Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Adopted Son by David Clary

I was contacted a week or so ago about a brand new book (it was released last month) and now have the pleasure of being able to offer you an excerpt from this book so you can preview some of its content! There are two things below - first a synopsis of what the book covers and then an excerpt from the book. Hope you enjoy this treat!

Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship That Saved the Revolution
By David A. Clary

In Adopted Son, historian David A. Clary tells the exciting story of possibly the most important friendship in American history. Bringing together the latest research, this dramatic narrative interweaves the private and public lives of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, who did together what neither could have done alone.

They were unlikely comrades-in-arms. One was a self-taught, middle-aged Virginia planter in charge of a ragtag army of revolutionaries, the other a rich, glory-seeking teenage French aristocrat. But the childless Washington and the orphaned Lafayette forged a bond between them as strong as any between father and son. It was an unbreakable trust that saw them through betrayals, shifting political alliances, and the trials of war.

Lafayette came to America a rebellious youth whose defiance of his king made him a celebrity in France. His money and connections attracted the favor of the Continental Congress, which advised Washington to keep the exuberant Marquis from getting himself killed. But when the boy-general was wounded in his first battle, he became a hero of two countries. As the war ground on, Washington found in his young charge the makings of a courageous and talented commander whose loyalty, generosity, and eagerness to please his Commander in Chief made him one of the war's most effective and inspired generals. Lafayette's hounding of Cornwallis's army was the perfect demonstration of Washington's unconventional "bush-fighting" tactics, and led to the British surrender at Yorktown.

Their friendship continued throughout their lives. Lafayette inspired widespread French support for a struggling young America and personally influenced Washington's antislavery views. Washington's enduring example as general and statesman guided Lafayette during France's own revolution years later.

Using personal letters and other key historical documents, Adopted Son offers a rare glimpse of the American Revolution through the friendship between Washington and Lafayette. It offers dramatic accounts of battles and intimate portraits of such major figures as Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, and Benjamin Franklin. The result is a remarkable, little-known epic of friendship, revolution, and the birth of a nation.

David A. Clary is the author of numerous books and other publications on military and scientific history. He has been a consultant to several government agencies and has taught history at the university level. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, Beatriz.

Excerpt: A Youth of Great Sobriety, Diligence, and Fidelity
England and France had been at war with each other for centuries, and their colonists in America sometimes were drawn into the conflict. They provided troops and supplies, invaded enemy territory, and incited Indians to do their butchery for them. The Indians -- arrayed in groups varying from isolated bands to multitribal confederations -- played the two white tribes off against each other, promising allegiance to whichever offered the best tribute. As a general rule, the Indians favored the French, because their population was smaller and they paid the best bribes. By the 1750s the English were clearly a greater threat to native well-being. Their growing population displaced eastern tribes westward, where they collided with other tribes. In response, they attacked frontier settlements and farms. The French in Canada encouraged them with firearms, ammunition, and plenty of liquor.

In 1752 and 1753, French authorities in Canada sent expeditions to the Ohio River Valley to post markers of their king's sovereignty. In the spring of 1753 they extended a line of military posts from the eastern end of Lake Erie toward the Forks of the Ohio, where Pittsburgh now stands. That not only challenged British claims to the country but threatened the future profits of the Ohio Company. Its investors had plans of their own to build a post at the Forks, trade with the Indians, and claim the lands beyond.

Robert Dinwiddie, lieutenant governor of Virginia, was a Scottish tycoon and, along with the Fairfaxes, a heavy investor in the Ohio Company. News of three new French posts in what is now western Pennsylvania, forming a line aimed at the Forks, alarmed him. He complained to his government in London about this invasion, and suggestively asked for instructions. In October 1753, King George II's orders arrived. Virginia should build forts on the Ohio and send an emissary to confirm whether the French had invaded English soil. If that was the case, the officer should "require of them peaceably to depart." If they refused, "[w]e," said the king, "do strictly command and charge you to drive them out by force of arms."

King George did not understand that this order committed his government and its British and American taxpayers to doing the Ohio Company's work for it. Since Virginia's Assembly (House of Burgesses) would have to pay the major part of the bills, the conniving Dinwiddie kept it in the dark. He summoned the King's Council (the appointed upper house) and urged it to authorize an expedition to drive the French out, and build a post at the Forks. He had just the candidate to lead the enterprise -- the twenty-one-year-old George Washington.

Washington confessed, "It was deemed by some an extraordinary circumstance that so young and inexperienced a person should have been employed on a negotiation with which subjects of the greatest importance were involved." But he was "used to the woods," said one of Dinwiddie's business partners, and "a youth of great sobriety, diligence, and fidelity." Besides, he could be trusted not to feather his own nest while serving the interests of the Crown, so thoroughly mixed up with those of the Ohio Company.

On October 30 Dinwiddie ordered Washington to venture into the West, contact friendly Indians, and proceed to the French forts. There he was to present a nicely phrased ultimatum from Dinwiddie, politely inviting the "frog-eaters" (as the English called the French) to clear out. While awaiting their reply, he was also supposed to gather as much intelligence as he could about the other side's strength, dispositions, and intentions.

Washington trekked into a literally howling wilderness -- winter roared in ahead of schedule. He was accompanied by Ohio Company trader Christopher Gist; Jacob van Braam, a Dutchman who claimed to speak French; a scalawag who said he could interpret the Indians' languages; and four others who eventually deserted him. With Gist's help, Washington enlisted a few Indian allies, slogged through rain and sleet, forded torrential rivers, and reached Fort LeBoeuf (Erie, Pennsylvania) on December 11, 1753. The local commander received him with great courtesy. He invited Washington to cool his heels for three days as he prepared a reply to Dinwiddie's ultimatum, which he forwarded to his superiors in Canada.

The French officers wined and dined the Virginian. He reported later that the wine, which they drank by the gallon, loosened their tongues. They told him "that it was their absolute design to take possession of the Ohio, and, by G--, they would do it; for that although they were sensible the English could raise two men for their one, yet they knew their motions were too slow and dilatory to prevent any undertaking of theirs." Or at least that was how the message came through the Dutchman's translation; Washington spoke no French. He understood well enough, however, that the "rosbifs" (as the French called the English) were being told to go to hell. The official letter to Dinwiddie said much the same, but more politely.

Washington hurried back to Virginia's capital, the muddy little village of Williamsburg. His horses were worn out, so he decided he could make better time on foot. Leaving the rest of his party behind, he and Gist set out through storms and hostile Indians. Twice he came close to drowning, and once he narrowly dodged a musket ball. Gist became crippled by frostbite, and Washington left him at an Ohio Company post. He pressed on alone to Williamsburg, where he reported to Dinwiddie in early February 1754.

There he wrote a formal report to the lieutenant governor. After many pages of chipper boasting, its ending betrayed youthful uncertainty and hunger for approval. "I hope what has been said," Washington pleaded, "will be sufficient to make your Honour satisfied with my conduct; for that was my aim in undertaking, and chief study throughout the prosecution of it." Dinwiddie was satisfied; he ordered the report published, along with his praise of it, to justify the war he was starting.

Dinwiddie was in over his head and not bright enough to realize it. France and England were at peace, and he was about to blunder them into war. Moreover, Virginia had not mounted a military expedition since the previous century. Nobody in the province understood what a campaign would involve, let alone what it would cost. Nevertheless, the lieutenant governor called the Assembly into session to get it to pay for a war the burgesses did not want. They debated until April, when the Assembly voted some money, but not enough. Meanwhile Dinwiddie sent emissaries to the Indian tribes, and to other colonies, appealing for support. He did not get much.

The lieutenant governor appointed Washington a lieutenant colonel of the militia, and commander of the expedition. Meanwhile, in early spring Dinwiddie had dragooned about forty carpenters and militiamen into going to the Forks to build a fort. In April 1754, Washington, wearing a tailor-made uniform, set out from Alexandria at the head of 160 underpaid, disgruntled militiamen and wagoneers. He had been authorized 200, but he was lucky to assemble the force he did. As his little army cut its way through the forest at a rate of two or three miles a day, it became apparent that Washington also was in over his head, but not mature enough to realize it.

The men at the Forks faced starvation, because the Delawares refused to provide food. That was a sensible move on the Indians' part, because early in May about a thousand French soldiers arrived at the Forks with eighteen cannons. The forty Virginians surrendered and headed home. The French started building a professionally engineered fortification, named Fort Duquesne.
Washington was encamped in a grassy valley split by a swift stream, called Great Meadows. He ordered his men to cut timber and erect a circular stockade, which he called Fort Necessity. It was not big enough to enclose even his small complement, so he surrounded it with a ring of shallow trenches. The whole thing was commanded by wooded hills all around, where the French could pepper it with musketry and bombard it with cannonballs.

The commander at Fort Duquesne kept an eye on Washington's progress through Canadian and Indian scouts. In late May he sent out a party of about thirty-five, commanded by a young, popular, and well connected ensign, Joseph-Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. His instructions were to deliver an ultimatum telling the Virginians to leave the country. When Washington first learned from Indians of Jumonville's approach, he sent half his force off in the wrong direction. Receiving further information, he took forty-seven men -- half of what he had left at the fort -- and went looking for the French party at night in a driving rain.

Before dawn the next day, May 28, the Virginians reached a friendly Indian camp, less seven men who had gotten lost in the dark. The rain had stopped, and Washington ordered his men to reload their muskets, while Indians scouted the location where they believed the French were camped. It was a rocky glen, and as the French were rousing from their sleep, Washington posted his troops around three sides of the hollow while the Indians closed off the only way out. Exactly what happened next has been the subject of debate ever since, but it is certain that Washington had no control over the events.

A shot rang out, then the Virginians fired at least two volleys down into the Frenchmen, who tried to retreat into the surrounding woods but were halted by the Indians. Washington had given no order to fire, but when a French officer called for quarter, he ordered a cease-fire. Resistance had been ragged, and only three Virginians were wounded and one dead; fourteen Frenchmen, including Jumonville, lay wounded at the bottom of the glen. The bleeding ensign tried to explain, through an interpreter, that his mission was peaceful, but before he could present his ultimatum an Indian leader tomahawked him, reached into his open skull, and pulled out the young officer's brain. That was the signal for the other Indians to begin slaughtering the wounded, scalping, beheading, and dismembering their helpless victims.

Washington, who had been a passive observer rather than a commander, came to himself and ordered his troops to surround and protect the French survivors, one wounded, the others not. He hustled twenty-one prisoners out of the glen while the Indians finished their work. A French fugitive who reached the Forks claimed that Washington had fired on a flag of truce -- an atrocity of war. The massacre shook the young Virginian commander to his core. He sent a terse report back to Dinwiddie, papering over what had really happened, but he was fully aware that he had entirely lost control of a situation he assumed he could command by virtue of his rank alone.

Washington could more rightly be described as amateurish than as atrocious. When new arrivals just after the skirmish raised his manpower to about 400, he set out through the forest to attack Fort Duquesne and its garrison, grown to more than 2,000 men. For the next two weeks his little army struggled to move baggage, supplies, and nine swivel guns, and got nowhere. Wagons broke down, horses died, the men wore out, and the last Indian allies went home. On June 28, Washington learned that a large French and Indian force was headed his way, and he turned back. The retreat was worse than the advance, the men carrying whatever stuff could be salvaged after the last of the horses died. The whole force collapsed on the ground at Fort Necessity on July 1, 1754.

The next night it began to rain. Few of the men had any shelter while the valley turned into a swamp. By the morning of the third, fewer than 300 men were fit for duty. The enemy, about a thousand strong, attacked in late morning, led by a savvy veteran named Coulon de Villiers, Jumonville's older brother. Washington expected a conventional infantry slugfest of volleys and bayonet charges, but the French and Indians dispersed into the surrounding cover and blasted the Virginians with musket fire. The rain resumed, drowning the Virginians' muskets. The French, under trees, kept their powder dry and poured hell onto Fort Necessity. Musket balls smacked into its timbers, splatted into the sodden ground, and thunked into human flesh. Washington walked untouched through the storm of lead, not knowing what to do.

His lack of control became obvious at nightfall. Discipline disintegrated, and soldiers broke in to the rum supply. Over half of them were soon falling-down drunk, thanks to their fatigue and empty stomachs. De Villiers called on him to surrender and leave the territory. Using as intermediary the same Dutchman who had been with him at Fort LeBoeuf, Washington signed articles of surrender at midnight. He did not realize that he had just confessed to the murder of Jumonville -- van Braam was not much of a translator.

Out of the 300 combatants at his disposal on July 3, Washington had lost thirty killed and seventy wounded, many severely; French and Indian losses were negligible, only three dead. The exhausted, hung-over survivors of Fort Necessity carried their wounded out of the place and prepared to drag themselves back to Virginia. The defeat was total. "Whatever may have been the feelings of Washington, he has left no record of them," the historian Francis Parkman observed. "His immense fortitude was doomed to severer trials in the future; yet perhaps this miserable morning was the darkest of his life. He was deeply moved by sights of suffering; and all around him were wounded men borne along in torture, and weary men staggering under the living load. His pride was humbled, and his young ambition seemed blasted in the bud. It was the fourth of July."

Copyright © 2007 by David A. Clary

No comments: