
But Lafayette had on his rose-colored spectacles. The pitiful condition of the American soldiers awakened nothing but sympathy in his heart—never any contempt. In spite of their disadvantages, he perceived that they had in them the making of fine soldiers, and that they were being led by zealous officers.
Lafayette, now a major general in the American army, attended the councils of war and stood by Washington when he reviewed the troops. When the General took occasion to speak rather apologetically of the deficiencies in his little army, suggesting that Lafayette must feel the difference between these untrained soldiers and those he was accustomed to see, Lafayette had the self-possession and tact to answer that he had come to America to learn, not to teach. This answer charmed Washington and endeared the young French officer to the whole army.
Washington, having heard that an English fleet was coming up Chesapeake Bay, moved south to meet the portentous army that he knew would promptly be debarked. On their way south the American troops had to pass through the city of Philadelphia. In view of the dark forebodings that the approach of the English was causing in the minds of the people, Washington was desirous that the soldiers should make as fine an appearance as possible in passing through the city, and made special regulations for that day. The army was to march in one column through the city; the order of divisions was stated; each officer without exception was to keep his post with a certain space between, no more and no less; each brigadier was to appoint patrols to arrest stragglers from the camp and all others of the army who did not obey this order; the drums and fifes of each brigade were to be collected in the center of it, and a tune for the quickstep was to be played; but it must be played with such moderation that the men could keep step to it with ease.
An army that needed admonitions like these could still awaken enthusiasm from spectators. The austere commander in chief looked very handsome as he passed; the slim, eager-eyed French major general rode at his side; every window shone with curious and admiring eyes and the sidewalks were crowded with applauding citizens. The men could not help catching the spirit of the occasion; each soldier stuck a sprig of green in his hat to make up as far as possible for the lack of fine uniforms and military brilliancy.
They were on their way to the place which was to be the scene of the battle of Brandywine, one of the most disastrous defeats of the Revolution. At the head of Chesapeake Bay the English had landed a large and finely equipped army, and from that point they threatened Philadelphia. Washington, with an inferior and poorly furnished force, placed his army in form to receive the attack at the Birmingham meetinghouse near Chad's Ford on Brandywine Creek, a point about fifty miles south of Philadelphia.
Lafayette accompanied General Washington to the battle. His rank of major general gave him no command. Practically, he was a volunteer. But when he saw that the American troops were in danger of defeat before the superior English force, he asked to be allowed to go to the front. He plunged into the midst of the panic that followed the failure of the American line to stand up before the galling fire of the well-trained British soldiers. The retreat was rapidly becoming a panic. At this point Lafayette sprang from his horse and rushed in among the soldiers; by starting forward in the very face of the enemy and calling the disorganized men to follow, he did all in his power to induce the men to form and make a stand. It was impossible. The odds were too great against the Americans. Lafayette and the other generals waited until the British were within twenty yards of them before they retired.
But at the height of the confusion, when Lafayette was too excited to notice it, a musket ball struck his left leg just below the knee. Of this he was unconscious until one of the generals called his attention to the fact that blood was running over the top of his boot. Lafayette was helped to remount his horse by his faithful aid, Major de Gimat, and insisted on remaining with the troops until the loss of blood made him too weak to go further. Then he stopped long enough to have a bandage placed on his leg.
Night was coming on. The American troops were going pellmell up the road toward Chester. There was horrible confusion, and darkness was coming on. At a bridge just south of Chester, the American soldiers were at the point of complete disorganization. Seeing the great need for some decisive mind to bring order out of this chaos, Lafayette made a stand and placed guards along the road. Finally Washington came up and made Lafayette give himself into the hands of the surgeons. At midnight Washington wrote to Congress, and in his letter he praised the bravery of the young French soldier. Lafayette had passed his twentieth birthday but four days before.
General Washington was happy to have this French officer proved by test of battle and to find his favorable judgment more than warranted. He showed the most tender solicitude for his young friend and gave him into the care of the surgeons with instructions to do all in their power for him, and to treat him as if he were his own son.
Lafayette's spirits were not in the least dashed. When the doctors gathered round to stanch the blood, expressing their apprehensions for his safety, he looked at the wound and pluckily exclaimed,
"Never mind, gentlemen; I would not take fifteen hundred guineas for that."
It was partly this buoyant, merry spirit that made Lafayette win all hearts. To the army he was now no stranger. His broken English was becoming more and more understandable. But words were not necessary; the look in his eyes said that he was a fearless and sincere man; that he had not come to this country to "show off," but from a true love for the principles for which he had offered his sword. Never was there a more complete adoption than that of Lafayette by the American army.
Lafayette's first care on reaching Philadelphia was to write to Adrienne lest she should receive exaggerated news concerning his wound.
"It was a mere trifle," he wrote. "All I fear is that you should not have received my letter. As General Howe is giving in the meantime rather pompous details of his American exploits to the king his master, if he should write word that I am wounded, he may also write word that I am killed, which would not cost him anything; but I hope that my friends, and you especially, will not give faith to reports of those persons who last year dared to publish that General Washington and all the general officers of his army, being in a boat together, had been upset and every individual drowned."
Years afterwards when Lafayette, then an elderly man, revisited our country, he referred to his wound in these gracious words: "The honor to have mingled my blood with that of many other American soldiers on the heights of the Brandywine has been to me a source of pride and delight."
After a few days it was thought wise to take the wounded Lafayette to a quieter place. So Henry Laurens, the President of Congress, who happened to be passing on his way to York, Pennsylvania, whither Congress had removed, took him in his traveling carriage to Bethlehem, where dwelt a community of Moravians, in whose gentle care Lafayette was left for the four wearisome weeks of convalescence.
"Be perfectly at ease about me," he wrote Adrienne. "All the faculty in America are engaged in my service. I have a friend who has spoken to them in such a manner that I am certain of being well attended to; that friend is General Washington. This excellent man, whose talents and virtues I admired, and whom I have learned to revere as I have come to know him better, has now become my intimate friend; his affectionate interest in me instantly won my heart. I am established in his house and we live together like two attached brothers with mutual confidence and cordiality."
Again Lafayette writes: "Our General is a man formed in truth for this revolution, which could not have been accomplished without him. I see him more intimately than any other man, and I see that he is worthy of the adoration of his country.... His name will be revered in every age by all true lovers of liberty and humanity."
At last Lafayette was well enough to go into service again. He requested permission this time to join General Greene who was making an expedition into New Jersey in the hope of crippling the force of Lord Cornwallis. Lafayette was given command of a detachment of three hundred men, and with these he reconnoitered a situation Lord Cornwallis was holding at Gloucester opposite Philadelphia. Here he came so near to the English that he could plainly see them carrying provisions across the river to aid in the projected taking of the city, and he so heedlessly exposed himself to danger that he might easily have been shot or imprisoned if the English had been alert. By urgent entreaty he was called back. After gaining this information, he met a detachment of Hessians in the service of the British army, and though they numbered more than his own detachment, he succeeded in driving them back. In the management of this enterprise he showed great skill, both in the vigor of his attack and in the caution of his return. He took twenty prisoners. General Greene, in reporting to Washington, said that Lafayette seemed determined to be found in the way of danger.
General Washington was now convinced that the titled volunteer could be trusted with a command. He wrote to Congress as follows:
"It is my opinion that the command of troops in that state cannot be in better hands than the Marquis's. He possesses uncommon military talents; is of a quick and sound judgment; persevering and enterprising, without rashness; and besides these, he is of a conciliating temper and perfectly sober,—which are qualities that rarely combine in the same person. And were I to add that some men will gain as much experience in the course of three or four years as some others will in ten or a dozen, you cannot deny the fact and attack me on that ground."
On this recommendation, Lafayette was appointed to the command of a division composed entirely of Virginians. Needless to say he was overjoyed; for though the division was weak in point of numbers, and in a state of destitution as to clothing, he was promised cloth for uniforms and he hoped to have recruits of whom he could make soldiers.
When Lafayette enlisted in the American army, he was not to lack for companionship. John Laurens had come from his study of history and military tactics at Geneva and, leaving his young wife and child behind, even as Lafayette had done, had rushed home to serve his country in her need. Alexander Hamilton was now both military aid and trusted adviser and secretary to General Washington. These three young men, all boys at the same time in different quarters of the globe, had come together while still in early youth and were entering into the great work of the American Revolution.
A SUCCESSFUL FAILURE
It was on the 20th of December that Lafayette received the joyful news of the birth of a second daughter. She was named Anastasie. The whole camp shared in the happiness of the young father. In fact, the affairs of the young hero interested everybody so much that there was indeed some danger that he would be spoiled. And he certainly would have been but for the balance of good judgment and mental poise that offset youthful rashness and vanity.
At about the same time, in a long letter to his father-in-law, he explained the course of action he had marked out for himself. He said: "I read, I study, I examine, I listen, I reflect; and the result of all is the endeavor at forming an opinion into which I infuse as much common sense as possible. I will not talk much, for fear of saying foolish things; for I am not disposed to abuse the confidence which the Americans have kindly placed in me."
This was Lafayette's real spirit and his secret counsel to himself; and we can but wonder that a young man so impetuous, so enthusiastic, one who had had the courage to start out on this hazardous enterprise, should have combined with those qualities so cool and steady a judgment and so rigid a self-control. But it was just this combination of qualities that led Lafayette on to his successes.
There was, however, severe discipline in store for him. His strength of purpose was to be put to a sharp test. This came about in two ways: first, in the stern ordeal of the winter at Valley Forge, and afterwards in the expedition into the wilderness north of Albany.
Everybody knows what the hardships of the American army were in those dark days of the Revolution, the winter of 1777-78. Washington had suffered defeat and disaster; but he, like his faithful followers, was of the temper that could not be depressed. At Valley Forge the men built a city of wooden huts, and these afforded at least a shelter from the storms, though they were scarcely better than dungeons. Their sufferings were terrible. They were inadequately clothed; many had neither coats, hats, shirts, nor shoes; they were in want of food; illness followed. Many had to have feet or legs amputated because of the effects of freezing. Lafayette had to see all this, and to him their patient endurance seemed nothing short of miraculous.
He even tried to make merry a little over their sad situation, and over the nearness of the British army, for he wrote to his wife, "I cannot tell whether it will be convenient for General Howe to make us a visit in our new settlement; but we shall try to receive him with proper consideration if he does."
For the moment the American cause was under a cloud. Should Lafayette return to France now? If he did, this would have been the interpretation of his act—he had lost faith in the American undertaking. This belief would have been heralded throughout the British army and would soon have been echoed in France. Lafayette did not wish to shoulder the responsibility of the effect his withdrawal might have on the hopes of help from French sympathy and French resources, and on the determination of other recruits who might come over and bring aid. He decided to remain with Washington and the American army and share whatever fate might be theirs. So Lafayette courageously remained. Accustomed to a life of luxury, he nevertheless adapted himself at once to the melancholy conditions at Valley Forge.
There was a strange surprise awaiting Lafayette when he came to know the American situation more intimately. Before he left Europe, his sincere mind had clothed the cause of liberty in this country in the most rosy colors. He thought that here almost every man was a lover of liberty who would rather die free than live a slave. Before leaving France he thought that all good Americans were united in one mind, and that confidence in the commander in chief was universal and unbounded; he now believed that if Washington were lost to America, the Revolution would not survive six months. He found that there were open dissensions in Congress; that there were parties who hated one another; people were criticizing without knowing anything about war methods; and there were many small jealousies. All this disheartened him greatly; he felt that it would be disastrous if slavery, dishonor, ruin, and the unhappiness of a whole world should result from trifling differences between a few jealous-minded men.
After a time the disaffected ones in the army tried to win Lafayette from his close allegiance to Washington. They entertained him with ideas of glory and shining projects—a clever way to entice him into their schemes. Deceived for a time, he received their proffers of friendship and their flattering compliments, but when he noted that some of them were able to speak slightingly and even disrespectfully of the commander in chief, he dashed the temptation away with absolute contempt.
Filled with the desire to ward off all possible peril from an influence which he knew would disrupt the American cause, he impetuously started in to help. He sought an interview with Washington, but not finding an early opportunity for this, he wrote him a long and noble letter which has been preserved. In it he said:
"I am now fixed to your fate, and I shall follow it and sustain it by my sword as by all means in my power. You will pardon my importunity in favor of the sentiment which dictated it. Youth and friendship make me, perhaps, too warm, but I feel the greatest concern at all that has happened for some time since."
In answer to this impulsive and true-hearted letter, General Washington wrote one of the most distinctive and characteristic of all the hundreds of letters of his that are preserved. He said:
"Your letter of yesterday conveyed to me fresh proof of that friendship and attachment which I have happily experienced since the first of our acquaintance and for which I entertain sentiments of the purest affection. It will ever constitute part of my happiness to know that I stand well in your opinion because I am satisfied that you can have no views to answer by throwing out false colors, and that you possess a mind too exalted to condescend to low arts and intrigues to acquire a reputation."
It must have been welcome to the harassed heart of the man who stood at the head of so great a cause to receive the proofs of this young man's friendship and of his absolutely loyal support. Washington closed the letter with these gracious and inspiriting words:
"Happy, thrice happy, would it have been for this army, and for the cause we are embarked in, if the same generous spirit had pervaded all the actors in it.... But we must not, in so great a contest, expect to meet with nothing but sunshine. I have no doubt that everything happens for the best, that we shall triumph over all our misfortunes, and in the end be happy; when, my dear Marquis, if you will give me your company in Virginia, we will laugh at our past difficulties and the folly of others; and I will endeavor, by every civility in my power, to show you how much and how sincerely I am your affectionate and obedient servant."
The political conspiracy developed into what is known in history as the "Cabal." Thwarted in their attempt to draw into their interests the man whose importance to them, as representing in an unofficial way the French influence in America, was fully appreciated, they hatched a scheme that should remove him from the side and from the influence of Washington. This scheme consisted of a project on paper to send an expedition into Canada, in order to win the people there to join the American revolt, if possible to do so, by persuasion or by force. The plan had many features that appealed to Lafayette.
The conspirators of the Cabal had carried a measure in Congress to give Lafayette the promise of an independent command, and the commission for this was inclosed to General Washington. He handed it to the major general, who had so lately joined the army as a volunteer, with the simple words, "I would rather they had selected you for this than any other man."
But Lafayette loyally put aside the tempting prospect of winning personal glory in the Old World and the New by this expedition, and declined to receive any commission from Congress that would make him independent of Washington. He would serve only as a subordinate of the commander in chief, as one detailed for special duties. He wished to be called "General and Commander of the Northern Army," not commander in chief. Congress accepted the condition.
It was in this way, then, that Lafayette received the title of "General," a distinction that he valued more than that of Marquis, and that to the end of his days he preferred above all other titles.
With characteristic enthusiasm Lafayette proceeded to York, where Congress was then assembled, and where the members of the conspiracy were living in comfort that contrasted curiously with the conditions surrounding General Washington at Valley Forge. At a dinner given while Lafayette was there, the northern expedition and Lafayette's brilliant prospects were made themes of praise. But Lafayette missed one name from the list of toasts; at the end of the dinner he arose and, calling attention to the omission, he proposed the name of the commander in chief. In silence the men drank the toast; they had learned by this time that the young French noble was made of unmanageable material.
With a heart, however, for any fate, Lafayette started on the long, wearisome journey northward. There were rivers deep and swift to cross; the roads were bad and the wintry storms made them worse. Floating ice crowded the fords. Rain and hail and snow and slush made up a disheartening monotony.
It certainly was dismal. On his way north the young general was made happy, however, by receiving a "sweet parcel of letters," telling him that his family were very well and that they were keeping in loving remembrance the man who was called in France, "The American Enthusiast." This warmed his heart as he plodded northward through the storm.
On Lafayette's arrival at Albany, he found that none of the promises made to him as to supplies, available men, money, and other necessary equipment had been kept; and the judgment of advisers who knew the difficulties of a northern excursion in the depth of winter was against the expedition. Lafayette was exasperated and wrote frantic letters to Washington, to Congress, and to Henry Laurens.
But it was of no avail. The expedition had to be given up. Lafayette remained at Albany during the months of February and March, giving his personal credit to pay many of the men and to satisfy other demands, and taking up various duties and projects. For one thing, he went up the Mohawk River to attend a large council of the Iroquois Indians. This was Lafayette's first official contact with the red men, and he at once manifested a friendship for them and an understanding of their nature that won their hearts. He sent one of his French engineers to build a fort for the Oneidas, and he was present at a grand treaty ceremony. A band of Iroquois braves followed Lafayette southward and later formed part of a division under his command.
It was a discomfited but not a despairing young warrior who returned in April to Valley Forge. But joy was before him. The Cabal had vanished before the storm of loyalty to Washington that gathered when the conspiracy was discovered. Moreover, Lafayette received from Congress a testimonial, saying that they entertained a high sense of his prudence, his activity, and his zeal, and they believed that nothing would have been wanting on his part, or on the part of the officers who accompanied him, to give the expedition the utmost possible effect, if Congress had not thought it impracticable to prosecute it further. Better still, on the 2d of May came the great news that a treaty of commerce and alliance had been signed between France and the United States of America.
This event caused a wild wave of joy to spread over the whole country. This treaty assured the permanence of the United States as a nation. To be sure, the war with England must still be carried on, but now that France was an ally they would have more hope and courage.
In the doleful camp at Valley Forge there was the sincerest gratification and delight. A national salute of thirteen cannon was ordered; a thanksgiving sermon was preached; a fine dinner was served for the officers, and the table was made more delightful by the presence of Mrs. Washington, Lady Stirling, Mrs. Greene, and other wives and daughters of generals.
Lafayette took part in these scenes of rejoicing, but there was a reason why, underneath it all, his heart was heavy. Almost with the letters announcing the joyous news of the treaty, came others telling him of the death, in October, 1777, of his little daughter Henriette, of whom he had said that he hoped their relationship would be more that of friends than of parent and child. This happiness was not to be theirs. Lafayette now thought that he had never realized before what it meant to be so far away from his home. The thought of Henriette and of the grief of Adrienne, which he was not able by his presence to help assuage, was with him every moment of the day; but even while his heart was heavy with grief, he felt that he must attend and bear his part in the public rejoicings.
LAFAYETTE AT MONMOUTH
The alliance with France put a new color upon every phase of the American contest. If, for instance, a French fleet should be already on its way across the Atlantic, and should enter Chesapeake Bay and threaten Philadelphia, the English would have to evacuate that city and retire to New York, risking the danger of being intercepted on the way by Washington's army. In view of such a possibility as this, the commander in chief of the American army held a council of war in which it was decided that they were not strong enough to risk a decisive engagement. It was, however, highly important that exact information should be gained as to the movements of the British around Philadelphia. In order that this might be accomplished, General Washington detached a group of soldiery from among the most able and valued of his army, and put them under Lafayette, with instructions to proceed into the country between the Delaware and Schuylkill, and there interrupt communications with Philadelphia, obstruct the incursions of the enemy's parties, and obtain intelligence of their motives and designs.
Lafayette was overjoyed at being chosen for so important a charge; and on the 24th of May, 1778, he started out with about twenty-two hundred men. His force included the band of Iroquois warriors who had come from Albany to follow his fortunes, and who, because of their knowledge of forest-craft, were invaluable as scouts. The British could command about four times as many soldiers as had been assigned to Lafayette, but their intention was to keep the American force out of their way and, if possible, to avoid a direct encounter.
For his camp Lafayette selected a piece of rising ground near the eleventh milestone north of Philadelphia, where there was a church, a grave-yard, and a few stone houses that might afford some protection in case of attack, and where four country roads led out to the four points of the compass. The place was called Barren Hill—name of ill-omen! But the fate of the day proved not altogether unfortunate for the young and intrepid commander.
Naturally, the people in Philadelphia had heard of the approach of the young French noble whose fame had been ringing in their ears, and they prepared to go out and engage him—capture him, if possible. At that time they were indulging in a grand, week-long festival, with masquerades, dancing, and fireworks; and in anticipation of the quick capture of the young French hero, a special party was invited for the next evening at which the guests were promised the pleasure of meeting the distinguished prisoner.
Lafayette had chosen his position in a region he had carefully examined. But the English were able to send bodies of troops up all the traveled approaches to the hill. While Lafayette was planning to send a spy to Philadelphia to find out, as Washington had directed, what preparations were there being made, the cry suddenly arose in his camp that they were being surrounded. It was a terrible moment. But Lafayette had this great quality—the power of being self-possessed under sudden danger. He did not lose his head, and he instantly thought of a plan of escape.
There was a dilapidated road that his keen eye had detected leading along beneath a high bank which protected it from observation. He directed the main body of his men to pass down that old road, while a small number were commanded to make a pretense of a demonstration near the church; others were to show some false heads of columns along the edge of the forest by the stone houses. These were withdrawn as the main body of soldiers disappeared down the hidden road and began to dot the surface of the river with their bobbing heads as they swam across. Lafayette and his loyal aid-de-camp, Major de Gimat, brought up the rear with the remainder of the men, whom they transferred across the river without loss. Then they formed on the farther bank and determined to contest the ford if the British followed. But the British had marched up the hill from the two opposite sides, simply meeting each other at the top; they then marched down again and did not seem to be in any mind to pursue their enemy further.
The only real encounter of that serio-comic day's adventures took place between the band of Iroquois and a company of Hessians in the pay of the British. The Indians were concealed in the brush at the side of the road when the Hessians, with waving black plumes in their tall hats and mounted on spirited horses, came along. The Indians rose as if from under the ground, giving their war whoop as they sprang. The horses, unused to this form of war cry, started back and fled far and wide; and the Indians, never having seen soldiers so accoutered, were as frightened as if confronted by evil spirits, and swiftly made good their escape from the impending "bad medicine."
The British carried their chagrin with them back to Philadelphia, and the diners were disappointed in their guest of honor. Next morning Lafayette returned to the top of Barren Hill, thence marched back to Valley Forge, and there relieved the anxiety of General Washington who had feared for his safety.
But the incident of Barren Hill, while it was not in any way an engagement, must be looked upon as a serious matter after all, for it gave Lafayette an opportunity to show that he was cool and self-possessed in a critical moment, and that he was clever and resourceful in finding ways to extricate himself from difficulties—both essential qualities in one who is to be trusted with great enterprises.
In about a month the anticipated event took place—the British evacuated Philadelphia; and, with a baggage-train eleven miles long, started northward with the intention of joining forces with the army at New York.
The question now was whether the army under General Washington should leave Valley Forge and with their inferior force make an attempt to intercept the British and bring on a battle. Several councils of war were held; one of special importance at Hopewell, a place north of Valley Forge, where the project of preparing for attack was earnestly favored by Lafayette, together with General Greene and Colonel Alexander Hamilton, but violently (and unaccountably at that time) opposed by General Lee. This council has been made the subject of one of the reliefs on the celebrated Monmouth Battle Monument. In this design Washington is represented as standing by the table in the center of the group, while Lafayette is spreading the map before the council and urging them to make a strong demonstration against the British, even if it should bring on a battle.
The various generals sit about the table and each expresses in his attitude what his feelings are in this crisis. Steuben and Duportail (at the extreme left) evidently agree with Lafayette, and eagerly press for compliance with his plan. General Patterson (seated at the table) is of the same mind, and so is the true-hearted Greene (seated at the right of Patterson). Brave Colonel Scammel (between Washington and Lafayette), Washington's Adjutant General, carefully notes the opinion of each for the guidance of his chief. Back in the shadow sits the treacherous General Lee, who looks sulky and is evidently planning mischief. The homely rooftree covers a critical scene in the history of the Revolution.
Finally, Washington turned to General Wayne (behind Greene) and said,
"Well, General, what would you do?"
"Fight, Sir!" crisply replied the ardent and indomitable Wayne—an answer that pleased alike the commander in chief and the young volunteer major general, to whom it seemed an intolerable insult that a hostile army should be allowed to march through one's own country unchallenged.
General Lee was determined that the British should be allowed to pass through New Jersey without molestation. His sympathies were afterwards found to have been entirely with the British. At any rate, Washington did not follow his advice. He sent out men to fell trees in the enemy's path, to burn bridges before them, and to harass them as much as possible; and he forwarded detachments of such size that he needed a major general to take command of that branch of his army. The position was offered first to General Lee. He refused to take it. General Washington was then free to offer it to Lafayette, who accepted it with delight.
As these plans were being matured, General Lee suddenly changed his mind and announced that he would take command of the advance force; and he appealed to Lafayette's generosity to allow him to do so, even after having once given his refusal. Lafayette unselfishly resigned the command. It is the opinion of historians that the outcome of the battle of Monmouth would have been very different if the American side had been left in the capable hands of the young Lafayette.
The battle of Monmouth, which took place on the 28th of June, was widely scattered in its action over a hot and sandy plain. The outcome was that General Lee first brought his troops face to face with the enemy, and then, instead of leading on to the attack, gave the order for retreat. Afterwards, in the court-martial of Lee, it was made evident that the movement of the troops as ordered by Lee would have left Lafayette and his detachment abandoned in an extremely exposed position on the open plain, the troops that should have supported him having been withdrawn by Lee's orders and directed to retreat. Lafayette and the other generals felt great bitterness on that day because they had been swept into battle but had not been allowed to strike a blow.