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Dear General,--Why am I so far from you and what business had the board of war to hurry me through the ice and snow without knowing what I should do, neither what they were doing themselves? You have thought, perhaps, that their project would be attended with some difficulty, that some means had been neglected, that I could not obtain all the success and the immensity of laurels which they had promised to me; but I defy your excellency to conceive any idea of what I have seen since I left the place where I was quiet and near my friends, to run myself through all the blunders of madness or treachery (God knows what). Let me begin the journal of my fine and glorious campaign.
According to Lord Stirling's advice, I went by Corich-ferry to Ringo's tavern, where Mr. Duer had given me a rendezvous; but there no Duer was to be found, and they did never hear from him.
From thence I proceeded by the State of New York, and had the pleasure of seeing the friends of America, as warm in their love for the commander-in-chief as his best friend could wish. I spoke to Governor Clinton, and was much satisfied with that gentleman. At length I met Albany, the 17th, though I was not expected before the 25th. General Conway had been here only three days before me, and I must confess I found him very active and looking as if he had good intentions; but we know a great deal upon that subject. His first word has been that the expedition is quite impossible. I was at first very diffident of this report, but have found that he was right. Such is, at least, the idea I can form of this ill-concerted operation within these two days.
General Schuyler, General Lincoln, General Arnold, had written, before my arrival, to General Conway, in the most expressive terms, that, in our present circumstances, there was no possibility to begin, now, an enterprise into Canada. Hay, deputy quarter-master-general; Cuyler, deputy commissary-general; Mearsin, deputy clothier-general, in what they call the northern department, are entirely of the same opinion. Colonel Hazen, who has been appointed to a place which interferes with the three others above mentioned, was the most desirous of going there. The reasons of such an order I think I may attribute to other motives. The same Hazen confesses we are not strong enough to think of the expedition in this moment. As to the troops, they are disgusted, and (if you except some Hazen's Canadians) reluctant, to the utmost degree, to begin a winter incursion in a so cold country. I have consulted everybody, and everybody answers me that it would be madness to undertake this operation.
I have been deceived by the board of war; they have, by the strongest expressions, promised to me one thousand, and (what is more to be depended upon) they have assured to me in writing, "two thou-sand and five hundred combatants, at a low estimate". Now, Sir, I do not believe I can find, "in all", twelve hundred fit for duty, and most part of those very men are naked, even for a summer's campaign. I was to find General Stark with a large body, and indeed General Gates had told to me, "General Stark will have burnt the fleet before your arrival ". Well, the first letter I receive in Albany is from General Stark, who wishes to know "what number of men, from whence, for what time, for what rendezvous, I desire him to raise". Colonel Biveld, who was to rise too, would have done something "had he received money". One asks, what encouragement his people will have, the other has no clothes; not one of them has received a dollar of what was due to them. I have applied to every body, I have begged at every door I could these two days, and I see that I could do something were the expedition to be begun in five weeks. But you know we have not an hour to lose, and indeed it is now rather too late, had we every thing in readiness.
There is a spirit of dissatisfaction prevailing among the soldiers, and even the officers, which is owing to their not being paid for some time since. This department is much indebted, and as near as I can ascertain, for so short a time, I have already discovered near eight hundred thousand dollars due to the continental troops, some militia, the quartermaster's department, &c. &c. &c. It was with four hundred thousand dollars, only the half of which is arrived to day, that I was to undertake the operation, and satisfy the men under my commands. I send to congress the account of those debts. Some clothes, by Colonel Hazen's activity, are arrived from Boston, but not enough by far, and the greatest part is cut off.
We have had intelligence from a deserter, who makes the enemy stronger than I thought. There is no such thing "as straw on board the vessels to burn them". I have sent to congress a full account of the matter; I hope it will open their eyes. What they will resolve upon I do not know, but I think I must wait here for their answer. I have inclosed to the president, copies of the most important letters I had received. It would be tedious for your excellency, were I to undertake the minutest detail of everything; it will be sufficient to say that the want of men, clothes, money, and the want of time, deprives me of all hopes as to this excursion. If it may begin again in the month of June, by the east, I cannot venture to assure; but for the present moment such is the idea I conceive of the famous incursion, as far as I may be informed, in a so short time.
Your excellency may judge that I am very distressed by this disappointment. My being appointed to the command of the expedition is known through the continent, it will be soon known in Europe, as I have been desired, by members of congress, to write to my friends; my being at the head of an army, people will be in great expectations, and what shall I answer?
I am afraid it will reflect on my reputation, and I shall be laughed at. My fears upon that subject are so strong, that I would choose to become again only a volunteer, unless congress offers the means of mending this ugly business by some glorious operation; but I am very far from giving to them the least notice upon that matter. General Arnold seems very fond of a diversion against New York, and he is too sick to take the field before four or five months. I should be happy if something was proposed to me in that way, but I will never ask, nor even seem desirous, of anything directly from congress; for you, dear general, I know very well, that you will do everything to procure me the only thing I am ambitious of--glory.
I think your excellency will approve of my staying here till further orders, and of my taking the liberty of sending my despatches to congress by a very quick occasion, without going through the hands of my general; but I was desirous to acquaint them early of my disagreeable and ridiculous situation.
With the greatest affection and respect, I have the honour to be, &c.
- General Lafayette