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The British land on Long Island-Sickness of Greene- The Battle-Defeat of Sul
liyan and Stirling-Masterly Retreat to New York--Causes of Failure New York abandoned--Retreat of Washington to Harlem Heights--Landing of the British at Kip's Bay-Poltroonery of the Americans and rage of Washington-His severe Order of the Day-Remarks on this conduct of Washington-Narrow Escape of Putnam with his Division--Skirmish between two Detachments and Death of Knowlton-Manoeuvre of Howe and Battle of Chatterton's Hill Re, treat of Washington-Fall of Fort Washington.
At length, August 22d, it was announced that the British were landing on Long Island, between the Narrows and Sandy Hook. The plan originally was to bombard the city, but this had been abandoned, and an attack by land resolved upon. General Greene, to whom the works on Long Island had been intrusted, and who was doubtless thoroughly acquainted with every locality, was at this critical moment prostrated by a bilious fever, and carried to New York. Putnam succeeded him in the command, but, from some cause or other, did not seem to think his duties extended beyond the lines.
Between the plain on which the British landed and the intrenchments of the Americans, stretched a thickly wooded hill, traversed by only three roads, on each of which redoubts had been thrown up to check the advance of the enemy.
But one of these, the Bedford road, which led straight up to the American works, was left wholly unguarded. Sullivan commanded without the lines in this direction, and it seems incomprehensible that any general could commit such a strange oversight in presence of the enemy. Washington had given express orders to have all these passes well guarded, but the fact that Greene was expected to be well enough to resume his command before the attack commenced, prevented the appointment of an officer in his place, in time to allow him to become acquainted with the ground, while Sullivan, Putnam, and Stirling seemed wholly ignorant of the exact duties required of them. Besides, the universal belief that this land demonstration was only a seint to draw off the troops from the city, on which the grand attack, by water, would be made, may have caused the officers in charge to be less solicitous about the defenses on the island.
The English, ten thousand strong, with an artillery train of forty pieces, took up their line of march on the warm August evening, (26th,) and slowly approached the wooded heights before them. Howe accompanied the right wing commanded by Clinton, Cornwallis, and Percy, and at two o'clock in the morning stood on the summit, and looked down over the plain stretching to Brooklyn. Grant, commanding the left wing, moved along near the water's edge, toward Gowanus bay, while the old and veteran De Heister, fully restored from the effects of his three months' voyage by liberal putations of hock, led the centre, composed of Hessians, against the redoubts defended by Sullivan in per
The centre and left of the army were ordered only to skirmish with the enemy till they heard the guns of Clinton on the right, when they were to press to the assault at once, and prevent reinforcements from being concentrated at any single point. With the first sound of artillery, Putnam sent off reinforcements to support both Sullivan and Stirling. The latter having been ordered to defend the coast road, took position at daybreak, in the hills which now form Greenwood Cemetery.
In the meantime Clinton had descended from the hills to the Bedford Plains, and opened his fire on Sullivan's left. This was the signal for De Heister, who immediately ordered Count Donop with his veteran Hessians to storm the redoubt in front, and carry it at the point of the bayonet, while he, with the main body, would advance to his support.
The battle was in reality already won by Clinton, who now completely outflanked Sullivan. The latter met the onset in front with his accustomed bravery, and as the Hessians poured, with their wild German war-cry, to the assault, mowed them down with the steady volleys of his handful of resolute men. But the firing on his flank rapidly advancing nearer, threatened momentarily to cut him off from the lines at Brooklyn, and he reluctantly gave the orders to retreat. His small force however had scarcely reached the foot of the slope on which they had been posted, when they were greeted by the blast of bugles, as the British dragoons came galloping up the road in rear.
His retreat was now cut off, and he threw himself into a piece of wood for protection. But the loud shouts and gleaming bayonets of the Hessians as they swarmed through the green foliage, showed that this was no place of shelter, and the now surrounded Americans again emerged into the open field, only to be trampled down by the cavalry, and charged by the infantry, which had completely blocked up the way of escape. Driven again to the woods for shelter, they were bayoneted by the Hessians, who, refusing quarter, fought with the ferocity of tigers. Thus backward and forward they were hunted by the hostile ranks, until a portion, maddened into desperation, burst with one fierce effort through the barrier of steel that girdled them, and reached the main army in safety. The remainder, with Sullivan, were taken prisoners.
All this time Stirling, ignorant how the battle was going, firmly maintained his position against Grant. But Clinton had no sooner disposed of the American left, than he dispatched Cornwallis across the country to take the former in rear, and execute over again the manoeuvre that had destroyed Sullivan. This British officer advanced till within a short distance of Stirling, when he fired two cannon shot, the signal before agreed upon for Grant to move to the assault. The latter then gave the order to advance. Pressed in front and rear by an overwhelming force, Stirling saw at a glance his desperate position. The only chance of saving any part of his force was, with a small band of resolute men to keep Cornwallis employed, while the main body, fording Gowanus creek lower down, could gain the flank of the enemy and escape to Fort Putnam, on Brooklyn Heights. The tide was fast rising, and what was done must be done quickly. Calling around him a portion of Smallwood's glorious regiment of Marylanders, composed almost entirely of young men of rank and wealth, he hurled them with such terrible impetuosity on the British grenadiers, that the latter recoiled with amazement from the shock. Flushed however with the previous easy victory, and disdaining to yield to a band of undisciplined rebels, they rallied to the attack, and the conflict became close and murderous. But these gallant young men, each one a hero, pressed so sternly and resolutely into the fire, that they bore down all opposition, and for the first time in open combat, rolled back the veterans of England. The steadfast Delawares stood, with their rent colors flying, and let the artillery of Grant plough through them, disdaining to stir till ordered to retire. The fighting here was desperate. Young Callender, who had been cashiered for cowardice at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and afterward entered the service as a volunteer, seeing the captain and lieutenant of the company of artillery to which he belonged fall, took command, and with the determination to wipe out with his life blood the disgrace that had fallen on him, disdained to surrender, fighting his pieces to the last. Even when the British infantry were charging over his guns he never flinched. A British officer, struck with admiration at his noble, gallant bearing, knocked up the bayonets already pointed at his heart, and spared his life. Though outnumbered more than three to one, Stirling, with his hero-band, steadily pushed back Cornwallis, till the latter was heavily reinforced. The order to wheel off to the left and escape across the marsh was then given. A part succeeded in escaping, and swimming a small creek reached Fort Putnam in safety. The remainder, and among them Lord Stirling, surrendered themselves prisoners of war.
Washington, as the sound of the heavy cannonading broke over the city, hastened to the shore, and leaping into a boat manned by strong rowers, was soon on the Brooklyn side. Galloping up the Heights, he cast a hurried glance over the plains beyond. As he saw Sullivan completely cut off, and that Stirling, though from the heavy cannonading evidently still maintaining his ground, must soon inevitably share the fate of the former, a cry of anguish burst from his lips. The day was lost beyond redemption, and some of his noblest troops gone forever. All this time Greene lay tossing on his feverish bed, a prey to the most painful anxiety. At length, as the news reached him that Smallwood's his favorite regiment was cut to pieces, he groaned aloud, and bursting into tears, exclaimed" Gracious God, to be confined at such a time !"
Thus ended the first battle between the army under Washington and the enemy. Nearly twelve hundred men, or a quarter of the entire force engaged, had been slain or captured, a portion of them the elite of the army. Among the prisoners were Generals Sullivan, Stirling, and Woodhull. It was extraordinary that so many escaped. But the patches of wood and thickly scattered hills furnished concealment to a great many detached parties, that in a more open field or one better known to the enemy would inevitably have been captured. The manoeuvre of Howe was completely successful, and deserved even a better reward than it received.
The junction of the various divisions of the British army being effected soon after the defeat of the Americans,