Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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oath by which they " religiously swore
they would neither directly nor indirect
ly assist the wicked instruments of min
isterial tyranny and villany commonly
called the king s troops and navy, by fur
nishing them with provisions and refresh
ments;" and swore, moreover, to denounce
" all traitors before the public authority,
and to take arms in defence of American
liberty, whenever required by Congress
or the provincial authority." We may
conceive of the terror infused into the
hearts of the tories by the determined
conduct of Lee, when he succeeded in
extorting such an oath from all but three
of those who were brought before him.
He soon returned to Cambridge. As Lee
will, from this moment, begin to appear
more prominently upon the scene, we
may here give a record of his history.

CHARLES LEE can almost be said to have
been born a soldier. His father was a
general in the British army, and the son
received a commission at the early age
of eleven years. Born in Wales, in 1731,
young Lee had all the impulsive charac
teristics of the Welsh. He was ardent
and brave, irascible and headstrong. In
the army, where he began so early a ca
reer, his energetic courage was soon no
ticed, and led to his frequent employment
in active service. In 1756, he first came
to America, and won renown in the colo
nial battles as an officer in the royal army.




From his earliest days his disposition had
been wayward, and his conduct socially
irregular. He now gave signal proof of
his eccentricity, by abandoning civilized
life, and casting himself adrift among the
roaming Indians. He was welcomed by
the Mohawks, whom he had joined, and
made by them a chief, with an Indian
name, which signified " Boiling Water."
This title, so characteristic of the restless
disposition of the man, was a remarkable
proof of the shrewd insight of his savage
friends who conferred it. The capricious-
ness of Lee, which had led him to leave,
induced him to return to civilization. A
new whim took possession of his mind.
He wished to take part in political strife.
He had always been fond of books, and,
having an ambition as a writer, often in
dulged in literary compositions, chiefly
of a partisan character.

On his return to England, however, Lee
was induced to take up arms again, and,
having received a colonel s commission,
served under General Burgoyne in Por
tugal, where he exhibited great daring,
on one occasion swimming the Tagus at
the head of his troops. After the war,
he lived in London, where he made him
self somewhat famous as a political wri
ter and advocate of liberal principles. In
a short time he wearied of this life, and
sought promotion from the British au
thorities, who, however, would not listen
to the appeal of a man who had been no
toriously engaged in attacking them with
all the bitterness of which he was capa
ble. Indeed, such was the keenness and
vigor of his pen, that some even attrib
uted to him the authorship of the cele

brated letters of " Junius." Lee now went
abroad, and travelled for several years
on the continent of Europe, where he ac
quired a knowledge of various languages,
and succeeded in making the acquaint
ance of the great, with whom he so far in
gratiated himself, that he was commend
ed by them to Stanislaus Augustus, king
of Poland, who made him his aid-de-camp.
From Poland he repaired, in some official
capacity, to Constantinople. After a short
residence in Turkey, Lee threw off his al
legiance to the Polish king, and went to
Paris. In 1773, he returned to America,
determined to make it his home for the
rest of his life. By the advice of his old
comrade and countryman Gates, he pur
chased an estate in Virginia, and was there
living, with his books and his dogs, the
easy life of a southern planter, when the
struggle with Great Britain commenced.
Lee, who was always a liberal, promptly
declared for the Americans. His acces
sion to the cause was gladly welcomed,
and his experience as a military leader
induced Congress to make him a briga

Lee was an eccentric person, who, al
though possessed of the breeding of a
gentleman, was fond of ruffling the for
malities of society by personal irregular
ity of manners. He was slovenly in his
dress, and not seldom careless in behav
ior. " Plain in person even to ugliness,
and careless in his manners even to a de
gree of rudeness, his nose was so remark
ably aquiline that it appeared as a real
deformity. His voice was rough, his garb
ordinary, his deportment morose. He
was ambitious of fame, without the dig-




nity to support it. In private life, he
sank into the vulgarity of the clown."
Such was the by no means flattering ac
count given of Lee by an observant lady.
He does not seem to have been a favor
ite with the gentle sex, of whom another
is reported to have said that he was " a
crabbed man ;" and Mrs. Adams declares
that " the elegance of his pen far exceeds
that of his person." He is supposed to
have suffered in the good opinion of the
ladies by his fondness for dogs, a pack of
which always followed him wherever he
went, to the manifest disorder of the good
housekeeping of his female friends. " I
was very politely entertained and noticed
by the generals," writes Mrs. Adams
" more especially General Lee, who was
very urgent for me to tarry in town and
dine with him and the ladies present at

1 Hobgoblin hall ; but I excused myself.
The general was determined that I should
not only be acquainted with him, but with
his companions too; and therefore placed
a chair before me, into which he ordered
Mr. Spada (his dog) to mount, and pre
sent his paw to me for a better acquaint
ance. I could not do otherwise than ac
cept it."

The New-Englanders were dreadfully
shocked by Lee s impiety. He " swore
like a trooper," and did not fear to scoff
openly at the ordinances of religion.
When a day was appointed to invoke
the aid of Heaven upon the American
cause, Lee ridiculed it, and remarked,
"Heaven is ever found favorable to
strong battalions !" Tom Paine said of
him that "he was above all monarchs,
and below all scum."


The Sufferings of the British in Boston. British Officers, however, make an Effort to console themselves. Turn Play
wrights and Actors. An Incident at the Play. A Sudden Exit. The Attack on the Works at Charlestown. The
First of January in the American Camp. Troubles of Enlistment. Washington s Afflictions. The Patriotic Spirit
still alive. The King s Speech. Its Reception in the American Camp. Washington eager to destroy the "Nest in
Boston." Arrival of a British Squadron. New York threatened. Washington provides for the Emergency. Lee
sent to New York. His Journey thither. Arrival and Conduct at New York. An Emphatic Menace. One of Lee s
Tremendous Oaths. New York Tories. Sir John Johnson. His Manoeuvres. Watched hy Schuyler. A Forcible
Argument applied to the Indians. Schuyler proceeds to Johnstown. Sir John forced to capitulate, and pledge Him
self to Inaction. Approval of Schuyler s Conduct.


THE British in Boston had more
than their share of the sufferings
of the winter. The distress of the troops
and inhabitants was spoken of as " great
beyond all possible description. Neither
vegetables, flour, nor pulse for the inhab
itants; and the king s stores so very short,

none can be spared from them ; no fuel,
and the winter set in remarkably severe.
The troops and inhabitants are absolutely
and literally starving for want of pro vis-
ions and fire. Even salt provision is fif
teen pence sterling per pound." The
small-pox, too, broke out in Boston, ter-




ribly alarming the people, whom even the
thought that the disease was the best pro
tection against the assault of the enemy
did not reconcile to its infliction. The
weather was so severe, with its freezing
cold arid drifting snows, that it was found
necessary to order General Clinton and
the larger portion of his troops to take
refuge within the town from the exposed
heights of Bunker s hill, where only a
small garrison was left in three redoubts.

Wood, too, was as scarce in Boston as
in the American camp ; but Howe had
less scruples than Washington in supply
ing his wants. The British general issued
orders for pulling down the old North
meetinghouse, containing a great deal of
timber, and a hundred wooden dwelling-
houses and other buildings to be used for
fuel. The trees on the common were
hewed down, and the celebrated Liberty-
tree furnished fourteen cords of wood !
Though they succeeded in thus supply
ing one want, they had much greater diffi
culty in satisfying others. An occasional
coaster from Nova Scotia would escape
the American privateers, and succeed in
landing a cargo of beef, poultry, and hay;
but such was the scarcity of these articles,
that they were snatched up at once, at
the most exorbitant prices, by the few
who were rich enough to buy them. The
great mass of the troops and people were
forced to live exclusively upon salt pro.
visions, and even upon meager supplies
of those. The necessary result was, the
prevalence of scurvy and fatal dysen

The British officers, however, made a
commendable effort to sustain the spirits

of their men under these severe trials.
They got up concerts, balls, and plays, in
Faneuil hall, to enliven the people. In
their dramatic performances they tried
to serve the double purpose of making
the audience, by provocatives to their
cheerfulness, less discontented with them
selves, and, by appeals to their sense of
ridicule,more regardless of their enemies.
The Americans were " taken off" by the
military playwrights, and " shown up" to
the manifest delight of a nightly con
course of tories and red-coats. The bills
of the plays were, with a refined irony,
frequently sent by some anonymous to
ries to Washington and his generals. The
" Blockade of Boston," supposed to have
been composed by Burgoyne himself, who
was known even at that time to have a
dramatic turn, having heen written with
the express purpose of ridiculing Wash
ington and his troops, drew together on
the night of its performance an unusually
large audience.

" The Busy-body," the first piece on the
bill, being over, the curtain drew up for
the farce of " The Blockade of Boston."
Washington was, of course, a prominent
character, and appeared with a large wig
on his head, a long rusty sword by his
side, and followed by his orderly sergeant,
who had on his shoulder a rusty gun
seven feet long, and was otherwise ludi
crously equipped. These dramatic per
sonages had hardly made their appear
ance, when a real character presented
himself in the shape of a British sergeant,
who came running on the stage, and,
throwing down his musket, called out
lustily," The Yankees are attacking Bun-



[PART n.

ker s hill !" The audience thought that
this was a part of the play, until Howe,
who was present, cried out, "Officers, to
your alarm-posts /" when the military por
tion of the crowd made great haste away,
leaving the ladies shrieking and fainting,
and the rest of the audience in a state of
great consternation.

The alarm had been caused by an at
tack of two hundred men, under Captain
Knowlton, sent out by General Putnam,
from his works on Cobble hill, to destroy
some houses in Charlestown : these houses,
about fourteen in number, were all that
were left after the general fire, and were
occupied by the British. The Americans
started out at night, and, crossing the ice
at the dam, succeeded in burning eight
or ten of the houses, killing one man, and
taking captive the guard, with their arms.
The British garrison on Bunker s hill were
alarmed by the flames, and commenced a
brisk fire, doing no damage to the Amer
icans, but greatly disturbing the equanim
ity, as we have seen, of the troops and
people within Boston.

The opening of the year in the
American camp was a time of great
anxiety. The period of service of most
of the regiments had expired ; and the
old troops were in such a hurry to get
away, and the new were so slow in com
ing in, that during the early days of Jan
uary there were hardly ten thousand men
before Boston. Washington was not only
full of care, from the great interests at
stake, but annoyed exceedingly by the
resistance with which his orders were met
by the disbanding troops. Many of the
fresh men had come in unprovided with


arms, and it became necessary to insist
that those who were leaving the ranks
should sell their guns, at a price fixed
by inspectors appointed for the purpose.
This caused dissatisfaction, and much
grumbling. Washington, observing the
dissatisfied spirit of his forces, appealed
to their patriotism in a general order, in
which, after reminding them that " an
army without order, regularity, or disci
pline, is no better than a commissioned
mob," he entreated them to conduct them
selves like true soldiers, as " everything
dear to freemen was at stake," and could
only be secured by the faithful perform
ance of their military duties.

The care which weighed upon Wash
ington s mind at this time was known then
only to his most intimate friends, to whom
in the confidence of his letters he unbur
dened his heart. To his former secretary
(Reed) he writes: "Search the
volumes of history through, and
I much question whether a case similar
to ours is to be found : namely, to main
tain a post against the flower of the Brit
ish troops for six months together, with
out powder; and then to have one army
disbanded, and another to be raised, with
in the same distance of a reinforced army.
What may be the issue of the last manoeu
vre, time only can unfold. I wish this
month were well over our heads."

Again he writes, a few days later :
"The reflection upon my situation, and
that of this army, produces many an unea
sy hour, when all around me are wrapped
in sleep. Few people know the predica
ment we are in, on a thousand accounts ;
fewer still will believe, if any disaster




happens to these lines, from what cause
it flows. I have often thought how much
happier I should have been, if, instead of
accepting of a command under such cir
cumstances, I had taken my musket on
my shoulder and entered the ranks; or,
if I could have justified the measure to
posterity and my own conscience, had re
tired to the back country, and lived in a
wigwam. If I shall be able to rise supe
rior to these, and many other difficulties
which might be enumerated, 1 shall most
religiously believe that the finger of Prov
idence is in it, to blind the eyes of our
enemies; for surely if we get well through
this month, it must be for the want of
their knowing the disadvantages we labor

With all this discouragement, the pa
triotic feeling in the camp does not seem
to have flagged. When for the first time,
on New-Year s day, the flag with thirteen
stripes, symbolical of the union of the
thirteen colonies, was hoisted, there was
apparently great enthusiasm, which found
vent in loud hurrahs. On the same day,
the British commander sent in with a flag
of truce a " volume" of the king s speech
at the opening of Parliament. This, how
ever, only served to fire the patriotic ar
dor of the troops although, singularly
enough, the hoisting of the new flag, and
the loud rejoicings of the American camp,
were " received in Boston as a token of
the deep impression which the speech
had made," and as " a signal of submis
sion." " By this time" (January 4th),
writes Washington, " I presume they be
gin to think it strange that we have not
made a formal surrender of our lines."

The king s speech, on the contrary, was
received with a feeling the very reverse
of that which might lead to the hoisting
of "a signal of submission." The patriots
now talked of absolute independence, and
looked forward with hope to raising in
America " an empire of permanent dura
tion, supported upon the grand pillars of
truth, freedom, and religion, based upon
justice, and defended by her own patri
otic sons." The obstinate resolve ex
pressed by George III., not to give up
the colonies at any expense of blood and
treasure, and the proof he gave of his
determination (by the fact of his recom
mendation that the navy and army of
Great Britain should be increased, and
the mercenary aid of the Hessians hired,
for the purpose of suppressing the " re
bellious war"), did not shake the firmness
of the Americans, but greatly excited
their patriotic rage.

The Congress, after a long debate, hav
ing passed a resolution authori-

\_ . . l!ec, 22,

zing Washington to make an as
sault upon the enemy, " in any manner
he might think expedient, notwithstand
ing the town and property in it might be
destroyed," he began seriously to contem
plate an attack. In his anxiety to do
something, he went so far as to declare
to the council of war called to deliberate
upon the question, that " it is indispensa
bly necessary to make a bold attempt to
conquer the ministerial troops in Boston
before they can be reinforced in the
spring, if the means," he cautiously add
ed, however, " shall be provided, and a
favorable opportunity shall offer."

How great his desire for an assault,



[PART. n.

Jan. 24.

and how inadequate his means, may be
learned from this letter to the Congress
at Philadelphia : " No man upon
earth wishes more ardently to
destroy the nest in Boston than I do ; no
person would be willing to go greater
lengths than I shall to accomplish it, if it
shall be thought advisable. But if \ve
have neither powder to bombard with,
nor ice to pass on, we shall be in no bet
ter situation than we have been in all the
year ; we shall be worse, because their
works are stronger."

To strengthen his force, Washington
had proposed to call out the New-Eng
land militia ; and accordingly a requisi
tion was made on Massachusetts, New
Hampshire, and Connecticut, for thirteen
regiments, to assemble at Cambridge on
the first of February. While this plan
was in operation, Washington felt more
keenly than ever the inadequacy of his
forces, for he had heard of the defeat and
death of the gallant Montgomery, and
would have desired to send reinforce
ments at once to the aid of Arnold. He
could not, however, spare a man from his
own camp ; and his only alternative was
to order three of the new regiments of
militia, when filled, to proceed to Que

Washington was thus, as it were, fast
ened in his camp, unable to move in con
sequence of th-e want of troops and am
munition, although other circumstances
seemed favorable to action. How keenly
he felt his position is told in every letter
he wrote. To Congress he writes : " To
have the eyes of a whole continent fixed
with anxious expectation of seeing some

great event, and to be restrained in every
military operation for want of the neces
sary means to carry it on, is not very
pleasing, especially as the means used to
conceal my weakness from the enemy,
conceal it also from our friends, and add
to their wonder." Washington, however,
had some diversion for his pent-up ener
gies, in the prospect of activity in another
quarter, where, if his personal presence
was not required, the exercise of his judg
ment became necessary.

Information had been brought to head
quarters, by a trustworthy person from
Boston, of great activity in the British
fleet. Admiral Shuldham, appointed to
supersede Graves, had arrived in the har
bor with a squadron and considerable
reinforcements. On his arrival, a busy
movement began : troops were detailed
off for service, baggage packed, provisions
inspected, biscuit baked, and ammunition
taken out of store, with the evident pur
pose of making ready for sea, preparatory
to an attack against some place or other.
Finally, five transports loaded with troops
under the command of Sir Henry Clinton,
with munitions of war, two bomb-vessels,
and a number of flat-bottomed boats, sailed
away from Boston under the convoy of
the Scarborough and Fowey men-of-war.
It was supposed that Long island was the
destination of this force, and Washington
accordingly was anxious to provide a
resistance to meet it. He had written to
Congress, urging them to have some of
the New-Jersey troops thrown into New
York; but, not getting much satisfaction
in that quarter, he determined to act for




General Lee, who was at that time in
Connecticut, had written a letter to Wash
ington, in which, with his usual emphatic
earnestness, he said : " New York must be
secured, but it will never. I am afraid, be
secured by direct order of Congress, for
obvious reasons. You must step in to
their relief. I am sensible no man can
be spared from the lines under present
circumstances; but I would propose that
you should detach me into Connecticut,
and lend your name for collecting a body
of volunteers." Lee was especially anx
ious to lay his hands upon the " danger
ous banditti of tories" in New York, who
were giving great countenance and aid
to the enemy. " Not to crush," said he,
" these serpents before their rattles are
grown, would be ruinous."

Lee s proposition accorded with Wash
ington s views, but he was anxious not to
overstep his authority, and therefore hesi
tated to act until he had consulted with
John Adams, who highly approved of the
plan, " as practicable, expedient, and as
properly lying within his excellency s au
thority without farther directions from
Congress." Washington accordingly or
dered Lee to raise a volunteer force in
Connecticut, to march to New York, and,
with the aid of the New-Jersey troops,
under Lord Sterling, to put the city and
its immediate neighborhood in a posture
of defence. Lee was, moreover, author
ized to disarm or secure that " dangerous
banditti of tories" whom he so cordially

With the aid of Governor Trumbull,
Lee soon gathered together the respect
able force of twelve hundred men, and

marched to Stamford. There he was met
by a communication from the New York
committee of safety, who expressed a very
decided aversion to his entering the city,
lest it might provoke hostility on the part
of the British ships-of-war in the harbor.
Lee replied with unusual suavity, which
was the more remarkable, as he was at
the time suffering from a fit of the gout.
Toward the end of his letter, however,
there is a very perceptible spasm of dis
ease or temper. "If the ships-of-war,"
growls he, " are quiet, I shall be quiet ;
but I declare solemnly, that if they make
a pretext of my presence to fire on the
town, the first house set on flames by
their guns shall be the funeral-pile of
some of their best friends !"

Lee got to New York as soon as his
gout would permit him, arriving there
just two hours after Sir Henry
Clinton had come to anchor in
the lower bay with the Mercury and a
transport-brig. The inhabitants were in
a state of great alarm, in consequence of
two such belligerent arrivals. Though
it was Sunday, they began moving away
their effects, and continued to do so the
whole night. The town seemed in a state
of convulsion with the confusion of the
hurried exodus : carts were going, boats
loading, women and children crying, and
distressed voices w r ere even heard along
the roads in the dead of night. Clinton,
however, soon relieved the city s fears,
by giving out that his object was merely
a visit to his friend Governor Tryon, who
at that time held state in the secure quar
ters of a British man-of-war anchored in
the North river. In a few days, Sir Henry



[PART n.

sailed away to North Carolina, and left
Lee to deal with the tories.

Lee began his administration with an
emphatic menace, by declaring, " If the
men-of-war set one house on fire in con
sequence of my coming, I will chain a
hundred of their friends together by the
neck, and make the house their funeral-
pile !" " He would," says Gordon, " in
all likelihood, have retaliated in some

The American commander busied him
self in removing the cannon on the Bat
tery, and those in the king s store, to a
place of safety, notwithstanding the "per
dition to the city" threatened by the Brit
ish men-of-war. They, however, withheld
their fire ; the naval authorities publish
ing a " pleasant reason" for their reserve,

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 30 of 126)