James Haltigan.

The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

. (page 41 of 67)
Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 41 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

movements and enabled him to look beyond the cheerless aspect
of the immediate future.

Although it does not appear in present histories that Irish-
men were prominent in this scattered army now confronting Eng-
land around New York, yet the fact remains that they were prea-
ent in greater numbers than any other race. The muster rolls of
the New York regiments, especially those from up the Hudson,
were filled with Irish names, while those from Pennsylvania,


Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia were composed of more than
half that nationality, and even in the New England forces, espe-
cially those of New Hampshire, the Celtic strain abounded to a
wonderful extent.

Three native-born Irishmen, to whose services we have be-
fore alluded, commanded Pennsylvania Regiments, namely, Col-
onels John Shee, Edward Hand, and John Montgomery. The
regiment of Colonel Shee was considered the best equipped com-
mand of any then assembled. "They are," said General Heath,
after reviewing them at Kingsbridge, "the best disciplined of any
troops I have yet seen in the army."

Colonel John Haslett, born in Ireland, a noted scholar of his
day and many times member of his State Assembly, commanded
a Delaware Regiment composed largely of Irishmen, and Samuel
Smith was then commencing his brilliant military career as cap-
tain in Colonel Smallwood's Maryland Regiment, which dis-
tinguished itself so bravely at Long Island, when General John
Sullivan commanded a division of the army, and Colonel Henry
Knox had charge of the artillery.

Between the 226. and the 25th of August, 1776, ten thou-
sand British and Hessian soldiers were landed on the shores of
Long Island between Fort Hamilton and Gravesend Bay. Colonel
Hand, who was posted with his riflemen on the heights of Fort
Hamilton, then called Denys', was compelled to retire toward
Flatbush on account of the galling fire of the British ships sta-
tioned in the vicinity of the present Fort Lafayette.

^ The Hessians under De Heister formed the center of the in-
vading army and occupied ground around New Utrecht; the
Scotch Highlanders under General Grant composed the left wing,
and rested on New York Bay, while the right wing, designed for
the heaviest part of the work, was stationed at Flatlands and was
under the command of Clinton, Comwallis, and Percy, and ac-
companied by Howe, the commander-in-chief.

At that time two roads ran from the southern end of the
island to Brooklyn, one on the sloping ground some distance from
the shore and the other through New Utrecht and Flatbush. A
third road ran eastwardly through Flatlands and East New York
to Jamaica, and it was to this road, which was left unguarded,
that the British owed all the advantages.

The American military works on Long Island extended from
the Wallabout to Gowanus Bay, along the lines of the present
Myrtle and Third avenues. The principal forts were on the site
of the present Fort Greene, then called Fort Putnam, and at the
corner of Nevins and Dean streets, while breastworks were thrown
up at various passes in the range of hills which then extended from


the Narrows to East New York. They were all constructed under
the supervision of General Greene, who unfortunately fell sick
and was unable to retain command. This was a severe blow to
the Americans, as none knew so well as he the importance of the
different works and passes,

Washington sent over all the reinforcements possible and
placed General Putnam in supreme command. To General Sul-
livan was assigned the command of all the troops beyond the lines
and he was assisted by Brigadier-General William Alexander,
called Lord Stirling on account of his claim to that title, and
Colonels Hand, Montgomery, Haslett, Smallwood, and Atlee. On
these devolved all the fighting, and nobly did they acquit them-
selves when it is considered that the British outnumbered them
more than three to one.

General Sullivan occupied the hills and woods of the present
Prospect Park, while Lord Stirling commanded the sloping ground
between Gowanus and Bayridge.

General Sir Henry Clinton and the right wing of the British
army, on the night of the 26th, guided by Tories, marched around
through East New York, where the passes were unprotected, and
gained SulUvan's rear before that General was aware of it, early
on the following morning. He was devoting all his attention to
the Hessians in his immediate front when the firing of guns in
his rear announced the fact that he was surrounded. He tried to
get back within his lines, but it was too late. Hemmed in and
trapped between the Hessians and the English under Clinton, and
driven from one to the other by their superior forces, the Amer-
icans fought desperately for a while, but they were swiftly cut
down and trampled upon by the cavalry or bayoneted by the Hes-
sians without mercy. Some of them cut their way through ftie
English and gained their lines, but the greater part were either
killed or taken prisoners, among the latter being General Sullivan.

The Hessians fought with desperation against Sullivan and
gave no quarter. They had been told by their English masters
that the Americans would not suflfer one of them to live and their
sentiment was total extinction. "Our Hessians and our brave
Highlanders gave no quarter," writes an officer of the Seventy-
first Regiment, as quoted in Onderdonk's Revolutionary Incidents,
"and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they dispatched
the rebels with their bayonets, after we had surrounded them
so thev could not resist."

The Americans under Lord Stirling were unaware of these
happenings until Sir Henry Clinton, after defeating Sullivan, ap-
peared in their rear. The patriots were astonished at the forbear-
ance of the Highlanders under Grant all the morning, but they
were merely waiting for Clinton to come up.


According to Colonel Haslett's statement, the Delawares and
Marylanders, drawn up on the side of the hill, "stood upwards of
four hours, with a firm and determined countenance, in close ar-
ray, their colors flying, the enemy's artillery playing on them
all the while, but not daring to advance or attack them though six
times their number and nearly surrounding them."

But the moment Clinton's presence was announced Grant
moved to the attack and the tactics of the morning were repeated
in the hope of trapping Lord Stirling like General Sullivan, In
this, however, the British were not successful, though they inflicted
terrible damage on the Americans. Lord Stirling, perceiving that
he was surrounded, threw Colonel Smallwood's Marylanders
against the English under Clinton and Cornwallis, who were held
in check by wonderful bravery until the rest of the Americans
had crossed Gowanus Creek to safety. It was in this part of the
action that one-third of the Marylanders were slaughtered, but
they crowned themselves with glory and saved their brothers from
annihilation. Lord Stirling himself was taken prisoner.

When the Americans were driven within their lines the Brit-
ish rested for the night, and thus ended the Battle of Long Island.
The American losses in this disastrous engagement are variously
stated, but Irving gives the figures as two thousand in killed,
wounded, and prisoners, while the British acknowledged a loss of
three hundred and eighty in killed and wounded.

Washington was present at the battle, but could do nothing
to avert the disasters of the day. While standing on a hill in South
Brooklyn he witnessed the slaughter of his troops and wrung his
hands in agony at the sight. "Good God," he cried, "what brave
fellows I must this day lose."

The troops captured with General Sullivan were nearly all
Irish from New Hampshire, as their muster rolls will prove. They
were doomed to a living death in the deepest holds of the prison
ships, and the great majority of them never afterwards saw the

Had the British followed up their advantages they could
have wiped out the American forces on Long Island and perhaps
have captured Washington into the bargain, but they slept on their
arms and allowed the opportunity to pass.

After the battle they encamped within six hundred yards of
the American lines, but the next morning they refrained from
making a direct assault and commenced cannonading the Ameri-
can works from redoubts which they had thrown up. They evi-
dently remembered Bunker Hill.

This gave Washington time to breathe, and matters remained
stationary until the night of the 29th, when he withdrew his en-


tire army from Long Island without exciting the least suspicion
on the part of the enemy. Every American had reached New York
before the British were aware of their departure. When Wash-
ington saw that it was the intention of the British to lay siege to
his works he made up his mind to withdraw his troops. The
British invested him on three sides and their ships might at any
tune come up the East River and cut off his only retreat. Every-
thing in the shape of a boat for miles above New York was ac-
cordingly pressed into service and all through the night the Amer-
ican troops were ferried across the East River by the Marblehead
fishermen of Glover's Massachusetts Regiment. Washington
superintended all the details of embarkation at the present Fulton
Ferry and was the last man to leave the ground.

"This retreat," writes Fisk, "has always been regarded as one
of the most brilliant incidents of Washington's career and it would
certainly be hard to find a more striking example of vigilance.
Had Washington allowed himself to be cooped up on Brooklyn
Heights he would have been forced to surrender, and whatever
was left of the war would have been a game played without
queen, rook, or bishop."

On Sunday, September 12, in a council of war, the Americans
decided to evacuate New York and the next day the main body
of the army moved toward Fort Washington and Kingsbridge.
The sick and wounded were taken to New Jersey and the public
stores conveyed to Dobb's Ferry, twenty miles up the Hudson.

On the morning of September 15, Sir Henry Clinton, with
four thousand men, crossed the East River from the mouth of
Newtown Creek to Kipp's Bay, at the foot of the present Thirty-
fourth street, under cover of the fire of ten warships anchored off
the site of Twenty-third street. And for more than seven years
thereafter New York and its vicinity remained in the hands of the
British. The city itself was turned into a barracks and a prison
house, and within its precincts were committed some of the most
dastardly acts in history.

On September 16 Washington established his headquarters
in the deserted mansion of Colonel Morris, on the heights over-
looking the Harlem at One Hundred and Sixty-ninth street. It
was afterwards the residence of Madame Jumel during the Hfe-
time of her second husband, Aaron Burr, and is now the property
of the City of New York. It was most appropriate for Washing-
ton's headquarters, as from its portals he could view the Hudson
River, the valley of the Harlem, and Long Island Sound.

On the same day that Washington took up his residence there
the battle of Harlem Heights took place. The rear guard of the
American troops under Putnam and Knox had just marched up


the nigfht before and they were not yet settled in their camps
when the British were seen advancing by way of McGowan's
Pass. They were stopped for a while by the little garrisons of
Mount Morris and Harlem Cove, now Manhatttanville, and while
they were thus temporarily detained Washington arrived upon
the scene. He resolved to encourage them to advance and tor
that purpose threw some troops into their immediate front who
were to fall back before them, while at the same time he sent
forces under Colonel Knowlton, of Connecticut, and Major Leitch,
of Virginia, to attack them in the rear and cut them off from their
main army. In the fighting which ensued Colonel Knowlton was
killed and Major Leitch mortally wounded, and while Washington
did not succeed in carrying out his plans he drove the British
back in great disorder and achieved a temporary victory which
revived the drooping hopes of the patriots. The American loss
in the fight was inconsiderable, while that of the British was
eighteen killed and ninety wounded.

The site of the battle is marked by a memorial window in
St Lake's Home, One Hundred and Fourteenth street and Broad-
way, erected by the daughters of the Revolution and inscribed
as follows : "In commemoration of the Battle of Harlem Heights,
September 16, 1776. This engagement restored confidence,
strength, and courage to the American Army." A tablet is also
placed at One Himdred and Fifty-fifth street and Amsterdam
avenue to mark the spot where Leitch and Knowlton fell.

The same patriotic society recently erected a rough boulder
(taken from the Subway on the site of the battle of Harlem) at
Park avenue and Thirty-seventh street, "in honor of Mary Lindley
Murray for services rendered her country during the American
Revolution, entertaining at her house on this site General Howe
and his officers until the American troops had escaped, Septem-
ber 15, 1776."

With Harlem Plains (One Hundred and Twenty-fifth street)
dividing the hostile camps, the Americans strongly entrenched
themselves on the heights to the north, where they remained for
about four weeks. On October 12 General Howe attempted to get
in their rear by landing his forces on Throgg's Neck, sixteen miles
from New York on Long Island Sound, whereupon Washington
crossed the Harlem and stretched his forces from Fordham
Heights to White Plains, abandoning everything on Manhattan
Island except Fort Washington.

General Sullivan, Lord Stirling, and Captain Daniel Morgan
were now restored to the American army by an exchange of pris-
oners. Morgan was recommended to Congress by Washington
for the command of a rifle regiment about to be formed in reward


"for his good conduct in the expedition with Arnold and of his
intrepid behaviour in the assault upon Quebec, where the brave
Montgomery fell."

Washington sent strong detachments to oppose Howe's land-
ing and many skirmishes took place on the Westchester shore of
the Sound. Pell's Neck was guarded by Colonel Hand and his
riflemen and on the night of Howe's first landing Hand removed
the bridge to the causeway and left the English on an island.
Howe suspected his Tory guides of treachery, but he soon
learned the truth and decamped, after being driven back from the
causeway by Hand, who at first opposed him unaided, but was
subsequently reinforced by Colonel Prescott, the hero of Bunker

On October 21 Howe was encamped about two miles north
of New Rochelle, with his outposts extending to Mamaroneck
on the Sound. At the latter place was posted Colonel Rogers,
the renegade, with the Queen's Rangers, his newly raised corps
of loyalists.

The Americans resolved, if possible, to cut off this outpost
and entrap the old traitor. Colonel Haslett, always prompt on
such occasions, undertook the exploit at the head of seven hun-
dred and fifty of the Delaware troops, who had fought so bravely
at Long Island. With these he crossed the line of the British
march, came undiscovered upon the post, drove in the guard,
killed a lieutenant and several men, and brought away thirty-six
prisoners, with a pair of colors, sixty stand of arms, and other
spoils. He missed the main prize, however. Rogers skulked off
in the dark at the first fire. For this exploit Haslett and his men
were publicly thanked on parade.

On the 23d Colonel Hand and his regiment attacked two
hundred and forty Hessian chasseurs near Eastchester and routed
them. These and other spirited and successful skirmishes retard-
ed the advance of the enemy and had the far more important ef-
fect of animating the American troops and making them accus-
tomed to danger, while the fear of attacking such formidable and
well-appointed troops, which at first prevailed, gradually wore

On October 28 Howe, tired of trying to get in Washington's
rear, resolved to attack him in front, and stormed his forces on
Chatterton Hill. This engagement is called the battle of White
Plains, although it was fought some distance from that place,
where Washington's main army was encamped.

Chatterton Hill was only a mere outpost of the American
army, occupied by some militia. Seeing that the British were
about to attack it before coming up to engage him at White


Plains, Washington sent Colonel Haslett, with his Delaware
Regiment, to reinforce the militia, and subsequently added Gen-
eral McDougal's brigade, making in all about sixteen hundred
men. McDougal and Haslett sustained an obstinate conflict for
an hour and twice repulsed the enemy, but when the militia gave
way before the British cavalry they were compelled to fall back
on their main army. General Putnam advanced to their assistance
and brought the fighting to a close, about four hundred men
being killed and wounded on each side.

Gordon relates that while the British were at White Plains
the garden of a widow was robbed at night. Her son, a mere
boy, asked and obtained leave to catch the thief. With a loaded
gun he concealed himself in some bushes, when a British gren-
adier, a strapping Highlander, came, filled a bag with fruit and
placed it on his shoulder. The boy appeared behind him with
his gun cocked and threatened him with instant death if he at-
tempted to lay down the bag. Thus the boy drove him into the
American camp. When he laid down his bag and saw that he
had been driven in by a stripling, he was excessively mortified,
and could not suppress the exclamation, "A British grenadier
made a prisoner by such a damned brat — such a damned bratl"

Meeting with such determined opposition, and Washington
having fortified himself still more strongly at Northcastle, five
miles above White Plains, General Howe desisted from further
attacks on the Americans in that neighborhood. He marched
away with his entire forces to Dobbs' Ferry and moved down
the Hudson to its junction with the Harlem, his army extending
from Kingsbridge to Fordham Heights.

In answer to this movement, on November 12, Washing-
ton, with five thousand men, crossed over to Jersey by way of
the ferry at Stony Point and made his headquarters at Hacken-
sack. He sent Heath up to Peekskill with three thousand men
to guard the Hudson Highlands and he left Lee at Northcastle
with seven thousand men, General Sullivan being his second in

After establishing himself at Hackensack Washington went
directly to Fort Lee, five miles distant, where General Greene
was in command. He was anxious about Fort Washington, the
only place now occupied by American troops on New York Isl-
and. He had already given Greene orders to evacuate it at his
discretion, but he was overruled by Congress, which ordered the
fort maintained.

This was a fatal mistake on the part of Congress, as the
British army now centered all its efforts on that point and suc-
ceeded in capturing it on November i6, after a brave but unavail-


ine defense by the Americans under Colonel Magaw, of Penn-

"Washington," writes Irving in reference to the capture of
Fort Washington, "had been an anxious spectator of the battle
from the opposite side of the Hudson. Much of it was hidden
from him by the intervening hills and forests. The action about
the lines to the south lay open to him and could be distinctly seen
through a telescope ; and nothing encouraged him more than the
gallant style in which Cadwalader with an inferior force main-
tained his position. When he saw him, however, assailed in
flank, the line broken, and his troops, overpowered by numbers,
retreating to the fort, he gave up the game as lost. The worst
sight of all was to behold his men cut down and bayoneted by
the Hessians while begging quarter. It is said so completely to
have overcome him that he wept with the tenderness of a child."

The number of prisoners taken at Fort Washington, as re-
turned by Howe, was 2,818, of whom 2,607 were privates. They
were marched off to the prison houses of New York, where they
were all barbarously treated and many of them died of disease
and hunger. One hundred and fifty Americans were butchered
by the Hessians after they had laid down their arms. The Brit-
ish losses were five hundred men in killed and wounded.

After the fall of Fort Washington the British crossed the
Hudson to attack Fort Lee, which Washington abandoned on
their approach, and now commenced that terrible retreat through
New Jersey which banished hope from all but the stoutest hearts.
Washington, with his famished and fast disappearing army,
marched through Newark, New Brunswick, and Trenton, with
the British, five times his number, in close pursuit. As he left
the various towns on the one side the English were generally
coming into them on the other, with colors flying and bands play-
ing, after devastating the whole country through which they

Their excesses were so monstrous in that march that even
Trevelyan, an Englishman, in his history of the Revolution, re-
bukes them in the severest manner and condemns the ruthless
policy of the British commanders. "The luke-warm people of
that State," he writes, "who expected protection from the in-
vaders, found their farms overrun, their barns looted, and their
valuables carried off by the Hessians or other German troopers.
Such friends were worse than enemies led by Washington, who
gave in return for country produce and army supplies at least
promises of Congress to pay at some future time. Howe and
Comwallis to a great degree failed, even to the end of the war,
to appreciate how easy it was to drive their American friends


into the arms of their revolted neighbors. Wherever their forces
marched devastation followed, and the sufferings in one section
served as a warning to the others as to what might be expected
if an invasion were permitted."

Trevelyan does not mention, of course, the persecutions and
cold-blooded murders to which the English, as well as the Hes-
sians, resorted. Their march not only laid bare the country
through which they passed, but it ran red with the blood of count-
less innocents who took no part in the conflict. No one was
spared, and English and American sympathizers were alike sub-
jected to the most barbarous treatment. A full quota of Eng-
lish civilization was dealt out to them — that civiHzation with
which Ireland is so well acquainted and which so recently de-
stroyed the South African Republics.

While Washington was retreating through New Jersey he
daily expected to be reinforced by the seven thousand men he
had left with Lee at Northcastle, but Lee not only refused to
obey the commander-in-chief, but actually planned a campaign
on his own account in the hope of gaining a victory and wresting
the command from Washington. He virtually became a traitor
to the American cause and made many underhand and untruthful
attacks on the character and ability of Washington.

Lee did not cross the Hudson until the 2d of December,
when Washington had been driven to Trenton, and then dallied
along at a snail's pace until the 13th, when, fortunately for the
American cause, he was captured by the British. He had made
his headquarters at Basking Ridge, N. J., some three miles from
his army, which was under the immediate command of General
Sullivan. General Gates had just arrived from the North with
seven regiments to reinforce Washington, but hearing that he
had crossed the Delaware, he sent Major Wilkinson to General
Lee, as second in command, for orders.

The Major found Lee taking his ease in his inn at Basking
Ridge. He was writing a letter to Gates denouncing Washing-
ton when the house was surrounded by the British, who ordered
him to come out or the house would be fired. "Out he came,"
writes Hawthorne, "pallid with terror, in dressing gown and
slippers, with a shirt very much soiled, and bareheaded." He
was promptly put astride a horse and carried off to be tried as a
deserter, while Sullivan, now in command, changed Lee's entire
programme and brought his army with all possible speed to

The capture of Lee was looked upon as a great calamity by

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 41 of 67)