Slike strani
PDF
ePub

Er. 44.] OBSTRUCTIONS OF THE HUDSON-THE PHŒENIX AND ROSE ATTACKED.

257

Projectors are subject to disappointments. | August 3d, says: "Four ships chained and It was impossible to construct a sufficient num- boomed, with a number of amazing large cheber of fire-ships and galleys in time. The fly-vaux-de-frise, were sunk close by the fort under ing camp too recruited but slowly, and scarcely command of General Mifflin, which fort mounts exceeded three thousand men; the combined thirty-two pieces of heavy cannon. We are attack by fire and sword had therefore to be thoroughly sanguine that they [the ships up the given up, and the "burning and shining light" river] never will be able to join the British again failed of conflagration. fleet, nor assistance from the fleet be afforded to them; so that we may set them down as our own.

Still, a partial night attack on the Staten Island encampment was concerted by Mercer and Knowlton, and twice attempted. On one occasion, they were prevented from crossing the strait by tempestuous weather, on another by deficiency of boats.

In the course of a few days arrived a hundred sail, with large reinforcements, among which were one thousand Hessians, and as many more were reported to be on the way. The troops were disembarked on Staten Island, and fortifications thrown up on some of the most commanding hills.

All projects of attack upon the enemy were now out of the question. Indeed, some of Washington's ablest advisers questioned the policy of remaining in New York, where they might be entrapped as the British had been in Boston. Reed, the adjutant-general, observed that, as the communication by the Hudson was interrupted, there was nothing now to keep them at New York but a mere point of honor; in the mean time, they endangered the loss of the army and its military stores. Why should they risk so much in defending a city, while the greater part of its inhabitants were plotting their destruction? His advice was, that, when they could defend the city no longer, they should evacuate, and burn it, and retire from Manhattan Island; should avoid any general action, or indeed any action, unless in view of great advantages; and should make it a war of posts.

During the latter part of July, and the early part of August, ships-of-war with their tenders continued to arrive, and Scotch Highlanders, Hessians, and other troops, to be landed on Staten Island. At the beginning of August, the squadron with Sir Henry Clinton, recently repulsed at Charleston, anchored in the bay. "His coming," writes Colonel Reed, "was as unexpected as if he had dropped from the clouds." He was accompanied by Lord Cornwallis, and brought three thousand troops.

In the mean time, Putnam's contrivances for obstructing the channel had reached their destined place. A letter dated Fort Washington,

Another letter, written at the same date from Tarrytown, on the borders of the Tappan Sea, gives an account of an attack made by six row galleys upon the Phoenix and the Rose. They fought bravely for two hours, hulling the ships repeatedly, but sustaining great damage in return; until their commodore, Colonel Tupper, gave the signal to draw off. "Never," says the writer, "did men behave with more firm, determined spirit, than our little crew. One of our tars being mortally wounded, cried to his companions: 'I am a dying man; revenge my blood, my boys, and carry me alongside my gun, that I may die there.' We were so preserved by a gracious Providence, that in all our galleys we have but two men killed and fourteen wounded, two of which are thought dangerous. We hope to have another touch at those pirates before they leave our river; which God prosper!"

Such was the belligerent spirit prevailing up the Hudson.

The force of the enemy collected in the neighborhood of New York was about thirty thousand men; that of the Americans a little more than seventeen thousand, but was subsequently increased to twenty thousand, for the most part raw and undisciplined. One-fourth were on the sick list with bilious and putrid fevers and dysentery; others were absent on furlough or command; the rest had to be distributed over posts and stations fifteen miles apart.

The sectional jealousies prevalent among them, were more and more a subject of uneasiness to Washington. In one of his general orders he observes: "It is with great concern that the general understands that jealousies have arisen among the troops from the different provinces, and reflections are frequently thrown out which can only tend to irritate each other, and injure the noble cause in which we are engaged, and which we ought to support with one hand and one heart. The general most earnestly entreats the officers and soldiers to consider the consequences; that they can no way assist

258

WASHINGTON TO THE ARMY-PREPARATIONS AGAINST ATTACK.

[1776.

While Washington thus endeavored to elevate the minds of his soldiery to the sanctity of the

our enemies more effectually than by making divisions among ourselves; that the honor and success of the army, and the safety of our bleed-cause in which they were engaged, he kept the ing country, depend upon harmony and good agreement with each other; that the provinces are all united to oppose the common enemy, and all distinctions sunk in the name of an American. To make this name honorable, and to preserve the liberty of our country, ought to be our only emulation; and he will be the best soldier and the best patriot, who contributes most to this glorious work, whatever be his station, or from whatever part of the continent he may come. Let all distinctions of nations, countries, and provinces, therefore, be lost in the generous contest, who shall behave with the most courage against the enemy, and the most kindness and good-humor to each other. If there be any officers or soldiers so lost to virtue and a love of their country, as to continue in such practices after this order, the general assures them, and is authorized by Congress to declare to the whole army, that such persons shall be severely punished, and dismissed from the service with disgrace."

The urgency of such a general order is apparent in that early period of our confederation, when its various parts had not as yet been sufficiently welded together to acquire a thorough feeling of nationality; yet what an enduring lesson does it furnish for every stage of our Union !

We subjoin another of the general orders issued in this time of gloom and anxiety:

"That the troops may have an opportunity of attending public worship, as well as to take some rest after the great fatigue they have gone through, the general, in future, excuses them from fatigue duty on Sundays, except at the ship-yards, or on special occasions, until further orders. The general is sorry to be informed, that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice heretofore little known in an American army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they and the men will reflect, that we can have little hope of the blessing of Heaven on our arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense and character detests and despises it." *

* Orderly Book, Aug. 3, as cited by Sparks. Writings of Washington, vol. iv., p. 28.

most watchful eye upon the movements of the enemy. Beside their great superiority in point of numbers, as well as discipline, to his own crude and scanty legions, they possessed a vast advantage in their fleet. They would not be half the enemy they are," observed Colonel Reed, "if they were once separated from their ships." Every arrival and departure of these, therefore, was a subject of speculation and conjecture. Aaron Burr, at that time in New York, aide-de-camp to General Putnam, speaks in a letter to an uncle, of thirty transports, which, under convoy of three frigates, had put to sea on the 7th of August, with the intention of sailing round Long Island and coming through the Sound, and thus investing the city by the North and East Rivers. They are then to land on both sides of the island," writes he, "join their forces, and draw a line across, which will hem us in, and totally cut off all communication; after which, they will have their own fun." He adds: “They hold us in the utmost contempt. Talk of forcing all our lines without firing a gun. The bayonet is their pride. They have forgot Bunker's Hill."*

[ocr errors]

In this emergency, Washington wrote to General Mercer for 2,000 men from the flying camp. Colonel Smallwood's battalion was immediately furnished, as a part of them. The Convention of the State ordered out hasty levies of country militia, to form temporary camps on the shore of the Sound, and on that of the Hudson above King's Bridge, to annoy the enemy, should they attempt to land from their ships on either of these waters. Others were sent to reinforce the posts on Long Island. As Kings County on Long Island was noted for being a stronghold of the disaffected, the Convention ordered that, should any of the militia of that county refuse to serve, they should be disarmed and secured, and their possessions laid waste.

Many of the yeomen of the country, thus hastily summoned from the plough, were destitute of arms, in lieu of which they were ordered to bring with them a shovel, spade, or pickaxe, or a scythe straightened and fastened to a pole. This rustic array may have provoked the thoughtless sneers of city scoffers, such as those cited by Graydon; but it was in truth one of

* Am. Archives, 5th Series, i. 887.

(

ET. 44.]

BENEVOLENT SYMPATHY OF WASHINGTON.

259

the glorious features of the Revolution, to be | ing an intention of leaving Staten Island. Putthus aided in its emergencies by "hasty levies nam, also, came up from below with word that of husbandmen." * at least one-fourth of the fleet had sailed. There were many conjectures at head-quarters as to whither they were bound, or whether they had not merely shifted their station. Every thing indicated, however, that affairs were tending to a crisis.

By the authority of the New York Convention, Washington had appointed General George Clinton to the command of the levies on both sides of the Hudson. He now ordered him to hasten down with them to the fort just erected on the north side of King's Bridge; leaving two hundred men under the command of a brave and alert officer to throw up works at the pass of Anthony's Nose, where the main road to Albany crosses that mountain. Troops of horse also were to be posted by him along the river to watch the motions of the enemy.

Washington now made the last solemn preparations for the impending conflict. All suspected persons, whose presence might promote the plans of the enemy, were removed to a distance. All papers respecting affairs of State were put up in a large case, to be delivered to Congress. As to his domestic arrangements, Mrs. Washington had some time previous gone to Philadelphia, with the intention of returning to Virginia, as there was no prospect of her being with him any part of the summer, which threatened to be one of turmoil and danger. The other ladies, wives of general officers, who used to grace and enliven head-quarters, had all been sent out of the way of the storm which was lowering over this devoted city.

Accounts of deserters, and other intelligence, informed Washington, on the 17th, that a great many of the enemy's troops had gone on board of the transports; that three days' provisions had been cooked, and other steps taken indicat

* General orders, Aug. 8th, show the feverish stato of affairs in the city. "As the movements of the enemy, and intelligence by deserters, give the utmost reason to believe that the great struggle in which we are contending for every thing dear to us and our posterity is near at hand, the general most earnestly recommends the closest attention to the state of the men's arms, ammunition, and flints; that if we should be suddenly called to action, nothing of this kind may be to provide. And he does most anxiously exhort both officers and soldiers not to be out of their quarters or encampments, especially in the morning, or upon the tide of flood.

"A flag in the daytime, or a light at night, in the fort on Bayard's Hill, with three guns from the same place fired quick but distinct, is to be considered as a signal for the troops to repair to their alarm posts, and prepare for action. And that the alarm may be more effectually given, the drums are immediately to beat to arms upon the signal being given from Bayard's Hill. This order is not to be considered as countermanding the firing two guns at Fort George, as formerly ordered. That is also to be done on an alarm, but the flag will not be hoisted at the old head-quarters in Broadway."-Am. Archives, 5th Series,

i. 912

The "hysterical alarms" of the peaceful inhabitants of New York, which had provoked the soldier-like impatience and satirical sneers of Lee, inspired different sentiments in the benevolent heart of Washington, and produced the following letter to the New York Convention:

"When I consider that the city of New York will, in all human probability, very soon be the scene of a bloody conflict, I cannot but view the great numbers of women, children, and infirm persons remaining in it, with the most melancholy concern. When the men-of-war (the Phoenix and Rose) passed up the river, the shrieks and cries of these poor creatures, running every way with their children, were truly distressing, and I fear they will have an unhappy effect upon the ears and minds of our young and inexperienced soldiery. Can no method be devisd for their removal?

[ocr errors]

How vividly does this call to mind the compassionate sensibility of his younger days, when commanding at Winchester, in Virginia, in time of public peril; and melted to "deadly sorrow" by the "supplicating tears of the women, and moving petitions of the men." As then, he listened to the prompt suggestions of his own heart; and, without awaiting the action of the Convention, issued a proclamation, advising the inhabitants to remove, and requiring the officers and soldiery to aid the helpless and the indigent. The Convention soon responded to his appeal, and appointed a committee to effect these purposes in the most humane and expeditious manner.

A gallant little exploit at this juncture, gave a fillip to the spirits of the community. Two of the fire-ships recently constructed, went up the Hudson to attempt the destruction of the ships which had so long been domineering over its waters. One succeeded in grappling the Phoenix, and would soon have set her in flames, but in the darkness got to leeward, and was cast loose without effecting any damage. The other, in making for the Rose, fell foul of one of the tenders, grappled and burnt her. The enterprise was conducted with spirit, and though

260

A GALLANT LITTLE EXPLOIT-PREPARATION FOR COMBAT.

[1776.

this way," adds he, "nature has done much for us, and we shall, as fast as possible, add the strength of art. We are pushing our works with great diligence." *

Reports from different quarters, gave Washington reason to apprehend that the design of the enemy might be to land part of their force

it failed of its main object, had an important | many and strong works erected in and around effect. The commanders of the ships deter- the city. "Should his inclination lead him mined to abandon those waters, where their boats were fired upon by the very yeomanry whenever they attempted to land; and where their ships were in danger from midnight incendiaries, while riding at anchor. Taking advantage of a brisk wind, and favoring tide, they made all sail early on the morning of the 18th of August, and stood down the river, keep-on Long Island, and endeavor to get possession ing close under the eastern shore, where they supposed the guns from Mount Washington could not be brought to bear upon them. Notwithstanding this precaution, the Phoenix was thrice hulled by shots from the fort, and one of the tenders once. The Rose, also, was hulled once by a shot from Burdett's Ferry. The men on board were kept close, to avoid being picked off by a party of riflemen posted on the river bank. The ships fired grape-shot as they passed, but without effecting any injury. Unfortunately, a passage had been left open in the obstructions on which General Putnam had calculated so sanguinely; it was to have been closed in the course of a day or two. Through this they made their way, guided by a deserter; which alone, in Putnam's opinion, saved them from being checked in their career, and utterly destroyed by the batteries.

CHAPTER XXXI.

THE movements of the British fleet, and of the camp on Staten Island, gave signs of a meditated attack; but as the nature of that attack was uncertain, Washington was obliged to retain the greater part of his troops in the city for its defence, holding them ready, however, to be transferred to any point in the vicinity. General Mifflin, with about five hundred of the Pennsylvania troops, of Colonels Shee and Magaw's regiments, were at King's Bridge, ready to aid at a moment's notice. "They are the best disciplined of any troops that I have yet seen in the army," said General Heath, who had just reviewed them. General George Clinton was at that post, with about fourteen hundred of his yeomanry of the Hudson. As the Phoenix and Rose had explored the shores, and taken the soundings as far as they had gone up the river, General Heath thought Howe might attempt an attack somewhere above King's Bridge, rather than in the face of the

of the heights of Brooklyn, which overlooked New York; while another part should land above the city, as General Heath suggested. Thus, various disconnected points, distant from each other, and a great extent of intervening country, had to be defended by raw troops, against a superior force, well disciplined, and possessed of every facility for operating by land and water.

General Greene, with a considerable force, was stationed at Brooklyn. He had acquainted himself with all the localities of the island, from Hell Gate to the Narrows, and made his plan of defence accordingly. His troops were diligently occupied in works which he laid out, about a mile beyond the village of Brooklyn, and facing the interior of the island, whence a land attack might be attempted.

Brooklyn was immediately opposite to New York. The Sound, commonly called the East River, in that place about three-quarters of a mile in width, swept its rapid tides between them. The village stood on a kind of peninsula, formed by the deep inlets of Wallabout Bay on the north, and Gowanus Cove on the south. A line of intrenchments and strong redoubts extended across the neck of the peninsula from the bay to a swamp and creek emptying into the cove. To protect the rear of the works from the enemy's ships, a battery was erected at Red Hook, the south-west corner of the peninsula, and a fort on Governor's Island, nearly opposite.

About two miles and a half in front of the line of intrenchments and redoubts, a range of hills, densely wooded, extended from southwest to north-east, forming a natural barrier across the island. It was traversed by three roads. One, on the left of the works, stretched eastwardly to Bedford, and then by a pass through the Bedford Hills to the village of Jamaica; another, central, and direct, led through the woody heights to Flatbush; a third, on the

* Heath to Washington, Aug. 17-18.

ET. 44.]

THE ENEMY LAND ON LONG ISLAND-RUMORS AND ALARMS.

261

right of the lines, passed by Gowanus Cove to ever, were ordered to be ready as a reinforcethe Narrows and Gravesend Bay.

The occupation of this range of hills, and the protection of its passes, had been designed by General Greene; but unfortunately, in the midst of his arduous toils, he was taken down by a raging fever, which confined him to his bed; and General Sullivan, just returned from Lake Champlain, had the temporary command.

Washington saw that to prevent the enemy from landing on Long Island would be impossible, its great extent affording so many places favorable for that purpose, and the American works being at the part opposite New York. "However," writes he to the President of Congress, we shall attempt to harass them as much as possible, which is all that we can do."

ment, if required. "Be cool, but determined," was the exhortation given to the departing troops. "Do not fire at a distance, but wait the commands of your officers. It is the general's express orders, that if any man attempt to skulk, lie down, or retreat without orders, he be instantly shot down for an example."

In justice to the poor fellows, most of whom were going for the first time on a service of life and death, Washington observes, that "they went off in high spirits," and that the whole, capable of duty, evinced the same cheerfulness.*

Nine thousand of the enemy had landed, with forty pieces of cannon. Sir Henry Clinton had the chief command, and led the first division. His associate officers were the Earls of Cornwallis and Percy, General Grant, and General Sir William Erskine. As their boats approached the shore, Colonel Hand, stationed, as has been said, in the neighborhood with his rifle regiment, retreated to the chain of wooded hills,

On the 21st came a letter, written in all haste by Brigadier-General William Livingston, of New Jersey. Movements of the enemy on Staten Island had been seen from his camp. He had sent over a spy at midnight, who brought back the following intelligence. Twenty thou-and took post on a height commanding the censand men had embarked to make an attack on Long Island, and up the Hudson. Fifteen thousand remained on Staten Island, to attack Bergen Point, Elizabethtown Point, and Amboy. The spy declared that he had heard orders read, and the conversation of the generals. "They appear very determined," added he, "and will put all to the sword!"

Washington sent a copy of the letter to the New York Convention. On the following morning (August 22d) the enemy appeared to be carrying their plans into execution. The reports of cannon and musketry were heard from Long Island, and columns of smoke were descried rising above the groves and orchards at a distance. The city, as usual, was alarmed, and had reason to be so; for word soon came that several thousand men, with artillery and lighthorse, were landed at Gravesend; and that Colonel Hand, stationed there with the Pennsylvania rifle regiment, had retreated to the lines, setting fire to stacks of wheat, and other articles, to keep them from falling into the enemy's hands.

Washington apprehended an attempt of the foe by a forced march to surprise the lines at Brooklyn. He immediately sent over a reinforcement of six battalions. It was all that he could spare, as with the next tide the ships might bring up the residue of the army, and attack the city. Five battalions more, how

tral road leading from Flatbush. The enemy having landed without opposition, Lord Cornwallis was detached with the reserve to Flatbush, while the rest of the army extended itself from the ferry at the Narrows through Utrecht and Gravesend, to the village of Flatland.

Lord Cornwallis, with two battalions of light infantry, Colonel Donop's corps of Hessians, and six field-pieces, advanced rapidly to seize upon the central pass through the hills. He found Hand and his riflemen ready to make a vigorous defence. This brought him to a halt, having been ordered not to risk an attack should the pass be occupied. He took post for the night, therefore, in the village of Flatbush.

It was evidently the aim of the enemy to force the lines at Brooklyn, and get possession of the heights. Should they succeed, New York would be at their mercy. The panic and distress of the inhabitants went on increasing. Most of those who could afford it, had already removed to the country. There was now a new cause of terror. It was rumored that, should the American army retreat from the city, leave would be given for any one to set it on fire. The New York Convention apprised Washington of this rumor. "I can assure you, gentlemen," writes he in reply, "that this report is not founded on the least authority from

[blocks in formation]
« PrejšnjaNaprej »