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the morning exchanging cannonades with General Grant. The forbearance of the latter in not advancing, though so superior in force, had been misinterpreted by the Americans. According to Colonel Haslet's statement, the Delawares and Marylanders, drawn up on the side of the hill, "stood upward of four hours with a firm and determined countenance, in close array, their colors flying, the enemy's artillery playing on them all the while, not daring to advance and attack them, though six times their number, and nearly surrounding them.” *
Washington saw the danger to which these brave fellows were exposed, though they could not. Stationed on a hill within the lines, he commanded, with his telescope, a view of the whole field, and saw the enemy's reserve, under Cornwallis, marching down by a cross-road to get in their rear, and thus place them between two fires. With breathless anxiety he watched the result.
The sound of Sir Henry Clinton's cannon apprised Stirling that the enemy was between him and the lines. General Grant, too, aware that the time had come for earnest action, was closing up, and had already taken Colonel Atlee prisoner. His lordship now thought to effect a circuitous retreat to the lines, by crossing the creek which empties into Gowanus Cove, near what was called the Yellow Mills. There was a bridge and mill-dam, and the creek might be forded at low water, but no time was to be lost, for the tide was rising.
Leaving part of his men to keep face toward General Grant, Stirling advanced with the rest to pass the creek, but was suddenly checked by the appearance of Cornwallis and his grenadiers.
*Atlee to Colonel Rodney. Sparks, iv. 516.
Washington and some of his officers on the hill, who watched every movement, had supposed that Stirling and his troops, finding the case desperate, would surrender in a body, without firing. On the contrary, his lordship boldly attacked Cornwallis with half of Smallwood's battalion, while the rest of his troops retreated across the creek. Washington wrung his hands in agony at the sight. "Good God!" cried he, “what brave fellows I must this day lose!" *
It was; indeed, a desperate fight; and now Smallwood's macaronis showed their game spirit. They were repeatedly broken, but as often rallied, and renewed the fight. "We were on the point of driving Lord Cornwallis from his station," writes Lord Stirling, "but large re-enforcements arriving rendered it impossible to do more than provide for safety."
"Being thus surrounded, and no probability of a re-enforcement," writes a Maryland officer, "his lordship ordered me to retreat with the remaining part of our men, and force our way to our camp. We soon fell in with a party of the enemy, who clubbed their firelocks and waved their hats as if they meant to surrender as prisoners; but on our advancing within sixty yards they presented their pieces and fired, which we returned with so much warmth that they soon quitted their post and retired to a large body that was lying in ambuscade." t
The enemy rallied and returned to the combat with additional force. Only five companies of Smallwood's battalion were now in action. There was a warm and close engage
* Letter from an American officer. Am. Archives, 5th Series, ii. 108.
† Letter from a Marylander. Idem, 5th Series, i. 1232.
ment for nearly ten minutes. The struggle became desperate on the part of the Americans. Broken and disordered, they rallied in a piece of woods and made a second attack. They were again overpowered with numbers. Some were surrounded and bayoneted in a field of Indian corn; others joined their comrades who were retreating across the marsh. Lord Stirling had encouraged and animated his young soldiers by his voice and example, but when all was lost, he sought out General de Heister and surrendered himself as his prisoner.
More than two hundred and fifty brave fellows, most of them of Smallwood's regiment, perished in this deadly struggle, within sight of the lines of Brooklyn. That part of the Delaware troops who had first crossed the creek and swamp made good their retreat to the lines with a trifling loss, and entered the camp covered with mud and drenched with water, but bringing with them twenty-three prisoners, and their standard tattered by grape-shot.
The enemy now concentrated their forces within a few hundred yards of the redoubts. The grenadiers were within musket-shot. Washington expected they would storm the works, and prepared for a desperate defense. The discharge of a cannon and volleys of musketry from the part of the lines nearest to them seemed to bring them to a pause.
It was, in truth, the forbearance of the British commander that prevented a bloody conflict. His troops, heated with action and flushed with success, were eager to storm the works; but he was unwilling to risk the loss of life that must attend an assault, when the object might be attained at a cheaper rate by regular approaches. Checking the ardor of his men, therefore, though with some difficulty, he drew them off to a hollow way, in front of the lines, but
out of reach of the musketry, and encamped there for the night.
The loss of the Americans in this disastrous battle has been variously stated, but is thought in killed, wounded, and prisoners to have been nearly two thousand; a large number, considering that not above five thousand were engaged. The enemy acknowledged a loss of three hundred and eighty killed and wounded.†
The success of the enemy was attributed, in some measure, to the doubt in which Washington was kept as to the nature of the intended attack, and at what point it would chiefly be made. This obliged him to keep a great part of his forces in New York, and to distribute those at Brooklyn over a wide extent of country, and at widely distant places. In fact, he knew not the superior number of the enemy encamped on Long Island, a majority of them having been furtively landed in the night, some days after the debarkation of the first division.
Much of the day's disaster has been attributed, also, to a confusion in the command, caused by the illness of General Greene. Putnam, who had supplied his place in the emergency after the enemy had landed, had not time to make himself acquainted with the post and the surrounding country. Sullivan, though in his letters he professes to have considered himself subordinate to General Putnam within the lines, seems still to have exercised somewhat of an independent command, and to have acted at his own discretion: while Lord Stirling was said to have command of all the troops outside of the works.
* Gen. Howe to Lord G. Germaine. Rememb., iii. 347. Howe states the prisoners at 1,094, and computes the
whole American loss at 3,300.
The fatal error, however, and one probably arising from all these causes, consisted in leaving the passes through the wooded hills too weakly fortified and guarded; and especially in neglecting the eastern road, by which Sir Henry Clinton got in the rear of the advanced troops, cut them off from the lines, and subjected them to a cross fire of his own men and De Heister's Hessians.
This able and fatal scheme of the enemy might have been thwarted had the army been provided with a few troops of light-horse, to serve as videttes. With these to scour the roads and bring intelligence, the night march of Sir Henry Clinton, so decisive of the fortunes of the day, could hardly have failed to be discovered and reported. The Connecticut horsemen, therefore, ridiculed by the Southerners for their homely equipments, sneered at as useless, and dismissed for standing on their dignity and privileges as troopers, might, if retained, have saved the army from being surprised and severed, its advanced guards routed, and those very Southern troops cut up, captured, and almost annihilated.
The Retreat from Long Island
THE night after the battle was a weary, yet almost sleepless one to the Americans. Fatigued, dispirited, many of them sick and wounded, yet they were, for the most part, without tent or other shelter. To Washington it was a night of anxious vigil. Everything boded a close and deadly conflict. The enemy had pitched a number of tents about a mile distant. Their sentries were but a quarter of a mile off, and close to the American sentries. At four o'clock in