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interest. The opposition pour out virulent abuse on the ministers : they refuse with laughter and scorn the efforts at conciliation made by North from time to time, efforts which might have been successful if fully supported; they offer no shadow of an alternative policy. Any suggestions of value occasionally made were so linked up with abuse of the Government that it could not be expected that they would be adopted. Burke, decrying Lord North's good offer in 1775 which was, of course, contemptuously refused by the American Congress, describes it as an auction, his heavy-footed jesting and the savage personalities of Fox running through the volumes.
Every effort by the Crown to put the small forces on an effective footing was bitterly opposed. The very great difficulty in recruiting was in great part due to their strenuous efforts to stop it. The Americans recruited freely, Lord Justice Clark writing to the Secretary of State (August 14, 1775) that nearly four thousand emigrants had sailed since the beginning of 1774, besides many driven off by the landlords. While the opposition abused the ministers for leaving Gage in Boston with a small force,* they inveighed against the use of Hanoverians to garrison Gibraltar and Minorca as illegal; they objected to the vote of 28,000 seamen on the ground that it was inadequate to a war and too large for a peace establishment, and that no vessels could keep the sea upon the coast of America in the winter season; they argued against the raising of militia to release troops for America on the ground that, as every standing oppressive force in Europe began with a harmless militia, the purpose of the Militia Bill was to create a standing army, and so forth. Every vote to increase the forces met with steady opposition, accompanied by encouragement of every description to the revolted colonies. The proper men, says one member on the Militia Bill, to recruit and supply your troops are the scum and outcast of cities and manufactures, fellows who voluntarily submit to be slaves for an apprenticeship of seven years, not the men taken from the plough. They glory in the military reverses ; when a storm prevented an attack by Howe on the Americans it had saved, they say, the lives of many brave soldiers and officers who would most probably have fallen sacrifices to the shrine of British honour ; when Burgoyne's army surrenders to
* He first asked for 20,000 and, before Bunker's Hill, for 35,000 men.
a force four times its strength, they make no secret of their joy. When on this misfortune, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and other towns, and the Highland chiefs and Irish gentlemen raise regiments, the opposition work hard to prevent the recruiting, declaring it illegal without consent of Parliament. Walpole (1778), of course, assumes that the raising of the regiments was not for America but to establish Popery and absolutism in England. “I had as little doubt,” he says, “ that if the conquest of America should be achieved, the moment the victorious army's return would be that of the destruction of your liberty.” It was these men, if the independence of America is to be attributed to any person or persons, who achieved it. They did all in their power to destroy any chance of success.
It must be confessed that the one extreme begat the other. The minister still made efforts at the conciliation, but under the irritation of the attack of the opposition what we now call the Die Hard section was getting uppermost in Parliament, disapproving of any compromise with the rebels. The American Congress, encouraged by Burke and Chatham, refused all offers.
The ministers, under the irritation of such senseless opposition, appear to have minimized the extent of the danger and the force required to meet it, to have blinded themselves to its causes. They certainly, at the outset, either from a belief in the possibility of conciliation or from a desire to check the opposition in Parliament, do not appear to have made the requisite provision for a serious war. When Gage asked for twenty thousand men, Dartmouth replied that it was impossible. Yet a great effort at the outset would probably have saved the situation and enabled the ministers to negotiate.*
While the Whigs were calling for delay, for the withdrawal of troops and the opening of negotiations, the colonists were fully ready for war. They had agents in the West Indian Islands working up for sedition. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress issued a proclamation, urging the militia to drill and to collect and manufacture arms. When Gage sent a force of fourteen hundred to seize the militia stores which had been accumulated at Concord, they came in contact for the first time with American methods of warfare, military and political. They were sniped from behind shelter by the “embattled farmers” and, unable to return the fire, they reached Boston, after destroying some stores, with a loss of 250 men and 19 officers.
* I have not been able to discover who was responsible for the appointment of Lord George Germaine, on whom the blame for failure is generally laid. He had been duly disgraced after Minden. Lord Rockingham had obtained his restoration to the Privy Council, and his appointment as Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. There is a curious memoir concerning him in Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, but it throws no light on his appointment to the American position. Lord North had promised the Admiralty to Lord Sandwich in 1771. Grafton (Autobiography) knew of the King's strong dislike to place Lord Sandwich, whose character he disapproved, in any elevated post.”
Then some 20,000 men besieged the army in Boston, while the New York mob seized the magazines and two provision ships, and raised military forces; so that when Howe sent to buy horses for the dragoons, the town was in their hands. Ethan Allan, invading Canada, overcame by a trick the garrison of forty-eight men at Ticonderoga, taking the fort with 120 guns and much ammunition; and Benedict Arnold, seizing the only ship on Lake Champlain, overpowered the garrison of St. John's.
V. The Physical Aspect of the War.-I do not propose to dwell on the war. I cannot believe from my study of history that at any period, from the first syllable of recorded time, any such stupendous effort has been made by any country for victory under such a load of difficulties. First there was the opposition in England, supported by a powerful Whig aristocracy, such as the Duke of Richmond ; the virulent eloquence of prominent members of Parliament; the radicals of the City of London. Above all was the immense influence of Chatham, who, while supporting the Navigation Acts, the cause of the whole trouble, and refusing independence, which was the one thing certain to be fought for, could propose nothing but inaction.
The base of operations was three thousand miles away, across a stormy ocean. This fact regulated all the actions of the war. It is true that the British Fleet was supreme at sea, but its movements were ruled by the winds, while the American privateers, multiplying, preyed on British commerce, and captured isolated ships carrying men, ammunition and stores to the troops in America.
Military writers naturally defend the generals in America by the assertion that the British ministers had no plan of campaign. How could they have any? During the months which passed between the issue of the instructions and their arrival in America the conditions under which the plan was formed might have wholly changed, the campaign may have opened in another part of the continent, modified by the movements of the enemy. For example, Sir Henry Clinton, writing from New York, July 3, 1779, (Lansdowne MSS.) complains that reinforcements have not arrived, that he has no camp equipage to enable him to continue his move, that the Eastern provinces are starving. He has not heard from Europe for three months and has no money.
The officials in England may have been incompetent or corrupt, but it is not fair to charge them wholly with the want of success. The less they interfered with the campaigns the better. No plan which they could make could have any chance of fulfilment three months later. Their only duty lay in keeping the armies supplied as far as possible with every requisite and with as many men as possible, which they certainly did not always do. Their interference was evil in every respect, giving the generals, such as Burgoyne and Howe, the chance of attributing all their failures to the men at home.
Next, the enormous length of coast over which operations might be undertaken told against the chances of success. The war was practically from first to last a naval war. With the exception of Arnold's expedition to Canada and Burgoyne's to Saratoga, both sides hugged the sea, the British keeping very closely to their naval bases in Boston, New York, Rhode Island and Halifax, seeking to establish new ones in the south, such as Charleston, and evacuating Philadelphia as being too far from the coast. They moved along the coast roads, or more usually by sea, the engagements which took place being almost entirely in the nature of isolated raids.
The conditions of naval warfare in the days of sailing vessels, subject to the vagaries of the winds and storms, were such that any accuracy of co-operation of force by land and sea in matter of time and place was next to impossible. The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown alone shows this, and the same hindrance to any sudden concentration of power runs throughout the war. The length of seaboard and the stormy seas, combined with the necessity of bringing all supplies—men, food, tents, arms, horses, ammunition—from the British islands, aided by the American privateers and the winds, destroyed all certainty of combination except by the leader on the spot.
vi. The War on the Continent.
The one essential for any hope of success was a great leader on the spot with absolute power who dared, away from party, to formulate a bold plan of campaign and invite co-operation from his colleagues for its execution. It might possibly have been done, but the great man never came. If, beyond the efforts of the opposition to prevent success, any one person was responsible for the failure, it would seem to me that it was Sir William Howe, the Commander-in-Chief. Throughout, from first to last, he betrayed, whether from political bias or pure incompetence or a desire to conciliate the Americans or from all three combined, the interests of the British. Provided with a splendid army of seasoned troops and an excellent staff of officers, he followed up no success, he allowed the enemy's army again and again to escape when he could have destroyed them utterly, and with a veteran army of 27,000 men he allowed Washington, in 1777, with less than 4,000 undisciplined and dispirited troops, to overrun the country and to remain for six months in front of him without an effort to check him. Howe's shameful inaction and his behaviour in Philadelphia while Washington's army was starving at Valley Forge, gave the death-blow to British hopes of success, a success which was then not only possible but even in sight.
If it is suggested that he was tied by his instructions from home, the answer is that a great general placed in such a position would take the necessary responsibility, and that there is not the slightest suggestion that his instructions proposed or ordered inaction. The different forces were never drawn together for any one plan. When Burgoyne was making his terrible march from Canada which ended at Saratoga, Howe had gone to the Chesapeake, and Clinton, though he moved north, made no effort to join hands; when Cornwallis marched from the south to Yorktown, Clinton made no effort to join him until the catastrophe had occurred, and talked of duelling.
The war opened in Boston, where the Americans, who were besieging Gage's small army, occupied and entrenched the heights of Bunker's Hill, a position necessary for the British.