US American History Info and Articles
Lafayette Joins the American Army
Even before an open treaty was signed France had secretly helped the cause of the Americans. She had sent them money and army supplies and, besides this, able Frenchmen had come across the Atlantic to join the American army. The most noted of these was the Marquis de Lafayette.
The circumstances under which he came were quite romantic. Lafayette was but nineteen when he heard for the first time at a dinner-party the story of the American people fighting for their liberty. It interested and deeply moved him. For in his own land a desire for freedom had been growing, and he had been in sympathy with it. Now he made it his business to find out more about this war, and then he quickly decided to help all he could.
He belonged to one of the noblest families of France, and was very wealthy. He had a young wife and a baby, whom he regretted to leave. But he believed that his duty called him to join the cause of freedom. His wife was proud of the lofty purpose of her noble husband, and encouraged him to carry out his plan.
But Lafayette found it very hard to get away, for his family was one of influence. His relatives and also the men in power were very angry when he made known his purpose, and they tried to prevent his going.
But he bought a ship with his own money and loaded it with army supplies. Then, disguising himself as a postboy, he arrived at the coast without being found out.
After a long, tiresome voyage he reached the United States and went to Philadelphia.
There Congress gave him the rank of major-general, but in accepting it Lafayette asked that he might serve without pay.
A warm friendship at once sprang up between Washington and the young Frenchman, and a feeling of confidence as between father and son. The older man made the young major-general a member of his military family, and Lafayette was always proud to serve his chief. He spent his money freely and risked his life to help the cause of American liberty. We can never forget his unselfish service.
At the close of the year 1777 Washington took his army to a strong position among the hills at Valley Forge, about twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, there to spend the winter.
It was a period of intense suffering. Sometimes the soldiers went for days without bread. “For some days past,” wrote Washington, “there has been little less than famine in the camp.” Most of the soldiers were in rags, only a few had bed clothing. Many had to sit by the fire all night to keep warm, and some of the sick soldiers were without beds or even loose straw to lie upon. Nearly three thousand of the men were barefoot in this severe winter weather, and many had frozen feet because of the lack of shoes. It makes one heart-sick to read about what these brave men passed through during that wretched winter.
Yet, in spite of bitter trials and distressing times, Washington never lost faith that in the end the American cause would triumph. A beautiful story is told showing the faith of this courageous man while in the midst of these pitiful scenes at Valley Forge.
One day, when “Friend Potts,” a good Quaker farmer, was near the camp, he saw Washington on his knees, his cheeks wet with tears, praying for help and guidance. When the farmer returned to his home, he said to his wife: “George Washington will succeed! George Washington will succeed! The Americans will secure their independence.”
“What makes thee think so, Isaac?” inquired his wife.
“I have heard him pray, Hannah, out in the woods today, and the Lord will surely hear his prayer. He will, Hannah; thee may rest assured He will.”
Many events happened between this winter at Valley Forge and the surrender of Cornwallis with all his army at Yorktown, but these we shall take up in a later chapter. Washington had led his army through the valley of despair, and never again while the war lasted was the sky so dark.
At the close of the war Washington was glad to return to Mount Vernon and become a Virginia planter once more. But, as we shall learn further on, he was not permitted to spend the remainder of his days in the quiet rural life which he liked so well. For his countrymen had come to honor and trust him as their leader, and the time was not far away when they would again seek his firm and wise guidance.