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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 Cadwallader to support them. These being overpowered, 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 b>ntherried aSain summoned colonel Magaw to surrender. rtr^H5on While the capitulation was progressing, general prisoners. 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 resisted an assault from so formidable a force Chap, vm. 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 Washings ton 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 circumstance that their conduct depends more on individual firmness, than on habits of discipline.
Chap. viii. The surrender of fort Washington produced 1776. a determination to evacuate fort Lee, and a F.vacnation removal of the stores to the interior of Jersey
of fort Let. . _
was immediately commenced. Before this could be possibly completed, a large body of the enemy, consisting of two battalions of British, three of Hessian grenadiers, two of light infantry, the guards, the chasseurs, the royal highlanders, the thirty-third regiment, and a detachment of the queen's light dragoons, conjectured to amount altogether to about six
thousand men, under lord Cornwallis, crossed
Nov-1S- the North river below Dobbs' ferry, and endeavoured, by a rapid march, to enclose the garrison of fort Lee between the North and Hackensack rivers. On the first intelligence of their approach, it was determined to meet and fight them; but it was soon discovered that their force was too great to be encountered. It was also perceived that they were extending themselves across the country, so as to surround the Americans. It was therefore deemed necessary to withdraw the garrison, with the utmost possible dispatch, from the narrow neck of land between the Hudson and Hackensack; and, with considerable difficulty, their retreat was effected over a bridge on the latter river. At fort Lee all the heavy cannon, except two twelve pounders, and a considerable quantity of provisions, and military stores, including three hundred tents, were lost. The great difficulty experienced on this, and on all Chap, vm. other occasions, in obtaining waggons for the 1776removal of stores, and baggage, rendered this loss inevitable.
General Washington now took post along the Hackensack, but it was impossible to dispute its passage. He was now in a level country, without a single intrenching tool; at the head of an army consisting of about three thousand effectives, exposed without tents to the inclement season which already prevailed; among people by no means zealous in the American cause; and in other respects, his present situation was a dangerous one.
This gloomy state of things was not brightened by the prospect before him. In casting his eyes around, no cheering object presented itself. No safe reliance could be placed on re-enforcements to be drawn from any quarter. He however made every possible exertion to collect an army, and, in the mean time, to impede as much as possible the progress of the enemy. General Carleton having retired from before Ticonderoga, he directed general Schuyler to send to his aid, with the utmost possible dispatch, the troops of Pennsylvania and Jersey, which had been attached to the northern army. But the march was long, their terms of service had nearly expired, and they had refused to re-inlist. General Lee was directed to cross the North river and to hold himself in readiness, Chap, vm. if the enemy should continue the campaign, to 1776. join the commander in chief;* but his army Nov. 21. too was melting away, under the influence of the same fatal cause which had acted so universally and so banefully, and would soon be weakn^sof almost totally dissolved. General Mercer, who
*t- commanded a part of the flying camp stationed about Bergen, was also called in; bvit these troops had only engaged to serve until the first of December; and, like the other six months men, had already abandoned the army in great numbers. No hope existed of retaining the remnant of them after they should possess a legal right to be discharged, and very little of supplying their places with other militia.
The present situation of the American army was precisely similar to that it had abandoned, and of consequence no serious design of attempting to maintain it was formed. The Hackensack lay between them and the enemy, and the Passaic was immediately in their rear, so that the danger of being enclosed between two rivers still existed. While therefore some regiments were disposed along the Hackensack so as to afford the semblance of intending to defend it, and thus for a time to cover the few stores which could not immediately be removed; general Washington, with Beal's, Heard's, and part of Irvine's brigades, crossed over at Acquackanunck bridge, and took post at Newark, on the
* See Note, Ab. XX. at the end of the volume,