« PreviousContinue »
Chap.vnl though about sixteen miles in length, is in this 1776. place scarcely two miles wide; and both their flanks were covered by their ships.
The strongest point of the American lines was at King's bridge, both sides of which had been carefully fortified, and to which they were very attentive, because it preserved their communication with the continent. They aJso occupied in considerable force M'Gowan'spass and Morris's heights, which were fortified, and capable of being defended against superior numbers. On the heights of Haerlem too, still nearer the enemy, within about a mile and a half of them, a strong detachment was posted in an intrenched camp.
The present position of the armies was extremely favourable to the views of the American general. He wished to habituate his soldiers, by a series of successful skirmishes, to meet the enemy in the field; and he persuaded himself that his detachments, knowing that a strong intrenched camp was immediately in their rear, Chap.vih. would eilgage the enemy without apprehension, \776. would display their native courage, and would soon regain the confidence they appeared to have lost.
flames. It was alleged by the enemy, that the American general had designed to reduce the town to ashes, had he not been compelled to abandon it so precipitately as to *» render the execution of this intention impracticable, and that the fire was in consequence of this design. But this allegation is founded entirely In mistake. Neither the congress, nor general Washington, had formed so destructive a plan; and the fire must either have been kindled by individuals, whose misguided zeal induced them to adopt so terrible a measure; or by flagitious incendiaries, who hoped to plunder in security during the confusion of extinguishing the flames.
Opportunities of this sort could not long be wanting. The day after the retreat from New York, the enemy appeared in considerable force in the plains between the two camps; and the general immediately rode to his advanced posts, in order to make, in person, such arrangements as this movement might require. Soon after his arrival, lieutenant colonel Knowlton of Connecticut, a very brave and valuable officer, who had been skirmishing with them, at the head of a corps of rangers, composed of volunteers from different New England regiments, came in, and, on conjecture, stated the number of •
the British party, the main body of which was concealed in a wood, at about three hundred men.
The general ordered colonel Knowlton with his rangers, and major Leitch with three companies of the third Virginia regiment, which had joined the army only the preceding day, to endeavour to get in their rear, while he amused them with the appearance of making dispositions to attack their front.
This plan succeeded. The enemy ran eagerly down a hill in order to possess themselves of some fences and bushes, which they considered Chap. viii. as an advantageous position to take, against
1776. the party advancing in their front: and a firing
ensued, but at too great a distance to do any
skirmish execution. In the mean time, colonel Kr.owl
hcWitt of ton, not being precisely acquainted with their new position, commenced his attack, rather on their flank than rear, and a very warm action ensued.
In a short time, major Leitch, who had very gallantly led on the detachment, was brought off the ground mortally wounded, having received three balls through his body; and not long afterwards, colonel Knowlton also fell, bravely fighting at the head of his troops. Yet, the captains with their companies kept their ground; and with much animation, continued the action. The British were re-enforced; and general Washington, perceiving the necessity of supporting the Americans also, ordered to their aid some detachments from the adjacent regiments of New England and Maryland. Thus re-enforced, they charged the enemy with great intrepidity, drove them out of the woods into the plains, and were pressing them still further, when the general, content with the present advantage, and apprehending that a much larger body of the enemy would soon change the aspect of affairs, called back his troops to their intrenchments.
In this sharp conflict, in which they had engaged a battalion of light infantry, another of highlanders, and three companies of Hessian Chap, vm, riflemen,1" the Americans had about fifty men 1776. killed and wounded, while the enemy lost more than double that number; but the real importance of the affair was derived from its operation on the spirits of the whole army. It was the first success they had experienced, this campaign; and its influence was very discernible. To give it the more effect, the parole, the next day, was Leitch, and the general in his orders publicly thanked the troops under the command of that officer, who had first advanced on the enemy, and the others who had so resolutely supported them. He contrasted their conduct with that which had been exhibited the day before, and the result, he said, evidenced what might be done where officers and soldiers would exert themselves. Once more, therefore, he called on them so to act, as not to disgrace the noble cause in which they were engaged; but to support the honour and liberties of their country.
He appointed a successor to "the gallant and brave colonel Knowlton, who would," he said, "have been an honour to any country, and who had fallen gloriously fighting at his post."
In this active state of the campaign, when the utmost stretch of every faculty was required to watch and counteract the plans of
i' Annual Register....Stedman,
Chap, Viii. the enemy, the effects of the original errors 1776. committed by the government in its military establishment, were beginning to be so seriously felt, as to induce the commander in chief to devote a portion of his time and atten^ tion to the complete removal of the causes which produced them.
The situation of America was now becoming extremely critical. The almost entire dissolution of the existing army, by the expiration of the time for which the greater number of the troops had been engaged, was fast approaching. No steps had been taken to recruit the new regiments resolved on by congress for the ensuing campaign, and there was much reason to apprehend, that the terms offered would not, in the actual state of things, hold forth sufficient inducements to fill them.
With so unpromising a prospect before him, the general found himself pressed by an army, permanent in its establishment, supplied with every requisite for war, formidable for its discipline and the experience of its leaders, and superior to him, even at present, in numbers. These circumstances, and the impressions they created, will be best exhibited by inserting an sq-t.24. extract from a letter written at the time to congress. It is in these words: "From the hours allotted to sleep, I will borrow a few moments to convey my thoughts, on sundry important matters, to congress. I shall offer