Robert Tomes.

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

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erwise the compact could not be com

Sullivan was put ashore at New York
on the day after the retreat from Long
island, and immediately presented himself
to Washington, with a statement of his
desire to lay before Congress the message
which he had received from Lord Howe.
Washington urges no objection. "I have
consented," he says, " to his going to Phil
adelphia, as I do not mean, or conceive
it right, to withhold or prevent him from
giving such information as he possesses
in this instance." Washington evidently
did not sympathize very warmly with
this diplomatic movement, the issue of
which we shall have occasion to record
in the course of our narrative.

General Howe now took possession of
the American works at Brooklyn, and, gar
risoning them with a force principally of
Hessians, distributed the rest of his troops
along the shores of Long island which
overlooked the East river; posting them
at Bushwick, Hellgate, Flushing, and New-
town. The admiral, too, now began to
close with his fleet toward the city, and,
anchoring most of his ships off Governor s
island, sent on the night after the battle
a forty-gun frigate up the East river. She
succeeded in passing up between Gov
ernor s and Long islands, and, although
fired upon by the American batteries, was
enabled to reach an anchorage in Turtle
bay without damage. The next morning,
however, Washington despatched Major
Crane, of the artillery, with two twelve-


pounders and a howitzer, which, hulling
her several times, forced her to take shel
ter behind Blackwell s island, where she
remained. Several other British ships-
of-war, with a whole fleet of store and
transport vessels, which had come round
Long island, were also stationed in the
sound above.

As the enemy were thus closing about
him, Washington began to be doubtful of
the possibility of continuing to hold the
city of New York. He felt the need of
disciplined troops, and ordered General
Mercer to send the thousand men intend
ed for the flying camp to the city; while
a corresponding number of the militia
were to be detached to take their place
in New Jersey, and try to make a diver
sion, if practicable, upon Staten island.
" Till of late," says Washington, in unusu
ally despairing words for him, "I had no
doubt in my own mind of defending this
place; nor should I have yet, if the men
would do their duty; but this I despair
of." He was already contemplating an
evacuation, and writes to the president
of Congress, asking " If we should be
obliged to abandon the town, ought it to
stand as winter-quarters for the enemy ?

They would," he continues, "derive

great conveniences from it, on the one
hand ; and much property would be de
stroyed on the other. It is an important
question, but will admit of but little time
for deliberation. At present, I dare say
the enemy mean to preserve it, if they
can. If Congress, therefore, should re
solve upon the destruction of it, the reso
lution should be a profound secret, as the
knowledge of it will make a capital change


[l AKT II.

in their plans." Washington s great diffi
culty was, however, with his troops, which,
since the defeat on Long island, were so
disheartened and disorganized, that no re
liance could be placed upon them as an

army, either for offence or defence. The
American commander-in-chief was thus
placed almost hors de combat, not so much
by the strength without as by the weak
ness within.


Discouragement of the American Troops. Desertion. Villany and Rascality. Washington calls loudly for lleform.
Low Fellows in High Places. Fort Constitution garrisoned and strengthened. Removal of Stores from the City of
New York. The Enemy threaten to cross the East River and cut off the Communication with the Country. New
York to be burned, or not ? Opinions on the Subject. The New Disposition of the American Army. The Howes
pause for a Reply from Congress.


Sept. 2,

WASHINGTON would be particular
ly happy, he writes to Congress, if
he could transmit to them information
that would be agreeable to their wishes;
but " unfortunately for me, unfortunately
for them," it is not in his power. " Our
situation," he declares, " is truly
distressing. The check our de
tachment sustained on the 27th ultimo
has dispirited too great a proportion of
our troops, and filled their minds with
apprehension and despair. The militia,
instead of calling forth their utmost ef
forts to a brave and manly opposition, in
order to repair our losses, are dismayed, in
tractable, and impatient to return. Great
numbers of them have gone off; in some
instances, almost by whole regiments, by
half ones, and by companies, at a time.
This circumstance, of itself, independent
of others, when fronted by a well-appoint
ed enemy superior in number to our whole
collected force, would be sufficiently dis
agreeable ; but, when their example has

infected another part of the army, when
their want of discipline and refusal of al
most every kind of restraint and govern
ment have produced a like conduct but
too common to the whole, and an entire
disregard of that order and subordination
necessary to the well-doing of an army,
and which had been inculcated before, as
well as the nature of our military estab
lishment would admit of our condition
becomes still more alarming; and with
the deepest concern I am obliged to con
fess my ivant of confidence in the generality
of the troops."

These were strong words, which, how
ever, seemed unfortunately too well justi
fied by the conduct of the army, and es
pecially of the militia. "Almost every
villany and rascality are daily practised;
so many of our officers want honor, and
so many of our soldiers want virtue, civ
il, social, and military, that nothing but
the severest punishments can keep them
from ruining the American cause" was




the testimony of others besides Washing
ton. A contemporary declares, "I have
heard some tales of wo, occasioned by the
robberies of our army, which would ex
tort sighs from the hearts of tigers." An
other emphatically asserts : " Unless some
speedy and effectual measures are adopt
ed by Congress, our cause will be lost.
The few who act upon principles of dis
interestedness are, comparatively speak
ing, no more than a drop in the ocean.
As the war must be carried on systemat
ically, you must establish your army up
on a permanent footing, and give your
officers good pay, that they may be and
support the character of gentlemen, and
not be driven, by a scanty allowance, to
the low and dirty arts which many of
them practise, to filch the public of more
than the difference of pay would amount
to. The men must be engaged by a good
bounty, for the continuance of the war.
To depend upon militia is assuredly rest
ing on a broken staff They can not brook
subordination. It would be cheaper to
keep fifty or a hundred thousand in con
stant pay, than depend upon half the
number, and supply the other half occa
sionally by militia. If I was to declare,
upon oath, whether the militia have been
most serviceable or hurtful, upon the
whole, I should subscribe to the latter.
No man who regards order, regularity, or
economy, or who has any regard for his
own honor, character, or peace of mind,
will risk them upon militia."

The system of choosing their own offi
cers, in the militia-companies, seemed de
structive of all order and discipline. The
men would select those only who consent

ed to throw their pay into a joint stock,
from which captains, lieutenants, ensigns,
sergeants, corporals, drummers, and pri
vates, drew equal shares. With this sys
tem, low fellows naturally were found in
high places ; and accordingly it was not
surprising that a captain should be proved
guilty of stealing his soldiers blankets ;
that another officer should be found sha
ving his men "in the face of distinguished
characters ;" and that many of the regi
mental surgeons made a practice of sel
ling recommendations to furloughs and
discharges at a less sum than a shilling
a man.*

Washington finds that affairs were not
changing for the better, and the militia
were daily so diminishing, that "in a lit
tle time I am persuaded," he writes, " their
number will be very inconsiderable." He
found it impossible to check the desire of
these men to return to their homes. Al
though he refused to give them their dis
charge, they insisted upon going, and did
go, so fast, that in a few days the Con
necticut militia were reduced from six to
less than two thousand ! Washington was
forced to acquiesce in these shameful de
sertions, which, however, greatly harassed

In the meantime, little could be done,
either for offence or defence. General
Mercer was, however, ordered to detach
a force from Amboy, where he was sta
tioned, to take possession of and strength
en the works on the Jersey bank of the
Hudson, called Fort Constitution, and sub
sequently Fort Lee, opposite Fort Wash
ington on the New-York side. Wash-

* Gordon.



[PART it.

ington, moreover, as he thought it " ex
pedient to guard against every contin
gency," and that he might have resources
left if obliged to abandon New York, be
gan to remove all the stores, not imme
diately wanted, above Kingsbridge. The
evacuation of the city was now, in fact,
a subject of constant talk and considera
tion. The probability of such an event,
and the possibility of the destruction of
New York, had been discussed in Con
gress, which hurried to pass and send to
the commander-in-chief this resolution :
" Resolved, That General Washington be
acquainted that Congress would have spe
cial care taken, in case he should find it
necessary to quit New York, that no dam
age be done to the said city by his troops
on their leaving it ; the Congress having
no doubt of their being able to recover
the same, though the enemy should for
a time obtain possession of it."

As the British were closing in with
their ships, and extending their encamp
ments along the Long-island shore of the
East river, there was reason to suppose
that they intended to make a landing
above or below Kingsbridge, in order to
hem in the American army, and cut off its
communication with the country. This
called for prompt action ; and Washing
ton immediately summoned a council of
war, to fix upon some system of conduct
to be pursued, in order to baffle the ef
forts and counteract the schemes of Gen
eral Howe, and also to determine as to
the expediency of evacuating or attempt
ing to maintain the city and the several
posts on the island of New York.

The council of general officers rnet, ac

cording to the summons.* There

, . . Sept. 7,

was a division of opinion. JJut

all agreed that New-York city would not
be tenable if the enemy resolved to bom
bard and cannonade it. Some, howev
er (not a little influenced in their opin
ion by the supposition that Congress de
sired it to be maintained at every haz
ard), were opposed to the evacuation.
Others strongly advocated the immedi
ate and total abandonment of the town.
This was the opinion of General Greene,
who strenuously presented it in a letter
to the commander-in-chief two days be
fore the assembling of the council. " The
object under consideration is," he writes,
" whether a general and speedy ^etreat
from the island is necessary or not. To
me it appears the only eligible plan to
oppose the enemy successfully and secure
ourselves from disgrace. I think we have
no object on this side of Kingsbridge.
Our troops are now so scattered, that one
part may be cut off before the others can
come to their support. In this situation
suppose the enemy should send up the
North river several ships of force, and a
number of transports at the same time,
and effect a landing between the town
and the middle division of the army ;
that another party from Long island
should land directly opposite ; and that
these two parties should form a line
across the island and intrench themselves.
The two flanks of this line could be easi
ly supported by the shipping. The cen
tre, fortified with the redoubts, would ren-

* Among them were some of those lately promoted : for
Congress had appointed Heath, Spencer, Greene, and Sul
livan, major-generals; and James Reed. Nixon, St. Clair,
M Dougall, Parsons, and James Clinton, hrigadier-generals.



der it very difficult, if not impossible, to
cut our way through. At the time the
enemy are executing this movement, they
will be able to make sufficient diversions,
if not real lodgments, to render it impos
sible for the centre and upper divisions
of the army to afford any assistance here.
Should this event take place and, by-
the-by, I do not think it very improbable
your excellency will be reduced to that
situation, which every prudent general
would wish to avoid : that is, of beino;

" S

obliged to fight the enemy at a disadvan
tage, or submit." Greene went even fur
ther, and advised the destruction of New
York. "I would burn the city and its
suburbs," he says, and thinks that they
should net be put into competition with
the general interests of America, for " two
thirds of the property of the city and the
suburbs belong to the tories."

Putnam, too, agreed with Greene, while
Mercer, Spencer, Heath, and Clinton, were
of the opposite opinion. Washington him
self was evidently in favor of evacuation.
" It is now extremely obvious," he says,
"from all intelligence, from their move
ments, and every other circumstance, that
having landed their whole army on Long
island, except about four thousand on
Staten island, they mean to enclose us on
the island of New York, by taking post
in our rear, while the shipping effectual
ly secures the front ; and thus, either by
cutting off our communication with the
country, oblige us to fight them on their
own terms, or surrender at discretion ; or
by a brilliant stroke endeavor to cut this
army in pieces, and secure the collection
of arms and stores which they well know

we shall not be able soon to replace."
With this view of the enemy s tactics,
Washington, while considering the best
means of opposing them, says it is " im
possible to forget that history, our own ex
perience, the advice of our ablest friends
in Europe, the fears of the enemy, and
even the declarations of Congress, demon
strate that on our side the war should be.
defensive (it has even been called a war
of posts) ; that we should on all occasions
avoid a general action ; riot put anything
to risk, unless compelled by a necessity
into which we ought never to be drawn.
With these views," he oontinues, " and
being fully persuaded that it would be pre
sumption to draw out our young troops
into open ground against their superiors
both in number and discipline, I have
never spared the spade and pickaxe."

A compromise was finally agreed upon
between these extreme opinions, and it
was determined by the council to arrange
the army under three divisions : five thou
sand to remain for the defence of the city;
nine thousand to be stationed at Kino-s-


bridge and its neighborhood, in order not
only to secure the posts there, but to be
ready to attack the enemy, who were
moving eastward on Long island, if they
should attempt to land ; and the rest of
the army to occupy the intermediate
space, in readiness to support either di
vision above or below.

Washington immediately proceeded to
put into execution these plans. He made
preparation to shift his own headquarters
to Kingsbridge. Rough Avooden struc
tures were ordered to be built there for
the troops, and the sick removed from




New York to Orangetown, in New Jersey.
The enemy, although hourly and anx
iously expected to begin their manoeu
vres, seemed to hesitate, probably await

ing the issue of the interview just about
to take place between Lord Howe and
the committee appointed by Congress to
meet him on Staten island.


The Result of Sullivan s Mission. Franklin. Adams, and Rutledge, sent to meet Lord flowc and hie Brother. Lord
Howe s Honeyed Words to Franklin. Franklin s Stinging Answer. The Journey of the American Commissioner :.
The Scenes on the Road. The Incidents of a Night. Adams and Franklin Bedfellows. Franklin s Theory of
Colds. Arrival at Amboy The Hostage. Interview with Lord Howe. The House, as it now appears. His Lord
ship s Hospitality. The Business of the Conference. The Discussion. The Result. Sullivan s Mission a "Fool s
Errand." Washington s Opinion.


GENERAL SULLIVAN had arrived at

Philadelphia, in his capacity of em-
bassador from Lord Howe, and, having
laid before Congress the verbal message
of his lordship, was requested to reduce
it to writing. This having been done,
Congress, after a long discussion, resolved
that they could not send any of their
members in a private capacity ; but were
willing, as they were desirous of an hon
orable peace, to appoint a committee to
wait upon his lordship, who might receive
them in whatever character he pleased.
Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John
Adams of Massachusetts, and John Rut-
ledge of South Carolina, were accordingly
chosen in fulfilment of these resolutions.
They immediately set out to meet Lord
Howe on Staten island.

A private letter had already been writ
ten to Franklin by his lordship, who had
stated the object of his mission, and ex
pressed to his " old acquaintance and wor
thy friend," whom he had known in Lon

don, his earnest desire to hav< it success
fully accomplished. Franklin s answer
was somewhat pungent, but seemed justi
fied by the apparent desire of Lord Howe
to obtain his concurrence in a movement
which no American patriot could believe
was favorable to the interests of his coun
try :-

"Directing pardons," writes Franklin,
"to be offered to the colonies, who are
the very parties injured, expresses indeed
that opinion of our ignorance, baseness,
and insensibility, which your uninformed
and proud nation has long been pleased
to entertain of us ; but it can have no
other effect than that of increasing our
resentments. It is impossible we should
think of submission to a government that
has, with the most wanton barbarity and
cruelty, burnt our defenceless towns in
the midst of winter; excited the savages
to massacre our peaceful farmers, and our
slaves to murder their masters ; and is
even now bringing foreign mercenaries




to deluge our settlements with blood.
These atrocious injuries have extinguish
ed every spark of affection for that pa
rent-country we once held so dear. But
were it possible for us to forget and for
give them, it is not possible for yon (I
mean the British nation) to forgive the
people you have so heavily injured

" Your lordship may possibly remem
ber the tears of joy that wet my cheek,
when, at your good sister s in London,
you once gave expectations that a recon
ciliation might soon take place. I had
the misfortune to find these expectations
disappointed, and to be treated as the
cause of the mischief I was laboring to
prevent. My consolation under that
groundless and malevolent treatment
was, that I retained the friendship of
many wise and good men in that coun
try ; and, among the rest, some share in
the regard of Lord Howe.

" The well-founded esteem, and permit
me to say affection, which I shall always
have for your lordship, make it painful
to me to see you engaged in conducting
a war, the great ground of which, as de
scribed in your letter, is the necessity of
preventing American trade from passing
into foreign channels. To me it seems
neither the obtaining nor retaining any
trade, how valuable soever, is an object
for which men may justly spill each oth
er s blood ; that the true and sure means
of extending and securing commerce are
the goodness and cheapness of commodi
ties ; and that the profits of no trade can
be ever equal to the expense of compel
ling and holding it by fleets and armies.
I consider this war against us, therefore,

as both unjust and unwise ; and 1 am per
suaded that cool and dispassionate pos
terity will condemn to infamy those who
advised it ; and that even success will not
save from some degree of dishonor those
who have voluntarily engaged to conduct

" I know your great motive in coming
hither, was the hope of being instrumen
tal in a reconciliation ; and I believe,
when you find that to be impossible, on
any terms given you to propose, you will
then relinquish so odious a command, and
return to a more honorable private sta

With such preliminaries, his lordship
could not have much hope of a success
ful negotiation with Franklin. We shall
find that his associates, Adams and Rut-
ledge, were no less inflexible in their spir
it of patriotic independence.

The committee finally set out on their
journey, Franklin and Rutledge
driving in a " chair," and Adams
riding on horseback. On the first night
they reached Brunswick, in New Jersey,
where they lodged at an inn. They had
now an opportunity of seeing something
of the soldiery, about whom they had
lately received so many complaints while
in Congress. There were numbers, both
of officers and men, straggling about the
roads and loitering in the public houses,
whose conduct and condition were such
as not to inspire very sanguine hopes of
the country s cause intrusted to such de
fenders. The three patriotic legislators,
however, consoled themselves with the
expectation that the disorderly military
characters which thev had thus encoun-

Sept, 9,


[PART n.

tercd would be " chastised into order in

The taverns at Brunswick were so full
of rollicking troopers, that it was difficult
to find entertainment, Finally, a single
hed was obtained for the joint occupancy
of Franklin and Adams, in a chamber lit
tle larger than the bed, without a chim
ney, and with only one small window.
Here they turned in for the night. The
window was open ; and Adams, who was
an invalid, and afraid of the night air,
shut it close.

" Oh !" cried out Franklin, " do n t shut
the window : we shall be suffocated !"

" I am afraid of the night air," replied

Doctor Franklin rejoined : " The air
within this chamber will soon be, and
indeed is now, worse than that without
doors. Come ! open the window, and
come to bed, and I will convince you. I
believe you are not acquainted with my
theory of colds."

Whereupon, Adams opened the win
dow, and, leaping into bed, began a dis
cussion with his philosophical bedfellow
upon his theory of colds. He had read,
Adams said, Franklin s letters to Doctor
Cooper, in which he had advanced the
opinion that nobody ever got cold by
going into a cold church or any other
cold air; but he declared it was so in
consistent with his experience, that he
thought it a paradox. Notwithstanding.
Adams added that he was so curious to
have Franklin s views, that he would be
glad to hear them, even at the risk of a

The doctor then began a harangue up

on air and cold, and respiration and per
spiration, and with so much profundity
of science, that he soon put his bedfellow
asleep. " I soon," says Adams, " left him
and his philosophy together, but I believe
they were equally sound and insensible
within a few minutes after me, for the
last words I heard were pronounced as
if he was more that half asleep."

The next morning, Kutledge, who prob
ably had slept alone, or at any

u j Sept, 10,

rate had not enjoyed the honor

or suffered from the theory of a " philo
sophical bedfellow," joined Franklin and
Adams, and the three continued their
journey to Amboy. On reaching this
place, Lord Howe s barge was in waiting
to take them over to the opposite shore
of Staten island. A British officer had
also arrived, who was to give himself up
to the Americans as a hostage for the se
curity of the committee. Adams, how
ever, as soon as he saw him, told his col
leagues that he thought it would be child
ish to depend upon such a pledge ; and.
they agreeing, the three accordingly in
sisted upon taking the hostage back again
to the island. The officer, declaring that
he was at their disposition, could not, of
course, refuse to comply, and crossed with
the committee.

As they approached the shore, Lord
Howe (having been on the lookout from

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 44 of 126)