Nuts for Future Historians to Crack - Part 1

Part 1

Nuts for Future Historians to Crack.

by Various.


For some years I had been engaged in collecting material for a life of my great grandfather, the Rev. William Smith, D. D., Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and in doing so, I read all the Bibliographical and Historical works which I thought could in any way make mention of him. In no case did I find anything said against his character as a man, until I read Wm. B. Reed's Life of his grandfather, Gen. Joseph Reed. His remarks were uncalled for and _ungentlemanly_; what they were, _amount to nothing_, as they were _untrue_; and therefore not worth repeating. My first idea was to speak of Gen. Joseph Reed in the same manner, though with more truth; but finding the truth had been suppressed, and that to publish all I could wish in regard to Reed, would take up too much room in my work, and be departing from my original design, I therefore, concluded to publish all the historical facts in regard to Reed in a small volume by itself, and to publish such an edition, that it could not be bought up and destroyed.

I have taken the liberty of using the following extracts from an article published in the Fireside Visitor--by J. M. Church. Whom it was written by I do not know, but the writer evidently understood his subject.

"When it was announced that Mr. Irving was about to present to the public a life of Washington, we hailed the information with feelings of delight, not unmingled with grat.i.tude, that the ill.u.s.trious author of 'Columbus,' the Sketch Book, and Knickerbocker should make the crowning work of his life and literary labors, the history of the greatest and purest of patriots, so dear to the hearts of all his countrymen, and one who, the more time and investigation develop and explain his motives and actions, the greater and n.o.bler he appears. Our expectations were great when we contemplated the vast field that time had laid open to the historian; and though Marshall and Sparks had left but little to do, we felt there was still enough to make Mr. Irving's the greatest history of that greatest of men.

On the appearances of the first volume, a number of errors were noticed by the press, which were subsequently corrected. The most important one, that in relation to Major Stobo, we are glad to see fully explained and corrected in a note at the end of the second volume. In the early part of the second volume, however, a far graver error occurs, we mean Mr. Irving's estimate of the conduct and character of Gen. Reed, and is it mainly the object of this communication to set that matter in its true light.

Who can read without emotion of the trials and difficulties that beset Washington throughout the whole of his career? A Congress so corrupt, that Livingston writes, 'I am so discouraged by our public mismanagement, and the additional load of business thrown upon me by the villainy of those who pursue nothing but acc.u.mulating fortunes, to the ruin of their country, that I almost sink under it.' False friends and traitors intrigue against him--even Gen. Reed, the very man Mr. Irving so delighted to honor, and an inmate of his household, writes a letter to Gen. Lee, the aspiring rival of Washington, reflecting, with harsh severity, on the conduct and character of his commander and benefactor. Lee's answer fell into the hands of Washington, and was read by him during the absence of Reed, who made no attempt at an explanation until Lee was taken prisoner. He then endeavored to explain the delay, by saying that he had been in the meantime endeavoring to get possession of his letter, in order that he might show to Washington that it contained nothing to call forth the violent answer of Gen. Lee, and, 'In the meantime,' writes Reed, 'I most solemnly a.s.sure you, that you would see in it nothing inconsistent with that respect and affection which I have, and ever shall bear to your person and character.'

Who can read this without being shocked at the falsehood of the man!

It was, indeed, fortunate for Reed, that Washington never saw that letter.

But how could Mr. Irving quote a portion of so important a doc.u.ment, while he suppressed the material part? Indeed, we are tempted to believe that some other hand had supervised those pages, before they were presented to the public.

We conceive it to be the duty of an impartial historian to collect facts, and present them to his readers, and he is guilty of falsifying history who suppresses them. His readers have the same right to _all_ the evidence that bears upon important occurrence that he has, and though the author may give his views and conclusions, the reader is not of necessity compelled to agree with him. We for one, must beg leave to differ from Mr. Irving in his estimate of Reed's character, and we doubt not that every one reading his letter will sustain us in our opinion, that his conduct was false and treacherous in the extreme.

In order properly to appreciate the baseness of Reed's conduct, it is necessary to consider the circ.u.mstances under which it occurred. It was immediately after Washington had experienced the most trying reverses. Fort Washington had just been captured; over two thousand men had been taken prisoners, and his own eyes had beheld his men, partners of his toil, bayoneted and cut down while they begged for quarter. The Jerseys were overrun, and Philadelphia threatened by the enemy. Add to this, the accounts he received from Congress of the state of affairs at home, and it wanted but the discovery of such treachery to crush a spirit less mighty than his.

It appears strange that Mr. Irving should form such an undue estimate of Reed's character, nor can we believe him to be ignorant of what was his real position and standing among his brother officers. As early as 1776, when Reed contemplated resigning his commission as Adjutant General, the announcement was hailed with pleasure, for Reed had few friends. Col.

Trumbull, writing to a member of Congress on the subject, says, "I heard Jos. Reed had sent his resignation some time ago; in the name of common sense, why is it not accepted? That man's want of abilities in his office had introduced the greatest disorders and want of discipline into the army; it ought to originate from that office. Then he had done more to raise and keep up a jealousy between the New England and other troops, than all the men in the army besides. Indeed, his _stinking pride_, as General George Clinton expresses it, has gone so far, that I expect every day to hear he is called to account by some officer or other; indeed, he is universally hated and despised, and it is high time he was displaced." If Mr. Irving has not seen that letter, we refer him to the New York Gazette, of December the 9th, 1776, or to Mr. Peter Force's American Archives, if that work be more accessible to him.

We have still another complaint of omission to make against Mr. Irving, and we think it too important a point in the history of Gen. Reed to be overlooked.

A few days previous to the battle of Trenton, when affairs were most gloomy, and not a single star appeared to give the faintest glimmer of hope, Reed appeared despondent: "He felt the game was up, and there was no use of following the wretched remains of a broken army; he had a family, and it was but right that he should look after their interests; besides, the time had nearly expired during which they could avail themselves of the pardon offered by Gen. Howe to all those who should go over to the enemy."

Such were the lamentations of Gen. Reed, until, in the agony of his fears, he communicated them to Gen. Cadwalader. The feelings of that high-minded, chivalrous soldier can hardly be imagined--his first impulse was to order Reed under the arrest, but was deterred for fear of the effect the example might have on the men. He, however remonstrated with him, and his arguments appeared for the time to restore his composure. During the night previous to the battle of Trenton, Reed lay concealed in Burlington, in anxious expectation of the result of Washington's great master-stroke.

He had opposed the enterprise in his communications with Washington, by the most discouraging representations, and now anxiously awaited the result.

His fears were worked up to the highest pitch; and the burthen of his conversation was, how he should protect himself. He had with him a companion in his weakness, and the determination they both came to was, to go over to the enemy early in the morning. Before, however, they could execute their intentions, the news arived[TN] of the victory of the Americans, the turning point in our country's fortunes, which gave hope to the people and courage to Gen. Reed.

A few years after these transactions, Reed was accused in the public newspapers of having meditated a desertion to the enemy. He replied in a pamphlet, in which he attempted to defend himself, and addressed it to Gen.

Cadwalader, whom he conceived to be the author of the charges and between whom and himself there was some unfriendly feelings, arising out of pecuniary transactions between them. Cadwalader came out with a crushing[A]

"Reply," in which though he denied having published the statements in the newspapers, he yet affirmed the truth of them, and brought such overwhelming _proofs_ to sustain his charges, that the public lost all confidence in Reed, and failed to re-elect him to the office he had just held. It is not within the limits of an article like this to go through Gen. Cadwalader's pamphlet, suffice it to say, he was supported by Alexander Hamilton, d.i.c.kinson, Doct. Rush, Bradford, and numerous others.

Among other things, it was proved that previous to the battle of Trenton, Reed had sent to Count Dunop, who commanded at Bordentown, to ask if he could have a _protection_ for himself and _a friend_. The messenger narrowly escaped being hanged, through the intercession of a friend of Count Dunop. This is corroborated by an extract from the Diary of "Mrs.

Margaret Morris."

Extract from a Journal kept by Margaret Morris, for the amus.e.m.e.nt and information of her sister Mitcah Martha Moore. Her residence at the time, was on the "bank" at Burlington, N. J., at the corner of Ellis Street.

"January 4th, 1777, we were told by a woman who lodged in the same room where General Reed and Colonel C---- took shelter, when the battle of Trenton dispersed the Americans, that they (Reed and C----) had laid awake all night consulting together about the best means of securing themselves, and that they came to the determination of setting off next day as soon as it was light to the British Camp, and joining them with all the men under their command. But when the morning came an express arrived with an account that the Americans had gained a great victory. The English made to flee before the ragged American Regiments. This report put the rebel General and Colonel in high spirits, and they concluded to remain firm to the cause of America. They paid me a visit, and though in my heart I despised them--treated them civilly, and was on the point of telling them their conversation the preceding night had been conveyed to me on the wings of the wind, but on second thought gave it up--though perhaps the time may come when they may hear more about it."

There is still another page in the life of Gen. Reed that remains to be told, and that is the attempt alleged to have been made by Mrs. Ferguson to bribe him. All are familiar with his intensely patriotic reply, refusing _ten thousand pounds_, and the best office in the colonies, in his Majesty's gift. To be sure, Gov. Johnstone,[B] in a speech before Parliament, most emphatically denied having employed[C] Mrs. Ferguson to offer to Gen. Reed any bribe whatever, while at the same time he admits that _other_ means besides persuasion were used. Does he allude to the pair of elegant pistols that Reed accepted after the attempt to bribe him, and with which he was charged in the public papers? But Mr. Irving has not yet approached this delicate subject, and to his able hands we leave it, fully conscious he will give it the attention so important a circ.u.mstance requires.

Should he fail, however, to do justice to Gen. Reed in this matter, he will pardon us if we again take the liberty of addressing him on the subject.

We have been careful in our strictures upon the character and conduct of Gen. Reed to a.s.sert nothing that unquestionable evidence does not sustain; and if by our remarks we have lowered him from the undeserved eminence to which the injudicious zeal of interested parties has so industriously labored to elevate him, this result must rather be attributed to the weakness of the support, and the frailty of the statue, than to the vigor of the blows we have bestowed upon it.

The most we have done has been to remove the deceptive varnish, and the idol has fallen to pieces.

T. S. P.

Proceedings of a General Court Martial of the line, held at Raritan in the State of New Jersey, for the trial of Major General Arnold, Published by order of Congress, Philadelphia.

Printed by Francis Bailey in Market Street, 1780.

Extract from the defence of General Arnold.

"On this occasion I think I may be allowed to say, without vanity, that my conduct, from the earliest period of the war to the present time, has been steady and uniform. I have ever obeyed the calls of my country, and stepped forth in her defence, in every hour of danger, when many were deserting her cause, which appeared desperate. I have often bled in it; the marks that I bear, are sufficient evidence of my conduct. The impartial public will judge of my services, and whether the returns that I have met with are not tinctured with the basest ingrat.i.tude. Conscious of my own innocence, and the unworthy methods taken to injure me, I can with boldness say to my persecutors in general, _and to the chief of them in particular_, that in the hour of _danger_ when the affairs of America wore a _gloomy aspect_, when our ill.u.s.trious general was retreating through New Jersey, with a handful of men, I did not propose to my a.s.sociates basely to quit the general, and sacrifice the cause of my country to my personal safety, by going over to the enemy and making my peace.

"I can say I never basked in the sunshine of my general's favour, and courted him to his face, when I was at the same time treating him with the greatest disrespect, and villifying[TN] his character when absent. _This is more than a ruling member of the Council of Pennsylvania can say," as it is alleged and believed._

The first edition of the Cadwalader Pamphlet was published in the year 1782, within the last twenty years all the copies, or nearly so, have been spirited away--where or by whom no one knows. They have been stolen from the public libraries and from the book cases of private individuals. In 1848 a second edition was issued. The publisher of this edition was threatened with prosecution, and although but six years have pa.s.sed, it is now looked upon as a valuable curiosity. To the second edition was prefixed the following Introduction.

"A few years since a writer, over the signature of "Valley Forge,"

published in an evening paper of Philadelphia, called the "_Evening Journal_," and put forth certain statements connected with our revolutionary history, which caused a great excitement, and led to a challenge of an interview with the author, by the descendants of a person, whose character was considered as involved in doubt, as to his being a patriot of 1776. The party challenged failed to attend the proposed meeting, and this pamphlet will give a clue to the whole writings of "Valley Forge," and justify completely the course pursued by the editor of the "_Evening Journal_," who is not now of this world, and of course a matter immaterial perhaps to his friends and relatives.

NOTES.--"The allusion to the disrespectful treatment of the General refers in part, (I fancy) to the letter addressed by General Charles Lee to Reed, which came to head quarters and was opened by Washington."--See Life of Joseph Reed.

"Joseph Reed at the time of the prosecution of Arnold was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, and as is well known, took an active and prominent part against him."--See Spark's Life of Arnold, page 140.

The letter of Major Lennox and P. d.i.c.kinson refer to a person whose name is not mentioned, who was included in the application to Count Donop for a protection. There certainly must be in the possession of some of the descendants of revolutionary families, evidence to show who this person was: and it may yet be produced, to do justice to the memory of the men who figured in those times.

_Trenton, December 26th, 1846._

The Valley Forge Letters were originally published in the Evening Journal, edited by Reuben Whitney, Esq., in the year 1842. I have given the printer the cuttings from that paper, so that the reader will get them in the exact condition in which they appeared, perhaps not in the same order.



Genl. JOSEPH REED'S Remarks