The Life of George Washington, Vol. 2 (of 5)
by John Marshall
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[Footnote 28: Annual Register.]

General Thompson, who commanded the army after the illness of General Thomas, understanding the party at the Three Rivers to consist of about eight hundred men, partly Canadians, had detached Colonel St. Clair with between six and seven hundred men, to attack it, if there should be any probability of doing so with advantage. Colonel St. Clair advanced to Nicolet, where, believing himself not strong enough for the service on which he had been ordered, he waited for further reinforcements, or additional instructions. At this time General Sullivan arrived; and, understanding the enemy to be weak at the Three Rivers, orders General Thompson to join Colonel St. Clair at Nicolet, with a reinforcement of nearly fourteen hundred men, to take command of the whole detachment, and to attack the troops lying at the Three Rivers, provided there was a favourable prospect of success.

{June 8.}

General Thompson joined Colonel St. Clair at Nicolet, and, believing himself strong enough to perform the service consigned to him, fell down the river by night, and passed to the other side, with the intention of surprising Frazer. The plan was to attack the village a little before day-break, at the same instant, at each end; whilst two smaller corps were drawn up to cover and support the attack.

[Sidenote: Battle of the Three Rivers.]

The troops passed the armed vessels without being perceived, but arrived at Three Rivers about an hour later than had been intended; in consequence of which they were discovered, and the alarm was given at their landing. To avoid the fire of some ships in the river, they attempted to pass through what appeared to be a point of woods, but was in reality a deep morass three miles in extent. The delays occasioned by their detention in this morass, gave General Frazer full time to land some field pieces, and prepare for their reception; while General Nesbit fell into their rear, and cut off their return to the boats. They advanced to the charge, but were soon repulsed; and finding it impracticable to return the way they came, were driven some miles through a deep swamp, which they traversed with inconceivable toil, and every degree of distress. The British at length gave over the pursuit.

In this unfortunate enterprise, General Thompson and Colonel Irwin, with about two hundred men, were made prisoners; and from twenty to thirty were killed. The loss of the British was inconsiderable.

{June 14.}

The whole American force in Canada now amounted to about eight thousand men, not one half of whom were fit for duty. About two thousand five hundred effectives were with General Sullivan at the Sorel. The whole were in a state of total insubordination—much harassed with fatigue—and dispirited by their late losses, by the visible superiority of the enemy, and by the apprehension that their retreat would be entirely cut off. Under all these discouraging circumstances, General Sullivan formed the rash determination of defending the post at Sorel; and was induced only by the unanimous opinion of his officers, and a conviction that the troops would not support him, to abandon it a few hours before the British took possession of it. The same causes drew him reluctantly from Chamblee and St. John's; but he resolved to remain at the Isle Aux Noix, until he should receive orders to retreat. He had been joined at St. John's by General Arnold, who had crossed over at Longueisle just in time to save the garrison of Montreal.

The Isle Aux Noix is a low unhealthy place, badly supplied with water; where the troops were so universally seized with fevers, as to compel General Sullivan to retire to the Isle Lamotte. At that place he received the orders of General Schuyler to embark on the lakes for Crown Point.

The armed vessels on the Sorel and St. Lawrence were destroyed, and the fortifications of Chamblee and St. John's set on fire. All the baggage of the army, and nearly all the military stores were saved.

The British army, during this whole retreat, followed close in the rear, and took possession of the different posts which the Americans had occupied, immediately after they were evacuated.

On the Sorel the pursuit stopped. The Americans had the command of the lake, and the British general deemed it prudent to wrest it from them before he advanced farther. To effect this, it was necessary to construct a number of vessels, which required time and labour. Meanwhile, General Gates was ordered to take command of the northern army, which was directed to be reinforced with six thousand militia.

[Sidenote: Canada evacuated.]

Thus terminated the enterprise against Canada. It was a bold, and, at one period, promised to be a successful effort to annex that extensive province to the United Colonies. The dispositions of the Canadians favoured the measure; and had Quebec fallen, there is reason to believe the colony would have entered cordially into the union. Had a few incidents turned out fortunately; had Arnold been able to reach Quebec a few days sooner, or to cross the St. Lawrence on his first arrival—or had the gallant Montgomery not fallen in the assault of the 31st December, it is probable the expedition would have been crowned with complete success. But the radical causes of failure, putting fortune out of the question, were to be found in the lateness of the season when the troops were assembled, in a defect of the preparations necessary for such a service, and still more in the shortness of the time for which the men were enlisted. Had the expedition been successful, the practicability of maintaining the country is much to be doubted. Whilst General Montgomery lay before Quebec, and expected to obtain possession of the place, he extended his views to its preservation. His plan required a permanent army of ten thousand men; strong fortifications at Jacques Cartier, and the rapids of Richelieu; and armed vessels in the river, above the last place. With this army and these precautions, he thought the country might be defended; but not with an inferior force.

It seems, therefore, to have been an enterprise requiring means beyond the ability of congress; and the strength exhausted on it would have been more judiciously employed in securing the command of the lakes George and Champlain, and the fortified towns upon them.

While General Carleton was making preparations to enter the lakes, General Schuyler was using his utmost exertions to retain the command of them. But, so great was the difficulty of procuring workmen and materials, that he found it impossible to equip a fleet which would be equal to the exigency. It consisted of only fifteen small vessels; the largest of which was a schooner mounting twelve guns, carrying six and four pound balls. The command of this squadron, at the instance of General Washington, was given to General Arnold.

[Sidenote: General Carleton constructs a fleet.]

[Sidenote: Enters Lake Champlain.]

With almost incredible exertions, the British general constructed a powerful fleet; and, afterwards, dragged up the rapids of St. Therese and St. John's, a vast number of long boats and other vessels, among which was a gondola weighing thirty tons. This immense work was completed in little more than three months; and, as if by magic, General Arnold saw on Lake Champlain, early in October, a fleet consisting of near thirty vessels; the largest of which, the Inflexible, carried eighteen twelve-pounders. This formidable fleet, having on board General Carleton himself, and navigated by seven hundred prime seamen under the command of Captain Pringle, proceeded immediately in quest of Arnold, who was advantageously posted between the island of Valicour and the western main.

Notwithstanding the disparity of force, a warm action ensued. A wind, unfavourable to the British, kept the Inflexible and some other large vessels at too great a distance to render any service. This circumstance enabled Arnold to keep up the engagement until night, when Captain Pringle discontinued it, and anchored his whole fleet in a line, as near the vessels of his adversary as was practicable. In this engagement, the best schooner belonging to the American flotilla was burnt, and a gondola was sunk.

[Sidenote: Defeats the American flotilla.]

In the night, Arnold attempted to escape to Ticonderoga; and, the next morning, was out of sight; but, being immediately pursued, was overtaken about noon, and brought to action a few leagues short of Crown Point. He kept up a warm engagement for about two hours, during which the vessels that were most ahead escaped to Ticonderoga. Two gallies and five gondolas, which remained, made a desperate resistance. At length one of them struck; after which Arnold ran the remaining vessels on shore, and blew them up; having first saved his men, though great efforts were made to take them.

On the approach of the British army, a small detachment, which had occupied Crown Point as an out-post, evacuated the place, and retired to Ticonderoga, which Schuyler determined to defend to the last extremity.

[Sidenote: Takes possession of Crown Point.]

[Sidenote: Retires into winter quarters.]

General Carleton took possession of Crown Point, and advanced a part of his fleet into Lake George, within view of Ticonderoga. His army also approached that place, as if designing to invest it; but, after reconnoitring the works, and observing the steady countenance of the garrison, he thought it too late to lay siege to the fortress. Re-embarking his army, he returned to Canada, where he placed it in winter quarters; making the Isle Aux Noix his most advanced post.


Transactions in Virginia.... Action at Great Bridge.... Norfolk evacuated.... Burnt.... Transactions in North Carolina.... Action at Moore's Creek Bridge.... Invasion of South Carolina.... British fleet repulsed at Fort Moultrie.... Transactions in New York.... Measures leading to Independence.... Independence declared.



[Sidenote: Transactions in Virginia.]

Whilst the war was carried on thus vigorously in the north, the southern colonies were not entirely unemployed. The convention of Virginia determined to raise two regiments of regular troops for one year, and to enlist a part of the militia as minute-men.


Lord Dunmore, the Governor of the colony, who was joined by the most active of the disaffected, and by a number of slaves whom he had encouraged to run away from their masters, was collecting a naval force, which threatened to be extremely troublesome in a country so intersected with large navigable rivers as the colony of Virginia. With this force he carried on a slight predatory war, and, at length, attempted to burn the town of Hampton. The inhabitants, having received intimation of his design, gave notice of it to the commanding officer at Williamsburg, where some regulars and minute-men were stationed. Two companies were despatched to their assistance, who arrived just before the assault was made, and obliged the assailants to retreat, with some loss, to their vessels.

{November 7.}

In consequence of this repulse, his Lordship proclaimed martial law; summoned all persons capable of bearing arms to repair to the royal standard, or be considered as traitors; and offered freedom to all indented servants and slaves who should join him.[29]

[Footnote 29: Gazette-Remembrancer.]

This proclamation made some impression about Norfolk, where the Governor collected such a force of the disaffected and negroes, as gave him an entire ascendancy in that part of the colony.

Intelligence of these transactions being received at Williamsburg, a regiment of regulars and about two hundred minute-men, were ordered down under the command of Colonel Woodford,[30] for the defence of the inhabitants. Hearing of their approach, Lord Dunmore took a well chosen position on the north side of Elizabeth river, at the Great Bridge, where it was necessary for the provincials to cross in order to reach Norfolk; at which place he had established himself in some force. Here he erected a small fort on a piece of firm ground surrounded by a marsh, which was accessible, on either side, only by a long causeway. Colonel Woodford encamped within cannon-shot of this post, in a small village at the south end of the causeway; across which, just at its termination, he constructed a breast-work; but, being without artillery, was unable to make any attempt on the fort.

[Footnote 30: The author was in this expedition, and relates the circumstances attending it chiefly from his own observation.]


[Sidenote: Action at the Great Bridge.]

In this position both parties continued for a few days, when Lord Dunmore ordered Captain Fordyce, the commanding officer at the Great Bridge, though inferior in numbers, to storm the works of the provincials. Between day-break and sunrise, this officer, at the head of about sixty grenadiers of the 14th regiment, who led the column, advanced along the causeway with fixed bayonets, against the breast-work. The alarm was immediately given; and, as is the practice with raw troops, the bravest rushed to the works, where, regardless of order, they kept up a heavy fire on the front of the British column. Captain Fordyce, though received so warmly in front, and taken in flank by a party posted on a small eminence on his right, marched up with great intrepidity, until he fell dead within a few steps of the breast-work. The column immediately broke and retreated; but being covered by the artillery of the fort, was not pursued.

In this ill-judged attack, every grenadier is said to have been killed or wounded; while the Americans did not lose a single man.

[Sidenote: Norfolk evacuated.]

The following night, the fort was evacuated. The provincial troops proceeded to Norfolk, under the command of Colonel Howe of North Carolina, and Lord Dunmore took refuge on board his vessels.



[Sidenote: And burnt.]

After taking possession of the town, the American soldiers frequently amused themselves by firing into the vessels in the harbour, from the buildings near the water. Irritated by this, Lord Dunmore determined to destroy the houses immediately on the shore; and, on the night of the first of January, under cover of a heavy cannonade, landed a body of troops, and set fire to a number of houses near the river. The provincials, who entertained strong prejudices against this station, saw the flames spread from house to house without making any attempt to extinguish them. After the fire had continued several weeks, in which time it had consumed about four-fifths of the town, Colonel Howe, who had waited on the convention to urge the necessity of destroying the place, returned with orders to burn the remaining houses; which were carried into immediate execution.


Thus was destroyed the most populous and flourishing town in Virginia. Its destruction was one of those ill-judged measures, of which the consequences are felt long after the motives are forgotten.

After Norfolk was laid in ashes, Lord Dunmore continued a predatory war on the rivers—burning houses, and robbing plantations—which served only to distress a few individuals, and to increase the detestation in which he was held through the country. At length, his wretched followers, wearied with their miserable condition, were sent to Florida.[31]

[Footnote 31: Virginia Gazette.]

As the war became more serious, the convention deemed it necessary to increase the number of regular regiments from two to nine, which were afterwards taken into the continental service.

[Sidenote: Transactions in North Carolina.]

In North Carolina, Governor Martin, though obliged to take refuge on board a ship of war, in Cape Fear river, indulged the hope of being able to reduce that colony.

A body of ignorant and disorderly men on the western frontier, styling themselves regulators, had attempted by arms, some time before the existing war, to control and stop the administration of justice. After failing in this attempt, they became as hostile to the colonial, as they had been to the royal government.

The province also contained many families who had lately emigrated from the highlands of Scotland; and who, retaining their attachment to the place of their nativity, transferred it to the government under which they had been bred. From the union of these parties, Governor Martin entertained sanguine hopes of making a successful struggle for North Carolina. His confidence was increased by the assurances he had received, that a considerable land and naval armament was destined for the southern colonies.

To prepare for co-operating with this force, should it arrive; or, in any event, to make an effort to give the ascendancy in North Carolina to the royal cause, he sent several commissions to the leaders of the highlanders, for raising and commanding regiments; and granted one to a Mr. M'Donald, their chief, to act as their general. He also sent them a proclamation, to be used on a proper occasion, commanding all persons, on their allegiance, to repair to the royal standard. This was erected by General M'Donald at Cross Creek, about the middle of February, and nearly fifteen hundred men arranged themselves under it.



Upon the first advice that the loyalists were assembling, Brigadier General Moore marched at the head of a provincial regiment, with such militia as he could suddenly collect, and some pieces of cannon, and took a strong position within a few miles of them. General M'Donald soon approached, and sent a letter to Moore, enclosing the Governor's proclamation, and recommending to him and his party to join the King's standard by a given hour the next day. The negotiation was protracted by Moore, in the hope that the numerous bodies of militia who were advancing to join him, would soon enable him to surround his adversary. M'Donald, at length, perceived his danger, and, suddenly decamping, endeavoured by forced marches to extricate himself from it, and join Governor Martin and Lord William Campbell, who were encouraged to commence active operations by the arrival of General Clinton in the colony.

[Sidenote: Action at Moore's Creek Bridge.]

The provincial parties, however, were so alert in every part of the country, that he found himself under the necessity of engaging Colonels Caswell and Lillington, who, with about one thousand minute-men and militia, had entrenched themselves directly in his front, at a place called Moore's Creek Bridge. The royalists were greatly superior in number, but were under the disadvantage of being compelled to cross the bridge, the planks of which were partly taken up, in the face of the intrenchments occupied by the provincials. They commenced the attack, however, with great spirit; but Colonel M'Leod who commanded them, in consequence of the indisposition of M'Donald, and several others of their bravest officers and men, having fallen in the first onset, their courage deserted them, and they fled in great disorder, leaving behind them their general and several others of their leaders, who fell into the hands of the provincials.[32]

[Footnote 32: Annual Register—Gordon—Ramsay—Gazette.]

This victory was of eminent service to the American cause in North Carolina. It broke the spirits of a great body of men, who would have constituted a formidable reinforcement to an invading army; increased the confidence of the provincials in themselves, and attached to them the timid and wavering, who form a large portion of every community.

General Clinton, who was to command in the south, had left Boston with a force too inconsiderable to attempt any thing until he should be reinforced by the troops expected from Europe. After parting with Governor Tryon in New York, he had proceeded to Virginia, where he passed a few days with Lord Dunmore; but finding himself too weak to effect any thing in that province, he repaired to North Carolina, and remained with Governor Martin until the arrival of Sir Peter Parker. Fortunately for the province, the unsuccessful insurrection of M'Donald had previously broken the strength and spirits of the loyalists, and deprived them of their most active chiefs; in consequence of which, the operations which had been meditated against North Carolina were deferred. Clinton continued in Cape Fear until near the end of May, when, hearing nothing certain from General Howe, he determined to make an attempt on the capital of South Carolina.


Early in the month of April, a letter from the secretary of state to Mr. Eden, the royal governor of Maryland, disclosing the designs of administration against the southern colonies, was intercepted in the Chesapeake; and thus, South Carolina became apprized of the danger which threatened its metropolis. Mr. Rutledge, a gentleman of vigour and talents, who had been chosen president of that province on the dissolution of the regal government, adopted the most energetic means for placing it in a posture of defence.


[Sidenote: Invasion of South Carolina.]

In the beginning of June, the British fleet came to anchor off the harbour of Charleston. The bar was crossed with some difficulty; after which, it was determined to commence operations by silencing a fort on Sullivan's island.

During the interval between passing the bar and attacking the fort, the continental troops of Virginia and North Carolina arrived in Charleston; and the American force amounted to between five and six thousand men, of whom two thousand five hundred were regulars. This army was commanded by General Lee, whose fortune it had been to meet General Clinton at New York, in Virginia, and in North Carolina. Viewing with a military eye the situation of the post entrusted to his care, Lee was disinclined to hazard his army by engaging it deeply in the defence of the town; but the solicitude of the South Carolinians to preserve their capital, aided by his confidence in his own vigilance, prevailed over a caution which was thought extreme, and determined him to attempt to maintain the place.

Two regular regiments of South Carolina, commanded by Colonels Gadsden and Moultrie, garrisoned fort Johnson and fort Moultrie. About five hundred regulars, and three hundred militia under Colonel Thompson, were stationed in some works which had been thrown up on the north-eastern extremity of Sullivan's island; and the remaining troops were arranged on Hadrell's Point, and along the bay in front of the town. General Lee remained in person with the troops at Hadrell's Point, in the rear of Sullivan's island. His position was chosen in such a manner as to enable him to observe and support the operations in every quarter, and especially to watch and oppose any attempt of the enemy to pass from Long Island to the continent; a movement of which he seems to have been particularly apprehensive.

{June 28.}

[Sidenote: British fleet repulsed at Fort Moultrie.]

The British ships, after taking their stations, commenced an incessant and heavy cannonade on the American works. Its effect, however, on the fort, was not such as had been expected. This was attributable to its form, and to its materials. It was very low, with merlons of great thickness; and was constructed of earth, and a species of soft wood common in that country, called the palmetto, which, on being struck with a ball, does not splinter, but closes upon it.

The fire from the fort was deliberate; and, being directed with skill, did vast execution. The garrison united the cool determined courage of veterans, with the enthusiastic ardour of youth. General Lee crossed over in a boat, to determine whether he should withdraw them; and was enraptured with the ardour they displayed. They assured him they would lose the fort only with their lives; and the mortally wounded breathed their last, exhorting their fellow soldiers to the most heroic defence of the place.

{July 15.}

The engagement continued until night. By that time, the ships were in such a condition, as to be unfit to renew the action on the ensuing day. The Bristol lost one hundred and eleven men, and the Experiment seventy-nine. Captain Scott, of the one, lost his arm; and Captain Morris, of the other, was mortally wounded. Lord Campbell, late Governor of the province, who served as a volunteer on board one of these vessels, was also mortally wounded; and both ships were so shattered, as to inspire hopes that they would be unable to repass the bar. About nine, they slipped their cables and moved off. A few days afterwards, the troops were re-embarked, and all farther designs against the southern colonies being for the present relinquished, the squadron sailed for New York.[33]

[Footnote 33: Annual Register—Gordon—Ramsay—Letters of General Lee.]

The attack on fort Moultrie was supported by the British seamen with their accustomed bravery; and the slaughter on board the ships was uncommonly great. The loss of the Americans, in killed and wounded, was only thirty-five men.

Great and well merited praise was bestowed on Colonel Moultrie, who commanded the fort, and on the garrison, for the resolution displayed in defending it. Nor was the glory acquired on this occasion confined to them. All the troops that had been stationed on the island partook of it: and the thanks of the United Colonies were voted by congress to General Lee, Colonel Moultrie, Colonel Thompson, and the officers and men under their command.

This fortunate event, for such it may well be termed, though not of much magnitude in itself, was, like many other successes attending the American arms in the commencement of the war, of great importance in its consequences. By impressing on the colonists a conviction of their ability to maintain the contest, it increased the number of those who resolved to resist British authority, and assisted in paving the way to a declaration of independence.


[Sidenote: Transactions in New York.]

Even before the evacuation of Boston, it had been foreseen that New York must become the seat of war; and that most important military operations would be carried on in that colony. The fortifications which had been commenced for the defence of its capital were indefatigably prosecuted; and, after the arrival of General Washington, these works, combined with those to be erected in the passes through the highlands up the Hudson, were the objects of his unremitting attention.

The difficulty which had been experienced in expelling the British from Boston, had demonstrated the importance of preventing their establishment in New York; and had contributed to the determination of contesting with them, very seriously, the possession of that important place. The execution of this determination, however, was difficult and dangerous. The defence of New York, against an enemy commanding the sea, requires an army capable of meeting him in the open field, and of acting offensively both on Long and York Islands. Congress had not adopted measures which might raise such an army. The Commander-in-chief, in his letters to that body, had long and earnestly urged the policy of bringing the whole strength of the country into regular operation. The government was not inattentive to his remonstrances; but many circumstances combined to prevent such a military establishment as the exigency required.

The congress which assembled in 1775 had adjourned with strong hopes that the differences between the Mother Country and the Colonies would soon be adjusted to their mutual satisfaction. When the temper manifested both by the king and his parliament had dissipated these hopes, and the immense preparations of Great Britain for war, evinced the necessity of preparations equally vigorous on the part of America, the resolution to make them was finally taken. But, unaccustomed to the great duties of conducting a war of vast extent, they could not estimate rightly the value of the means employed, nor calculate the effects which certain causes would produce. Opinions of the most pernicious tendency prevailed; from which they receded slowly, and from which they could be ultimately forced only by melancholy experience.

The most fatal among these was the theory, that an army could be created every campaign for the purposes of that campaign; and that such temporary means would be adequate to the defence of the country. They relied confidently on being able on any emergency, to call out a force suited to the occasion:—they relied too much on the competence of such a force to the purposes of war, and they depended too long on the spirit of patriotism, which was believed to animate the mass of the people.

Under these impressions, the determination to form a permanent army was too long delayed; and the measures necessary to raise such an army were deferred, till their efficacy became doubtful. It was not until June, 1776, that the representations of the Commander-in-chief could obtain a resolution, directing soldiers to be enlisted for three years, and offering a bounty of ten dollars to each recruit. The time when this resolution could certainly have been executed, had passed away. That zeal for the service, which was manifested in the first moments of the war, had long since begun to abate; and though the determination to resist had become more general, that enthusiasm which prompts individuals to expose themselves to more than an equal share of danger and hardship, was visibly declining. The progress of these sentiments seems to have been unexpected; and the causes producing such effects appear not to have been perceived. The regiments voted by congress were incomplete; and that bounty, which, if offered in time, would have effected its object, came too late to fill them.

It was not in numbers only that the weakness of the American army consisted. In arms, ammunition, tents, and clothes, its deficiency was such as to render it unfit for the great purposes of war, and inferior, in all these respects, to the enemy which it was destined to encounter.

But, however inadequate to the object the regular force might be, both the government and the Commander-in-chief were determined to defend New York; and congress passed a resolution to reinforce the army with thirteen thousand eight hundred militia. For the defence of the middle colonies, and for the purpose of repelling any attempt to land on the Jersey shore, it was resolved to form a flying camp, to be composed of ten thousand men, to be furnished by Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. The militia, both of the flying camp and of the army at New York, were to be engaged to serve until the first of December; and the Commander-in-chief was empowered to call on the neighbouring colonies for such additional temporary aids of militia, as the exigencies of his army might render necessary.

Great and embarrassing as were the difficulties already noticed, they were augmented by the disaffection of the city of New York, and of the adjacent islands. Although Governor Tryon had found it necessary to take refuge on board some ships lying in the harbour, he had been permitted to continue an open intercourse with the inhabitants, which enabled him to communicate freely with the royalists; and to concert plans of future co-operation. This intercourse was broken off by the arrival of the Commander-in-chief;—yet a plot was formed, through the agency of the mayor, to rise in favour of the British on their landing; and, as was understood, to seize and deliver up General Washington himself. This plot had extended to the American army, and even to the general's guards. It was fortunately discovered in time to be defeated; and some of the persons concerned were executed. About the same time a similar plot was discovered in the neighbourhood of Albany; and there too, executions were found necessary.

Hitherto, the sole avowed object of the war had been a redress of grievances. The utmost horror had been expressed at the idea of attempting independence; and the most anxious desire of re-establishing the union which had so long subsisted between the two countries on its ancient principles, was openly and generally declared. But however sincere these declarations might have been at the commencement of the conflict, the operation of hostilities was infallible. To profess allegiance and respect for a monarch with whom they were at open war, was an absurdity too great to be long continued. The human mind, when it receives a strong impulse, does not, like projectiles, stop at the point to which the force originally applied may have been calculated to carry it. Various causes act upon it in its course. When the appeal was made to arms, a great majority of those who guided the councils and led the forces of America, wished only for a repeal of the acts of parliament which had occasioned their resistance to the authority of the crown; and would have been truly unwilling to venture upon the unexplored field of self-government. For some time, prayers were offered for the king, in the performance of divine service; and, in the proclamation of a fast by congress, in June, 1775, one of the motives for recommending it, was, to beseech the Almighty "to bless our rightful sovereign King George III. and inspire him with wisdom."

[Sidenote: Measures leading to independence.]

The prejudices in favour of a connexion with England, and of the English constitution, gradually, but rapidly yielded to republican principles, and a desire for independence. New strength was every day added to the opinions, that a cordial reconciliation with Great Britain had become impossible; that mutual confidence could never be restored; that reciprocal jealousy, suspicion, and hate, would take the place of that affection, which could alone render such a connexion happy and beneficial; that even the commercial dependence of America upon Britain, was greatly injurious to the former, and that incalculable benefits must be derived from opening to themselves the markets of the world; that to be governed by a distant nation or sovereign, unacquainted with, and unmindful of their interests, would, even if reinstated in their former situation, be an evil too great to be voluntarily borne. But victory alone could restore them to that situation—and victory would give them independence. The hazard was the same; and since the risk of every thing was unavoidable, the most valuable object ought, in common justice, and common prudence, to be the reward of success. With such horror, too, did they view the present war, as to suppose it could not possibly receive the support of a free people. The alacrity therefore with which the English nation entered into it, was ascribed to a secret and dangerous influence, which was, with rapid progress, undermining the liberties and the morals of the Mother Country; and which, it was feared, would cross the Atlantic, and infect the principles of the colonists likewise, should the ancient connexion be restored. The intercourse of America with the world, and her own experience, had not then been sufficient to teach her the important truth, that the many, as often as the few, can abuse power, and trample on the weak, without perceiving that they are tyrants; that they too, not unfrequently, close their eyes against the light; and shut their ears against the plainest evidence, and the most conclusive reasoning.

It was also urged, with great effect, that the possibility of obtaining foreign aid would be much increased by holding out the dismemberment of the British empire, to the rivals of that nation, as an inducement to engage in the contest.

American independence became the general theme of conversation; and more and more the general wish. The measures of congress took their complexion from the temper of the people. Their proceedings against the disaffected became more and more vigorous; their language respecting the British government was less the language of subjects, and better calculated to turn the public attention towards congress and the provincial assemblies, as the sole and ultimate rulers of the country. General letters of marque and reprisal were granted; and the American ports were opened to all nations and people, not subject to the British crown.

{May 6.}

At length, a measure was adopted, which was considered by congress and by America in general, as deciding the question of independence. Hitherto, it had been recommended to particular colonies, to establish temporary institutions for the conduct of their affairs during the existence of the contest; but now, a resolution was offered, recommending generally to such colonies as had not already established them, the adoption of governments adequate to the exigency. Mr. John Adams, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. Richard Henry Lee, all zealous advocates for independence, were appointed a committee, to prepare a proper preamble to the resolution. The report of these gentlemen was accepted, and the resolution passed.[34]

[Footnote 34: Before the vote on the question of independence was taken, congress passed resolutions, declaring that all persons residing within, or passing through any one of the United Colonies, owed allegiance to the government thereof; and that any such person who should levy war against any of the United Colonies, or adhere to the king of Great Britain, or other enemies of the said colonies, or any of them, should be guilty of treason: and recommending it to the several legislatures to pass laws for their punishment.]

{May 15.}

The provincial assemblies and conventions acted on this recommendation; and governments were generally established. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, it was deemed unnecessary to make any change in their actual situation, because, in those colonies, the executive, as well as the whole legislature, had always been elected by themselves. In Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, some hesitation was at first discovered; and the assemblies appeared unwilling to take this decisive step. The public opinion, however, was in favour of it, and finally prevailed.

The several colonies, now contemplating themselves as sovereign states, and mingling with the arduous duty of providing means to repel a powerful enemy, the important and interesting labour of framing governments for themselves and their posterity, exhibited the novel spectacle of matured and enlightened societies, uninfluenced by external or internal force, devising, according to their own judgments, political systems for their own government.

With the exceptions already stated, of Connecticut and Rhode Island, whose systems had ever been in a high degree democratic, the hitherto untried principle was adopted, of limiting the departments of governments by a written constitution, prescribing bounds not to be transcended by the legislature itself.

The solid foundations of a popular government were already laid in all the colonies. The institutions received from England were admirably calculated to prepare the way for temperate and rational republics. No hereditary powers had ever existed; and every authority had been derived either from the people or the king. The crown being no longer acknowledged, the people remained the only source of legitimate power. The materials in their possession, as well as their habits of thinking, were adapted only to governments in all respects representative; and such governments were universally adopted.

The provincial assemblies, under the influence of congress, took up the question of independence; and, in some instances, authorized their representatives in the great national council, to enter into foreign alliances. Many declared themselves in favour of a total and immediate separation from Great Britain; and gave instructions to their representatives conforming to this sentiment.

{June 7.}

Thus supported by public opinion, congress determined to take this decisive step; and on the 7th of June, a resolution to that effect was moved by Richard Henry Lee, and seconded by John Adams. The resolution was referred to a committee, who reported it in the following terms. "Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; and that all political connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

{June 28.}

{July 2.}

This resolution was referred to a committee of the whole, in which it was debated on Saturday the 8th, and Monday the 10th of June. It appearing that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina were not yet matured for the measure, but were fast advancing to that state, the debate was adjourned to the first of July, when it was resumed. In the mean time, a committee[35] was appointed to prepare the declaration of independence, which was reported on the 28th of June, and laid on the table. On the first of July the debate on the original resolution was resumed. The question was put in the evening of that day, and carried in the affirmative by the votes of New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, against Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Delaware was divided; and the delegates from New York, having declared their approbation of the resolution, and their conviction that it was approved by their constituents also, but that their instructions, which had been drawn near twelve months before, enjoined them to do nothing which might impede reconciliation with the mother country, were permitted to withdraw from the question. The report of the committee was put off till the next day at the request of Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, who expressed the opinion that his colleagues would then concur in the resolution for the sake of unanimity. The next day South Carolina did concur in it. The votes of Pennsylvania and Delaware were also changed by the arrival of other members. Congress then proceeded to consider the declaration of independence. After some amendments[36] it was approved, and signed by every member present except Mr. Dickenson.[37]

[Footnote 35: Mr. Jefferson, Mr. John Adams, Mr. Franklin, and Mr. R.R. Livingston. Mr. R.H. Lee, the mover of the resolution, had been compelled by the illness of Mrs. Lee to leave congress the day on which the committee was appointed.]

[Footnote 36: See note No. VI. at the end of the volume.]

[Footnote 37: Mr. Jefferson's Correspondence.]

[Sidenote: Independence declared.]

{July 4.}

This declaration was immediately communicated to the armies, who received it with enthusiasm. It was also proclaimed throughout the United States, and was generally approved by those who had engaged in the opposition to the claims of the British Parliament. Some few individuals, who had been zealous supporters of all measures which had for their object only a redress of grievances, and in whose bosoms the hope of accommodation still lingered,—either too timid to meet the arduous conflict which this measure rendered inevitable, or, sincerely believing that the happiness of America would be best consulted by preserving their political connexion with Great Britain, viewed the dissolution of that connexion with regret. Others, who afterwards deserted the American cause, attributed their defection to this measure. It was also an unfortunate truth, that in the whole country between New England and the Potowmac, which was now become the great theatre of action, although the majority was in favour of independence, a formidable minority existed, who not only refused to act with their countrymen, but were ready to give to the enemy every aid in their power.

It can not, however, be questioned, that the declaration of independence was wise, and well-timed. The soundest policy required that the war should no longer be a contest between subjects and their acknowledged sovereign.


Lord and Sir William Howe arrive before New York.... Circular letter of Lord Howe.... State of the American Army.... The British land in force on Long Island.... Battle of Brooklyn.... Evacuation of Long Island.... Fruitless negotiations.... New York evacuated.... Skirmish on the heights of Haerlem.... Letter on the state of the army.


While congress was deliberating in Philadelphia on the great question of independence, the British fleet appeared before New York.

[Sidenote: Lord and Sir William Howe arrive before New York.]

On evacuating Boston, General Howe had retired to Halifax; where he purposed to remain till reinforcements should arrive from England. But the situation of his army in that place was so uncomfortable, and the delays in the arrival of the troops from Europe were so great, that he at length resolved to sail for New York, with the forces already under his command.

{June 10.}

{July 3 & 4.}

In the latter end of June, he arrived off Sandy Hook, in the Grey Hound; and, on the 29th of that month, the first division of the fleet from Halifax reached that place. The rear division soon followed; and the troops were landed on Staten Island, on the third and fourth of July. They were received with great demonstrations of joy by the inhabitants, who took the oaths of allegiance to the British crown, and embodied themselves under the authority of the late Governor Tryon, for the defence of the island. Strong assurances were also received from Long Island, and the neighbouring parts of New Jersey, of the favourable dispositions of a great proportion of the people to the royal cause.

It was foreseen that the provisions remaining on the small islands about New York, must fall into the possession of the invading army, and General Washington had intended to remove them to a place of safety; but, the existing state of public opinion requiring the co-operation of the several committees, this measure of wise precaution could not be completely executed; and General Howe, on his arrival, obtained ample supplies for his army.

The command of the fleet destined for the American service was intrusted to Lord Howe, the brother of the general; and they were both constituted commissioners for restoring peace to the colonies, and granting pardons, with such exceptions as they should think proper to make. He arrived at Staten Island on the twelfth of July.

{July 12.}

The difficulty of closing the Hudson against an enemy possessing a powerful fleet was soon demonstrated. Two frigates passed the batteries without injury, and took a station which enabled them to cut off the communication by water, between the army at New York, and that at Ticonderoga. An attempt to set these frigates on fire failed in its execution, and only a tender was burnt;—soon after which these vessels returned to the fleet.

[Sidenote: Circular letter of Lord Howe.]

{July 14.}

Lord Howe was not deterred by the declaration of Independence from trying the influence of his powers for pacification. He sent on shore, by a flag, a circular letter, dated off the coast of Massachusetts, addressed severally to the late governors under the crown, enclosing a declaration, which he requested them to make public. This declaration announced his authority to grant pardons to any number or description of persons, who, during the tumult and disorders of the times, might have deviated from their just allegiance, and who might be willing, by a speedy return to their duty, to reap the benefits of the royal favour; and to declare any colony, town, port, or place, in the peace and under the protection of the crown, and excepted from the penal provisions of the act of parliament prohibiting all trade and intercourse with the colonies. Assurances were also given that the meritorious services of all persons who should aid and assist in restoring public tranquillity in the colonies, or in any parts thereof, would be duly considered.

{July 19.}

These papers were immediately transmitted by the Commander-in-chief to congress, who resolved that they should "be published in the several gazettes, that the good people of the United States might be informed of what nature were the commissioners, and what the terms, with the expectation of which, the insidious court of Britain had sought to amuse and disarm them; and that the few who still remained suspended by a hope, founded either in the justice or moderation of their late king, might now, at length, be convinced, that the valour alone of their country is to save its liberties."

About the same time, Lord Howe sent, with a flag, a letter addressed to "George Washington, esquire," which the General refused to receive, as "it did not acknowledge the public character with which he was invested by congress, and in no other character could he have any intercourse with his lordship." In a resolution approving this proceeding, congress directed, "that no letter or message be received on any occasion whatever from the enemy, by the Commander-in-chief, or others, the commanders of the American army, but such as shall be directed to them in the characters they respectively sustain."

{July 20.}

The commissioners felt some difficulty in recognizing either the civil or military character conferred on individuals by the existing powers in America; and yet it was desirable, either for the purpose of effecting a pacification, or, if that should be impracticable, of increasing the divisions already existing, to open negotiations, and hold out the semblance of restoring peace. They cast about for means to evade this preliminary obstacle to any discussion of the terms they were authorized to propose; and, at length, Colonel Patterson, adjutant general of the British army, was sent on shore by General Howe, with a letter directed to George Washington, &c. &c. &c. He was introduced to the general, whom he addressed by the title of "Excellency;" and, after the usual compliments, opened the subject of his mission, by saying, that General Howe much regretted the difficulties which had arisen respecting the address of the letters; that the mode adopted was deemed consistent with propriety, and was founded on precedent, in cases of ambassadors and plenipotentiaries, where disputes or difficulties had arisen about rank; that General Washington might recollect he had, last summer, addressed a letter to "the honourable William Howe;" that Lord, and General Howe, did not mean to derogate from his rank, or the respect due to him, and that they held his person and character in the highest esteem;—but that the direction, with the addition of &c. &c. &c. implied every thing which ought to follow. Colonel Patterson then produced a letter which he said was the same that had been sent, and which he laid on the table.

The General declined receiving it, and said, that a letter directed to a person in a public character, should have some description or indication of that character; otherwise it would be considered as a mere private letter. It was true the etceteras implied every thing, and they also implied any thing; that the letter to General Howe, alluded to, was an answer to one received from him under a like address; which, having been taken by the officer on duty, he did not think proper to return, and therefore answered in the same mode of address; and that he should absolutely decline any letter relating to his public station, directed to him as a private person.

Colonel Patterson then said, that General Howe would not urge his delicacy farther, and repeated his assertions that no failure of respect was intended.

After some conversation relative to the treatment of prisoners, Colonel Patterson said, that the goodness and benevolence of the king had induced him to appoint Lord Howe, and General Howe, his commissioners to accommodate the unhappy dispute at present subsisting: that they had great powers, and would derive much pleasure from effecting the accommodation; and that he wished this visit to be considered as the first advance towards so desirable an object.

General Washington replied, that he was not vested with any powers on this subject; but he would observe that, so far as he could judge from what had yet transpired, Lord Howe and General Howe were only empowered to grant pardons; that those who had committed no fault, wanted no pardon; and that the Americans were only defending what they deemed their indubitable rights. This, Colonel Patterson said, would open a very wide field for argument: and, after expressing his fears that an adherence to forms might obstruct business of the greatest moment and concern, he took his leave.

The substance of this conversation was communicated to congress, who directed its publication.


The reinforcements to the British army, of whom about four hundred and fifty had been captured by the American cruisers, were now arriving daily from Europe; and General Howe had also been joined by the troops from Charleston. His strength was estimated at twenty-four thousand men.

[Sidenote: State of the American army.]

To this army, alike formidable for its numbers, its discipline, and its equipments,—aided in its operations by a numerous fleet, and conducted by commanders of skill and experience, was opposed a force, unstable in its nature,—incapable, from its structure, of receiving discipline,—and inferior to its enemy, in numbers, in arms, and in every military equipment. It consisted, when General Howe landed on Staten Island, of ten thousand men, who were much enfeebled by sickness. The diseases which always afflict new troops, were increased by exposure to the rain and night air, without tents. At the instance of the General, some regiments, stationed in the different states, were ordered to join him; and, in addition to the requisitions of men to serve until December—requisitions not yet complied with—the neighbouring militia were called into service for the exigency of the moment. Yet, in a letter written to congress on the 8th of August, he stated that "for the several posts on New York, Long, and Governor's Island, and Paulus Hook, the army consisted of only seventeen thousand two hundred and twenty-five men, of whom three thousand six hundred and sixty-eight were sick; and that, to repel an immediate attack, he could count certainly on no other addition to his numbers, than a battalion from Maryland under the command of Colonel Smallwood." This force was rendered the more inadequate to its objects by being necessarily divided for the defence of posts, some of which were fifteen miles distant from others, with navigable waters between them.

"These things," continued the letter, "are melancholy, but they are nevertheless true. I hope for better. Under every disadvantage, my utmost exertions shall be employed to bring about the great end we have in view; and, so far as I can judge from the professions and apparent dispositions of my troops, I shall have their support. The superiority of the enemy, and the expected attack, do not seem to have depressed their spirits. These considerations lead me to think that though the appeal may not terminate so happily as I could wish, yet the enemy will not succeed in their views without considerable loss. Any advantage they may gain, I trust will cost them dear."

Soon after this letter, the army was reinforced by Smallwood's regiment, and by two regiments from Pennsylvania, with a body of New England and New York militia, which increased it to twenty-seven thousand men, of whom one fourth were sick.

A part of the army was stationed on Long Island, under the command of Major General Sullivan. The residue occupied different stations on York Island, except two small detachments, one on Governor's Island, and the other at Paulus Hook; and except a part of the New York militia under General Clinton, who were stationed on the Sound, towards New Rochelle, and about East and West Chester, in order to oppose any sudden attempt which might be made to land above Kingsbridge, and cut off the communication with the country.

{July 2.}

Expecting daily to be attacked, and believing that the influence of the first battle would be considerable, the Commander-in-chief employed every expedient which might act upon that enthusiastic love of liberty, that indignation against the invaders of their country, and that native courage, which were believed to animate the bosoms of his soldiers; and which were relied on as substitutes for discipline and experience. "The time," say his orders issued soon after the arrival of General Howe, "is now near at hand, which must determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of a brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or to die. Our own, our country's honour, call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion; and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us then rely on the goodness of our cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions. The eyes of all our countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a freeman contending for liberty, on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth."

To the officers, he recommended coolness in time of action; and to the soldiers, strict attention and obedience, with a becoming firmness and spirit.

He assured them that any officer, soldier, or corps, distinguished by any acts of extraordinary bravery, should most certainly meet with notice and rewards; whilst, on the other hand, those who should fail in the performance of their duty, would as certainly be exposed and punished.

{July 21.}

Whilst preparations were making for the expected engagement, intelligence was received of the repulse of the British squadron which had attacked fort Moultrie. The Commander-in-chief availed himself of the occasion of communicating this success to his army, to add a spirit of emulation to the other motives which should impel them to manly exertions. "This glorious example of our troops," he said, "under the like circumstances with ourselves, the General hopes, will animate every officer and soldier to imitate, and even to out-do them, when the enemy shall make the same attempt on us. With such a bright example before us of what can be done by brave men fighting in defence of their country, we shall be loaded with a double share of shame and infamy, if we do not acquit ourselves with courage, and manifest a determined resolution to conquer or die."

As the crisis approached, his anxiety increased. Endeavouring to breathe into his army his own spirit, and to give them his own feeling, he thus addressed them. "The enemy's whole reinforcement is now arrived; so that an attack must, and will soon be made. The General, therefore, again repeats his earnest request that every officer and soldier will have his arms and ammunition in good order; keep within his quarters and encampments as far as possible; be ready for action at a moment's call; and when called to it, remember, that liberty, property, life, and honour, are all at stake; that upon their courage and conduct rest the hopes of their bleeding and insulted country; that their wives, children, and parents, expect safety from them only; and that we have every reason to believe, that heaven will crown with success so just a cause.

"The enemy will endeavour to intimidate by show and appearance; but remember, they have been repulsed on various occasions by a few brave Americans; their cause is bad; and if opposed with firmness and coolness on their first onset, with our advantage of works, and knowledge of the ground, the victory is most assuredly ours. Every good soldier will be silent and attentive, wait for orders, and reserve his fire until he is sure of doing execution; of this the officers are to be particularly careful."

He directed explicitly that any soldier who should attempt to conceal himself, or retreat without orders, should instantly be shot down; and solemnly promised to notice and reward those who should distinguish themselves. Thus did he, by infusing those sentiments which would stimulate to the greatest individual exertion, into every bosom, endeavour to compensate for the want of arms, of discipline, and of numbers.

As the defence of Long Island was intimately connected with that of New York, a brigade had been stationed at Brooklyn, a post capable of being maintained for a considerable time. An extensive camp had been marked out and fortified at the same place. Brooklyn is a village on a small peninsula made by East river, the Bay, and Gowan's Cove. The encampment fronted the main land of the island, and the works stretched quite across the peninsula, from Whaaleboght Bay in the East river on the left, to a deep marsh on a creek emptying into Gowan's Cove, on the right. The rear was covered and defended against an attack from the ships, by strong batteries on Red Hook and on Governor's Island, which in a great measure commanded that part of the bay, and by other batteries on East river, which kept open the communication with York Island. In front of the camp was a range of hills covered with thick woods, which extended from east to west nearly the length of the island, and across which were three different roads leading to Brooklyn ferry. These hills, though steep, are every where passable by infantry.

[Sidenote: The British land in force on Long Island.]

The movements of General Howe indicating an intention to make his first attack on Long Island, General Sullivan was strongly reinforced. Early in the morning of the twenty-second, the principal part of the British army, under the command of General Clinton, landed under cover of the guns of the fleet, and extended from the ferry at the Narrows, through Utrecht and Gravesend, to the village of Flatland.[38]

[Footnote 38: General Howe's letter.]

{July 23.}

Confident that an engagement must soon take place, General Washington made still another effort to inspire his troops with the most determined courage. "The enemy," said he, in addressing them, "have now landed on Long Island, and the hour is fast approaching, on which the honour and success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding country depend. Remember, officers and soldiers, that you are freemen, fighting for the blessings of liberty—that slavery will be your portion and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men." He repeated his instructions respecting their conduct in action, and concluded with the most animating and encouraging exhortations.

{July 25.}

Major General Putnam was now directed to take command at Brooklyn, with a reinforcement of six regiments; and he was charged most earnestly by the Commander-in-chief, to be in constant readiness for an attack, and to guard the woods between the two camps with his best troops.

General Washington had passed the day at Brooklyn, making arrangements for the approaching action; and, at night, had returned to New York.

The Hessians under General De Heister composed the centre of the British army at Flatbush; Major General Grant commanded the left wing which extended to the coast, and the greater part of the British forces under General Clinton. Earl Percy and Lord Cornwallis turned short to the right, and approached the opposite coast of Flatland.[39]

[Footnote 39: General Howe's letter.]

The two armies were now separated from each other by the range of hills already mentioned. The British centre at Flatbush was scarcely four miles distant from the American lines at Brooklyn; and a direct road led across the heights from the one to the other. Another road, rather more circuitous than the first, led from Flatbush by the way of Bedford, a small village on the Brooklyn side of the hills. The right and left wings of the British army were nearly equi-distant from the American works, and about five or six miles from them. The road leading from the Narrows along the coast, and by the way of Gowan's Cove, afforded the most direct route to their left; and their right might either return by the way of Flatbush and unite with the centre, or take a more circuitous course, and enter a road leading from Jamaica to Bedford. These several roads unite between Bedford and Brooklyn, a small distance in front of the American lines.

The direct road from Flatbush to Brooklyn was defended by a fort which the Americans had constructed in the hills; and the coast and Bedford roads were guarded by detachments posted on the hills within view of the British camp. Light parties of volunteers were directed to patrol on the road leading from Jamaica to Bedford; about two miles from which, near Flatbush, Colonel Miles of Pennsylvania was stationed with a regiment of riflemen. The convention of New York had ordered General Woodhull, with the militia of Long Island, to take post on the high grounds, as near the enemy as possible; but he remained at Jamaica, and seemed scarcely to suppose himself under the control of the regular officer commanding on the island.

{July 27.}

About nine at night, General Clinton silently drew off the van of the British army across the country, in order to seize a pass in the heights, about three miles east of Bedford, on the Jamaica road. In the morning, about two hours before day-break, within half a mile of the pass, his patrols fell in with and captured one of the American parties, which had been stationed on this road. Learning from his prisoners that the pass was unoccupied, General Clinton immediately seized it; and, on the appearance of day, the whole column passed the heights, and advanced into the level country between them and Brooklyn.[40]

[Footnote 40: General Howe's letter.]

Before Clinton had secured the passes on the road from Jamaica, General Grant advanced along the coast at the head of the left wing, with ten pieces of cannon. As his first object was to draw the attention of the Americans from their left, he moved slowly, skirmishing as he advanced with the light parties stationed on that road.[41]

[Footnote 41: General Howe's letter.]

This movement was soon communicated to General Putnam, who reinforced the parties which had been advanced in front; and, as General Grant continued to gain ground, still stronger detachments were employed in this service. About three in the morning, Brigadier General Lord Stirling was directed to meet the enemy, with the two nearest regiments, on the road leading from the Narrows. Major General Sullivan, who commanded all the troops without the lines, advanced at the head of a strong detachment on the road leading directly to Flatbush; while another detachment occupied the heights between that place and Bedford.

About the break of day, Lord Stirling reached the summit of the hills, where he was joined by the troops which had been already engaged, and were retiring slowly before the enemy, who almost immediately appeared in sight. A warm cannonade was commenced on both sides, which continued for several hours; and some sharp, but not very close skirmishing took place between the infantry. Lord Stirling, being anxious only to defend the pass he guarded, could not descend in force from the heights; and General Grant did not wish to drive him from them until that part of the plan, which had been entrusted to Sir Henry Clinton, should be executed.

[Sidenote: Battle of Brooklyn and evacuation of Long Island.]

In the centre, General De Heister, soon after day-light, began to cannonade the troops under General Sullivan; but did not move from his ground at Flatbush, until the British right had approached the left and rear of the American line. In the mean time, in order the more effectually to draw their attention from the point where the grand attack was intended, the fleet was put in motion, and a heavy cannonade was commenced on the battery at Red Hook.

About half past eight, the British right having then reached Bedford, in the rear of Sullivan's left, General De Heister ordered Colonel Donop's corps to advance to the attack of the hill; following, himself, with the centre of the army. The approach of Clinton was now discovered by the American left, which immediately endeavoured to regain the camp at Brooklyn. While retiring from the woods by regiments, they encountered the front of the British. About the same time, the Hessians advanced from Flatbush, against that part of the detachment which occupied the direct road to Brooklyn.[42] Here, General Sullivan commanded in person; but he found it difficult to keep his troops together long enough to sustain the first attack. The firing heard towards Bedford had disclosed the alarming fact that the British had turned their left flank, and were getting completely into their rear. Perceiving at once the full danger of their situation, they sought to escape it by regaining the camp with the utmost possible celerity. The sudden rout of this party enabled De Heister to detach a part of his force against those who were engaged near Bedford. In that quarter, too, the Americans were broken, and driven back into the woods; and the front of the column led by General Clinton, continuing to move forward, intercepted and engaged those who were retreating along the direct road from Flatbush. Thus attacked both in front and rear, and alternately driven by the British on the Hessians, and by the Hessians back again on the British, a succession of skirmishes took place in the woods, in the course of which, some parts of corps forced their way through the enemy, and regained the lines of Brooklyn, and several individuals saved themselves under cover of the woods; but a great proportion of the detachment was killed or taken. The fugitives were pursued up to the American works; and such is represented to have been the ardour of the British soldiers, that it required the authority of their cautious commander to prevent an immediate assault.

[Footnote 42: General Howe's letter.]

The fire towards Brooklyn gave the first intimation to the American right, that the enemy had gained their rear. Lord Stirling perceived the danger, and that he could only escape it by retreating instantly across the creek. This movement was immediately directed; and, to secure it, his lordship determined to attack, in person, a British corps under Lord Cornwallis, stationed at a house rather above the place at which he intended to cross the creek. About four hundred men of Smallwood's regiment were drawn out for this purpose, and the attack was made with great spirit. This small corps was brought up several times to the charge; and Lord Stirling stated that he was on the point of dislodging Lord Cornwallis from his post; but the force in his front increasing, and General Grant also advancing on his rear, the brave men he commanded were no longer able to oppose the superior numbers which assailed them on every quarter; and those who survived were, with their General, made prisoners of war. This attempt, though unsuccessful, gave an opportunity to a large part of the detachment to save themselves by crossing the creek.

The loss sustained by the American army in this battle could not be accurately ascertained by either party. Numbers were supposed to have been drowned in the creek, or suffocated in the marsh, whose bodies were never found; and exact accounts from the militia are seldom to be obtained, as the list of the missing is always swelled by those who return to their homes. General Washington did not admit it to exceed a thousand men; but in this estimate he must have included only the regular troops. In the letter written by General Howe, the amount of prisoners is stated at one thousand and ninety-seven; among whom were Major General Sullivan, and Brigadiers Lord Stirling and Woodhull, by him named Udell. He computes the loss of the Americans at three thousand three hundred men; but his computation is probably excessive. He supposes, too, that the troops engaged on the heights, amounted to ten thousand; but they could not have much exceeded half that number. His own loss is stated at twenty-one officers, and three hundred and forty-six privates; killed, wounded, and taken.

As the action became warm, General Washington passed over to the camp at Brooklyn, where he saw, with inexpressible anguish, the destruction in which his best troops were involved, and from which it was impossible to extricate them. Should he attempt any thing in their favour with the men remaining within the lines, it was probable the camp itself would be lost, and that whole division of his army destroyed. Should he bring over the remaining battalions from New York, he would still be inferior in point of numbers; and his whole army, perhaps the fate of his country, might be staked on the issue of a single battle thus inauspiciously commenced. Compelled to behold the carnage of his troops, without being able to assist them, his efforts were directed to the preservation of those which remained.

{July 28.}

Believing the Americans to be much stronger than they were in reality, and unwilling to commit any thing to hazard, General Howe made no immediate attempt to force their lines. He encamped in front of them; and, on the twenty-eighth at night, broke ground in form, within six hundred yards of a redoubt on the left.

{July 29.}

In this critical state of things, General Washington determined to withdraw from Long Island. This difficult movement was effected on the night of the twenty-eighth, with such silence, that all the troops and military stores, with the greater part of the provisions, and all the artillery, except such heavy pieces as could not be drawn through the roads, rendered almost impassable by the rains which had fallen, were carried over in safety. Early next morning, the British out-posts perceived the rear guard crossing the East river, out of reach of their fire.

From the commencement of the action on the morning of the twenty-seventh, until the American troops had crossed the East river on the morning of the twenty-ninth, the exertions and fatigues of the Commander-in-chief were incessant. Throughout that time, he never closed his eyes, and was almost constantly on horseback.

The manner in which this critical operation was executed, and the circumstances under which it was performed, added greatly to the reputation of the American general, in the opinion of all military men. To withdraw, without loss, a defeated, dispirited, and undisciplined army from the view of an experienced and able officer, and to transport them in safety across a large river, while watched by a numerous and vigilant fleet, require talents of no ordinary kind; and the retreat from Long Island may justly be ranked among those skilful manoeuvres which distinguish a master in the art of war.

The attempt to defend Long Island was so perilous in itself, and so disastrous in its issue, that it was condemned by many at the time, and is yet represented as a great error of the Commander-in-chief. But, in deciding on the wisdom of measures, the event will not always lead to a correct judgment. Before a just opinion can be formed, it is necessary to consider the previous state of things—to weigh the motives which induced the decision—and to compare the value of the object, and the probability of securing it, with the hazards attending the attempt.

It was very desirable to preserve New York, if practicable; or, if that could not be done, to consume the campaign in the struggle for that place. The abandonment of Long Island, besides giving the enemy secure and immediate possession of an extensive and fertile country, would certainly facilitate the success of his attempt upon New York. It was therefore to be avoided, if possible.

The impossibility of avoiding it was not evident until the battle was fought. It is true, that the American force on the island could not have been rendered equal, even in point of numbers, to that of the British; but, with the advantage of the defencible country through which the assailants were to pass, and of a fortified camp which could be attacked only on one side, hopes might be entertained, without the imputation of being oversanguine, of maintaining the position for a considerable time; and, ultimately, of selling it at a high price. This opinion is supported by the subsequent movements of General Howe, who, even after the victory of the twenty-seventh, was unwilling to hazard an assault on the American works, without the co-operation of the fleet; but chose rather to carry them by regular approaches. Nor would the situation of the troops on Long Island have been desperate, even in the event of a conjoint attack by land and water, before their strength and spirits were broken by the action of the twenty-seventh. The East river was guarded by strong batteries on both sides, and the entrance into it from the bay was defended by Governor's Island, which was fortified, and in which two regiments were stationed. The ships could not lie in that river, without first silencing those batteries—a work not easily accomplished. The aid of the fleet, therefore, could be given only at the point of time when a storm of the works should be intended; and when that should appear practicable, the troops might be withdrawn from the island.

There was then considerable hazard in maintaining Long Island; but not so much as to demonstrate the propriety of relinquishing a post of such great importance, without a struggle.

With more appearance of reason, the General has been condemned for not having guarded the road which leads over the hills from Jamaica to Bedford.

The written instructions given to the officer commanding on Long Island, two days previous to the action, directed that the woods should be well guarded, and the approach of the enemy through them rendered as difficult as possible. But his numbers were not sufficient to furnish detachments for all the defiles through the mountains; and if a corps, capable of making an effectual resistance, had been posted on this road, and a feint had been made on it, while the principal attack was by the direct road from Flatbush, or by that along the coast, the events of the day would probably have been not less disastrous. The columns marching directly from Flatbush must, on every reasonable calculation, have been in possession of the plain in the rear of the detachment posted on the road from Jamaica, so as to intercept its retreat to the camp. So great is the advantage of those who attack, in being able to choose the point against which to direct their grand effort.

The most adviseable plan, then, appears to have been, to watch the motions of the enemy so as to be master of his designs; to oppose with a competent force every attempt to seize the heights; and to guard all the passes in such a manner as to receive notice of his approach through any one of them, in sufficient time to recall the troops maintaining the others.

This plan was adopted—and the heavy disasters of the day are attributable, principally, to the failure of those charged with the execution of that very important part of it which related to the Jamaica road. The letter of General Howe states that an American patrolling party was taken on this road; and General Washington, in a private and confidential communication to a friend, says, "This misfortune happened, in a great measure, by two detachments of our people who were posted in two roads leading through a wood, to intercept the enemy in their march, suffering a surprise, and making a precipitate retreat."

The events of this day, too, exhibited a practical demonstration of a radical defect in the structure of the army. It did not contain a single corps of cavalry. That miscalculating economy which refuses the means essential to the end, was not sufficiently relaxed to admit of so expensive an establishment. Had the General been furnished with a few troops of light-horse, to serve merely as videts, it is probable that the movement so decisive of the fate of the day could not have been made unnoticed. The troops on the lines do not appear to have observed the column which was withdrawn, on the evening of the twenty-sixth, from Flatbush to Flatland. Had this important manoeuvre been communicated, it would, most probably, have turned the attention of General Putnam, more particularly, to the Jamaica road. It is to the want of videts, that a failure to obtain this important intelligence is to be ascribed. The necessity of changing the officer originally intrusted with the command, was also an unfortunate circumstance, which probably contributed to the event which happened.

Whatever causes might have led to this defeat, it gave a gloomy aspect to the affairs of America. Heretofore, her arms had been frequently successful, and her soldiers had always manifested a great degree of intrepidity. A confidence in themselves, a persuasion of superiority over the enemy, arising from the goodness of their cause, and their early and habitual use of fire arms, had been carefully encouraged. This sentiment had been nourished by all their experience preceding this event. When they found themselves, by a course of evolutions in which they imagined they perceived a great superiority of military skill, encircled with unexpected dangers, from which no exertions could extricate them, their confidence in themselves and in their leaders was greatly diminished, and the approach of the enemy inspired the apprehension that some stratagem was concealed, from which immediate flight alone could preserve them.

{September 2.}

In a letter from General Washington to congress, the state of the army after this event was thus feelingly described: "Our situation is truly distressing. The check our detachment sustained on the 27th ultimo, has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops, and filled their minds with apprehension and despair. The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition, in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off; in some instances, almost by whole regiments; in many, by half ones and by companies, at a time. This circumstance, of itself, independent of others, when fronted by a well appointed enemy, superior in number to our whole collected force, would be sufficiently disagreeable; but when it is added, that their example has infected another part of the army; that their want of discipline, and refusal of almost every kind of restraint and government, have rendered a like conduct but too common in the whole; and have produced an entire disregard of that order and subordination necessary for the well doing of an army, and which had been before inculcated as well as the nature of our military establishment would admit of; our condition is still more alarming, and with the deepest concern I am obliged to confess my want of confidence in the generality of the troops.

"All these circumstances fully confirm the opinion I ever entertained, and which I, more than once, in my letters, took the liberty of mentioning to congress, that no dependence could be placed in a militia, or other troops than those enlisted and embodied for a longer period than our regulations have hitherto prescribed. I am persuaded, and am as fully convinced as of any one fact that has happened, that our liberties must, of necessity, be greatly hazarded, if not entirely lost, if their defence be left to any but a permanent army."

[Sidenote: Fruitless negotiations.]

The first use made by Lord Howe of the victory of the 27th of August, was to avail himself of the impression it had probably made on congress, by opening a negotiation in conformity with his powers as a commissioner. For this purpose, General Sullivan was sent on parole to Philadelphia, with a verbal message, the import of which was, "that though he could not at present treat with congress as a political body, yet he was very desirous of having a conference with some of its members, whom he would consider, for the present, only as private gentlemen, and meet them as such at any place they would appoint.

"That, in conjunction with General Howe, he had full powers to compromise the dispute between Great Britain and America, on terms advantageous to both; the obtaining of which detained him near two months in England, and prevented his arrival in New York before the declaration of independence took place.

"That he wished a compact might be settled at this time, when no decisive blow was struck, and neither party could allege being compelled to enter into such agreement.

"That in case congress were disposed to treat, many things which they had not as yet asked, might, and ought to be granted them; and that if, upon the conference, they found any probable ground of an accommodation, the authority of congress must be afterwards acknowledged—otherwise the compact would not be complete."

This proposition was not without its embarrassments. Its rejection would give some countenance to the opinion, that, if independence were waved, a restoration of the ancient connexion between the two countries, on principles formerly deemed constitutional, was still practicable; an opinion which would have an unfavourable effect on the public sentiment. On the other hand, to enter into a negotiation under such circumstances, might excite a suspicion, that their determination to maintain the independence they had declared, was not immoveable; and that things were in such a situation, as to admit of some relaxation in the measures necessary for the defence of the country.

The answer given to Lord Howe, through General Sullivan, was, "that congress, being the representatives of the free and independent States of America, can not, with propriety, send any of its members to confer with his Lordship in their private characters; but that, ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, they will send a committee of their body to know whether he has any authority to treat with persons authorized by congress for that purpose, on behalf of America; and what that authority is;—and to hear such propositions as he shall think proper to make, respecting the same."

The President was, at the same time, directed to communicate to General Washington the opinion of congress, that no propositions for making peace "ought to be received or attended to, unless the same be made in writing, and addressed to the representatives of the United States in congress, or persons authorized by them: And if applications on that subject be made to him by any of the commanders of the British forces, that he inform them, that these United States, who entered into the war only for the defence of their lives and liberties, will cheerfully agree to peace on reasonable terms, whenever such shall be proposed to them in manner aforesaid."

It is worthy of remark, that, in these resolutions, congress preserves the appearance of insisting on the independence of the United States, without declaring it to be the indispensable condition of peace.

Mr. Franklin, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Edward Rutledge, all zealous supporters of independence, were appointed "to receive the communications of Lord Howe."

They waited on his Lordship; and, on their return, reported, that he had received them on the 11th of September, on Staten Island, opposite to Amboy, with great politeness.

He opened the conversation by acquainting them, that though he could not treat with them as a committee of congress, yet, as his powers enabled him to confer and consult with any private gentlemen of influence in the colonies, on the means of restoring peace between the two countries, he was glad of this opportunity of conferring with them on that subject; if they thought themselves at liberty to enter into a conference with him in that character. The committee observed to his Lordship, that, as their business was to hear, he might consider them in what light he pleased, and communicate to them any propositions he might be authorized to make for the purpose mentioned; but that they could consider themselves in no other character than that in which they were placed by order of congress. His Lordship then proceeded to open his views at some length. He offered peace only on the condition that the colonies should return to their allegiance and obedience to the British crown. He made no explicit propositions as inducements to this measure, but gave assurances that there was a good disposition in the king and his ministers to make the government easy to them, with intimations that, in case of submission, the offensive acts of parliament would be revised, and the instructions to the Governors reconsidered; so that, if any just causes of complaint were found in the acts, or any errors in government were found to have crept into the instructions, they might be amended or withdrawn.

The committee gave it as their opinion to his Lordship, that a return to the domination of Great Britain was not now to be expected. They mentioned the repeated humble petitions of the colonies to the king and parliament, which had been treated with contempt, and answered only by additional injuries; the unexampled patience which had been shown under their tyrannical government; and that it was not until the late act of parliament, which denounced war against them, and put them out of the king's protection, that they declared their independence; that this declaration had been called for by the people of the colonies in general, and that every colony had approved it when made,—and all now considered themselves as independent states, and were settling, or had settled, their governments accordingly; so that it was not in the power of congress to agree for them that they should return to their former dependent state; that there was no doubt of their inclination for peace, and their willingness to enter into a treaty with Britain, that might be advantageous to both countries; that though his Lordship had, at present, no power to treat with them as independent states, he might, if there was the same good disposition in Britain, much sooner obtain fresh powers from his government, for that purpose, than powers could be obtained by congress, from the several colonies, to consent to a submission.

His Lordship then expressed his regret that no accommodation was like to take place, and put an end to the conference.

These fruitless negotiations produced no suspension of hostilities.

The British army, now in full possession of Long Island, was posted from Bedford to Hurlgate; and thus fronted and threatened York Island from its extreme southern point, to the part opposite the northern boundary of Long Island, a small distance below the heights of Haerlem; comprehending a space of about nine miles.

The two armies were divided only by the East river, which is generally less than a mile wide.

{September 4.}

Immediately after the victory at Brooklyn, dispositions were made by the enemy to attack New York, and a part of the fleet sailed round Long Island, and appeared in the Sound. Two frigates passed up the East river, without receiving any injury from the batteries, and anchored behind a small island which protected them from the American artillery. At the same time, the main body of the fleet lay at anchor close in with Governor's Island, from which the American troops had been withdrawn, ready to pass up either the North or East river, or both, and act against any part of York Island.

These movements indicated a disposition, not to make an attack directly on New York, as had been expected, but to land near Kingsbridge, and take a position which would cut off the communication of the American army with the country.

Aware of the danger of his situation, General Washington began to remove such stores as were not immediately necessary; and called a council of general officers for the purpose of deciding, whether New York should be evacuated without delay, or longer defended.

In his letter communicating to congress the result of this council, which was against an immediate evacuation, he manifested a conviction of the necessity of that measure, though he yielded to that necessity with reluctance. Speaking of the enemy, he observed, "It is now extremely obvious from their movements, from our intelligence, and from every other circumstance, that, having their whole army upon Long Island, except about four thousand men who remain on Staten Island, they mean to enclose us in this island, by taking post in our rear, while their ships effectually secure 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, if that shall be deemed more adviseable, by a brilliant stroke endeavour to cut this army to pieces, and secure the possession of arms and stores, which they well know our inability to replace.

"Having their system unfolded to us, it becomes an important consideration how it could be most successfully opposed. On every side there is a choice of difficulties, and experience teaches us, that every measure on our part (however painful the reflection) must be taken with some apprehension, that all our troops will not do their duty.

"In deliberating upon this great question," he added, "it was impossible to forget that history, our own experience, the advice of our ablest friends in Europe, the fears of the enemy, and even the declarations of congress, demonstrate that, on our side, the war should be defensive;—(it has ever been called a war of posts;)—that we should, on all occasions, avoid a general action, nor put any thing to the risk, unless compelled by necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn."

After communicating the decision which had been made by the council of officers, he stated the opinion of those who were in favour of an immediate evacuation with such force, as to confirm the belief that it remained his own.

The majority, who overruled this opinion, did not expect to be able to defend the city, permanently, but to defer the time of losing it, in the hope of wasting so much of the campaign, before General Howe could obtain possession of it, as to prevent his undertaking any thing farther until the following year. They therefore advised a middle course between abandoning the town absolutely, and concentrating their whole strength for its defence. This was, to form the army into three divisions; one of which should remain in New York; the second be stationed at Kingsbridge, and the third occupy the intermediate space, so as to support either extreme. The sick were to be immediately removed to Orange Town. A belief that congress was inclined to maintain New York at every hazard, and a dread of the unfavourable impression which its evacuation might make on the people, seem to have had great influence in producing the determination to defend the place yet a short time longer.

{September 10.}

This opinion was soon changed. The movements of the British general indicated clearly an intention either to break their line of communication, or to enclose the whole army in York Island. His dispositions were alike calculated to favour the one or the other of those objects. The general, who had continued to employ himself assiduously in the removal of the military stores to a place of safety,[43] called a second council to deliberate on the farther defence of the city, which determined, by a large majority, that it had become not only prudent, but absolutely necessary to withdraw the army from New York.

[Footnote 43: He had, on the first appearance of the enemy in force before New York urged the removal of the women and children, with their most valuable effects, to a place of safety.]

{September 12.}

In consequence of this determination, Brigadier General Mercer, who commanded the flying camp on the Jersey shore, was directed to move up the North river, to the post opposite fort Washington; and every effort was used to expedite the removal of the stores.

On the morning of the fifteenth, three ships of war proceeded up the North river as high as Bloomingdale; a movement which entirely stopped the farther removal of stores by water. About eleven on the same day, Sir Henry Clinton, with a division of four thousand men who had embarked at the head of New Town bay, where they had lain concealed from the view of the troops posted on York Island, proceeded through that bay into the East river, which he crossed; and, under cover of the fire of five men of war, landed at a place called Kipp's bay, about three miles above New York.

[Sidenote: New York evacuated.]

The works thrown up to oppose a landing at this place, were of considerable strength, and capable of being defended for some time; but the troops stationed in them abandoned them without waiting to be attacked, and fled with precipitation. On the commencement of the cannonade, General Washington ordered the brigades of Parsons and Fellowes to the support of the troops posted in the lines, and rode himself towards the scene of action. The panic of those who had fled from the works was communicated to the troops ordered to sustain them; and the Commander-in-chief had the extreme mortification to meet the whole party retreating in the utmost disorder, totally regardless of the great efforts made by their generals to stop their disgraceful flight. Whilst General Washington was exerting himself to rally them, a small corps of the enemy appeared; and they again broke and fled in confusion. The only part to be taken was immediately to withdraw the few remaining troops from New York, and to secure the posts on the heights. For this latter purpose, the lines were instantly manned; but no attempt was made to force them. The retreat from New York was effected with an inconsiderable loss of men, sustained in a skirmish at Bloomingdale; but all the heavy artillery, and a large portion of the baggage, provisions, and military stores, much of which might have been saved had the post at Kipp's bay been properly defended, were unavoidably abandoned. In this shameful day, one colonel, one captain, three subalterns, and ten privates were killed: one lieutenant colonel, one captain, and one hundred and fifty-seven privates were missing.

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