« AnteriorContinuar »
CAMPAIGN OF 1780.
General Washington directs an expedition against Staten
Island. Gives an opinion against risking an army for the defence of Charleston, S. C. Finds great difficulty in supporting his army. Kniphausen invades New 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 arrive, 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 provision for these was not made by congress until the 9th of February, and they were not required to be in camp before the first of April following. Notwithstanding these embarrassments, the active mind of Washington looked around for an opportunity of deriving some advantage from the present exposed situation of his adversary. From recent intelligence, he supposed that an attack on about twelve hundred British, posted on Staten Island, might be advantageously made, especially 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 admit 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 der patched to New York, to communicate intelligence, and to solicit aid. The Americans, 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 with. out any considerable loss; but, from the intenseness of the cold, and deficiency of warm clothing, several were frostbitten.
Soon after this event, the siege of Charleston commenced ; and it was so vigorously carried on by sir Henry Clinton, as to effect the surrender of that place on the 12th of May, 1780. General Washington, at the distance of more than right hundred miles, could have no personal agency in desending that most important southern mart.
What was in his power had been done, for he weakened 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 had given 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, general Lincoln, for reasons that were satisfactory to his superiors, adopted a different 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 most readily adopted, on the generally received idea, that this marine-force could be disposed of within the bar, as to make cflectual opposition to the British ships attempting to cross it. In the course of the siege, this was found iinpracticable, and all ideas of disputing the passage of the bar were abandoned. This state of things being communicated by lieutenant-colonel John Laurens to General Wash. ington, the general replied, " the impracticability of defending the bar, I fear, amounis to the loss of the town and
garAt this distance, it is impossible to judge for you. I have the greatest confidence in general Lincoln's prudence; but it really appears to me, that the propriety of attempting to defend the town, depended 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 general Schuyler, in a letter from General Washington, in the following words : "Since the date of my last, we have had the virtue and patience of the army put to the severes 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 several counties of this state, oni 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 magistrates, 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 heroic patience; but sufferings like these, accompanied by the want of clothes, blankets, &c. will produce frequent desertion in all armies; and so it happoned with us, though it did not excite a single 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 1979, did not arrive at the highest pitch until the year 1780. Under the pressure of sufferings from this cause, the officers of the New Jersey line addressed a memorial to their state legislature; setting forth, “ that four months' pay of a private, would not procure forliis 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 ample 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 regulated, upon an equal and uniform principle, had been in a great measure exchanged for state establishments.--This mischievous measure ori. ginated partly from necessity; for state credit was not quite so much depreciated as continental. Congress, not possessing the means of supporting their army, devolved the busi
on the component parts of the confederacy. Some states, from their internal ability, and local advantages, furnished their troops not only with clothing, but with many conveniences. Others supplied them with some necessaries, but on a more contracted scale. A few, from their particular situation, could do little or nothing. The officers and men, in the routine of duty, mixed daily, and compared circumstances. Those who fared worse than others, were dissatisfied with a service which made such injurious distinctions. From causes of this kind, superadded to a complication of wants and sufferings, a disposition to mutiny began to show itself in the American army.--Very few of the officers were rich. To make an appearance suitable to their station, required an expenditure of the little all which most of them possessed. The supplies of the public were so inadequate, as to compel frequent resignations. The officers of whole lines announced their determination to quit the service. The personal influence of General Washington was exerted with the officers, in preventing their adoption of such ruinous measures; and with the states, to remove the causes which led to them.
Soon after the surrender of the whole southern army, and at the moment the northern was in the greatest distress, for
the necessaries of life, general Kniphausen passed from New York into New Jersey, with five thousand men. These were soon reinforced with a detachment of the victorious troops returned with sir Henry Clinton from South Carolina. It is difficult to discover what was the precise object of this expedition. Perhaps the royal commanders hoped to get possession of Morristown, and destroy the American stores. Perhaps they flattered themselves that the inhabitants, dispirited by the recent fall of Charleston, would submit without resistance; and that the soldiers would desert to the royal standard.—Sundry movements took place on both sides, and also smart skirmishes, but without any decisive effect. At cne time, Washington conjectured that the destruction of his stores was the object of the enemy; at another, that the whole was a feint to draw off his attention, while they ascended the North River, from New York, to attack West Point. The American army was stationed with a view to both objects. The security of the stores was attended to, and such a position taken, as would compel the British to fight under great disadvantages, if they risked a general action in order to seize them.-The American general Howe, who commanded at the Highlands, was ordered to concentrate his force for the security of West Point; and Washington, with the principal division of his army, took such a middle position, as enabled him either to fall back to defend his stores, or to advance for the defence of West Point, as circumstances might require. The first months of the year were spent in these desultory operations. The disasters in the south produced no disposition in the north to give up the contest: but the tardiness of congress and of the states ; the weakness of government, and the depreciation of the money; deprived Washington of all means of attempting any thing beyond defensive operations.
In this state of languor, the marquis de la Fayette arrived from France, with assurances that a French fleet and army might soon be expected on the coast. This roused the Americans from that lethargy into which they seemed to be sinking. Requisitions on the states for men and money, were urged with uncommon earnestness. Washington, in his extensive correspondence throughout the United States, endeavoured to stimulate the public mind to such exertions as the approaching crisis required. In addition to arguments