From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
May 6.—Agreeably to the special orders issued yesterday at head-quarters, the alliance has been splendidly celebrated. A writer gives the following minute account of the festivities, in a familiar letter to a friend:
“How often have you told me that a man of my contemplative turn, so fond of the shades of retirement and the endearments of domestic life, could find but little felicity amidst the uncontrollable vicissitudes of war. You did not recollect that there is in nature a principle much stronger than the passion for ease, and more powerful than the incitements to pleasure, which operates like the strength of a Samson in drawing us from our retirements, and breaking asunder the silken cords of our Helens or Delilahs. I have long since discovered that pleasures of the most agreeable kind may be found even in the bustle of a camp. What do you think, my dear friend, does the soldier feel, in reviewing the dangers he has passed—in planning or executing the overthrow of tyranny—or celebrating the exploits of heroes? And what spectacle can you imagine more splendid, than an army of freemen drawn up, within hearing of their enemy, to celebrate the acknowledgment of our independence, and alliance with the first monarch in the world; and whom can you conceive more happy than those who have borne no inconsiderable part in the struggles and adversities that served to produce an event so favorable to the interests of mankind? I wished for you more than once, during our feu de joie, to have shared with me in the festivity of the day. It would have given you new ideas of military pleasures, and helped the poem on our independence, which you have promised, to some elegant strokes of the epic. Heretofore we have celebrated the day in which a prince was vested with the power to kill and enslave us; but this was the day of rejoicing at the interment of tyranny, and the coronation of American Independence.
“After the chaplains had finished their discourses, and the second cannon was fired, the troops began their march to the lines in the following order:—Each major-general conducted the first brigade of his command to the ground; the other brigades were conducted by their commanding officers in separate columns. Major-General Lord Stirling commanded on the right, the Marquis De La Fayette on the left, and the Baron De Kalb the second line. But this arrangement can convey no adequate idea of their movements to their several posts—of the appearance of his excellency during his circuit round the lines—of the air of our soldiers—the cleanliness of their dress —the brilliancy and good order of their arms, and the remarkable animation with which they performed the necessary salute as the general passed along. Indeed, during the whole of the review, the utmost military decorum was preserved, while at the same time one might observe the hearts of the soldiery struggling to express their feelings in a way more agreeable to nature.
“The Commander-in-chief, his suite; the Marquis De La Fayette, his train; Lord Stirling, General Greene, and the other principal officers, who had joined his excellency, having finished the review, retired to the centre of the encampment, to a kind of amphitheatre, which had been formed to entertain the officers of the army, who were invited to partake of a collation with his excellency, after the feu de joie.
“On firing of the third signal gun, the feu de joie commenced. It was conducted with great judgment and regularity. The gradual progression of the sound from the discharge of cannon and musketry, swelling and rebounding from the neighboring hills, and gently sweeping along the Schuylkill, with the intermingled huzzas—to long live the King of France —long live the friendly European powers, and long live the American States, composed a military music more agreeable to a soldier’s ear than the most finished pieces of your favorite Handel.
“The feu de joie being over, and the troops marched back to their different quarters, the officers came forward to the entertainment provided by his excellency. But I must not pass over the description of their order of march.
“Some of the ancients were not more attached to their mystical figures than many of the moderns. We of America have our number thirteen. The officers approached the place of entertainment in different columns, thirteen abreast, and closely linked together in each other’s arms. The appearance was pretty enough. The number of officers composing each line, signified the Thirteen American States; and the interweaving of arms a complete union and most perfect confederation.
“The amphitheatre looked elegant. The outer seats for the officers were covered with tent canvas stretched out upon poles; and the tables in the centre shaded by elegant markees, raised high, and arranged in a very striking and agreeable style. An excellent band of music attended during the entertainment; but the feast was still more animating by the discourse and behavior of his excellency to the officers, and the gentlemen in the country (many of them our old Philadelphia acquaintances) who were present on this occasion. Mrs. Washington, the Countess of Stirling, Lady Kitty her daughter, Mrs. Greene, and a number of other ladies, favored the feast with their company, amongst whom good humor and the graces were contending for the pre-eminence. The wine circulated in the most genial manner—to the King of France—the friendly European powers—the American States—the Honorable Congress, and other toasts of a similar nature, descriptive of the spirit of freemen.
“About six o’clock in the evening the company broke up, and his excellency returned to head-quarters. The French gentlemen of rank and distinction seemed peculiarly pleased with this public approbation of our alliance with their nation. The general himself wore a countenance of uncommon delight and complacence. I wish that you, who are so great an adept in preserving the expressions of nature, had been here to have done justice to him and the army. The latter, in particular, never looked so well, nor in such good order, since the beginning of the war. And here I cannot forbear mentioning a little anecdote that I am told happened during the review. An officer was called to one side in order to know what was to be done with a spy who was making observations on the army. But the officer coolly observed to the gentleman who gave the information, that he thought it best to take no further notice of the spy, but suffer him to return to his employers, as they must feel more pain from his account of the army, than grief on hearing of his detection and death.
“What may be reckoned somewhat remarkable, not one accident happened to lessen or disturb the joy of the day; and the whole was closed by the officers returning to the duties of their several stations with hearts filled with the warmest sensations to the great cause of their rejoicings.”1
1 New York Journal, June 15.