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Lee s answer, and in this way : Reed was
absent, and in the meantime a letter came
to his address in the camp, which Wash
ington opened and read. Here it is:
" CAMP, 24 November, 1776.

" MY DEAR REED : I received your most
obliging, flattering letter. I lament, with
you, that fatal indecision of mind, which,
in war, is a much greater disqualification
than stupidity or even want of personal
courage. Accident may pat a decisive
blunderer in the right, but eternal defeat
and miscarriage must attend the man of
the best parts, if cursed with indecision.

" The general commands in so pressing
a manner as almost to amount to an or
der, to bring over the continental troops
under my command ; which recommenda
tion, or order, throws me into the great
est dilemma, from several considerations.
Part of the troops are so ill furnished with
shoes and stockings, blankets, &c., that
they must inevitably perish in this wretch
ed weather. Part of them are to be dis
missed on Saturday next, and this part is
the best accoutred for service.

" What shelter we are to find on the
other side of the river is a serious consid
eration ; but these considerations should
not sway me. My reason for not having



[PART n.

marched already is, that we have just re
ceived intelligence that Rogers s corps,
the light-horse, part of the Highlanders,
and another brigade, lie in so exposed a
situation as to give the fairest opportuni
ty of being carried off I should have at
tempted it last night, but the rain was
too violent ; and when our pieces are wet,
you know our troops are hors du combat.
This night I hope will be better. If we
succeed, we shall be well compensated
for the delay. We shall likewise be able
in our return to clear the country of all
the articles wanted by the enemy. In ev
ery view, therefore, the expedition must

" I have just received a most flattering
letter from the governor of New Orleans.
He gives me the title of General de los
Estados Unidos Americanos] which is a tol
erable step toward declaring himself our
ally in positive terms. The substance is,
that he is sensible of the vast advantages
which must result from the separation to
his master and nation ; that he can not
positively enter into a regular system of
commerce without consulting his master ;
but, in the meantime, he will render us
all the service in his power. I only wait
myself for this business I mention of Rog
ers and Company being over. I shall then
fly to you ; for, to confess a truth, I really
think our chief will do better with me
than without me. I am, &c.,


Washington could not feel flattered by
this epistle, and must have been greatly
grieved to find that his friend, whom he
had trusted above all, was carrying on a
correspondence, the whole purport of

which was his own depreciation and the
elevation of Lee. Washington, having
opened the letter unsuspiciously, imme
diately enclosed it to Reed, with the fol
lowing explanation :

"BRUNSWICK, 30 November, 1776.

" DEAR SIR : The enclosed was put in
to my hands by an express from White
Plains. Having no idea of its being a
private letter, much less suspecting the
tendency of the correspondence, I opened
it, as I had done all other letters to you,
from the same place and Peekskill, upon
the business of your office, as I conceived
and found them to be. This, as it is the
truth, must be my excuse for seeing the
contents of a letter which neither incli
nation nor intention would have prompt
ed me to.

" I thank you for the trouble and fa
tigue you have undergone in your jour
ney to Burlington, and sincerely wish
that your labors may be crowned with
the desired success. With best respects
to Mrs. Reed, I am, dear sir, &c.,


The formal politeness of this letter
where the "Dear sir" stands in place of
the former "Dear Reed" shows that
the heart of Washington s friendship for
Reed was paralyzed by this secret and
unsuspected blow. From that moment
there was no longer the same cordiality
between the two, though there were the
most courteous relations, and finally, in
subsequent years, some return to former

While Washington believed that, in ac
cordance with his orders, Lee was on his




route to join him, he received from that
recreant general a letter dated " Peeks-
kill, 30th November," in which he says :
" The day after to-morrow we shall pass
the river, when I should be glad to re
ceive your instructions ; but I could wish
you would bind me as little as possible;
not from any opinion, I do assure you, of
my own parts, but from a persuasion that
detached generals can not have too great
latitude, unless they are very incompe
tent indeed."

Lee also complained of General Heath s
resolute adherence to his instructions.
This faithful officer had refused Lee s re
peated solicitations to send two thousand
men across the Hudson. Lest, however,
he might thus be depriving the command-
er-in-chief of aid that was necessary, he
wrote to him, asking him whether his con
duct was approved. Washington, in his
answer, justified Heath in his refusal, and
ordered him to persist in it. Thus forti
fied, Heath adhered with continued per
tinacity to his orders. Lee, notwithstand
ing, was still urgent, and went so far as
to assume the responsibility of ordering
out two of Heath s regiments. We shall,
however, let General Heath narrate this
occurrence in his own words, which he
uses freely, speaking of himself always in
the third person, as " our general."

"Just before dinner, General
Sullivan arrived at our general s
[Heath s] quarters ; and, in the afternoon,
General Lee arrived. He called at the
door; when our general, waiting upon
him, requested him to alight, he asked if
he could have a cup of tea, and was an
swered that he should have a good one.

Nov. 30,

Upon coming into the house, before he
sat down he wished to speak in private,
which being instantly granted, he told
our general that, in a military view or,
to use his own words exactly In point
oflaiv, you are right ; but, in point of pol
icy, I think you are wrong. I am going
into the Jerseys for the salvation of Amer
ica ; I wish to take with me a larger force
than I now have, and request you to or
der two thousand of your men to march
with rne. Our general answered that he
could not spare that number. He was
then asked to order one thousand; to
which he replied that the business might
as well be brought to a point at once
that not a single man should march from
the post by his order.

" General Lee replied that he would
then order them himself. He was an
swered that there was a wide difference
between the two ; that General Lee was
acknowledged by our general to be his
senior; but, as he had received positive
written instructions from him who was
superior to both, he would not himself
break those orders. If General Lee was
disposed to counteract them, its being-
done by him could not be imputed to any
other person ; and that he knew the com-
mander-in-chief did not intend any of the
troops should be removed from that post
having expressed it no^ only in his
instructions, but also in a letter just re
ceived from him.

" On the letter being shown to General
Lee, he observed, The commander-in-
chief is now at a distance, and does not
know what is necessary here as well as
I do asked if he might be favored with



[PART n.

the return-book of the division. Major
Huntington, the deputy adjutant-general,
was directed to hand it. General Lee ran
his eye over it, and said, I will take Pres-
cott s and Wyllis s regiments ; and, turn
ing to Major Huntington, said, You will
order those two regiments to march ear
ly to-morrow morning to join me. Our
general, turning to the major, said, * Issue
such orders at your peril! and then,
turning to General Lee, addressed him :
Sir, if you come to this post, and mean
to issue orders here which will break those
positive ones which I have received, I
pray you to do it completely yourself,
and through your own deputy adjutant-
general, who is present, and not draw me,
or any of my family, in as partners in the
guilt. General Lee replied : It is right.
Colonel Scammel, do you issue the order ;
which he did, and Huntington communi
cated it to the regiments, who were now
posted at the gorge of the mountains,
near Robinson s bridge, afterward called
the Continental village.

" Matters carried thus far, our general
turned to General Lee again : i Sir, I have
one more request to make, and that is,
that you will be pleased to give me a cer
tificate that you exercise command at this
post, and do order from it Prescott s and
Wyllis s regiments. Lee replied, I do
not know that I will comply with your
request. General Clinton, who was pres
ent, observed, General Lee, you can not
refuse a request so reasonable. Upon
which General Lee wrote as follows:
" PEEKSKILL, December 1, 1776.

" For the satisfaction of General Heath,
and at his request, I do certify that I am

commanding officer, at this present wri
ting, in this post ; and that I have, in that
capacity, ordered Prescott s and Wyllis s
regiments to march.

" (Signed),

" CHARLES LEE, Maj. Gen.

" General Lee, stepping out on the
piazza, observed to an officer, General
Heath is right. Early the next morn
ing, the regiments moved from their can
tonment toward Peekskill ; but, before
they had reached it, General Lee, now
ready to pass into the Jerseys, rode up
to our general s door, and, calling him,
observed : Upon further consideration, I
have concluded not to take the two regi
ments with me. You may order them to
return to their former post: This con
duct of General Lee s appeared not a lit
tle extraordinary, and one is almost at a
loss to account for it."*

Lee finally crossed the Hudson with
his troops, and, having taken two days
(the 2d and 3d of December) for the pas
sage, began a slow, lingering march. The
commander-in-chief still continued to re
treat before the enemy, and, having ar
rived at Trenton, writes again to
Lee, saying, "The sooner you
can join me with your division, the sooner
the service will be benefited." In regard
to Lee s complaints of Heath s tenacity
of his instructions, and of his refusal to
allow any of his troops to cross the river,
Washington says, very peremptorily, "As
to bringing any of the troops under Gen
eral Heath, I can not consent to it."

Lee, in his next letter to his superior,
fairly discloses his purpose of acting in-

* Heath s Memoirs, pp. 94-96.




dependency, although he strives to con
ceal it beneath the shallow pretence that,
since Washington had quitted Brunswick,
it was impossible for him to know where
to join him ! " But although," continues
Lee, U I should not be able to join you at all,
the service which I can render you will,
I hope, be full as efficacious." The north
ern army, it will be recollected, had been
ordered by Washington to join him. Lee,
it appears from his letter, had resolved
that the junction should be with his own
troops, and not with those of the com-
mander-in-chief. "The northern army has
already advanced nearer to Morri^town
than I am, and," grandly adds the ambi
tious Lee, "I shall put myself at their
head to-morrow." He not only thus ac
knowledges that he is about to assume a
command to which he is not entitled, but
even alludes to the tactics which he pro
poses to pursue. " We shall," he says,
" upon the whole, compose an army of
five thousand good troops, in spirits. I
should imagine, dear general, that it may

be of service to communicate this to the
troops immediately under your command.
It may encourage them, and startle the
enemy. In fact, their confidence must
be risen to a prodigious height, if they
pursue you, ivith so formidable a bodf/ hang
ing on their flanlc and rear"

Here we leave General Lee, lagging
on his march from Haverstraw to Morris-
town, where he hoped to receive the re
inforcements from the North, and watch
his opportunity of marching and inflict
ing that triumphant blow upon the flank
or rear of the enemy. Lee s only anxi
ety about Washington s hazardous posi
tion seems to be lest it should endanger
the safety of his horse, for he writes, " I
entreat you [General Washington] to or
der some of your suite to take out of the
way of danger my favorite mare, which
is at that Wilson s, three miles beyond
Princeton." He truly remarks, however,
previously, that " it is paltry to think of
our personal affairs, when the whole is at





Washington quits Newark. Cornwallis enters. Washington at Brunswick. He strives to obtain Reinforcements. Brit
ish Interests in the Ascendant in New Jersey. The Persuasiveness of the Howes Proclamation. Mercy promised.
"Lord, deliver us from his Mercy!" The Tory Disposition of the Magnates. Washington hopeless of making a
Stand in New Jersey. He continues his Retreat. Alexander Hamilton keeps the Enemy in Check. Destruction of
the Bridge at Brunswick. The March to Princeton. Washington crosses the Delaware. Retreat of Lord Stirling
from Princeton. Putnam ordered to Philadelphia, to fortify. Lee still recreant. His Cool Impudence. Washington
entreats. Letter upon Letter. Lee intercepts the Forces from the North. Gates ordered to the Rescue. Capture of
Lee. Wilkinson s Account of it. The Secret of the Capture disclosed.


WASHINGTON was not enabled to
linger on his march. After a week
at Newark, it became necessary to move
on again. " It was the wish of all," says
Washington, " to have remained there
longer, and to have halted before we came
thus far ; but, upon due consideration of
our strength, the circumstances attending
the enlistment of a great part of our lit
tle force, and the frequent advices that
the enemy were embarking or about to
embark another detachment from Staten
island, with a view of landing at Arnboy,"
it was judged necessary to proceed. The
advance-guards of Cornwallis entered the
town as the American rear left. Bruns
wick was the next point which
Washington reached. Here the
flying camp continued to dissolve. Not
only did those whose services had ex
pired go away, but even those who were
engaged for a month longer departed al
so, so that the army was " reduced to a
mere handful."

Washington made an urgent appeal to
the governor of New Jersey to " fall up
on the proper means to draw forth the
strength" of his province to his support.
Livingston was earnestly patriotic, but

he could do little at that time toward
getting recruits for service in the good
cause. The British interests were in the
ascendant. A miserable remnant of troops
in retreat represented the one ; a trium
phant army supported the other. Un
der these circumstances, the proclamation
of the two Howes proved wondrously
persuasive. On the 30th of November
the two brothers, his lordship and Sir Wil
liam, industriously circulated throughout
the Jerseys a document, by which pardon
was offered to all such as had opposed
the king s authority; and who should,
within sixty days, subscribe a declaration
that they would remain in peaceable obe
dience to his majesty, neither taking up
arms themselves nor encouraging others
to take up arms against him. Washing
ton reports that a clergyman, " who was
a staunch friend to the cause," in allusion
to the latitude of pardon extended by
Lord Howe, said, "No one man in the
continent is to be denied his mercy," but
added, "The Lord deliver us from his
mercy !" Numbers, who had been pro
vincial congressmen, committee-men, jus
tices, and the like, though out of the wny
of immediate danger, ran to take advan-



Dec. 2,

tage of the proclamation. Many of the
whigs shifted about. Only a few of for
tune stood firm to the cause. It was the
middle rank of people in general that re
mained steadfast in this day of trial. The
success of the royal army extended its in
fluence also to Pennsylvania. Mr. Gallo
way, the family of the Aliens, with some
others, repaired to the commissioners, to
claim the benefits of the general pardon.*
Washington had little hope of being
able to make a stand in New Jersey in re
sistance to his pursuers and their accumu
lating allies. He therefore began to for
ward a part of his stores to Philadelphia,
even while at Brunswick. The enemy
were close behind him, and, now showing
themselves on the opposite bank of the
Raritan, the American general
quitted Brunswick, taking care
to destroy the bridge which crossed the
river at that town, Captain Alexander
Hamilton keeping the British in check
with his artillery. Princeton was the next
point at which the retreating army halt
ed, where, in order that the country might
in some measure be covered, Washington
left two brigades (consisting of the five
Virginia regiments and that of Delaware,
containing in the whole about twelve hun
dred men fit for duty), under the com
mand of Lord Stirling and his old Virgin
ia comrade in the French War, Stephen,
who had been lately appointed a brigadier-
general. This detachment was set about
transporting the baggage and stores over
the Delaware, while Washington moved
on with the rest of his troops to Trenton.
He now proposed to reinforce Lord

* Gordon.

Dec. 8.

Stirling, whom he had left at Princeton,
with twelve hundred men ; but while pre
paring to march in that direction, he re
ceived an express from his lordship, wh
informed him that he was retreating to
Trenton. The earl gave as his reasons
for this movement, the advance of the
enemy by different routes by one of
which they were attempting to get in
his rear; and the indefensibility of Prince
ton, from the nature of the place, and the
small number of Americans to hold it.

The British were again close at hand ;
and one of the two divisions of Cornwal-
lis reached the Delaware at mid
night, just as the rear-guard of
Washington s army gained the opposite
bank. The American troops had dwin
dled away to the scant number of about
three thousand. All the boats along the
river were secured ; and Washington, al
though trying his utmost to check the
progress of the enemy, thought it impos
sible with his small force to give them
any considerable opposition in the pas
sage of the Delaware, should they at
tempt it.

Under these circumstances, the securi
ty of Philadelphia was Washington s next
object. He thought that a communica
tion of lines and redoubts might soon be
formed from the Delaware to the Schuyl-
kill, on the northern entrance of the city ;
the lines to begin on the Schuylkill side
about the heights of Springatebay, and
run eastward to the Delaware, upon the
highest and most advantageous grounds,
If something of the kind should not be
done, he believed that the British might
march directly in and take possession.




" We have ever found," says Washington,
" that lines, however slight, are very for
midable to them. They would at least
give a check till the people could recover
from the fright and consternation that
naturally attend the first appearance of
an enemy."

Washington acted promptly, in accord
ance with these views. General Mifflin
had just arrived and informed him that
all the military stores yet remained in
Philadelphia. He therefore thought there
was no time to be lost in fortifying that
city ; and he accordingly despatched Ma
jor-General Putnam to superintend the
works and give the necessary directions,
and ordered Mifflin back again to take
charge of the stores.

In the meantime. General Lee was so
absorbed in his own magnificent schemes,
that he did not seem to trouble himself
about the commander-in-chief and his re
peated summons. " I have no certain in
telligence of General Lee," writes Wash
ington on the 8th of December, "although
I have sent frequent expresses to him,
and lately Colonel Hampton, to bring me
some accurate accounts of his situation.
I last night despatched another gentle
man to him, Major Hoops, desiring he
would hasten his march to the Delaware,
in which I would provide boats, near a
place called Alexandria, for the transpor
tation of his troops. I can not account
for the slowness of his march."

Lee had only got as far as Morristown,
having taken three weeks to reach that
place, when Colonel Hampton arrived.
What that officer could have reported in
regard to the condition of Washington s

Dec. 8.

army, we can not say ; but if he confined
himself strictly to the truth, the follow
ing seems a marvel of cool impudence on
the part of Lee, when he writes to the
commander-in-chief: "If I was
not taught to think that your ar
my was considerably reinforced, I should
immediately join you ; but, as I am as
sured you are very strong, I should im
agine we can make a better impression
by hanging on their rear, for which pur
pose a good post at Chatham seems the
best calculated. It is at a happy distance
from Newark,Elizabethtown,Wood bridge,
and Bound brook ; it will annoy, distract,
and consequently weaken them."

Lee seems to have met with more suc
cess in recruiting than Washington, and
estimates that, with the militia, added to
the twenty-seven hundred troops which
he brought with him across the Hudson,
his army amounts to about four thousand
men. Washington suggested the idea of
surprising Brunswick. Lee, however, in
those days of self-exaltation, was little
disposed either to listen to the sugges
tions or obey the orders of his superior.
" The post I propose taking," he replies,
" offers the greatest probability of success;
but we are so ill shod, and destitute of
light-horse, that this desultory war is hard
upon the poor soldiers. But I must do
them the justice to say, that they have
noble spirits, and will, I have no doubt,
render great service to their country."
The recreant Lee concludes this impu
dent self-assertion of authority with a
" God bless you, general !"

Washington received this communica
tion by Colonel Hampton on his return,




Dec, 10.

and immediately despatched an
other summons. Taking care to
inform Lee that his situation was directly
the opposite of what he (Lee) supposed
it to be, and that General Howe was pres
sing forward with the whole of his army
to possess himself of Philadelphia, Wash
ington continues : " I can not but request
and entreat you, and this too by the ad
vice of all the general officers with me,
to march and join me with your whole
force with all possible expedition. The
utmost exertions that can be made, will
not be more than sufficient to save Phila
delphia. Without the aid of your force
I think there is but little, if any, prospect

of doing it Do come on ; your arrival

may be fortunate, and, if it can be effect
ed without delay, it may be the means of
preserving a city, whose loss must prove
of the most fatal consequence to the cause
of America."

Previous to the receipt of this commu
nication, Major Hoops had arrived atLee s
quarters with a letter from the command-
er-in-chief, in which the smallness of his
force was stated. Lee, in answer, as if
suddenly startled by the fact, describes
himself " shocked to hear" that
Washington s force was so inad
equate to the necessity of his situation,
as he had been " taught to think" that he
had been considerably reinforced. Lee
can not persuade himself that Philadel
phia is the object of the enemy ; and, hav
ing posted himself at Chatham, he seemed
determined not to budge, let Washington
beg, entreat, and order, as he might. " I
have put myself in position," writes Lee
to the chief, " the most convenient to co-

Dec, 8,

operate with you, by attacking their rear."
And, again: "It will be difficult, I am
afraid, to join you ; but can not I do you
more service by attacking their rear ?"

Three days subsequently, Lee writes
again to Washington, and would
seem to be in a more compliant
humor, for he talks of crossing the Dela
ware ; but, as he also alludes to taking a
route by the road toward Burlington, he
evidently clings to his old idea of a sepa
rate attack upon the enemy, with a view
of cutting their cordon, contrary to Wash
ington s views and commands. General
Howe, it must be understood, held the

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 52 of 126)