« PrejšnjaNaprej »
THE RETREAT FROM LONG ISLAND.
HE night after the battle was a weary, yet almost sleepless one to the Americans. Fatigued,
dispirited, many of them sick and wounded, yet they were, for the most part, without tent or other shelter. To Washington it was a night of anxious vigil. Everything boded a close and deadly conflict. The enemy had pitched a number of tents about a mile distant. Their sentries were but a quarter of a mile off, and close to the American sentries. At four o'clock in the morning, Washington went the round of the works, to see that all was right, and to speak words of encouragement. The morning broke lowering and dreary. Large encampments were gradually descried; to appearance, the enemy were twenty thousand strong. As the day advanced, their ordnance began to play upon the works. They were proceeding to intrench themselves, but were driven into their tents by a drenching rain.
Early in the morning General Mifflin arrived in camp, with part of the troops which had been stationed at Fort Washington and King's Bridge. He brought with him
Shee's prime Philadelphia regiment, and Magaw's Pennsylvania regiment, both well disciplined and officered, and accustomed to act together. They were so much reduced in number, however, by sickness, that they did not amount in the whole, to more than eight hundred men. With Mifflin came also Colonel Glover's Massachusetts regiment, composed chiefly of Marblehead fishermen and sailors, hardy, adroit, and weather-proof; trimly clad in blue jackets and trowsers. The detachment numbered, in the whole, about thirteen hundred men, all fresh and full of spirits. Every eye brightened as they marched briskly along the line with alert step and cheery aspect. They were posted at the left extremity of the intrenchments towards the Wallabout.
There were skirmishes throughout the day, between the riflemen on the advanced posts and the British "irregulars," which at times were quite severe; but no decided attack was attempted. The main body of the enemy kept within their tents until the latter part of the day; when they began to break ground at about five hundred yards' distance from the works, as if preparing to carry them by regular approaches.
On the 29th, there was a dense fog over the island, that wrapped everything in mystery. In the course of the morning, General Mifflin, with Adjutant-general Reed, and Colonel Grayson of Virginia, one of Washington's aides-de-camp, rode to the western outposts, in the neighborhood of Red Hook. While they were
PERILOUS POSITION OF THE AMERICANS.
there, a light breeze lifted the fog from a part of the New York Bay, and revealed the British ships at their anchorage opposite Staten Island. There appeared to be an unusual bustle among them. Boats were passing to and from the admiral's ship, as if seeking or carrying orders. Some movement was apparently in agitation. The idea occurred to the reconnoitering party that the fleet was preparing, should the wind hold and the fog clear away, to come up the bay at the turn of the tide, silence the feeble batteries at Red Hook and the city, and anchor in the East River. In that case the army on Long Island would be completely surrounded and entrapped.
Alarmed at this perilous probability, they spurred back to head-quarters, to urge the immediate withdrawal of the army. As this might not be acceptable advice, Reed, emboldened by his intimacy with the commanderin-chief undertook to give it. Washington instantly summoned a council of war. The difficulty was already apparent, of guarding such extensive works with troops fatigued and dispirited, and exposed to the inclemencies. of the weather. Other dangers now presented themselves. Their communication with New York might be cut off by the fleet from below. Other ships had passed round Long Island, and were at Flushing Bay on the Sound. These might land troops on the east side of Harlem River, and make themselves masters of King's Bridge; that key of Manhattan Island. Taking all these
things into consideration, it was resolved to cross with the troops to the city that very night.
Never did retreat require greater secrecy and circumspection. Nine thousand men, with all the munitions of war, were to be withdrawn from before a victorious army, encamped so near that every stroke of spade and pickaxe from their trenches could be heard. The retreating troops, moreover, were to be embarked and conveyed across a strait three-quarters of a mile wide, swept by rapid tides. The least alarm of their movement would bring the enemy upon them, and produce a terrible scene of confusion and carnage at the place of embarkation.
Washington made the preparatory arrangements with great alertness, yet profound secrecy. Verbal orders were sent to Colonel Hughes, who acted as quartermaster-general, to impress all water craft, large and small, from Spyt den Duivel on the Hudson round to Hell Gate on the Sound, and have them on the east side of the city by evening. The order was issued at noon, and so promptly executed, that, although some of the vessels had to be brought a distance of fifteen miles, they were all at Brooklyn at eight o'clock in the evening, and put under the management of Colonel Glover's amphibious Marblehead regiment.
To prepare the army for a general movement without betraying the object, orders were issued for the troops to hold themselves in readiness for a night attack upon the enemy. The orders caused surprise, for the poor fellows
THE WITHDRAWAL FROM THE CAMP.
were exhausted, and their arms rendered nearly useless by the rain; all, however, prepared to obey; but several made nuncupative wills, as is customary among soldiers on the eve of sudden and deadly peril.
According to Washington's plan of retreat, to keep the enemy from discovering the withdrawal of the Americans until their main body should have embarked in the boats and pushed off from the shore, General Mifflin was to remain at the lines with his Pennsylvania troops, and the gallant remains of Haslet, Smallwood, and Hand's regiments, with guards posted and sentinels alert, as if nothing extraordinary was taking place; when the main embarkation was effected, they were themselves to move off quietly, march briskly to the ferry, and embark. In case of any alarm that might disconcert the arrangements, Brooklyn church was to be the rallying place, whither all should repair, so as unitedly to resist any attack.
It was late in the evening when the troops began to retire from the breastworks. As one regiment quietly withdrew from their station on guard, the troops on the right and left moved up and filled the vacancy. There was a stifled murmur in the camp, unavoidable in a movement of the kind; but it gradually died away in the direction of the river, as the main body moved on in silence and order. The youthful Hamilton, whose military merits had won the favor of General Greene, and who had lost his baggage and a field-piece in the battle,