General Washington, by Bradley T. Johnson, Appendix

Washington and Lee University

General Washington

By General Bradley T. Johnson


GENERAL CHARLES LEE was captured by a patrol of thirty dragoons of Burgoyne’s Regiment of Queen’s Light Dragoons (Sixteenth Regiment), commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Harcourt, afterward Earl Harcourt. Banastre Tarleton was in charge of the advance of six men. Lee’s party and guard fired on the British horse, and several men were killed or wounded, but Lee surrendered at once, and, as all accounts agree, in the most pusillanimous manner. He was considered a deserter in the British army, and he was doubtful if his surrender would be accepted. Sir William Howe without doubt preferred to hang him, and only Washington’s firmness and Howe’s law doubts gave Lee reprieve until he could make his proposals for treachery. The original paper in Lee’s handwriting, found among the papers of Sir Henry Strachey, endorsed “Mr. Lee’s plan, 29th March, 1777,” has been sold at auction in New York since this work went to press. It belonged to the estate of George H. Moore, formerly Librarian of the New York Historical Society, who published the evidence then known in the case under the title, “The Treason of Charles Lee, Major General, Second in Command in the American Army of the Revolution” (New York, 1860), in which is reproduced in facsimile the autograph “Plan of Mr. Lee.” Mr. Lee’s plan certainly was adopted by General Howe in part, and in his movement on Philadelphia, but more curious still, it seems to have been the plan of the War Office of the British Government in the War of 1812–’14 for the occupation of the line of the Potomac and the Chesapeake by the capture of Washington and Baltimore.


As on the one hand it appears to me that by the continuance of the War America has no chance of obtaining the ends She proposes to herself; that altho by struggling She may put the Mother Country to very serious expence both in blood and Money, yet She must in the end, after great desolation, havock and slaughter, be reduc’d to submit to terms much harder than might probably be granted at present—and as on the other hand Great Britain tho’ ultimately victorious, must suffer very heavily even in the process of her victories, every life lost and every guinea spent being in fact worse than thrown away: it is only wasting her own property, shedding her own blood and destroying her own strength; and as I am not only persuaded from the high opinion I have of the humanity and good sense of Lord and General Howe that the terms of accommodation will be as moderate as their powers will admit, but that their powers are more ample than their Successors (shou’d any accident happen) wou’d be vested with, I think myself not only justifiable but bound in conscience to furnish all the lights, I can, to enable ’em to bring matters to a conclusion in the most compendious manner and consequently the least expensive to both Parties—I do this with the more readiness as I know the most generous use will be made of it in all respects—their humanity will incline ’em to have consideration for Individuals who have acted from Principle and their good sense will tell ’em that the more moderate are the general conditions; the more solid and permanent will be the union for if the conditions were extremely repugnant to the general way of thinking, it would be only the mere patchwork of a day which the first breath of wind will discompose and the first symptoms of a rupture betwixt the Bourbon Powers and Great Britain absolutely overturn—but I really have no apprehensions of this kind whilst Lord and General Howe have the direction of affairs, and flatter myself that under their auspices an accommodation may be built on so solid a foundation as not to be shaken by any such incident—in this persuasion and on these principles I shall most sincerely and zealously contribute all in my power to so desirable an end, and if no untoward accidents fall out which no human foresight can guard against I will answer with my life for the success.

From my present situation and ignorance of certain facts I am sensible that I hazard proposing things which cannot without difficulties be comply’d with; I can only act from surmise, therefore hope allowances will be made for my circumstances. I will suppose then that (exclusive of the Troops requisite for the security of Rhode Island and N. York) General Howe’s Army (comprehending every species, British, Hessians and Provincials) amounts to twenty thousand men capable to take the field and act offensively; by which I mean to move to any part of the Continent where occasion requires—I will suppose that the General’s design with this force is to clear the Jersey’s and take possession of Philadelphia—but in my opinion the taking possession of Philadelphia will not have any decisive consequences—the Congress and People adhering to the Congress have already made up their minds for the event; already They have tum’d their eyes to other places where They can fix their seat of residence, carry on in some measure their Government; in short expecting this event They have devis’d measures for protracting the War in hopes of some favourable turn of affairs in Europe—the taking possession therefore of Philadelphia or any or two Towns more, which the General may have in view, will not be decisive—to bring matters to a conclusion, it is necessary to unhinge or dissolve, if I may so express myself, the whole system or machine of resistance, or in other terms, Congress Government—this system or machine, as affairs now stand, depends entirely on the circumstances and disposition of the People of Maryland Virginia and Pennsylvania—if the Province of Maryland or the greater part of it is reduc’d or submits, and the People of Virginia are prevented or intimidated from marching aid to the Pennsylvania Army the whole machine is dissolv’d and a period put to the War, to accomplish which, is, the object of the scheme which I now take the liberty of offering to the consideration of his Lordship and the General, and if it is adopted in full I am so confident of the success that I wou’d stake my life on the issue—have at the same time the comfort to reflect, that in pointing out measures which I know to be the most effectual I point out those which will be attended with no bloodshed or desolation to the Colonies. As the difficulty of passing and of re-passing the North River and the apprehensions from General Carleton’s Army will I am confident keep the New Englanders at home, or at least confine ’em to the East side the River; and as their Provinces are at present neither the seat of Government strength nor Politicks I cannot see that any offensive operations against these Provinces wou’d answer any sort of Purpose—to secure N. York and Rhode Island against their attacks will be sufficient. On the supposition then, that General Howe’s Army (including every species of Troops) amounts to twenty or even eighteen thoushand men at liberty to move to any part of the Continent; as fourteen thoushand will be more than sufficient to clear the Jersey’s and take possession of Philadelphia, I wou’d propose that four thoushand men be immediately embark’d in transports, one half of which shou’d proceed up the Patomac and take post at Alexandria, the other half up Chesepeak Bay and possess themselves of Annapolis. They will most probably meet with no opposition in taking possession of these Posts, and when possess’d they are so very strong by nature that a few hours work and some trifling artillery will secure them against the attacks of a much greater force than can possibly be brought down against them—their communication with the shipping will be constant and sure—for at Alexandria Vessels of a very considerable burthen (of five or six hundred Tons for instance) can lie in close to the shore, and at Annapolis within musket shot—all the necessaries and refreshments for an Army are near at hand, and in the greatest abundance—Kent Island will supply that of Annapolis and every part on both banks of the Patomac that of Alexandria. These Posts may with ease support each other, as it is but two easy days march from one to the other, and if occasion requires by a single days march, They may join* and conjunctly carry on their operations wherever it shall be thought eligible to direct ’em; whether to take possession of Baltimore or post themselves on some spot on the Westward bank of the Susquehanna which is a point of the utmost importance—but here I must beg leave to observe that there is a measure which if the General assents to and adopts will be attended with momentous and the most happy consequences—I mean that from these Posts proclamations of pardon should be issued to all those who come in at a given day, and I will answer for it with my life—that all the Inhabitants of that great tract southward of the Patapsico and lying betwixt the Patomac and Chesepeak Bay and those on the eastern Shore of Maryland will immediately lay down their arms—but this is not all, I am much mistaken if those potent and populous German districts, Frederic County in Maryland and York in Pennsylvania do not follow their example—These Germans are extremely numerous, and to a Man have hitherto been the most staunch Assertors of the American cause; but at the same time are so remarkably tenacious of their property and apprehensive of the least injury being done to their fine farms that I have no doubt when They see a probability of their Country becoming the seat of War They will give up all opposition but if contrary to my expectations a force should be assembled at Alexandria sufficient to prevent the Corps detach’d thither from taking possession immediately of the place, it will make no disadvantageous alteration, but rather the reverse—variety of spots near Alexandria on either bank of the Patomac may be chosen for Posts equally well calculated for all the great purposes I have mention’d—viz—for the reduction or compulsion to submission of the whole Province of Maryland for the preventing or intimidating Virginia from sending aids to Pennsylvania—for in fact if any force is assembled at Alexandria sufficient to oppose the Troops sent against it, getting possession of it, it must be at the expence of the more Northern Army, as they must be compos’d of those Troops which were otherwise destin’d for Pennsylvania—to say all in a word, it will unhinge and dissolve the whole system of defence. I am so confident of the event that I will venture to assert with the penalty of my life if the plan is fully adopted, and no accidents (such as a rupture betwixt the Powers of Europe) intervenes that in less than two months from the date of the proclamation not a (park of this desolating war remains unextinguished in any part of the Continent.


* “On the Road from Annapolis to Queen Anne there is one considerable River to be pass’d, but as the ships boats can easily be brought round from the Bay to the usual place of passage or Ferry, this is no impediment if the Two Corps chuse to unite They may by a single days inarch either at Queen Annes or Marlborough.”

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