« PreviousContinue »
cult of ascent, especially towards the north or CHAP. VIII, King's bridge. The fort was capable of con 1776, taining about one thousand men; but the lines and out works, which were chiefly on the southern side, towards New York, were drawn quite across the island. The ground was naturally very strong, the approaches difficult, and the fortifications, though not sufficient to resist heavy artillery, were believed to be in a condition which would prevent any attempt to carry them by storm. The garrison consisted of troops, some of whom were among the best in the American army, and the command was given to colonel Magaw, a brave and intelligent officer, in whose courage and skill, great confidence was placed.
General Howe, who had retired slowly from the White Plains, encamped at a small distance from King's bridge, on the heights of Fordham, with his right towards the North river, and his left on the Brunx. Works were erected on Haerlem creek, to play on the op- Nov. 13. posite works of the Americans; and, every thing being prepared, the garrison was summoned to surrender on pain of being put to the sword. Colonel Magaw replied that he should defend the place to the last extremity, and the summons he had received was immediately Fifteenth. communicated to general Greene at fort Lee, and by him to the commander in chief who was then at Hackensack. He immediately rode VOL. 11.
CHAP. VIII. to fort Lee, and was proceeding, though it 1776. was then late in the night, to fort Washington,
where he expected to find generals Putnam and Greene; when, in crossing the river to fort Washington, he met those officers returning from visiting that post. They reported that the troops were in high spirits, and would make a good defence, on which he returned with them to fort Lee.
Early next morning colonel Magaw posted
his troops partly in the lines drawn across the Nov. 16. island on the south of the fort; partly between
the lines, on the woody and rocky heights fronting the East river, where the works were not closed; and partly on a commanding hill, lying north of the fort. Colonel Cadwallader of Pennsylvania commanded in the lines, colonel Rawlings of Maryland commanded on the hill towards King's bridge where his regi. ment of riflemen was posted among trees, and colonel Magaw himself continued in the fort.
Notwithstanding the strength of the place, the British general resolved to carry it by storm. He was induced to this determination by a wish to save time, which, at this late season of the year, was an object not to be overlooked; and preparations were made for a vigorous attack early in the morning. About ten o'clock the enemy appeared, and moved on to the assault in four different quarters. Their first division, consisting of two columns of Hessians and Waldeckers, amounting to about five thousand men, under the command of general Knyphau - CHAP. VIII. sen, advanced on the north side of the works 1776. against the hill where colonel Rawlings commanded, who received them with great gal. lantry. The second, on the east, consisting of the first and second battalions of British light infantry, and two battalions of guards, was led on by brigadier general Mathews, supported by lord Cornwallis at the head of the first and second battalions of grenadiers, and the thirty. third regiment. These troops crossed the East river in boats, under cover of the artillery planted in works which had been erected for this purpose on the opposite side of the river, and landed within the second line of defence which crossed the island. The third division was conducted by lieutenant colonel Stirling who passed the East river lower down; and the fourth by lord Percy, accompanied by general Howe in person. This division was to attack the lines in front, on the south side."
The attacks on the north, and south, by general Knyphausen and lord Percy, were made about the same instant on colonels Rawlings and Cadwallader, who maintained their ground for a considerable time; but while colonel Cadwallader was engaged in the first line against lord Percy on the south, the second and third divisions of the enemy, which had crossed
u General Howe's letter.
CHAP. VIII. the East river, made good their landing and 1776. soon dispersed the troops fronting that river,
as well as a detachment sent by colonel Cad. wallader to support them. These being over: powered, he deemed it necessary to abandon the lines, and a retreat was commenced towards the fort, which, being conducted with confu: sion, a part of his men were intercepted by the division under colonel Stirling, and made prisoners. The resistance on the north was conducted with more courage, and was of longer duration. Rawlings maintained his ground with firmness, and his riflemen did vast execution. The Germans were repulsed several times with great loss; and, had every other part of the action been equally well maintained, the enemy, if ultimately successful, would have had much reason to deplore their victory. The Hessian columns by dint of perseverance and numbers, at length gained the summit of the hill, and colonel Rawlings, who perceived the danger which threatened his rear, retreated under the guns of the fort.
Having now carried the lines and all the The lines of strong ground adjoining, the British general ton carried again summoned colonel Magaw to surrender. enemy, and While the capitulation was progressing, general
Washington sent him a billet requesting him to hold out until the evening, when he would endeavour to bring off the garrison; but colonel Magaw had already proceeded too far to retract, and it is probable the place could not have
the garrison made prisoners.
resisted an assault from so formidable a force CHAP. VIII. as now threatened it on every side. The most 1776. essential difficulties had been overcome, the fort was too small to contain all the men, and their ammunition was nearly exhausted. Under these circumstances, the garrison surrendered prisoners of war.
The loss on this occasion was, perhaps, the greatest the Americans had ever experienced. The garrison was stated by general Washington at about two thousand men; yet, in a report published as from general Howe, the number of prisoners is stated at two thousand six hundred, exclusive of officers. If this report was genuine, either general Howe must have included in its persons, who were not soldiers, or general Washington in his letter must have comprised only the regulars. The last conjecture is most probably correct. The loss of the enemy is stated by mr. Stedman, in his history of the war, at about eight hundred men. This loss fell heaviest on the Germans. *
* Had the front towards East river been defended with as much gallantry as the hill on the north, the enemy would probably have been repulsed, and would certainly have sustained so heavy a loss as very essentially to have affected their ulterior operations. But among raw troops, however great the exertions of many may be, there must ever be found a defect of courage in some one point, which must defeat any general plan. This results from the cir. cumstance that their conduct depends more on individual firmness, than on habits of discipline.