Robert Tomes.

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

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all the baggnge and scattered troops be
longing to this division of the army, as
soon as may be.

" You will keep as many spies out as
you may see proper. A number of horse
men might be kept going backward and
forward for this purpose ; and if you dis
cover any motion of the enemy which
you can depend upon, and which you
think of consequence, let me be informed
thereof as soon as possible by express."
To General Heath Washington wrote :
" The enemy are in great con
sternation ; and, as the panic af
fords us a favorable opportunity to drive
them out of the Jerseys, it has been de
termined in council that you should move
down toward New York with a consider
able force, as if you had a design upon
the city." It was hoped that, by such a
diversion, the British would be obliged to
draw a large part of their force from New
Jersey, for the protection of New York.
General Lincoln was ordered, after leav
ing four thousand of the New-England
militia with Heath, to cross the Hudson
with the remainder, and march them to
join the commander-in-chief at
Morristown, where he had now
moved his troops.

Washington had gone to Morristown,
as the place best calculated in that quar
ter to accommodate and refresh his army.
Its resources proving less than he expect-

Jan. 6.

ed, and his men becoming so impatient
from the severity of the season and their
consequent sufferings, that they left him
in considerable numbers, he thought of
removing. He finally determined, how
ever, to take up his winter-quarters at the
place, for he did not know where else to
procure covering for his troops. Wilkin
son says : " This position,little understood
at the time, was afterward discovered to
be a most safe one for the winter-quarters
of an army of observation, and such was
General Washington s. The approach to
it from the seaboard is rendered difficult
and dangerous by a chain of sharp hills,
which extend from Pluckimen by Bound-
brook and Springfield to the vicinity of
the Passaic river ; it is situate -in the heart
of a country abounding with forage and
provisions, and is nearly equidistant from
New York and Amboy, and also from New
ark and New Brunswick, with defiles in
rear to cover a retreat should circum
stances render it necessary."

Washington, on arriving at Morristown,
repeated his orders to General Heath in
regard to advancing on the city of New
York,but suggested that General Lincoln
should remain with him, instead of ac
companying the New-England detach
ment ordered to Morristown. Heath at
once began to make his dispositions in ac
cordance with Washington s orders. He
moved his troops down from Peekskill,
advancing them gradually toward New
York. On one day a regiment is marched
to Newcastle, and on another the militia
is ordered to White Plains. Again, " our
general," as he always designates himself,
moves to the southward, and arrives at



Newcastle before sunset. Soon he is again
on the march, and " our general" reaches
the outposts of the enemy at Fort Inde
pendence and Kingsbridge, where his
three divisions have also arrived: "Gen
eral Lincoln s on the heights above Colo
nel Van Cortland s; Wooster s at Wil-
liams s ; and Scott s on the back of Vol-
en tine s." Here occurred an engagement,
which we shall allow Heath to describe
in his own words:

" Our general, who moved with the cen
tre division, knew that Yolentine s house
was the quarters of one of the guards ;
he did not know but it might be defend
ed. As he approached it, he ordered Cap
tain Bryant to advance a fieldpiece to the
advance-guard, and, if there was any op
position from the house, to cannonade it
immediately. He then ordered two hun
dred and fifty men from the head of the
column (as it was moving on) to incline
to the right, and by a double step to push
into the hollow, between the house and
the fort, to cut off the guard who were at
the house, in case they should run tow
ard the latter. At this instant, two lightr
horsemen, who had been sent out by the
enemy as the day broke to reconnoitre
the vicinity, came unexpectedly, at the
descent of a hill, plump upon the head
of Wooster s column. They attempted to
turn about, but, before it could be fully
effected, a fieldpiece was discharged at
them : one of them was pitched from his
horse and taken prisoner ; the other gal
loped back to the fort, hallooing as he
passed, The rebels ! the rebels ! This
set all the outguards and pickets running
to the fort, leaving in some places their

arms, blankets, tools, provisions, &c., be
hind them. Those who fled from Volen-
tine s and the Negro fort were fired at as
they ran, but none were killed : one who
could not run so fast as the rest was ta
ken prisoner. Ten muskets were taken
at Volentine s house. The guard above
Van Cortland s was as completely sur
prised as the others, where General Lin
coln took about forty arms, some blan
kets, &c., &c.

"The left and centre divisions moved in
to the hollow, between Volentine s house
and the fort, from whence our general im
mediately sent a summons to the com
manding officer of the fort to surrender."
As " our general" modestly withholds the
lofty words he used on that occasion, we
here supply them : " Forty minutes only,"
said Heath, " can be allowed for the gar
rison to give their answer; and, should it
be in the negative, they must abide the
consequences." No answer was given ;
and the only consequence which followed
was the firing of a gun at an outpost !

In a few days, General Heath, with all
his usual skill in tactics, drew back his
army up the Hudson having learned
from a soi-disant deserter that Governor
Sir Guy Carleton s Canadian troops had
lately arrived in New York by water, and
that a detachment from Rhode Island, un
der Lord Percy, was about to land in
Westchester county. Fearful of being
thus surrounded, and threatened by " the
appearance of a severe snowstorm com
ing on," Heath cautiously retired. " Our
general," who prided himself upon being,
above all things, a good tactician, could
hardly have felt flattered by this criticism



[PART n.

from Washington on these late manoeu
vres : " This letter," he says, writing to
Heath, "is in addition to my public one
of this date. It is to hint to you, and I
do it with concern, that your conduct is
censured (and by men of sense and judg
ment, who have been with you on the
expedition to Fort Independence) as be
ing fraught with too much caution, by
which the army has been disappointed,
and in some degree disgraced. Your
summons, as you did not attempt to ful
fil your threats, was not only idle, but
farcical, and will not fail of turning the
laugh exceedingly upon us. These things
I mention to you as a friend, for you will
perceive that they have composed no part
of my public letter. Why you should be

so apprehensive of being surrounded, even
if Lord Percy had landed, I can not con
ceive. You know that landing men, and
procuring horses, are not the work of an
hour, a day, or even a week."

Heath had a word to say for himself:
" Every officer," he declares, " objected to
a storm, as they apprehended the militia
inadequate to such enterprise." In his
memoir, Heath says that his " success at
the outposts flew through the country,
and was soon magnified to a reduction of
the fort and capture of the garrison. It
reached General Washington long before
the official account, and he had commu
nicated the report to Congress ; hence a
double disappointment, when the true
state of facts was received."


The Hessian Prisoners. Their Reception. Hootings and Revilings. Interposition of Washington. " A Very Good
Rebel." Treatment of American Prisoners. Prison-Ships at New York. Disease and Death, Famine and Filth,
Robbery and Insult. The Waste-House. Otho Williams s Experiences. Ethan Allen a Prisoner in New York.
His Emphatic Opinion of Loring and of Cunningham. Washington writes to General Howe, on Behalf of the Ameri
can Prisoners at New York. The Letter. General Lee at New York. Exchange proposed and refused. Retaliation.
Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell the First Victim. His own Account of his Sufferings. Washington disapproves of
the Treatment of Campbell. He remonstrates with Congress. The Reply of that Body.


THE Hessian prisoners, who had
been taken after the successful sur
prise at Trenton, were carried across the
Delaware, and then sent through the in
terior of Pennsylvania to Winchester, in
Virginia. As they passed from place to
place, the exasperated common people of
the country, looking upon them with hor
ror and detestation as so many hired rob
bers and murderers, hooted and reviled

them at every step. Washington, how
ever, with a feeling of humanity and a
motive of policy, ordered notices to be
posted about the country, calling upon
the inhabitants to treat the Hessian sol
diers with kindness, as they were not re
sponsible for the war, but mere passive
instruments in the hands of a tyrannical
and cruel government. It was hoped that
many of the prisoners, while proceeding


through Pennsylvania, and mingling with
the German population of that province,
mi flit, by kindness and association with
those speaking their own language, be
conciliated toward the American cause.
Washington s interposition was not with
out its effect ; for " from this time," con
fesses a Hessian officer, " things went bet
ter with us. Every clay came many out
of the towns, old and young, rich and poor,
and brought us provisions, and treated us
with kindness and humanity."* They felt
grateful to Washington for a treatment
which was so much beyond their expec
tations, and did not hesitate to style him
" a very good rebel."f

The American prisoners in the hands
of their British captors met with a very
different fate. Those who had been ta
ken at the surrender of Fort Washington
were driven through the streets of New
York, amid the hootings and revilings of
soldiers tribes and other vagabonds, male
and female, who are always hanging, like
so many screeching vultures, about an ar
my, and living upon its plunder and cor
ruption. " Which is Washington ? which
is Washington?" cried these ill-omened
creatures, who believed that the war was
at an end, and that the American leader
himself was among those who were thus
exposed to their foul aspersions.

The men were thrust in crowds into
the prison -ships, churches, and sugar-
houses. Here they were enclosed within
bare walls, scantily supplied with provis
ions of bad quality, wretchedly clothed,
and destitute of sufficient fuel, if indeed
they had any. Disease was the inevita-

* Quoted by Irving. ( Timelier.


ble consequence, and the prisons where
the American captives were immured soon
became hospitals. A fatal malady was
generated, and the mortality thence en
suing was enormous. Some fifteen hun
dred prisoners were supposed to have per
ished in the course of a few weeks in the
city of New York ! The dead, too, were
treated with brutal dishonor ; their bod
ies being allowed to lie in numbers un
co ffined and exposed, to the horror of
their living comrades, and to the jeers of
the insulting enemy.

Some of the American officers had less
to complain of, and were enabled to en
joy " the benefit of free air and the use
of their limbs." Graydon, who was a
prisoner in New York at that time, says :
" I ventured to take boarding at four dol
lars per week. I knew that I had an ex
cellent banker in Philadelphia, and that
if specie was to be procured, my good
mother would take care to get it and
send it to me." But all had not, like
Graydon, the specie of a banker, or the
more sterling fund of a mother s affection,
to draw upon. Graydon, too, with the
clever tact of a man of the world, suc
ceeded in conciliating the good will of
the oppressors, by whom he was treated
with exceptional indulgence, although
not seldom " berebelled." The fate of
others was more cruel.

Many of the American officers were
plundered of their baggage, robbed of
their side-arms, hats, and cockades, and
otherwise grossly ill treated. A Major
Otho Holland Williams, of Colonel Raw-
lings s rifle-regiment, was one of those
who fell into the hands of the enemy




after the surrender of Fort Washington.
He and three companies of the regiment
were put on board the Baltic merchant
man, used as a hospital-ship, and then ly
ing in Long-island sound. Here he was
placed upon such a small allowance of
food, that he was only saved from fam
ishing by " a pittance of pork and pars
nips" which a good-natured sailor spared
from his own mess. In a few days, Wil
liams and his companions were taken
ashore, and, having been put into one
common dirt-cart, were dragged through
the city of New York, amid the hootings
of the crowd, to an old "waste-house,"
near the Bridewell. Here they were glad
to find a rest from the insults and suffer
ings which they had endured, although
it was in a place which, from its " open
ness and filthiness," had a few months be
fore, while Washington was in possession
of the city, been refused as barracks for
the private soldiers. Such officers as had
not the banking facilities or the maternal
resources of Graydon, were obliged to take
their board in the "waste-house," and con
tent themselves with "six ounces of pork,
one pound of biscuit, and some peas, per
day, and two bushels and a half of sea-
coal per week, for each." Such ill-condi
tioned quarters and meager fare soon had
their natural effect upon the health of
the officers.

Ethan Allen s great stalwart frame had
lost its robustness ; and his gay suit of
blue-and-gold, which had been bestowed
upon him by his admirers in Cork, hung
loosely upon his body, collapsing under
his meager prison-diet. After his capture
in Canada, and a voyage to England and

thence back to Halifax, Allen had been
conveyed to New York, where he was
now a prisoner, startling both friend and
foe with his emphatic denunciations and
his stories of his strange adventures and
doughty deeds. No doubt his British jail
ers congratulated themselves upon hav
ing caged so formidable a fellow. There
must have been something to be dreaded
in one who could growl so fiercely and
bite so effectively. His captors he sav
agely denounced, and particularly Loring,
the British commissary of prisoners, say
ing : " He is the most mean-spirited, cow
ardly, deceitful, and destructive animal, in
God s creation below ; and legions of in
fernal devils, with all their tremendous
horrors, are impatiently ready to receive
Howe and him, with all their detestable
accomplices, into the most exquisite ago
nies of the hottest regions of hell-fire !"
Of Cunningham, the provost-marshal, he
said that " he was as great a rascal as the
army could boast of." and other testimony
seems to confirm Allen s opinion ; for this
British official w T ould stride about the
prison, whip in hand, and send the pris
oners to bed as if they had been so many
hounds, with the cry " Kennel, ye sons
of bitches! kennel, G-dd n ye !"* That
Allen s persecutors might be made con
scious that "his bite was as good as his
bark," he used to show a fracture in one
of his teeth, occasioned by his twisting
off with it, in a fit of anger, the nail which
fastened the bar of his handcuffs, while in
irons on shipboard ! " D n him, can he
eat iron ?" was the exclamation of his as
tonished listeners.

* Graydon.




Washington, hearing of the treatment
of the American prisoners at New York,
immediately wrote to General Sir William
Howe, denouncing it, and threatening re
taliation in case it was not changed for
the better. Those prisoners, who had re
cently been restored to liberty, " give the
most shocking account," writes Washing
ton, "of their barbarous usage, which their
miserable, emaciated countenances con
firm If you are determined," he says

to Howe, " to make captivity as distres
sing as possible, let me know it, that we
may be upon equal terms, for your con
duct must and shall regulate mine." To
the admiral, Lord Howe, Washington has
also occasion to write, in consequence of
the complaint of a Captain Sanble, of the
ill treatment which he and other naval
prisoners had suffered. In these words
of dignified remonstrance his lordship is
addressed : " From the opinion I have
ever been taught to entertain of your
lordship s humanity, I will not suppose
that you are privy to proceedings of so
cruel and unjustifiable a nature; and I
hope that, upon making the proper in
quiry, you will have the matter so regu
lated, that the unhappy persons whose
lot is captivity may not in future have
the miseries of cold, disease, and famine,
added to their other misfortunes. You
may call us rebels, and say that we de
serve no better treatment ; but remem
ber, my lord, that, supposing us rebels,
we still have feelings as keen and sensi
ble as loyalists, and will, if forced to it,
most assuredly retaliate upon those up
on whom we look as the unjust invaders
of our rights, liberties, and properties. I

should not have said thus much, but my in
jured countrymen have long called upon
me to endeavor to obtain a redress of
their grievances ; and I should think my
self as culpable as those who inflict such
severities, were I to continue silent."

General Lee, who had been at New
York ever since his surprise and capture
by the British, was kept a close prisoner,
being considered by Sir William Howe
as a deserter. Lee, however, was not
brought to trial, as it was doubted wheth
er, by his public resignation of his half-
pay as lieutenant-colonel in the British
service, previous to his acceptance of a
commission in the American army, he was
still amenable to military law for deser
tion. Howe informed the English minis
try of his doubts, and received this per
emptory answer : " As you have difficul
ties about bringing General Lee to trial
in America, it is his majesty s pleasure
that you send him to Great Britain by the
first ship-of-war." In the meantime, how-
ever,Washington had refused to exchange
the Hessian field-officers taken at Tren
ton, or Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, un
less General Lee was recognised as a pris
oner-of-war. Howe, in consequence, fear
ing that his German troops might grow
discontented if their officers should suffer
from Washington retaliating upon them
for the treatment of Lee, waited for fur
ther instructions from the home govern
ment before sending him away. The next
despatch from the British minister was in
these words : " His majesty consents that
Lee (having been struck off the half-pay
list) shall, though deserving the most ex
emplary punishment, be deemed as a pris-




oner-of-war, and may be exchanged as
such, when you may think proper."

It is but just to state that both Lord
Howe, the admiral, and Sir William Howe,
the commander of the land-forces, indig
nantly repelled all responsibility for the
ill treatment of the American prisoners
in their hands. His lordship emphatical
ly declared : " I abhor every imputation
of wanton cruelty in multiplying the mis
eries of the wretched, or of treating them
with needless severity." Sir William in
sisted that the prisoners were " provided
with proper habitations, sufficient and
wholesome food, and medicines." The
illness and speedy death of many were,
however, not denied. Those gentlemen
were, no doubt, guiltless of the inhuman
ity of direct and intentional cruelty, al
though they were justly held responsible
for the sufferings (probably somewhat ex
aggerated) caused by their agents.

During the early period of General
Lee s imprisonment, Sir William Howe,
while awaiting instructions from his gov
ernment, resisted all appeals toward miti
gating the severity of his captivity. Five
Hessian officers were offered in exchange
for Lee, but refused. Congress accord
ingly determined to retaliate, and Wash
ington wrote to General Howe : " I must
give you warning that Major-General Lee
is looked upon as an officer belonging to
and under the protection of the United
Independent States of America ; and that
any violence you may commit upon his
life or liberty will be severely retaliated
upon the lives or liberties of the British
officers, or those of their foreign allies, at
present in our hands."

Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, who had
been taken prisoner on board a transport
captured off Boston, was the first to suf
fer. He was lodged in the common jail
of Concord, and there treated as if he had
been a criminal condemned for the most
atrocious crimes. His dungeon was but
twelve or thirteen feet square, and shut
out from the adjoining yard by two doors,
with double locks and bolts. Although


it was in the depth of winter, the window
was barred only with iron, and unglazed.
He had, however, an inner apartment, but
this was described as " a loathsome, black
hole, decorated with a pair of fixed chains,"
from which its former occupant, a felon,
had just been removed, leaving his litter
and filth behind him. "The attendance
of a single servant," said Campbell, in a
letter to General Howe, "is also denied
me, and every visit from a friend posi
tively refused. In short, sir, was a fire
to happen in any chamber of the jail
which is all wood, the chimney-stacks ex-
cepted I might perish in the flames be
fore the jailer could go through the cer
emony of unbolting the doors ; although,
to do him justice, in his station, I really
think him a man of humanity : his house
is so remote, that any call from within,
especially if the wind was high, might be
long of reaching him effectually."

This was certainly hard treatment for
a colonel in the British army, and a mem
ber of Parliament, and one who had as
yet been guiltless of American blood.
Washington remonstrated with the coun
cil of Massachusetts for this excessive se
verity, reminding them that Campbell,
according to the act of Congress, was to




have exactly the same treatment as was
received by General Lee; and, as that
officer was " only confined to a commo
dious house, with genteel accommoda
tions," there was no right or reason in be
ing more severe upon Colonel Campbell,
whom " I should wish," adds Washington,
" should immediately upon the receipt of
this [letter] be removed from his present
situation, and put in a house where he
may live comfortably."

To Congress Washington also wrote,
strongly denouncing this treatment of
Campbell, as a retaliation which had
been prematurely begun. On the point
of policy, apart from the inhumanity, he
condemned it. "The balance of prison
ers," he says, " is greatly against us ; and
a general regard to the happiness of the
whole should mark our conduct. Can we
imagine that our enemies will not mete
the same punishments, the same indigni
ties, the same cruelties, to those belong
ing to us, in their possession, that we im
pose on theirs in our power ? Why should
we suppose them to possess more human
ity than we have ourselves? Or why
should an ineffectual attempt to relieve
the distresses of one brave, unfortunate
man, involve many more in the same ca
lamities ? However disagreeable the fact
may be, the enemy at this time [March
1] have in their power, and subject to
their call, near three hundred officers be
longing to the army of the United States.
In this number there are some of high
rank, and most of them are men of brave
ry and of merit. The quota of theirs in
our hands bears no proportion, being not
more than fifty at most. Under these

circumstances, we should do no act to
draw upon the gentlemen belonging to
us, and who have already suffered a long
captivity, greater punishments than they
have experienced and now experience.
If we should, what will their feelings be,
and those of their numerous and exten
sive connections ?

"Suppose the treatment of the Hessians
should be pursued, will it not establish
what the enemy have been aiming to
effect by every artifice and the grossest
misrepresentation I mean an opinion
of our enmity toward them, and of the
cruel conduct they experience when they
fall into our hands, a prejudice which we
on our part have heretofore thought it
politic to suppress and root out by every

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 57 of 126)