Robert Tomes.

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

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begin operations, an express from Lincoln
was in the meantime captured. This sud
denly changed his plans ; for, learning
that the American general was rapidly
advancing toward Charleston, he feared
that he might be caught between two
fires. The British commander now pre
cipitately quitted his ground. He had
scarcely crossed the Ashley river, when
Lincoln arrived at Dorchester, within a
short distance of Charleston. Prevost
began his retreat, by means of the boats
at his command, along the seacoast; and,
having first crossed to James s island, he
finally passed over to John s island, where
he awaited the reinforcements which he
expected to receive from Sir Henry Clin-
on at New York.

West of the Alleghanies, where pio
neers from the seaboard states had plant
ed sparse settlements, the storm of war
was meanwhile sweeping. Border forays
had occurred soon after the war broke
out; and finally, in 1778, a regular expe
dition ngainst the English frontier posts
northward of the Ohio had been led by
Major George Rogers Clarke, the most
active of the military commanders of that
region. He was a Virginian by birth, and
commanded a company in Governor Lord
Dunmore s army in 1774. The following
year he went to Kentucky, and became
the leader of the armed settlers in that

region. He was in active service most
ol the time till the close of the Revolution.
Subsequently, he was created a major-
general in the armies of France, and was
to take command of the expedition which
Genet, the French minister, endeavored to
organize in Kentucky against the Span
iards on the Mississippi, but which failed.
Clarke s operations in 1778 were in the
present states of Indiana and Illinois : the
British posts of Kaskaskia, Cohokia, and
Vincennes, were successively captured.

In January, 1779, the commander of
the enemy s post at Detroit retook Vin
cennes. Clarke, with one hundred and
seventy-five men, penetrated the country
from the Ohio, in February, to recover it.
Foi a whole week they traversed " the
drowned lands" of Illinois, suffering ev
ery privation from wet, cold, and hunger.
When they arrived at the Little Wabash,
where the forks of the streams are three
miles apart, they found the intervening
space covered with snow-water to the
depth of three feet. Over a distance of
five miles those hardy soldiers travelled
through the chilling flood, in the deep
forest, the water sometimes up to their
armpits. At last they appeared,
with their faces blackened with
gunpowder a fearful apparition be
fore the fort at Vincennes. Two days
j afterward, the stars and stripes were wa
ving in triumph over that little fortress.*

* Lossinp.

Feb. 18,





General Lincoln smacks the Enemy. Forced to retire. The British Policy in South Carolina. Devastation. Plunder
of Property. Negroes er.tieej. The British from New York invade Virginia. Fall of Portsmouth and Norfolk.
Wanton Devastation and Robbery. Vain Remonstrance of the Assembly of Virginia. Grand Expedition of Sir
Henry Clinton. He takes the Fort at Stony Point. Verplanck s Point surrendered. The British Fleet ascends the
Hudson. Washington moves his army toward West Point. Disposition of the American Force. General Wayne on
the Practicability of retaking Stony Point. British Expedition against Connecticut. Plunder of New Haven. Gov
ernor Tryon s Devastations at East Haven. Fail-field in Ashes. Tryon s Conscience pricked. Loss to Connecticut.
Tryon glorified. Wayne in Readiness. Description of Stony Point. Negro Pompey. Plan and Disposition of the
Attack. The Guards gagged. Fleury in Advance. The Struggle. Wayne down. He is carried into the Fortress.
The Victory. A Characteristic Despatch. The Enemy s Guns turned. The British Fleet slip Anchors. Stony
Point abandoned. The Works at West Point


PiiEVOST, as related in the previ
ous chapter, having crossed from
James s to John s island, General Lincoln
on leaving Dorchester moved along the
mainland until he came opposite to the
British encampment, from which he was
now only separated by Stono inlet. Pre-
vost having marched with a body of his
troops to the Savannah river, Lincoln
took the occasion of attacking Lieutenant-
Colonel Maitland, who was left in com
mand of the remnant of the British force
on the island.

The attack was made spirited
ly and as spiritedly resisted. The
object of the Americans, however, was not
gained, and they were forced to retreat
to the mainland. The loss on both sides
was about equal.

It was now the hottest season of these
southern latitudes, and all active hostili
ties ceased. Prevost reached Savannah,
and Lieutenant-Colonel Maitland, remain
ing in South Carolina, took post at Beau
fort, on the island ot Port Royal. Lin-
join, with his force diminished, by the re-

Juiie 20,

turn of the militia to their homes, to about
eight hundred men, established himself
at Sheldon, that he might conveniently
watch the movements of the enemy at

The British, on their march through
South Carolina ; did not pursue the same
generous policy by which they had gained
over the inhabitants of Georgia. The
plantations were wantonly laid waste, and
the houses plundered of plate and jewel
ry. The negroes were tempted by prom
ises of freedom to abandon their masters,
and they came in hundreds to join the
British, to whom they revealed the hiding-

/ o

places of the planters property. Three
thousand slaves were thus lost to their
masters ; some were enrolled in the Brit
ish ranks, but not a few were shipped to
to the West Indies and sold. South Car
olina estimated its loss in labor at no less
than two hundred and eighty thousand

Sir Henry Clinton, still intent upon his
plan of detached expeditions to ravage

* Lossing.


May 5,

and destroy, determined now to make a
descent upon Virginia. He accordingly
selected two thousand troops for
the purpose, and put them un
der the command of General Matthews.
Having embarked on board Sir George
Collier s squadron, they reached Hamp
ton roads on the 9th of May. On land
ing, Portsmouth, which was defenceless,
and Norfolk, which was still in ruins, fell
at once into the possession of the inva
ders. The troops pushed on by land, and
destroyed houses, stores, and property of
all kinds, at Suffolk, Kemp s landing, Gos-
port, Tanner s creek, and elsewhere. The
British men-of-war were no less active in
wrong and injury. Within the fortnight
during which the expedition continued
on the coast, the damage they did was
enormous. More than one hundred and
thirty vessels of all kinds (merchantmen,
privateers, and men-of-war) were either
burned or captured. Seventeen British
prizes and three thousand hogsheads of
tobacco were seized at Portsmouth and
carried away.

The assembly of Virginia resolved that
the governor be required to remonstrate
to the British commander against such a
cruel and unprecedented manner of wa
ging war, not authorized by any civilized
nation." Unfortunately, the more pow
erful argument of men and arms could
not be urged ; and the appeals to their
humanity were not listened to by the en
emy in those days of embittered hostility.
The British returned to New York, after
an absence of only a month, when other
service was found, equally congenial to
those heartless depredators.

Sir Henry Clinton had for some time
projected an attack upon the two Ameri
can posts at Stony Point and Verplanck s
Point. These sites on the Hudson river,
just below the Highlands, and a little
south of Peekskill, had been selected for
the erection of forts, in order to guard
the mountain-passes beyond, and King s
ferry, forming the most convenient com
munication between the eastern and mid
dle states. At Verplanck s Point, on the
east side of the river, a strong fort had
already been completed, and was now gar
risoned by seventy men, under Captain
Armstrong. The works on Stony Point,
opposite, were unfinished, and were de
fended only by forty soldiers.

The British commander-in-chief deter
mined to lead the expedition in person;
and, having added to his party some of
the marauders just returned fromVirginia,

he set out from New York with

,, May 30,

a iieet or not less than seventy

sail and one hundred and fifty small boats,
carrying five thousand troops. General
Vaughan,who commanded the land-force,
debarked on the east side of the Hudson ;
while Sir Henry Clinton, advancing far
ther up the river, landed with some ma
rines and guns on the western bank, and
took possession of the unfinished
fort at Stony Point without op
position. Here cannon and mortars were
dragged during the night to the summit
of the rocky heights. The next morning,
Clinton opened his batteries, and poured
a storm of fire upon Verplanck s Point,
which was completely commanded from
his position. In the meantime, General
Vaughan, who had made a long circuit

May 31,



[l-ART II.


through the hills, arrived and invested
the fort by land. The garrison,
finding it useless to resist, sur
rendered themselves as prisoners-of-war.
The enemy now applied themselves dil
igently to completing and strengthening
the works, while their fleet still lingered
up the Hudson. Washington, becoming
solicitous about West Point and the other
forts above, moved his army in that di
rection. From Middlebrook, in New Jer
sey, he inarched to Smith s clove, where
he left the main bod} under the command
of General Putnam, and established his
own headquarters at New Windsor, where
he might be near West Point, which im
portant position he was most anxious to
secure. General M/Dougall had been sub
stituted, in command of this latter post,
for Putnam, who had now become less
efficient from the effects of age. Three
brigades, under General Heath, recently
transferred from Boston, were posted on
the eastern side of the river ; Nixon s was
at Constitution island ; Parsons s opposite
to West Point, with instructions to send
fatigue-parties daily across the river to
assist in constructing the works yet in

O \J

progress; and Huntington s on the prin
cipal road leading to Fishkill.

Washington, conscious of the impor
tance of the two posts lately wrested from
him by the British, eagerly sought an op
portunity to recover them. To General
Wayne, who was in command of the light-
infantry stationed between the main ar
my at Smith s clove and Fovt Montgom
ery, Washington wrote: "The importance
of the two posts of Verplanck s Point and
Stony Point to the enemy is too obvious

to need explanation. We ought, if pos
sible, to dispossess them."

Sir Henry Clinton had returned with
most of his troops and ships to New York,
with a view to making other incursions ;
and Washington thought the occasion
might be convenient for the execution
of his design upon Stony and Verplanck s
Points. "It is a matter I have much at
heart," he said, " to make some attempts
upon these posts in the presentweak state
of the garrisons." Wavne was then en-

O */

treated to use his best endeavors to ac
quire the necessary information, and to
give his opinion on the practicability of
a surprise of one or both of these places,
especially of Stony Point. Wnyne s reply
was prompt and emphatic. " General."
answered he, "I ll storm h-11, if you will
only plan it!" We shall see hereafter
how far his actions responded to his words
in the lesser attempt upon Stony Point.
Throughout the whole period of the
Revolution, and especially during the lat
ter years of the contest, the inhabitants
of Connecticut were among the greatest
sufferers by the frequent marauding expe
ditions sent out from the enemy s head
quarters at New York. Thus, early in the

present year (1779), the cruel

, . rn -11 />

and infamous Iryon, the last of

the royal governors of New York, marched
into Connecticut from Kingsbridge, with
fifteen hundred British regulars and Hes
sians, to destroy some salt-works belong
ing to Americans at Horseneck. and to


attack a detachment under General Put
nam, lying at Greenwich. The republi
cans were dispersed, and Putnam barely
escaped capture by some dragoons, who




pursued him hi his flight toward Stain-
ford.* He rallied his troops at the latter
place, pursued the enemy on their retreat
through Wesfchestcr county, recaptured
a quantity or* plunder in their possession,
and took thirty-eight of them prisoners.
The British government having delib-

o o

erately determined upon a fresh preda
tory expedition into Connecticut, and in
structed Sir Henry Clinton to that effect,
he appointed Governor Tryon to the con
genial command of the marauders. Twen
ty-six hundred troops, a large portion of
them Hessian mercenaries, embarked on
board of about fifty transports, and, being
escorted by the Camilla and Scorpion
men-of-war, sailed from New York up the
East river and Long-island sound for New
Haven. Before coming to anchor in the
bay, Governor Tryon concocted
with General Garth, his second in
command, a proclamation to the inhabit
ants of Connecticut. In this document,
the people were urged to return to their
duty and allegiance ; and all, except the
civil and military officers of the govern
ment, should they remain peaceably at
home, were promised protection in per
son and property. The proclamation was
sent ashore, and the next day the British
fleet came to anchor in New-Haven bay.
Without giving the people an
opportunity to consult upon the
promises offered in the proclamation, and
to agree upon action, Governor Tryon at

* " It was on this occasion," observes Mr. Lossing, " that
Putnam s alleged descent of a flight of stone steps, on horse
back, took place. That he fled down a steep hill, near a
flight of steps that had been formed for the accommodation
of the neighboring inhabitants in taking a direct way to a
church on the eminence, there can be no doubt; but, that he
* - ent all the way down the steps, is a pure fiction."

July 5.

once debarked his troops. One division,
commanded by himself, landed at East
Haven; the other, under General Garth,
at. West Haven. The latter pushed on to
New Haven, being somewhat harassed by
the militia who had gathered to oppose
him. The town was delivered up to pro
miscuous plunder. Whigs, and even to-
ries, who had not provided themselves
with protections, suffered greatly. Many
of the inhabitants deserted their homes,
and fled with their wives and children to
East rock, a hill in the neighborhood of
the town ; and from its heights, while
trembling for their lives, they looked
down upon the marauders who were pil
laging and destroying their property in
the town. The houses were robbed of
plate and money ; and the hogsheads of
rum, molasses, and sugar, in which New
Haven in those days carried on so large
a trade, were turned out of the West-
Indian warehouses, and wantonly broken
and wasted. Personal collisions occurred
between the drunken soldiers and the in
jured inhabitants, and occasional scenes
of bloodshed and cruelty ensued.

On the following day, the militia be
gan to collect in such threatening force,
that Garth drew off his troops,
having burned the storehouses
upon the wharf before his departure. At
East Haven, during the same day, Tryon
not only plundered but burnt the houses,
and destroyed the cattle. He, however,
like Garth, was frightened away from fur
ther barbarity by the threatening aspect
of the provoked inhabitants.

The next point of attack was Fairfield.
On the fleet coming to anchor oft" the

July 6.




July 7,

town, Try on sent ashore a copy of his
proclamation, with a flag of trace to Colo
nel Whiting, who commanded
the militia, and giving him an
hour to consider upon a reply, by which
he might save the town. The colonel did
not long- deliberate, and sent back an nn-


swer in behalf of the Connecticut people,
saying, "The flames have now preceded
their answer to your flag, and they will
persist to oppose to the utmost that pow
er which is exerted against injured inno
cence." This reached the fleet at sunset.
Throughout that night and the ensuing
morning, the British plundered and de
stroyed, until the whole town of Fairfield
was laid in ashes, and the country for two
miles around was devastated.

Norwalk was the next object of these
ruthless invaders, and its fate was fully

as merciless as that of Fairfield.
July 12,

Churches were burnt in common

with the houses. Governor Tryon, feel
ing some compunctions of conscience for
his conduct, justified the destruction of
the dwellings on the ground that the oc
cupants fired from them upon his troops,
and expressed his regret at " the loss of
two places of public worship at Fairfield,
which took fire unintentionally by the
flakes from other buildings ; and," he add
ed, " I gave strict orders for the preser
vation of that at Norwalk." Neverthe
less, it is said that while Norwalk was in
flames, the merciless Tryon, with a sorry
imitation of Nero, seated himself in a rock
ing-chair upon a neighboring eminence,
and gloated over the scene of desolation.
It is also asserted that when he had com
pleted the work of destruction in these

pleasant and beautiful villages, he boast
ed of his clemency, declaring that the
existence of a single house was a monu
ment of the king s mercy ! Truly has it
been aid that Tryon was a disgrace to the
British name. He was a fit instrument
for an infatuated ministry; and, for his
wrong doings in America, before and du
ring the Revolution, the English people
thoroughly disliked him.

The estimated loss to (he people of
Connecticut by these depredations was
one hundred and twelve thousand six
hundred and forty-seven dollars, at New
Haven ; one hundred and eighty-one thou
sand three hundred and sixty-six dollars,
at Fairfield ; and one hundred and sixty-
eight thousand eight hundred and sixty-
eight dollars, at Norwalk comprising a
large amount in those days of limited
means and simple habits.

Tryon was arrested in the midst of his
barbarous raids upon Connecticut, by a
recall from Sir Henry Clinton, to confer
upon an attack on New London, which
town, being a great harbor of refuge for
American privateers, it was determined
to treat with the utmost severity. Sir
Henry had been persuaded that this pet
ty system of depredations which he was
now pursuing would, by striking at the
homes and property of the people, be
more effective than a nobler warfare. Its
effect, however, was onl} 7 to increase the
feeling of hostility, while it did not seri
ously diminish the means.

Still, the government of Great Britain
did not seem dissatisfied with the result;
and the minister, Lord George Germain,
wrote to Sir Henry Clinton, say ing : " The



expedition into Connecticut, upon which
you detached Major-General Trvon. was

/ 7

ably planned and well executed ; and you
will acquaint Major-General Tryon, and
the otticers that were under his care, that
their conduct has met with his majesty s ap
probation." His lordship, notwith stand ing,
had some misgivings about the barbari
ties practised, for he adds : " I can not
help lamenting, with you, that the be
havior of the rebels, in firing from their
houses upon the troops, rendered it ne
cessary to make use of severities that are
ever painful to British soldiers to inflict."

General Wayne was now ready for the
attack upon Stony Point, which, in ac
cordance with the suggestion of Wash
ington, he had been contemplating for
some time. The works had been com
pleted by the British. Standing upon a
high promontory of rock, with the waters
of the Hudson on three sides, a morass
(which could only be crossed at low tide
by a narrow causeway) on the fourth, and
strongly fortified by art, Stony Point now
presented a formidable fortress. Fortifica
tions, compactly built, crowned the sum
mit; heavy cannon threatened every ap
proach; and on the acclivities were two
rows of abalLis. A garrison of sixhundred
choice British troops, under Lieutenant-
Colonel Johnson, manned the works, and
several English gun-vessels were floating
in the river within cannon-shot.

Wayne had diligently followed the ad
vice of Washington, and in conjunction
with the brave Major Lee had examined
in person the position of the fort. Infor
mation had been carefully sought from
deserters, and spies had been sent in to

gain every possible intelligence. To a
faithful negro belonging to a Captain
Lamb, an ardent patriot of the neighbor
hood, Wayne was indebted for the most
useful services. Pompey, this shrewd ne
gro, succeeded in gaining admission into
the fort, under the pretence of selling
fruit, and soon established a traffic by
which he was enabled to make frequent
visits without exciting suspicion. As the
season advanced, Pompey pleaded that
his labors in the field (it being "hoeing-
corn time") would prevent his visits by
day; whereupon, as he expected, he was
desired to make them by night. He was
accordingly provided with the counter
sign, "The fort is our own" in order that
he might be readily admitted at all hours
with his indispensable supplies for the re
freshment of the garrison. Pompey thus
acquired the most important information,
of which Wayne was glad to avail him
self, and chose him as his guide in the
cornirrg assault.*

General Wayne was now stationed at
Sandy beach, distant about four
teen miles from Stony Point, and
here he was joined at this time by the
Massachusetts infantry under Lieutenant-
Colonel Hale. Thus reinforced, Wayne
marched at noon, in the height of the
sweltering heat of the midsummer sun,
over craggy hills and through narrow de
files and deep morasses, to within a mile
and a half of the fort. So difficult and
narrow was the route, that for the great
est part of the way the troops were forced
to move in single file, and dixl not reach
their destination until eight o clock in the

* Lossing.

July 15,



[PART n.

evening. Here, as they came Vipon the
ground, Wayne formed his force. The
regiments of Colonels Febigerand Meigs,
and Lieutenant- Colonel Bale s detach
ment of Massachusetts infantry, composed
the right column ; and Colonel Butler s
regiment, with the two companies of Ma
jor Murfey, formed the left. One hun
dred and fifty men volunteered to form
the van of the right, and were placed un
der the command of the gallant French
man, Lieutenant-Colonel Fleury. A hun
dred men, under Major Stewart, offered
themselves for the same position on the
left. Twenty picked men were selected
as a forlorn hope to precede each van, and
to remove the abattis and other obstruc
tions ; one party was led by Lieutenant
Gibbon, and the other by Lieutenant
Knox. Three hundred men, under Gen
eral Muhlenberg, were to remain behind
as a reserve, in case support should be
required, or a retreat become necessary.
General Wayne now rode forward with
his officers to reconnoitre, and, on his re
turn, prepared to begin the assault at half-
past eleven o clock that night, the time
fixed upon. Before moving, Wayne ex
horted his men to obey his injunctions
strictly, and not on any account to fire,
but to trust entirely to their bayonets.
Pompey s services were now put in re
quisition, and he led the way, accompa
nied by two stout and active soldiers, dis
guised as farmers. On coming up to the
first sentry, the negro repeated the coun
tersign; and, while engaging him in talk,
Pompey s stalwart companions suddenly
sprang upon the man and gagged him.
The next sentinel was caught and treated

m the same way. Thus the troops, with
out alarming the enemy, advanced to the
causeway, where they were detained im-
til past midnight, in consequence of the
fullness of the tide.

Once across the causeway, the columns
of the right and left advanced to their
work. Wayne himself headed the for
mer, and, repeating his order to his men
to rely entirely upon their bayonets, led
them on. The van had arrived within
pistol-shot of the pickets on the heights of
the promontory before the guards were
roused, when their fire alarmed the whole
garrison, which soon began to pour down
a fire of musketry and grape. The Amer
icans, however, obedient to command, did
not return a shot, but pushed steadily on

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 90 of 126)