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TO THE DUKE D'AYEN.
I have already endeavoured to describe to you some part of the pleasure your last letter gave me; but I cannot write again without repeating my assurance of the delight I derived from its perusal. I have blessed, a thousand times, the vessel that brought that letter, and the favourable winds that blew it, to the American shore. The kindness and affection you express have sunk deeply into a heart which is fully sensible of all their value. Your partiality has far over-rated my slight merit; but your approbation is so precious to me, my desire of obtaining it is so very strong, that I experience the same pleasure as if I were conscious of meriting your good opinion. I love you too well not to be enchanted and overjoyed when I receive any proof of your affection. You may find many persons more worthy of it, but I may take the liberty of challenging you to find one human being who either values it more highly, or is more desirous of obtaining it. I place full reliance on your kindness, and even if I were unhappy enough to fall under your displeasure, I hope I should not forfeit your affection. I think I may promise that that last misfortune shall never occur through any fault of mine, and I wish I could feel as certain of never erring from my head as from my heart. The goodness of my friends imposes a weight of obligation upon me. My greatest pleasure will be to hear you say, whilst I embrace you, that you do not disapprove of my conduct, and that you retain for me that friendship which renders me so happy. It is impossible for me to describe to you the joy your letter, and the kind feeling which dictated it, have inspired me with. How delighted I shall be to thank you for it, and to find myself again in your society! If you should ever amuse yourself by looking at the American campaigns, or following them on your maps, I shall ask permission to insert a small river or a mountain: this would give me an opportunity of describing to you the little I have seen, of confiding to you my own trifling ideas, and of endeavouring so to combine them as to render them more military: for there is so great a difference between what I behold here, and those large, fine, well-organised armies of Germany, that, in truth, when I recur from them to our American armies, I scarcely dare say that we are making war. If the French war should terminate before that of the rest of Europe, and you were disposed to see how things were going on, and permitted me to accompany you, I should feel perfectly happy; in the meantime, I have great pleasure in thinking that I shall pass some mornings with you at your own house, and I promise myself as much improvement as amusement from conversing with you, if you are so kind as to grant me some portion of your time.
I received, with heartfelt gratitude, the advice you gave me to remain here during this campaign; it was inspired by true friendship and a thorough knowledge of my interest: such is the species of advice we give to those we really love, and this idea has rendered it still dearer to me. I will be guided by it in proportion as events may follow the direction you appear to have expected. A change of circumstances renders a change of conduct sometimes necessary. I had intended, as soon as war was declared, to range myself under the French banner: I was induced to take this resolution from the fear that the ambition of obtaining higher rank, or the wish of retaining the one I actually enjoy, should appear to be my only motives for remaining here. Such unworthy sentiments have never found entrance into my heart. But your letter, advising me to remain, and assuring me there would be no land campaign, induced me to change my determination, and I now rejoice that I have done so. The arrival of the French fleet upon this coast, has offered me the agreeable prospect of acting in concert with it, and of being a happy spectator of the glory of the French banner. Although the elements, until now, have declared themselves against us, I have not lost the sanguine hopes of the future, which the great talents of M. D'Estaing have inspired us with. You will be astonished to hear that the English still retain all their posts, and have contented themselves with merely evacuating Philadelphia. I expected, and General Washington also expected, to see them abandon everything for Canada, Halifax, and their islands; but these gentlemen are apparently in no great haste. The fleet, it is true, may hitherto have rendered such a division of their troops rather difficult; but now that it is removed to Boston, they might easily begin to make a move: they appear to me, instead of moving off, to intend fighting a little in this part of the country. I thought I ought to consult M. D'Estaing, and even M. G?rard on this subject. Both agreed that I was right to remain, and even said, that my presence here would not prove wholly useless to my own country. That I might have nothing to reproach myself with, I wrote to M. de Montbarrey a short letter, which apprised him of my being still in existence, and of the resolution I had taken not to return to France in the midst of this campaign.
The kind manner in which you received the gazette which John Adams conveyed to you, induced me to send you a second, which must have made you acquainted with the few events that have taken place during this campaign. The visit that the English army designed to pay to a detachment which I commanded the 28th of May, and which escaped their hands owing to their own dilatory movements; the arrival of the treaty, subsequently that of the commissioners, the letter they addressed to congress, the firm answer they received, the evacuation of Philadelphia, and the retreat of General Clinton through Jersey, are the only articles worthy of attention. I have also described to you in what manner we followed the English army, and how General Lee, after my detachment had joined him, allowed himself to be beaten. The arrival of General Washington arrested the disorder, and determined the victory on our side. It is the battle, or rather affair, of Monmouth. General Lee has since been suspended for a year by a council of war, for his conduct on this occasion.
I must now relate to you what has occurred since the arrival of the fleet, which has experienced contrary winds ever since it sailed; after a voyage of three months it reached the Delaware, which the English had then quitted; from thence it proceeded to Sandyhook, the same place General Clinton sailed from after the check he encountered at Monmouth. Our army repaired to White Plains, that former battle-field of the Americans. M. D'Estaing blockaded New York, and we were thus neighbours of the English both by land and sea. Lord Howe, enclosed in the harbour, and separated from our fleet only by the Sandy-hook bar, did not accept the combat which the French admiral ardently desired, and offered him for several days. A noble project was conceived--that of entering into the harbour; but our ships drew too much water, and the English seventy fours could not enter with their guns. Some pilots gave no hopes on this subject; but, when we examined the case more narrowly, all agreed as to its impossibility, and soundings proved the truth of the latter opinion; we were therefore obliged to have recourse to other measures.
General Washington, wishing to make a diversion on Rhode Island, ordered General Sullivan, who commanded in that state, to assemble his troops. The fleet stationed itself in the channel which leads to Newport, and I was ordered to conduct a detachment of the great army to General Sullivan, who is my senior in command. After many delays, which were very annoying to the fleet, and many circumstances, which it would be too long to relate, all our preparations were made, and we landed on the island with twelve thousand men, many of them militia, of whom I commanded one half upon the left side. M. D'Estaing had entered the channel the day before, in spite of the English batteries. General Pigot had enclosed himself in the respectable fortifications of Newport. The evening of our arrival, the English fleet appeared before the channel with all the vessels that Lord Howe had been able to collect, and a reinforcement of four thousand men for the enemy, who had already from five to six thousand men.
A north wind blew most fortunately for us the next day, and the French fleet passing gallantly under a sharp fire from the batteries, to which they replied with broadside shot, prepared themselves to accept the conflict which Lord Howe was apparently proposing to them. The English admiral suddenly cut his cables, and fled at full sail, warmly pursued by all our vessels, with the admiral at their head. This spectacle was given during the finest weather possible, and within sight of the English, and American armies. I never felt so proud as on that day.
The next day, when the victory was on the point of being completed, and the guns of the "Languedoc" were directed towards the English fleet, at the most glorious moment for the French navy, a sudden gale, followed by a dreadful storm, separated and dispersed the French vessels, Howe's vessels, and those of Biron, which, by a singular accident, had just arrived there. The "Languedoc" and the "Marseillais" were dismasted, and the "Cesar" was afterwards unheard of for some time. To find the English fleet was impossible. M. D'Estaing returned to Rhode Island, remained there two days, to ascertain whether General Sullivan wished to retire, and then entered the Boston harbour. During these various cruises, the fleet took or burnt six English frigates, and a large number of vessels, of which several were armed; they also cleared the coast and opened the harbours. Their commander appeared to me to have been formed for great exploits; his talents, which all men must acknowledge, the qualities of his heart, his love of discipline and of the honour of his country, and his indefatigable activity, excite my admiration, and make me consider him, as a man created for great actions.
As to ourselves, we remained some time at Rhode Island, and spent several days firing cannon shot at each other, which produced no great result on either side; but General Clinton having led himself a reinforcement of five thousand men, and a part of our militia having returned to their own homes, we thought of retiring; the harbour was no longer blockaded, and the English were resuming their naval advantage. Our retreat at that period was preceded by a trifling skirmish, at which I was not present, having repaired to Boston respecting an affair which I dare not write for fear of accidents. I returned in great haste, as you may imagine, and, after my arrival, we completed the evacuation of the Island. As the English were gone out, we were such near neighbours, that our picquets touched each other; they allowed us, however, to re-embark without perceiving it, and this want of activity appeared to me more fortunate, as they would have incommoded me exceedingly had they attacked the rear.
I am at present on the continent, and have the command of the troops stationed nearest Rhode Island; General Sullivan is at Providence; M. D'Estaing is taking in, at Providence, masts and provisions; General Washington is at White Plains, with three brigades, stationed some miles in advance on that side, in case of need. As to the English, they occupy New York and the adjacent Islands, and are better defended by their vessels than by their troops. They possess the same number of troops at Rhode Island that they did formerly, and General Grey, at the head of about five thousand men, marches along the coast, with the intention of burning the towns and ransoming the small Islands. It is thought, however, that the scene will soon become more animated; there are great movements in New York; Lord Howe has gone out with all his fleet, strengthened with the greatest part of Biron's squadron; M. D'Estaing has taken possession of the harbour, and has established some formidable batteries. On the other side, Mr. Grey may form and execute more serious projects; he is at present in my neighbourhood, and I am obliged to keep myself still more on the alert, because the stations which I occupy extend from Seconnet Point, which you may see on the map, to Bristol. I hope all this will soon end, for we are now in a very tiresome state of inaction.
I am becoming extremely prolix, but I perceive that I have forgotten dates, and two lines more or less will not add much to your fatigue. The evacuation of Philadelphia took place the 18th June; the affair of Monmouth the 28th; we arrived on Rhode Island, I think, the 10th August, and evacuated it the 30th of the same month: my gazette is now completed.
An accident has occurred on this Island which has affected me deeply. Several French officers, in the service of America, have the kindness to pass much of their time with me, especially when I am engaged firing musket balls. M. Touzard, an artillery officer in the regiment of "La F?re", has been, during the last months, one of my constant associates. Finding a good opportunity on the Island of snatching a piece of cannon from the enemy, he threw himself in the midst of them, with the greatest gallantry and courage; but his temerity drew upon himself a hot fire from the enemy, which killed his horse, and carried away his right arm. His action has been admired, even by the English; it would be indeed unfortunate if distance should prevent its being known in France; I could not refrain from giving an account of it to M. de Montbarrey, although I have not any right to do so; but I am very anxious to be of use to this brave officer. If any opportunity offers of serving him, I recommend him earnestly to your love of noble actions. I confide my letters to M. D'Estaing, who will send them to France. If you should have the kindness to write to me, and any packet ships be sent out to the fleet, I beg you to take advantage of them. The admiration I feel for him who commands it, and my firm conviction that he will not let an opportunity escape of performing glorious deeds, will always make me desirous of being employed in unison with him; and the friendship of General Washington gives me the assurance that I need not even make such a request; I often also receive letters from M. D'Estaing, and he will send me yours as soon as he receives them. You must feel how impossible it is for me to ascertain when I can return to you. I shall be guided entirely by circumstances. My great object in wishing to return was the idea of a descent upon England. I should consider myself as almost dishonoured if I were not present at such a moment. I should feel so much regret and shame, that I should be tempted to drown or hang myself, according to the English mode. My greatest happiness would be to drive them from this country, and then to repair to England, serving under your command. This is a very delightful project; God grant it may be realized! It is the one which would be most peculiarly agreeable to me. I entreat you to send me your advice as soon as possible; if I but receive it in time, it shall regulate my conduct. Adieu, I dare not begin another page; I beg you to accept the assurance of my tender respect, and of all the sentiments that I shall ever feel for you during the remainder of my life.
I shall add this soiled bit of paper, which might have suited Harpagon himself, to my long epistle, to tell you that I am become very reasonable as relates to expenses. Now that I have my own establishment, I shall spend still less, and I really act very prudently, when you consider the exorbitant price of every thing, principally with paper money.
I shall write by another opportunity, perhaps a more speedy one, to Madame de Tess?. I entreat you to present her with my tender respects. If M. de Tess?, M. de Mun, M. de Neiailly, M. Senac retain a kind remembrance of me, deign to present my compliments to them. If M. de Comte le Broglie does not receive news from this country, as he has always expressed great interest in me, be so good as to give him an account of our proceedings when you see him.
May I flatter myself that I still possess your good opinion? I should not doubt it, if I could but convince you how much I value it; I will do everything in my power to deserve it, and I should be miserable if you doubted for an instant how very deeply this feeling is engraven in my breast. If I have ever erred in the path I am pursuing, forgive the illusions of my head in favour of the good intentions and rectitude of my heart, which is filled with feelings of the deepest, gratitude, affection, and respect for you; and these it will ever retain, in all countries, and under all circumstances, until my latest breath.
- General Lafayette