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FORTIFICATIONS OF THE HUDSON-PROJECT TO SURPRISE SIR HENRY CLINTON -GENERAL HOWE FORAGES THE JERSEYS-SHIPS AND STORES BURNT A1 BORDENTOWN-PLANS FOR THE NEXT CAMPAIGN-GATES AND MIFFLIN UNDER WASHINGTON'S COMMAND-DOWNFALL OF CONWAY-LORD NORTH'S CONCILIATORY BILLS-SENT TO WASHINGTON BY GOVERNOR TRYON-RESOLVES OF CONGRESS-LETTER OF WASHINGTON TO TRYON-REJOICING AT VALLEY FORGE-THE MISCHIANZA.
THE Highlands of the Hudson had been carefully reconnoitred in the course of the winter by General Putnam, Governor Clinton, his brother James, and several others, and subsequently by a committee from the New York Legislature, to determine upon the most eligible place to be fortified. West Point was ultimately chosen and Putnam was urged by Washington to have the works finished as soon as possible. The general being called to Connecticut by his private affairs, and being involved in an inquiry to be made into the loss of Forts Montgomery and Clinton, Major-general McDougall was ordered to the Highlands, to take command of the different posts in that department, and to press forward the construction of the works, in which he was to be assisted by Kosciuszko as engineer.
Before General McDougall's arrival, Brigadier-general Parsons had command at West Point. A letter of Washington to the
PROJECT TO SURPRISE SIR HENRY.
latter suggests an enterprise of a somewhat romantic character. It was no less than to pounce upon Sir Henry Clinton, and carry him off prisoner from his head-quarters in the city of New York. The general was quartered in the Kennedy house near the Battery, and but a short distance from the Hudson. His situation was rather lonely; most of the houses in that quarter having been consumed in the great fire. A retired way led from it through a back yard or garden to the river bank; where Greenwich street extends at present. The idea of Washington was, that an enterprising party should embark in eight or ten whale-boats at King's Ferry, just below the Highlands, on the first of the ebb, and early in the evening. In six or eight hours, with change of hands, the boats might be rowed under the shadows of the western shore, and approach New York with muffled oars. There were no ships of war at that time on that side of the city; all were in the East River. The officers and men to be employed in the enterprise were to be dressed in red, and much in the style of the British soldiery. Having captured Sir Henry, they might return in their swift whale-boats with the flood tide, or a party of horse might meet them at Fort Lee. "What guards may be at or near his quarters, I cannot say with precision," writes Washington, "and therefore shall not add any thing on this score. But I think it one of the most practicable, and surely it will be among the most desirable and honorable things imaginable to take him prisoner."
The enterprise, we believe, was never attempted. Colonel Hamilton is said to have paralyzed it. He agreed with Wash ington that there could be little doubt of its success; "but, sir,' said he, "have you examined the consequences of it?" what respect?" asked the general. "Why," replied Hamilton
'we shall rather lose than gain by removing Sir Henry from the command of the British army, because we perfectly understand his character; and by taking him off we only make way for some other, perhaps an abler officer, whose character and dispositions we have to learn." The shrewd suggestions of his aide-de-camp had their effect on Washington, and the project to abduct Sir Henry was abandoned.*
The spring opened without any material alteration in the dispositions of the armies. Washington at one time expected an attack upon his camp; but Sir William was deficient in the necessary enterprise; he contented himself with sending out parties which foraged the surrounding country for many miles, and scoured part of the Jerseys, bringing in considerable supplies These forays were in some instances accompanied by wanton excesses and needless bloodshed; the more unjustifiable, as they met with feeble resistance, especially in the Jerseys, where it was difficult to assemble militia in sufficient force to oppose them.
Another ravaging party ascended the Delaware in flat-bottomed boats and galleys; set fire to public storehouses in Bordentown containing provisions and munitions of war; burnt two frigates, several privateers, and a number of vessels of various classes, some of them laden with military stores. Had the armed vessels been sunk according to the earnest advice of Washington, the greater part of them might have been saved.
A circular letter was sent by Washington on the 20th to all the general officers in camp, requesting their opinions in writing, which of three plans to adopt for the next campaign: to attempt the recovery of Philadelphia; to transfer the war to the north
* Wilkinson's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 852.
CONGRESS SUSTAINS WASHINGTON
and make an attempt on New York; or to remain quiet in a secure and fortified camp, disciplining and arranging the army until the enemy should begin their operations; then to be governed by circumstances.
Just after the issue of this circular, intelligence received from Congress showed that the ascendency of the cabal was at an end. By a resolution of that body on the 15th, Gates was directed to resume the command of the Northern department, and to proceed forthwith to Fishkill for that purpose. He was invested with powers for completing the works on the Hudson, and authorized to carry on operations against the enemy should any favorable opportunity offer, for which purposes he might call for the artificers and militia of New York and the Eastern States: but he was not to undertake any expedition against New York without previously consulting the commander-in-chief. Washington was requested to assemble a council of major-generals to determine upon a plan of operations, and Gates and Mifflin, by a subsequent resolution, were ordered to attend that council. This arrangement, putting Gates under Washington's order, evinced the determination of Congress to sustain the latter in his proper authority.
Washington in a reply to the President of Congress, who had informed him of this arrangement, mentioned the circular he had just issued. "There is not a moment to be delayed," observed he, "in forming some general system, and I only wait the arrival of Generals Gates and Mifflin to summon a council for the purpose. The next day (24th) he addressed a letter to Gates, requesting him, should he not find it inconvenient, to favor him with a call at the camp, to discuss the plan of operations for the
campaign. A similar invitation was sent by him to Mifflin; who eventually resumed his station in the line.
And here we may note the downfall of the intriguing individual who had given his name to the now extinguished cabal. Conway, after the departure of Lafayette and De Kalb from Albany, had remained but a short time in the command there, being ordered to join the army under General McDougall, stationed at Fishkill. Thence he was soon ordered back to Albany, whereupon he wrote an impertinent letter to the President of Congress, complaining that he was "boxed about in a most indecent manner."
"What is the meaning," demanded he, " of removing me from the scene of action on the opening of the campaign? I did not deserve this burlesque disgrace, and my honor will not permit me to bear it." In a word, he intimated a wish that the president would make his resignation acceptable to Congress.
To his surprise and consternation, his resignation was immediately accepted. He instantly wrote to the president, declaring that his meaning had been misapprehended; and accounting for it by some orthographical or grammatical faults in his letter, being an Irishman, who had learnt his English in France. "I had no thoughts of resigning," adds he, "while there was a prospect of firing a single shot, and especially at the beginning of a campaign which in my opinion will be a very hot one."
All his efforts to get reinstated were unavailing, though he went to Yorktown to make them in แ person. "Conway's appointment to the inspectorship of the army, with the rank of majorgeneral, after he had insulted the commander-in-chief," observes Wilkinson, "was a splenetic measure of a majority of Congress, as factious as it was ill-judged."