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HARASSED RETREAT OF THE ENEMY.
was near midnight when they reached Bethel, within four miles of Danbury. Here they halted, to take a little repose and put their arms in order, rendered almost unserviceable by the rain. They were now about six hundred strong. Wooster took the command, as first major-general of the militia of the State. Though in the sixty-eighth year of his age, he was full of ardor, with almost youthful fire and daring. A plan was concerted to punish the enemy on their retreat; and the lurid light of Danbury in flames redoubled the provocation. At dawn of day, Wooster detached Arnold with four hundred men, to push across the country and take post at Ridgefield, by which the British must pass; while he with two hundred remained, to hang on and harass them in flank and rear.
The British began their retreat early in the morning, conducting it in regular style, with flanking parties, and a rearguard well furnished with artillery. As soon as they had passed his position, Wooster attacked the rear guard with great spirit and effect; there was sharp skirmishing until within two miles of Ridgefield, when, as the veteran was cheering on his men, who began to waver, a musket ball brought him down from his horse, and finished his gallant career. On his fall his men retreated in disorder.
The delay which his attack had occasioned to the enemy, had given Arnold time to throw up a kind of breastwork or barricade across the road at the north end of Ridgefield, protected by a house on the right, and a high rocky bank on the left, where he took his stand with his little force now increased to about five hundred men. About eleven o'clock the enemy advanced in column, with artillery and flanking parties. They were kept at bay for a time, and received several volleys from the barricade, VOL. IIL- -3
until it was outflanked and carried. Arnold ordered a retreat, and was bringing off the rear-guard, when his horse was shot under him, and came down upon his knees. Arnold remained seated in the saddle, with one foot entangled in the stirrups. A tory soldier, seeing his plight, rushed towards him with fixed bayonet. He had just time to draw a pistol from the holster. "You're my prisoner," cried the tory. "Not yet!" exclaimed Arnold, and shot him dead. Then extricating his foot from the stirrup, he threw himself into the thickets of a neighboring swamp, and escaped, unharmed by the bullets that whistled after him, and joined his retreating troops.
General Tryon intrenched for the night in Ridgefield, his troops having suffered greatly in their harassed retreat. The next morning, after having set fire to four houses, he continued his march for the ships.
Colonel Huntingdon, of the Continental army, with the troops which had been stationed at Danbury, the scattered forces of Wooster which had joined him, and a number of militia, hung on the rear of the enemy as soon as they were in motion. Arnold was again in the field, with his rallied forces, strengthened by Lieutenant-colonel Oswald with two companies of Lamb's artillery regiment and three field-pieces. With these he again posted himself on the enemy's route.
Difficulties and annoyances had multiplied upon the latter at every step. When they came in sight of the position where Arnold was waiting for them, they changed their route, wheeled to the left, and made for a ford of Saugatuck River. Arnold hastened to cross the bridge and take them in flank, but they were too quick for him. Colonel Lamb had now reached the scene of action, as had about two hundred volunteers. Leaving to Oswald
the charge of the artillery, he put himself at the head of the volunteers, and led them up to Arnold's assistance.
The enemy, finding themselves hard pressed, pushed for Canepo Hill. They reached it in the evening, without a round of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes. As they were now within cannon shot of their ships, the Americans ceased the pursuit. The British formed upon the high ground, brought their artillery to the front, and sent off to the ships for reinforcements. Sir William Erskine landed a large body of marines and sailors, who drove the Americans back for some distance, and covered the embarkation of the troops. Colonel Lamb, while leading on his men gallantly to capture the British field-pieces, was wounded by a grape shot, and Arnold, while cheering on the militia, had another horse shot under him. In the mean time, the harassed marauders effected their embarkation, and the fleet got under way.
GALLANTRY OF ARNOLD.
In this inroad the enemy destroyed a considerable amount of military stores, and seventeen hundred tents prepared for the use of Washington's army in the ensuing campaign. The loss of General Wooster was deeply deplored. He survived the action long enough to be consoled in his dying moments at Danbury, by the presence of his wife and son, who hastened thither from New Haven. As to Arnold, his gallantry in this affair gained him fresh laurels, and Congress, to remedy their late errror, promoted him to the rank of major-general. Still this promotion did not restore him to his proper position. He was at the bottom of the list of major-generals, with four officers above him, his juniors in service. Washington felt this injustice on the part of Congress, and wrote about it to the president. "He has certainly discov ered," said he, "in every instance where he has had an opportu
nity, much bravery, activity and enterprise. But what will be done about his rank? He will not act, most probably, under those he commanded but a few weeks ago."
As an additional balm to Arnold's wounded pride, Congress a few days afterwards voted that a horse, properly caparisoned, should be presented to him in their name, as a token of their approbation of his gallant conduct in the late action, "in which he had one horse shot under him and another wounded." But after all he remained at the bottom of the list, and the wound still rankled in his bosom.
The destructive expeditions against the American depôts of military stores, were retaliated in kind by Colonel Meigs, a spirited officer, who had accompanied Arnold in his expedition through the wilderness against Quebec, and had caught something of his love for hardy exploit. Having received intelligence that the British commissaries had collected a great amount of grain, forage, and other supplies at Sag Harbor, a small port in the deep bay which forks the east end of Long Island, he crossed the Sound on the 23d of May from Guilford in Connecticut, with about one hundred and seventy men in whale-boats convoyed by two armed sloops: landed on the island near Southold; carried the boats a distance of fifteen miles across the north fork of the bay, launched them into the latter, crossed it, landed within four miles of Sag Harbor, and before daybreak carried the place, which was guarded by a company of foot. A furious fire of round and grape shot was opened upon the Americans from an armed schooner, anchored about one hundred and fifty yards from shore; and stout defence was made by the crews of a dozen brigs and sloops lying at the wharf to take in freight; but Meigs succeeded in burning these vessels, destroying every thing on
ENTERPRISE AGAINST SAG HARBOR.
shore, and carrying off ninety prisoners; among whom were the officer of the company of foot, the commissaries, and the captains of most of the small vessels. With these he and his party recrossed the bay, transported their boats again across the fork of land, launched them on the Sound, and got safe back to Guilford, having achieved all this, and traversed about ninety miles of land and water, in twenty-five hours. Washington was to highly pleased with the spirit and success of this enterprise, that he publicly returned thanks to Colonel Meigs and the officers and men engaged in it. It could not fail, he said, greatly to distress the enemy in the important and essential article of forage. But it was the moral effect of the enterprise which gave it the most value. It is difficult, at the present day, sufficiently to appreciate the importance of partisan exploits of the kind, in the critical stage of the war of which we are treating. They cheered the spirit of the people, depressed by overshadowing dangers and severe privations, and kept alive the military spark that was to kindle into the future flame.