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The Life of General Francis Marion

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Chapter 12.

Gen. Gates — bon mot of British general Lee — how an army ought not to march — De Kalb prophecies — chickens counted before they are hatched, alias, Marion and the author sent by Gen. Gates to prevent the escape of Cornwallis, before he had run — the British and American armies meet — Gates and his militia-men leave De Kalb in the lurch — his gallant behavior, and glorious death.

When a poor fellow is going down hill, it is but too common, they say, for every body to give him a kick.

    "Let dogs delight to bark and bite,    For heaven hath made them so."

But, if I know myself aright, I can truly say, that nothing of this vile spirit suggests a syllable of what I now write of the unfortunate general Gates. On the contrary, I feel an ardent wish to speak handsomely of him; and in one view of him I can so speak. As a gentleman, few camps or courts ever produced his superior. But though a perfect Chesterfield at court, in camp he was certainly but a Paris. 'Tis true, at Saratoga he got his temples stuck round with laurels as thick as a May-day queen with gaudy flowers. And though the greater part of this was certainly the gallant workmanship of Arnold and Morgan, yet did it so hoist general Gates in the opinion of the nation, that many of his dear friends, with a prudent regard, no doubt, to their own dearer selves, had the courage to bring him forward on the military turf and run him for the generalissimoship against the great Washington. But though they were not able to prosper him in this mad attempt, yet they so far succeeded as to get him the command of the army of Carolina, where his short and calamitous career soon caused every good patriot to thank God for continuing to his servant Washington, the command of the American armies.

On his way from the northern states, general Gates passed through Fredericksburg, where he fell in with general Charles Lee, who, in his frank manner, asked him where he was going.

"Why, to take Cornwallis."

"I am afraid," quoth Lee, "you will find him a tough piece of English beef."

"Tough, sir," replied Gates; "tough! then begad I'll tender him.I'll make `piloo' of him, sir, in three hours after I set eyes upon him."

"Aye! will you indeed?" returned Lee. "Well then send for me, and I will go and help you to eat him."

Gates smiled; and bidding him adieu, rode off. Lee bawled after him, "Take care, Gates! take care! or your northern laurels will degenerate into southern willows."

The truth is, though general Lee was extremely splenetic, other than which, such a miserable old bachelor and infidel could hardly be, yet he certainly had a knack of telling people's fortunes. By virtue of this faculty he presently discovered that general Gates was no Fabius; but on the contrary, too much inclined to the fatal rashness of his unfortunate colleague.

And so it turned out. For, from the moment he joined the army, he appeared to act like one who thought of nothing but to have it proclaimed of him in all the newspapers on the continent, that in so many days, hours, minutes, and seconds, he flew from Philadelphia to South Carolina, `saw, fought, and conquered' Cornwallis; and flew back again with the trophies of a second British army vanquished....