Page images
PDF
EPUB

as possible. But his numbers were not suffi- CHAP. VII. cient to maintain in full force, detachments 1776. which should guard all the defiles through the mountains, and if a strong corps capable of, and intended for, serious resistance, had been posted on this road, and a feint had been made on them, while a serious and successful effort. had been made to pass the hills by the direct road from Flatbush, or by that along the coast, the defence of which must have been propor. tionably weakened; the columns marching directly from Flatbush, must on every reasonable calculation have been in possession of the plain in the rear of the detachment posted on the road from Jamaica, so as to have intercepted their retreat to the camp, before they could have made it good. So great is the advantage of those who attack, in being able to choose the point against which to direct their main efforts; while those who are to defend, if not sufficiently strong to guard all posts alike, must leave some not completely secured, that the best skilled in the art of war find much diffi. culty in maintaining an extensive line accessible in many points.

The most advisable plan then appears to have been, so to watch the motions of the enemy as, if possible, to be master of his designs, to oppose with a competent force every attempt to seize the heights, and to guard all the passes in such a manner as to receive notice of

CHAP. VIL the approach through any one of them in suffi. 1776. cient time to recall the troops maintaining the

others.

This plan was adopted; and the heavy disasters of the day are, principally, attributable to the failure of those charged with the execution of that very important part of it, respecting the intelligence from the Jamaica road. The letter of general Howe states that an American patroling party was taken on this road; and general Washington, in a private and confidential com munication to a friend, says, “ this misfortune happened, in a great measure, by two detachments of our people who were posted in two roads leading through a wood, to intercept the enemy in their march, suffering a surprise, and making a precipitate retreat.”

The events of this day, too, exhibited a practical demonstration of a radical defect in the construction of the army. There was not in it a single corps of cavalry. That false economy which miscalculates so much as to deny the means essential to the end, had not yet sufficiently relaxed to admit of so expensive an establishment. Had the general been furnished with a few troops of light-horse, to serve merely as videts to watch the motions of the enemy, and bring intelligence expeditiously, it is probable that the movement so decisive of the fate of the day, could not have been made unnoticed. The troops on the lines do not

er

causes

appear to have observed the column which was CHAP. VII. withdrawn on the evening of the twenty-sixth 1776. from Flatbush to Flatland. Had this important manæuvre been communicated, it would most probably have turned the attention of general Putnam more particularly to the Jamaica road. It is to the want of videts that a failure to obtain this important intelligence is to be ascribed. The necessity too of changing the officer originally intrusted with the command, was an unfortunate circumstance which very probably contributed to the event which hap. pened.

Whatever causes might have led to this defeat, it gave a very gloomy aspect to the affairs of America. Heretofore, their arms had been frequently successful, and their soldiers had always manifested a great degree of intrepidity. A confidence in themselves, a persua. sion of their superiority over the enemy arising from the goodness of their cause, and their early and habitual use of fire arms, had been carefully inculcated; and had been nourished by all their experience preceding this event. When they found themselves, by a course of evolutions in which they imagined they per. ceived a great superiority of military skill, encircled with unexpected dangers, from which no exertions could extricate them; their confidence in themselves, and in their leaders, was greatly diminished; and the approach of the

CHAP. VII. enemy inspired the apprehension that some 1776. stratagem was concealed, from which imme.

diate flight could alone preserve them.

To this course of thought, which raw troops, when defeated, so readily take up, the Amer. ican army was, from the materials which com. posed it, particularly exposed. The regulars themselves, if they might be so termed, were inlisted, many of them, but for one year; and a very considerable part of the existing force, had been called into service, but for a few weeks. They knew that by parrying the dan. ger of the moment, they would return in safety to their families, and throw at least for a time, the hazards of war on others. Only a degree of personal courage superior to what is possessed by the great mass of mankind, or a degree of enthusiasm seldom of long and uni. versal duration, will induce troops, under such circumstances, to support with such patient suffering, the hardships of an active campaign; and to exhibit such uniform, steady, and per. severing fortitude, in posts of danger; that the confidence of their general, and their country,

may be safely reposed in them. September 2. The state of the army after this event was,

in a letter from general Washington to congress, thus feelingly described; “our situation is truly distressing. The check our detachment sustained on the twenty-seventh ultimo, has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops,

and filled their minds with apprehension and CHAP. VIL despair. The militia, instead of calling forth 1776. their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition, in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off, in some instances, almost by whole regiments, in many, by half ones, and by companies at a time. This circumstance of itself, independent of others, when fronted by a well appointed enemy, superior in number to our whole collected force, would be sufficiently disagreeable: but when it is added that their example has infected another part of the army; that their want of discipline, and refusal of almost every kind of restraint and government, have rendered a like conduct but too common in the whole; and have produced an entire disregard of that order and subordination necessary for the well doing of an army, and which had been before incul. cated as well as the nature of our military establishment would admit; our condition is still more alarming, and with the deepest concern I am obliged to confess my want of confidence in the generality of the troops.

“ All these circumstances fully confirm the opinion I ever entertained, and which I, more than once, in my letters, took the liberty of mentioning to congress; that no dependence could be put in a militia, or other troops than those inlisted and embodied for a longer period

« PreviousContinue »