"Ah, Massa Harold!" he exclaimed. "Bress de Lord dat we was here! What a fright you hab giben me, to be sure! We hab been watching you for a long time. Ephraim and de redskin dey say dey saw little spot far out on lake, behind all dose boats; den dey say other boats set off in chase. For a long time Jake see nothing about dat, but at last he see dem. Den we hurry along de shore, so as to get near de place to where de boats row; ebery moment me tink dat dey catch you up. Ephraim say no, bery close thing, but he tink you come along first, but dat we must shoot when dey come close. We stand watch for some time, den Ephraim say dat you no able to get to dat point. You hab to turn along de shore, so we change our place and run along, and sure 'nough de boat's head turns, and you come along in front of us. Den we all shoot, and the redskins dey tumble over."
"Well, Jake, it is fortunate indeed that you were on the spot, for they could scarcely have missed all of us. Besides, even if we had got to shore safely, they would have followed us, and the odds against us would have been heavy."
"That ar war a close shave, Peter," Ephraim said; "an all-fired close shave I call it."
"It war, Ephraim, and no mistake."
"Why didn't yer head down along the lake?"
"Because I got news that the colonists air going to attack St. John's to-morrow, and I want to get to the fort in time to put 'em on their guard. Besides, both sides of the lake are sure to be full of hostile Injuns. Those canoes paddled as fast as we did, and in the long run might have worn us out."
"Did you have a fight on the lake two nights ago? Me and the redskin thought we heard firing."
"We had a skirmish with 'em," Peter said; "a pretty sharp shave it war, too, but we managed to slip away from them. Altogether we've had some mighty close work, I can tell yer, and I thought more than once as we were going to be wiped out."
While they were speaking the men had already started at a steady pace through the woods, away from the lake, having first drawn up the canoe and carefully concealed it.
It was late at night when they reached Fort St. John. A message was at once dispatched to a party of the Senecas who were at their village, about sixteen miles away. They arrived in the morning and, together with a portion of the garrison, moved out and took their place in the wooded and marshy ground between the fort and the river. Scouts were sent along the Sorrel, and these returned about one o'clock, saying that a large number of boats were coming down the lake from Isle-aux-Noix. It had been determined to allow the colonists to land without resistance, as the commander of the fort felt no doubt of his ability, with the assistance of his Indian allies, to repulse their attack. Some twelve hundred men were landed, and these at once began to advance toward the fort, lead by their two generals, Schuyler and Montgomery. Scarcely had they entered the swamp, when from every bush a fire was opened upon them. The invaders were staggered, but pushed forward, in a weak and undecided way, as far as a creek which intercepted their path. In vain General Montgomery endeavored to encourage them to advance. They wavered and soon began to fall back, and in an hour from the time of their landing they were again gathered on the bank of the river. Here they threw up a breastwork, and, as his numbers were greatly inferior, the British officer in command thought it unadvisable to attack them. After nightfall the colonists took to their boats and returned to Isle-aux-Noix, their loss in this their first attempt at the invasion of Canada being nine men.
A day or two later the Indians again attempted to induce General Carleton to permit them to cross the frontier and carry the war into the American settlements, and upon the general's renewed refusal they left the camp in anger and remained from that time altogether aloof from the contest.
St. John's was now left with only its own small garrison. Captain Wilson was ordered to fall back with his company to Montreal, it being considered that the garrison of St. John's was sufficient to defend that place for a considerable time. As soon as the Indians had marched away, having sent word to the colonists that they should take no further part in the fight, Montgomery—who was now in command, Schuyler having fallen sick—landed the whole of the force and invested the fort. An American officer, Ethan Allen, had been sent with a party to try to raise the colonists in rebellion in the neighborhood of Chamblee. He had with him 30 Americans and was joined by 80 Canadians. Dazzled by the success which had attended the surprise of Ticonderoga, he thought to repeat the stroke by the conquest of Montreal. He crossed the river in the night about three miles below the city. Peter and some other scouts, who had been watching his movements, crossed higher up and brought the news, and 36 men of the Twenty-sixth Regiment, Captain Wilson's company, and 200 or 300 loyal Canadians, the whole under the command of Major Campbell, attacked Ethan Allen. He was speedily routed and, with 38 of his men, taken prisoner. The siege of St. John's made but little progress. The, place was well provisioned, and the Americans encamped in the low, swampy ground around it suffered much from ill health. The men were mutinous and insolent, the officers incapable and disobedient. So far the invasion of Canada, of which such great things had been hoped by the Americans, appeared likely to turn out a complete failure.
General Carleton, seeing that Montgomery's whole force was retained idle before St. John's, began to hope that the winter would come to his assistance before the invaders had made any serious progress. Unfortunately he had not reckoned on the utter incapacity of the officer in command of Fort Chamblee. Major Stopford of the Seventh Regiment had 160 men and a few artillerymen, and the fort was strong and well provided with provisions. American spies had found the inhabitants around the place favorable to the Americans. Major Brown was sent down by Montgomery with a small detachment, and, being joined by the inhabitants, sat down before the fort. They had only two six-pounders, and could have effected nothing had the fort been commanded by a man of bravery and resources. Such was not the character of its commander, who, after a siege of only a day and a half, surrendered the place with all its stores, which were of inestimable value to the invaders, who were upon the edge of giving up the siege of the fort; their ammunition being entirely exhausted; but the six tons of gunpowder, the seventeen cannon, mortars, and muskets which fell into their hands enabled them to carry on the siege of St. John's with renewed vigor. There was no excuse whatever for the conduct of Major Stopford in allowing these stores to fall into the hands of the Americans; as, even had he not possessed the courage to defend the fort, he might, before surrendering, have thrown the whole of the ammunition into the river, upon which there was a safe sally-port, where he could have carried on the operation entirely unmolested by the enemy. The colors of the Seventh Regiment were captured and sent to Congress as the first trophy of the war.
The siege of St. John's was now pushed on by Montgomery with vigor. Colonel Maclean, with 800 Indians and Canadians, attempted to relieve it, crossing the St. Lawrence in small boats. On nearing the other bank, they were received by so heavy a fire by the Americans posted there that they were obliged to retire without effecting a landing. Provisions and ammunition were now running short in St. John's, there was no hope whatever of relief from the outside, and the officer commanding was therefore obliged to surrender on November 14, after a gallant defense.
As there were only some fifty or sixty regulars in Montreal, General Carleton was unable to defend that town, and, upon the news of the fall of St. John's, he at once retired to Quebec, and Montreal was occupied by the Americans. In the meantime another expedition had been dispatched by the Americans under Arnold. This officer, with 1500 men, had started for Quebec from a point 130 miles north of Boston. Suffering enormous fatigue and hardship, the force made its way up the river; past rapids, cataracts, and through swamps they dragged and carried their boats and stores. They followed the bed of the river up to its source, and then, crossing the watershed, descended the Chaudiere and Duloup rivers on to the St. Lawrence, within a few miles of Quebec.
This was a wonderful march—one scarcely equaled in the annals of military history. Crossing the St. Lawrence in canoes, Arnold encamped with his little force upon the heights of Abraham. Such a daring attempt could not have been undertaken had not the Americans been aware of the extreme weakness of the garrison at Quebec, which consisted only of 50 men of the Seventh Regiment, 240 of the Canadian militia, a battalion of seamen from the ships-of-war, under the command of Captain Hamilton of the Lizard, 250 strong, and the colonial volunteers, under Colonel Maclean.
The fortifications were in a ruinous condition. It was fortunate that Colonel Maclean, who had come from the Sorrel, upon the surrender of St. John's, by forced marches, arrived on the very day on which Arnold appeared before the city. Directly he arrived Arnold attacked the city at the gate of St. Louis, but was sharply repulsed. He then desisted from active operations and awaited the arrival of Montgomery, who was marching down from Montreal. The flotilla in which Carleton was descending the river was attacked by the Americans, who came down the Sorrel, and was captured, with all the troops and military stores which it was bringing down. General Carleton himself escaped in a small boat under cover of night, and reached Quebec.
Captain Wilson's company had been attached to the command of Colonel Maclean, and with it arrived in Quebec in safety.
Upon the arrival of Montgomery with his army the city was summoned to surrender. A strong party in the town were favorable to the invaders, but General Carleton treated the summons with contempt, and turned all the inhabitants who refused to join in the defense of the city outside the town.
The winter had now set in in earnest, and the difficulties of the besiegers were great. Arnold's force had been much weakened by the hardships that they had undergone, Montgomery's by desertions; the batteries which they erected were overpowered by the fire of the defenders, and the siege made no progress whatever. The men became more and more disaffected and mutinous. Many of them had nearly served the time for which they had enlisted, and Montgomery feared that they would leave him when their engagement came to an end. He in vain tempted the besieged to make a sally. Carleton was so certain that success would come by waiting that he refused to allow himself to hazard it by a sortie.
The weather was fighting for him, and the besiegers had before them only the alternatives of taking the place by storm or abandoning the siege altogether. They resolved upon a storm. It was to take place at daybreak on December 31. Montgomery determined to make four attacks—two false and two real ones. Colonel James Livingstone, with 200 Canadians, was to appear before St. John's gate, and a party under Colonel Brown were to feign a movement against the upper town, and from high ground there were to send up rockets as the signal for the real attacks to commence—that led by Montgomery from the south and that under Arnold from the northwest—both against the lower town.
The false attacks were made too soon, the rockets being fired half an hour before the main columns reached their place of attack. The British were not deceived; but, judging these attacks to be feints, left but a small party to oppose them and marched the bulk of their forces down toward the lower town. Their assistance, however, came too late, for, before they arrived, the fate of the attack was already decided. The Americans advanced under circumstances of great difficulty. A furious wind, with cutting hail, blew in their faces; the ground was slippery and covered with snow.
Half an hour before the English supports arrived on the spot Montgomery, with his leading company, reached the first barricade, which was undefended; passing through this, they pressed on toward the next. The road leading to it was only wide enough for five or six persons abreast. On one side was the river, on the other a steep cliff; in front was a log hut with loop-holes for musketry, and a battery of two three-pounders. It was held by a party of 30 Canadians and 8 militiamen under John Coffin, with 9 sailors under Bairnsfeather, the captain of the transport, to work the guns. Montgomery, with 60 men, pushed on at a run to carry the battery; but, when within fifty yards Bairnsfeather discharged his pieces, which were loaded with grape-shot, with deadly aim. Montgomery, his aid-de-camp Macpherson, Lieutenant Cheeseman, and 10 others fell dead at the first discharge, and with them the soul of the expedition fled. The remaining officers endeavored to get the men to advance, but none would do so, and they fell back without losing another man. So completely cowed were they that they would not even carry off the bodies of their general and his companions. These were brought into Quebec next day and buried with the honors of war by the garrison.
The force under Arnold was far stronger than that under Montgomery. The Canadian guard appointed to defend the first barrier fled at the approach, but the small body of sailors fought bravely and were all killed or wounded. Arnold was shot through the leg and disabled. Morgan, who commanded the advanced companies, led his men on and carried the second barrier after an obstinate resistance. They were attacking the third when Maclean with his men from the upper town arrived. The British then took the offensive, and drove the enemy back, and a party, going round, fell upon their rear. Fifty were killed in Arnold's column, 400 taken prisoners, and the rest retreated in extreme disorder.
Thus ended the assault upon Quebec—an assault which was all but hopeless from the first, but in which Americans showed but little valor and determination. In fact, throughout the war, it may be said that the Americans, when fighting on the defensive behind trees and intrenchments, fought stubbornly; but that they were feeble in attack and wholly incapable of standing against British troops in the open.
It would now have been easy for Carleton to have sallied out and taken the offensive, but he preferred holding Quebec quietly. He might have easily driven the Americans from their position before the walls; but, with the handful of troops under his orders, he could have done nothing toward carrying on a serious campaign in the open.
Until spring came, and the rivers were opened, no re-enforcements could reach him from England, while the Americans could send any number of troops into Canada. Carleton, therefore, preferred to wait quietly within the walls of Quebec, allowing the winter, hardships, and disunion to work their natural effects upon the invaders.
Arnold sent to Washington to demand 10,000 more troops, with siege artillery. Several regiments were sent forward, but artillery could not be spared. Eight regiments entered Canada, but they found that, instead of meeting, as they had expected, an enthusiastic reception from the inhabitants, the population was now hostile to them. The exactions of the invading army had been great, and the feeling in favor of the English was now all but universal.
On May 5 two frigates and a sloop-of-war made their way up the river to Quebec. The Americans endeavored to embark their sick and artillery above the town. Re-enforced by the marines, the garrison sallied out and attacked the enemy, who fled with precipitation, leaving their provisions, cannon, five hundred muskets, and two hundred sick behind them. The British pursued them until they reached the mouth of the Sorrel.
The arrival of the fleet from England brought news of what had taken place since Captain Wilson's company had marched from Boston, a short time after the battle of Bunker's Hill. Immediately after the battle the colonists had sent two deputies, Penn and Lee, with a petition to Parliament for the restoration of peace. This petition was supported by a strong body in Parliament. The majority, however, argued that, from the conduct of the Americans, it was clear that they aimed at unconditional, unqualified, and total independence. In all their proceedings they had behaved as if entirely separated from Great Britain. Their professions and petition breathed peace and moderation; their actions and preparations denoted war and defiance; every attempt that could be made to soften their hostility had been in vain; their obstinacy was inflexible; and the more England had given in to their wishes, the more insolent and overbearing had their demands become. The stamp tax had been repealed, but their ill will had grown rather than abated. The taxations on imports had been entirely taken off save on one small item; but, rather than pay this, they had accumulated arms and ammunition, seized cannon belonging to the king, and everywhere prepared for armed resistance. Only two alternatives remained for the British nation to adopt—either to coerce the colonists to submission or to grant them their entire independence.
These arguments were well founded. The concessions which had been made had but encouraged the colonists to demand more. No good whatever would have come from entering into negotiation; there remained but the two alternatives. It would have been far better had Parliament, instead of deciding on coercion, withdrawn altogether from the colonies, for although hitherto the Americans had shown no great fighting qualities, it was clear that so small an army as England could spare could not permanently keep down so vast a country if the people were determined upon independence. They might win every battle,—might overpower every considerable force gathered against them,—but they could only enforce the king's authority over a mere fractional portion of so great an area. England, however, was unaccustomed to defeat; her spirit in those days was proud and high; and by a large majority Parliament voted for the continuance of the war. The next step taken was one unworthy of the country. It tended still further to embitter the war, and it added to the strength of the party in favor of the colonists at home. Attempts were made by the government to obtain the services of large numbers of foreign troops. Negotiations were entered into with Russia, Holland, Hesse, and other countries. Most of these proved ineffectual, but a considerable number of troops was obtained from Hesse.
The news of these proceedings excited the Americans to renewed efforts. The force under Washington was strengthened, and he took possession of Dorchester Heights, commanding the town of Boston. A heavy cannonade was opened on the city. The British guns answered it, but the American position gave them an immense advantage. General Howe, who was in command, at first thought of attempting to storm the heights, but the tremendous loss sustained at the battle of Bunker's Hill deterred him from the undertaking. His supineness during the past four months had virtually lost the American colonies to England. He had under his command 8000 troops, who could have routed, with ease, the undisciplined levies of Washington. Instead of leading his men out against the enemy, he had suffered them to be cooped up for months in the city, and had failed to take possession of the various heights commanding the town. Had he done this Boston might have resisted a force many times as strong as that which advanced against it, and there was now nothing left for the English but to storm the heights with enormous loss or to evacuate the city.
The first was the alternative which had been chosen when the Americans seized Bunker's Hill; the second was that which was now adopted.
Having adopted this resolution, Howe carried it out in a manner which would in itself be sufficient to condemn him as a military leader. Nothing was done to destroy the vast stores of arms and ammunition, and two hundred and fifty pieces of cannon were left for the colonists to use against England. No steps were taken to warn ships arriving from England of the surrender of the town. The consequence was that, in addition to the vast amount of stores captured in the town, numbers of the British storeships fell into the hands of the Americans—among them a vessel which, in addition to carbines, bayonets, gun-carriages, and other stores, had on board more than seventy tons of powder, while Washington's whole stock was all but exhausted.
But worse even than this hurried and unnecessary abandonment of vast munitions of war was the desertion of the loyalist population. Boston was full of loyalists, among whom were many of the wealthier and better-born persons in the colony, who, from the commencement of the troubles had left their homes, their fortunes, and their families to rally round the standard of their sovereign. The very least that Howe could have done for these loyal men would have been to have entered into some terms of capitulation with Washington, whereby they might have been permitted to depart to their homes and to the enjoyment of their property. Nothing of the sort was attempted, and the only choice offered to a loyalist was to remain in the town, exposed to certain insult and ill treatment, perhaps to death, at the hands of the rebels, or to leave in the transports for England or Halifax and to be landed here penniless and starving.
Howe's conduct in this was on a piece with his behavior throughout the campaign; but he was little, if at all, inferior to the other generals, who vied with each other in incapacity and folly. Never in the whole history of England were her troops led by men so inefficient, so sluggish, and so incapable as those who commanded her armies in the American Revolutionary War.
The first ships from England which arrived at Quebec were followed, a few days later, by the Niger and Triton, convoy transports, with troops. The British now took the offensive in earnest. From the west Captain Forster marched from Detroit, with 40 men of the Eighth Regiment, 100 Canadians, and some Indians, against a pass called the Cedars, situated fifteen leagues above Montreal. This was held by 400 men with two cannon. As soon as the British force opened fire the Americans surrendered. The following day Forster's force, advancing, came upon 140 men under Major Sherbourne, who were marching to re-enforce the garrison at the Cedars. These were forced to retreat and 100 of them taken prisoners.
Arnold, with 700 men, advanced against the British force. The British officer, fearing that in case of an attack the Indians with him might massacre the prisoners, released the whole of them, 474 in number, under the promise that an equal number of British prisoners should be returned. This engagement was shamefully broken by the Americans, who raised a number of frivolous excuses, among others that prisoners taken by the British were ill treated—an accusation which excited the indignation of the prisoners themselves, some of whom wrote to members of Congress, stating that nothing could be kinder or more courteous than the treatment which they received.
While Forster was advancing toward Montreal from the west, Carleton was moving up against the Americans at Sorrel from Quebec. At the death of Montgomery, Wooster had taken the command of the main American force. He had been succeeded by Thompson, but the latter dying of smallpox, Sullivan took his place. The new commander determined to take the offensive against the English, and dispatched a force of about 2000 men to attack General Fraser, who held a post at a place called Three Rivers.
A Canadian peasant brought news to General Fraser of the approach of the Americans, and as he had received re-enforcements from below he determined to anticipate their attack. His movements were completely successful. Some of the Americans fought well, but the rest dispersed with but little resistance. Two hundred were killed and 150 taken prisoners. The rest succeeded in returning to Sorrel.
The main body of the British army now came up the river in their ships, and, as they approached Sorrel, Sullivan broke up his camp and retreated. At the same time Arnold, who commanded at Montreal, evacuated the town and joined Sullivan's army at St. John's.
Had the English pushed forward with any energy the whole of the American army of invasion would have fallen into their hands. They were completely broken in spirits, suffering terribly from sickness, and were wholly incapable of making any defense. Burgoyne, who commanded the advance of the English army, moved forward very slowly, and the Americans were enabled to take to their boats and cross, first to Isle-aux-Noix and then to Crown Point. An American historian, who saw them after they landed, says: "At the sight of so much privation and distress I wept until I had no more power to weep. I did not look into a tent or hut in which I did not find either a dead or dying man. Of about 5000 men full half were invalids. In little more than two months they had lost by desertion and death more than 5000 men."
Captain Wilson and his company were not present with the advance of the British troops. General Howe, after evacuating Boston, had sailed with his army to Halifax, there to wait until a large body of re-enforcements should be sent in the spring from England. General Carleton had, in his dispatches, mentioned favorably the services which the little company of loyalists from Boston had performed, and Lord Howe wrote requesting that the company should be sent down by ship to Halifax, as he was about to sail from New York to undertake operations on a large scale, and should be glad to have with him a body of men accustomed to scouting and acquainted with the country. Accordingly, the company was embarked in a transport and reached Halifax early in June. On the 11th they sailed with the army and arrived at Sandy Hook on the 29th. On July 3 the army landed on Staten Island, opposite Long Island, and soon afterward Lord Howe, brother of General Howe, arrived with the main army from England, raising the total force to nearly 30,000 men. It consisted of two battalions of light infantry, two of grenadiers, the Fourth, Fifth, Tenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-seventh, Thirty-fifth, Thirty-eighth, Fortieth, Forty-second, Forty-third, Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, Forty-ninth, Fifty-second, Fifty-fifth, Sixty-third, and Sixty-fourth regiments of foot, part of the Forty-sixth and Seventy-first regiments, and the Seventeenth Regiment of light dragoons. There were, besides, two battalions of volunteers from New York, each 1000 strong. Had this force arrived, as it should have done, three months earlier, it might have achieved great things; but the delay had enabled the Americans to make extensive preparations to meet the coming storm.
Lord Howe brought with him a communication from Parliament, giving him and his brother full power to treat with the Americans on any terms which they might think fit. Upon his arrival Lord Howe addressed a letter to Dr. Franklin, informing him of the nature of his communication, expressing hopes that he would find in America the same disposition for peace that he brought with him, and requesting his aid to accomplish the desired end. Dr. Franklin, in answer, informed Lord Howe that, "prior to the consideration of any proposition for friendship or peace, it would be required that Great Britain should acknowledge the independence of America, should defray the expense of the war, and indemnify, the colonists for all damages committed."
After such a reply as this Lord Howe had no alternative but to commence hostilities, which he did by landing the army in Gravesend Bay, Long Island. The enemy offered no opposition to the landing, but retreated at once, setting fire to all the houses and granaries, and taking up a position on the wooded heights which commanded the line by which the English must advance.
The American main force, 15,000 strong, was posted on a peninsula between Mill Creek and Wallabout Bay, and had constructed a strong line of intrenchments across the end of the peninsula. The intrenchments were strengthened by abattis and flanked by strong redoubts. Five thousand remained to guard this post, and 10,000, under General Puttenham, advanced to hold the line of wooded hills which run across the island.
In the center of the plain, at the foot of these hills, stood the village of Flatbush.
The Hessian division of the British army, under General De Heister, advanced against this, while General Clinton, with the right wing of the English army, moved forward to attack the enemy's left.
This force marched at nine o'clock at night on August 26; General Sir William Howe himself accompanied it. The line of hills trended away greatly to the left, and the enemy had neglected to secure the passes over the hills on this flank; consequently, at nine o'clock in the morning, the British passed the range of hills without resistance, and occupied Bedford in its rear. Had Sir William Howe now pushed on vigorously, the whole of Puttenham's force must have been captured.
In the meantime the Hessians from Flatbush attacked the center of the Americans, and after a warm engagement, routed them and drove them into the woods with a loss of three pieces of cannon.
On the British left General Grant also advanced, and at midnight carried a strong pass on the enemy's left. Retiring, they held a still stronger position further back and offered a fierce resistance until the fires at Bedford showed that the English had obtained a position almost in their rear, when they retreated precipitately.
The victory was a complete one, but it had none of the consequences which would have attended it had the English pushed forward with energy after turning the American left. Six pieces of cannon were captured and 2000 men killed or taken prisoners. The English lost 70 killed and 230 wounded.
So impetuously did the English attack that even Sir William Howe admitted that they could have carried the intrenchments. He alleges he did not permit them to do so, because he intended to take the position by regular approaches and wished therefore to avoid the loss of life which an immediate assault would have occasioned. On the 27th and 28th regular approaches were commenced, but on the 29th, under cover of a fog, the Americans embarked in boats and succeeded in carrying the whole of their force, without the loss of a man, across to the mainland.
The escape of this body of men was disgraceful in the extreme to the English commanders. They had a great fleet at their disposal, and had they placed a couple of frigates in the East River, between Long Island and New York, the escape would have been impossible, and General Washington and his army of 15,000 men must have been taken prisoners. Whether this misfortune would have proved conclusive of the war it is now too late to speculate; but so splendid an opportunity was never before let slip by an English general, and the negligence was the more inexcusable inasmuch as the fleet of boats could be seen lying alongside of the American position. Their purpose must have been known, and they could at any moment have been destroyed by the guns of a ship-of-war taking up its position outside them.
Lord Howe dispatched the American General Sullivan, who had been taken prisoner on Long Island, to Congress, repeating his desire to treat. A committee of three members accordingly waited on Lord Howe, who informed them that it was the most ardent wish of the king and the government of Great Britain to put an end to the dissatisfaction between the mother country and the colonists. To accomplish this desire every act of Parliament which was considered obnoxious to the colonists should undergo a revisal, and every just cause of complaint should be removed, if the colonists would declare their willingness to submit to the authority of the British government. The committee replied that it was not America which had separated herself from Great Britain, but Great Britain had separated herself from America. The latter had never declared herself independent until the former had made war upon her, and even if Congress were willing to place America in her former situation, it could not do so, as the Declaration of Independence had been made in consequence of the congregated voice of the whole people, by whom alone it could be abolished. The country was determined not to return under the domination of England.
The negotiations were therefore broken off. Lord Howe published a declaration to the people of America, giving the answer of the committee to his offer of reconciliation. He acquainted them with the fact that the parent country was willing to receive into its bosom and protection all who might be willing to return to their former obedience. In taking this step, Lord Howe was convinced that a majority of the inhabitants of America were still willing to enter into an accommodation of the differences between the two powers, and the conviction was not ill founded. The declaration, however, produced but little effect, for the dominant section, that resolved to break off all connection with England, had acquired the sole management of affairs, and no offers which could possibly have been made would have been accepted by them.
Convinced that all further negotiations would be ineffectual, Lord Howe prepared to carry his army across from Long Island to New York, where the American army had taken up their post after the retreat from Long Island. The armies were separated by the East River, with a breadth of about thirteen hundred yards. A cannonade was kept up for several days. On September 13 some ships-of-war were brought up to cover the passage. Washington, seeing the preparations, began to evacuate the city and to abandon the strong intrenchments which he had thrown up. At eleven o'clock on the morning of the 15th the men-of-war opened a heavy fire, and Clinton's division, consisting of 4000 men in eighty-four boats, sailed up the river, landed on Manhattan Island at a place called Kipp's Bay, and occupied the heights of Inclenberg, the enemy abandoning their intrenchments at their approach. General Washington rode toward Kipp's Bay to take command of the troops stationed there, but found the men who had been posted at the lines running away, and the brigades which should have supported them flying in every direction, heedless of the exertions of their generals.
Puttenham's division of 4000 men was still in the lower city, and would be cut off unless the British advance should be checked. Washington therefore made the greatest efforts to rally the fugitives and to get them to make a stand to check the advancing enemy, but in vain; for, as soon as even small bodies of redcoats were seen advancing, they broke and fled in panic.
Howe, as usual, delayed giving orders for an advance, and thus permitted the whole of Puttenham's brigade, who were cut off and must have been taken prisoners, to escape unharmed. And thus, with comparatively little loss, the Americans drew off, leaving behind them only a few heavy cannon and some bayonets and stores.
So rapid had been their flight at the approach of the English that only fifteen were killed, two men falling on the English side.
THE SURPRISE OF TRENTON.
The Americans, finding that they were not pursued, rallied from their panic and took up a position at Harlem and Kingsbridge. So great was the disorganization among them that had the British advanced at once they would have taken the place with scarcely any loss, strong as it was by nature and by the intrenchments which Washington had prepared. Great numbers deserted, disputes broke out between the troops of the various States, insubordination prevailed, and the whole army was utterly disheartened by the easy victories which the British had obtained over them. Washington reported the cowardice of his troops to Congress, who passed a law inflicting the punishment of death for cowardice.
Before leaving New York the Americans had made preparations for burning the whole town, but the speediness of their retreat prevented the preparations being carried into effect. Fire was set to it in several places and a third of the town was destroyed.
The position taken up by the enemy was so strong that it was determined to operate in the rear. Some redoubts were thrown up to cover New York during the absence of the main part of the British force.
A portion of the British army was landed at a point threatening the retreat of the Americans, and a series of skirmishes of no great importance took place. The enemy fell back from their most advanced works, but no general move was undertaken, although, as the numbers on both sides were about even and the superior fighting powers of the English had been amply demonstrated, there could have been no doubt as to the result of a general battle. Lord Howe, however, wasted the time in a series of petty movements, which, although generally successful, had no influence upon the result and served only to enable the Americans to recover from the utter depression which had fallen upon them after the evacuation of Long Island and the loss of New York.
Gradually the Americans fell back across a country so swampy and difficult that it was now no longer possible to bring on a general action. Their retreat had the effect of isolating the important positions of Kingsbridge and Fort Washington. The latter post was of the utmost importance, inasmuch as it secured the American intercourse with the Jersey shore. The fortifications were very strong and stood upon rising and open ground. It was garrisoned by 3000 of the best American troops under the command of Colonel Magaw. Washington was gradually withdrawing his army, and had already given orders that Fort Washington should be evacuated; but General Lee, who was second in command, so strongly urged that it should be retained that, greatly against his own judgment, he was obliged to consent to its being defended, especially as Colonel Magaw insisted that the fort could stand a siege. On the night of November 14 the British passed some troops across the creek, and Lord Howe summoned the place to surrender on pain of the garrison being put to the sword. Magaw had upon the previous day received large numbers of re-enforcements, and replied that he should defend the fort. Soon after daybreak on the 16th the artillery opened on both sides. Five thousand Hessians, under the command of General Knyphausen, moved up the hill, penetrated some of the advanced works of the enemy, and took post within a hundred yards of the fort. The second division, consisting of the guards and light infantry, with two battalions of Hessians and the Thirty-third Regiment, landed at Island Creek, and after some stiff fighting forced the enemy from the rocks and trees up the steep and rugged mountain. The third and fourth divisions fought their way up through similar defenses. So steep was the hill that the assailants could only climb it by grasping the trees and bushes, and so obstinate was the defense that the troops were sometimes mixed up together.
The bravery and superior numbers of the British troops bore down all resistance, and the whole of the four divisions reached their places round the fort. They then summoned it to surrender, and its commander, after half an hour's consideration, seeing the impossibility of resisting the assault which was threatened, opened the gates.
Upon the English side about 800 men were killed and wounded, of whom the majority were Hessians. These troops fought with extreme bravery. The American loss, owing to their superior position, was about 150 killed and wounded, but the prisoners taken amounted to over 3000.
On the 18th Lord Howe landed a strong body on the Jersey shore under Lord Cornwallis, who marched to Fort Lee and surprised it. A deserter had informed the enemy of his approach and the garrison had fled in disorder, leaving their tents, provisions, and military stores behind them. Lord Cornwallis, pushing forward with great energy, drove the Americans out of New Jersey. Another expedition occupied Rhode Island.
Cold weather now set in and the English went into winter quarters. Their success had been complete, without a single check, and had they been led vigorously the army of Washington might on two occasions have been wholly destroyed. In such a case the moderate portion of the population of the colonies would have obtained a hearing, and a peace honorable to both parties might have been arrived at.
The advantage gained by the gallantry of the British troops was, however, entirely neutralized by the lethargy and inactivity of their general, and the colonists had time given them to recover from the alarm which the defeat of their troops had given them, to put another army in the field, and to prepare on a great scale for the following campaign.
The conduct of General Howe in allowing Washington's army to retire almost unmolested was to the officers who served under him unaccountable. His arrangements for the winter were even more singularly defective. Instead of concentrating his troops he scattered them over a wide extent of country at a distance too great to support each other, and thus left it open to the enemy to crush them in detail.
General Howe now issued a proclamation offering a free pardon to all who surrendered, and great numbers of colonists came in and made their submission. Even in Philadelphia the longing for peace was so strong that General Washington was obliged to send a force there to prevent the town from declaring for England.
During the operations which had taken place since the landing of the British troops on Long Island Captain Wilson's company had taken but little part in the operations. All had been straightforward work and conducted on the principles of European warfare. The services of the volunteers as scouts had not, therefore, been called into requisition. The success which at first attended the expedition had encouraged Captain Wilson to hope, for the first time since the outbreak of the Revolution, that the English might obtain such decisive successes that the colonists would be willing to accept some propositions of peace such as those indicated by Lord Howe—a repeal of all obnoxious laws, freedom from any taxation except that imposed by themselves, and a recognition of the British authority. When he saw that Lord Howe, instead of actively utilizing the splendid force at his disposal, frittered it away in minor movements and allowed Washington to withdraw with his beaten army unmolested, his hopes again faded, and he felt that the colonists would in the long run succeed in gaining all that they contended for.
When the army went into winter quarters the company was ordered to take post on the Delaware. There were four frontier posts, at Trenton, Bordentown, White Horse, and Burlington. Trenton, opposite to which lay Washington with the main body of his army, was held by only 1200 Hessians, and Bordentown, which was also on the Delaware, was, like Trenton, garrisoned by these troops. No worse choice could have been made. The Hessians were brave soldiers, but their ignorance of the language and of the country made them peculiarly unsuitable troops for outpost work, as they were unable to obtain any information. As foreigners, too, they were greatly disliked by the country people.
Nothing was done to strengthen these frontier posts, which were left wholly without redoubts or intrenchments into which the garrison could withdraw in case of attack.
Captain Wilson's little company were to act as scouts along the line of frontier. Their headquarters were fixed at Bordentown, where Captain Wilson obtained a large house for their use. Most of the men were at home at work of this kind, and Peter Lambton, Ephraim, and the other frontiersmen were dispatched from time to time in different directions to ascertain the movements and intentions of the enemy. Harold asked his father to allow him, as before, to accompany Peter. The inactivity of a life at a quiet little station was wearisome, and with Peter he was sure of plenty of work, with a chance of adventure. The life of exercise and activity which he had led for more than a year had strengthened his muscles and widened his frame, and he was now able to keep up with Peter, however long and tiresome the day's work might be. Jake, too, was of the party. He had developed into an active soldier, and although he was but of little use for scouting purposes, even Peter did not object to his accompanying him, for the negro's unfailing good temper and willingness to make himself useful had made him a favorite with the scout.
The weather was now setting in exceedingly cold. The three men had more than once crossed the Delaware in a canoe and scouted in the very heart of the enemy's country. They were now sitting by the bank, watching some drifting ice upon the river.
"There won't be many more passages of the river by water," Peter remarked. "Another ten days, and it'll be frozen across."
"Then we can cross on foot, Peter."
"Yes, we can do that," the scout said, "and so can the enemy. Ef their general has got any interprise with him, and ef he can get them chaps as he calls soldiers to fight, he'll be crossing over one of these nights and capturing the hull of them Hessians at Trenton. What General Howe means by leaving 'em there is more nor I can think; he might as well have sent so many babies. The critters can fight, and fight well, too, and they're good soldiers; but what's the good of 'em in a frontier post? They know nothing of the country; they can't speak to the people, nor ask no questions, nor find out nothing about what's doing the other side of the river. They air no more than mere machines. What was wanted was two or three battalions of light troops, who would make friends with the country people and larn all that's doing opposite. If the Americans are sharp they'll give us lots of trouble this winter, and you'll find there won't be much sitting quiet for us at Bordentown. Fortunately Bordentown and Trenton aint far apart, and one garrison ought to be able to arrive to the assistance of the other before it's overpowered. We shall see. Now, I propose that we cross again to-night and try and find out what the enemy's doing. Then we can come back and manage for you to eat your Christmas dinner with yer father, as you seem to have bent yer mind upon that, though why it matters about dinner one day more than another is more nor I can see."
That night the three scouts crossed the river in the canoe. Avoiding all houses, they kept many miles straight on beyond the river and lay down for a few hours before morning dawned; then they turned their faces the other way and walked up to the first farmhouse they saw.
"Can we have a drink of milk?" the hunter asked.
"You can," the farmer replied, "and some breakfast if you like to pay for it. At first I was glad to give the best I had to those who came along, but there have been such numbers going one way and the other, either marching to join the army or running away to return to their homes, that I should be ruined if I gave to all comers."
"We're ready to pay," Peter said, drawing some money from his pocket.
"Then come in and sit down."
In a few minutes an excellent breakfast was put before them.
"You are on your way to join the army, of course?" the farmer asked.
"Jest that," Peter replied. "We think it's about our time to do a little shooting, though I don't suppose there'll be much done till the spring."
"I don't know," the farmer said. "I should not be surprised if the general wakes up them Germans when the Delaware gets frozen. I heard some talk about it from some men who came past yesterday. Their time was expired, they said, and they were going home. I hear, too, that they are gathering a force down near Mount Holly, and I reckon that they are going to attack Bordentown."
"Is that so?" Peter asked. "In that case we might as well tramp in that direction. It don't matter a corn-shuck to us where we fight, so as it's soon. We've come to help lick these British, and we means to do it."
"Ah!" the farmer said, "I have heard that sentiment a good many times, but I have not seen much come of it yet. So far, it seems to me as the licking has been all the other way."
"That's so," Peter agreed. "But everyone knows that the Americans are just the bravest people on the face of the habitable arth. I reckon their dander's not fairly up yet; but when they begin in arnest you'll see what they'll do."
The farmer gave a grunt which might mean anything. He had no strong sympathies either way, and the conduct of the numerous deserters and disbanded men who had passed through his neighborhood had been far from impressing him favorably.
"I don't pretend to be strong either for the Congress or the king. I don't want to be taxed, but I don't see why the colonists should not pay something toward the expenses of the government; and now that Parliament seems willing to give all we ask for, I don't see what we want to go on fighting for."
"Waal!" Peter exclaimed in a tone of disgust, "you're one of the half-hearted ones."
"I am like the great majority of the people of this country. We are of English stock and we don't want to break with the Old Country; but the affairs have got into the hands of the preachers, and the newspaper men, and the chaps that want to push themselves forward and make their pile out of the war. As I read it, it's just the civil war in England over again. We were all united at the first against what we considered as tyranny on the part of the Parliament, and now we have gone setting up demands which no one dreamed of at first and which most of us object to now, only we have no longer the control of our own affairs."
"The great heart of this country beats for freedom," Peter Lambton said.
"Pooh!" said the farmer contemptuously. "The great heart of the country wants to work its farms and do its business quietly. The English general has made fair offers, which might well be accepted; and as for freedom, there was no tyranny greater than that of the New England States. As long as they managed their own affairs there was neither freedom of speech nor religion. No, sir; what they call freedom was simply the freedom to make everyone else do and think like the majority."
"Waal, we won't argue it out," Peter said, "for I'm not good at argument, and I came here to fight and not to talk. Besides, I want to get to Mount Holly in time to jine in this battle, so I guess we'll be moving."
Paying for the breakfast, they started at once in the direction of Mount Holly, which lay some twenty-five miles away. As they approached the place early in the afternoon they overtook several men going in the same direction. They entered into conversation with them, but could only learn that some 450 of the militia from Philadelphia and the counties of Gloucester and Salem had arrived on the spot. The men whom they had overtaken were armed countrymen who were going to take a share in the fight on their own account.
Entering the place with the others, Peter found that the information given him was correct.
"We better be out of this at once," he said to Harold, "and make for Bordentown."
"You don't think that there is much importance in the movement," Harold said as they tramped along.
"There aint no importance whatever," Peter said, "and that's what I want to tell 'em. They're never thinking of attacking the two thousand Hessians at Bordentown with that ragged lot."
"But what can they have assembled them for within twelve miles of the place?" Harold asked.
"It seems to me," the hunter replied, "that it's jest a trick to draw the Germans out from Bordentown and so away from Trenton. At any rate, it's well that the true account of the force here should be known. These things gets magnified, and they may think that there's a hull army here."
It was getting dusk when they entered Bordentown, and Harold was glad when he saw the little town, for since sunset on the evening before they had tramped nearly sixty miles. The place seemed singularly quiet. They asked the first person they met what had become of the troops, and they were told that Colonel Donop, who commanded, had marched an hour before with his whole force of 2000 men toward Mount Holly, leaving only 80 men in garrison at Bordentown.
"We are too late," Harold said. "They have gone by the road and we kept straight through the woods and so missed them."
"Waal, I hope no harm 'ill come of it. I suppose they mean to attack at daylight, and in course that rabble will run without fighting. I hope, when the colonel sees as how thar's no enemy ther worth speaking of, he'll march straight back again."
Unfortunately this was not the case. The militia, according to their orders, at once dispersed when their outposts told them of the approach of the British, but the German officer, instead of returning instantly, remained for two days near Mount Holly, and so gave time to Washington to carry out his plans.
Captain Wilson's company had gone out with the force, and Peter and his companions had the house to themselves that night. Harold slept late, being thoroughly fatigued by his long march the day before, carrying his rifle, blanket, and provisions. Peter woke him at last.
"Now, young un, you've had a good sleep; it's eleven o'clock. I'm off to Trenton to see what's doing there. Will you go with me, or will you stop here on the chance of eating your dinner with your father?"
"Oh, it's Christmas Day," Harold said, stretching. "Well, what do you think, Peter—are they likely to come back or not?"
"They ought to be back, there's no doubt about that, but whether they will or not is a different affair altogether. I've never seed them hurry themselves yet, not since the war began; things would have gone a good deal better if they had; but time never seems of no consequence to them. They marched twelve miles last night, and I reckon it's likely they'll halt to-day and won't be back till to-morrow. I feel oneasy in my mind about the whole affair, for I can't see a single reason for the enemy sending that weak force to Mount Holly, unless it was to draw away the troops from here, and the only motive there could be for that would be because they intended to attack Trenton."
"Very well, Peter, I will go with you."
Accompanied by Jake they set out at once for Trenton. On arriving there they found no particular signs of vigilance. Since the Hessians had reached Trenton their discipline had much relaxed. A broad river separated them from the enemy, who were known to be extremely discontented and disorganized. They had received instruction on no account to cross the river to attack the colonials, and the natural consequence of this forced inactivity had manifested itself. Discipline was lax, and but a slight watch was kept on the movements of the enemy across the stream. Ignorant of the language of the people, they were incapable of distinguishing between those who were friendly and those who were hostile to the Crown, and they behaved as if in a conquered country; taking such necessaries as they required without payment, and even sending parties to a considerable distance on plundering expeditions.
Peter, on his arrival, proceeded to the headquarters of Colonel Rhalle, who was in command—an officer of great bravery and energy. One of his officers was able to speak English, and to him Peter reported the departure of the force from Bordentown, of which Colonel Rhalle was already aware, and the weakness of the American force at Mount Holly. He stated, also, his own belief that it was merely a feint to draw off Colonel Donop, and that preparatory to an attack on Trenton. The officer treated the information lightly, and pointing to the mass of ice floating down the river asked whether it would be possible for boats to cross.
"When the river freezes," he said, "there may be some chance of attack. Till then we are absolutely safe."
Peter, shaking his head, rejoined his companions and told them of the manner in which his advice had been received.
"But it would be difficult to cross the river," Harold said. "Look at the masses of ice on the water."
"It would be difficult," the hunter admitted, "but not by no manner of means impossible. Determined men could do it. Waal, I've done my duty and can do no more. Ef the night passes off quietly we'll cross again before daybreak and go right into the Yankee camp and see what they're up to. Now, Harold, you can take it easy till nightfall; there's naught to be learned till then, and as we shall be on foot all night ye may as well sleep to-day."
Returning to a spot on the banks of the river at a short distance from the town, they made a fire, on which Jake cooked some steaks of venison they had procured. After smoking a pipe, the hunter set the example by stretching himself on the ground near the fire and going to sleep. Used as he was to night marches, he had acquired the faculty of going to sleep at any hour at will. Jake and Harold were some time before they followed his example, but they too were at last asleep. At sunset they were on their feet again, and after taking supper proceeded along the river.
The night passed off quietly, and Harold became convinced that his companion's fears were unfounded. Toward morning he suggested that it was time to be crossing the river.
"I'm not going yet," the hunter said. "Before I start we'll go down to Trenton Ferry, a mile below the town. Ef they come over at all, it's likely enough to be there. There'll be time then to get back and cross before it's light; It's six o'clock now."
They kept along the road by the river until they were within a quarter of a mile of the ferry. Presently they saw a dark mass ahead.
"Jerusalem!" Peter exclaimed. "There they are."
They immediately discharged their rifles and ran back at full speed to the outposts, which were but a quarter of a mile from the town. The Americans had also pressed forward at full speed, and the outposts, who had been alarmed by the discharge of the rifles, were forced at once to abandon the post and to run into the town, whither they had, on hearing the rifles, already sent in one of their number with the news. Here all was in confusion. The Hessian leader was trying to collect his troops, who were hurrying in from their quarters, but many of them thought more of storing their plunder away in the wagons than of taking their places in the ranks.
Washington had crossed with 2500 men and a few field-pieces, and upon gaining the Jersey side had divided his troops into two detachments, one of which marched by the river side, the other by an upper road. Hurrying forward they surrounded the town, and placing their field-pieces in the road, opened fire on the astonished Hessians. Rhalle had by this time succeeded in assembling the greater part of his force and charged the Americans with his usual courage. He received, however, a mortal wound as he advanced. His troops immediately lost heart, and finding their retreat cut off at once surrendered. A body of Hessian light horse succeeded in making their escape. The casualties were few on either side, but 1000 prisoners were taken. Two other divisions of the Americans had attempted to cross, the one at Bordentown, the other at Mackenzie's Ferry, but both had failed, owing to the quantity of floating ice. Washington retired across the Delaware the same afternoon.
The consequences of this success were great. The spirits of the Americans, which had fallen to the lowest ebb in consequence of the uninterrupted series of defeats, rose greatly. They found that the British were not invincible, and that, if unable to oppose them in great battles, they might at least inflict heavy losses on them and weary them out with skirmishes and surprises. The greatest joy reigned throughout the various States; fresh levies were ordered; the voices of the moderate party, which had been gaining strength, were silenced, and the determination to continue the war vigorously was in the ascendency.
The lesson given at Trenton was wholly lost upon the English commander-in-chief. Instead of at once ordering General Leslie to advance from Princeton and to hold the enemy in check by reoccupying and fortifying Trenton, he allowed Colonel Donop to abandon Bordentown and to fall back to Princeton—thus laying it open to Washington to cross the Delaware again and carry the war into New Jersey. Washington, after waiting eight days, seeing the indecision and ineptitude of the British general, again crossed with 4000 men and occupied Trenton.
Peter Lambton and his two companions were not among the prisoners taken at Trenton. On entering the town Harold was about to join the Hessians assembling under Colonel Rhalle, but Peter gave a violent tug to his coat.
"Come along, young un!" he said. "The darned fools have let themselves be caught in a trap and they'll find there's no way out of it. In ten minutes the Americans will be all round the place, and as I don't wish to spend a year or two in a Yankee prison at present, I'm going to make tracks at once. Fighting aren't no good now. Men who'll let 'emselves be caught in a trap like this'll never be able to cut their way out of it. Come on!"
Much against his will Harold yielded to Peter's wishes, and the three kept straight on through the town by the river side and issued into the country beyond before the Americans had surrounded it. A minute or two after leaving the town the light horse galloped past.
"There are some more out of the hole, and I reckon that's about all. There, do you hear the guns? The Yanks have brought their artillery over—I reckon the fight won't last long."
For two or three minutes there was a roar of musketry; then this suddenly ceased.
"I thought as much," Peter said. "They've surrendered. If they had only kept together and fought well, they should have cut their way through the enemy. Lord! what poor things regular soldiers are in the dark! A frontiersman would just as soon fight in the dark as in the light; but here are the men who climbed up the hill to Fort Washington—and that was no child's play—no better nor a pack of women when they're attacked half-asleep and half-awake, just as day is breaking."
The three comrades walked to Bordentown, which, they were relieved to find, had not been attacked. A few miles beyond this place they met Colonel Donop marching back at full speed with his corps, having received the news of the disaster at Trenton from the horsemen who had fled. They joined their company and marched to Princeton.
A fortnight later Lord Cornwallis, with the forces at Brunswick, under General Grant, advanced to Princeton and then moved forward to attack the army at Trenton. General Washington on his approach retired from the town and, crossing a rivulet at the back of it, took post on some high ground there, with the apparent intention of defending himself against an attack. It was late in the afternoon, and a heavy cannonade was kept up till night-time. Lord Cornwallis determined to attack next morning. At two in the morning Washington retired suddenly, leaving his fires burning. Quitting the main road he made a long circuit through Allentown and marched with all speed toward Princeton, which place he intended to surprise. When Lord Cornwallis advanced he had left the Seventeenth, Fortieth, and Fifty-fifth regiments there.
On arriving at Trenton he had sent word back for the Seventeenth and Fifty-fifth to advance to Maidenhead, a village halfway between Princeton and Trenton. Colonel Mawhood, who commanded, marched at daylight, but scarcely had he started when he met Washington advancing with his army. The morning was foggy, and it was at first supposed that the enemy were a body of British troops marching back to Princeton, but it was soon found that the force was a hostile one. Its strength could not be seen on account of the fog, and he determined to engage it. Possessing himself of some high ground, he sent his wagons back to Princeton and ordered the Fortieth Regiment to come out to his assistance.
As the Americans advanced, the artillery on both sides opened fire. The leading columns of the colonists soon snowed signs of disorder. The Seventeenth Regiment fixed bayonets and with great gallantry charged the enemy in front of them, driving them back with considerable slaughter; and so far did they advance that they were separated from the other battalions, and cutting their way through the American force the regiment pursued its march to Maidenhead. The Fortieth and Fifty-fifth fought stoutly, but were unable to make their way through the American force, and fell back to Brunswick, while the Americans occupied Princeton. At daybreak Lord Cornwallis discovered the retreat of the American army, and being apprehensive for the safety of Brunswick, where great stores of the army were accumulated, marched with all haste toward that town.
Brigadier Matthew, the officer commanding there, on hearing of the approach of the enemy, at once dispatched the store wagons toward the rear and drew up his small command to defend the place to the last. The gallant resistance before Princeton had delayed the Americans so long that the van of the army of Cornwallis was already close to their rear as they approached Brunswick. Seeing this, Washington abandoned his design on that town and crossed the Millstone River, breaking down the bridge at Kingston to stop pursuit.
Washington now overran East and West Jersey, penetrated into Essex County, and making himself master of the country opposite to Staten Island, thus regained almost all the district which the English had taken from him in the autumn.
All this greatly heightened the spirit and courage of the Americans, while the loyalists and the English troops were disheartened and disgusted at seeing an army of 30,000 fine troops kept inactive, while the enemy, with but 4000 men, who were wholly incapable of opposing an equal number of English troops, were allowed to wander unchecked, to attack and harass the English pickets, and to utilize the whole of the resources of their country. Had General Howe entertained a fixed desire to see English authority overthrown in America he could not have acted in a manner more calculated to carry those wishes into effect.
A TREACHEROUS PLANTER.
It must not be supposed that the whole of the time was spent in scouting and fighting. Between the armies lay a band of no man's land. Here, as elsewhere, the people of the country were divided in their opinions, but generally made very little display of these, whatever they might be. It is true that, as a rule, non-combatants were but little interfered with; still, a warm and open display of sympathy with one side or the other was likely to be attended by the loss of cattle and damage to crops when the other party got the upper hand. In some other States feeling ran much higher. In the Carolinas the royalists were most cruelly persecuted. Their property was destroyed and they were, in many cases, shot down without mercy; but generally, throughout the colonies, a considerable latitude of opinion was allowed. This was especially so in the zone between the armies in the Jerseys. None could tell what the positions of the armies a week hence might be, and any persecution inflicted by the one party might lead to retaliation upon a shift of positions a few weeks later. A general toleration therefore reigned.
Next to Peter Lambton, Harold's greatest friend in the corps was a young man named Harvey. He was of good family and belonged to New York. Being a strong loyalist, he had, like many other gentlemen, enlisted for service under the old flag. He had, naturally, many acquaintances among the county families, and Harold often accompanied him in his visits to one or other of them.
During the winter, when things were quiet, the duties of the scouts were light, and it was the habit among them that one-third should be on outpost duty at a time, the rest being free to move about as they liked. The scouts had no fixed order of position. They went out alone or in twos or threes, as it pleased them, their duty simply being to watch everything that was going on along the enemy's line of outposts, to bring the earliest news of any intended movements, and to prevent dashing parties of the enemy's horsemen from making raids into or behind the British lines. They were not, of course, expected to check bodies of cavalry starting on a raid, but simply to obtain information of their having left their lines and of the direction taken, and then to hurry back to the British posts, whence a force of cavalry would be sent out to intercept or check the invaders. Many dashing exploits were performed by the cavalry on both sides in the way of getting behind their opponents' quarters, cutting off provision trains, attacking small posts, and carrying off straggling parties.
One of the houses to which Harold used most frequently to accompany his friend Harvey was situated nearly halfway between the rival armies, and was about eight miles from either. The owner—Mr. Jackson—was a man of considerable wealth, and the house was large and well appointed. He had, before the troubles began, a fine business as a lawyer in New York; but, as the outbreak of hostilities put a stop to all business of a legal kind in that city, he had retired to his country house. Although himself born in England, he professed to be entirely neutral, but his family were undisguisedly loyal. It consisted of his wife and two daughters, girls of seventeen and eighteen years old.
When the English army advanced to the neighborhood of his property Mr. Jackson was always ready to offer his hospitality to the officers of the corps which might be stationed near him, and he similarly opened his house to the Americans when they, in turn, advanced as the British turned back. Being, as he always made a point of saying, perfectly neutral in the struggle, he was glad to meet gentlemen, irrespective of the opinions they held. The line taken by Mr. Jackson was the one which was very largely pursued among the inhabitants of the country houses and farms scattered over what was, throughout the war, a debatable land. So frequent were the changes of the position of the armies that none could say who might be in possession in a week's time, and it was, therefore, an absolute necessity for those who wished to live unmolested to abstain from any stronger show of partisanship.
As is always the case in struggles of this kind, the female population were more enthusiastic in their partisanship and more pronounced in their opinions than the men; and although, upon the arrival of a troop of cavalry or a detachment of foot belonging to the other side, the master of the house would impartially offer what hospitality he was capable of, it was not difficult to perceive, by the warmth or coldness of the female welcome, what were the private sentiments of the family.
Harold was not long in discovering, from the frequency with which Harvey proposed an excursion to the Jacksons' and from his conduct there, that Isabelle, the eldest daughter, was the object which mainly attracted him. The families had long been friends, and Harvey, although now serving as a simple scout, was of a position equal to her own. The friends were always cordially received by Mr. Jackson, and Harold was soon as intimate there as his comrade. They usually left their quarters a little before dusk and started back late at night. Often as Mr. Jackson pressed them to stay, they never accepted his invitation.
The scouts, from their activity and ubiquitousness, were the betes-noirs of the Americans, whose most secret plans were constantly detected and foiled by the sagacity and watchfulness of these men, whose unerring rifles made frequent gaps in the ranks of the officers. They therefore spared no pains, whenever there was a chance, of killing or capturing any of these most troublesome foes, and Harvey and Harold knew that a report of their presence at the Jacksons' would suffice to bring a party of horsemen from the American lines. Their visits, therefore, were always made after dark, and at irregular intervals, and, in spite of their inclination to the contrary they made a point of returning at night to their quarters.
Other visitors were often present at the Jacksons', the sons and daughters of neighbors, and there was generally music and singing, and sometimes the young people stood up for a dance.
The scouts wore no regular uniform, although there was a general similarity in their attire, which was that of an ordinary backwoods hunter. When off duty they were allowed to dress as they pleased, and at Mr. Jackson's the two friends were attired in the ordinary dress of colonists of position. At these little gatherings political subjects were never discussed, and a stranger spending an evening there would not have dreamed that the house stood between two hostile armies; that at any moment a party of horsemen belonging to one side or other might dash into the courtyard, and that even those laughing and talking pleasantly together might be of opinions diametrically opposed.
Harvey and Harold were introduced to visitors simply as friends from New York, and, although the suspicions as to their character and position might be strong, no one thought of asking questions.
"I do not like that fellow Chermside," Harvey said one night, as he and his friend were returning to their quarters.
They were mounted; for, although when on duty the scouts worked on foot, many of them, who were men of property, kept horses which they used when not engaged. Harvey had two horses, and one of these was always at Harold's service.
"I am not surprised you don't like him," Harold replied with a laugh, "and I imagine the dislike is mutual. When two gentlemen are paying attentions to one young lady they seldom appreciate each other's merits very cordially."
"I don't think it is entirely that," Harvey laughed. "Isabella and I understand each other, and I have no fear of his rivalry; but I do not like him."
"I do not think I like him myself," Harold said more seriously; "and yet I do not know why I should not. When he has been there alone with us and the family, he has frequently used expressions showing his strong leaning toward the loyalists' side."
"I don't put much faith in that," Harvey said. "He knows how strongly Mr. Jackson and the girls lean toward the Crown, and would say anything that he thought would please Isabelle. I have spoken to her and she thinks that he is sincere; in fact, she has rather a good opinion of him. However, we shall see. It was rather curious that that party of Morgan's cavalry should have ridden up the other night and searched the house two hours after we left. You see, we had agreed to sleep there that night, and only changed our minds after the others had all left, when we remembered that we were both for duty early next morning. It might have been a coincidence, of course, but it had an ugly look. I think Mr. Jackson thought so, too, for he did not ask us to stop to-night; anyhow, I wish Chermside's plantation was not so near this and that he did not drop in so often."
A week later they paid another visit. When dinner was over Harold was chatting with Mr. and Mrs. Jackson. Harvey was sitting at the piano, where the eldest girl was playing, and the younger was looking out of window.
"We are going to have another fall of snow," she said. "There is not a star to be seen. Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly.
"What is it, my dear?" Mr. Jackson asked.
"There is a rocket gone up from the woods."
"A rocket!" Mr. Jackson repeated.
"Yes, papa; there are the stars falling now."
"That is a curious thing," Mr. Jackson said, while the others went to the window. They stood watching for some minutes, but nothing was to be seen.
"I do not like that rocket," Mr. Jackson said as they left the window. "It means something. It can only be a signal. People don't let off rockets for amusement nowadays. Did you meet anyone on the road?" "No, sir," Harvey said, "not a soul."
"I do not like it," their host repeated. "It means mischief of some sort or other. I do not wish to seem inhospitable, but my advice to you is, get on your horses at once and ride to your quarters. You are on duty to-morrow, and you told me you would pass near here on your way toward the enemy's lines. You might look in as you go past and hear whether anything came of it. If I mistake not, we shall have another visit from Morgan's horse this evening."
Much against their inclination the young men followed Mr. Jackson's advice.
The next day they, with Peter and Jake, stopped at the house as they passed.
"I was right," their host said, as the two young men entered. "An hour after you left twenty of Morgan's horse rode up here. They would not take my word that we were alone, but searched the house from top to bottom, and were evidently greatly disappointed at finding no one. I have been making inquiries this morning and find that all the servants were in the house at the time my daughter saw the rocket, so I hope that I have no traitor here. Still, it is clear that someone must be keeping watch over your movements."
"Have you asked, sir," Harvey said, after a pause, "whether anyone came after we had arrived?"
"I do not see how anyone could come, but I will ask."
He rang the bell and a negro servant appeared.
"Did anyone come to the house yesterday, Caesar, after these gentleman came—any beggar or peddler, or anyone of that sort?"
"No, sir; no one came except Massa Chermside. He get off his horse and ask if you, hab any visitors. I said that Massa Harvey and Massa Wilson were here. He say he call again another night when the family alone, and rode off."
"Just what I expected, sir," Harvey said, when the servant left the room. "I have always doubted that fellow's honesty."
"Oh, nonsense!" Mr. Jackson replied. "You must be mad, Harvey. Chermside's father was an old friend of mine, and I have known the young fellow since he was a child. I should as soon suspect one of my own daughters of being capable of such an act of gross treachery as laying a plot to bring the American cavalry down upon guests of mine. The idea is preposterous. Bless me, how amused the girls will be at your suspecting their old playfellow!"
"I hope I may be mistaken, sir," Harvey said, "but Harold's opinion of him agrees with mine; and, in talking it over last night, we both put our finger on him as the man who fired the rocket. Well, now, we must be pushing on. We are bound for the ford where Morgan's horse must have come over, and shall hear from our fellows there whether they rode straight here after crossing, as, if so, there can be no doubt whatever that the rocket was a signal."
Upon arriving at the ford they found that Morgan's horse had only crossed an hour before the time at which they arrived at Mr. Jackson's. One of the scouts had instantly taken word to the nearest cavalry outpost, but the enemy had recrossed the river before these had arrived on the spot.
After three days on duty at the front, the party returned to their lines, and the next time that the young men rode out to their friends they took with them Jake and Peter, to whom they related the circumstances.
The scouts proceeded on foot and separated from the others a mile before reaching the house, having arranged that Peter should scout round it, while Jake should proceed to the plantation of Mr. Chermside and keep a sharp lookout there.
They had arranged with Mr. Jackson that no mention of the rocket should be made to anyone, however intimate with the family.
"I am glad to see you again," the host said, as they entered the room where the family were assembled, "although I own that these two raids of Morgan's horse have made me uneasy. The girls have been immensely amused at your suspicions of young Chermside."
"How could you think such a thing?" Isabelle said. "He was here on the following evening, and was as indignant as we were at the thought of treachery being at work. He quite agreed with us that the coming of the Yankees could hardly have been accidental."
"You said nothing about the rocket, I hope?" Harvey asked.
"No, we kept quite silent about that, as you made such a point of it; but it seemed ridiculous with him. But I shall be in a fright, now, every time you come."
"We have brought two of our men with us," Harvey said, "and they are scouting round, so we shall hear if another rocket goes up; and, even if the person who let it up suspects that the last was seen,—as he might do from our having left so suddenly,—and tries some other plan to warn the enemy, we can trust our men to fire a shot and so give us warning in time. We have told the groom not to take the saddles off the horses, as we may stop but a short time."
At eight o'clock a disturbance was heard outside, and Jake entered the room, dragging with him by main force the young planter.
"What is the meaning of this?" Mr. Jackson asked, as they rose from their seats in surprise.
"Me tell you, sar," Jake answered. "Me had orders from Massa Harold to watch outside ob de house ob dis feller and see what going on dere. About half an hour after me got dere a nigger come along running from dis direction. Dat no business of Jake's, so he stood in de trees and let him pass. He go into de house; five minutes afterward dis feller he come out and he walk away. Jake follow him bery quiet to see what him after. He walk more dan a mile, den he get on to de oder side of dat big hill; den me see him stop, and Jake tink it time to interfere, so he ran up and catch him. He had put dis ting against a stump of a tree, and had him pistol in him hand, and was on de point of firing it close to dis ting, so as to light him."
As Jake spoke he held out a rocket. Several times while Jake had been speaking the planter had tried to interrupt him, but each time Jake, who had not released his hold of him, gave him so violent a shake that he was fain to be silent.
"This is a scandalous indignity," he exclaimed furiously when Jake finished. "What do you mean, sir," he demanded of Harvey, "by setting this nigger to watch my abode? I will have satisfaction for this treatment."
"It seems, sir," Mr. Jackson said, signing to Harvey to be silent, "that you have been detected in a gross act of treachery. My friends have suspected you of it, but I indignantly denied it. Could we believe, I and my family, that you, whom we have known as a child, would betray our guests to the Americans? Loyalists and republicans are alike welcome here. I do not ask my friends their opinions. My house is neutral ground, and I did not think that anyone who used it would have had the treachery to turn it into a trap; still less did I imagine you would do so. These gentlemen would be perfectly within their right did they take you out and hang you from the nearest tree; but, for my sake, I trust that they will not do so; but should the American cavalry ever again visit this house under circumstances which may lead it to be supposed that they have been brought here to capture my guests, I shall let them punish you as you deserve. No word of mine will be raised in your favor. Now, sir, go, and never again enter this house, where the loathing and contempt that I feel for you will, I know, be shared by the ladies of my family."
At a nod from Harold Jake released his hold of the captive, who, without a word, turned and left the room.
Not a word was spoken for a minute or two after he had left. The youngest girl was the first to speak.
"The wretch!" she exclaimed. "To think that Herbert Chermside should turn out such a mean traitor! Papa, I would have let them hang him at once. It would have served him right. Now he may do us all harm."
"I do not know that you are not right, Ada," Mr. Jackson replied gravely. "I am far from saying that I acted wisely. Young Chermside has many friends among the Americans, and it is possible that he may work us harm. However, my position as a neutral is well established. Officers on both sides have at times been welcomed here, and his report, therefore, that our friends here are often with us can do us no harm. Henceforth he must be regarded as an enemy, and there will always be danger in these visits. So long as the American outposts are within an hour's ride he can have the road watched; and, although he is not likely to venture upon signaling with rockets, he may send or take word on horseback. A bonfire, too, might be lit at the other side of the hill to call them over. Altogether you will never be safe from home except when you have a strong body of your own troops between this and the river."
"I am glad to say," Harvey said, "that in consequence of the news of Morgan's raids on this side a body of 200 infantry and a troop of cavalry are to move to-morrow and take up their position by the ford, so we shall be safe from any surprise from that direction."
"I am very glad to hear it," Mr. Jackson said. "It will relieve me of a great anxiety. But pray be watchful when you are in this neighborhood. You have made a bitter enemy, and, after what he has proved himself capable of, we cannot doubt that he would hesitate at nothing. I understand," he went on with a smile toward his eldest daughter, "what is at the bottom of his conduct, and, as I have long suspected his hopes in that quarter, I am not surprised that he is somewhat hostile to you. Still, I never for a moment deemed him capable of this."
The next day Mr. Jackson learned that his neighbor had left his plantation, and had told his servants that he was not likely to return for some time.
Shortly after this a series of bad luck attended the doings of the British scouts. Several parties were killed or captured by the enemy, and they were constantly baffled by false reports, while the Americans appeared to forestall all their movements. It was only when enterprises were set on foot and carried out by small bodies that they were ever successful, anything like combined action by the orders of the officers constantly turning out ill.
"There must be a traitor somewhere," Peter said upon the return of a party from an attempt which, although it promised well, had been frustrated, to carry off a number of cattle from one of the American depots. "It aint possible that this can be all sheer bad luck. It aint no one in our company, I'll be bound. We aint had any new recruits lately, and there aint a man among us whom I could not answer for. There must be a black sheep in Gregory's or Vincent's corps. The enemy seem up to every move, and, between us, we have lost more than thirty men in the last few weeks. There aint no doubt about it—there's a traitor somewhere and he must be a clever one, and he must have pals with him, or he couldn't send news of what we are doing so quickly. It beats me altogether, and the men are all furious."
"I've been talking with some of our men," Peter said a few days afterward, "and we agree that we are bound to get to the bottom of this matter. We're sartin sure that the traitor don't belong to us. What we propose is this, that the hull of us shall go up together, without saying a word to a soul, and scatter ourselves along the river at all the points where a chap going with a message to the enemy would be likely to cross. The night we go out we'll get the three captains all to give orders to their men for an expedition, so that whoever it is that sends messages from here would be sure to send over word to the Yankees; and it'll be hard if we don't ketch him. What do you say?"
"I think the plan is a very good one," Harold answered. "If you like, I will go with my father and ask Gregory and Vincent to send their men."
Captain Wilson at once went to these officers. They were as much irritated and puzzled as were their men by the failures which had taken place, and agreed that, next evening, an order should be issued for the men of the three corps to act in combination, and to allow it to leak out that they intended to surprise an American post situated near the river, twenty-one miles distant. Captain Wilson's scouts, instead of going with the others, were to act on their own account.
On the day arranged, as soon as it became dark, the forty scouts quietly left their quarters in small parties and made their way toward the river, striking it at the point where a messenger would be likely to cross upon his way to give warning to the American post of the attack intended to be made upon it. They took post along the river, at a distance of fifty or sixty yards apart, and silently awaited the result. Several hours passed and no sound broke the stillness of the woods. An hour before dawn Peter Lambton heard a slight crack, as that of a breaking twig. It was some distance back in the woods, but it seemed to him, by the direction, that the man who caused it would strike the river between himself and Jake, who was stationed next to him. He noiselessly stole along toward the point. Another slight sound afforded him a sure indication of the direction in which the man, whoever he might be, was approaching. He hastened his steps, and a minute later a negro issued from the wood close to him. He stood for an instant on the river bank and was about to plunge in, when Peter threw his arms around him.
Although taken by surprise, the negro struggled desperately and would have freed himself from the grip of the old scout had not Jake run up instantly to his comrade's assistance. In a minute the negro was bound and two shots were then fired, the concerted signal by which it would be known along the line that a capture had been effected. In a few minutes the whole body was assembled. The negro, who refused to answer any questions, was carried far back into the woods and a fire was lighted.
"Now, nigger," Peter said, taking, as captor, the lead in the matter, "jest tell us right away where you was going and who sent you."
The negro was silent.
"Now, look ye here, darky, you're in the hands of men who are no jokers. Ef you tell us at once who put ye on to this trick no harm will happen to you; but ef ye don't we'll jest burn the skin off your body, bit by bit."
Still the negro was silent.
"Half a dozen of yez," Peter said, "as have got iron ramrods shove them into the fire. We'll soon find this nigger's tongue."
Not a word was spoken until the ramrods were heated red-hot.
"Now," Peter said, "two of yez clap your ramrods against this darky's flanks."
The negro struggled as the men approached him, and gave a terrific yell as the hot iron was applied to his sides.
"I will tell you, sars—oh! have mercy upon me and I will tell you eberything!"
"I thought," Peter said grimly, "that you'd find a tongue soon enough. Now, then, who sent you?"
"My massa," the negro answered.
"And who is your master?"
The negro was again silent, but as, at a nod from Peter, the men again raised the ramrods, he blurted out: