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retreat. The British generals, in passing by Murray Hill, the country residence of a patriot of that name who was of the Society of Friends, made a halt to seek some refreshment. The proprietor of the house was absent; but his wife set cake and wine before them in abundance. So grateful were these refreshments in the heat of the day that they lingered over their wine, quaffing and laughing and bantering their patriotic hostess about the ludicrous panic and discomfiture of her countrymen. In the meantime, before they were roused from their regale, Putnam and his forces had nearly passed by, within a mile of them. All the loss sustained by him in his perilous retreat was fifteen killed, and about three hundred taken prisoners. It became, adds the tradition, a common saying among the American officers that Mrs. Murray saved Putnam's division of the army.*
Fortified Camp at King's Bridge-American and British LinesThe Morris House-Alexander Hamilton-The Enemy Advance -Successful Skirmish-Death of Knowlton-Great Fire in New York-Reorganization of the Army-Exchange of PrisonersDaniel Morgan Regained-Delancey's Tory Brigade-Robert Rogers, the Partisan-His Rangers-The "Roebuck," "Phoenix” and "Tartar" in the Hudson-Military Movements by Land and Water-Letter of John Jay
THE fortified camp, where the main body of the army was now assembled, was upon that neck of land several miles long, and for the most part not above a mile wide, which forms the upper part of Manhattan or New York Isl
*Thacher's Military Journal, p. 70.
and. It forms a chain of rocky heights, and is separated from the mainland by Harlem River, a narrow strait, extending from Hell Gate on the Sound, to Spyt den Duivel, a creek or inlet of the Hudson. Fort Washington occupied the crest of one of the rocky heights above mentioned, overlooking the Hudson, and about two miles north of it was King's Bridge, crossing Spyt den Duivel Creek, and forming at that time the only pass from Manhattan Island to the mainland.
About a mile and a half south of the fort, a double row of lines extended across the neck from Harlem River to the Hudson. They faced south toward New York, were about a quarter of a mile apart, and were defended by batteries.
There were strong advanced posts about two miles south of the outer line; one on the left of Harlem, commanded by General Spencer, the other on the right, at what was called McGowan's Pass, commanded by General Putnam. About a mile and a half beyond these posts the British lines extended across the island from Horen's Hook to the Hudson, being a continuous encampment, two miles in length, with both flanks covered by shipping. An open plain intervened between the hostile camps.
Washington had established his headquarters about a quarter of a mile within the inner line; at a country-seat, the owners of which were absent. It belonged, in fact, to Colonel Roger Morris, his early companion in arms in Braddock's campaign, and his successful competitor for the hand of Miss Mary Philipse. Morris had remained in America, enjoying the wealth he had acquired by his marriage; but had adhered to the royal party, and was a member of the council of the colony. It is said that at this time he was re
siding in the Highlands at Beverley, the seat of his brother. in-law, Washington's old friend, Beverley Robinson.*
While thus posted, Washington was incessantly occupied in fortifying the approaches to his camp by redoubts, abatis, and deep intrenchments. "Here," said he, "I should hope the enemy, in case of attack, would meet a defeat, if the generality of our troops would behave with tolerable bravery; but experience, to my extreme affliction, has convinced me that it is rather to be wished than expected. However, I trust there are many who will act like men worthy of the blessings of freedom." The late disgraceful scene at Kip's Bay was evidently rankling in his mind.
In the course of his rounds of inspection he was struck with the skill and science displayed in the construction of some of the works, which were thrown up under the direction of a youthful captain of artillery. It proved to be the same young officer, Alexander Hamilton, whom Greene had recommended to his notice. After some conversation with him, Washington invited him to his marquee, and thus commenced that intercourse which has indissolubly linked their memories together.
On the morning of the 16th, word was brought to headquarters that the enemy were advancing in three large colThere had been so many false reports that Reed, the adjutant-general, obtained leave to sally out and ascertain the truth. Washington himself soon mounted his horse and rode toward the advanced posts. On arriving there he heard a brisk firing. It was kept up for a time with great spirit. There was evidently a sharp conflict. At length Reed came
* The portrait of Miss Mary Philipse is still to be seen in the possession of Frederick Phillips, Esquire, at the Grange, on the Highlands opposite West Point.
galloping back with information. A strong detachment of the enemy had attacked the most advanced post, which was situated on a hill skirted by a wood. It had been bravely defended by Lieutenant-colonel Knowlton, Putnam's favorite officer, who had distinguished himself at Bunker's Hill; he had under him a party of Connecticut rangers, volunteers from different regiments. After skirmishing for a time, the party had been overpowered by numbers and driven in, and the outpost was taken possession of by the enemy. Reed supposed the latter to be about three hundred strong, but they were much stronger, the main part having been concealed behind a rising ground in the wood. They were composed of a battalion of light infantry, another of Royal Highlanders, and three companies of Hessian riflemen; all under command of General Leslie.
sent to support the While he was talk
Reed urged that troops should be brave fellows who had behaved so well. ing with Washington, "the enemy," he says, “appeared in open view, and sounded their bugles in the most insulting manner, as usual after a fox-chase. I never," adds he, "felt such a sensation before; it seemed to crown our disgrace."
Washington, too, was stung by the taunting note of derision; it recalled the easy triumph of the enemy at Kip's Bay. Resolved that something should be done to wipe out that disgrace, and rouse the spirits of the army, he ordered out three companies from Colonel Weedon's regiment, just arrived from Virginia, and sent them, under Major Leitch, to join Knowlton's rangers. The troops thus united were to get in the rear of the enemy, while a feigned attack was made upon them in front.
The plan was partially successful. As the force advanced to make the false attack, the enemy ran down the hill, and
took what they considered an advantageous position behind some fences and bushes which skirted it. A firing commenced between them and the advancing party, but at too great a distance to do much harm on either side. In the meantime, Knowlton and Leitch, ignorant of this change in the enemy's position, having made a circuit, came upon them in flank instead of in rear. They were sharply received. A vivid contest took place, in which Connecticut vied with Virginia in bravery. In a little while Major Leitch received three bullets in his side and was borne off the field. Shortly afterward, a wound in the head from a musket-ball brought Knowlton to the ground. Colonel Reed placed him on his horse and conveyed him to a distant redoubt. The men, undismayed by the fall of their leaders, fought with unflinching resolution under command of their captains. The enemy were re-enforced by a battalion of Hessians and a company of chasseurs. Washington, likewise, sent re-enforcements of New England and Maryland troops. The action waxed hotter and hotter; the enemy were driven from the wood into the plain, and pushed for some distance; the Americans were pursuing them with ardor, when Washington, having effected the object of this casual encounter, and being unwilling to risk a general action, ordered a retreat to be sounded.
It was with difficulty, however, his men could be called off, so excited were they by the novelty of pursuing an enemy. They retired in good order; and, as it subsequently appeared, in good season, for the main body of the enemy were advancing at a rapid rate, and might have effectually reversed the scene.
Colonel Knowlton did not long survive the action. "When gasping in the agonies of death," says Colonel Reed, "all his