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CH A P T E R XXIII.
Visits the American Camp by order of Congress....... Letter de
scribing it........ Elected to the Legislature of Massachusetts....... Letter of Samuel Adams....... Refuses commission of Justice of the Peace......Letter of J. Adams.
Although the circumstances already narrated brought Mr. Gerry's services in congress to an unexpected termination, they were not considered by him a matter of personal offence, nor were they permitted to operate injuriously to the public service. Having been appointed by congress on one of their usual committees to visit the army, he availed himself of the opportunity of his return to execute the commission with which he was intrusted.
The deplorable condition of the American arms, communicated in a letter necessarily at the time confidential, can scarcely be realized by the present generation, who are reaping the vast fruits of those services which were performed in misery and wretchedness.
There is a certainty that the picture here drawn is a true one, and we may well hesitate whether most to compassionate the extreme poverty of the country or admire the patient patriotism of her gallant defenders. The darkness of the scene is not chiefly produced by the physical wants, the cold, nakedness and famine of the army. Great as were the sufferings, which the deprivation not merely of the comforts but the necessaries of life occasioned to mere animal nature, the sting which they inflicted struck deeper in the mind. The camp
is the school of honour, pride and generous feeling. It is the theatre too where chivalrous and gallant spirits display the sentiments of their nature ; danger is incurred with alacrity, for it is the ladder of their fame; wounds, sickness, suffering are the expected companions of their adventurous profession, and however unwelcome in their visits they come not without preparation. In most instances they bring with them, as some compensation for their pain, the testimonials of honourable services, the marks of devotion to duty, and the record of a claim to applause. But the wounded spirit is no anticipated part of the sufferings of the soldier ; that condition of things which degrades him in the eyes of his companions, strips the battle field and the camp of all the adventitious glory that belongs to it, and holds out to him, who wields the sword of his country, only the inducements which conscience can repose upon
in the justice of the cause.
This is undoubtedly the noblest, as it is the highest and the purest principle which can fill the ranks of an army; but the history of mankind shows how feeble it has been found, and how unfrequently it has been attempted. The band of Leonidas were desirous it should be told at Lacedemon, that they died at Thermopylæ in obedience to the laws. Life in innumerable instances has been exchanged for fame. But the patriots in the American army were compelled to endure life in humility from a principle of duty, to expose
it on the field as the bulwark of public liberty, and to hide themselves in huts and caverns to escape the jeers that might have reproached their poverty, instead of meeting the plaudits that should have sounded forth their fame. Among themselves, the common victims of a general inability to supply either the food or clothing which nature required, there was indeed some relief for the officers of the American army; but in contrast with the French officers who came supplied with all the paraphernalia of a camp, the condition of their affairs must have been inexpressibly painful. It was this contrast which operated on the minds of high-spirited and gallant men, and tended to repress that self-respect and elevation of mind, which their profession inculcates. It was this which exposed them to mortification in addition to actual distress, and required an exertion of moral courage far more difficult to acquire than the most distinguished bravery in battle.
They did indeed acquire it. For the great cause in which they were engaged; for the success of that cause they submitted to all those evils, from which military service is most ordinarily, in a peculiar degree, exempt. But they looked forward, it may be, to the recompense of success. With an eye of hope they saw their country triumphant, in peace, in security, rich, prosperous and generous. They saw in distant vision those free institutions established, which formed a new epoch in the history of the world, and they consoled themselves with the belief that future gratitude would compensate for the involuntary injustice of the day. Has the result yet answered their reasonable expectations ? Has the liberality of their country, has even the justice of their country performed the duty, which they have a right to demand ?
But we return to the times in which the following picture was drawn.
MR. GERRY TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL
OF THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS.
JULY 3, 1780. SIR, The communications respecting the army,
which at the request of the committee of congress at camp, and of his excellency the commander in chief, I had the honour of making on Friday last to the honourable board, being agreeable to their desire committed to writing, are in substance as follows.
That on the 10th of June last, the army with all its detachments from the state of Delaware to the eastern parts of Massachusetts, inclusively, did not contain above eight thousand men rank and file.
That this number was continually decreasing, by the expiration of enlistments.
That the troops had for a long time been partially supplied with provisions, having been often reduced to half and sometimes to a quarter allowance, and that there were no spirits in the magazines.
That both officers and soldiers were badly clothed, insomuch that many of the former were obliged to absent themselves on public occasions, or make a disgraceful appearance, and that many of the privates, in the most inclement season, bad been without shoes and hose, or even a shirt to their backs, and reduced to the necessity of constantly residing in huts to preserve life.
That in addition to their losses by the depreciation of the currency, the army were five or six months' pay and subsistence in arrear, and that the hospitals were unprovided with necessaries.
That the quarter-master's department was unsupplied with money, and the means of transportation.
That great discontents had arisen amongst the soldiers in consequence of their sufferings, and that since December last, a number of them sufficient to form two battalions had deserted to the enemy.