Robert Tomes.

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

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retreat, with the view of preventing him
self from being shut out from the Ameri
can lines. He was, however, too late ;
for Clinton was ready to intercept him,
and, meeting the American troops on the
road, drove them back upon the Hessians.
De Heister and his soldiers showed no
mercy, and pitilessly bayoneted every
man within their reach. Driven thus
backward and forward between Clinton
in front and De Heister in the rear, the
Americans, with hardly a chance of es
cape, suffered terribly. The ferocity of
the Hessian soldiers was such as to give
countenance to the rumor, which was gen
erally circulated, that General Howe had
said to De Heister on his arrival, " The


Americans will give the foreigners no
quarter;" and that De Heister had an
swered, " Well, as I know it, I am ready
to fight on these terms." The soldiers
ears, too, were said to have been indus
triously filled with the most terrific ac
counts of the cruelty of the Americans,
who were represented as more than half
savages, and would, if they caught a Hes
sian alive, stick his body "full with pieces
of pine-wood," and burn him to death !
The Hessians, it must be confessed, if
such was their belief, proved themselves
on that day fit to cope with the most
barbarous enemies.

A few of the Americans succeeded, un
der the cover of the woods, in making
their escape to Brooklyn, but most were
either killed or taken prisoners. Sulli
van surrendered himself, together with a
number of his officers.

General Howe now closed in with his
separate divisions, and pursued the scat
tered remnants of Stirling s and Sullivan s
forces to within a few hundred yards of
the American lines. The British soldiers,
exulting in their success, would have
rushed at once against the works, but
Howe cautiously withdrew them out of
the reach of the American guns, to the
cover of a wood, and, encamping his ar
my, prepared to make an assault upon
the fortifications of Brooklyn by deliber
ate approaches. The enemy had suffered
little comparatively, their loss being only
three hundred and eighty in all; while
that of the Americans was over two thou
sand in killed, wounded, and captured,
among whom were the two generals, Sul
livan and Lord Stirling, and a large num-




her of other officers. Sullivan was anx
ious to exonerate himself from all respon
sibility for the loss of the day, and wrote
to the president of Congress a letter which
shows a care to redeem his own charac
ter, at all hazards to the fame of others.
He says :

I know it has been generally reported
that I commanded on Long island when
the action happened there. This is by
no means true. General Putnam had
taken the command from me four days
before the action. Lord Stirling com
manded the main body without the lines.
I was uneasy about a road, through which
I had often foretold that the enemy would
come, but could not persuade others to
be of my opinion. I went to the hill near
Flatbush to reconnoitre, and with a pick
et of four hundred men was surrounded
by the enemy, who had advanced by the
very road I had foretold, and which I had
paid horsemen fifty dollars for patrolling
by night, while I had the command, as I
had no foot for the purpose.

"What resistance I made with these
four hundred men against the British
army, I leave to the officers who were
with me to declare. Let it suffice for
me to say, that the opposition of the
small party lasted from half-past nine to
twelve o clock.

" The reason of so few troops being on
Long island was because it was generally
supposed that the enemy s landing there
was a feint to draw our troops thither,
that they might the more easily possess
themselves of New York. I often urged,
both by word and writing, that, as the
enemy had doubtless both these objects

Alls, 28,

in view, they would first try for Long
island, which commanded the other ; and
then New York, which was completely
commanded by it, would fall of course.
But in this I was unhappy enough to dif
fer from almost every officer in the army,
till the event proved my conjectures were

The night after the engagement on
Long island was one of gloomy
anxiety to the Americans. Pros
trated by defeat, and doubtful of the se
curity of their position, they passed a
sleepless night, full of ill forebodings of
the future. The morning came, but with
it no bright summer sun, and no hope to
cheer the spirits of the troops. A dull
mist overhung land and water, and so
darkened the day, that every visible ob
ject had lost its summer glow, and seemed
dimmed, like the hearts of the patriots,
with a breath of sadness. The enemy,
with an overwhelming force, were within
a few hundred yards ; and the guards
could see their working-parties turning-
out, with the spade and the pick, to be
gin their approaches.

The Americans were, however, momen
tarily cheered by the arrival in the early
forenoon of the orderly battalions of Shee,
Magaw, and Glover. " The faces that nad
been saddened by the disasters of yestei-
day, assumed a gleam of animation" as
they approached ; while " a murmur of
approbation" was heard among " the spec
tators, occasionally greeting each other
with the remark, t These were the lads
that might do something ! " Compara
tively well dressed, well armed, and well
disciplined soldiers, in fact, of whom




Washington himself had said, " They had
been trained with more than common at
tention," their appearance in that moment
of danger, naturally won the admiration
and aroused the hopes of their less-hap
pily-conditioned comrades. The misfor
tunes of the previous day had taught
even the most self-confident of the mili
tia of the disadvantages of a want of or
der and martial training. They now ex
hibited no rude contempt for " fine feath
ers and fine airs," but heartily welcomed
the very looks of a soldier.

General Mifflin had been ordered, on
the previous afternoon, to bring down
from Kingsbridge the battalions of Shee,
Magaw, and Glover, forming in all some
fifteen hundred men, and the next morn
ing they were sent from the city, where
they had passed the night, to take post
in Brooklyn near Wallabout bay. The
men cheerfully took their position on the
ground. It was low and unfavorable for
defence, and, with nothing but a /raised
ditch in front, gave little promise of se
curity ; while the enemy, within a few
hundred paces, were rapidly constructing
batteries upon the heights which com
manded Mifflm s position. The drizzling
mist of the morning had closed in a heavy
rain, and the men, unprovided with tents,
were drenched to the skin. Each soldier
had drawn his rations, but without the or
dinary camp conveniences he was forced
to eat " his pickled pork" without the pre
liminary boiling which, although gener
ally considered " desirable," was found
" not absolutely necessary" by these self-
denying patriots, who, as one of them
tells us, discovered in the course of their

hard experience that " the article was es
culent without culinary preparation." It
is comforting to know, however, that
there was occasionally a more savory
morsel for a lucky mouth than the " es
culent without culinary preparation ;"
for, says the same military annalist we
have quoted, " I remember, however, on
one of the days we were in this joyless
place, getting a slice of a barbecued pig,
which some of our soldiers had dressed
at a deserted house which bounded our

During the day the enemy were driv
en from their works by the drenching
rain to their tents. There was, however,
a constant skirmishing between their out
posts and the Americans. Those within
the lines continued to suffer greatly from
exposure to the weather. "Yesterday,"
says Washington, writing on the 29th of
August, " it rained severely the whole
afternoon, which distressed our people
much, not having a sufficiency of tents
to cover them, and what we have not be
ing got over yet. I am in hopes they
will be all got to-day, and that they will
be more completely provided for, though
the great scarcity of these articles dis
tresses us be3^oud measure, not having
anything like a sufficient number to pro
tect our people from the inclemency of
the weather ; which has occasioned much
sickness, and the men to be almost bro
ken down."

In the evening the rain ceased to fall,
and the British resumed their advances
toward the American lines. Washington
was with the army at Brooklyn, and re
mained in anxious suspense, undeter-




. 29,

mined about the future, which, from the
ill condition and discouragement of the
troops, was not very cheering. The night
was passing, and still he and his aids were
on horseback, riding from post to post,
throughout the whole extent of the lines,
examining the defences, consulting w r ith
the officers, and encouraging the men.

With the mornino; came a
heavy log, which so covered the
land and water, that nothing could be
seen of the enemy s troops or fleet. Gen
eral Mifflin, however, accompanied by Ad
jutant-General Reed and Colonel Gray-
son, one of Washington s aids, rode to Red
flook, at the farthest end of the Ameri
can lines toward the bay, to strive to catch
a glimpse of the British fleet, and discov
er its movements. While straining their
eyes in vain to see through the shroud
of m st, a light breeze suddenly sprang
up, and so dispersed the fog, that the
ships at the narrows could be distinctly
seen. Lord Howe was evidently making
ready for a movement. All were astir.
The yards were manned, anchors were
being weighed, and boats were passing
from ship to ship. Reed galloped back
to Washington, to report what had been
seen. Mifilin and Grayson followed. So
impressed were they all with the idea
that Lord Howe was preparing to ad
vance with his ships up the East river,
with the view of hemming in the Ameri
cans at Brooklyn, and so persuaded were
they of the necessity of an immediate
retreat, that Reed was authorized by his
companions to suggest it to Washington.
The command er-in-chief immediately
called a council of war in an old stone

church, standing near the centre of the
village. There was no difference of opin
ion. It was now apparent to all that a
retreat was necessary. Some had from
the earliest moment thought it advisable.
As soon as Mifflin arrived from New York,
and had examined the relative condition
and position of the two opposing forces,
he said to Washington : " You must either
fight or retreat immediately. What is
your strength?" "Nine thousand," was
the answer. "It is not sufficient we
must therefore retreat," rejoined Mifflin.

When the council was consulting, Mif
flin undertook to propose the retreat ;
but lest, in making such a proposition,
he might incur the suspicion of a want
of spirit, he stipulated that, in case it was
determined upon, he should command the
rear, but, if action was the resolve, the

Immediate retreat was, however, unan
imously determined upon by the officers
of the council, for these cogent reasons :
the great loss sustained, by death and
capture, in the late action ; the injury
which the arms and ammunition had re
ceived from the heavy rains ; the proba
bility that the enemy would succeed in
getting their ships up the East river, and
thus cut off the communication between
Long island and New York ; the divided
condition of the troops, having so many
points to defend; and the expectation
that the enemy s ships, now in Flushing
bay, would transport across the sound a
part of the British army, who would form
an encampment above Kingsbridge, and
thus command New-York island.

* Gordon.





Preparations for the Retreat. The Retreat begins. The Night. Crossing the East River. Glover and his Marblehead
Men. A Change of Wind. A Dreadful Mistake. The Providential Fog. The Quick Steps of the Rear. The
Last Boat. The Next Morning. General Howe s Matutinal Surprise. The Unbelief of the British. A Harmless
Cannonade. General Sullivan a Messenger from Lord Howe to Congress. Washington does not approve. Lord

Howe moves his Fleet nearer New York. Washington doubtful of his Power to hold the City. The "Weakness

within" more feared than the " Strength without."



" THIS day passed off like the last,
in watching, skirmishing, and rain.
After dark, orders were received and com
municated to us," says the lively annal
ist whom we have so often quoted, " to
hold ourselves in readiness for an attack
upon the enemy to take place in the
course of the night. This excited
much speculation among the offi
cers, by whom it was considered a truly
daring undertaking, rendered doubly so
from the bad condition of our arms, so
long exposed to the rain; and, although
we had bayonets, this was not the case
with the whole of our force, upon whom
we must depend for support. It was not
for us, however, to object to the measure :
we were soldiers, and bound to obey.
Several nuncupative wills were made up
on the occasion, uncertain as it was wheth
er the persons to whom they were com
municated would survive, e ither to prove
or to execute them." Graydon, who thus
reports the rumors of the camp, was soon
relieved from his anxieties about the at
tack. " There was a deep murmur," he
says, "which indicated some movement,
and the direction of the decaying sounds
was evidently toward the river. About
two o clock, a cannon went off with a tre

mendous roar. If the explosion was with
in our lines, the gun was probably dis
charged in the act of spiking it." The
retreat had begun; and the Pennsylvania
battalion, in which Graydon was an offi
cer had been appointed to cover the

Eight o clock in the evening was the
hour when the troops were ordered to be
drawn out, in readiness to be moved tow
ard the river. The soldiers were kept in
ignorance of Washington s purpose, and
they were not conscious of it until they
began to embark. The preparations had
been made with the utmost secrecy and
despatch. Early in the day, craft of all
kinds sloops and periaguas, flat-bottomed
scows and row-boats had been collected
from the wharves, the stream, up and
down the rivers, and gathered at Brook
lyn. Colonel Glover, with his men of
Marblehead (each one skilled, from his
experience in the fisheries, in the man
agement of the sail and the oar), had
charge of the boats. The colonel was
active from an early hour, passing fre
quently from Brooklyn to New York and
back again, in collecting and fitting out
his flotilla for the perilous passage of the




A delay occurred in moving the troops,
and it was nine o clock before the militia
had reached the river, ready for embar
kation. The boats were hauled close in
shore ; Glover and his men were on duty,
showing, in thoir skilful handling of the
craft, their Marblehead experience. The
tide was at the flood, and swept along the
shore in a rapid current; the wind, too,
began to blow freshly from the northeast.
The " old sailors" shook their heads, and
declared that, with wind and water against
them, it would not do to attempt the pas
sage under sail. The small boats, how
ever, were filled with troops, and began
to cross. Still, with the row-boats only,
it seemed impracticable to convey nine
thousand men across a river three quar
ters of a mile in breadth ; and General
M Dougall, who was stationed on the
Brooklyn shore to superintend the em
barkation, was so discouraged, that he
sent word by Colonel Grayson to Wash
ington, that he thought it impracticable
to accomplish the retreat that night.
Grayson went and returned without find
ing the commander-in-chief, and the slow
operation of the crossing and recrossing
of the small boats was continued.

Now, however, a fortunate change oc
curred : the wind sprang up from the op
posite quarter, and, blowing freshly from
the southwest, would carry the sailing-
craft straight to New York. The nautical
skill of the Marblehead men was at once
put into requisition ; and, with sails all
set, they were soon, with their fleet of
sloops, periuyuas, and sail-boats (although
loaded with men deep down to the gun
wales), dashiiv across to the city.

/ f /

The delay had been long, and morning
was approaching, when the enemy would
be on the alert to dash the hopes of all
by an attack, the result of which was too
terrible to contemplate. " Providence in
terposed in favor of the retreating army,
by sending a thick fog about two o clock,
which hung over Long island, while on
the New-York side it was clear." This
fog proved no less a merciful interposi
tion for those still in the American camp.
Washington had despatched an aid-de
camp, Colonel Scammel, to General Mif-
flin, with orders to hasten down all the
troops on their march. Scammel hur
ried away, but soon returned, followed
by Mifflin and all the covering-party !
Good God ! General Mifflin," exclaimed
Washington, as soon as he saw him, "I
am afraid you have ruined us, by so un
seasonably withdrawing the troops from
the lines." "I did so by your order,"
qi~ ; okly answered Mifflin. " It can not be,"
emphatically replied Washington. "By
G-d I did !" as resolutely rejoined the oth
er, and asked, Did Scammel act as aid-
de-camp for the day, or did he not?"-
" He-did," answered Washington. " Then,"
replied Mifflin, "I had orders through
him." Washington then calmly said : " It
is a dreadful mistake ; and, unless the
troops can regain the lines before their
absence is discovered by the enemy, the
most disastrous consequences are to be

The fog was here again their salvation.
Mifflin succeeded in leading his troops
back without the British having discov
ered that they had been absent. "This

* Irving.




was a trying business for young soldiers,"
reports one of them, and particularly so
in this case ; for, on their march to the
ferry, there had already been a cry that
the British light-horse were at their heels,
and the battalion had halted and formed,
while the front rank, kneeling, had pre
sented pikes " to receive the charge of
the supposed assailants." When ordered
to return to the lines, the men willingly
obeyed. " Whoever," says another mili
tary annalist, " has seen troops in a simi
lar situation, or duly contemplates the
human heart in such trials, well knows
how to appreciate the conduct of these
brave men on this occasion."

It is not surprising, when a genuine
order did come, that they " did not lin
ger ;" and, though they naturally "moved
with celerity," it is no more than we ex
pect of such true soldiers that they " guard
ed against confusion." They were the
last of the troops to leave the linos ; and,
succeeding in reaching the place of em
barkation without annoyance from the
enemy, took to the boats in readiness for
them, and crossed to New York in safety.
" I found," says Graydon, " a boat, pre
pared for my company, which immediate
ly embarked, and, taking the helm my
self, I so luckily directed the prow, no
object being discernible in the fog, that
we touched near the centre of the city."

The whole manoeuvre was a great suc
cess, and, although much aided by the
providential" fog. reflected no little cred
it upon Washington s military skill. The
cannon and stores were, for the most part,
brought off without loss or damage. A
few heavy pieces of artillery were, how

ever, left behind, which it was found im
possible to drag away, in consequence of
the wheels of the carriages sinking up to
the hubs in the earth which had been sat
urated with the severe and long-contin
ued rains. A few heads of cattle, also,
which had been driven within the lines,
were abandoned, after various attempts
to force them across the water. Wash
ington himself and his staff, though often
entreated, would not leave the shore of
Brooklyn until the last body of troops
had embarked. At about eight o clock,
the fog cleared away. Four boats were
still on the river : three half way over,
filled with croops ; the fourth, containing
three fellows who had tarried behind to
plunder, was so near the shore, that the
enemy, who at this moment thronged into
the lines deserted by the Americans, coin
manded it with their guns and forced it
to return.

Howe had only been aroused to tne
fact of the retreat at early dawn of day.
" The high-feeding English gen
eral," says a compatriot of his
own, " s^ept on ; and his brother the ad
miral, not so apt to do^e, did not move a
single ship or boat, and was to all appear
ance unconscious of what was going on."
The first intelligence brought to General
Howe was by a negro-servant of a Mrs.
Ilapelye, of Brooklyn. This lady s hus
band, suspected of tory proclivities, had
fallen under General Greene s scrutiny,
in the course of his raid against the dis
affected, and been duly secured. His
wife, however, had tory inclinations of
her own, which were now sharpened by
revenge from the forced absence of her

Aug. 30.



[PART n.

husband. Remaining in Brooklyn, she
became aware, in the evening, of the re
treat of the Americans, and sent her ne
gro, with information of the fact, to the
British camp. The first man into whose
hands he fell chanced to be a Hessian,
who could not understand a word of the
poor African s English splutter ; so he was
clapped into the guardhouse for the night,
and only brought before the British gen
eral next morning, by whom his message
was understood, when it was too late to
be of service.

Even now the story was hardly be
lieved ; and it was only when Captain
Montressor, fortified by the presence of
an armed party, had cautiously approach
ed the lines, and, climbing up the em
bankment, had peeped over and found
the place abandoned, that Howe was ful
ly persuaded of the mortifying fact that
the American army had escaped from his
clutches. The drums now beat the morn
ing reveille ; and, while the British troops
were striking their tents and preparing
to move, small bodies of light-horse gal
loped to various points toward the shore
to reconnoitre ; and some fieldpieces were
hurried into Brooklyn, and began to pour
a harmless cannonade at the retreating



On the succeeding night, the Ameri
cans also brought away their ar
tillery, stores, and tents, from
Governor s island. One man, however,
lost his arm by a shot from a British man-
of-war, while engaged in this dangerous
enterprise. During the whole of this per
ilous time, Washington was personally so
active, that for forty-eight hours previous

Aug. 30,

to the completion of the retreat from
Long- island, he had hardly been off his
horse, or closed his eyes ; " so that I was
quite unfit," he says on the next day, :; to
write or dictate till this morning."

General Sullivan, when taken prisoner
during the battle of Long island, was im
mediately sent on board the admiral s
ship. Here Lord Howe had frequent in
terviews with Sullivan, and took occasion
to tell him how desirous he was of accom
modation with the colonies, and of fulfil
ling the purpose of his nppointrnent by
the British government as a commission
er to treat with the Americans. With
this object in view, his lordship expressed
the wish of seeing some of the members
of Congress. The American general was
so far impressed by the admiral s earnest
desire, that he consented to go (on his
parole) to Philadelphia with a verbal mes
sage, the purport of which was, that, al
though Lord Howe could not treat with
Congress as such, he was desirous of con
ferring with some of its members as pri
vate gentlemen only, whom he would meet
at any place they would appoint; that in
conj unction with General Howe, his broth
er, he had full powers to compromise the
dispute with America, on terms advanta
geous and honorable to both the colonies
and the mother-country ; that he wished
a compact might be settled at this time,
when no decisive blow was struck, and
neither party could allege being com
pelled to enter into such agreement; and
that in case Congress were disposed to
treat in the manner suggested, ninny
things not yet asked might be granted
them ; and if, upon the conference being




held, there should arise good ground for
the accommodation, this might lead to an
acknowledgment of its authority, as oth

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 43 of 126)