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cHay.vn. Aware of this danger, general Washington 1776. set about removing above King's bridge such stores as were not immediately necessary ; and determined to call a council of general officers for the purpose of deciding, whether the place should be evacuated without delay, t»r longer defended.
In his letter communicating to congress the result of this council, which Was against an immediate evacuation, he appears strongly convinced of the necessity of abandoning the city, though he yields to that necessity with infinite reluctance. Speaking of the enemy, he observed, "it is now extremely obvious from their movements, from our intelligence, and from every other circumstance, that, having their whole army upon Long island, except about four thousand men who remain on Staten island, they mean to enclose us in this island by taking post in our rear, while their ships effectually secure the front; and thus, by cutting off our communication with the country, oblige Us to fight them on their own terms, or surrender at discretion; or, if that shall be deemed more advisable, by a brilliant stroke endeavour to cut this army to pieces, and secure the possession of arms and stores which they well know our inability to replace.
"Having their system unfolded to us, it becomes an important consideration how it could be most successfully opposed. On every side there is a choice of difficulties, and Chap, Vn. experience teaches us, that every measure on 1776. our part (however painful the reflection) must be taken with some apprehension, that all the troops will not do their duty.
"In deliberating upon this great question," he added, "it was impossible to forget that, history, our own experience, the advice of our ablest friends in Europe, the fears of the enemy, and even the declarations of congress, demonstrate that, on our side, the war should be defensive....(it has ever been called a war of posts:)....that we should, on all occasions, avoid a general action, nor put any thing to the risk, unless compelled by necessity into which we ought never to be drawn."
After communicating the decision which had been made by the council of officers, the general states, with such force, the opinion of those who were in favour of immediately evacuating the town, as to confirm the belief that it remained his own. "There were some generals," he observed, "in whose judgments great confidence is to be reposed, that were for an immediate removal from the city. They urge the great danger that one part of the army may be cut off before it can be supported by the other, the extremities being sixteen miles apart; that we are, when collected, inferior to the enemy; that they can move with their whole force to any point of attack, and, con
Chap. vn. sequently, if opposed by only a part of ours, 1776. must succeed by weight of numbers; that by moving from hence, we deprive the enemy of the advantage of their ships, which would constitute one half their force in an attack on the town; that we may keep them at bay, put nothing to the hazard, and, in any event, keep an army together which may be recruited for another year; that the unspent stores will also be preserved, and the heavy artillery secured." The majority, who overnded this opinion, did not expect to be able to defend the city entirely, but to protract the time of losing it; and thereby waste so muth of the campaign before the enemy should obtain possession of it, as would prevent their undertaking any thing farther this year. They therefore advised a middle course; between abandoning the town absolutely, and concentrating their whole strength for its defence. By the plan recommended, the army was to be arranged into three divisions, one of which, consisting of five thousand men, was to remain in New York. The second, amounting to nine thousand, was to be stationed at King's bridge, for the purpose of securing that post, and its dependencies. The residue of the army was to occupy the intermediate space, so as to support either extreme; and the sick were to be immediately removed to Orange town. A belief that congress was unwilling to give up New York, and rather inclined to maintain it at every hazard; as well as a dread of the unfavourable impression which Chap, Vh. retreating before the enemy, and thus confes- 1776. sing their superiority, might make on the people at large, seem to have had great influence in producing the determination to defend
the place yet a short time longer.
This opinion, however, was soon changed. sei»,">• The officers became more and more alarmed at the danger resulting from the division of the troops; in addition to which, the movements of the enemy seemed clearly to indicate an intention either to break their line of communication, or to enclose the whole army in York island. Their dispositions were, alike calculated to favour the one, or the other of these objects. They threw considerable detachments into Montresor's and Buchanan's islands, which lie in the mouth of Haerlem river, from whence it was easy either to pass over to the low grounds of Morrisania on the continent, and seize the passes above King's bridge; or cross the East river to the plains of Haerlem, and cut off, or render extremely hazardous, the communication between the different posts of the American army. Confident that the evacuation must take place, the general continued to employ himself assiduously in the removal of the military stores to a place of safety.*
* He had, on the first appearance of the enemy in force before New York, strongly urged the removal of the women and children, with their most valuable effects, to a place of safety.
Chap, vn. Several of the officers having avowed a change 1776. in their opinions respecting any further attempt to maintain the town, another council was called, J*,*. 12. in which it was determined, by a large majority, that it had become, not only prudent, but absolutely necessary, to withdraw the army from New York.
Brigadier general Mercer, who commanded the flying camp on the Jersey shore, was, in consequence of this determination, directed to move up the North river, to the post opposite fort Washington, and every effort was used to expedite the removal of the stores; a work which, it was feared, would soon be interrupted, as an attack was daily apprehended, which, if not repelled, would certainly be attended with the loss of those remaining at the time in the town.
Several other ships of war passed up the
Fourteenth. East river, and took different stations above the city, so as to create a doubt whether their object was to assist in silencing a battery at Horen's hook, which very much interrupted the navigation of the Sound, or to favour a landing on York island. Soon afterwards, several movements were made with large bodies of troops, towards the Sound and East river, who began to embark, as if either for Montresor's island, or Morrisania. On receiving intelligence of these operations, general Washington immediately proceeded to the camp at Haerlem; on which place, or on the troops at