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scenes of war. To march over dead men, to hear without con cern the groans of the wounded-I say few men can stand such scenes unless steeled by habit or fortified by military pride."
Nor was this ill-timed yearning for home confined to the yeo manry of Connecticut, who might well look back to their humble farms, where they had left the plough standing in the fur row, and where every thing might go to ruin, and their family to want, in their absence. Some of the gentlemen volunteers from beyond the Delaware, who had made themselves merry at the expense of the rustic soldiery of New England, were likewise among the first to feel the homeward impulse. "When I look around," said Reed, the adjutant-general, "and see how few of the numbers who talked so loudly of death and honor are around me, I am lost in wonder and surprise. Some of our Philadelphia gentlemen who came over on visits, upon the first cannon, went off in a most violent hurry. Your noisy sons of liberty, are, I find, the quietest on the field.'
Present experience induced Washington to reiterate the opinion he had repeatedly expressed to Congress, that little reliance was to be placed on militia enlisted for short periods. The only means of protecting the national liberties from great hazard, if not utter loss, was, he said, an army enlisted for the
The thousand men ordered from the flying camp were furnished by General Mercer. They were Maryland troops under Colonels Griffith and Richardson, and were a seasonable addition to his effective forces; but the ammunition carried off by the disbanding militia was a serious loss at this critical juncture. A work had been commenced on the Jersey shore, opposite Fort Washington, to aid in protecting Putnam's chevaux-de-frise which had been sunk between them. work had received the name of Fort Constitution (a name already borne by one of the forts in the Highlands). Troops were drawn from the flying camp to make a strong encampment in the vicinity of the fort, with an able officer to command it and a skilful engineer to strengthen the works. It was hoped, by the co-operation of these opposite forts and the chevaux-defrise, to command the Hudson, and prevent the passing and repassing of hostile ships.
The British, in the mean time, forbore to press further hostilities. Lord Howe was really desirous of a peaceful adjustment of the strife between the colonies and the mother
1 Life of Reed, i., 231.
country, and supposed this a propitious moment for a new attempt at pacification. He accordingly sent off General Sullivan on parole, charged with an overture to Congress. this he declared himself empowered and disposed to compromise the dispute between Great Britain and America on the most favorable terms, and, though he could not treat with Congress as a legally organized body, he was desirous of a conference with some of its members. These, for the time, he should consider only as private gentlemen, but if in the conference any probable scheme of accommodation should be agreed upon, the authority of Congress would afterward be acknowledged, to render the compact complete.1
The message caused some embarrassment in Congress. To accede to the interview might seem to waive the question of independence; to decline it was to shut the door on all hope of conciliation, and might alienate the co-operation of some worthy whigs who still clung to that hope. After much debate, Congress, on the 5th September, replied, that being the representatives of the free and independent States of America, they could not send any members to confer with his lordship in their private characters, but that, ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, they would send a committee of their body to ascertain what authority he had to treat with persons authorized by Congress, and what propositions he had to offer.
A committee was chosen on the 6th of September, composed of John Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Doctor Franklin. The latter, in the preceding year, during his residence in England, had become acquainted with Lord Howe, at the house of his lordship's sister, the honorable Mrs. Howe, and they had held frequent conversations on the subject of American affairs, in the course of which, his lordship had intimated the possibility of his being sent commissioner to settle the differences in America.
Franklin had recently adverted to this in a letter to Lord Howe. "Your lordship may possibly remember the tears of joy that wet my cheek, when, at your good sister's in London, you gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place. I had the misfortune to find those expectations disappointed.
"The well-founded esteem, and, permit me to say, affection, which I shall always have for your lordship, makes it painful
1 Civil War, vol. i., p. 190.
for me to see you engaged in conducting a war, the great ground of which, as expressed in your letter, is the necessity of preventing the American trade from passing into foreign channels.' . . . I know your great motive in coming hither, was the hope of being instrumental in a reconciliation; and I believe that when you find that impossible on any terms given to you to propose, you will relinquish so odious a command, and return to a more honorable private station."
"I can have no difficulty to acknowledge," replied Lord Howe, "that the powers I am invested with were never calculated to negotiate a reunion with America, under any other description than as subject to the crown of Great Britain. But I do esteem these powers competent, not only to confer and negotiate with any gentlemen of influence in the colonies upon the terms, but also to effect a lasting peace and reunion between the two countries, were the tempers of the colonies such as professed in the last petition of Congress to the King."
A hope of the kind lingered in the breast of his lordship when he sought the proposed conference. It was to take place on the 11th, at a house on Staten Island, opposite to Amboy; at which latter place the veteran Mercer was stationed with his flying camp. At Amboy, the committee found Lord Howe's barge waiting to receive them; with a British officer of rank, who was to remain within the American lines during their absence, as a hostage. This guarantee of safety was promptly declined, and the parties crossed together to Staten Island. The admiral met them on their landing, and conducted them through his guards to his house.
On opening the conference, his lordship again intimated that he could not treat with them as a committee of Congress, but only confer with them as private gentlemen of influence in the colonies, on the means of restoring peace between the two countries.
The commissioners replied that, as their business was to hear, he might consider them in what light he pleased; but that they should consider themselves in no other character than that in which they were placed by order of Congress.
Lord Howe then entered into a discourse of considérable length, but made no explicit proposition of peace, nor promisc of redress of grievances, excepting on condition that the colonies should return to their allegiance.
This, the commissioners replied, was not now to be expected.
1 Franklin's Writings, v., 103.
Their repeated humble petitions to the king and parliament having been treated with contempt, and answered by additional injuries, and war having been declared against them, the colonies had declared their independence, and it was not in the power of Congress to agree for them that they should return to their former dependent state.'
His lordship expressed his sorrow that no accommodation was likely to take place; and, on breaking up the conference, assured his old friend, Dr. Franklin, that he should suffer great pain in being obliged to distress those for whom he had so much regard.
"I feel thankful to your lordship for your regard," replied Franklin good-humoredly; "the Americans, on their part, will endeavor to lessen the pain you may feel, by taking good care of themselves."
The result of this conference had a beneficial effect. It showed that his lordship had no power but what was given by the act of Parliament; and put an end to the popular notion that he was vested with secret powers to negotiate an adjustment of grievances.
MOVEMENTS OF THE ENEMY COUNCILS OF WAR - QUESTION OF
SINCE the retreat from Brooklyn, Washington had narrowly watched the movements of the enemy to discover their further plans. Their whole force, excepting about four thousand men, had been transferred from Staten to Long Island. A great part was encamped on the peninsula between Newtown Inlet and Flushing Bay. A battery had been thrown up near the extremity of the peninsula, to check an American battery at Horen's Hook opposite, and to command the mouth of Harlem River. Troops were subsequently stationed the islands about Hell Gate. "It is evident," writes Washington, the
1 Report of the Comm. to Cong., September 13, 17IVERSIDAD
ACT CE FILOSOFÍA Y LETRAS
enemy mean to enclose us on the island of New York, by taking post in our rear, while the shipping secures the front, and thus, by cutting off our communication with the country, oblige us to fight them on their own terms, or surrender at discretion; or by a brilliant stroke endeavor to cut this army in pieces, and secure the collection of arms and stores, which, they well know, we shall not be able soon to replace.'
The question was, how could their plans be most successfully opposed? On every side, he saw a choice of difficulties; every measure was to be formed with some apprehension that all the troops would not do their duty. History, experience, the opinions of able friends in Europe, the fears of the enemy, even the declarations of Congress, all concurred in demonstrating that the war on the American side should be defensive; a war of posts; that, on all occasions, a general action should be avoided, and nothing put at risk unnecessarily. "With these views,' said Washington, "and being fully persuaded that it would be presumption to draw out our young troops into open ground against their superiors, both in number and discipline, I have never spared the spade and pickaxe."
In a council of war, held on the 7th of September, the question was discussed, whether the city should be defended or evacuated. All admitted that it would not be tenable, should it be cannonaded and bombarded. Several of the council, among whom was General Putnam, were for a total and immediate removal from the city; urging that one part of the army might be cut off before the other could support it; the extremities being at least sixteen miles apart, and the whole, when collected, being inferior to the enemy. By removing, they would deprive the enemy of the advantage of their ships; they would keep them at bay; put nothing at hazard; keep the army together to be recruited another year, and preserve the unspent stores and the heavy artillery. Washington himself inclined to this opinion. Others, however, were unwilling to abandon a place which had been fortified with great cost and labor, and seemed defensible; and which, by some, had been considered the key to the northern country; it might dispirit the troops, and enfeeble the cause. General Mercer, who was prevented by illness from attending the council, communicated his opinion by letter. "We should keep New York if possible," said he, "as the acquiring of it will give éclat to the arms of Great Britain, afford the soldiers good quarters, and furnish a safe harbor for the fleet."
1 Letter to the President of Congress.