Dissatisfaction at Certain Congressional Promotions

From A History of the Irish Settlers in North America by Thomas D'Arcy McGee

« Chapter VII. | Contents | Chapter IX. »

Chapter VIII.

Dissatisfaction at certain Congressional Promotions—Generals Roche, Fermoy and Andrew Lewis—The Campaigns of 1777 and 1778, in New Jersey—"Mad Anthony Wayne"—Adjutant General Hand—"The Conway Cabal"—Colonel Fitzgerald, Aide de Camp to Washington, his Gallantry at Princeton—Contribution of the Irish Merchants of Philadelphia

THE dissatisfactions which invariably arise, when military promotions are arbitrarily made by the civil power, we have seen driving the gallant Stark from the service of the Revolution. He was not the only officer so dissatisfied by the congressional mode of promotion. Schuyler, Sullivan, and others, were several times on the eve of resignation, from being inconsiderately treated. Brigadier Roche Fermoy and Brigadier Armstrong had actually retired for similar reasons. Roche Fermoy was originally an Irish officer in the service of Piedmont, In the New Jersey campaign of 1778, he was at the head of the Corps of Observation, "appointed to receive and communicate" reports of the enemy's movements, to Washington. After resigning his commission to Congress, he returned to France, where an essay on "the Military Resources of Ireland" was published in his name. It is a pamphlet of extraordinary merit, both for style and science. The retirement that Washington most regretted was that of General Andrew Lewis, the son of Irish parents, born in Augusta County, Virginia. They had served together in the Indian wars and at Fort Necessity, and the commander-in-chief was strongly prepossessed in his favor. Poor Lewis died in 1778, on his return from the Ohio, where he had reduced the Indian tribes to submission, for the time being, at least.

After Lafayette, the most constant and conspicuous figure in the campaigns of 1777 and 1778 (chiefly fought upon the Delaware) was Anthony Wayne. In February, 1777, he had been promoted to a brigade, and at the Brandywine, in September, and on the Schuylkill, in October, he was the most conspicuous chief. At "the drawn battle" of Germantown he held the first place, and during the dismal winter in Valley Forge he kept the field, foraging right and left. In the battle of Monmouth (June, 1778) he turned the fortune of the day, and won the special thanks of Washington and Congress. But his two most brilliant actions followed,—the capture of Stony Point, and the battle of Bergen Neck.

Stony Point, on the Hudson, commanded the King's Ferry, the usual route from the eastern to the midland states. It also formed the key of the Highlands. On two sides it was washed by the river, on the third guarded by a deep and wide morass. Art had fortified what nature had made strong, and six hundred infantry garrisoned the formidable fortress. Major Stewart, his countryman and brother-in-law, with Colonels Fleury, Febiger, and Meigs, commanded under the general. The force arrived before the fort at eight o'clock of a July night, and carried it by one of the most dashing assaults in military history. Universal applause hailed this brilliant exploit. The action of Bergen Neck was fought the week following. General Irvine was with Wayne, and Moylan's dragoons acted a conspicuous part. The enemy were compelled to cross the Hudson, and seek for safety under the walls of New York. For his daring valor in this expedition, Wayne obtained, in the army, the soubriquet of "Mad Anthony."

Another Pennsylvania Irishman figured in these same campaigns almost as conspicuously as Wayne. General Hand's corps, "up to the battle of Trenton," "was distinguished in every action of the war." In October, 1778, he succeeded General Stark in the command at Albany, and conducted a successful expedition against the Five Indian Nations, whose conquest was completed by Sullivan the following year. In 1780, on the formation of the Light Infantry corps, he and General Poor were appointed to the two brigades. In this campaign, after chastising the perfidious Delawares, Sullivan and his officers were entertained at a banquet by the citizens of Wyoming. Colonel Butler presided, and one of the regular toasts was, "May the kingdom of Ireland merit a stripe in the American standard." In 1781, General Hand was appointed adjutant general, an office he continued to hold till the army was disbanded. In 1798, when Washington consented to act again as commander-in-chief, he recommended General Hand's re-appointment as adjutant general. He was frequently honored with civil appointments, and, in 1790, was one of the authors of the constitution of Pennsylvania. In the army, he was remarkable for his "noble horsemanship," and his favorite horses have been often mentioned by his comrades as "an active grey," and "a sorrel roan remarkable for lofty action." General Hand died at Lancaster, Pa., in 1803. His life ought to be written in detail.

We have here to record a less grateful fact, connected with a distinguished Irish officer.

It was during the New Jersey campaigns that "the Conway Cabal," as it is called, exploded. This was an attempt, on the part of several officers, traceable mainly to the ambition of General Gates, to deprive Washington of the command-in-chief, and to substitute that general in his stead. Gates, Schuyler, Lee, and others were parties to this movement, which was finally revealed by Lafayette, and broken up. General Conway, who had come from France at the first outbreak, and ranked as brigadier general, after a quarrel and duel with General Cadwallader, returned home, first writing Washington a manly and regretful letter. The cabal has been called by his name, mainly, we believe, for the sake of the alliteration.[1]

In North Carolina there had been constant operations throughout the war, and the cause of the Revolution had sustained a severe loss at the outset by the death of Brigadier General Moore, (grandson of Governor Moore,) in 1775. His most active successor in the state seems to have been James Hogan, also of Irish origin, who entered the service, as paymaster of the third regiment, in 1776, and the same month was made major of the Edenton and Halifax regiment. Hogan's services were more onerous than brilliant; in 1799, he was appointed brigadier general in the line, with a view to the required operations in his neighborhood.

It would be impossible, did we descend from the officers of the first rank, to record all the heroic actions performed by those of lower standing through these two critical campaigns. The name of Colonel Fitzgerald, Washington's favorite aide-de-camp, deserves special mention. The most striking event, in his long and honorable career, befell him at Princeton. We shall let the heir of his general record it, as he had it from the lips of the actors themselves.

"Col. Fitzgerald," says Mr. G. Washington Custis, "was an Irish officer in the old Blue and Bluffs, the first volunteer company raised in the South, in the dawn of the Revolution, and commanded by Washington. In the campaign of 1778, and retreat through the Jerseys, Fitzgerald was appointed aide-de-camp to Washington. At the battle of Princeton occurred that touching scene, consecrated by history to everlasting remembrance. The American troops, worn down by hardships, exhausting marches, and want of food, on the fall of their leader, that brave old Scotchman, General Mercer, recoiled before the bayonets of the veteran foe. Washington spurred his horse into the interval between the hostile lines, reining up with the charger's head to the foe, and calling to his soldiers, 'Will you give up your general to the enemy?' The appeal was not made in vain. The Americans faced about, and the arms were levelled on both sides,—Washington between them,—even as though he had been placed there as a target for both. It was at this moment that Fitzgerald returned from carrying an order to the rear; and here let us use the gallant veteran's own words. He said: 'On my return, I perceived the general immediately between our line and that of the enemy, both lines levelling for the decisive fire that was to decide the fortune of the day. Instantly there was a roar of musketry, followed by a shout. It was the shout of victory. On raising my eyes, I discovered the enemy broken and flying, while, dimly, amid the glimpses of the smoke, was seen Washington alive and unharmed, waving his hat, and cheering his comrades to the pursuit. I dashed my rowels into my charger's flanks, and flew to his side, exclaiming, "Thank God! your excellency is safe." I wept like a child, for joy.'"

In the eulogy which he bestowed on Fitzgerald, Mr. Custis has not forgotten Moylan, Stewart, Proctor, and other Pennsylvania Irishmen. Of them, we may repeat what Teeling says so well in his Narrative of 1798:—"They may sleep in the silent tomb, but the remembrance of their virtues will be cherished while liberty is dear to the American heart."

We have to leave, for a time, the officers of the army, to look after the condition of its commissariat. In 1777, dreadful distress was suffered at Valley Forge, and the following year did not alleviate the condition of the army. In 1779, the Connecticut militia mutinied, and were only quelled by calling out "the Pennsylvania Line," and arraying it against them. In 1780, even these latter began to murmur, half fed, unpaid, and ill-clothed, that they were. Wayne himself, their idol when in action, was unable to control them; and, had it not been for an extraordinary effort of patriotism on the part of the merchants of Philadelphia, the army would have utterly fallen to pieces. On the 17th June, 1780, ninety-three Philadelphia merchants signed the following paper:—

"Whereas, in the present situation of public affairs in the United States, the greatest and most vigorous exertions are required for the successful management of the just and necessary war in which they are engaged with Great Britain: We, the subscribers, deeply impressed the sentiments that on such an occasion should govern us in the prosecution of a war, on the event of which our own freedom, and that of our posterity, and the freedom and independence of the United States, are all involved, hereby severally pledge our property and credit for the several sums specified and mentioned after our names, in order to support the credit of a bank to be established for furnishing a supply of provisions for the armies of the United States: And do hereby severally promise and engage to execute to the directors of the said bank, bonds of the form hereunto annexed.

"Witness our hands this 17th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1780."[2]

Twenty of these, of Irish origin, subscribed nearly half a million of dollars, in the following proportion:—

Blair M'Clenachan, £10,000
J. M. Nesbitt & Co., 5,000
Richard Peters, 5,000
Samuel Meredith, 5,000
James Mease, 5,000
Thomas Barclay, 5,000
Hugh Shiell, 5,000
John Dunlap, 4,000
John Nixon, 5,000
George Campbell, 2,000
John Mease, 4,000
Bunner, Murray & Co., 6,000
John Patton, 2,000
Benjamin Fuller, 2,000
George Meade & Co., 2,000
John Donaldson, 2,000
Henry Hill, 5,000
Kean & Nichols, 4,000
James Caldwell, 2,000
Samuel Caldwell, 1,000
John Shee, 1,000
Sharp Delany, 1,000
Tench Francis, 5,500
Being   $442,500

This bank continued to exist during the war, and then gave way to the Bank of North America. By this timely expedient the war was enabled to go forward, and Washington found himself free to execute his final plans.

The theatre of the war was now transferred to Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Beaten at all points in the North, the British attempted the South, under Cornwallis. Gates, the victor at Saratoga, was defeated, in turn, at Camden, and superseded by Greene. Wayne, despatched to the same scene of operations, captured Yorktown, and shut up the British in Savannah. In July, he had the pleasure to beat them out, and, in December following, he took possession of Charleston as they gave it up. Throughout his southern campaign, (the last of the war,) he was accompanied by "the remnant of Moylan's Dragoons." Before the evacuation of Savannah, Cornwallis had got cooped up in Yorktown, cut off by Washington on the land side, and the French fleet by sea. On the 19th of October, 1781, he surrendered himself and 7000 men as prisoners of war; and the following spring proposals were made for peace by Great Britain, which agreed to acknowledge the independence of "the United States of North America."

The surrender of Cornwallis was the signal for peace. England, baffled by the heroism and perseverance of America, relinquished all her claims to sovereignty over the revolted colonies, and prepared to sign her abdication with the best grace she could assume. In 1782, the Peace of Paris was completed, and at the opening of the next year it was proclaimed. Thus, after a war of seven years, the liberties of America were won, and the field prepared for the plantation of those democratic institutions whose influence already penetrates the world. The soldiers returned to their homes, and the labors of the statesmen commenced where those of the army ended.[3]

« Chapter VII. | Contents | Chapter IX. »


[1] General Sullivan, in his letter to Washington, says Conway was "imprudently led into the cabal."

[2] American Remembrancer, vol. x., p. 229; 6 Haz. Reg., of Pennsylvania, p. 28,—2 do. 259, 261; Hood's Sketch of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick," p. 43.

[3] See Appendix No. IV.