Robert Tomes.

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

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way with their children, were truly dis
tressing ; and I fear they will have an
unhappy effect on the ears and minds of
our young and inexperienced soldiery.
Can no method be devised for their re
moval ?"

General Howe still lingered in his pur
pose, and had so long delayed his attack,
that the American soldiers, at the sugges
tion of artful emissaries from the enemy,
began to discuss the probability of peace.
This became so general, that Washington
thought it necessary to allude to it in the
order of the day: "The general
being informed, to his great sur
prise, that a report prevails, and is indus
triously spread far and wide, that Lord
Howe has made propositions of peace,
calculated by designing persons probably
to lull us into a fatal security ; his duty
obliges him to declare that no such offer
has been made by Lord Howe, but, on
the contrary, from the best intelligence


, 20.

he can procure, the army may expect an
attack as soon as the wind and tide shall
prove favorable. He hopes, therefore,
that every man s mind and arms will be
prepared for action, and, when called to
it, show our enemies and the whole world
that freemen contending on their own
land are superior to any mercenaries."

While artful gossips were distracting
the minds of his soldiers with rumors of
peace, the American chief was awaiting
the " bloody conflict" which he knew was
inevitable. He expected the enemy each
moment. The signals and alarms were
ready: two cannon were to be discharged
from Fort George, at the lowest part of
the city; a flag in the daytime, or a light
at night, was to be raised on Bayard s
hill, and three guns of its battery fired
quickly but distinctly, to signify to the
troops to proceed to their alarm-posts
and prepare for action ; while the drums
were to beat to arms at the first sound
of the alarm-cannon.

The position of the Americans was not
very encouraging, and, to add to their
disadvantages, General Greene unfortu
nately fell ill. "I am very sorry," he
writes to Washington, " to be un
der the necessity of acquainting
you that I am confined to my bed w r ith
a raging fever. The critical situation of
affairs makes me the more anxious ; but
I hope, through the assistance of Provi
dence, to be able to ride, before the pres
ence of the enemy may make it absolute
ly necessary." This was a serious mis
fortune, as Greene had the command on
Long island, and, having directed the con
struction of the works there, and thor-

Aug, 15,



[PART u.

oughly studied the topography, he alone
probably was capable of a judicious de

Washington, aware of Greene s effi
ciency, anxiously awaited his return to
duty, and hesitated to appoint a succes
sor. The threatening aspect of the ene
my, however, forbade any further delay,
and the chief finally ordered Putnam to
the general command on Long island, and
General Sullivan to the special charge of
the troops without the lines. The loss
of Greene at this moment was especially
felt, as it appeared probable that the ene
my would first move against Long island.
Washington, it is true, knew that it was
impossible to prevent Howe from land
ing on the island, as its great extent af
forded "a variety of places favorable for
that purpose," and the whole of the Amer
ican works were "at the end opposite to
the city." With Greene in command, he
had hopes, no doubt, of holding the posi
tion at Brooklyn. Now, howev
er, he seems less sanguine, and
says, " We shall attempt to harass them
as much as possible, which will be all that
we can do."

The long-expected movement of the
enemy at last began. The men-of-war
had been anchored at the narrows, to cov
er the landing ; and, as soon as the day
dawned, the tents on Staten isl
and were struck, and the troops
embarked. Soldiers, too, principally Hes
sians, crowded the decks of the fleet of
transports, and thronged over the ships
sides into the boats. Boat followed boat
in quick succession, and, passing rapidly
to the shore, and making for Gravesend

Aug. 20,

Aug. 22,

bay, landed the men near Gravesend and
New Utrecht, on Long island. As the
troops debarked, and crowded up in thou
sands toward the high ground, Colonel
Hand retired with his riflemen from his
post on the hill, burning the wheat and
destroying whatever else might fall into
the hands of the British.

" Nine thousand men have landed and
approached within three miles of the Amer
ican lines," is the intelligence brought by
a hurried messenger to Washington. He
immediately sends six battalions to rein
force the troops at Brooklyn, and is ready
to detach five more in case that this move
ment of the enemy does not prove a feint,
and that the fleet should not move up
with the remainder of the army and make
an attack upon New York. While in
this state of uncertainty about the pre
cise manoeuvres of Howe, Washington is
well persuaded that, whatever they may
be, "a little time will produce some im
portant events I hope," he says, K they

will be happy." He is encouraged some
what by the temper of his men. The
reinforcement sent off had gone in "high
spirits," and " the whole of the army, that
are effective and capable of duty, discov
er the same and great cheerfulness."

Still farther to encourage the good
spirit of his soldiers, and to remind them
of their high duties, Washington addres
ses them in these ardent words :
"The enemy have now landed
on Long island, and the hour is fast ap
proaching on which the honor and suc
cess of this army, and the safety of our
bleeding country, will depend. Remem
ber, officers and soldiers, that you are

Aug. 23,




freemen, fighting for the blessings of lib
erty ; that slavery will be your portion,
and that of your posterity, if you do not
acquit yourselves like men. Remember
how your courage and spirit have been
despised and traduced by your cruel in
vaders ; though they have found by dear
experience at Boston, Charleston, and
other places, what a few brave men, con
tending in their own land, and in the best
of causes, can do against hirelings and

" Be cool, but determined ; do not fire
at a distance, but wait for orders from
your officers. It is the general s express
orders that if any man attempt to skulk,
lie down, or retreat without orders, he
be instantly shot down as an example.
He hopes no such will be found in this
army ; but on the contrary, that every
one for himself resolving to conquer or
die, and trusting in the smiles of Heaven
upon so just a cause, will behave with
bravery and resolution. Those who are
distinguished for their gallantry and good
conduct, may depend upon being honor
ably noticed, and suitably rewarded ; and
if this army will but emulate and imitate
their brave countrymen in other parts of
America, he has no doubt they will, by
a glorious victory, save their country, and
acquire to themselves immortal honor."

The inhabitants of New York were in
the meantime in a state of great excite
ment. The struggle was now almost at
their doors, and they hourly, as they lis
tened with trembling to the sound of the
cannon s roar, expected that the enemy
would be in their midst. To the certain
horrors of the sword were added the ter

rors of fire, which they feared was about
to desolate their homes. It was rumored
throughout the town that, in case the
American army should be obliged to re
treat, the city would be burned. The
New- York convention wrote with anx
ious alarm to Washington, who replied :
" I can assure you, gentlemen, that this
report is not founded upon the least au
thority from me ; on the contrary, I am
so sensible of the value of such a city,
and the consequences of its destruction
to many worthy citizens and their fami
lies, that nothing but the last necessity,
and that such as should justify me to the
whole world, would induce me to give
orders for that purpose."

Washington, with his usual caution and
systematic regard to business, had placed
all the papers he held " respecting the af
fairs of the state " in a large box, nailed
them up, and committed them to the care
of Lieutenant-Colonel Reed, brother of
his old secretary (now adjutant-general),
to be delivered to Congress. " I hope,"
he says," the event will show the caution
unnecessary; but yet prudence required
that it should be done, lest by any acci
dent they might fall into their hands."
Mrs. Washington had left New York some
time previously, and was now on her way
to Mount Vernon ; while the rest of the
wives and families of the general officers
had also gone for security to their homes,
or into the interior of the country. All
were evidently preparing for the worst.

The British continued to land on Long
island without opposition. On
the first day eight thousand
came, and in two days more the whole

Aug. 22.



invading force, amounting to ten thou
sand men and forty cannon, reached the
ground. Forming as they arrived, they
marched inland for several miles and then

General Putnam was now in command
of the American troops within the lines.
The works, consisting of redoubts and in-
trenchments, stretched from Wallabout
bay on the north to Gowanus on the south
across the neck of that peninsula over
which a city now expands, but within
which at that time there were only a few
scattered houses, forming the village of
Brooklyn. Opposite, to the northwest,
stands New York, separated from Brook
lyn by the East river, nearly a mile broad
at that point. To the west lies Govern
or s island, where the Americans had erect
ed a fort ; and at Red Hook, on the south
west corner of the peninsula, was a strong

Beginning about two and a half miles
to the east of the American lines, there
was a ridge of hills, which, covered with
thick wood, extended for three miles tow
ard Jamaica on the northeast, and to the
narrows for the same distance on the
southwest. Through this natural barrier
across the island, there were three nar
row roads, bounded on each side by ac
clivities. One passed along the shore,
from Gowanus to the narrows ; a second
led directly east to Jamaica, through Bed
ford ; and the third, which was between
the two, passed through the hills to Flat-
bush on the south. There were, however,
by-paths and a narrow causeway, which,
clearing the ridge, passed well to the east,
and by which the passes through the hills

[PART n.

near their termination on the Jamaica
road could be reached. Two of these
passes through the hills were guarded by
outposts of eight hundred men each, and
hastily-constructed breastworks of trunks
of trees and brushwood ; the third, lead
ing through Bedford, seems to have been
overlooked. Colonel Miles was, however,
posted beyond the hills, to the south of
Bedford, to watch the advance of the en
emy in that quarter, and to reconnoitre
the approaches toward the Jamaica road.
The chief command of all the forces out
side the lines was intrusted to General
Sullivan, who had arrived on the ground
but a few days before the engagement,
and was now posted in person with a con
siderable force, defended by a redoubt,
within the mountain-pass on the road to

General Howe, well informed by his
tory confederates on Long island, had ar
ranged his plan of attack with skilful
adaptation to the nature of the country.
His army was separated into three divis
ions : the centre, composed chiefly of the
Hessians, under De Heister; the left wing,
of a small force of British, under General
Grant ; and the right, which constituted
the chief body of troops, under General
Clinton, aided by Earls Cornwallis and
Percy, and accompanied by Howe him

Soon after landing, the army began its
march. Grant led his force with slow
deliberation along the road overlooking
the river, and leading toward the right
of the Americans. De Heister marched
his centre from New Utrecht direct to
Flatbush ; while Howe and Clinton hur-




ried with their right, composed of the
main force, to Flatlands, and thence tow
ard the Jamaica road.

Howe s plan was, by means of this cir
cuitous route, to turn the left of the Amer
icans, and thus taking them by surprise,
to hem them in between his right com
ing from behind, and the left and centre
advancing in front. Grant and De Heis-
ter were accordingly ordered to move de
liberately, and not to precipitate an at
tack until signal-guns from Clinton, who
had the chief active command, should an
nounce to them the success of his ma

De Heister, finding the central pass
occupied by Colonel Hand and his rifle
men, who had retired there upon the
landing of the British at New Utrecht,
did not give immediate battle, but re
tired, in accordance with his orders, to
Flatbush, where he posted his men for
the night.

Grant in the meantime advanced along
the road by the shore, driving before him
the Americans, who fled without firing a
gun. He continues his march unopposed
during the night, and at break of day has
got through the pass in the hills, and is
marching toward the American lines be
yond. General Parsons, in command of
the outpost, now succeeds in rallying
some of the fugitives, and, posting them
advantageously on a hill, checks the Brit
ish advance within about two miles of the
American camp, until the arrival of Lord
Stirling, who is sent by Putnam to his aid
with fifteen hundred men.

Washington meanwhile crosses over to
Brooklyn, and anxiously strives to dis-

Aug, 26.

cover the manoeuvres of the enerny. He
remains the whole day with Put
nam in his camp, and counsels
him in the emergency. He observes " a
scattering, unmeaning, and wasteful fire"
from his undisciplined soldiery, and he
therefore desires Putnam " to call the
colonels and commanding officers with
out loss of time" before him, and to "let
them afterward do the same by their re
spective officers, and charge them in ex
press and positive terms to stop these ir
regularities, as they value the good of
the service, their own honor, and the
safety of the army, which, under God, de
pends wholly upon the good order and
government that is observed in it." Prop
er lines of defence were ordered to be
formed around the encampment, and
works raised on the most advantageous
ground. The guards were to be strictly
instructed in their duties, and a brigadier
of the day was to remain constantly up
on the lines, that he might be on the spot
to command and see that orders were ex
ecuted. Field-officers were also to be ap
pointed, to go the rounds and report the
situation of the guards ; and no person
was to be allowed to pass beyond with
out special order in writing. The woods
were to be secured by abattis; the wood
next to Red Hook was to be well attend
ed to, and some of " the most disorderly
riflemen" posted in it; while the militia
who " have seen least service" were to be
kept within the interior works, and the
"best men" were to do their utmost to
prevent the approach of the enemy.

Foreseeing a general attack, Washing
ton returns to the city at night, full of



[PART n.

anxious expectation of what the morrow
may bring forth.

Lord Stirling arrived early in
Aug. 27, ?, . /

the morning with his fifteen hun
dred men, composed of the reinforcements
sent by Washington, which were the choi
cest of his troops. These were Atlee s,
Haslet s, and Small wood s regiments, of
Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.
Stirling posted most of his force on the
acclivity of what is now called " Battle
hill," in Greenwood ; and the rest, under
Atlee, in a neighboring wood, some little
distance in advance. Grant continued to
approach until he reached an orchard,
within a hundred yards or so of Stirling,
when the latter briskly attacked him.

The right wing of the British, having
reached Flatbush, began their silent march
at nine o clock in the evening. General
Clinton led the van ; then came Earl Per
cy, with the artillery and dragoons ; while
Earl Cornwallis, accompanied by Howe,
the commander-in-chief, followed in the
rear with the reserve. Guided by a tory
Long-islander through by-paths and over
a causeway raised above a swamp, the

van continues to march without disturb
ance. On arriving within a half-mile of
the Jamaica road, Clinton brings his men
to a halt, and sends out a reconnoitring-
party. They soon return, bringing back
a mounted patrol of American officers
whom they have captured, and the word
that the road is unoccupied. Clinton im
mediately sends forward a body of light-
infantry to secure it, and following at the
break of day with the rest of his force,
takes possession of the hill through which
the road passes.

The defence of this pass had been over
looked ; and, moreover, the outposts had
been apparently neglectful in watching
and reporting in time the progress of
Clinton s force. Colonel Miles, whose du
ty it was to guard this quarter, was not
aware, until too late, of the enemy s ap
proach ; and General Sullivan himself
seems to have been remiss in not sending
out fresh patrols when he found those
previously sent were so long in return
ing, as they well might be, since they
had, as we have related, fallen into the
hands of the enemy.





The Struggle continued. Success of General Howe s Plan. Assisted by his Brother, Lord Howe. The Firmness of
the Delawarcs and Marylanders. Lord Stirling hemmed in. Tries to escape. Is forced to surrender. De Heister
and the Hessians. Sullivan retreats. The Hessians show no Mercy. Sullivan taken Prisoner. The Loss on Both
Sides. The Americans withdraw within their Line of Defence. Sullivan excuses Himself. The Americans rein
forced. The Movement of the British. Washington resolves to retreat.


CLINTON, possessed of the Jamaica
road, passed rapidly on with his van
through the pass in the Bedford hills.
His light-infantry then pushed on in the
direction of the American lines ; and find
ing no opposition but here and there a
small post, which was attacked and speed
ily forced, they continued their march.
The artillery coming up, Clinton ordered
two signal-guns to be fired, to signify to
Grant and De Heister that his manoeuvre
had succeeded, and that they were now
to begin a vigorous attack. The design
of Howe had been successful. The atten
tion of the Americans had been diverted
from Clinton s fatal movement on their
left by Grant s leisurely advance on the
ric iit. Lord Howe, too, had aided in fur-


thering the deceit by bringing up some
of his ships from the narrows, and open
ing a noisy cannonade upon Governor s
island and the battery at Red Hook. Put
nam and Sullivan were induced to believe
that the chief danger was on the right
of their lines, and they had accordingly
concentrated all their force in that direc

Grant had coquetted for several hours
\vith Lord Stirling and his force: now
advancing his light troops within a hun
dred yards or so. and exchanging fires

with the American riflemen, then order
ing them back to his main body; and,
again, commencing a desultory cannon
ade with his two fieldpieces, and thus ap
pearing to fear a general engagement.
Colonel Haslet, in command of the south
ern troops, who was unconscious of the
enemy s purpose, says : " The Delawares
and Marylanders stood firm to the last ;
and, after a variety of skirmishing, the
Delawares drew up on the side of a hill,
and stood upward of four hours, with a
firm, determined countenance, in close ar
ray, their colors flying, the enemy s artil
lery playing on them all the while, not
daring to advance and attack them., though six
times their number, and nearly surrounding
them" The Delawares and Marylanders
were undoubtedly as brave men as ever
fought; but Grant, in holding off, was
merely obeying orders.

The firing of Clinton s troops in his
rear now first awakens Stirling to the
consciousness that he is hemmed in be
tween them and Grant in front. The
earl s only thought at this moment is of
escape ; while Grant, catching the sound
of the guns, knows that it is a signal for
action, and pushes on his advance. The
Americans nearest at hand are dispersed,
and Atlee their colonel taken prisoner.



[PART n.

Lord Stirling strives to make his way
back to the American lines by a circuit-
ous route toward the shore, in course of
which he would be obliged to ford a creek
at Yellow Mills. He reaches this place,
and finds himself opposed by Lord Corn-
wallis, who has been detached from the
British right with a strong force, and,
having taken a position at the creek, de
fends its passage. Stirling had with him
but a small remnant of his troops, princi
pally composed of the brave " Delawares
and Marylanders."

Washington and a group of officers
were on the heights, watching with anxi
ety the movements of Stirling, who was
only separated from the American lines
by the creek which emptied into Gowa-
nus cove, the southern boundary of the
Brooklyn peninsula. " The earl will sure
ly surrender," thought Washington and
each of his officers, as they observed his
desperate position. Stirling, however, was
evidently bent on an attempt to reach
the lines. He prepares to attack Lord
Cornwallis, strongly posted as he is with
out and within the mill, which commands
the passage of the creek. Sending most
of his men to make the best of their way
through the water, he leads about half
of Srnallwood s brave regiment against
the enemy. Washington, surprised at
this daring movement, exclaims to the
officers at his side, " Good God ! what
brave fellows I must lose this day !"*

The attack began : Stirling was driven
back, but, rallying on his men, the assault
is renewed. He is again and again, for
five or six times, repulsed ; but, bringing

* Irvinjr.

up his handful of brave troops once more
to the charge, he is " on the point of dri
ving Lord Cornwallis from his station;
but, large reinforcements arriving, ren
dered it impossible to do more than pro
vide for safety." The slaughter was ter
rific. Colonel Smallwoocl s regiment of
Marylanders suffered extremely, and was
almost cut to pieces. It lost two hundred
and fifty-nine. " This loss was much re
gretted, on account of their being young
men of the best families in the country."

While the struggle was going on, some
succeeded in crossing the creek ; one man,
however, was drowned. The rest came
into the American lines drenched, be-
mired, and covered with blood, but bring
ing in with them twenty-three prisoners.
" Twenty-seven of the Delawares," writes
Colonel Haslet, " next morning were mis
sing. In that number were Lieutenants
Stewart and Harney, the latter a prison
er, the other not yet heard of. Major
M Donough was wounded in the knee ;
a ball passed through the sleeve of his
coat, without wounding the arm or his
body. Lieutenant Anderson had a bell
lodged in his throat; Lieutenant Corn a
ball still in his back. The standard was
torn with grapeshot in Ensign Stephan s
hand, who is now in his element, and a
most excellent officer. Such is our fate.
The Delaware battalion, officers and men,
are respected throughout this army."*

Lord Stirling tried still to reach the
lines ; but, in attempting to escape, he
found that in front he was met by a con
siderable body of troops, and was pursued
by others on his right and left, and all

* Sparks.




pouring a hot fire upon him and his few
remaining brave Mary landers. His lord
ship now gave up all hopes of escape,
and, falling back behind a hill in his rear,
determined to seek out General De Heis-
ter, and surrender himself.

De Heister, too. had strictly obeyed or
ders, and awaited the signal of Clinton
before he made a serious attempt. His
troops, after sleeping on their arms at
Flatbush during the night, were early
aroused, and marched along the road.
As soon as the signal-guns of Clinton
were heard, De Heister sent forward
Count Donop with his regiment to storm
the redoubt which protected Sullivan and
defended the pass through the hills, while
he himself led forward the rest of his
Hessians to the attack. A bloody strug
gle was the consequence. The Ameri
cans, however, did not long continue their
resistance ; as Sullivan, becoming con
scious of Clinton s manoeuvre, ordered a

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 42 of 126)