Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

Anthony Wayne Asks for Action

The return of the American army from Canada found Anthony Wayne already famous as a capable commander and resourceful strategist. As we have already learned, the battle of Trios Rivieres had left him the ranking officer of the Pennsylvania troops, with the duty of leading them to a safe retreat at Fort Ticonderoga. The enemy's forces followed the little army—not closely, but at a safe distance. Instead of attempting a general engagement, which might have resulted injuriously to the Americans, they contented themselves with occasional skirmishes. But now followed the battle of Lake Champlain, in which Arnold's fleet was destroyed. The British, however, were content merely to threaten an attack on Ticonderoga, and then withdrew until the following season. In these days of titanic modern warfare, involving the engagement of hundreds of thousands of men, it seems a small matter indeed, the maneuvering or counter-maneuvering of a few regiments on either side. But war was a different game in those days, and important issues hung upon the outcome of a single small engagement. Both sides were uncertain, also, as to the real effective strength of their antagonists, and were naturally unwilling to risk actions that might result in disastrous defeat. The confidence of the Americans, however, is well expressed by Colonel Wayne himself, when be wrote to his wife under date January 3, 1777, "The British Rebels may be successful for a time; they may take and destroy our towns near the water and distress us much, but they never can, they never will, subjugate the free-born sons of America. Our growing country can meet with considerable losses and survive them; but one defeat for our more than savage enemies ruins them forever."

For nearly a year Wayne was stationed at Ticonderoga, then, according to general opinion, the second most important post in the whole of the colonial territory. On November IS, 1775, lie was appointed by General Schuyler commandant of the fort and its dependencies, and so continued until the following April twelfth. The responsibilities of his new command, having to do with the strengthening of the extensive fortifications, and the discipline of a force of men varying between 2,500 and 7,000, who were frequently discontented with their conditions and occasionally were mutinous, fully occupied his attention. He was restive, however, at the continued lack of opportunity for real fighting and apparently exerted every means at his disposal to obtain a transference, if possible to Washington's army, which was during this same period passing through exciting adventures. The place also evidently sorely depressed his spirits, as may be judged from a remark in one of his letters:

"It [the country about Ticonderoga] appears to be the last part of the world that God made, and I have some ground to believe it was finished in the dark. That it was never intended that man should live in it is clear, for the people who attempted to make any stay have for the most part perished by pestilence or the sword. . . . The soldiers make tent pins of the shin and thigh bones of Abercrombie's men."

With all his earnest longing after more action, and his constant solicitation that he be transferred, it is gratifying to record that be wasted no time—that he seemed inspired with the ambition to discharge the duties of even an unacceptable post with the utmost care and attention. The men were frequently short on rations, were ill-equipped, were suffering constantly from the inroads of epidemic disease, and the commander exerted himself to the utmost to supply their needs—now writing long and insistent letters to his superiors, both in army and government positions, now sending requisitions to the neighboring colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut for both men and supplies. As the result, undoubtedly, of his rigid discipline, the Pennsylvania troops won great distinction, although, in the words of Colonel Francis Johnston, the "Pennsylvanians were originally designed for soldiers," possessing a degree of "vigilance, assiduity and resignation to bad usage, fatigue and the strictest discipline."

The grand qualities of the Pennsylvania troops, be they original or from consistent discipline, found eminent illustration during the fighting following the defeat of the American fleet on Lake Champlain. The news of this disaster reached the camp at Lake George where several hundred Pennsylvanians were confined in the hospital, "emaciated with disease and sickness of the most malignant kind." But, even while many of the troops were eagerly hoping for the day of their discharge—others speaking and behaving mutinously, because compelled to remain after the expiration of their term of service, until re-enforcements should arrive—the invalids and "incapacitated" rose to a man, it is related, and "fixed on their military accouterments." Then, entirely without orders or compulsion, they marched to the scene of conflict, determined to conquer or die with their countrymen. "As two privates of the First Battalion commanded by Colonel De Haas passed through our encampment," writes Colonel Johnston, "they were asked if no more of the Pennsylvanians were coming, to which they answered with indignation, 'Yes, confound you, every sick man amongst us that could possibly crawl; but we led the van from our rank.' "Some of these same men had even received their discharges, and had been kept at the hospital merely because, in the judgment of their officers and advisors, they were incapable of making the journey home. Yet these men, as Johnston relates, came "swearing by everything sacred that they would have ample revenge'!"

From his meager defensive force of not "more than 6,000 effective men, of which something less than one-half, i. e., about 2,600, will bear the brunt of the day, the remainder being on Mount Independence on the opposite side of the Lake," Wayne speaks proudly in one of his letters of his own Pennsylvania contingent. "I thank my God," he remarks, "we are left partly alone. I have yet 1,500 hardy veterans from Pennsylvania; would to Heaven I could for a day lead them to the assistance of poor Washington. I would risk my soul that they would sell their lives, or liberties, at too dear a rate for Britons to make purchases." In another letter to General Schuyler he speaks of the approaching discharge of a part of this force, not without the same pride as of old, and with perfect confidence in their consistent intention to serve the cause of independence to the end of the war, "I have," he writes, "ordered one regiment of the Pennsylvania to march tomorrow [January 23, 1777]. The others will follow as soon as possible with orders to proceed in good order to Philadelphia. I have lately received letters from General St. Clair and other gentlemen in General Washington's camp which made me think it advisable to keep these regiments embodied until they are dismissed by the board of war. Their time expired the 5th of this instant: they will be settled with in Philadelphia agreeable to promise, when I have reason to expect the greatest part will reengage."

Speaking of these same troops some time previous, Wayne remarked: "'Liberty to come down for one month when relieved' carries with it an idea of being immediately sent back to a place [Ticonderoga] which they imagine is very unhealthy. They say, 'March us off this ground and then we will cheerfully reengage.' Added to this, their anxiety about their friends in the Jerseys and Pennsylvania makes them impatient to be led to the assistance of their distressed home country. They likewise see the eastern people running away in the clouds of the night, some before and all soon as their times expire. Colonel Whitcomb's regiment, all the sailors and mariners, the whole of the artificers, and all the corps of artillery, except Captain Roman's company, which consists of but twelve men, officers included, are gone off the ground."

Wayne, as it seems, was incapable of understanding the motives behind such doings. Home and family were as clear to him as to any of those who, as he complains, deserted, or made a precipitous departure. But, with him, the sentiment of patriotism and the soldier's honor were altogether too high and valuable for any kind of compromise. To deserters he frequently applied the then highly opprobrious term "caitiff," which we also might consider insulting, had we not quite forgotten its use and meaning. His firm and decisive treatment of mutinous and insubordinate soldiers is exampled in the following account embodied in one of his letters:

"Yesterday morning [February 11, 1777], at gun fire, I was informed that Captain Nelson's rifle company—who used to do duty in my regiment—were under arms with their packs slung ready to march, and determined to force their way through all opposition. On my arrival at their encampment I found them drawn up in order and beginning their march. On asking the cause of such conduct, they began in a tumultuous manner to inform me that the time of their enlistment was expired last month, and that they looked upon themselves as at liberty to go home. I ordered them to halt—that I could not answer them all at once, I directed their leader to step out and speak for them. A sergeant advanced. I presented a pistol to his breast. He fell on his knees to beg his life. I then ordered the whole to ground their arms, which was immediately complied with. I then addressed them, when they with one voice agreed to remain until the 20th instant and return to their duty. This was scares over when a certain Jonah Holida of Captain Coe's company in Colonel Robinson's regiment endeavored to excite them to mutiny again . . . . I thought proper to chastise him for his insolence on the spot before the men, and then sent him to answer for his crime to the main guard.

"The colonel waited on me and very innocently informed me that he had a complaint lodged against me, that he was very sorry for it, but was obliged to take notice of it, and then delivered the within paper. On inquiring I found it was wrote by Captain Coe. I had him brought before me. He acknowledged the writing, and also that be knew the cause for which the soldier was struck and confined, but was of the opinion that every soldier had a right to deliver his sentiments on every occasion without being punished, upon which I ordered him in arrest as an abettor of the mutiny. I wait for your orders to send them down to Albany, where you will take such further measures as you may deem necessary."

There was probably considerable reason for the dissatisfaction expressed by both Wayne and his men, who were practically marooned in a lonely and unhealthful spot, with no chance of real fighting, except with hunger, discomfort, privation and disease, and compelled to constantly urge the authorities to supply the merest necessities of life—food, clothing, ammunition and medicines. All such conditions are confidently ascribed by historians to the familiar evils, politics and incompetence in high offices. So strong, indeed, was the sentiment that "politics" even then ruled the administration of government, that, strange as it may seem at the present day, even the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was viewed without enthusiasm in many quarters, as a mere "party triumph."

On February 21, 1777, Colonel Wayne was advanced to the rank of brigadier general, and, in spite if his tireless loyalty and efficient service to the cause of freedom, was advanced to no higher rank during the whole period of the war. It was not., in fact, until October, 1783, that he was advanced by Congress to the major-generalship, and then only by brevet. Just as he had discharged a brigadier's duties at Ticonderoga, with only the rank and pay of a colonel, so during the remainder of his service, to nearly the end of the war, he did the work of a major-general on the pay and with the rank of a brigadier. We might strongly suspect that "politics" had had an influence in shaping public policy in regard to him. Yet he never complained on this score. He was anxious only to get more action, to lead his troops to victory against a cruel and revengeful enemy; and with this end attained at last, he seems to have been actually content. In a letter to General Schuyler early in 1777 he refers to the reverses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and adds that the "alarming situation . . . .causes us most ardently to wish for an opportunity of meeting those sons of war and rapine, face to face and man to man." When some of his troops began to be impatient at the delay in securing their discharges, he wrote, "I want to go also. It would be in my power to do more with them in case of necessity than perhaps any other officer: I ]mow these worthy fellows well, and they ]mow me. I am confident they would not desert me in time of danger. If you think it would he for the benefit of the service, I should be glad to be immediately relieved in command with orders to march with the last of the southern troops."