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CAMPAIGN OF 1780.
Gen. Washington directs an expedition against Staten Island... Gives ap
opinion against risking an army for the defence of Charleston, S. C. Finds great difficulty in supporting his army..... Kniphausen inrades Jersey, but is prevented from injuring the American stores.....Marquis de la Fayette arrives, and gives assurances that a French fleet and army might soon be expected on the American coast..... Energetic measures of co-operation resolved upon, but so languidly executed, that Washington predicts the necessity of a more efficient system of national government..... A French fleet and army arrives, and a combined operation against New York is resolved upon, but the arrival of a superior British fleet, deranges the whole plan.
The military establishment for the year 1780, was nominally thirty five thousand; but these were not voted till the 9th, of February, and were not required to be in camp before the first of pril following. Notwithstanding these embarrassments, the active mind of Washington looked round for an opportunity of deriving some advantage from the present exposed situation of his adversary. From recent intelligence, he supposed that an at. tack on about twelve hundred British, posted on
Staten Island, might be advantageously made, es. pecially in its present state of union with the continent, by an unbroken body of solid ice. The prospect of success depended on the chance of a surprise ; and if this failed, of reducing the enemy, though retired within their fortifications, before reinforcements could arrive from New York. The vigilance of the commanding officer prevented the first; the latter could not be depended on; for, contrary to the first received intelligence, the communication between the island and the city, though difficult, was practicable. The works were too strong for an assault, and relief too near to ad. mit the delays of a siege. Lord Stirling, with two thousand five hundred men, entered the island on the night of the 14th of January. An alarm was instantly and generally communicated to the posts, and a boat despatched to New York to communi. cate intelligence, and to solicit aid. The Ameri. cans, after some slight skirmishes, seeing no prospect of success, and apprehensive that a reinforcement from New York might endanger their safety, very soon commenced their retreat. This was effected without any considerable loss; but from the intenseness of the cold, and deficiency of warm clothing, several were frost bitten.
Soon after this event, the siege of Charleston commenced, and was so vigorously carried on by Sir Henry Clinton, as to effect the surrender of that place on the 12th. of May, 1780. Gen. Washington, at the distance of more than eight hundred miles, could have 'no personal agency in defending that most important southern mart.
What was in his power was done, for he weaken. ed himself by detaching from the army under his own immediate command, the troops of North Carolina, the new levies of Virginia, and the remnants of the southern cavalry. Though he had never been in Charleston, and was without any personal knowledge of its harbour, yet he gave an opinion respecting it, which evinced the soundness of his practical judgment. In every other case, the defence of towns had been abandoned, so far as to risk no armies for that purpose ; but in South Carolina, Gen. Lincoln, for reasons that were satisfactory to his superiors, adopted a differ. ent line of conduct. Four continental frigates were ordered to the defence of Charleston, and stationed within its bar; and a considerable state marine force co-operated with them. This new mode of defence was the more readily adopted, on the generally received idea, that this marine force could be so disposed of within the bar, as to make effectual opposition to the British ships attempting to cross it. In the course of the siege this was found to be impracticable, and all ideas of disputing the passage of the bar were given up. This state of things being communicated by Lieut. Col. John Laurens to Gen. Washington, the General replied, “ The impracticability of defending the bar, I fear, amounts to the loss of the town and garrison. At this distance, it is i upossible to judge for you. I have the greatest confidence in Gen. Lincoln's prudence; but it really appears to me, that the propriety of attempting to defend the town, de. pended on the probability of defending the bar,
and that when this ceased, the attempt ought to have been relinquished. In this, however, I suspend a definitive judgment; and wish you to consider what I say as confidential.” The event corresponded with the General's predictions. The British vessels, after crossing the bar without opposition, passed the forts and took such a station in Cooper river, as, in conjunction with the land forces, made the evacuation of the town by the Americans impossible, and finally produced the surrender of their whole southern army.
When intelligence of this catastrophe reached the northern states, the American army was in the greatest distress. This had been often represented to Congress, and was particularly stated to Gen. Schuyler in a letter from Gen. Washington, in the following words; “Since the date of my last, we have had the virtue and patience of the army put to the severest trial. Sometimes it has been five or six days together without bread ; at other times as many days without meat ; and once or twice two or three days without either. I hardly thought it possible, at one period, that we should be able to keep it together, nor could it have been done, but for the exertions of the magistrates in the several coun. ties of this state, on whom I was obliged to call; expose our situation to them; and, in plain terms, declare that we were reduced to the alternative of disbanding or catering for ourselves, unless the inhabitants would afford us their aid. I allotted to each county a certain proportion of flour or grain, and a certain number of cattle, to be delivered on certain days; and, for the honour of the magis. trates, and the good disposition of the people, I
must add, that my requisitions were punctually complied with, and in many counties exceeded. Nothing but this great exertion could have saved the army from dissolution or starving, as we were bereft of every hope from the commissaries. At one time the soldiers eat every kind of horse food but hay. Buckwheat, common wheat, rye, and Indian corn, composed the meal which made their bread. As an army, they bore it with most hero. ic patience ; but sufferings like these, accompanied by the want of clothes, blankets, &c. will produce frequent desertion in all armies ; and so it happened with us, though it did not excite a sin. gle mutiny.”.
The paper money with which the troops were paid, was in a state of depreciation daily increasing. The distresses from this source, though felt in 1778, and still more so in 1779, did not arrive to the highest pitch till the year 1780. Under the pressure of sufferings from this cause, the officers of the Jersey line addressed a memorial to their state legislature, setting forth “ that four months pay of a private, would not procure for his family a single bushel of wheat ; that the pay of a colonel would not purchase oats for his horse; that a common labourer or express rider, received four times as much as an American officer.” They urged that “ unless a speedy and ainple remedy was provided, the total dissolution of their line was inevitable.” In addition to the insufficiency of their pay and support, other causes of discontent prevailed. The original idea of a continental army to be raised, paid, subsisted, and regu. lated, upon an equal and uniform principle, had