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1776. and this difficult movement was effected with great skill and
judgment, and with complete success.
Immediately after the victory on Long Island, the British made dispositions to attack New York. It was a serious question, whether that place were defensible against so formidable an enemy; and general Washington called a council of general officers to decide, whether it should be evacuated without delay, or longer defended. The majority of the council advised a middle course between abandoning the town and concentrating their whole strength for its defence. By the plan recommended, the army was to be arranged into three divisions, one of which, consisting of 5000 men, was to remain in New York; another, amounting to 9000, was to be stationed at King's Bridge; and the residue of the army was to occupy the intermediate space, so as to support either extreme. The unexpected movements of the enemy soon induced a change of opinion; and in a second council it was determined by a large majority, that it had become not only prudent, but necessary, to withdraw the army from New York.
Several of the enemy's ships of war having passed up North river on the one side of York Island, and East river on the other side, Sir Henry Clinton, embarking at Long Island at the bead of 4000 men, proceeded through Newtown Bay, crossed East river, and landed, under cover of the ships, at Kipp's Bay, about three miles above New York. Works of considerable strength had been thrown up at this place, to oppose the landing of the enemy; but they were immediately abandoned by the troops stationed in them, who, terrified at the fire of the ships, fled precipitately toward their main body, and communicated their panic to a detachment marching to their support. General Washington, to his extreme mortification, met this whole party retreating in the utmost disorder, and exerted himself to rally
them ; but, on the appearance of a small corps of the enemy, New York they again broke and fled in confusion. Nothing now remained, evacuated. but to withdraw the few remaining troops from New York, and to secure the posts on the heights. The retreat from New York 1776. was effected with very inconsiderable loss of men ; but all the heavy artillery, and a large portion of the baggage, provisions, and military stores, was unavoidably abandoned.
1 The retreat was to have commenced at eight o'clock in the night of the 29th; but a strong northeast wind and a rapid tide caused a delay of several hours. In this extremity, Heaven remarkably favoured the fugitive army. A southwest wind, springing up at eleven, essentially facilitated its passage from the island to the city; and a thick fog, hanging over Long Island from about two in the morning, concealed its movements from the enemy, who were so near that the sound of their pickaxes and shovels was heard. În about half an hour after, the fog cleared away, and the enemy were seen taking possession of the American lines. General Washington, as far as possible, inspected every thing. From the commencement of the action on the morning of the 27th until the troops were safely across East river, he never closed his eyes, and was alınost constantly on horseback. His wisdom and vigilance, with the interposing favour of Divine Providence, saved the army from destruction.
The enemy, taking possession of New York, stationed a few Sept. 15. troops in that place; but the main body of their army was on British
troops take York Island, near the American lines. The Americans occupied po King's Bridge, both sides of which had been carefully fortified; of N. York. and they were in considerable force at M'Gowan's Pass, and Morris's Heights. A strong detachment was also posted in an intrenched camp, on the heights of Haerlem, within about a mile and a half of the enemy. The day after the retreat from New York, a considerable body of the enemy appearing in the plains between the two camps, the general ordered colonel Knowlton with a corps of rangers, and major Leitch with three companies of a Virginia regiment, to get in their rear, while he amused thern by making apparent dispositions to attack their front. The plan succeeded. A skirmish ensued, in which the Americans charged the enemy with great intrepidity, and gained considerable advantage; but the principal benefit of this action was its influence in reviving the depressed spirits of the whole army. Major Leitch, who very gallantly led on the detachment, was soon brought off the ground, mortally wounded ; and not long afterward colonel Knowlton fell, bravely fighting at the head of his troops. The Americans in this conflict engaged a battalion of light infantry, another of Highlanders, and three companies of Hessian riflemen; and lost about 50 men killed and wounded. The loss of the enemy was more than double that number.1
The armies did not long retain their position on York Island. The British frigates having passed up North river under a fire from Fort Washington and the post opposite to it on the Jersey shore, general Howe embarked a great part of his army in flat bottomed boats, and, passing through Hell Gate into the Sound, landed at Frog's Neck. The object of the British general was, either to force Washington out of his present lines, or to inclose him in them. Aware of his design, general Washington moved a part of his troops from York Island to join those at King's Bridge, and detached some regiments to West Chester. A coun- Oct. 16. cil of war was now called, and the system of evacuating and retreating was adopted, with the exception of Fort Washington, for the defence of which nearly 3000 men were assigned.
1 Colonel Knowlton distinguished himself at the battle of Bunker Hill. He was of Ashford in Connecticut. General Washington, in his Orders the day after he fell, styled him “the gallant and brave colonel Knowlton, who would have been an honour to any country.” VOL. II.
The royal army, after a halt of six days, advancing from Frog's Neck near to New Rochelle, sustained a considerable loss on their march by a party of Americans that general Lee had posted behind a wall. Three days afterward, general Howe moved the right and centre of his army two miles to the northward of New Rochelle, on the road to White Plains, where he received a large re-enforcement. General Washington, while retreating from New York Island, in order to secure the march of those who were behind, made a front toward the British, from East Chester almost to White Plains; his troops thus making a line of small detached and intrenched camps, on the several heights and strong grounds from Valentine's Hill, near King's Bridge, on the right, to the vicinity of White Plains on the left. The royal army moved in two columns, and took a position with the Brux river in front; and, upon this movement, the Americans
assembled their main force at White Plains behind intrenchOct. 28. ments. Here a considerable action took place; and several Battle of White
hundreds fell. The brave colonel Smallwood was among the slain. During the engagement, the American baggage was moved off in full view of the British army. General Washington soon after changed his front, his left wing stood fast, his right fell back to some hills; and in this well judged position he desired and expected an action. On the 30th, four battalions from York Island, and two from the Maroneck Post, having reenforced the British army, a disposition was made for an attack on the American lines the next morning ; but a violent rain, setting in and continuing through the whole night, induced a postponement of the assault. General Washington soon after withdrew in the night to the heights of North Castle, about five miles from White Plains, where his position was so strong, that general Howe determined to change entirely his plan of operations.
General Washington, leaving about 7500 men at North Castle under general Lee, crossed North river, and took post in the neighbourhood of Fort Lee. Sir William Howe determined to take this favourable opportunity for the reduction of Fort Washington, which was under the command of colonel Magaw. Works were erected on Haerlem Creek, to play on the opposite works of the Americans; and, every preparation being made, the garrison was summoned to surrender, on pain of being put
to the sword. Colonel Magaw replied, that he should defend Fort Wash- the place to the last extremity. The next morning, the royal
army made four attacks. The first, on the north side, was contacked.
ducted by general Knyphausen; the second, on the east, by general Matthews, supported by lord Cornwallis; the third, by lieutenant colonel Stirling; and the fourth, by lord Percy. Soon
after day break on the 16th of November, the cannonading be- 1776. gan, and continued with great fury on both sides until noon. The Hessians, under the command of general Knyphausen, then filed off in two columns; one of which, led by colonel Rhalle, having ascended circuitously to the summit of the hill, penetrated through the advanced works of the Americans, and formed within a hundred yards of the covered way of the front. The other column climbed the hill in a direct line ; but, in passing through a thick wood, suffered much by a well directed fire from colonel Rawling's regiment of riflemen. The second division made good their landing, and forced the Americans from their rocks and trees up a steep and rugged mountain. The third division had to encounter a heavy fire previous to their landing, and then to ascend a woody promontory of very uneven surface; but, though the post was obstinately defended, it was carried by colonel Stirling, who made 200 prisoners. The last division, under the gallant lord Percy, having surmounted incredible obstacles, carried the advanced works of the Americans. The British general, after these decisive advantages, again summoned colonel Magaw to surrender. The force of the assailants was Nov. 16. too great to be resisted; the fort was too small to contain all the men; and the ammunition was nearly exhausted. The garrison, taken by therefore, consisting of about 2000 men, surrendered prisoners th of war.
Soon after the reduction of Fort Washington, lord Cornwallis with a large force, supposed to amount to about 6000 men, crossed over North River to attack Fort Lee, on the opposite Jersey shore. On the intelligence of their approach, the first determination was to meet and fight them ; but it was soon discovered that the conflict would be too unequal, and the garrison Fort Lee was saved by an immediate evacuation, under the able guidance evacuated. of general Greene.
The acquisition of these two forts, and the diminution of the American army by the departure of those soldiers whose time of service had expired, encouraged the British to pursue the remaining continental force, with the prospect of annihilating it. General Washington, who had taken post at Newark, on the Gen. Washsouth side of Passaic, finding himself unable to make any real ington reopposition, withdrew from that place as the enemy crossed the Passaic, and retreated to Brunswick on the Raritan; and lord Delaware.
reats beand the
1 The garrison was stated by general Washington at about 2000; but the number of prisoners was stated by general Howe at 2600, exclusive of officers. Judge Marshall accounts for this difference by supposing that general Washington comprised the regulars only. The loss of the British, according to Stedman, was about 800 men; American historians have stated it considerably higher.
1776. Cornwallis on the same day entered Newark. The retreat was
still continued from Brunswick to Princeton ; from Princeton to Trenton ; and from Trenton to the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware. “ The pursuit was urged with so much rapidity, that the rear of the army, pulling down bridges, was often within
sight, and shot off the van of the other, building them up." British take On the day of general Washington's retreat over the Delaware, possession the British took possession of Rhode Island ; and blocked up of R. Island.
commodore Hopkins's squadron and a number of privateers at
Providence. Dec. 12. The neighbourhood of Philadelphia now becoming the seat of Congress war, congress adjourned to Baltimore; resolving at the same adjourns to Baltimore. time, “ that general Washington should be possessed of full pow
ers to order and direct all things relative to the department and the operations of the war.” In this extremity, judicious determinations in the cabinet were accompanied with vigorous exertions in the field. General Mifflin successfully exerted his influence with the Pennsylvania militia ; and 1500 embodied to re-enforce the continental army. The delay that had been wisely contrived on the retreat through New Jersey, afforded time for these volunteer re-enforcements to join general Washington; whose whole number of troops now fluctuated between 2000 and 3000 men. To turn about, and face a large and victorious army with this inconsiderable force, were extremely hazardous; yet gomething must be attempted. The recruiting business for the proposed new continental army was at a stand. The present regular
soldiers could, in less than a week, claim a discharge, and scarce · a single recruit offered to supply their place. At this critical moment, the bold resolution was formed of recrossing into Jersey,
and attacking the enemy at Trenton. 25. Washington divided his troops into three parts, which were to Gen. Wash- assemble on the banks of the Delaware on the night of the 25th ington's
edition of December. One of these divisions, led by general Irvine, against was directed to cross the Delaware at the Trenton Ferry, and Trenton.
secure the bridge below the town, so as to prevent the escape of any part of the enemy by that road. Another division, led by general Cadwallader, was to cross over at Bristol, and carry the post at Burlington. The third, which was the principal division, and consisted of about 2400 continental troops, commanded by general Washingtan in person, was to cross at M‘Konkey's Ferry, about nine miles above Trenton, and to march against the enemy posted at that town. The night fixed on for the enterprise was severely cold. A storm of snow, mingled with hail and rain, fell in great quantities; and so much ice was made in the river, that the artillery could not be got over until three o'clock; and before the troops could take up their line of march, it was nearly