Every effort to stop this retrograde movement proved ineffectual. The division of Wayne fell back on that of Stephen, and was for an instant mistaken for the enemy. General confusion prevailed, and the confidence felt in the beginning of the action was lost. With infinite chagrin General Washington was compelled to relinquish his hopes of victory, and turn his attention to the security of his army. The enemy not being sufficiently recovered to endanger his rear, the retreat was made without loss, under cover of the division of Stephen, which had scarcely been in the engagement.
In this battle, about two hundred Americans were killed, near three times that number wounded, and about four hundred were made prisoners. Among the killed was General Nash of North Carolina; and among the prisoners was Colonel Matthews of Virginia, whose regiment had penetrated into the centre of the town.
The loss of the British, as stated in the official return of General Howe, did not much exceed five hundred in killed and wounded, of whom less than one hundred were killed; among the latter were Brigadier General Agnew and Colonel Bird.
The American army retreated the same day, about twenty miles, to Perkyomy Creek, where a small reinforcement, consisting of fifteen hundred militia and a state regiment, was received from Virginia; after which it again advanced towards Philadelphia, and encamped once more on Skippack Creek.
The plan of the battle of Germantown must be admitted to have been judiciously formed; and, in its commencement, to have been happily conducted. But a strict adherence to it by those who were entrusted with the execution of its several parts, was indispensable to its success.
Major General Stephen, who commanded the right division of the left wing, was cashiered for misconduct on the retreat, and for intoxication.
Congress expressed, in decided terms, their approbation both of the plan of this enterprise, and of the courage with which it was executed; for which their thanks were given to the general and the army.
[Footnote 71: On hearing that General Howe had landed at the head of the Chesapeake, Sir Henry Clinton, for the purpose of averting those aids which Washington might draw from the north of the Delaware, entered Jersey at the head of three thousand men. On the approach of General M'Dougal with a body of continental troops from Peekskill, and on hearing that the militia were assembling under General Dickinson, he returned to New York and Staten Island with the cattle he had collected, having lost in the expedition only eight men killed and twice as many wounded.
M'Dougal continued his march towards the Delaware; and the utmost exertions were made both by Governor Livingston and General Dickinson to collect the militia for the purpose of aiding the army in Pennsylvania. The success of their exertions did not equal their wishes. The militia being of opinion that there was danger of a second invasion from New York, and that their services were more necessary at home than in Pennsylvania, assembled slowly and reluctantly. Five or six hundred crossed the Delaware at Philadelphia, about the time Sir William Howe crossed the Schuylkill, and were employed in the removal of stores. On the approach of the British army, they were directed to avoid it by moving up the Frankford road; but the commanding officer, having separated himself from his corps, was taken by a party of British horse employed in scouring the country; on which the regiment dispersed, and returned by different roads to Jersey. With much labour General Dickinson assembled two other corps amounting to about nine hundred men, with whom he was about to cross the Delaware when intelligence was received of the arrival at New York of a reinforcement from Europe. He was detained in Jersey for the defence of the state, and the militia designed to serve in Pennsylvania were placed under General Forman. About six hundred of them reached the army a few days before the battle of Germantown, immediately after which they were permitted to return.]
The attention of both armies was most principally directed to the forts below Philadelphia.
The loss of the Delaware frigate, and of Billingsport, greatly discouraged the seamen by whom the galleys and floating batteries were manned. Believing the fate of America to be decided, an opinion strengthened by the intelligence received from their connexions in Philadelphia, they manifested the most alarming defection, and several officers as well as sailors deserted to the enemy. This desponding temper was checked by the battle of Germantown, and by throwing a garrison of continental troops into the fort at Red Bank, called fort Mercer, the defence of which had been entrusted to militia. This fort commanded the channel between the Jersey shore and Mud Island; and the American vessels were secure under its guns. The militia of Jersey were relied on to reinforce its garrison, and also to form a corps of observation which might harass the rear of any detachment investing the place.
[Sidenote: Measures taken by General Washington for cutting off supplies from Philadelphia.]
To increase the inconvenience of General Howe's situation by intercepting his supplies, six hundred militia, commanded by General Potter, crossed the Schuylkill, with orders to scour the country between that river and Chester; and the militia on the Delaware, above Philadelphia, were directed to watch the roads in that vicinity.
The more effectually to stop those who were seduced by the hope of gold and silver to supply the enemy at this critical time, congress passed a resolution subjecting to martial law and to death, all who should furnish them with provisions, or certain other enumerated articles, who should be taken within thirty miles of any city, town or place, in Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Delaware, occupied by British troops.
These arrangements being made to cut off supplies from the country, General Washington reoccupied the ground from which he had marched to fight the battle of Germantown.
[Sidenote: Attack upon Fort Mifflin.]
Meanwhile, General Howe was actively preparing to attack fort Mifflin from the Pennsylvania shore. He erected some batteries at the mouth of the Schuylkill, in order to command Webb's ferry, which were attacked by Commodore Hazlewood, and silenced; but, the following night, a detachment crossed over Webb's ferry into Province Island, and constructed a slight work opposite fort Mifflin, within two musket shots of the block-house, from which they were enabled to throw shot and shells into the barracks. When day-light discovered this work, three galleys and a floating battery were ordered to attack it, and the garrison surrendered. While the boats were bringing off the prisoners, a large column of British troops were seen marching into the fortress, upon which the attack on it was renewed, but without success; and two attempts made by Lieutenant Colonel Smith to storm it, failed. In a few nights, works were completed on the high ground of Province Island which enfiladed the principal battery of fort Mifflin, and rendered it necessary to throw up some cover on the platform to protect the men who worked the guns.
The aids expected from the Jersey militia were not received. "Assure yourself," said Lieutenant Colonel Smith, in a letter pressing earnestly for a reinforcement of continental troops, "that no dependence is to be put on the militia; whatever men your excellency determines on sending, no time is to be lost." The garrison of fort Mifflin was now reduced to one hundred and fifty-six effectives, and that of Red Bank did not much exceed two hundred.
In consequence of these representations, Colonel Angel, of Rhode Island, with his regiment, was ordered to Red Bank, and Lieutenant Colonel John Greene, of Virginia, with about two hundred men, to fort Mifflin.
Immediately after the battle of Brandywine, Admiral Howe sailed for the Delaware, where he expected to arrive in time to meet and co-operate with the army in and about Philadelphia. But the winds were so unfavourable, and the navigation of the bay of Delaware so difficult, that his van did not get into the river until the 4th of October. The ships of war and transports which followed, came up from the sixth to the eighth, and anchored from New Castle to Reedy Island.
The frigates, in advance of the fleet, had not yet succeeded in their endeavours to effect a passage through the lower double row of chevaux-de-frise. Though no longer protected by the fort at Billingsport, they were defended by the water force above, and the work was found more difficult than had been expected. It was not until the middle of October that the impediments were so far removed as to afford a narrow and intricate passage through them. In the mean time, the fire from the Pennsylvania shore had not produced all the effect expected from it; and it was perceived that greater exertions would be necessary for the reduction of the works than could safely be made in the present relative situation of the armies. Under this impression, General Howe, soon after the return of the American army to its former camp on the Skippack, withdrew his troops from Germantown into Philadelphia, as preparatory to a combined attack by land and water on forts Mercer and Mifflin.
After effecting a passage through the works sunk in the river at Billingsport, other difficulties still remained to be encountered by the ships of war. Several rows of chevaux-de-frise had been sunk about half a mile below Mud Island, which were protected by the guns of the forts, as well as by the moveable water force. To silence these works, therefore, was a necessary preliminary to the removal of these obstructions in the channel.
[Sidenote: Attack upon Red Bank.]
[Sidenote: Colonel Donop killed and his party repulsed with considerable loss.]
On the 21st of October, a detachment of Hessians, amounting to twelve hundred men, commanded by Colonel Count Donop, crossed the Delaware at Philadelphia, with orders to storm the fort at Red Bank. The fortifications consisted of extensive outer works, within which was an intrenchment eight or nine feet high, boarded and fraized. Late in the evening of the twenty-second. Count Donop appeared before the fort, and attacked it with great intrepidity. It was defended with equal resolution. The outer works being too extensive to be manned by the troops in the fort, were used only to gall the assailants while advancing. On their near approach, the garrison retired within the inner intrenchment, whence they poured upon the Hessians a heavy and destructive fire. Colonel Donop received a mortal wound; and Lieutenant Colonel Mengerode, the second in command, fell about the same time. Lieutenant Colonel Minsing, the oldest remaining officer, drew off his troops, and returned next day to Philadelphia. The loss of the assailants was estimated by the Americans at four hundred men. The garrison was reinforced from fort Mifflin, and aided by the galleys which flanked the Hessians in their advance and retreat. The American loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to only thirty-two men.
[Sidenote: The Augusta frigate blows up.]
The ships having been ordered to co-operate with Count Donop, the Augusta, with four smaller vessels, passed the lower line of chevaux-de-frise, opposite to Billingsport, and lay above it, waiting until the assault should be made on the fort. The flood tide setting in about the time the attack commenced, they moved with it up the river. The obstructions sunk in the Delaware had in some degree changed its channel, in consequence of which the Augusta and the Merlin grounded, a considerable distance below the second line of chevaux-de-frise and a strong wind from the north so checked the rising of the tide, that these vessels could not be floated by the flood. Their situation, however, was not discerned that evening, as the frigates which were able to approach the fort, and the batteries from the Pennsylvania shore, kept up an incessant fire on the garrison, till night put an end to the cannonade. Early next morning it was recommenced, in the hope that, under its cover, the Augusta and the Merlin might be got off. The Americans, on discovering their situation, sent four fire ships against them, but without effect. Meanwhile, a warm cannonade took place on both sides, in the course of which the Augusta took fire, and it was found impracticable to extinguish the flames. Most of the men were taken out, the frigates withdrawn, and the Merlin set on fire; after which the Augusta blew up, and a few of the crew were lost in her.
This repulse inspired congress with flattering hopes for the permanent defence of the posts on the Delaware. That body expressed its high sense of the merits of Colonel Greene of Rhode Island, who had commanded in fort Mercer; of Lieutenant Colonel Smith of Maryland, who had commanded in fort Mifflin; and of Commodore Hazlewood, who commanded the galleys; and presented a sword to each of these officers, as a mark of estimation in which their services were held.
The situation of these forts was far from justifying this confidence of their being defensible. That on Mud Island had been unskilfully constructed, and required at least eight hundred men fully to man the lines. The island is about half a mile long. Fort Mifflin was placed at the lower end, having its principal fortifications in front for the purpose of repelling ships coming up the river. The defences in the rear consisted only of a ditch and palisade, protected by two block-houses, the upper story of one of which had been destroyed in the late cannonade. Above the fort were two batteries opposing those constructed by the British on Province and Carpenter's Islands, which were separated from Mud Island only by a narrow passage between four and five hundred yards wide.
The vessels of war, engaged in the defence of the Delaware, were partly in the service of the continent, and partly in that of the state of Pennsylvania, under a Commodore who received his commission from the state. A misunderstanding took place between him and Lieutenant Colonel Smith, and also between him and the officers of the continental navy; and it required all the authority of the Commander-in-chief to prevent these differences from essentially injuring the service.
The garrison of fort Mifflin consisted of only three hundred continental troops, who were worn down with fatigue, and constant watching, under the constant apprehension of being attacked from Province Island, from Philadelphia, and from the ships below.
Having failed in every attempt to draw the militia of Jersey to the Delaware, General Washington determined to strengthen the garrison by farther drafts from his army. Three hundred Pennsylvania militia were detached, to be divided between the two forts; and, a few days afterwards, General Varnum was ordered, with his brigade, to take a position about Woodbury, near Red Bank, and to relieve and reinforce the garrisons of both forts as far as his strength would permit. The hope was entertained that the appearance of so respectable a continental force might encourage the militia to assemble in greater numbers.
Aware of the advantage to result from a victory over the British army while separated from the fleet, General Washington had been uniformly determined to risk much to gain one. He had, therefore, after the battle of Germantown, continued to watch assiduously for an opportunity to attack his enemy once more to advantage. The circumspect caution of General Howe afforded none. After the repulse at Red Bank, his measures were slow but certain; and were calculated to insure the possession of the forts without exposing his troops to the hazard of an assault.
In this state of things, intelligence was received of the successful termination of the northern campaign, in consequence of which great part of the troops who had been employed against Burgoyne, might be drawn to the aid of the army in Pennsylvania. But it was feared that, before these reinforcements could arrive, Sir William Howe would gain possession of the forts, and remove the obstructions to the navigation of the Delaware. This apprehension furnished a strong motive for vigorous attempts to relieve fort Mifflin. But the relative force of the armies, the difficulty of acting offensively against Philadelphia, and, above all, the reflection that a defeat might disable him from meeting his enemy in the field even after the arrival of the troops expected from the north, determined General Washington not to hazard a second attack under existing circumstances.
To expedite the reinforcements for which he waited, Colonel Hamilton was despatched to General Gates with directions to represent to him the condition of the armies in Pennsylvania; and to urge him, if he contemplated no other service of more importance, immediately to send the regiments of Massachusetts and New Hampshire to aid the army of the middle department. These orders were not peremptory, because it was possible that some other object (as the capture of New York) still more interesting than the expulsion of General Howe from Philadelphia, might be contemplated by Gates; and Washington meant not to interfere with the accomplishment of such object.
On reaching General Putnam, Colonel Hamilton found that a considerable part of the northern army had joined that officer, but that Gates had detained four brigades at Albany for an expedition intended to be made in the winter against Ticonderoga.
Having made such arrangements with Putnam as he supposed would secure the immediate march of a large body of continental troops from that station, Colonel Hamilton proceeded to Albany for the purpose of remonstrating to General Gates against retaining so large and valuable a part of the army unemployed at a time when the most imminent danger threatened the vitals of the country. Gates was by no means disposed to part with his troops. He could not believe that an expedition then preparing at New York, was designed to reinforce General Howe; and insisted that, should the troops then embarked at that place, instead of proceeding to the Delaware, make a sudden movement up the Hudson, it would be in their power, should Albany be left defenceless, to destroy the valuable arsenal which had been there erected, and the military stores captured with Burgoyne, which had been chiefly deposited in that town.
Having, after repeated remonstrances, obtained an order directing three brigades to the Delaware, Hamilton hastened back to Putnam, and found the troops which had been ordered to join General Washington, still at Peekskill. The detachment from New York had suggested to Putnam the possibility of taking that place; and he does not appear to have made very great exertions to divest himself of a force he deemed necessary for an object, the accomplishment of which would give so much splendour to his military character. In addition to this circumstance, an opinion had gained ground among the soldiers that their share of service for the campaign had been performed, and that it was time for them to go into winter quarters. Great discontents too prevailed concerning their pay, which the government had permitted to be more than six months in arrear; and in Poor's brigade, a mutiny broke out, in the course of which a soldier who was run through the body by his captain, before he expired, shot the captain dead who gave the wound. Colonel Hamilton came in time to borrow money from the governor of New York, to put the troops in motion; and they proceeded by brigades to the Delaware. But these several delays retarded their arrival until the contest for the forts on that river was terminated.
The preparations of Sir William Howe being completed, a large battery on Province Island of twenty-four and thirty-two pounders, and two howitzers of eight inches each, opened, early in the morning of the 10th of November, upon fort Mifflin, at the distance of five hundred yards, and kept up an incessant fire for several successive days. The block-houses were reduced to a heap of ruins; the palisades were beaten down; and most of the guns dismounted and otherwise disabled. The barracks were battered in every part, so that the troops could not remain in them. They were under the necessity of working and watching the whole night to repair the damages of the day, and to guard against a storm, of which they were in perpetual apprehension. If in the day, a few moments were allowed for repose, it was taken on the wet earth, which, in consequence of heavy rains, had become a soft mud. The garrison was relieved by General Varnum every forty-eight hours; but his brigade was so weak that half the men were constantly on duty.
Colonel Smith was decidedly of opinion, and General Varnum concurred with him, that the garrison could not repel an assault, and ought to be withdrawn; but General Washington still cherished the hope that the place might be maintained until he should be reinforced from the northern army. Believing that an assault would not be attempted until the works were battered down, he recommended that the whole night should be employed in making repairs. His orders were that the place should be defended to the last extremity; and never were orders more faithfully executed.
Several of the garrison were killed, and among them Captain Treat, a gallant officer, who commanded the artillery. Colonel Smith received a contusion on his hip and arm which compelled him to give up the command, and retire to Red Bank. Major Fleury, a French officer of distinguished merit, who served as engineer, reported to the Commander-in-chief that, although the block-houses were beaten down, all the guns in them, except two, disabled, and several breaches made in the walls, the place was still defensible; but the garrison was so unequal to the numbers required by the extent of the lines, and was so dispirited by watching, fatigue, and constant exposure to the cold rains which were almost incessant, that he dreaded the event of an attempt to carry the place by storm. Fresh troops were ordered to their relief from Varnum's brigade, and the command was taken, first by Colonel Russell, and afterwards by Major Thayer. The artillery, commanded by Captain Lee, continued to be well served. The besiegers were several times thrown into confusion, and a floating battery which opened on the morning of the 14th, was silenced in the course of the day.
The defence being unexpectedly obstinate, the assailants brought up their ships as far as the obstructions in the river permitted, and added their fire to that of the batteries, which was the more fatal as the cover for the troops had been greatly impaired. The brave garrison, however, still maintained their ground with unshaken firmness. In the midst of this stubborn conflict, the Vigilant and a sloop of war were brought up the inner channel, between Mud and Province Islands, which had, unobserved by the besieged, been deepened by the current in consequence of the obstructions in the main channel; and, taking a station within one hundred yards of the works, not only kept up a destructive cannonade, but threw hand grenades into them; while the musketeers from the round top of the Vigilant killed every man that appeared on the platform.
Major Thayer applied to the Commodore to remove these vessels, and he ordered six galleys on the service; but, after reconnoitring their situation, the galleys returned without attempting any thing. Their report was that these ships were so covered by the batteries on Province Island as to be unassailable.
[Sidenote: Fort Mifflin evacuated and possession taken by the British.]
It was now apparent to all that the fort could be no longer defended. The works were in ruins. The position of the Vigilant rendered any farther continuance on the island a prodigal and useless waste of human life; and on the 16th, about 11 at night, the garrison was withdrawn.
[Footnote 72: In stating the defence of Mud Island, the author has availed himself of the journal of Major Fleury.]
A second attempt was made to drive the vessels from their stations with a determination, should it succeed, to repossess the island; but the galleys effected nothing; and a detachment from Province Island soon occupied the ground which had been abandoned.
The day after receiving intelligence of the evacuation of fort Mifflin, General Washington deputed Generals De Kalb, and Knox, to confer with General Varnum and the officers at fort Mercer on the practicability of continuing to defend the obstructions in the channel, to report thereon, and to state the force which would be necessary for that purpose. Their report was in favour of continuing the defence. A council of the navy officers had already been called by the Commodore in pursuance of a request of the Commander-in-chief made before the evacuation had taken place, who were unanimously of opinion that it would be impracticable for the fleet, after the loss of the island, to maintain its station, or to assist in preventing the chevaux-de-frise from being weighed by the ships of the enemy.
General Howe had now completed a line of defence from the Schuylkill to the Delaware; and a reinforcement from New York had arrived at Chester. These two circumstances enabled him to form an army in the Jerseys sufficient for the reduction of fort Mercer, without weakening himself so much in Philadelphia as to put his lines in hazard. Still deeming it of the utmost importance to open the navigation of the Delaware completely, he detached Lord Cornwallis about one in the morning of the 17th, with a strong body of troops to Chester. From that place, his lordship crossed over to Billingsport, where he was joined by the reinforcement from New York.
General Washington received immediate intelligence of the march of this detachment, which he communicated to General Varnum with orders that fort Mercer should be defended to the last extremity. With a view to military operations in that quarter, he ordered one division of the army to cross the river at Burlington, and despatched expresses to the northern troops who were marching on by brigades, directing them to move down the Delaware on its northern side until they should receive farther orders.
[Sidenote: Fort Mercer evacuated.]
Major General Greene, an officer who had been distinguished early in the war by the Commander-in-chief for the solidity of his judgment and his military talents, was selected for this expedition. A hope was entertained that he would be able, not only to protect fort Mercer, but to obtain some decisive advantage over Lord Cornwallis; as the situation of the fort, which his lordship could not invest without placing himself between Timber and Manto Creeks, would expose the assailants to great peril from a respectable force in their rear. But, before Greene could cross the Delaware, Lord Cornwallis approached with an army rendered more powerful than had been expected by the junction of the reinforcement from New York; and fort Mercer was evacuated.
A few of the smaller galleys escaped up the river, and the others were burnt by their crews.
Washington still hoped to recover much of what had been lost. A victory would restore the Jersey shore, and this object was deemed so important, that General Greene's instructions indicated the expectation that he would be in a condition to fight Lord Cornwallis.
That judicious officer feared the reproach of avoiding an action less than the just censure of sacrificing the real interests of his country by engaging the enemy on disadvantageous terms. The numbers of the British exceeded his, even counting his militia as regulars; and he determined to wait for Glover's brigade, which was marching from the north. Before its arrival, Lord Cornwallis took post on Gloucester Point, a point of land making deep into the Delaware, which was entirely under cover of the guns of the ships, from which place he was embarking his baggage and the provisions he had collected for Philadelphia.
[Footnote 73: While Lord Cornwallis lay on Gloucester Point, about one hundred and fifty men of Morgan's rifle corps under Lieutenant Colonel Butler, and an equal number of militia, the whole under the Marquis de la Fayette, who still served as a volunteer, attacked a picket consisting of about three hundred men, and drove them with the loss of twenty or thirty killed, and a greater number wounded, quite into their camp; after which the Americans retired without being pursued.]
Believing that Lord Cornwallis would immediately follow the magazines he had collected, and that the purpose of Sir William Howe was, with his united forces, to attack the American army while divided, General Washington ordered Greene to recross the Delaware, and join the army.
[Sidenote: The enemy succeeds in opening a free communication with his fleet.]
Thus after one continued struggle of more than six weeks, in which the continental troops displayed great military virtues, the army in Philadelphia secured itself in the possession of that city, by opening a free communication with the fleet.
[Footnote 74: While these transactions were passing on the Delaware, General Dickinson projected another expedition against the post on Staten Island. He collected about two thousand men, and requested General Putnam to make a diversion on the side of Kingsbridge, in order to prevent a reinforcement from New York.
Knowing that success depended on secrecy, he had concealed his object even from his field-officers, until eight of the night in which it was to be executed. Yet by three next morning, information of his design was given to General Skinner, who, being on his guard, saved himself and his brigade, by taking refuge, on the first alarm, in some works too strong to be carried by assault. A few prisoners were made and a few men killed, after which General Dickinson brought off his party with the loss of only three killed and ten slightly wounded.]
[Sidenote: Washington urged to attack Philadelphia.]
While Lord Cornwallis was in Jersey, and General Greene on the Delaware above him, the reinforcements from the north being received, an attack on Philadelphia was strongly pressed by several officers high in rank; and was in some measure urged by that torrent of public opinion, which, if not resisted by a very firm mind, overwhelms the judgment, and by controlling measures not well comprehended, may frequently produce, especially in military transactions, the most disastrous effects.
It was stated to the Commander-in-chief, that his army was now in greater force than he could expect it to be at any future time; that being joined by the troops who had conquered Burgoyne, his own reputation, the reputation of his army, the opinion of congress, and of the nation, required some decisive blow on his part. That the rapid depreciation of the paper currency, by which the resources for carrying on the war were dried up, rendered indispensable some grand effort to bring it to a speedy termination.
The plan proposed was, that General Greene should embark two thousand men at Dunks' ferry, and descending the Delaware in the night, land in the town just before day, attack the enemy in the rear, and take possession of the bridge over the Schuylkill. That a strong corps should march down on the west side of that river, occupy the heights enfilading the works of the enemy, and open a brisk cannonade upon them, while a detachment from it should march down to the bridge, and attack in front at the same instant, that the party descending the river should commence its assault on the rear.
Not only the Commander-in-chief, but some of his best officers, those who could not be impelled by the clamours of the ill-informed to ruin the public interests, were opposed to this mad enterprise.
The two armies, they said, were now nearly equal in point of numbers, and the detachment under Lord Cornwallis could not be supposed to have so weakened Sir William Howe as to compensate for the advantages of his position. His right was covered by the Delaware, his left by the Schuylkill, his rear by the junction of those two rivers, as well as by the city of Philadelphia, and his front by a line of redoubts extending from river to river, and connected by an abattis, and by circular works. It would be indispensably necessary to carry all these redoubts; since to leave a part of them to play on the rear of the columns, while engaged in front with the enemy in Philadelphia, would be extremely hazardous.
Supposing the redoubts carried, and the British army driven into the town, yet all military men were agreed on the great peril of storming a town. The streets would be defended by an artillery greatly superior to that of the Americans, which would attack in front, while the brick houses would be lined with musketeers, whose first must thin the ranks of the assailants.
A part of the plan, on the successful execution of which the whole depended, was, that the British rear should be surprised by the corps descending the Delaware. This would require the concurrence of too many favourable circumstances to be calculated on with any confidence. As the position of General Greene was known, it could not be supposed that Sir William Howe would be inattentive to him. It was probable that not even his embarkation would be made unnoticed; but it was presuming a degree of negligence which ought not to be assumed, to suppose that he could descend the river to Philadelphia undiscovered. So soon as his movements should be observed, the whole plan would be comprehended, since it would never be conjectured that General Greene was to attack singly.
If the attack in front should fail, which was not even improbable, the total loss of the two thousand men in the rear must follow; and General Howe would maintain his superiority through the winter.
The situation of America did not require these desperate measures. The British general would be compelled to risk a battle on equal terms, or to manifest a conscious inferiority to the American army. The depreciation of paper money was the inevitable consequence of immense emissions without corresponding taxes. It was by removing the cause, not by sacrificing the army, that this evil was to be corrected.
Washington possessed too much discernment to be dazzled by the false brilliant presented by those who urged the necessity of storming Philadelphia, in order to throw lustre round his own fame, and that of his army; and too much firmness of temper, too much virtue and real patriotism, to be diverted from a purpose believed to be right, by the clamours of faction or the discontents of ignorance. Disregarding the importunities of mistaken friends, the malignant insinuations of enemies, and the expectations of the ill-informed; he persevered in his resolution to make no attempt on Philadelphia. He saved his army, and was able to keep the field in the face of his enemy; while the clamour of the moment wasted in air, and is forgotten.
The opinion that Sir William Howe meditated an attack on the American camp, was not ill founded. Scarcely had Lord Cornwallis returned to Philadelphia, and Greene to the American army, when unquestionable intelligence was received that the British general was preparing to march out in full strength, with the avowed object of forcing Washington from his position, and driving him beyond the mountains.
[Sidenote: General Howe marches out to Chestnut Hill.]
On the 4th of December, Captain M'Lane, a vigilant officer on the lines, discovered that an attempt to surprise the American camp at White Marsh was about to be made, and communicated the information to the Commander-in-chief. In the evening of the same day, General Howe marched out of Philadelphia with his whole force; and, about eleven at night, M'Lane, who had been detached with one hundred chosen men, attacked the British van at the Three Mile Run, on the Germantown road, and compelled their front division to change its line of march. He hovered on the front and flank of the advancing army, galling them severely until three next morning, when the British encamped on Chestnut Hill, in front of the American right, and distant from it about three miles. A slight skirmish had also taken place between the Pennsylvania militia under General Irvine, and the advanced light parties of the enemy, in which the general was wounded, and the militia, without much other loss, were dispersed.
The range of hills on which the British were posted, approached nearer to those occupied by the Americans, as they stretched northward.
Having passed the day in reconnoitring the right, Sir William Howe changed his ground in the course of the night, and moving along the hills to his right, took an advantageous position, about a mile in front of the American left. The next day he inclined still farther to his right, and, in doing so, approached still nearer to the left wing of the American army. Supposing a general engagement to be approaching, Washington detached Gist with some Maryland militia, and Morgan with his rifle corps, to attack the flanking and advanced parties of the enemy. A sharp action ensued, in which Major Morris, of Jersey, a brave officer in Morgan's regiment, was mortally wounded, and twenty-seven of his men were killed and wounded. A small loss was also sustained in the militia. The parties first attacked were driven in; but the enemy reinforcing in numbers, and Washington, unwilling to move from the heights, and engage on the ground which was the scene of the skirmish, declining to reinforce Gist and Morgan, they, in turn, were compelled to retreat.
[Sidenote: Returns to Philadelphia.]
Sir William Howe continued to manoeuvre towards the flank, and in front of the left wing of the American army. Expecting to be attacked in that quarter in full force, Washington made such changes in the disposition of his troops as the occasion required; and the day was consumed in these movements. In the course of it, the American chief rode through every brigade of his army, delivering, in person, his orders, respecting the manner of receiving the enemy, exhorting his troops to rely principally on the bayonet, and encouraging them by the steady firmness of his countenance, as well as by his words, to a vigorous performance of their duty. The dispositions of the evening indicated an intention to attack him the ensuing morning; but in the afternoon of the eighth, the British suddenly filed off from their right, which extended beyond the American left, and retreated to Philadelphia. The parties detached to harass their rear could not overtake it.
[Footnote 75: The author states this on his own observation.]
The loss of the British in this expedition, as stated in the official letter of General Howe, rather exceeded one hundred in killed, wounded, and missing; and was sustained principally in the skirmish of the 7th, in which Major Morris fell.
On no former occasion had the two armies met, uncovered by works, with superior numbers on the side of the Americans. The effective force of the British was then stated at twelve thousand men. It has been since declared by an author who then belonged to it, but who, though a candid writer, appears to have imbibed prejudices against Sir William Howe, to have amounted to fourteen thousand. The American army consisted of precisely twelve thousand one hundred and sixty-one continental troops, and three thousand two hundred and forty-one militia. This equality in point of numbers, rendered it a prudent precaution to maintain a superiority of position. As the two armies occupied heights fronting each other, neither could attack without giving to its adversary some advantage in the ground; and this was an advantage which neither seemed willing to relinquish.
[Footnote 76: Stedman.]
The return of Sir William Howe to Philadelphia without bringing on an action, after marching out with the avowed intention of fighting, is the best testimony of the respect which he felt for the talents of his adversary, and the courage of the troops he was to encounter.
The cold was now becoming so intense that it was impossible for an army neither well clothed, nor sufficiently supplied with blankets, longer to keep the field in tents. It had become necessary to place the troops in winter quarters; but in the existing state of things the choice of winter quarters was a subject for serious reflection. It was impossible to place them in villages without uncovering the country, or exposing them to the hazard of being beaten in detachment.
To avoid these calamities, it was determined to take a strong position in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, equally distant from the Delaware above and below that city; and there to construct huts, in the form of a regular encampment, which might cover the army during the winter. A strong piece of ground at Valley Forge, on the west side of the Schuylkill, between twenty and thirty miles from Philadelphia, was selected for that purpose; and some time before day on the morning of the 11th of December, the army marched to take possession of it. By an accidental concurrence of circumstances, Lord Cornwallis had been detached the same morning at the head of a strong corps, on a foraging party on the west side of the Schuylkill. He had fallen in with a brigade of Pennsylvania militia commanded by General Potter, which he soon dispersed; and, pursuing the fugitives, had gained the heights opposite Matron's ford, over which the Americans had thrown a bridge for the purpose of crossing the river, and had posted troops to command the defile called the Gulph, just as the front division of the American army reached the bank of the river. This movement had been made without any knowledge of the intention of General Washington to change his position, or any design of contesting the passage of the Schuylkill; but the troops had been posted in the manner already mentioned for the sole purpose of covering the foraging party.
Washington apprehended, from his first intelligence, that General Howe had taken the field in full force. He therefore recalled the troops already on the west side, and moved rather higher up the river, for the purpose of understanding the real situation, force, and designs of the enemy. The next day Lord Cornwallis returned to Philadelphia; and, in the course of the night, the American army crossed the river.
[Sidenote: General Washington goes into winter quarters.]
Here the Commander-in-chief communicated to his army, in general orders, the manner in which he intended to dispose of them during the winter. He expressed, in strong terms, his approbation of their conduct, presented them with an encouraging state of the future prospects of their country, exhorted them to bear with continuing fortitude the hardships inseparable from the position they were about to take, and endeavoured to convince their judgments that those hardships were not imposed on them by unfeeling caprice, but were necessary for the good of their country.
The winter had set in with great severity, and the sufferings of the army were extreme. In a few days, however, these sufferings were considerably diminished by the erection of logged huts, filled up with mortar, which, after being dried, formed comfortable habitations, and gave content to men long unused to the conveniences of life. The order of a regular encampment was observed; and the only appearance of winter quarters, was the substitution of huts for tents.
Inquiry into the conduct of General Schuyler.... Burgoyne appears before Ticonderoga.... Evacuation of that place,... of Skeensborough.... Colonel Warner defeated.... Evacuation of fort Anne.... Proclamation of Burgoyne.... Counter-proclamation of Schuyler.... Burgoyne approaches fort Edward.... Schuyler retires to Saratoga,... to Stillwater.... St. Leger invests fort Schuyler.... Herkimer defeated.... Colonel Baum detached to Bennington.... is defeated.... Breckman defeated.... St. Leger abandons the siege of fort Schuyler.... Murder of Miss M'Crea.... General Gates takes command.... Burgoyne encamps on the heights of Saratoga.... Battle of Stillwater.... Burgoyne retreats to Saratoga.... Capitulates.... The British take forts Montgomery and Clinton.... The forts Independence and Constitution evacuated by the Americans.... Ticonderoga evacuated by the British.
While, with inferior numbers, General Washington maintained a stubborn contest in the middle states, events of great variety and importance were passing in the north.
After Sir Guy Carleton had distributed his army, for winter quarters, in the several villages from the Isle Aux Noix and Montreal to Quebec, General Burgoyne, who had served under him, embarked for England, in order to communicate a full statement of affairs in the northern department; and to assist in making arrangements for the ensuing campaign. The American army, having been formed for only one year, dissolved of itself at the expiration of that term, and could scarcely furnish even the appearance of garrisons in their forts.
The defence of this frontier was assigned to the regiments directed to be raised in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the northwestern parts of New York; but the recruiting service advanced so slowly, and so much difficulty was found in clothing and arming those who were enlisted, that it became indispensable to call in the aid of the militia; and the plan of the campaign on the part of the British was involved in so much obscurity that General Washington deemed it adviseable to direct eight of the regiments of Massachusetts to rendezvous at Peekskill.
[Sidenote: An inquiry into the conduct of General Schuyler, which terminates to his honour.]
The service of General Schuyler in the northern department had been more solid than brilliant. Dissatisfied with his situation, and disgusted with the injustice he supposed himself to experience, he had for some time meditated a resignation, and had been retained in the service only by the deep interest he felt in the struggle of his country for independence. So soon as his fears for Ticonderoga were removed by the partial opening of Lake Champlain, he waited in person on congress for the purpose of adjusting his accounts, obtaining an inquiry into his conduct, and supporting those necessary measures of defence in the north, which were suggested by his perfect knowledge of the country. At his request, a committee, consisting of a member from each state, was appointed to inquire into his conduct during the time he had held a command in the army. The arduous services performed by this meritorious officer, when investigated, were found so far to exceed any estimate which had been made of them, that congress deemed it essential to the public interest to prevail on him to retain his commission. The resolution which fixed his head quarters at Albany was repealed, and he was directed to proceed forthwith to the northern department, and to take the command of it.
[Footnote 77: When the command of the operating army was given to General Thomas in March 1776, the head quarters of General Schuyler had been fixed by congress at Albany, and that resolution remained in force. General Gates was now directed to repair to Ticonderoga and take command of the army; and Major General St. Clair was ordered to the same place to serve under him.]
On his arrival, he found the army of the north not only too weak for the objects entrusted to it, but badly supplied with arms, clothes, and provisions. From a spy who had been seized near Onion River, he obtained information that General Burgoyne was at Quebec, and was to command the British forces in that department so soon as they should march out of Canada. That while Ticonderoga should be attacked by the main army, Sir John Johnson, with a strong body of British, Canadians, and Indians, was to penetrate to the Mohawk by Oswego, and place himself between fort Stanwix and fort Edward.
[Sidenote: Burgoyne appears before Ticonderoga.]
General Schuyler was sensible of the danger which threatened him, and made every exertion to meet it. After completing his arrangements at Ticonderoga for sustaining a siege, he had proceeded to Albany, for the purpose of attending to his supplies, and of expediting the march of reinforcements, when he received intelligence from General St. Clair, who was entrusted with the defence of Ticonderoga, that Burgoyne had appeared before that place.
In the course of the preceding winter, a plan for penetrating to the Hudson, from Canada, by the way of the lakes, had been digested in the cabinet of London. General Burgoyne, who assisted in forming it, was entrusted with its execution, and was to lead a formidable army against Ticonderoga as soon as the season would permit. At the same time a smaller party under Colonel St. Leger, composed of Canadians, newly raised Americans, and a few Europeans, aided by a powerful body of Indians, was to march from Oswego, to enter the country by the way of the Mohawk, and to join the grand army on the Hudson.
Burgoyne reached Quebec as soon as it was practicable to sail up the St. Lawrence, and appeared in full force on the river Bouquet, on the western banks of lake Champlain, much earlier than the American general had supposed to be possible. At this place he met the Indians in a grand council, after which he gave them a war feast. Much of the cruelty afterwards perpetrated by the savages has been attributed to this unfortunate officer; but justice requires the admission that his speech was calculated rather to diminish than increase their habitual ferocity. He endeavoured to impress on them the distinction between enemies in the field, and the unarmed inhabitants, many of whom were friends; and, addressing himself to their avarice, promised rewards for prisoners, but none for scalps. It was perhaps fortunate for America, that, in some instances, peculiarly calculated to excite and interest the human feelings, these feeble restraints were disregarded.
After publishing a manifesto at Putnam River, designed to act on the hopes and fears of the people of the country through which he was to pass, he halted a few days at Crown Point, to make the necessary dispositions for investing Ticonderoga.
From Crown Point, the royal army advanced on both sides the lake, keeping up a communication between its divisions, by means of the fleet; and on the 1st of July encamped within four miles of the American works. A strong party was pushed forward to Three Mile Point; and the fleet anchored just beyond the range of the guns of the fort. The next day they took possession, without opposition, of the important post at Mount Hope, which commanded, in part, the lines on the northern side, and entirely cut off the communication with lake George.
The weakness of his garrison induced General St. Clair to give up this post without a struggle. Believing it to be impracticable to support it without hazarding a general action, he determined to concentrate his force about Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.
After taking possession of Mount Hope, the British lines were extended on the western side of Champlain, from the mountain quite to the lake, so as completely to inclose the garrison on that side. The German division under Major General Reidisel, which occupied the eastern shore of the lake, was encamped at Three Mile Point, and had pushed forward a detachment near the rivulet, which runs east of Mount Independence.
The besiegers laboured assiduously to bring up their artillery and complete their works. Sugar Hill, a rugged mountain standing at the confluence of the waters that unite at Ticonderoga, which overlooks the fortress and had been thought inaccessible, was examined; and the report being that the ascent, though extremely difficult, was practicable, the work was immediately commenced, and was pressed with so much vigour that the batteries might have opened next day. The garrison was not in a condition to check these operations.
The situation of St. Clair was now at its crisis. Only the ground between the Eastern run and the South River remained open; and this he was informed would be occupied the next day, so that the investment would be complete. The place must be immediately evacuated, or maintained at the hazard of losing the garrison when it should be no longer tenable.
Between these cruel alternations, General St. Clair did not hesitate to choose the first; but deeming it prudent to take the advice of a council of war, he convened the general officers, who unanimously advised the immediate evacuation of the fort.
[Sidenote: Evacuation of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.]
Preparations for the retreat were instantly commenced. The invalids, the hospital, and such stores as could be moved in the course of the night, were put on board the batteaux, which proceeded under the guard of Colonel Long, up the South River to Skeensborough; and, before day on the morning of the 6th of July, the main body of the army directed its march to the same place.
In the hope of making considerable progress before his retreat should be discovered, General St. Clair had ordered the troops to observe the most profound silence, and, particularly, to set nothing on fire. These judicious orders were disobeyed; and, before the rear guard was in motion, the house which had been occupied by General De Fermoy was in flames. This served as a signal to the besiegers, who immediately entered the works. The main body of the retreating army was rapidly pursued by Generals Frazer and Reidisel, while General Burgoyne, in person, followed the detachment under Colonel Long.
The bridge, the boom, and those other works, the construction of which had employed the labour of ten months, were cut through by nine in the morning, so as to afford a passage for the Royal George and Inflexible frigates, as well as for the gun boats, which engaged the American galleys, about three in the afternoon, near the falls of Skeensborough.
[Sidenote: The American army evacuate Skeensborough and retire to fort Anne.]
In the mean time, three regiments had disembarked at some distance from the fort, with the intention of attacking it by land, and cutting off the retreat of the garrison, as well as that of the detachment in the boats and galleys. This manoeuvre being discovered, the works and batteaux were set on fire, and the troops retired to fort Anne. On this occasion, the baggage of the army, and a great quantity of military stores, were either destroyed by the Americans, or taken by the British.
Knowing that he could save his army only by the rapidity of his march, General St. Clair reached Castletown, thirty miles from Ticonderoga, on the night succeeding the evacuation of the fort. The rear guard under Colonel Warner halted six miles short of that place. Having been augmented by those who from excessive fatigue had fallen out of the line of march, it amounted to rather more than one thousand men.
[Sidenote: Colonel Warner attacked by General Frazer and obliged to retreat.]
The next morning at five, they were overtaken and attacked by General Frazer with eight hundred and fifty men. The action was warm and well contested. In its commencement, two regiments of militia, which lay within two miles of Colonel Warner, were ordered to his assistance. Instead of obeying these orders, they consulted their own safety, and hastened to Castletown. Had these orders been executed, the corps which attacked Warner would probably have been cut to pieces. While the action was maintained with equal spirit on both sides, General Reidisel arrived with his division of Germans, and the Americans were routed.
In this action, Colonel Francis, several other officers, and upwards of two hundred men were left dead on the field; and one colonel, seven captains, ten subalterns, and two hundred and ten privates were made prisoners. Near six hundred are supposed to have been wounded, many of whom must have perished in attempting to escape through the woods towards the inhabited country. The British state their own loss at thirty-five killed, among whom was one field officer, and one hundred and forty-four wounded, including two majors, and five inferior officers. It is scarcely credible, notwithstanding the difference in arms, that in a well contested action, the disparity in the killed could have been so considerable. It is the less probable, as the pursuit was not of long continuance.
To avoid that division of the British army which had proceeded up the North River, St. Clair changed his route; and directed his march to Rutland, to which place he ordered Warner also to retire. At Rutland he fell in with several soldiers who had been separated from their corps, and, two days afterwards, at Manchester, was joined by Warner with about ninety men. From this place he proceeded to fort Edward, where he met General Schuyler.
After taking possession of Skeensborough, Burgoyne had found it necessary to suspend the pursuit, and to give his army refreshment. The troops were in some disorder; distinct corps were intermingled, and his detachments were far apart from each other. He determined therefore to halt a few days at that place, in order to reassemble and arrange his army.
[Sidenote: Colonel Long evacuates Fort Anne and retires to Fort Edward.]
Colonel Long having been directed to defend fort Anne, the ninth regiment of British, under Lieutenant Colonel Hill, had been detached against that place. It being understood that the Americans were in some force, two other regiments, under Brigadier Powell, were ordered to support the first party. Before the arrival of this reinforcement, Colonel Long attacked the ninth regiment, and a sharp skirmish ensued, in which the British kept their ground, and the advantage was claimed by both parties. Hearing that a reinforcement was approaching, Long set fire to the works at fort Anne, and retired to fort Edward.
At Stillwater, on his way to Ticonderoga, General Schuyler was informed of the evacuation of that place; and, on the same day, at Saratoga, of the loss of the stores at Skeensborough. He had heard nothing from General St. Clair; and was seriously apprehensive for that officer and his army, which, after the junction of Colonel Long, consisted of about fifteen hundred continental troops, and the same number of militia. They were dispirited by defeat, without tents, badly armed, and had lost great part of their stores and baggage. The country was generally much alarmed; and even the well affected discovered more inclination to take care of themselves than to join the army. In this gloomy state of things, no officer could have exerted more diligence and skill than were displayed by Schuyler. Having fixed his head quarters at fort Edward, he employed to the utmost advantage the short respite from action which Burgoyne unavoidably gave. The country between Skeensborough and fort Edward was almost entirely unsettled, was covered with thick woods, and of a surface extremely rough, and much intersected with creeks and morasses. Wood creek was navigable with batteaux as far as fort Anne; and military stores of every description might be transported up it. He obstructed its navigation by sinking numerous impediments in its course, broke up the bridges, and rendered the roads impassable. He was also indefatigable in driving the live stock out of the way, and in bringing from fort George to fort Edward, the ammunition and other military stores which had been deposited at that place. Still farther to delay the movements of the British, he posted Colonel Warner on their left flank, with instructions to raise the militia in that quarter. The hope was entertained, that the appearance of a respectable force, threatening the flank and rear of the invading army, would not only retard its advance, but would induce General Burgoyne to weaken it, in order to strengthen the garrison of Ticonderoga.
While thus endeavoring to obstruct the march of the enemy, Schuyler was not less attentive to the best means of strengthening his own army. Reinforcements of regular troops were earnestly solicited; the militia of New England and New York were required to take the field, and all his influence in the surrounding country was exerted to reanimate the people, and to prevent their defection from the American cause.
[Sidenote: Proclamation of Burgoyne and counter-proclamation of Schuyler.]
While at Skeensborough General Burgoyne issued a second proclamation summoning the people of the adjacent country to send ten deputies from each township to meet Colonel Skeene at Castletown, in order to deliberate on such measures as might still be adopted to save those who had not yet conformed to his first, and submitted to the royal authority. General Schuyler apprehending some effect from this paper, issued a counter proclamation, stating the insidious designs of the enemy. Warning the inhabitants, by the example of Jersey, of the danger to which their yielding to this seductive proposition would expose them, and giving them the most solemn assurances that all who should send deputies to this meeting, or in any manner aid the enemy, would be considered traitors, and should suffer the utmost rigour of the law.
[Footnote 78: Remem.]
The evacuation of Ticonderoga was a shock for which no part of the United States was prepared. Neither the strength of the invading army, nor of the garrison had been understood. When therefore intelligence was received that a place, on the fortifications of which much money and labour had been expended, which was considered as the key to the whole northwestern country, and supposed to contain a garrison nearly equal to the invading army, had been abandoned without a siege; that an immense train of artillery, and all the military stores, had either fallen into the hands of the enemy, or been destroyed; that the army, on its retreat, had been attacked, defeated, and dispersed; astonishment pervaded all ranks of men; and the conduct of the officers was universally condemned. Congress recalled all the generals of the department, and directed an inquiry into their conduct. Throughout New England especially, the most bitter aspersions were cast on them and General Schuyler, who, from some unknown cause, had never been viewed with favour in that part of the continent, was involved in the common charge of treachery, to which this accumulation of unlooked-for calamity was generally attributed by the mass of the people.
On the representations of General Washington, the recall of the officers was suspended, until he should be of opinion that the service would not suffer by the measure; and, on a full inquiry afterwards made into their conduct, they were acquitted of all blame.
In a letter of St. Clair to the Commander-in-chief, stating his motives for evacuating Ticonderoga, he represented the strength of his garrison, including nine hundred militia, who would consent to stay but a few days, at only three thousand effective rank and file, many of whom were without bayonets. The lines required ten thousand to man them properly. He also affirmed, that his supply of provisions was sufficient for only twenty days, and that the works on the Ticonderoga side were incomplete, with their flanks undefended. He justified his having failed to call in a larger reinforcement of militia, by the scarcity of provisions, the supply on hand not having been procured until General Schuyler had resumed the command in the department; and attributed his not having evacuated the place in time to preserve his army and stores, to the prevalent opinion that there was not a sufficient force in Canada to attempt so hardy an enterprise, and to his not being at liberty to adopt that measure but in the last necessity.
A court of inquiry justified his conduct, and he retained the confidence of the Commander-in-chief.
On learning the distressed state of the remnant of the army, General Washington made great exertions to repair its losses, and to reinforce it. The utmost industry was used to procure a supply of tents; artillery and ammunition were forwarded from Massachusetts; the remaining troops of that state were ordered to that department; and General Lincoln, who possessed, in a high degree, the confidence of the New England militia, was directed to raise and command them. General Arnold, so often distinguished for his gallantry in the field, was ordered to the northern army, in the hope that his presence and reputation might reanimate the troops; and Colonel Morgan, with his corps of riflemen, was detached on the same service. Through the present dark gloom, Washington discerned a ray of light, and already cherished the hope that much good might result from present evil. "The evacuation of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence," said he in a letter of the 15th of July, to General Schuyler, "is an event of chagrin and surprise, not apprehended, nor within the compass of my reasoning. This stroke is severe indeed, and has distressed us much. But, notwithstanding, things at present wear a dark and gloomy aspect, I hope a spirited opposition will check the progress of General Burgoyne's arms, and that the confidence derived from success will hurry him into measures that will, in their consequences, be favourable to us. We should never despair. Our situation has before been unpromising, and has changed for the better. So, I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new exertions, and proportion our efforts to the exigency of the times."
On receiving a letter from General Schuyler of the seventeenth, stating the divided situation of the British army, he seemed to anticipate the event which afterwards occurred, and to suggest the measure in which originated that torrent of misfortune with which Burgoyne was overwhelmed. "Though our affairs," he said in reply to this information, "have for some days past worn a dark and gloomy aspect, I yet look forward to a fortunate and happy change. I trust General Burgoyne's army will meet, sooner or later, an effectual check; and, as I suggested before, that the success he has met with will precipitate his ruin. From your accounts, he appears to be pursuing that line of conduct which, of all others, is most favourable to us. I mean acting in detachment. This conduct will certainly give room for enterprise on our part, and expose his parties to great hazard. Could we be so happy as to cut one of them off, though it should not exceed four, five, or six hundred men, it would inspirit the people, and do away much of their present anxiety. In such an event, they would lose sight of past misfortunes; and, urged at the same time by a regard for their own security, would fly to arms, and afford every aid in their power."
After allowing a short repose to his army, General Burgoyne proceeded with ardour to the remaining objects of the campaign. The toils and delays which must be encountered in reaching the Hudson were soon perceived. He found it necessary to open Wood creek, and to repair the roads and bridges which Schuyler had broken up. Such was the unavoidable delay of this difficult operation, that the army did not arrive on the Hudson, in the neighbourhood of fort Edward, till the fourteenth of July. At this place it was necessary again to halt, in order to bring artillery, provisions, batteaux, and other articles from fort George.
[Sidenote: Burgoyne approaches Fort Edward and Schuyler retires to Saratoga.]
[Sidenote: From thence to Stillwater.]
The time afforded by this delay had been employed by Schuyler to the utmost advantage. Some reinforcements of continental troops had arrived from Peekskill, and the militia had been assembled; but his strength did not yet afford a reasonable prospect of success in a contest with the enemy opposed to him. On this account, as Burgoyne approached fort Edward, Schuyler retired over the Hudson to Saratoga, and soon afterwards to Stillwater, not far from the mouth of the Mohawk. At this place, General Lincoln, who had been detached to take command of the militia assembling at Manchester, was ordered to rejoin him, and he fortified his camp in the hope of being strong enough to defend it.
At Stillwater, information was obtained that Burgoyne had evacuated Castletown; so that the only communication with Ticonderoga, whence nearly all his supplies were drawn, was through Lake George; and that the garrison of that important place had been reduced to three hundred men. In consequence of this intelligence, the orders to General Lincoln were countermanded, and he was directed with the militia of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and of the Grants, making, as was understood, a total of between two and three thousand men, to place himself in the rear of the British army, and cut off its communication with the lakes. Here too he was informed that Colonel St. Leger, with a large body of Indians, in addition to his regulars, had penetrated from Oswego, by the way of the Oneida lake and Wood creek, to the Mohawk, where he had laid siege to fort Schuyler, and had totally defeated General Herkimer, who had raised the militia of Tryon county, in order to relieve the fort. The importance of protecting the inhabitants from the savages, and of preventing a junction between St. Leger and Burgoyne, and the consequent loss of the country on the Mohawk, determined Schuyler, weak as he was, to detach Major General Arnold with three continental regiments to raise the siege. The army was so enfeebled by this measure, that its removal to a place of greater security became necessary, and it was withdrawn to some islands in the confluence of the Hudson and the Mohawk, where the camp was deemed more defensible. Burgoyne had now marched down the east side of the Hudson, and his advanced parties had crossed the river, and occupied the ground at Saratoga.
[Sidenote: St. Leger invests Fort Schuyler.]
On the 3d of August, after a message vaunting of his strength, and demanding a surrender, which was answered by a declaration that the fort would be defended to the last extremity, St. Leger invested fort Schuyler. The garrison amounted to six hundred men, all continental troops, who were commanded by Colonel Gansevoort. The besieging army rather exceeded fifteen hundred, of whom from six to nine hundred were Indians.
On the approach of the enemy, General Herkimer, who commanded the militia of Tryon county, assembled them in considerable numbers, and gave information to the garrison, about eleven in the morning of the sixth, of his intention to force a passage that day through the besieging army. Gansevoort determined to favour the execution of this design by a vigorous sortie; and upwards of two hundred men, to be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Willet, were drawn out for that purpose.
[Sidenote: Herkimer, advancing to the relief of the fort, falls into an ambuscade, and is defeated with loss.]
Unfortunately St. Leger received information the preceding day of Herkimer's approach, and, early in the morning, placed a strong party, composed of regulars and Indians, in ambuscade on the road along which he was to march. His first notice of it was given by a heavy discharge of small arms, which was followed by a furious attack from the Indians with their tomahawks. He defended himself with resolution; but was defeated with great slaughter. The general and several of the field officers were wounded; and many others, among whom were several persons of distinction, were killed or taken prisoners. The loss was estimated at four hundred men. The destruction was prevented from being still more complete, by the very timely sortie made by Lieutenant Colonel Willet, which checked the pursuit, and recalled those engaged in it to the defence of their own camp.
As soon as Gansevoort understood that Herkimer was advancing, the sortie which he had planned was made. Lieutenant Colonel Willet fell on the camp of the besiegers, and routed them at the first onset. After driving them, some into the woods, and others over the river, he returned to the fort without the loss of a man.
Burgoyne had received early intimation of the arrival of St. Leger before fort Schuyler; and was aware of the advantage to be derived from an immediate and rapid movement down the Hudson. But the obstacles to his progress multiplied daily, and each step produced new embarrassments. Not more than one-third of the horses expected from Canada had arrived; and Schuyler had been active in removing the draft cattle of the country. With unremitting exertion, he had been able to transport from fort George to the Hudson, a distance of eighteen miles, only twelve batteaux, and provisions for four days in advance. The defectiveness of his means to feed his army until it should reach the abundant country below him, presented an impediment to his farther progress, not readily to be surmounted. The difficulty of drawing supplies from fort George would increase every day with the increasing distance; and the communications, already endangered by a considerable body of militia assembling at White Creek, could be secured only by larger detachments from his army than he was in a condition to make. These were strong inducements to attempt some other mode of supply.
[Sidenote: Colonel Baum is detached to seize the magazines at Bennington.]
It was well known that large magazines of provisions for the use of the American army were collected at Bennington, which place was generally guarded by militia, whose numbers varied from day to day. The possession of these magazines would enable him to prosecute his ulterior plans without relying for supplies from Lake George; and he determined to seize them.
To try the affections of the country, to complete a corps of loyalists, and to mount Reidisel's dragoons, were subordinate objects of the expedition. Lieutenant Colonel Baum with five hundred Europeans, and a body of American loyalists, was detached on this service.
[Footnote 79: Letter of Burgoyne.]
To facilitate the enterprise, and be ready to take advantage of its success, Burgoyne moved down the east side of the Hudson, and threw a bridge of rafts over that river for the passage of his van, which took post at Saratoga. At the same time Lieutenant Colonel Brechman, with his corps, was advanced to Batten Hill, in order, if necessary, to support Colonel Baum.
[Footnote 80: Letter of Burgoyne.]
On approaching Bennington, Baum discovered that he should have to encounter a much more considerable force than had been suspected. The New Hampshire militia, commanded by General Starke, had reached that place on their way to camp; and, uniting with Colonel Warner, made in the whole about two thousand men.
Perceiving his danger, Baum halted about four miles from Bennington, and despatched an express for a reinforcement. In the mean time, he strengthened his position by intrenchments.
Lieutenant Colonel Brechman was immediately ordered to his assistance; but, such was the state of the roads that, though the distance was only twenty-four miles, and his march was pressed unremittingly from eight in the morning of the 15th, he did not reach the ground on which Baum had encamped, until four in the afternoon of the next day.
[Footnote 81: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Is attacked in his intrenchments by General Starke, and entirely routed.]
In the mean time, General Starke determined to attack him in his intrenchments. So confident were the provincials belonging to this party, of the attachment of the country to the royal cause, that the American troops, while making their dispositions for the attack, were mistaken for armed friends coming to join them. On discovering his error, Baum prepared for the contest, and made a gallant defence. His works however were carried by storm, and great part of his detachment killed, or taken prisoners. A few escaped into the woods, and saved themselves by flight.
[Sidenote: Brechman advances to Baum's aid, is attacked by Colonel Warner, and defeated.]
Brechman arrived during the pursuit, and obtained from the fugitives, the first intelligence of the disaster which had befallen them. He immediately attacked the parties of militia who were engaged in the pursuit, and gained some advantage over them. Fortunately for the Americans, Colonel Warner came up at this critical juncture with his continental regiment, and restored, and continued the action, until the main body of the militia re-assembled, and came to support him. Brechman in turn was compelled to retire; but he maintained the engagement until dark, when, abandoning his artillery and baggage, he saved his party under cover of the night.
[Footnote 82: Gordon.]
One thousand stand of arms, and nine hundred swords were taken in this battle. General Burgoyne represented his loss in men at about four hundred; but thirty-two officers, and five hundred and sixty-four privates, including Canadians and loyalists, were made prisoners. The number of the dead was not ascertained, because the action with Brechman had been fought in the woods, and been continued for several miles.
The British general therefore must have included in his estimate of loss, only his European troops.
This important success was soon followed by another of equal influence on the fate of the campaign.
Fort Schuyler had been fortified with more skill, and was defended with more courage, than St. Leger had expected. His artillery made no impression on its walls; and his Indians, who were much better pleased with obtaining plunder and scalps, than besieging fortresses, became intractable, and manifested great disgust with the service. In this temper, they understood that Arnold was advancing with a large body of continental troops; and, soon afterwards were told that Burgoyne and his army had been totally defeated; a report probably founded on the affair at Bennington. Unwilling to share the misfortune of their friends, they manifested a determination not to await the arrival of Arnold. The efforts of St. Leger to detain them being ineffectual, many of them decamped immediately, and the rest threatened to follow.
[Sidenote: St. Leger abandons the siege of Fort Schuyler, and retreats to Ticonderoga.]
The time for deliberation was past. The camp was broken up with indications of excessive alarm. The tents were left standing; and the artillery, with great part of the baggage, ammunition, and provisions, fell into the hands of the Americans. The retreating army was pursued by a detachment from the garrison; and it was stated by deserters, that the Indians plundered the remaining baggage of the officers, and massacred such soldiers as could not keep up with the line of march. St. Leger returned to Montreal, whence he proceeded to Ticonderoga, with the intention of joining General Burgoyne by that route.
The decisive victory at Bennington, and the retreat of St. Leger from fort Schuyler, however important in themselves, were still more so in their consequences. An army, which had spread terror and dismay in every direction, which had, previously, experienced no reverse of fortune, was considered as already beaten; and the opinion became common, that the appearance of the great body of the people in arms, would secure the emancipation of their country. It was too an advantage of no inconsiderable importance resulting from this change of public opinion, that the disaffected became timid, and the wavering who, had the torrent of success continued, would have made a merit of contributing their aid to the victor, were no longer disposed to put themselves and their fortunes in hazard, to support an army whose fate was so uncertain.
The barbarities which had been perpetrated by the Indians belonging to the invading armies, excited still more resentment than terror. As the prospect of revenge began to open, their effect became the more apparent; and their influence on the royal cause was the more sensibly felt because they had been indiscriminate.
[Sidenote: The murder of Miss M'Crea.]
The murder of Miss M'Crea passed through all the papers of the continent: and the story, being retouched by the hand of more than one master, excited a peculiar degree of sensibility. But there were other causes of still greater influence in producing the events which afterwards took place. The last reinforcements of continental troops arrived in camp about this time, and added both courage and strength to the army. The harvest, which had detained the northern militia upon their farms, was over; and General Schuyler, whose continued and eminent services had not exempted him from the imputation of being a traitor, was succeeded by General Gates, who possessed a large share of the public confidence.
[Footnote 83: See note No. IX. at the end of the volume.]
[Sidenote: General Gates takes command of the Northern Army.]
When Schuyler was directed by congress to resume the command of the northern department, Gates withdrew himself from it. When the resolution passed recalling the general officers who had served in that department, General Washington was requested to name a successor to Schuyler. On his expressing a wish to decline this nomination, and representing the inconvenience of removing all the general officers, Gates was again directed to repair thither and take the command, and their resolution to recall the brigadiers was suspended until the Commander-in-chief should be of opinion that it might be carried into effect with safety.
Schuyler retained the command until the arrival of Gates, which was on the 19th of August, and continued his exertions to restore the affairs of the department, though he felt acutely the disgrace of being recalled in this critical and interesting state of the campaign. "It is," said he, in a letter to the Commander-in-chief, "matter of extreme chagrin to me to be deprived of the command at a time when, soon if ever, we shall probably be enabled to face the enemy; when we are on the point of taking ground where they must attack to a disadvantage, should our force be inadequate to facing them in the field; when an opportunity will, in all probability, occur, in which I might evince that I am not what congress have too plainly insinuated by taking the command from me."
[Footnote 84: The islands in the mouth of the Mohawk.]
If error be attributable to the evacuation of Ticonderoga, no portion of it was committed by Schuyler. His removal from the command was probably severe and unjust as respected himself; but perhaps wise as respected America. The frontier towards the lakes was to be defended by the troops of New England; and, however unfounded their prejudices against him might be, it was prudent to consult them.
Notwithstanding the difficulties which multiplied around him, Burgoyne remained steady to his purpose. The disasters at Bennington and on the Mohawk produced no disposition to abandon the enterprise and save his army.
[Sidenote: Burgoyne encamps on the heights of Saratoga.]
It had now become necessary to recur to the slow and toilsome mode of obtaining supplies from fort George. Having, with persevering labour, collected provision for thirty days in advance, he crossed the Hudson on the 13th and 14th of September, and encamped on the heights and plains of Saratoga, with a determination to decide the fate of the expedition in a general engagement.
General Gates, having been joined by all the continental troops destined for the northern department, and reinforced by large bodies of militia, had moved from his camp in the islands, and advanced to the neighbourhood of Stillwater.
[Sidenote: He attacks Gates at Stillwater.]
The bridges between the two armies having been broken down, the roads being excessively bad, and the country covered with wood, the progress of the British army down the river was slow. On the night of the 17th, Burgoyne encamped within four miles of the American army, and the next day was employed in repairing the bridges between the two camps. In the morning of the 19th he advanced in full force towards the American left. Morgan was immediately detached with his corps to observe the enemy, and to harass his front and flanks. He fell in with a picket in front of the right wing, which he attacked with vivacity, and drove in upon the main body. Pursuing with too much ardour, he was met in considerable force, and, after a severe encounter, was compelled, in turn, to retire in some disorder. Two regiments being advanced to his assistance, his corps was rallied, and the action became more general. The Americans were formed in a wood, with an open field in front, and invariably repulsed the British corps which attacked them; but when they pursued those corps to the main body, they were in turn driven back to their first ground. Reinforcements were continually brought up, and about four in the afternoon, upwards of three thousand American troops were closely engaged with the whole right wing of the British army commanded by General Burgoyne in person. The conflict was extremely severe, and only terminated with the day. At dark, the Americans retired to their camp, and the British, who had found great difficulty in maintaining their ground, lay all night on their arms near the field of battle.
[Footnote 85: Letter of Burgoyne.]
[Footnote 86: The accounts of the day stated that the Americans were commanded by General Arnold, but General Wilkinson says that no general officer was in the field.]
In this action the killed and wounded on the part of the Americans were between three and four hundred. Among the former were Colonels Coburn and Adams, and several other valuable officers. The British loss has been estimated at rather more than five hundred men.
Each army claimed the victory; and each believed itself to have beaten near the whole of the hostile army with only a part of its own force. The advantage, however, taking all circumstances into consideration, was decidedly with the Americans. In a conflict which nearly consumed the day, they found themselves at least equal to their antagonists. In every quarter they had acted on the offensive; and, after an encounter for several hours, had not lost an inch of ground. They had not been driven from the field, but had retired from it at the close of day, to the camp from which they had marched to battle. Their object, which was to check the advancing enemy, had been obtained; while that of the British general had failed. In the actual state of things, to fight without being beaten was, on their part, victory; while, on the part of the British, to fight without a decisive victory, was defeat. The Indians, who found themselves beaten in the woods by Morgan, and restrained from scalping and plundering the unarmed by Burgoyne, who saw before them the prospect of hard fighting without profit, grew tired of the service, and deserted in great numbers. The Canadians and Provincials were not much more faithful; and Burgoyne soon perceived that his hopes must rest almost entirely on his European troops.
With reason, therefore, this action was celebrated throughout the United States as a victory, and considered as the precursor of the total ruin of the invading army. The utmost exultation was displayed, and the militia were stimulated to fly to arms, and complete the work so happily begun.
General Lincoln, in conformity with directions which have been stated, had assembled a considerable body of New England militia in the rear of Burgoyne, from which he drew three parties of about five hundred men each. One of these was detached under the command of Colonel Brown, to the north end of Lake George, principally to relieve a number of prisoners who were confined there, but with orders to push his success, should he be fortunate, as far as prudence would admit. Colonel Johnson, at the head of another party, marched towards Mount Independence, and Colonel Woodbury, with a third, was detached to Skeensborough to cover the retreat of both the others. With the residue, Lincoln proceeded to the camp of Gates.
Colonel Brown, after marching all night, arrived, at the break of day, on the north end of the lake, where he found a small post which he carried without opposition. The surprise was complete; and he took possession of Mount Defiance, Mount Hope, the landing place, and about two hundred batteaux. With the loss of only three killed and five wounded, he liberated one hundred American prisoners, and captured two hundred and ninety-three of the enemy. This success was joyfully proclaimed through the northern states. It was believed confidently that Ticonderoga and Mount Independence were recovered; and the militia were exhorted, by joining their brethren in the army, to insure that event if it had not already happened.
The attempt on those places however failed. The garrison repulsed the assailants; who, after a few days, abandoned the siege. On their return through Lake George in the vessels they had captured, the militia made an attack on Diamond Island, the depot of all the stores collected at the north end of the lake. Being again repulsed, they destroyed the vessels they had taken, and returned to their former station.
[Footnote 87: Remem.]
The day after the battle of Stillwater, General Burgoyne took a position almost within cannon shot of the American camp, fortified his right, and extended his left to the river. Directly after taking this ground he received a letter from Sir Henry Clinton, informing him that he should attack fort Montgomery about the 20th of September. The messenger returned with information that Burgoyne was in extreme difficulty, and would endeavour to wait for aid until the 12th of October.
[Footnote 88: Letter of Burgoyne.]
Both armies retained their position until the 7th of October. Burgoyne, in the hope of being relieved by Sir Henry Clinton; and Gates, in the confidence of growing stronger every day.
Having received no farther intelligence from Sir Henry, and being reduced to the necessity of diminishing the ration issued to his soldiers, the British general determined to make one more trial of strength with his adversary. In execution of this determination, he drew out on his right fifteen hundred choice troops, whom he commanded in person, assisted by Generals Philips, Reidisel, and Frazer.