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by General George Clinton, shows what, in their forlorn plight, they had to grapple with.
"We had reason," writes he, "to apprehend an attack last night, or by daylight this morning. Our lines were manned all night in consequence; and a most horrid night it was to lay in cold trenches. Uncovered as we are, daily on fatigue, making redoubts, fleches, abatis, and retreating from them and the little temporary huts made for our comfort before they are well finished, I fear will ultimately destroy our army without fighting."'1 However," adds he, honestly, I would not be understood to condemn measures. They may be right for aught I know. I do not understand much of the refined art of war; it is said to consist in stratagem and deception." In a previous letter to the same friend, in a moment of hurry and alarm, he writes, "Pray let Mrs. Clinton know that I am well, and that she need not be uneasy about me. It would be too much honor to die in so good a cause.
Clinton, as we have before intimated, was an honest and ardent patriot, of resolute spirit, and plain, direct good sense; but an inexperienced soldier. His main idea of warfare was straightforward fighting; and he was greatly perplexed by the continual strategy which Washington's situation required. One of the aides-de-camp of the latter had a truer notion on the subject. "The campaign hitherto," said he, has been a fair trial of generalship, in which I flatter myself we have had the advantage. If we, with our motley army, can keep Mr. Howe and his grand appointment at bay, I think we shall make no contemptible military figure.'
On the night of the 31st, Washington made another of those moves which perplexed the worthy Clinton. In the course of the night he shifted his whole position, set fire to the barns and out-houses containing forage and stores, which there was no time to remove, and, leaving a strong rear-guard on the heights, and in the neighboring woods, retired with his main army a distance of five miles, among the high, rocky hills about Northcastle. Here he immediately set to work to intrench and fortify himself; his policy at this time being, as he used to say, "to fight with the spade and mattock."
General Howe did not attempt to dislodge him from his fastness. He at one time ordered an attack on the rear-guard, but a violent rain prevented it, and for two or three days he remained seemingly inactive. "All matters are as quiet as if
1 George Clinton to John McKesson, October 31. Am. Archives, 5th Series, ii., 1312 Tench Tilghman to William Duer, October 31.
the enemy were one hundred miles distant from us," writes one of Washington's aides on the 2d of November. During the night of the 4th, this quiet was interrupted. A mysterious sound was heard in the direction of the British camp; like the rumbling of wagons and artillery. At daybreak the meaning of it was discovered. The enemy were decamping. Long trains were observed, defiling across the hilly country, along the roads leading to Dobbs' Ferry on the Hudson. The move ment continued for three successive days, until their whole force, British and Hessians, disappeared from White Plains.
The night after their departure a party of Americans, heated with liquor, set fire to the court-house and other edifices in the village, as if they had belonged to the enemy; an outrage which called forth a general order from Washington, expressive of his indignation, and threatening the perpetrators with signal punishment when detected. We notice this matter, because in British accounts, the burning of those buildings had been charged upon Washington himself; being, no doubt, confounded with the burning of the barns and out-houses ordered by him on shifting his encampment.
CONJECTURES AS TO THE INTENTIONS
OF THE ENEMY-CON
SEQUENT PRECAUTIONS CORRESPONDENCE WITH GREENE RESPECTING FORT WASHINGTON - DISTRIBUTION OF THE ARMY LEE LEFT IN COMMAND AT NORTHCASTLE INSTRUCTIONS TO WASHINGTON AT PEEKSKILL -VISITS TO THE POSTS IN THE HIGHLANDS.
VARIOUS were the speculations at head-quarters on the sudlen movement of the enemy. Washington writes to General William Livingston (now governor of the Jerseys): "They have gone toward the North River and King's Bridge. Some suppose they are going into winter quarters, and will sit down in New York without doing more than investing Fort Washington. I cannot subscribe wholly to this opinion myself. That they will invest Fort Washington, is a matter of which there can be no doubt; and I think there is a strong probability that General Howe will detach a part of his force to make an incursion into the Jerseys, provided he is going to New York. He
must attempt something on account of his reputation, for what has he done as yet, with his great army?"
In the same letter he expressed his determination, as soon as it should appear that the present manœuvre was a real retreat, and not a feint, to throw over a body of troops into the Jerseys to assist in checking Howe's progress. He, moreover, recommended to the governor to have the militia of that State put on the best possible footing, and a part of them held in readiness to take the place of the State levies, whose term of service would soon expire. He advised, also, that the inhabitants contiguous to the water should be prepared to remove their stock, grain, effects, and carriages, on the earliest notice.
In a letter of the same date, he charged General Greene, should Howe invest Fort Washington with part of his force, to give the garrison all possible assistance.
On the following day (November 8), his aide-de-camp, Colonel Tilghman, writes to General Greene from head-quarters: "The enemy are at Dobbs' Ferry with a great number of boats, ready to go into Jersey, or proceed up the river.”
Greene doubted any intention of the enemy to cross the river; it might only be a feint to mislead; still, as a precaution, he had ordered troops up from the flying camp, and was posting them opposite Dobbs' Ferry, and at other passes where a landing might be attempted; the whole being under the command of General Mercer.
Affairs at Fort Washington soon settled the question of the enemy's intentions with regard to it. Lord Percy took his station with a body of troops before the lines to the south. Knyphausen advanced on the north. The Americans had previously abandoned Fort Independence, burned its barracks, and removed the stores and cannon. Crossing King's Bridge, Knyphausen took a position between it and Fort Washington. The approach to the fort, on this side, was exceedingly steep and rocky; as, indeed, were all its approaches excepting that on the south, where the country was more open, and the ascent gradual. The fort could not hold within its walls above one thousand men; the rest of the troops were distributed about the lines and outworks. While the fort was thus menaced, the chevaux-de-frise had again proved inefficient. On the night of the 5th, a frigate and two transports, bound up to Dobbs' Ferry, with supplies for Howe's army, had broken through; though, according to Greene's account, not without being considerably shattered by the batteries.
Informed of these facts, Washington wrote to Greene on the
8th: "If we cannot prevent vessels from passing up the river, and the enemy are possessed of all the surrounding country, what valuable purpose can it answer to hold a post from which the expected benefit cannot be had? I am, therefore, inclined to think, that it will not be prudent to hazard the men and stores at Mount Washington; but, as you are on the spot, I leave it to you to give such orders as to evacuating Mount Washington as you may judge best, and so far revoking the orders given to Colonel Magaw, to defend it to the last.
Accounts had been received at head-quarters of a considerable movement on the preceding evening (November 7), among the enemy's boats at Dobbs' Ferry, with the intention, it was said, of penetrating the Jerseys, and falling down upon Fort Lee. Washington, therefore, in the same letter directed Greene to have all the stores not necessary to the defence removed immediately, and to destroy all the stock, the hay and grain, in the neighborhood, which the owners refused to remove. "Experience has shown," adds he, "that a contrary conduct is not of the least advantage to the poor inhabitants, from whom all their effects of every kind are taken without distinction and without the least satisfaction."
Greene, in reply (November 9), adhered with tenacity to the policy of maintaining Fort Washington. "The enemy," said he, must invest it with double the number of men required for its defence. They must keep troops at King's Bridge, to cut off all communication with the country, and in considerable force, for fear of an attack." He did not consider the fort in immediate danger. Colonel Magaw thought it would take the enemy until the end of December to carry it. In the mean time, the garrison could at any time be brought off, and even the stores removed, should matters grow desperate. If the enemy should not find it an object of importance, they would not trouble themselves about it; if they should, it would be a proof that they felt an injury from its being maintained. The giving it up would open for them a free communication with the country by the way of King's Bridge.1
It is doubtful when or where Washington received this letter, as he left the camp at Northcastle at eleven o'clock of the following morning. There being still considerable uncertainty as to the intentions of the enemy, all his arrangements were made accordingly. All the troops belonging to the States west of the Hudson, were to be stationed in the Jerseys, under command
1 Am. Archives, 5th Series, iii., 618.
of General Putnam. Lord Stirling had already been sent forward with the Maryland and Virginia troops to Peekskill, to cross the river at King's Ferry. Another division composed of Connecticut and Massachusetts troops, under General Heath, was to co-operate with the brigade of New York militia under General George Clinton, in securing the Highland posts on both sides of the river.
The troops which would remain at Northeastle after the departure of Heath and his division, were to be commanded by Lee. Washington's letter of instructions to that general is characterized by his own modesty, and his deference for Lee's superior military experience. He suggests, rather than orders, yet his letter is sufficiently explicit. "A little time now," writes he, "must manifest the enemy's designs, and point out to you the measures proper to be pursued by that part of the army under your command. I shall give no directions, therefore, on this head, having the most entire confidence in your judgment and military exertions. One thing, however, I will suggest, namely, that the appearance of embarking troops for the Jerseys may be intended as a feint to weaken us, and render the post we now hold more vulnerable, or the enemy may find that troops are assembled with more expedition, and in greater numbers, than they expected, on the Jersey shore, to oppose them; and, as it is possible, from one or other of these motives, that they may yet pay the party under your command a visit, it will be unnecessary, I am persuaded, to recommend to you the propriety of putting this post, if you stay at it, into a proper posture of defence, and guarding against surprises. But I would recommend it to your consideration, whether, under the suggestion above, your retiring to Croton Bridge, and some strong post still more easterly (covering the passes through the Highlands), may not be more advisable than to run the hazard of an attack with unequal numbers. At any rate, I think all your baggage and stores, except such as are necessary for immediate use, ought to be to the northward of Croton River.
You will consider the post at Croton's (or Pine's) Bridge as under your immediate care. . . . If the enemy should remove the whole, or the greater part of their force to the west side of Hudson's River, I have no doubt of your following with all possible despatch, leaving the militia and invalids to cover the frontiers of Connecticut in case of need.” We have been minute in stating these matters, from their bearing on subsequent operations.
On the 10th of November, Washington left the camp at North