Robert Tomes.

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

. (page 76 of 126)
Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 76 of 126)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

last extremity.

When the Hessians came to a halt.
Count Donop, who commanded them, or-



|_PART ir.

Oct. 22,

dered a parley to be beaten by the drums.
and sent forward an officer with a Hag,
who summoned the garrison to surrender,
and threatened that, in case of refusal, no
quarter would be given. " Tell your com
mander," replied Greene, " that we ask no
quarter, and will give none !" Count Do-
nop now advanced his men within a short
distance of the fort, and began to raise a

Colonel Greene was aware, from the
incomplete state of his outworks, that it
would be in vain to attempt to defend
them, and therefore resolved upon con
centrating his whole strength within the

O o

inner redoubt. Here, with his little gar
rison, he resolved to hold his ground, and
if possible beat off the superior force of
his antagonist. In the afternoon,
Count Donop, having completed
his battery, began a severe cannonade,
and under the cover of the fire inarched
forward his troops in two divisions. One
was to take the works on the north side ;
while the other, led by himself, was to
make the assault by the south.

The Americans awaited the approach
of the enemy, and gave one fire before
retiring to the redoubt. The Hessians
suffered severely; but as they advanced,
and found the outworks suddenly aban
doned, they believed that the garrison
had iled in fright. With one triumphant
shout, the enemy then pushed on, from
both the north and south sides. Passing
through the abalti*, crossing the ditches,
and leaping the pickets, they hurried for
ward, with Hag in hand, to plant it exult-
ingly upon the ramparts. Greene waited
until the scattered Hessians had closed in

together from the surrounding outworks,
and crowded toward the central redoubt ;
and, while they were thus concentrated
in a dense throng, he opened his artillery
upon them with terrible effect.

The assailants quailed before the unex
pected shock, and, as their comrades fell
thickly about them, would have fled, had
not the brave Count Donop sprung for
ward and rallied them. They came on
again impetuously, but a second cannon
ade from the redoubt checked their on
set, and caused them to waver. Rallying
once more, they were again pushing for
ward to the assault, when another mur
derous fire drove them back, and they
fled in confusion from the works. As they
were retreating from the outer defences,
the American flotilla of gun-boats and gal
leys, under Commodore Hazelwood, di
rected its guns upon the fugitives, and
galled them severely.

The loss of the Hessians amounted to
nearly four hundred, while that of the
Americans was only eight killed and twen
ty-nine wounded. While the young en
gineer, Captain Duplessis, was out with a
small detachment, making a survey of
the results of the engagement, he heard
a voice from among the dead and dyin^:

o / O

" Whoever you are, draw me hence." It
was that of Count Donop. Duplessis had
him instantly borne into the fort, where
he lingered for three days, and finally
died, at the age of thirty-seven. "This
is finishing a noble career early," said he
shortly before his death, " and I die the
victim of my ambition and of the avarice
of my sovereign."*

* Tliu elector of Ile.sse Cusscl.


The second in command of the Hes
sians, Lieutenant-Colonel Mingerode,was
also severely wounded in the assault, and
Lieutenant -Colonel Linsing succeeded.
He strove to reform his troops, but, in
spite of his efforts, they fled in confusion
to Haddonfield.

Simultaneously with the attack by land
on Fort Mercer, the British vessels in the
Delaware made an attempt upon Fort
Miillin, on the opposite side of the chan
nel. Admiral Howe sent up from below
(where his fleet was anchored off the
Pennsylvania shore, between Ruddy isl
and and Newcastle) a squadron, consist
ing of the Augusta, a sixty-four, the Mer
lin sloop-of-war, the Roebuck, a forty-four,
and several smaller ships. They succeed
ed, after the successful attack at Billings-
port, in readily passing through the gap
in the chevaux-de-frise which had been con
structed ; but, while sailing up toward the
fort, the Augusta and the Merlin got fast
aground, in consequence of the channel
having been altered by the obstructions
placed above. This delayed the attack,
and it was put off until the fol
lowing day. When the morning
opened, the men-of-war began a heavy
cannonade upon Fort MifTlin, which was
returned by both the fort itself and from
the American galleys in the river. In
the meantime, every effort was made by
the English to get off the Augusta and
the Merlin, but they stuck so fast, that it
was found impracticable. The Americans
now sent down some fire-ships, in order
to destroy them, but without effect. Soon
after, however, the Augusta took fire from
some pressed hay which had been secured

Oct. 23,

on her quarter to render her shot-proof.
The rest of the squadron dropped down
the river, and abandoned the attack, to
avoid the dangerous neighborhood of
the burning ship, which, after blazing a
short time, and the fire having reached
her magazine, blew up with a terrific ex
plosion. Most of her crew succeeded in
saving themselves, but the second-lieuten
ant, the chaplain, a gunner, and several
sailors, perished. The Merlin being still
fast, the British determined to leave her
to her fate ; and accordingly the crew,
having set fire to her, took to their boats,
and pulled off to the other vessels.

The successful resistance of the fcitv
on the Delaware was a source of great
satisfaction to the country, and Congress
gave expression to the feeling by voting
thanks and swords to Colonels Smith and
Greene and Commodore Hazelwood.

As General Howe s security at Phila
delphia (where he now proposed to make
his winter-quarters) depended upon his
wresting the command of the Delaware
from the Americans, he and his brother
resolved to persist in their efforts, in spite
of their first fruitless attempts. Washing
ton, too, was equally determined to throw
every obstacle in their way within his
power. But he was greatly crippled for
want of troops, General Gates having
withheld the reinforcements which the
commander-in-chief had expected from
the northern army ; and, until their arri
val, it was with difficulty that a single
man could be spared from his camp for
operations elsewhere. Small detachments
of troops \vere, however, sent to both Fort
Mifllin and Fort Mercer; and General Var-



mini was despatched with his brigade to
Red bank, in order to be in readiness to
give any aid that might be required by
either garrison.

Between the Pennsylvania shore and
Mud island, upon which Fort Mifllin was
situated, was Province island, an oozy bit
of larid ; mostly under water. There were,
however, two dry spots upon it. only about
four or five hundred yards from the west
ern side of Fort Mifllin, where the de
fences, consisting only of palisades, a sin
gle cannon, and two blockhouses, were
exceedingly weak. Lieutenant- Colonel
Smith, in command of the garrison of
Fort Mifflin, strove to provide against the
danger from this quarter. He erected a
two-gun battery on Mud island (where
his fort was), to command the dry place
on Province island. The enemy, in the
meantime, had marched down in consid
erable force from Philadelphia, in order
to take possession of this ground, with the
view of operating against Fort Mifflin.
They had sent a party, under an officer,
to make a preliminary survey of Prov
ince island, preparatory to the erection
of their works, when Lieutenant-Colonel
Smith brought such a well-directed fire
to bear upon them from his new battery,
that they were forced, after the loss of
their commander, to retreat to the main

The British, however, crossing over in
larger numbers, soon made good their po
sition upon Province island, and were en
abled to erect no less than five batteries
within only five hundred yards of Fort
Miillin. This looked so formidable, that
Lieutenant-Colonel Smith began to give

up all hopes of a successful resistance,
and wrote to this effect to Washington ;
but he was urged, in reply, to defend the
post to the last. Smith, accordingly, did
his utmost.

The British at length had everything
in readiness for an attack, and began to
open their batteries from Prov-

i 1 mi CT^ ^ OV I0t

mce island. 1 he garrison ol b ort
Mifllin returned the fire with spirit; but
the heavy guns of the enemy, firing both
shell and ball, were doing irreparable mis
chief. On the first day, the blockhouses
and the new two-gun battery, on the out
side of the fort, were demolished, and
Lieutenant Treat killed. On the next.
away went the strong palisades,
a cannon in one ol the emora-
sures, and the barracks shattered into ru
ins. Lieutenant-Colonel Smith was now
disabled. He was engaged in writing a
note to General Varnum, in command of
the reserve force on the New-Jersey side
of the Delaware, when the chimney of the
barrack-room, being struck by a cannon-
ball, fell, scattering the bricks in every
direction, one of which knocked the com
mander senseless to the ground. He was
then borne away and taken across to Red
bank. Lieutenant-Colonel Russell was
the next in command, but lie was unable.
from ill health and fatigue, to take charge ;
and Major Thayer, of Rhode Island, vol
unteered to assume the duty.

On the third day the garrison still held
out ; but the British, by their incessant
cannonade, having demolished
the outer works, it was found ne
cessary to keep within the fort. Colonel
Fleury, the French engineer, made every

Nov. 11,

Nov. 12,



Nov. 13,

effort to repair the works, but without
success. The enemy kept up their fire
night and day. Fleury, however, declared
that the fort could still be defended, pro
vided reinforcements should arrive. The
reinforcements came from General Var-
num, and the garrison still persisted in
their gallant resistance.

Daring the night of the third
day, the British fleet succeeded
in co-operating with their land-force. A
merchantman was cut down, and, being
made into a floating battery, was towed
within g tin-shot of the fort, and early in
the morning began a heavy cannonade ;
but before noon its guns were silenced
by a well-directed fire from the still-re
sisting garrison. On the following day,
several men-of-war also bore up to the
attack : two passed into the channel be
tween Province island and the fort ; two
took position in front ; and others an
chored toward the New-Jersey shore, that
their guns might bear upon Fort Mercer.
In spite of this formidable force, the brave
garrison, exhausted as it was with fatigue,
still held out. The enemy continued to
pour in their shot and bombshells from
land-battery and ship s broadside, and yet
not a si<m of surrender from those reso-


lute men. The fort was in ruins, many
of the guns dismounted., and almost every
wall beaten down level with the marsh
of the island. The British ships had com
pletely surrounded the place, and closed
in so near, that hand-grenades were flung
into the fort, and men were killed upon
the platforms by sailors in the maintops;
and yet the garrison struggled manfully
on through the whole day against fate.

Nov. 15,

In the evening, Major Thayer deter
mined to give the survivors a chance of
escape, and accordingly sent most of the
garrison ashore. He, together with Cap
tains Fleury and Talbot (although the
two latter were wounded), remained with
thirty men until midnight, in order to re
move the military stores. This being ac
complished, they retired to Red
bank, having first set fire to what
was left of the woodwork of the fort. The
loss of the Americans during this gallant
struggle of the little garrison at Fort Mif-
flin against such overwhelming odds, was
two hundred and fifty in killed and wound

The loss of Fort Mifflin led to a good
deal of invidious remark on the part of
the censorious, and Washington thought
it necessary to justify his conduct. It
was contended that he should have given
greater relief to the fort, but it was clear
that he had done all that his resources
enabled him to do. He had thrown such
a garrison into Fort Mifilin as had been
found before sufficient to defend it to the
last extremity ; and he had likewise sta
tioned General Varnum s brigade at For.t
Mercer, opposite, to be in readiness to
give his aid. The only other practicable
mode of giving relief to the beleaguered
fort would have been to dislodge the en
emy from Province island. To have done
this, however, it would have been neces
sary to remove the whole or a consider
able portion of the army to the western
bank of the Schuylkill. There were many
and very forcible reasons against such a
movement. The stores at Easton, Beth
lehem, and Allentown, would have been




uncovered, and the post at Red bank un
protected. It was also shown that, with
the army on the west side of the Schuyl-
kill, the British would have been able to
throw over such a force into New Jersey
as to overpower the garrison at Red-bank,
and so cut off all supplies from Fort Mif-
flin, opposite ; and " thus we should," said
Washington, " in all probability, have lost
both posts by one stroke." The enemy,
too. by taking possession of the fords up
on the Schuylkill, after Washington had
crossed, might have rendered the expect
ed junction of the northern army imprac
ticable ; and " should any accident have
happened to them," continued the com-
inander-in-ciiief, " we should have stood
a very poor chance of looking General
Howe in the face through the winter,
with an inferior army." The chief diffi
culty in the way of energetic operations
was the delay of the march of the troops
from the North.

The want of the reinforcements from
General Gates s army greatly embarrassed
all Washington s measures ; and so anx
ious was he for their arrival, that he de
spatched Colonel Alexander Hamilton, to
do his best to push them forward. It was
not only Gates, at Albany, who was so
dilatory, but Putnam also, at Peekskill.

Both of these generals were evidently
anxious to do something on their own"
account, and were not disposed to dimin
ish the forces under their commands, and
thus lessen the hopes of striking a blow
which might resound to their glory. Both
may have been actuated by the best of
motives, although it was supposed that
Gates was influenced by an ignominious
desire of thwarting Washington, whom he
was suspected of intriguing to supersede
in the chief command. The patriotism
of General Putnam was beyond suspicion,
but in the course of increasing years he
had become self-willed, and, having enter
tained the project of an attack upon New
York, was not inclined to give up his pet
idea, which he nursed with all the fond
ness of dotage, however chimerical and
absurd. Young Hamilton, nevertheless,
though he found "many unaccountable
delays thrown in his way," succeeded by
his prompt energies in overcoming them,
and soon extorted from the aged Putnam
and the unwilling Gates those reinforce
ments from Albany and Peekskill, which,
had they come at an earlier day, might
have saved the forts on the Delaware,
and rendered Philadelphia at least "a very
ineligible situation for the enemy" during
the winter.




Fall of Fort Mercer. Washington too late. The British command the Delaware. A Gallant Naval Exploit. The
Raleigh and the Alfred. Their Cruise. Successful Attack upon a Fleet. Success of American Privateers. Wash
ington at Whitemarsh. Arrival of the Northern Army. Its Miserable Plight. Shoes wanted. A Substitute proposed.

Raw-Hide a Failure. Plans of Attack. Sir William Howe on the Move. General Greene ordered to march.

The Marquis Lafayette finds a Chance for Glory. His Extensive Designs. Martial Fancies. Lafayette gets into
Danger, but gets out of it. [Ms own Account of the Affair. He is rewarded with the Command of a Division. Gen
eral Stephen superseded. Howe offers Battle. Washington remains on the Defensive. Howe returns to Philadel
phia. Washington in search of Winter-Quarters.


FORT MERCER., situated, as before
described, at Red-bank, on the New-
Jersey side of the Delaware, was still in
possession of the Americans. The fort
was held by the garrison which, under the
command of Colonel Greene, had so gal
lantly repulsed Count Donop and his Hes
sians ; and General Varnuin with his bri
gade was stationed in the neighborhood.
As this post partially commanded the Del
aware, thus embarrassing the movements
of the British fleet, and protecting the
few American armed vessels in the river,
it was determined to make an effort to
hold it. With this view, Generals St. Glair
and Knox, and Baron de Kalb, were sent
down by Washington to take a survey of
the ground, and to endeavor to form a

o -

judgment of the most probable means of
securing its possession. Soon afterward
intelligence was received that a large Brit
ish force, commanded by Lord Cornwal-
lis, Lad crossed the Delaware from Phila
delphia to New Jersey ; and it being in
ferred that his object was Red-bank, Wash
ington ordered Generals Greene and Hun-


tingdon, together with Glover s brigade,
to march to its support. They were, how

ever, too late. Cornwallis approached
with so large a force, before the reinforce
ments sent by Washington could arrive,
that it was futile to attempt resistance ;
and Red-bank was thus abandoned to the
enemy, leaving the Delaware, from the
capes to Philadelphia, in the full posses
sion of the Howes. The Americans now
destroyed the few sea-vessels which they
had in the river, consisting of the Andrea
Doria, of fourteen guns, and the Hornet
and the Wasp, of ten and eight respect
ively. The galleys, by keeping close in
to the New-Jersey shore, were enabled to
make their escape to the shallow water
above the city.

While these occurrences were taking
place on the Delaware, there was a gal
lant little exploit effected at sea, which
proved that there was still some spirit
left among American naval men, although
their character for daring had been some
what tarnished by the conduct of Com
modore Hazelwood and his officers, who
were thought to have been less efficient
than they might have been during the
brave but unsuccessful struggle to hold
the forts on the Delaware.




The Raleigh, a twelve-pounder frigate,
having been fitted out at Portsmouth, in
New Hampshire, was put under the com
mand of Captain Thompson, and sailed in
company with the Alfred, a twenty-gun
vessel, commanded by Captain Hinman.
Their first commission was to proceed to
France, in order to bring thence military
stores that were awaiting transportation
to America. They got to sea, and made
a <Ood run of the coast, when thev fell in

o *

with the Nancy, a trader, and captured
her. From her captain it was discovered
that she had been left the day before by
the Windward-island fleet of merchant
men, bound to the West Indies, which was
under the convoy of four British men-of-
war, the Camel, the Druid, the Weasel,
and the Grasshopper. Captain Thomp
son, having learned their probable posi
tion, resolved to give chase. In twentj^-
four hours he got sight of them
from his masthead, and before
night he was close enough to count the
sixty sail composing the convoy, and to
discover the positions of the men-of-war.
Thompson, having obtained from his prize
(the Nancy) the signals of the enemy, sig
nalled his consort as if she belonged to
the convoy. The two were astern, and
to the windward of the British fleet; and
at night Thompson spoke the Alfred, and
told her commander to keep near him, as
he intended to run in among the enemy
and lay the commodore aboard.

In the course of the night the wind
came round to the northward; and the
licet having hauled by the wind, the Ra-
leigh and the Alfred were brought to the
leeward. At break of day the breeze

Sept. 3,

freshened ; and as, in order to effect his
purpose, it was necessary to carry more
sail, Thompson ordered the canvas to be
spread. Unfortunately, the Alfred could
not bear it, and fell to the leeward a long
distance; while the Raleigh, under double-
reefed topsails, fetched handsomely into
the fleet. Thompson could not shorten
sail, lest he might be detected as a stran
ger; and, giving up all hope of aid from
his consort, he boldly steered in among
the enemy s ships, and hove to, in order
that the merchantmen astern might draw


more ahead of him. He now filled away,
and, steering directly through the con
voy, made for the vessel-of-war most to
the windward. As he passed, he spoke
some of the merchantmen ; and, in order
to keep up his deception, he gave them
orders about their course, and continued
to use the enemy s signals. With her
guns housed and her ports lowered, and
there being no visible preparations for
action, none as yet suspected the true
character of the Raleigh.

Captain Thompson now ran his ship
alongside the Druid, of twenty guns, com
manded by Captain Carteret, and, running
out his guns and setting his ensign, or
dered the enemy to strike. The Druid
was so taken by surprise, that everything
on board of her was thrown into confu
sion, and even her sails got aback. The
Raleigh at this moment threw into her a
heavy broadside, which served to
the disorder. Thompson continued firing,
and with such rapidity, that in twenty
minutes he had poured into his enemy a
dozen broadsides, without receiving hard
ly a shot in return. A squall coining on,



Sept. 5.

closed in the two vessels from all view of
the rest; but, when it cleared away, the
convoy was seen scattered, and making
off in all directions. The other vessels-
of-war, however, were coming up to the
rescue of the Druid, and Thompson found
it necessary to leave his adversary. He
therefore ran to the leeward and joined
his consort, the Alfred. Shortening sail,
the two ships waited for the British men-
of-war to come up ; but, night ap
proaching, the latter hauled in
with the fleet again. Thompson followed
them for some days, but did not succeed in
provoking them to a combat. The Druid
was so greatly damaged in the encounter,
that she was obliged to return to England
for repairs. Her loss was six killed and
twenty-six wounded ; that of the Raleigh
was only three men killed and wounded.*
During the whole year 1777, the loss
of the British commercial marine was no
less than four hundred and sixty-seven
sail, principally taken by American pri
vateers, though seventy men-of-war were
kept on the American coast alone to pro
tect English vessels.f

Washington s present encamp
ment was at Whitemarsh, within
fourteen miles of Philadelphia. While
here, the northern army at last arrived,
and in such wretched condition in regard
to clothing, that a large part of Morgan s
corps had to remain in camp for want of
shoes, and only a hundred and seventy
were sufficiently well shod to be able to
march when Washington was sending
those reinforcements to Red-bank which

* History of the Navy of the United States, by J. Fcnni-
more Cooper. t Ib.


Nov. 22.

arrived too late to save it. Shoes had
become so scarce in the camp, that the
commander-in-chief was induced to offer
a reward for a substitute. Accordingly
the following was posted about, as a stim
ulus to the inventive genius of the army :

" The commander-in-chief offers a re
ward of ten dollars to any person who
shall, by nine o clock on Monday morn
ing, produce the best substitute for shoes,
made of raw-hides. The commissary of
hides is to furnish the hides, and the ma
jor-general of the day is to judge of the
essays, and assign the reward to the best

What the result was, has never been
recorded ; although it is probable that, as
shoes remained for a long time subse
quently a pressing want in the army, the
raw-hide substitute never came into use.

While Lord Cornwallis was inarching
against Red-bank, a council of war was
held in the American camp, to consider
the propriety of taking advantage of the
occasion of his absence, to make an attack
on Philadelphia. Four of the fifteen gen

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 76 of 126)