« AnteriorContinuar »
in like manner, finding his plan entirely defeated by the sudden retreat of Washington into his strong camp of Middlebrook, also marched back to that city. The brigades of Scott and Conway followed the English step by step as far as the frontiers, but without finding an opening to attack them, so close and cautious was their order of march. The British generals now reflected that the continuation of hostilities in New Jersey, with a view of penetrating to the Delaware, would not only be fruitless, since the enemy was evidently resolved not to hazard a general engagement, but that it would even be attended with extreme danger, as well from the strength of his positions as from the general enmity of the inhabitants. In effect, the season was already advanced, and there was no more time to be wasted in unprofitable expeditions. They resolved therefore to attack Pennsylvania by way of the sea; thus persevering in their scheme of acting by themselves, and not in conjunction with the Canadian army, which it was known had invested Ticonderoga; and which probably would soon be, if it was not already, in possession of that fortress. Accordingly all the troops of general Howe were passed over the channel to Staten Island, and the Americans soon after entered Amboy. The great preparations made by the English in Staten Island, and in all the province of New York, for the embarkation of the army, and the uncertainty of the place against which the storm would be directed, excited a general alarm throughout the continent. Boston, the Hudson river, the Delaware, Chesapeake bay, and even Charleston, in Carolina, were alternately held to be the objects of the expedition. General Washington exerted the utmost vigilance; he maintained a secret correspondence with the republicans in New York, who advised him daily of whatever they saw and heard. In pursuance of this intelligence, he was continually despatching expresses to put those places upon their guard, which, from immediate information, he supposed for the time to be the threatened point. But herein the English had greatly the advantage, for having the sea always open, they could fall unawares upon the destined place, before the inhabitants could be prepared to resist them, and before the soldiery could possibly come to their succour. But among all the objects that general Howe might have in view, the Americans knew very well, that the two which he must consider of most importance, were consequently the most probable. These were evidently either the conquest of Philadelphia, or the cooperation, by the Hudson river, with the army of Canada. But to which of these two operations he would give the preference, it was not easy to penetrate. In this perplexity, Washington continued stationary in his encampment at Middlebrook, where he could securely persist in his defensive system, and be equally near at hand to march to the succour of Philadelphia, or to ascend the Hudson.
In this posture of things, a movement of general Howe led him to believe that the English had in view the expedition of Albany. Their fleet, moored at Princesbay, a place not far from Amboy, moved higher up towards New York, and came to anchor at Wateringplace, while their whole army, with its munitions and baggage, withdrew from the coast opposite Amboy, and took post at the north point of Staten Island. Washington, thereupon, having posted two regiments of infantry and one of light horse between Newark and Amboy, to cover this part against desultory incursions, moved with the main body of his army to reoccupy his old camp of Morristown. He there found himself nearer to the Hudson, without being at such a distance from Middlebrook, as to prevent him from promptly resuming that position, is the enemy made any demonstration against New Jersey. He, moreover, detached general Sullivan with a numerous corps to occupy Prompton, upon the road to Peek's Kill, in order that he might, according to circumstances, either advance to the latter place, or return to Morristown.
In the meantime, it was confidently reported that general Burgoyne, who commanded the British army upon the lakes, had appeared in great force under the walls of Ticonderoga. Washington, therefore, still more persuaded of the intended cooperation of the two armies, under Howe and Burgoyne, upon the banks of the Hudson, ordered general Sullivan to advance immediately and post himself in front of Peck’s Kill, while he proceeded himself as far as Prompton, and afterwards to Clove. The news soon arrived of the surrender of Ticonderoga, and at the same time, intelligence was received that the English fleet was anchored under New York, and even that a great number of transports were come up the Hudson as far as Dobbs Ferry, where the river widens so as to form a species of lake, called Tappan Bay. These different movements confirmed Washington in his conjectures respecting the project of the enemy; he therefore directed general Sullivan to pass the Hudson, and to intrench himself behind Peek's Kill upon the left bank. In like manner, lord Sterling was ordered to cross the river and unite with general Putnam, who guarded the heights that were the object of so much jealousy for the two armies. But, as the larger ships, and a part of the light vessels, were returned from Wateringplace to Sandy Hook, as if the fleet was preparing for sea, in order to gain the Delaware, and as the whole British army still remained in Staten Island, Washington began to suspect that general Howe meditated embarking with a view to the conquest of Philadelphia.
In the midst of these uncertainties, and while the American general endeavored to penetrate the intentions of the English, and the latter to deceive him by vain demonstrations upon the banks of the Hudson, the news arrived of an adventure which, though of little importance in itself, produced as much exultation to the Americans as regret to
the English. The British troops stationed in Rhode Island were commanded by general Prescott, who, finding himself in an island surrounded by the fleet of the king, and disposing of a force greatly superior to what the enemy could assemble in this quarter, became extremely negligent of his guard. The Americans, earnestly desiring to retaliate the capture of general Lee, formed the design of surprising general Prescott in his quarters, and of bringing him off prisoner to the continent. Accordingly, in the night of the tenth of July, lieutenant-colonel Barton, at the head of a party of forty of the country militia, well acquainted with the places, embarked in whale boats, and after having rowed a distance of above ten miles, and avoided with great dexterity the numerous vessels of the enemy, landed upon the western coast of Rhode Island, between Newport and Bristol Ferry. He repaired immediately, with the utmost silence and celerity, to the lodging of general Prescott. They adroitly secured the sentinels who guarded the door. An aid-de-camp went up into the chamber of the general, who slept quietly, and arrested him, without giving him time even to put on his clothes; they conducted him with equal secrecy and success to the main land. This event afforded the Americans singular satisfaction, as they hoped to exchange their prisoner for general Lee. It was, however, particularly galling to general Prescott, who not long before had been delivered by exchange from the hands of the Americans, after having been taken in the expedition of Canada. In addition to this, he had lately been guilty of an action unworthy of a man of honor, in setting a price upon the head of general Arnold, as if he had been a common outlaw and assassin; an insult which Arnold immediately returned, by setting an inferior price upon the person of Prescott. The Congress publicly thanked lieutenant-colonel Barton, and presented him with a sword. Meanwhile, the immensity of the preparations made by general Howe for fitting out the fleet, as well as several movements it executed, strengthened the suspicion of Washington that the demonstrations of the English upon the Hudson were no other than a mere feint. Every day he was more and more convinced that their real plan was to embark and proceed to the attack of Philadelphia, as the capital of the confederation. He therefore retired progressively from Clove, and divided his army into several corps, in order to be able to succour the places attacked with the more expedition. He prayed the Congress to assemble the militia of Pennsylvania, without loss of time, at Chester, and those of the lower counties of Delaware, at Wilmington. He directed watches to be stationed upon the capes of the Delaware, to keep a look out, and give early notice of the arrival of the enemy. The governor of New Jersey was exhorted to call out the militia of the districts bordering upon this river, directing them to make head at Gloucester, situated upon the left bank, a little below Philadelphia.
Notwithstanding all the diligence of the brothers Howe, in preparing for the embarkation, and the assistance afforded by the crews of more than three hundred vessels, the English could not procure, without extreme difficulty, the articles that were necessary, so that it was not until the twenty-third of July that the fleet and army were able to depart from Sandy Hook. The force that embarked upon this enterprise, consisted of thirty-six British and Hessian battalions, including the light infantry and grenadiers, with a powerful artillery, a New York corps, called the Queen's rangers, and a regiment of cavalry. Seventeen battalions, with a regiment of light horse, and the remainder of the new corps of loyalists, were left for the protection of New York and the neighboring islands. Rhode Island was occupied by seven battalions. It was said that general Howe intended to have taken a greater force with him upon this expedition; but that upon the representation of general Clinton, who was to command in his absence, of the danger to which the islands would be exposed, from the extensiveness of the coasts, and the great number of posts that were necessarily to be maintained, he acknowledged the force of these considerations by relanding several regiIn entS.
Thus, England, by the error of her ministers, or of her generals, had in America, instead of a great and powerful army, only three separate corps, from which individually no certain victory could be expected. At this moment, in effect, one of these corps was in Canada, another in the islands of New York and Rhode Island, and the third was on its way by sea, destined to act against Philadelphia. But perhaps it was imagined that in a country like that which furnished the theatre of this war, continually interrupted by lakes, rivers, forests, and inaccessible places, three light armies were likely to operate with more effect separately, than united in a single mass, incumbered by the number of troops, and multitude of baggage. This excuse would, perhaps, be valid, if the English generals, instead of operating as they did, without concert and without a common plan, had mutually assisted each other with their counsels and forces to strike a decisive blow, and arrive together at the same object.
However this may be viewed, the rapid progress of general Burgoyne towards the sources of the Hudson, the apprehension of an approaching attack on the part of general Howe, and the uncertainty of the point it menaced, all concurred to maintain a general agitation and alarm throughout the American continent. Great battles were expected, and no one doubted they would prove as fierce and sanguinary, as they were to be important and decisive.
END of Book seveNTH, AND volumE ONE.