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land and New York Militia, which increased it to 27,000 men. Of these, however, nearly one fourth were sick. To guard one of the main approaches to New York, a part of this army was stationed in the furthest western angle of Long Island, with directions to throw up entrenchments in front of the little town of Brooklyn. The command of this important post was entrusted by Washington to General Greene, an officer of bravery and enterprise, but whose talents were as yet known only to his friends.* Washington himself found it necessary to continue his head quarters at New York, since there seemed great probability that the English, whether or not conjointly with an attack on Brooklyn, might avail themselves of their naval force, and make a direct attempt upon that important city.
It was not until towards the middle of August that General Howe was joined by the main part of the expected troops from England. On their arrival, he determined, as the first step to the reduction of New York, to attack the Americans at Brooklyn. He sent over to Long Island a division — some 8000 strong: the English under General Clinton and Lord Cornwallis; the Hessians under General Heister and Count Donop. 'On the American side, the troops being reinforced from New York, were estimated by General Howe at 10,000 men, but in all probability were not more than equal in numbers to the British. Their chief, General Greene, had been smitten with a raging fever, and it had become necessary for Washington to despatch General Israel Putnam in his place. On the 24th, the 25th, and the 26th of August, there was some slight skirmishing between both armies, the American having advanced to a low range of hills about two miles and a half in front of the Brooklyn lines. On the 27th the English, marching to the attack before day-break, fought the action sometimes called the battle of Brooklyn,and sometimes the battle of Longlsland. The Americans from the southern states fought well; the others made but slight resistance; but, indeed, raw
* Greene, dont les talens n'etaient encore connus que de ses amis. These are the words of La Fayette; Mem. et Corresp. v. i. p. 21. ed. 1837.
BATTLE OF BROOKLYN.
levies such as these, even with some advantage of ground, were no match for disciplined troops. By noon the rout of the enemy was complete: they were driven back in confusion to their lines, leaving on the field many hundreds killed and wounded, and above a thousand prisoners. Amongthese was General Sullivan, and another of their field - officers whom they called Lord Stirling. His name was William Alexander; he had been Surveyor-General of the Jerseys, and was a distant kinsman of the last Earls of Stirling, whose title he had claimed at the Bar of the House of Lords. The Lords, after full consideration of the evidence, decided against him. The Americans, however, with a nicer discrimination of the claims of peerage, acknowledged his pretension as wellfounded, and consented to address him by the rank which he assumed. Neither Sullivan nor the titular Lord Stirling, I may remark in passing, were for any long period withdrawn from the service of their native or adopted country; for a cartel being established between the two armies, the prisoners on both sides came to be exchanged on equal terms.
Washington, who had hastened over from New York at the sound of the firing, beheld, with the keenest anguish, and without the power of giving aid, the discomfiture and slaughter of his best troops. He saw them pursued by the victorious British almost to thefootof the Brooklyn lines, and even those lines on the very point of being scaled. In the words of General Howe, who had also arrived upon the ground, "such "was the eagerness (of my troops) to attack the redoubt, that "it required repeated orders to prevail upon them to desist "from the attempt. Had they been permitted to go on, it is "my opinion they would have carried the redoubt; but as it "was apparent the lines must have been ours at a very "cheap rate by regular approaches, I would not risk the "loss." By such ill-timed caution, arising probably from an over-estimate of the insurgents' force, the English General flung away the fairest opportunity of utterly destroying or capturing the flower of the American army. The respite thus afforded was most judiciously employed by Washington: he
rallied as he best might his broken troops, and on the 28th and 29th awaited another battle at his lines. So great were his exertions and anxieties, that during forty-eight hours he was hardly off his horse, and never once closed his eyes. Yet his position was in truth untenable, and on the evening of the 29th he determined, by the unanimous advice of a Council of War, to relinquish Long Island, and endeavour to transport his troops back again, across the ferry of the East River, to New York. It was a most difficult and delicate operation, in the face of a victorious enemy, to be accomplished only through the supineness of the British General, and under cover of a thick fog, which opportunely arose. Yet the Americans not merely removed their troops in safety, but carried with them their military stores and cannon, except only a few heavy pieces, which, soaked as was the ground by continued rain, could not be dragged along. With such silence and good order was everything conducted, that their last boat had pushed from the shore, and was crossing the river, before the British had discovered their retreat.
Thus had Washington, with great skill and judgment, once again secured his army in New York; but he found it wholly unnerved by its late disaster. Here follows his own account of it, as given on the 2d of September to the President of Congress: — "Our situation is truly distressing. The "check our detachment sustained on the 27 th of last month "has dispirited too great a portion of our troops, and filled "their minds with apprehension and despair. The Militia, "instead of calling forth their utmost efforts, are dismayed, "intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of "them have gone off; in some instances almost by wholeregi"ments, by half ones, and by companies at a time .... and "with the deepest concern, I am obliged to confess my want "of confidence in the generality of the troops. Till of late "I had no doubt in my own mind of defending thisplace; nor "should I have yet, if the men would do their duty; but thia "I despair of. It is painful and extremely grating to me to 1776. BRITISH OVERTURES FOR PEACE. 117
"give such unfavourable accounts, but it would be criminal "to conceal the truth at so critical a juncture."
Meanwhile, the captivity of General Sullivan had suggested to Lord Howe, as principal Commissioner, the means of another overture for peace. He hoped that such an overture might carry the greater weight, and the more clearly indicate his conciliatory spirit as coming in the train not of disaster but of success. Accordingly, taking General Sullivan's parole, he requested him to proceed to Philadelphia with a verbal message to the Congress. The message stated that at present he could not treat with Congress as such — that, nevertheless, he was very desirous of having a conference with some of the Members, whom for the present he would consider only as private gentlemen — that he would meet them himself as such at any place they might appoint — and that he wished a compact might be settled at this time, when no decisive blow was struck, and when neither party could say they were compelled to enter into terms. Upon this message, when Sullivan conveyed it, there ensued in Congress much hesitation and several keen debates. There was no longer a pretence for alleging the point of form, since Lord Howe proposed to waive it; the meeting to be on both sides as of private gentlemen only. But to allow the interview might cast a doubt on the reality of Independence; to decline it, would perhaps alienate, certainly offend, the more moderate party , especially when a word so attractive as "Compact" had been used. Upon the whole, the Congress, though with an ill grace, and after an elaborate protest, consented to the interview, the majority being swayed in no slight degree by the hope of proving to the public how limited and unsatisfactory were in truth the terms of the Howe Commission. Their adverse spirit plainly appeared in the choice of the Committee for this meeting. They elected three of the keenest and most uncompromising enemies to British connexion, namely, Dr. Franklin, John Adams of Massachusetts, and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. On the 11th of September, by appointment with Lord Howe, the desired conference took place at a house on Staten Island, opposite the town of Amboy. "His Lordship," say the Committee in their Report, "received and entertained us with the utmost "politeness." But how changed both the scene and the temper of negotiation since Lord Howe and Dr. Franklin had first met in London, leaning in friendly converse over Mrs. Howe's chess-board! Lord Howe argued earnestly that the Americans should return to their allegiance, and that if willing to submit they might obtain the most favourable terms. On the other hand, the Committee explicitly declared that the United Colonies would not accede to any peace unless as free and independent States. At last, the British Admiral, with sorrow, closed the conference; and the American gentlemen wended back their way to Philadelphia.
This negotiation did not arrest — it had only rendered still less active — the movements of the British troops. Nearly all had by this time passed into Long Island, where they found themselves warmly welcomed. As Washington relates it, "I am sorry to say that from the best information we "have been able to obtain, the people on Long Island have, "since our evacuation, gone generally over to the enemy, "and made such concessions as have been required; some "through compulsion, I suppose, but more from inclina"tion."* There was not wanting at that time around the American commander in chief the suggestion of the most desperate counsels. Thus, General Greene urged him to retreat at once from New York Island, but first to lay the entire city in ashes. This advice Greene gave in writing, and added this strong reason for it: "Two thirds of the property "of the city and suburbs belong to the Tories!" Still larger were the views of another patriot, John Jay. In the month ensuing he wrote as follows to a private friend: "Had I "been vested with absolute power in this State, I have often "said, and still think, that I would last spring have desolated "all Long Island, Staten Island, the city and county of New "York, and all that part of the county of West Chester * To Governor Trumbull, September 9. 1776.