Robert Tomes.

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

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here would be advantageous, to give the




required support to the army of the east
ern or middle states. Should the enemy
strive to penetrate the country up the
North river, the troops at Peekskill would
be well posted to resist them. Should
the British attempt to march into New
England, the troops at Peekskill would
be well stationed for opposition ; should
they move westward, the eastern and
southern forces would be enabled easily
to form a junction ; and, with a strong
American force so near as Peekskill, Sir
William Howe would be obliged to keep
a powerful garrison in New York, and
thus diminish his resources for active op
erations elsewhere. Even granting that
the army in Canada had designs against
Ticonderoga, the post at Peekskill would
not be disadvantageously situated for de
spatching reinforcements to the north.

Washington was convinced that the
army in Canada would be governed in a
great degree by the operation of General
Howe s, then in New Jersey. " If this is
held at bay, curbed and confined," he said,
" the northern army will not dare to pen
etrate." Washington would have great
ly wished to give Howe some " capital
stroke" in the early part of the season,
that he might open the campaign with
the eclat of a triumph. The aspirations
of Congress, however, greatly transcended
those of the coinmander-in-chief. They
eagerly desired that the enemy might be
confined in their present quarters, pre
vented from getting supplies from the
country, and totally subdued before they
Avere reinforced. " Could such grand ob
jects be accomplished, I should be happy
indeed," wrote Washington, in answer to

War, 14.

the impracticable and rather im
portunate suggestions of Con
gress. His whole force was but " a hand
ful," and the greater part of this was made
up of militia. Under such circumstances,
the commancler-in-chief felt it necessary
not only to curb his own heroic desires,
but to extinguish the brilliant expecta
tions of the national counsellors. " I con
fess, sir," writes Washington to President
Hancock, " I feel the most painful anxie
ty when I reflect on our situation and
that of the enemy. Unless the levies ar
rive soon, w r e must before long experi
ence some interesting and melancholy

The swelling conceptions of General
Howe were also destined to a collapse.
He, while doing nothing during the long
winter, had consoled himself with the
hope of doing a great deal in the coming
summer and autumn. He had magnifi
cently resolved upon making an incur
sion into Rhode Island and Massachu
setts, taking Boston ; ascending the Hud
son river to Albany ; attacking Philadel
phia ; and invading Virginia ! This grand
scheme was concocted in the heat of his
success in New Jersey. The subsequent
defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, how
ever, somewhat clipped the wings of his
imagination, and confined its flights to
the single state of Pennsylvania, which
he proposed to reduce. He wanted, nev
ertheless, thirty thousand men to execute
what had been so brilliantly conceived.
These he was told by the prime minister
he could not get, and Sir William was
again forced to restrict still further his




General Howe now gave up all hope
of making an attempt upon New Eng
land, or any important movement up the
North river. New Jersey being almost
wrested from his possession, he was fain to
change his purpose of marching through
that state in order to reduce Pennsylva
nia. The latter he now proposed to in
vade by sea. This was to be the main
object of the coming campaign. Gov
ernor Tryon, however, was to be left at
New York with three thousand provin
cial troops, in order that he might be pre
pared to act on the Hudson or against
Connecticut, as circumstances might di
rect. To Sir Guy Carleton, in Canada,
no hopes were held out of co-operation,
in the outset of the campaign, although
General Howe thought he would be able
to spare a sufficient force to open a com
munication through the Highlands on the
North river for the passage of the men-
of-war, and that these troops might co
operate with the British army in the

These designs of the enemy, although
now fully known to the historian, could
only be conjectured or learned by the
Americans through the irregular and un
certain means of the spy or the deserter.
That the British troops were preparing
to move in some direction, was clear. At
the camp at Brunswick, they were very
busily employed in building a bridge, to be
supported by flat-boats, which were to be
transported by land on carriages. It was
inferred by the Americans that this bridge
was designed for crossing the Delaware,
and that the British commander intend
ed to march through New Jersey into

Pennsylvania; while the transports which
were getting ready at New T York should
bring troops thence by water to Philadel
phia, in order to co-operate with the main
body of the army, marched over land
from Brunswick.

General Howe,before opening the cam
paign, and bringing his whole army into
the field, inflicted several small blows, to
try, as it were, the temper of his troops,
and the powers of resistance of his an

General Heath, who was in command
of the American forces at Peekskill, had
obtained leave to visit his home in New
England. Being subsequently appointed
to the command of the garrison at Boston,
he did not retire. General M Dougall, as
his second, succeeded him, and was now
in command at Peekskill.

Howe, tempted by the large amount
of military stores and provisions collected
at Peekskill, devised a scheme for taking
or destroying them. To divert the Amer
icans from his real purpose, an American
officer, who was one of the prisoners ta
ken at Fort Washington, was allowed to
hear, with affected inadvertence, the con
versation of some British officers. The
American was then sent out with a fla^


to the outposts of General M Dongall, and
there left, with the understanding that he
had been exchanged. Getting among his
countrymen, and suspecting nothing of
the enemy s ruse, his first step was toward
headquarters, to report himself and give
all the information which he possessed.
Accordingly, he communicated to General
M Dougall all that he had gathered from
the conversation to which he supposed




he had been unintentionally made a par
ty. The enemy, he said, talked of ma
king an incursion into Westchester conn-


ty, with the design of taking off the for
age. With this view, they were about
sending out three detachments : one to
proceed up Long-island sound to Mama-
roneck ; another by the Hudson to Tarry-
town ; and the third to go by land, by
way of Kingsbridge.

General M Dougall had only two hun
dred and fifty men, and could hardly ven
ture to oppose so formidable an invasion,
of which he had been thus fictitiously in
formed. He, however, did all he could :
he began to send away the stores which
were at Peekskill to Forts Montgomery
and Constitution, that they might be more
secure. While thus engaged, the
enemy made their appearance,
with ten sail, in the North river, off Tar
ry town; and, on the same evening, two
of the vessels advanced to within twelve
miles of Peekskill. By noon on the fol
lowing day, the whole fleet (con
sisting of the Boome frigate, two
ships and two brigs, three galleys and
four transports) rode at anchor in Peeks-
kill bay. In an hour s time, five hundred
men and four pieces of artillery, under
the command of Colonel Bird, w r ere land
ed at Lent s cove.

General M Douarall, finding the mini-

O / O

ber of the enemy double that of his own,
:lid not venture to oppose them, but re
treated to the hills behind the town
having, however, first set fire to some of
the storehouses situated by the river-side,
and sent orders to Lieutenant-Colonel
Marinus Willett to march with a detach-

Mar, 23,

ment of troops from Fort Constitution to
his aid.

The British were left undisturbed du
ring a whole day, when they secured some
of the stores, and burned the greater part,
as the only wharf at which they could be
shipped had been destroyed by the fire
ordered by M Dougall as he retreated.
In the meantime, Willett had come up
with his reinforcement, and finding that
a party of the British had the next morn
ing detached themselves from the main
body and taken possession of some high
ground near the town, he attacked them
with such spirit, that they were forced,
after a loss of nine killed and wounded,
to retire to their comrades in the town.
The whole British force, having accom
plished their purpose, now prepared to
embark, setting fire, as they went, to the
houses and the boats along the bay. Fa
vored by a moonlight night, they were
soon on board their transports, and sail
ing down the river.

" The loss of rum, molasses, flour, bis
cuit, pork, beef, wheat, oats, hay, tallow,
iron pots, camp-kettles, canteens, bowls,
nails, wagons and carts, barracks, store
houses, sloops and petticmgcrs laden with
provisons," says Gordon, " was very con
siderable, far beyond what was given out
by the Americans, though not of that im
portance and magnitude as to answer the
expectations of General Howe."

The enemy were evidently in a more
lively disposition for attack, and their at
tempts became more frequent.
They even showed a disposition
to disturb the Americans in New Jersey.
General Lincoln was posted with his di-

Vjnil 13,



[PART n.

vision (in which there were only about
five hundred effective men) at Bound-
brook, who had to guard an extent of
five or six miles. Lord Cornwall! deter
mined to attack the post thus weakened.
Lincoln was not unexpectant of such a
manoeuvre, and had put his men on their
guard against a surprise. The patriots,
however, became neglectful ; and the en
emy, numbering about a thousand men,
led on by Lord Cornwallis and General
Grant, succeeded in crossing the Raritan,
a short distance above Lincoln s quarters,
and were not discovered until they had
advanced within two hundred yards of
the American lines. While these were
attempting to surround the general, two
thousand more British troops marched
along the banks of the Raritan to attack
the Americans in front. Lincoln barely
had a chance to escape, but succeeded,
together with one of his aids, in getting
off; but his other aid-de-camp, with all his
papers, fell into the hands of the enemy.
Lincoln immediately galloped to the front
of his troops, while Earl Cornwallis threw
a part of his force in the rear of their
right, and attempted to pass another de
tachment on their left, with the purpose
of surrounding and cutting off the retreat
of the Americans. Lincoln saw the de
sign, and, while these two detachments of
the enemy were closing and about to hem
him in, he with great promptness pushed
his force through the passage between
them, and thus effected his escape, with
the loss only of sixty killed and wound
ed. Cornwallis was left in possession of
Boundbrook ; but, after destroying score

*/ o

of barrels of flour, a few casks of rum, and

some miscellaneous stores, he evacuated
the place.

Sir William Howe now struck another
preliminary blow against the Americans
Learning that D anbury, in Connecticut,
had been made the depot of a large quan
tity of stores, he fitted out an expedition
at New York to destroy them. Governor
Tryon was given the command, and with
him were associated General Agnew and
Sir William Erskine. Two thou
sand troops were detailed for the
service ; and, being embarked on board
twenty-six British men-of-war and trans
ports, the whole expedition sailed up
Long-island sound exciting by its for
midable appearance the greatest alarm
along the shores of Westchester and Con
necticut. As the fleet stood in toward
the villages of Norwalk and Fairfield,
the inhabitants hurried to their arms and
prepared for resistance.

The vessels having come to anchor, the
boats were lowered and the British troops
landed on the low shore which stretches
out from the base of the Compo hill, near
the mouth of the Saugatuck river. Try-
on, having planted his artillery, was en
abled soon to disperse the miscellaneous
throng of people which had gathered to
oppose him, and take up his march, al
though his men were severely galled here
and there by the American marksmen,
who as they retired fired upon their in
vaders from under cover of the woods
and stone-fences. The British, however,
pushed their way for seven miles into the
interior of the country, and halted for
the night.

General Silliman, of the Connecticut




militia, who was at Fail-field, so soon as
he was aware of the landing of the ene
my, sent out expresses in every direction
to call the inhabitants to arms. Early

next morning, the militia, obe-

dient to the summons, came in

to the number of five hundred men, and
Silliman marched them to Reading, in
pursuit of the enemy. It happened that
General Arnold, who was on his way from
Providence to Philadelphia, to lay before
Congress his complaints, was sojourning
with his friends at New Haven when the
intelligence arrived of the British inva
sion. Forgetting momentarily all his pri
vate troubles, his ardent spirit was roused
to active sympathy with the public cause.
He immediately mounted his horse, and,
joining General Wooster, who was also
at New Haven, rode with him in great
haste to overtake Silliman, some thirty
miles distant. Stirring up with their ar
dent appeals the people along the road,
Wooster and Arnold succeeded in bring
ing in with them, when they reached Sil
liman at Reading, over a hundred men.
The whole body now moved on toward
Danbury, which was known to be the ob
ject of the enemy, but halted within four
miles of that town, at Bethel, which they
did not reach until midnight, in conse
quence of the heavy rain.

The British, after their night-
halt, were on the march again
early the next morning, and proceeded
with such despatch, that, with the aid of
two native tories as guides, they reached
Danbury at two o clock in the afternoon.
The inhabitants were not aware of their
approach until some of the frightened

April 26,

country-people rode in with the intelli
gence that the enemy were but nine miles
off, and were coming with all speed. The
alarm was great in Danbury. Any at
tempt at resistance, with the scanty mi
litia force of only a hundred and fifty
men, which was the whole number in the
place, was felt to be useless. Those who
could leave, fled with their wives, chil
dren, and effects, to the woods and neigh
boring villages; for, with exaggerated
fears of the cruelty of the British, they
believed them capable of every outrage.
The small militia force made their way
out of Danbury at one extremity while
the enemy marched in at the other, and
succeeded in joining General Silliman at

The British, as soon as they entered
the town, began to destroy the public
stores, and made great havoc, turnin^ out

* O / O

of the episcopal church the barrels of flour
and pork with which it was crammed to
the galleries, and the contents of two oth
er buildings, and then burning them. In
this manner, eighteen hundred barrels of
pork and beef, seven hundred of flour, two
thousand bushels of wheat, rye, oats, and
Indian corn, clothing for a whole regi
ment, and seventeen hundred tents, the
greatest loss of all, were consumed.

Their object accomplished, the enemy
did not seem disposed to commit any fur
ther outrage. They were, however, pro
voked to an act of revenge by the sense
less conduct of four of the inhabitants,
who, well charged with liquor, and armed
with rifles, had posted themselves in one
of the houses, and commenced to fire up
on the troops. The British soldiers, thus



[PART n.

irritated, rushed forward, and, seizing the
four men, thrust them into the cellar, and
burnt the house and the poor wretches
with it ! This was a signal for general
riot, and the troops began to break open
the casks of rum, and help themselves
freely to their contents. The whole force
was consequently in such a state of in
toxication that night, that the men could
have been readily mastered by the Amer
ican militia, few as they were.

Generals Silliman, Wooster, and Ar
nold, however, had deemed it imprudent,
with their small force, to risk an attack
upon the enemy while at Danbury : they
preferred to await their return, and try
to cut them off from their ships. They
soon had an opportunity of beginning op
erations. Tryon, finding that his men
were fast losing all sense of discipline in
their debauchery, and fearing that the
Americans (whom he knew to be at Beth
el) might come upon him in the midst of
disorder^ prudently determined to with
draw his troops from Danbury as soon as
the drunkards had partially slept off the
effects of their liquor, and the wearied
their fatigue. Before the morn
ing broke, therefore, Tryon be
gan his march, having first set fire to all
the buildings in the village, with the ex-


ception of those which had been previ
ously marked with a cross, to indicate
that they were in possession of his tory
friends, and were to be spared. From the
contrast of the darkness of the lingering
dawn on that stormy morning, the blaze
of Danbury on fire was visible through
out a wide extent of the adjacent coun
try, and the inhabitants were inflamed to

April 27,

great indignation against these modern

As Governor Tryon was conscious that
the Americans would attempt to cut off
his retreat to his ships lying in the sound,
he took an indirect route, with the view
of giving the impression that he was about
returning to New York by land through
Westchester, the county bordering on
Connecticut. This led him to Ridgeway.

o /

The veteran Wooster, who, as senior in
rank, had taken the chief command of the
militia, on discovering this movement of
the enemy, sent Generals Arnold and Sil
liman, with four hundred men, to march
and post themselves in front of Tryon, in
order to oppose his advance, while he him
self, with two hundred, prepared to hang
upon his rear and do what he could to
harass it. Arnold arrived at Ridgefield
(which the enemy would be obliged to
pass, on their way to Cornpo) about ten
o clock, and took a position in a narrow
road where it entered the northern end
of the village. Here he hastly gathered
as many carts and logs as he could, and
built them up, with earth, into a barri
cade across the road, between a house on
one side and a ledge of rocks on the oth
er; and with his force now increased to
five hundred by the militiamen that lie
had picked up on his route, he awaited
the approach of the enemy.

As Tryon hurried on, General Wooster,
with his two hundred men, followed after,
and came up with the rear-guard of the
British within a few miles of Ridgefield.
The Americans succeeded in picking up
a score of stragglers, and then continued
to push on, when the enemy turned, and.




planting their artillery, discharged a vol
ley of shot, which caused Wooster s little
band of militia to falter. The old gener
al, riding at their head, and full of spirit,
though a veteran of nearly seventy years,
strove to rally his troops, and cried out,
" Come on, my boys ! Never mind such
random shots !" At this moment a ball
struck him in the side, and he fell mor
tally wounded. His men gave up the
pursuit, and bore their dying general to
D anbury.

The enemy pushed on toward Ridge-
field, sending their flanking-parties out on
either side, and marching with their main
body in solid array direct for Arnold s bar
ricade. The Americans gave them a warm
reception as they came up ; but, as the
British gained the ledge of rocks on his
flank, and began to pour down upon his
little band volley after volley of musket
ry, Arnold was forced to order a retreat.
lie himself, with his usual dare-devil spir
it, was the last to leave the ground ; and,
when thus left in the rear of his men, he
became a prominent target for the fire of
the enemy. Just as he was turning his
horse to follow, a shot struck the animal,
which brought it down upon its knees.
While Arnold w r as still in the saddle, try
ing to get his foot out, which had got en
tangled in the stirrup, a Connecticut tory
rushed at him with his bayonet, crying

" Surrender ! you are my prisoner !"
" Not yet !" answered Arnold, who at
the moment, drawing a pistol from his
holster, shot the man dead ; and then, ex
tricating himself from his wounded horse,
he made for a swamp by the roadside and

April 28,

escaped, although followed by the bullets
of a whole platoon of the enemy. Tryon
now entered Ridgefield, and allowed his
troops, harassed by the day s hard work,
the rest of a night.

At dawn next day, the British, having
burnt four houses at Ridgefield,
w r ere again on the march, and
continued their route for Compo, through
Norwalk. The ever-active Arnold was OP
the alert. Again in the saddle, he had
rallied his scattered militia, and posted
them on the road leading to the bridge
across the Saugatuck river, prepared once
more to oppose Tryon s retreat; while at
the bridge itself he had stationed Colonel
Lamb and his corps, and planted three
fieldpieces, under Lieutenant-Colonel Os
wald. Tryon, finding his way thus op
posed, turned his column toward a ford
of the stream above, and ordered his men
to get across with all possible expedition
His object was, to anticipate the Ameri
cans before they could pass over and be
able to oppose his retreat. He partially
succeeded, but did not escape without a
severe struggle, as his rear came in col
lision with the van of his pursuers just
crossing the bridge. Colonel Hunting-
ton, too, posted on the other side, with
Wooster s men and the militia of Danbu-
ry, gave Tryon a good deal of annoyance
on his flank.

The enemy, however, pushed on, with
the whole body of the Americans close
after them. On reaching Compo, Tryon
took his position upon the hill, while the
Americans came to a halt and waited till
he should attempt to embark his troops,
when they hoped greatly to harass him.




Sir William Erskine, observing the dan
gerous position of Tryon, immediately
landed from the fleet lying off the shore
a large body of sailors and marines, who
drove back the pursuers, and thus suc
ceeded in covering the embarkation of
the whole British force, when the ships
set all sail and moved down the sound.

In the struggle, Arnold, as usual, was
foremost; and, although he himself es
caped, his horse was shot in the neck.
Colonel Lamb was dangerously wounded
by a grapeshot while directing his bat
tery, and gallantly standing his ground
among the last.

The British, although they had effected
their main purpose in the expedition, were
much the greater losers in men, having
lost in killed, wounded, and prisoners, at
least three hundred, while the loss of the
Americans was only one hundred. The
death of the veteran Wooster, which oc
curred at D anbury on the 2d of May, was
greatly regretted. Though sixty-seven
years of age when he fell, he had all the
spirit and gallantry of youth.

DAVID WOOSTER was one of the few lead
ing military men of his day who, when
the Revolutionary War began, brought
into the field a practical knowledge of tac
tics derived from experience. lie had
served in the French War, fought under
Sir William Pepperell at Louisburg, and
commanded with honor as a colonel and
subsequently a brigadier in the French

and Indian campaign of 1763. Taking
part with the revolutionists in 1775, he
was appointed, on the organization of the
continental army, the third in rank of
the eight brigadier-generals then chosen.
After a brief command in Canada in 1776,
he returned to his native state of Con
necticut, when he received the appoint
ment of major-general, the first in rank,
and thus became the chief in command
when Governor Tryon attacked Danbury.
His birth in Stratford, education at Yale
college, his marriage with the daughter
of the president of that institution, and
his devotion to the interests of Connecti
cut, had greatly endeared him to the peo
ple of that state.

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 60 of 126)