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1776. LINES OP HAERLEM. 113
which lies below the mountains."* Happily for these States, the wish of those who called themselves their truest and most thorough - going friends was not complied with. New York, in great part at least, was spared the ruin and anguish which, not the warring strangers, but her own sons had designed; for the proposal of burning the city being referred by Washington to Congress, was not approved by that body, which, on the contrary, enjoined him, in case of his retreat, to take special care that no damage should be done.
In this resolution, as in many others of popular assemblies , there appears to be a right conclusion arrived at from wrong premises. For the reason which the Congress themselves assigned for their orders was as follows — their full confidence that, if even their troops did leave New York, they would speedily be able to recover it. But, on the contrary, as the sequel will show, New York was held by the English until the very conclusion of the war.**
The American army had been drawn by Washington in lines along the East River with the main body at Haerlem, a village about nine miles distant from New York. It was the evident design of the British, from their new position, and with the assistance of their fleet, to effect a landing on some point of New York Island. From several reports of their movements, Washington, on the night of the 14th, repaired in person to Haerlem. But next morning he was apprised that the first division of the British had crossed the stream atKipp'sBay, between him and New York. What follows shall be told in his own words: "As soon as I heard the "firing, I rode with all possible despatch towards the place "of landing, when, to my great surprise and mortification, I "found the troops that had been posted in the lines "retreating with the utmost precipitation, and those ordered "to support them (Parsons's and Fellows's brigades) flying
* For Greene's letter (Sept. 5. 1776) see a note to Sparks's Washington, vol. iv. p. 85.; and for John Jay's (Oct. 6. 1776), the Life of President Seed, vol. i. p. 235.
** Resolves of Congress, September 3. 1776.
"in every direction and in the greatest confusion, notwith"standing the exertions of their Generals to form them. I "used every means in my power to rally and get them into "some order, but my attempts were fruitless and ineffectual, "and on the appearance of a small part of the enemy, not "more than sixty or seventy, their disorder increased, and "they ran away in the greatest confusion without firing a "single shot." General Greene, in a private note, informs us further that, "Fellows's and Parsons's brigades ran away "from about fifty men, and left his Excellency on the ground "within eighty yards of the enemy, so vexed at the infamous "conduct of the troops that he sought death rather than "life." It is said that Washington, in his grief and shame, drew his sword, and threatened to run his own men through, and also cocked and snapped his pistols at them. His attendants caught the bridle of his horse, and with some difficulty led him from the field.*
In the lines which the Americans left on this occasion were found some hostile implements, such as the common consent of nations has declared unworthy of civilised or Christian warfare. The common men, it seems, or the inferior officers, had used them without the sanction of their chiefs. On this subject General Howe wrote as follows to General Washington; for by this time, notwithstanding the punctilio of rank, a correspondence had arisen between them for the exchange of prisoners. "My aide-de-camp will "present to you a ball cut and fixed to the end of a nail, "taken from a number of the same kind found in the "encampment quitted by your troops on the 15th. I do not "make any comment upon such unwarrantable and mali"cious practices, being well assured the contrivance has not "come to your knowledge." Washington promptly replied: "Theball you mention, delivered to me by your aide-de"camp, was the first of the kind I ever saw or heard of. You "may depend upon it the contrivance is highly abhorred by
* Compare Sparks's Washington, vol. iv. p. 94., with Gordon's History, vol. ii. p. 327.
1776. NEW YOfeK TAKEN BY THE ENGLISH. 121
"me, and every measure shall be taken to prevent so "wicked and infamous a practice being adopted in this "army."*
It is to be observed that during several previous days the Americans had been preparing to evacuate New York. "Had "the landing of the enemy been delayed one day longer, we "should have left them the city" — writes the AdjutantGeneral to his wife. Accordingly, on the 15th, the advancing British columns quietly took possession of the place; while General Putnam, with some three or four thousand of the insurgents, withdrew at their approach. It might have been easy (this the American annalists acknowledge) to have cut him off in his retreat along the North River; but that opportunity, as several both before and since, was lost upon General Howe. At New York, the British found themselves hailed as friends and deliverers by no small portion of the inhabitants. The most arbitrary violence had for some time past been practised against them. In many other places it was deemed sufficient to exclude the suspected Tory from the benefits of human society — to sign an engagement, solemnly renouncing all ties of business or of friendship with him.** But at New York a great number of persons were suddenly arrested and sent to distant places of confinement, not for any crime imputed or alleged, but solely because , from the general tenor of their lives or their opinions, they were supposed to be unfriendly to the popular cause. Their offence, in short, was one for which the language of England scarcely affords a name, nor its history a precedent; it is best described in the Frenchmen's phrase, during their first Revolutionary period — Soupconne D'etre Suspect!
Whatever joy the loyalists remaining in New York may have felt at the sight of the King's troops was not long unalloyed. A few nights afterwards, the city was fired in
* Sparks's Washington, vol. iv. p. 107.
** See one of these forms of Ostracism in the American Archives, vol. ii. p. 16TS.
several places at once; matches and other combustibles having been prepared and skilfully disposed. General Howe reports to Lord George Germaine that many of the incendiaries were detected in the fact, and some killed upon the spot by the infuriated troops. Notwithstanding every exertion on the part of the British chiefs, full one quarter of the city was thus consumed. It was believed by many persons that this conflagration might be traced to a secret order from American headquarters; but, considering the recent decision of Congress, and the personal character of Washington, the suspicion, though certainly natural, was as certainly unfounded.
The ill-conduct of the Americans, chiefly Connecticut men, on the 15th, was in some measure retrieved next day by another division, chiefly from Maryland and Virginia, which showed much gallantry in a little skirmish; and though the affair was slight, it gave more confidence to the remaining troops. Washington had now taken up his position on the heights of Haerlem, with lines across New York Island, which at that place is only a mile broad. Close in his rear was the fort to which his countrymen had given his name; on the opposite side of the North or Hudson River was Fort Lee; and further behind him his communication with the main-land of New York over a narrow strait was secured by some works at Kingsbridge. His position was in truth a strong one, but less tenable from the utter want of discipline among his troops. The difference of conduct in the field between the men of the South and the men of the North had given a fresh edge to the old provincial jealousies. An officer at that time present with their army declares that even the Pennsylvania and New England troops would as soon fight each other as the enemy.* Still more poignant are the complaints of Washington on "the infamous practice of plun"dering. For,"headds, "under the idea of Tory property, "or property that may fall into the hands of the enemy, no "man is secure in his effects and scarcely in his person. In
* See this extract as given in Gordon's Hist. Amer. Rev. vol. ii. p. 331. 1776. DISORGANISATION OP THE AMERICAN ARMY. 123
"order to get at them we have several instances of people "being frightened out of their houses, under pretence of "those houses being ordered to be burnt, and this is done "with a view of seizing the goods. Nay, in order that the villany may be more effectually concealed, some houses "have actually been burnt to cover. the theft. I have, with "some others, used my utmost endeavours to stop this horrid "practice; but under the present lust after plunder and want "of laws to punish offenders, I might almost as well attempt "to move Mount Atlas."*
The Adjutant-General, writing in equal confidence, is not less explicit. "Where," says he, "so thorough a levelling spirit predominates, either no discipline can be "established, or he who attempts it must become odious "and detestable. It is impossible for any one to have an "idea of the complete equality which exists between the offi"cers and men who compose the greater part of our troops. "You may form some notion of it when I tell you that yester"day morning a Captain of Horse, who attends the General, "from Connecticut, was seen shaving one of his men on the "parade near the house!" **
In this disorganised state of the soldiery it became a service of danger to aim at their correction or control. The same officer who beheld the shaving scene says in another letter that in the skirmish of the 16th, "the greatest escape "I had was from one of our own rascals who was running "away. Upon my driving him back, he presented his piece "and snapped it at me about a rod distance. I seized a "musket from another soldier, and snapped at him. He has "since been tried, and is under sentence of death, but I "believe I must beg him off, as after I found I could not get "the gun off, I wounded him on the head, and cut off his "thumb with my hanger."***
This deplorable condition of the American troops wa3
* T•o the President of Congress, Sept. 24. 1776. ** J. Reed to Mrs. Reed, Oct. 11. 177G. *** Life and Correspondence of Reed, vol. i. p. 238.