Dreams of Glory

Dreams of Glory by Thomas Fleming Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Dreams of Glory by Thomas Fleming Read Free Book Online
Authors: Thomas Fleming
know what you mean, Congressman.”
    â€œGive General Washington my regards. Tell him he can depend on my support in Congress, for whatever it’s worth.”
    â€œIt may be worth a great deal, Congressman. I’m convinced it’s time for younger men like yourself to exert some influence. Otherwise—”
    He spread his hands in a gesture that included the snowbound landscape and the starving men in Jockey Hollow.
    Congressman Stapleton returned to his sleigh and resumed his journey to Henry Kuyper’s farm in Bergen. Stapleton had come to Morristown as a committee of one, sent by the New Jersey congressional delegation to protest the Continental Army’s supposed abuse of local civilians. He had volunteered for the job for only one reason—to escape Congress, with its interminable bickering and wrangling and windy speeches about nothing. Worse yet, the Delaware River was frozen, which meant there was no business worth doing in Philadelphia. Without business, that endlessly fascinating game of profit and loss, Hugh Stapleton tended to become restless. Only the chance to operate as a merchant for the past eighteen months in Philadelphia had made Congress endurable.

    General Washington had been relieved to discover that Hugh Stapleton was the bearer of the congressional protest. “I can speak plainly to Malcolm Stapleton’s son,” he had said.
    The words had irked Hugh Stapleton. He was tired of that designation, Malcolm Stapleton’s son. He respected his father’s memory. He had been one of the chief soldiers of New Jersey, the man who had outfitted an entire regiment at his own expense and led them against the French and Indians in Canada in 1758 and against the Spanish in distant Cuba in 1762. But Malcolm Stapleton was dead. His older son was a very different man. If you only knew how different, General, the congressman thought as he nodded acquiescently.
    Hugh Stapleton had listened with apparent sympathy while Washington explained the situation in Morristown during the first week of the year 1780. After a four-day blizzard there had been no choice but to let the troops go into the countryside and take food where they found it. “Either that or the army would have disbanded,” Washington said. “I suspect some in Congress would consider that a blessing in disguise. But I’m convinced that these men are America’s only protection from defeat and disgrace. I’m sure your father told you what happened here in New Jersey in 1776, when we tried to rely on militia.”
    The old man had told him, with expletives that almost scorched the paper, that had still seared Hugh Stapleton’s mind when he read them in the West Indies three months later. I warned those Yankee sons of bitches in Philadelphia that they would ruin us with their prating about patriot militiamen. I told those goddamn cantankerous know-it-alls that nothing would stop the British but regular soldiers, well trained and well paid. Now it’s come to pass. New Jersey’s militia, the part-time soldiers who were supposed to turn out in an emergency the way the Massachusetts farmers did at Lexington and Concord, had all stayed home and allowed the British to overrun the state, to almost turn it into a royal province again. Samuel Adams and his Yankee cohorts had
denounced the Jerseymen as cowards, ignoring the difference between the tiny British army that had fought at Lexington and the immense host, backed by artillery and cavalry, that had invaded New Jersey.
    Face to face with George Washington for the first time, Hugh Stapleton did not find him the pompous potential Cromwell described by his enemies in Congress. On the contrary, he seemed too soft-spoken and diffident to be the man who had led the slashing counteroffensive on Christmas night, 1776, that had rescued New Jersey—and the nation—from disaster. Stapleton wondered if Washington himself had begun to regard that

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