Robert Tomes.

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

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tenderness of a child, and exclaimed at
the barbarity that was practised."

When the American troops had been
driven into the fort, and the enemy had
thronged up the hill from all sides within
a few hundred yards of the fortress, Colo
nel Rahl, who was first on the ground
with his column, sent in a summons to



[PART n.

Magaw to surrender. Washington, see
ing from Fort Lee a flag of truce going
into the fortress, understood the object,
and immediately wrote a note to Colonel
Magaw, directing him to hold out, and he
would endeavor in the evening to bring
off the garrison. A Captain Gooch brave
ly volunteered to be the bearer of the
message, and, hurrying down to the river,
jumped into a small boat, pushed across,
landed on the shore, ran up to the fort,
delivered Washington s letter, and hur
ried back, dodging the Hessian guards by
the way, who attempted to bayonet him
as he passed. He reached the shore, and,
leaping into his boat, returned in safety
to Fort Lee.

The letter was, however, too late : Ma
gaw had already entered too far into a
treaty to retract, and now delivered up
the fort, and surrendered the garrison as
prisoners-of-war, as he could " obtain no
other terms ;" but the men were allowed
to keep possession of their baggage, and
the officers of their swords. The arms,
ammunition, and stores, however, were all
given up.

"When General Lee," says Gordon,
" read the letter, sent by express, giving
an account of Fort Washington being ta
ken, resentment and vexation led him,
unfeeling as he was in common, to weep
plentifully." He wrote to Washington :
" Oh, general, why would you be over-
persuaded by men of inferior judgment
to your own ? It was a cursed affair !"

Washington himself grieved at it no
less than Lee. He writes to his brother
Augustine : " This is a most unfortunate
affair, and has given me great mortifica

tion ; as we have lost not only two thou
sand men that were there, but a good
deal of artillery, and some of the best
arms we had. And what adds to my mor
tification is, that this post, after the last
ships went past it, was held contrary to
my wishes and opinions, as I conceived
it to be a hazardous one ; but it having
been determined on by a full council of
general officers, and a resolution of Con
gress having been received strongly ex
pressive of their desire that the channel
of the river, which we had been laboring
to stop for a long time at that place,
might be obstructed if possible, and know
ing that this could not be done unless
there were batteries to protect the ob
struction, I did not care to give an abso
lute order for withdrawing the garrison,
till I could get round and see the situa
tion of things, and then it became too
late, as the fort was invested. Upon the
passing of the last ships, I had given it
as my opinion to General Greene, under
whose care it was, that it would be best
to evacuate the place ; but as the order
was discretionary, and liis opinion differed
from mine, it unhappily was delayed too
long, to my great grief; as I think Gener
al Howe, considering his army and ours,
would have have had a poor tale to tell
without it, and would have found it diffi
cult, unless some southern expedition may
prove successful, to reconcile the people
of England to the conquest of a few piti
ful islands, none of which were defensible,
considering the great number of their
ships, and the power they have by sea to
surround and render them unapproach




The whole letter is pervaded by a tone
of melancholy. Washington, after mourn
ing over the difficulties in levying proper
troops, says that he is almost compelled
" to bid adieu to every hope of getting
an army from which any services are to
be expected ; the different states, without
regard to the qualifications of an officer,
quarrelling about the appointments, and
nominating such as are not fit to be shoe
blacks, from the local attachments of this
or that member of assembly. I am wea
ried almost to death with the retrograde
motion of things, and I solemnly protest,"
he declares, " that a pecuniary reward of
twenty thousand pounds a year w T ould
not induce me to undergo what I do ;
and after all, perhaps, to lose my charac
ter, as it is impossible, under such a va
riety of distressing circumstances, to con
duct matters agreeably to public expec
tation or even to the expectation of those
who employ me, as they will not make
proper allowance for the difficulties their
own errors have occasioned."

General Greene consoled himself, for
the loss of his pet fortress, by the reflec
tion that the enemy had " suffered great
ly on the north side of Fort Washington,"
where Colonel Rawlings s regiment was
posted, and had " behaved with great spir
it." He moreover persisted that the fort
would not have been given up could Colo
nel Magaw have got the men to man the
lines. He continued to declare that Fort
Washington was tenable, and, when re
proached for having attempted to hold
it, exclaimed, " I would to God we had
had ten thousand men there I"* The

* Memoirs of our Own Times, by General J. Wilkinson.

holding of Fort Washington, however,
was almost universally considered an er
ror on the part of Greene ; but we shall
find that he amply redeemed it by his
glorious successes in the future.

When the British hoisted their flag at
the fort, its name was changed to Knyp-
hausen, and that general was left in com
mand of it, with a garrison of his Hessians.
By the surrender, two thousand eight
hundred Americans, according to Sir Wil
liam Howe s return, became his prisoners ;
and these were marched, the very mid
night after their capture, to the city of
New York. It has been estimated that
the enemy lost, in English and Hessians,
over a thousand men. This is probably
an exaggeration.* The British acknowl
edged a loss of only eight hundred.

The next object of the enemy, after
the capture of Fort Washington, was Fort
Lee, on the Jersey shore opposite. Corn-

wallis, with six thousand troops,

. . Nov. 20.

crossed the Hudson from the en
campment near Yonkers, and landed on
the Jersey shore at a place called Closter,
about a mile and a half from the English
Neighborhood. The flat-boats which had
been brought up from the bay of New
York, and stationed in Spuyten-Devil
creek, afforded him the means of trans
port, and he was thus enabled to carry
his men rapidly across the river, while
the ships-of-war protected their passage.
Cornwallis, on debarking, immediately
formed his men, and marched along the
Jersey shore toward the object of attack.

* Gordon says, " It is imagined on good grounds that the
royal army lost in the attack full twelve hundred men, in
killed and wounded."



[PART n.

As Fort Lee was not tenable, and of
no possible advantage after the loss of
Fort Washington, it had been determined
to evacuate it. The ammunition and some
of the stores had already been removed,
when intelligence was brought early in
the morning, while General Greene was
in bed, of the approach of the enemy. He
immediately ordered the garrison out and
marched them to join the commander-in-
chief at Hackensack. The British were
on the banks of the North river, only six
miles above the fort; and their evident
intention was, to draw a line from that
point to the bridge across the Hacken
sack, and thus hem in Washington s force
between the two rivers. The American
commander, however, was too quick for
his lordship, and gained the bridge be
fore him : he thus secured a retreat for
all his men, but was forced to leave be
hind him some hundred barrels of flour,
most of the cannon, and " a considerable
parcel of tents and baggage." Finding
himself still enclosed between two rivers,
the Hackensack and the Passaic, and in
the same danger of being pent up as be
fore, should the enemy continue to ad
vance, Washington was obliged to cross
the Passaic and retreat to Newark. Even
here he did not propose to make a stand.
The level and open nature of the coun
try forbade it ; and his force, which was
now only about thirty-five hundred men,
did not admit of the possibility of a pitched
battle with the army of Cornwallis. He
encamped at Newark, as the British did
not seem in a hurry to molest him. Wash
ington, however, was prepared at a mo
ment s notice to retreat to Brunswick, in

order to form a junction with the troops
at that place under the command of Lord

Washington was fully conscious of his
danger. Flying, with a dispirited rem
nant of troops (amounting in all to little
more than three thousand men), before
the triumphant army of the enemy, he
might well say, " The situation of our af
fairs is truly critical, and such as requires
uncommon exertions on our part." In
order that Congress might be fully ap
prized of the weakness of his position,
and of the necessity of obtaining early
succor, it was determined by the com
mand er-in-chief, with the advice of all his
general officers, to send General Mifflin
to Philadelphia, to the end that he might
make known personally the severe straits
in which the American army was placed.
Washington used every exertion to ob
tain reinforcements. He wrote to Liv
ingston, governor of New Jersey, to give
all the aid in his power, and try to induce
that state to do more than it had done ;
for Washington found that, instead of
meeting with "many of the militia," as
he had expected on his arrival, there were
not more than from four to five hundred
at the different posts. General Schuyler
was also written to, and directed to send
down from the army in the northern de
partment the New-Jersey and Pennsylva
nia troops. General Lee had been re
peatedly urged to come over from his
encampment at Newcastle, with the regi
ments under his command. The flying
camp, which was on the point of dissolv
ing, Washington was anxious to retain
in service ; and in his letter to Congress




he suggests that an "early and immediate
supply of money" should be sent to pay
them, as it u might have a happy effect."
With the srnallness and wretched con
dition of his force, and the difficulty with
which his efforts to increase the one and
improve the other were opposed, it was
not surprising that Washington should
have almost despaired of bringing an ar
my into the field capable of meeting the
enemy. It was under such a feeling of
discouragement in his emergency at New
ark that he asked Colonel Reed, " Should
we retreat to the back parts of Pennsyl

vania, will the Pennsylvanians support
us?" "If the lo\ver counties are sub
dued and give up, the back counties will
do the same," was the discouraging an
swer. Washington then passed his hand
across his throat, and said with a manner
half serious and half playful : " My neck
does not feel as though it was made for
a halter. We must retire to Augusta
county, in Virginia. Numbers will be
obliged to repair to us for safety ; and we
must try what we can do in carrying on
a predatory war ; and, if overpowered, we
must cross the Alleghany mountains."


General Lee urged by Washington to join him in New Jersey. Lee s Answer. His Proposition to General Heath. Re
fusal of Heath to accede. Lee s Procrastination in obeying Washington s Orders. His Excuses. The Correspond
ence. The Motive of Lee s Conduct. His Vanity. His Partisans. Joseph Reed. His Life and Character. His
Intimacy with Washington. His Infidelity to his Friend. Proof of the Fact. Letter from Reed to Lee. Lee s Con
duct accounted for. Washington by an Accident discovers the Infidelity of Reed. Lee s Letter to Reed. A Rebuke.
Severely polite. " Dear Sir." Lee still recreant. Complains of Heath. The Latter justifies Himself. " Our
General s" Account of his Interview with Lee. Lee crosses the Hudson. Still disobedient of Orders. More tender
of Horse than of Man.


WASHINGTON, as we have said, had
repeatedly urged General Lee to !
break up his encampment at Newcastle,
and come with his troops to his aid in
New Jersey. After Lord Cornwallis had
crossed the Hudson, Washington wrote to
Lee from Hackensack : " I am of opinion,
and the gentlemen about me con
cur in it, that the public interest
requires your coming over to this side of
the Hudson, with the continental troops,
leaving Fellows s and Wadsworth s bri
gades to take care of the stores during

Nov. 21,

their short stay, at the expiration of which
I suppose they will set out for home.

" My reasons for this measure, which I
think must have weight with you, are,
that the enemy is evidently changing the
seat of war to this side of the North riv
er. Unless some new event should occur,
therefore, or some more cogent reason
present itself to the contrary, I would
have you move over by the easiest and
best passage."

This was explicit as regards Washing
ton s opinion, but it is expressed rather



Nov. 24,

as a suggestion than as an order a not
unusual thing at that time with the com-
mander-in-chief when addressing Lee, to
whose military experience he was disposed
to defer.

General Lee, in answer, wrote to Wash
ington, saying that he had received his
orders, and would " endeavor to
put them into execution;" but al
leged that he would not be able to take
with him any considerable number of
troops, " not so much from a want of zeal
in the men, as from their wretched con
dition with respect to shoes, stockings,
and blankets, which the presentbad weath
er renders more intolerable." In the mean
time he had sent orders to General Heath,
who was stationed at Peekskill, to trans
port two thousand men across the river.
Heath refused. " That great man," as Lee
sarcastically writes in his letter to Wash
ington, " (as I might have expected,) in
trenched himself within the letter of his
instruction, and refused to part with a
single file, though I undertook to replace
them with a part of my own." At the
conclusion of his letter, Lee declares : " I
should march this day with Glover s bri
gade, but have just received intelligence
that Eogers s corps, a part of the light-
horse, and another brigade, lie in so ex
posed a situation as to present us the
fairest opportunity of carrying them off
If we succeed, it will have a great effect,
and amply compensate for two days de-

Washington was surprised, on receiv
ing this letter, that Lee had not yet set

out, and wrote at once: " My for-
]\ov, 27, J

mer letters were so full and ex-

Nov, 30,

plicit, as to the necessity of your march
ing as early as possible, that it is unne
cessary to add more on that head. I con
fess I expected you would have been
sooner in motion."

"You complain," writes Lee in reply
to Washington, " of my not being in mo
tion sooner. I do assure you
that I have done all in my pow
er, and shall explain my difficulties when
we both have leisure. I did not succeed
with Rogers, and merely owing to the
timidity or caution of the enemy, who
contracted themselves into a compact
body very suddenly. I am in hopes I
shall be able to render you more service
than if I had moved sooner. I think I
shall enter the province of Jersey with
four thousand firm and willing troops,
who will make a very important diver
sion ; had I started sooner, I should have
only had an inferior number of unwil-

Washington himself was so sincere in
his friendship and so loyal to duty, that
he did not suspect those about him to be
capable of infidelity to either. He was,
therefore, though puzzled by the conduct
of Lee, not disposed to attribute it to that
love of self-aggrandizement which facts,
then unknown to Washington, now prove
to have been the motive. Lee had been
spoiled by the welcome he had received
on his arrival at New York after his suc
cess at Charleston. He was regarded by
the army as a military oracle. Washing
ton himself always listened to his opin
ions with deference ; and the officers, par
ticularly the younger ones, while observ
ing this marked respect on the part of




their commander-in-chief, warmed natu
rally into admiration of the military qual
ities of Lee. They were disposed to ai>
tribute every successful manoeuvre since
his arrival in the camp to action suggest
ed by his advice. His well-known oppo
sition to General Greene s pertinacious
resolve to hold Fort Washington, now
served to increase his reputation as a gen
eral. From the apparently desperate con
dition in which the disastrous loss of that
fort had left the American army, there
were doubtless many who believed that
in Lee s military capacity was the only
hope of extrication.

Among those who were the especial
admirers of Lee at this time, and believed
that he was the only military saviour of
the country in its sad trial, was General
Reed. JOSEPH REED was now thirty years
of age. Born in New Jersey, and edu
cated at Princeton college, he had com
menced the study of law, and for awhile
was entered at the Temple in London.
On his return to his native land, he early
sided with the patriots in their struggle
for liberty, and was chosen president of
the first popular convention in Philadel
phia. When Washington was in that city
and received his appointment as com
mander-in-chief, he formed an acquaint
ance with Reed, which soon warmed into
a sincere friendship, and ripened into the
most intimate confidence. Washington
appointed him his private secretary, and
took him with him to Cambridge, where
he remained until nearly the close of the
siege of Boston, when he was called home
to Philadelphia, to attend to some private
affairs. He was subsequently appointed

adjutant-general of the American army,
and was now serving in that capacity with
the forces in New Jersey. Washington
had a high regard for Reed s abilities, and
frequently took counsel with him in re
spect to the conduct of affairs. A still
stronger attachment than that which was
to be traced to their mutual relations as
honest co-workers in behalf of the public
cause, sprang up between them. They
became friends ; and Washington, as his
letters show, unburdened himself to Reed
with a freedom of revelation that can not
be found even in his communications to
his own family.

The adjutant-general may possibly nev
er have swerved in his affection for Wash
ington as his private friend ; but he un
doubtedly wavered in his opinion of him
as a public leader. The following letter,
which Reed wrote, proves that at that
time he thought Lee, and not Washing
ton, was the man for the occasion :

" HACKENSACK, November 21, 1776.
"DEAR GENERAL: The letter you will
receive with this contains my sentiments
with respect to your present station ; but
besides this, I have some additional rea
sons for most earnestly wishing to have
you where the principal scene of action
is laid. I do not mean to flatter nor
praise you at the expense of any other,
but I confess I do think that it is entire
ly owing to you that this army and the
liberties of America, so far as they are
dependent on it, are not totally cut off.
You have decision, a quality often want
ing in minds otherwise valuable ; and I
ascribe to this our escape from York isl
and, from Kingsbridge, and the Plains;



[PART n.

and I have no doubt, had you been here,
the garrison of Mount Washington would
now have composed a part of this army :
and, from all these circumstances, I con
fess I ardently wish to see you removed
from a place where I think there will be
little call for your judgment and experi
ence, to the place where they are likely
to be so necessary. Nor am I singular
in my opinion. Every gentleman of the
family, the officers and soldiers, generally
have a confidence : the enemy constantly
inquire where you are, and seem to me
to be less confident when you are pres

" Colonel Cadwallader, through a spe
cial indulgence, on account of some civili
ties shown by his family to General Pres-
cott, has been liberated from New York
without any parole. He informs, that
the enemy have a southern expedition in
view; that they hold us very cheap in
consequence of the late affair at Mount
Washington, where both the plan of de
fence and execution were contemptible.
If the real defence of the lines was in
tended, the number was too few ; if the
fort only, the garrison was too numerous
by half. General Washington s own judg
ment, seconded by representations from
us, would, I believe, have saved the men
and their arms ; but, unluckily, General
Greene s judgment was contrary. This
kept the general s mind in a state of sus
pense till the stroke was struck. gen
eral ! an indecisive mind is one of the
greatest misfortunes that can befall an
army : how often have I lamented it this
campaign !

" All circumstances considered, we are

in a very awful, alarming state ; one that
requires the utmost wisdom and firmness
of mind.

"As soon as the season will admit, I
think yourself and some others should
go to Congress, and form the plan of the
new army, point out their defects to them,
and, if possible, prevail on them to bend
their whole attention to this great object,
even to the exclusion of every other. If
they will not or can not do this, I fear all
our exertions will be vain in this part of
the world. Foreign assistance is solicit
ing, but we can not expect they will fight
the whole battle.

" I intended to have said more, but the
express is waiting ; and I must conclude,
with my clear and explicit -opinion that
your presence is of the last importance.

" I am, with much affection and regard,
your very affectionate, humble servant,
"JOSEPH REED, Adjutant- General

" At the White Plains."

Such a letter, from such a source the
most intimate friend of Washington
was surely calculated to increase the van
ity and stir the ambitious longings of a
man like Lee, among whose virtues no
one has ever ranked modesty and con
tentment. There were others like Reed,
not only officers, but men high in civil
authority, who were writing to Lee in
the same strain of praise of his own mili
tary capacity, and in depreciation of that
of the commander-in-chief. Lee yielded
to this influence, and doubtless thought
that the star of Washington was setting,
and that his was the bright luminary
which was on its rise and might shine in




its place. These aspirations will account
for Lee s conduct in not obeying Wash
ington s orders. He was only too willing,
by withholding his aid ; to allow the com-
mander-in-chief to be sacrificed, while he
himself, by acting independently, might
have a chance of striking a blow against
the enemy, which would establish his su
periority and secure him the chief com

Lee, therefore, while excusing himself
on various pretences for not joining his
chief in New Jersey, was purposely de
laying, and trying to increase his force
by obtaining a reinforcement from Gen
eral Heath, that he might have an oppor
tunity of attacking the enemy in the rear
or the flank, while in pursuit of Washing
ton s meager remnant of troops, and thus
gaining a triumph which would give such
an eclat to his military fame as could not
fail to make him as prominent as his vault
ing ambition aspired to be.

Washington hitherto had been appa
rently unsuspicious of Lee s true motives
in continuing to delay, although repeat
edly urged to hasten to form a junction
with him in New Jersey. The enemy
continued to advance and Washington to
retreat. The American force was infi
nitely inferior in numbers, and such as
could not "give or promise the least suc
cessful opposition." It was greatly re
duced by the departure of the Maryland
flying camp, and by sundry other causes.
Washington had now retreated
as far as Brunswick, from which
place he writes to Lee, " I must entreat
you to hasten your march as much as
possible, or your arrival may be too late

Dec. 1.

to answer any valuable service." When
Washington wrote this, which has a more
peremptory character than his previous
communications, he had accidentally dis
covered a correspondence which must
have greatly weakened his confidence in
Lee, as it certainly did in one in whom
his orginal faith was much stronger.

We have read Reed s letter to General
Lee. Washington never did, but he saw

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 51 of 126)