“Why, you see, General Lafayette was endeavoring to avoid a general action with Cornwallis, and yet to harass him. Early in July, 1781, the British army marched from Williamsburg, and encamped on the banks of the James River, so as to cover a ford leading to the island of Jamestown. Soon after, the baggage and some of the troops passed the ford, but the main army kept its ground. Lafayette then moved from his encampment, crossed the Chichahominy, pushed his light troops near the British position, and advanced with the continentals to make an attempt on the British rear, after the main body had passed the river. The next day, the Marquis was told that the main body of the British had crossed the ford, and that a rear-guard only remained behind. This was what the British general wanted him to believe, and he posted his troops ready to receive our men. Well, General Wayne, with eight hundred men, chiefly of the Pennsylvania line, (including Mr. Harmar, Mr. Higgins, Mr. Wilson, and myself,) was ordered to advance against the enemy. Now, Wayne thought he had to fight a rear-guard only, and so he moved forward boldly and rapidly; but, in a short time, he found himself directly in front of the whole British army, drawn up to receive him. Retreat was impracticable, as the enemy then might have had a fair chance to kill or capture the whole detachment. Wayne thought that the best plan was to put on a bold face, and so he commenced the attack at once. A fierce and bloody struggle followed, and I’m not sure but we were gaining the advantage, when General Lafayette discovered the mistake and ordered a retreat, and we were compelled to fall back, leaving two cannon in the hands of the enemy. By General Wayne’s presence of mind and courage, you see, we got off with but the loss of one hundred men. The British lost the same number.”
“The Marquis was, of course, right in ordering a retreat,” remarked young Harmar.
“I suppose so,” replied Smith. “Our detachment might have made considerable havoc among the British, and, perhaps, if promptly supported, have maintained a long and doubtful battle. But General Lafayette wanted to save his men until a more certain contest could be brought about. He was a very young general—younger than Napoleon when he took command of the army of Italy; but all his movements about that time indicated that he was as skilful and vigilant as he was brave.”
“Americans should ever be grateful to the memory of such a man as Lafayette,” said old Harmar. “He was a true lover of liberty, and a staunch friend to this land when it most needed friends.”
“And that reminds me,” added young Harmar, “that I’ve a song here, which I wrote for one of the papers, in relation to Lafayette. It is arranged in the measure of the feeling melody of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’”
“Sing it,” said Mr. Smith; and the request was echoed by the rest. Mr. Jackson Harmar, therefore, after sundry excuses in the usual routine—that he had a cold, &c.—sang the following words in a very emphatic manner, with an occasional break in the high notes, and huskiness in the low ones.