Robert Tomes.

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

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lashed together and sent down against
the Rose and Phoenix ; while an iron
chain was forged, to stretch across from
Fort Montgomery to Anthony s Nose, in

order to put a stop to their progress
should they attempt to sail up.

Washington, too, was vexing himself
with all sorts of contrivances to do some
thing eifective from below against the
audacious tars. Governor Trurnbull, of
Connecticut, had sent him two row-gal
leys, fitted out by the whalemen of New
London, and promised him a third ; while
Cooke, the governor of Rhode Island, had
been urged to do something with the nau
tical resources of his province in the emer
gency. One " Mr. Anderson" had been
received into the confidence of the com-
mander-in-chief, to whom he had been es
pecially commended by the president of
Congress. He had laid before that body
a plan for the destruction of the British
fleet in the harbor of New York, which
had been received with such favor, that
he was sent to Washington, with the re
quest that he would facilitate his pro
posed operations. Anderson himself was
so sanguine, that he declared he was wil
ling to risk his life in the experiment.
He was confirmed in his self-confidence
by a previous trial of his plan against the
British vessels off Quebec, which would
have succeeded, as he believed, " had it
not been defeated by the accident of his
being burnt himself" instead of the ships,
" and by the enemy s getting intelligence
of his plan and taking measures to coun
teract it." He was now at work
under the eye of Washington,
who writes that " the fire-ships are going
on under Mr. Anderson s direction, but
rather slowly."

Anderson himself, with the usual en
thusiasm of projectors, gives a more en-

July 27,




July 31,

couraging account of his progress. "I
have been," he writes to the president of
Congress, "for some time past
very assiduous in the prepara
tion of fire-ships. Two are already com
plete, and hauled off into the stream; two
more will be off to-morrow, and the resi
due in a very short time. In my next,
I hope to give you a particular account
of a general conflagration, as everything
in my power shall be exerted for the de
molition of the enemy s fleet. I expect
to take an active part, and be an instru
ment for that purpose. I am determined
(God willing) to make a conspicuous fig
ure among them, by being ( a burning
and a shining light, and thereby serve
my country, and have the honor of meet
ing the approbation of Congress."

" I am preparing," writes Washington,
" some obstructions for the channel near
ly opposite the works at the upper end
of the island." And a few days later he
says : " The hulks and three chevmix-de-
frise, that had been preparing to obstruct
the channel, have got up to the place
they are intended for, and will be sunk
as soon as possible." This contrivance
was due to the Yankee ingenuity of " Old
Put," who was as full of enthusiasm for
his pet project as Anderson, whose darling
invention, it would seem from the follow
ing letter, that Putnam had adopted with
all the affection as if it had been his own
offspring :

" The enemy s fleet," he writes
to General Gates, " now lies in
the bay very safe, close under Staten isl
and. Their troops possess no land here
but the island. Is it not very strange

July 26,

that these invincible troops, who were to
destroy and lay waste all this country
with their fleets and army, are so fond
of islands and peninsulas, and dare not
put their feet on the main ? But I hope,
by the blessing of God and good friends,
we shall pay them a visit on their island.
For that end we are preparing fourteen
fire-ships to go into their fleet, some of
w r hich are ready charged and fitted to
sail, and I hope soon to have them all

" We are preparing chevaux-dc-frise, at
which we make great despatch by the
help of ships, which are to be sunk ; a
scheme of mine, which you may be as
sured is very simple, a plan of which 1
send you. The two ships sterns lie tow
ard each other, about seventy feet apart.
Three large logs, which reach from ship
to ship, are fastened to them. The two
ships and logs stop the river two hundred
and eighty feet. The ships are to be
sunk, and, when hauled down on one
side, the picks will be raised to a proper
height, and they must inevitably stop the
river if the enemy will let us sink them."

Nor was this the last of the projects.
A mechanician of Connecticut, of the
name of Bushnell, .had invented a boat,
so contrived as to be rowed and steered,
and raised and sunk under water, at the
will of the operator within. To a part
of this submarine craft was attached a
moveable magazine of powder, which was
to be exploded by means of a clocldike
piece of mechanism. It was proposed to
get a bold navigator to start with this
machine, dive down into the bay, and
bring up under an enemy s vessel ; and




then, detaching the magazine, and boring
through "the ship s copper, to fasten it
like a barnacle to the bottom. This be
ing done, the magazine was to be wound
up, and its going off so timed, that the
adventurous submarine navigator might
have an opportunity of making good prog
ress homeward bound when the "Ameri
can Turtle," as the machine was called,
should begin its infernal operations.

" Old Put" likewise took kindly to the
"American Turtle." " Major-General Put-
nam," says Thacher, " was decidedly of
opinion that its operations might be at
tended with the desired success ; accord
ingly, he encouraged the inventor, and
resolved to be himself a spectator of the
experiment on the British shipping in
New- York harbor." While these schemes
of destruction were plotting, an attempt
was made against the enemy, according
to the principles of more regular warfare.

Ship after ship continued to add its
strength to the formidable fleet in the
bay. Crowded transports had come and
landed their thousands ; and now came
Sir Henry Clinton and Earl Corn-
wallis, after their defeat before
Charleston. Washington, cheered by the
intelligence which he had received some
few days before the arrival of the British
from the South, of the American success,
concludes his letter full of anxious busi
ness, addressed to Schuyler, with the un
usually lively remark for the sedate com-
mander-in-chief : "Sir Peter Parker and
his fleet got a severe drubbing in an at
tack made upon our works on Sullivan s

To his army Washington announces

the southern victory with a decorous
gravity, and makes it an occasion for the
encouragement of the martial spirit and
patriotic emulation of his soldiers : " The
general has great pleasure," are the words
of the order of the day, " in communica
ting to the officers and soldiers of this
army the signal success of the American
arms, under General Lee, in South Caro
lina. This glorious example of our troops,
under the like circumstances with us, the
general hopes, will animate every officer
and soldier to imitate and even outdo
them, when the enemy shall make the
same attempt on us. With such a bright
example before us of what can be done
by brave and spirited men fighting in de
fence of their country, we shall be loaded
with a double share of shame and infamy
if we do not acquit ourselves with cour
age, or a determined resolution to con
quer or die."

Washington had but little hope of act
ing offensively with advantage against the
enemy. The British had a much supe
rior army in numbers, discipline, and con
dition. General Howe had already land
ed ten thousand troops on Staten island ;
and his army, with those afloat in the
transports in the bay, and those hourly
expected, would amount soon, it was sup
posed, to twenty-five thousand men all
told. The Americans could only count
on about ten thousand men fit for duty ;
while the whole of Washington s army,
including the sick and others, did not
number much more than seventeen thou
sand. " Our situation at present," says
Washington, " both in regard to men and
other matters, is such as not to make it



[PART n.

advisable to attempt anything against
them, surrounded as they are by water,
and covered with ships, lest a miscarriage
should be productive of unhappy and fa
tal consequences. It is provoking, nev
ertheless, to have them so near, without
being able to give them any disturbance."

There was little to be done but to re
main on the defensive, and await the op
erations of the enemy. Washington, how
ever, was not much more sanguine of his
means of defence than of his powers of
offence. "What kind of opposition we
shall be able to make," he says, " time
only can show. I can only say that the
men appear to be in good spirits, and, if
they will stand by me, the place shall not
be carried without some loss, notwith
standing we are not yet in such a pos
ture of defence as I could wish."

Washington, nevertheless, determined
to make " some efforts to annoy the en
emy," but not to put " too much to haz
ard, or in any manner to risk." It was
accordingly proposed to begin at Staten
island. It was found "impracticable to
do anything upon a large scale," and it
was therefore resolved merely to make
an humble attempt from the Jersey shore.
Major Knowlton, who was stationed at
Bergen, New Jersey, and General Mercer,
in command of the flying camp at Ainboy,
were directed to concoct a plan and carry
it into execution. These two according
ly got ready a small force and some boats,
and, marching down to the shore in the
evening, prepared to embark when it
should become sufficiently dark. The
night, however, proved so stormy, and
the waters of the "Kill" were in such a

state of agitation, that it was thought ad
visable to postpone the enterprise. On
a subsequent occasion it was proposed to
make another attempt, and a formidable
force of nearly four thousand men was
ordered out for the purpose ; but it was
found to be impossible to procure boats
enough to carry more than half of the
troops across to the island. All such at>
tempts were therefore abandoned, and
the attention of the whole army was now
being concentrated upon the probable
movement of the enemy.

Two deserters having come in, are ta
ken to headquarters, and from
them Washington learns " that
General Clinton and Lord Cornwalli; ,
with the whole southern army, have ar
rived on Staten island from South Caro
lina, in number about three or four thou
sand ; that the fleet which carne in a few
days since, are the Hessians and Scotch
Highlanders, part of twelve thousand who
were left off Newfoundland, in the whole
making about thirty thousand men ; and
that it is said by the officers of the army
and navy, they are to attack New York
and Long island in the course of a week."

" When," says Washington to Governor
Trumbull, of Connecticut, " I consider the
weakness of our army by sickness, the
great extent of ground we have to de
fend, and the amazing slowness with which
the levies come forward, I think it is ab
solutely necessary that the neighboring
militia should be immediately sent to our

Washington s anxiety may be inferred
from what he adds in the same letter:
"The disgrace of the British arms to the




southward, and the season being far ad
vanced, will make them exert every nerve
against us in this quarter. To trust alto
gether in the justice of our cause, without
our own utmost exertions, would be tempt-
ing Providence ; and, that you may judge
of our situation, I give you the present
state of our army. (Present fit for duty,
10,514 ; sick present, 3,039 ; sick absent,
629; on command, 2,946; on furlough,
97 : total, 17,225.) By this you will see
we are to oppose an army of thirty thou
sand experienced veterans with about one
third the number of raw troops, and these
scattered some fifteen miles apart."

There was now an opportunity of test
ing the various means of mischief so in
geniously devised against the Rose and
Phoenix. Six of the row-galleys were
soon got ready, and, being sent up the
river, were manned by crews of doughty
fresh-water men, principally belonging to
Tarrytown, and commanded by Colonel
Tupper. This little fle*et boldly pushed
out into the " Tappan sea," and began an
attack upon the two British cruisers. The
fight was gallantly maintained for nearly
two hours, in the course of which the big
ships were repeatedly hulled ; but the
little fleet, being badly damaged in re
turn, was finally obliged to " haul off."
" Never," says a writer quoted by Irving,
" did men behave with more firm, deter
mined spirit, than our little crews. One
of our tars, being mortally wounded, cried
to his companions : I am a dying man ;
revenge my blood, my boys, and carry
me alongside my gun, that I may die
there. We were so preserved by a gra
cious Providence, that in all our galleys

we had but two men killed and fourteen
wounded, two of which are thought dan
gerous. We hope to have another brush
with these pirates before they leave our
river; which God prosper."

The fire-ships, too, were brought into
play, and not without effect. Two of
them were sent up the river, in
order to set fire to the British
vessels. One got alongside of the Phce-
nex and grappled with her for some min
utes, but she succeeded in clearing her
self. The other made an attempt upon
the Rose, but, failing to reach her, fell
afoul of one of the tenders, and soon had
her in a blaze. The crews behaved with
great resolution and intrepidity ; and one
of the captains stuck so long to his fire-
ship, that he was finally obliged to make
his escape by plunging into the water
and swimming for his life.

Next morning the Rose- and Phoenix,
evidently very much discomposed by the
dangerous encounter of the day before,
made ready to shift their quarters. While
the ships were weighing anchor, a bold
militia lieutenant and two men pushed
off in a boat from the shore, and towed
in the hulk of the burnt tender, in spite
of the enemy s guns, which kept up a
brisk fire. The Phoenix and Rose, now
taking advantage of a fresh and fair wind
and an ebbing tide, hoisted all sail and
hurried away.after a sojourn of five weeks.
The American riflemen along the banks
of the river were on the alert, and did not
fail to shoot with their usual skill at the
flying vessels ; but most of the men were
kept so close below, and those on dutv
upon deck were so well guarded by the



[PART n.

thick ramparts of sandbags, that the rifles
failed to do much execution. The forts,
too, were busy, and their cannon were so
well pointed, that the Phoenix was three
times hulled and a tender once by the
shots from Fort Washington ; while the
Rose did not escape without a ball from
the opposite side of the river. They
finally succeeded in passing without much
damage, and were not stopped even by
the chevaux-de-frise upon which " Old Pat"
had expended so much ingenuity and la
bor, and so greatly calculated. By some
oversight or other, his famous obstruc
tion had not been completed, and the
vessels passed through the opening left

Of Anderson s project and extensive
preparations nothing more was heard ;
and he failed to prove "a burning and a
shining light" of as mighty an illumina
tion and conflagration as he had prom
ised. His fellow-projector Bushnell, the
Connecticut mechanician, also disappoint
ed the expectations of his enthusiastic
friends. Though it is somewhat in anti
cipation of events, it may be as well to
finish here the history of these famous
projects, by recording the end of the
" American Turtle." It was determined
to make the first experiment upon Lord
Howe s own ship, the Eagle, of sixty-four
guns. Accordingly, the machine was got
ready, and a night appointed. A number
of officers collected together on the wharf
at Whitehall, among whom General Put
nam, as the chief patron of the scheme,
was in a high state of active enthusiasm
on the occasion. At the very beginning,
however, there was a serious disappoint

ment. Bushnell s brother, having been
well drilled for the purpose, was to navi
gate the machine; but unfortunately, just
as he was about to make his adventurous
voyage, he was suddenly taken ill.

" Old Put," however, was not to be thus
put off; so he selected a sergeant out of
his own Connecticut regiment, in whose
native ingenuity he had naturally great
faith, and appointed him to the command
of the "American Turtle." The sergeant
readily consented to take charge, and, be
ing installed, strove at once to make him
self acquainted with the mysteries of the
machine. All being ready, the " Ameri
can Turtle" was started on its adventu
rous voyage. " Old Put" and his fellow-
officers, having bid a God-speed to the
bold sergeant, remained upon the wharf,
anxiously awaiting the result. The night
passed slowly, the day began to break,
and still the great ship of the admiral
reposed quietly in her smooth berth off
Governor s island The Eagle was evi
dently there ; but the "American Turtle"
where was it ? The waters of the bay
were undisturbed ; the bell-watches of
the ship were striking with their usual
regularity ; the island had still the appa
rent solidity of terra firma ; and the sun
appeared to be rising as orderly and in
as good time as ever !

At last, the officers from the wharf at
Whitehall see a movement on Governor s
island. A barge filled with men shoves
off and rapidly approaches the admiral s
ship. It is seen suddenly to stop, and
then to return in great haste, as if fright
ened by a dark object which can now be
discerned floating quietly upon the sur-




face of the bay. In a moment after, a
loud noise is heard, "like thunder," and
a great column of water rushes up with
the force of a waterspout just alongside
the Eagle. Instantly her cables are cut,
and she drifts down the bay with the eb
bing tide.

The adventurous Connecticut sergeant
in the meantime pops up from below, in
his submarine boat ; but, finding that he
is within range of the sentries on Gov
ernor s island, he dives down again, and
does not make his appearance upon the
surface of the water until within hailing
distance of his patron, " Old Put," on the
Whitehall wharf. He is now towed in
by a small boat, and on his arrival gives

an account of his voyage. It seems he
had reached in safety the place whither
he was bound, under the bottom of the
Eagle ; but, finding that her copper was
too thick to penetrate, for the purpose
of attaching his magazine of powder, he
had visited some of the other vessels :
meeting, however, the same difficulty un
der them, he finally let off his infernal
machine, which produced, as we have
seen, the commotion in the water and the
agitation in the fleet. The officers on the
Eagle reported afterward that they had
been aware of something under the bot
tom of their ship, but, supposing it was
nothing but a floating log, they took no
further thought of the matter.


General Greene on the Alert at Long Island. The British Plan of Attack The Tories on Long Island ferreted out, and
dealt with vigorously. Washington touched with the Sufferings and Dangers of the People of New York. Rumors
of Peace. Greene falls ill. Putnam succeeds to the Command on Long Island. The Enemy cross, land, and beat
back the Provincial Outposts. The Excitement in New York. Washington s Preparations for the Worst. The Pro
vincial Defences. The Struggle.


GENERAL GREENE, in command of
the American troops and works on
Long island, was on the alert, watching

every movement of the enemy.
August 9, , .. , , , . *

Now he sends word to Washing
ton, at New York, that his lookouts had
reported that on the previous evening a
hundred boats were seen bringing troops
from Staten island to the transports, and
that three of the men-of-war had moved
down toward the narrows. A general
embarkation, it was supposed, had begun,

and an attack might be hourly expected.
Deserters came in, and confirmed these
reports. The plans of the Howes were
even openly discussed. Ships were to
sail up the North and East rivers, and
land the British troops on both sides of
the island of New York, and, forming a
junction, to hem in the Americans and
hold them at their mercy.

Washington was active, and hurried
to bring all his resources to bear on the
emergency. He writes to General Mer-




cer, in New Jersey, to send him two thou
sand men from his flying camp, but con
fesses that he knows not where they are
to come from, for, according to the " gen
eral s last return, not more than three or
four hundred of the new levies had come
Smallwood s battalion of Maryland-


ers had, however, already been sent. The
convention of New York was emphatical
ly urged to do its best, and responded by
a call upon the militia of the state, to
join the encampment above Kingsbridge.
The summons was urgent, and all were
to come, however accoutred, it being or
dered " that each man who shall not have
arms shall bring with him a shovel, spade,
pickaxe, or a scythe straightened and
fixed on a pole." Even all the disarmed
and disaffected, from sixteen to fifty years
of age, were to be brought forcibly along,
that they might serve as fatigue-men to
the respective regiments.

The recreant were to be severely dealt
with ; and when, for example, it was dis
covered that the inhabitants of Kings
county, on Long island, did not intend
to oppose the enemy, a committee was
appointed to visit them, and, if they found
them still in that temper, was authorized
to disarm and secure the disaffected per
sons, remove or destroy the stock of grain,
and if they should judge it necessary, to
lay the whole county waste. Some of
these Long-islanders did not appear very
formidable, as may be judged from the
account of a party of tories by General
Greene, who was actively engaged in fer
reting them out:

" I have examined the prisoners," says
Greene, " and find them to be a poor par

cel of ignorant, cowardly fellows. Two
are tailors and the other two common la
borers. They candidly confess that they
set off with an intention of going to Stat-
en island ; not with any intention of join
ing the enemy, but only to get out of the
way of fighting here. There has been a
draft amongst the militia to fill the new
levies, and it was rumored that these per
sons were drawn. It was also reported
that they were to go to the northern ar
my, and that almost all that went there
either died or were killed. The prospect
was so shocking to them, and to their
grandmothers and aunts, that I believe
they were persuaded to run away. Never
did I see fellows more frightened. They
wept like children, and were exceedingly
sorrowful. I beg your excellency s direc
tion how to dispose of them. They do
not appear to be acquainted with one
public matter. They have been ioryisli ;
.1 fancy not from principle, but from its
being the prevailing sentiment in the

The tories, however, were not by any
means all of this character. New York
was full of men of wealth and position
who were lending their aid and encour
agement to the enemy. Washington was
very solicitous to have them removed ;
and suspected persons were being daily
arrested and sent off to Connecticut, where
they were confided to the safe keeping of
the patriotic Governor Trumbull. " There
are but few of them," says Washington,
"who will not defray their own expenses,"
and they were promised every indulgence
consistent with the public safety. They
expressed " a very earnest desire to be




permitted to choose their own lodgings
nnd accommodations," to which Washing
ton, with his usual gentlemanly consider
ation, says, " I see no objection."

Washington s good heart was touched
and his gentle humanity called into ex
ercise by the condition of the helpless in
New York. He writes to the New-York
convention : " When I consider that the
city of New York will in all human prob
ability very soon be the scene of a bloody
conflict, I can not but view the great num
bers of women, children, and infirm per
sons remaining in it, with the most mel
ancholy concern. When the men-of-war
passed up the river, the shrieks and cries
of these poor creatures, running every

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 41 of 126)