Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

approached to such a height as threatened their immediate dissolution. Respect for their commander attached both officers and soldiers so strongly to his person, as enabled him to keep them together under privations almost too much for human nature to bear. Their effective force throughout the winter was little more than five thousand men, though their numbers on paper exceeded seventeen thousand. It was well for them that the British made no attempt to disturb them while in this destitute condition, In that case the Americans could not have kept their camp for want of provisions; nor could they have retreated from it without the certain loss of some thousands who were barefooted and otherwise almost naked. Neither could they have risked an action with any probable hope of success, or without hazarding the most serious consequences.

The historians of the American revolution will detail the particulars of a treaty entered into about this time between France and the United States, and also that thereupon the government of Great Britain offered terms to the Americans equal to all they had asked anterior to the declaration of independence. The first certain intelligence of those offers was received by Gen. Washington in a letter from Major General Tryon, the British Governor of New York, enclosing the conciliatory proposals, and recommending " that they should be circulated by Gen. Washington among the officers and privates of his army." Instead of complying with this extraordinary request, he forwarded the whole to Congress. The offers of Great Britain, which, if made in due time, would have prevented the dismemberment of the empire, were promptly rejected. The day after their rejection a resolution formerly recommended by Washington was adopted by Congress, in which they urged upon the different states "to pardon, under certain limitations, such of their misguided citizens as had levied war against the United States.” Copies of this were struck off in English and German, and Gen. Washington was directed to take measures for circulating them among the American levies in the British army. He immediately enclosed them in a letter to Tryon, in which he acknowledged the receipt of his late letter covering the British conciliatory bills, and requesting their circulation in the American army; and in the way of retort requested the instrumentality

G

of Tryon in making the resolves of Congress known to the Americans in the British army, on whom they were intended to operate.

About this time Sir William Howe resigned the command of the British army, and returned to Great Britain. His successor, Sir Henry Clinton, had scarcely entered on the duties of his office, when he received orders to evacuate Philadelphia. This was deemed expedient from an apprehension that it would be a dangerous position in case a French fleet, as was expected, should arrive in the Delaware to co-operate with the Americans.

The design of evacuating Philadelphia was soon discovered by Washington; but the object or course of the enemy could not be precisely ascertained. Their preparations equally denoted an expedition to the south ; an embarka. tion of their whole army for New York; or a march to that city through New Jersey. In the two first cases Washington had not the means of annoyance ; dut as the probability of the last daily increased, he directed his chief attention to that point. Gen. Maxwell, with the Jersey brigade, was ordered over the Delaware to take post about Mount Holly, and to co-operate with Gen. Dickinson at the head of the Jersey militia, in obstructing the progress of the royal army till time should be gained for Washington to overtake them. The British crossed the Delaware to Gloucester Point, on the 18th of June, 1778; the Americans in four days after, at Corryel's ferry. The general officers of the latter, on being asked what line of conduct they deemed most advisable, had previously, and with one consent, agreed to attempt nothing till the evacuation of Philadelphia was completed; but after the Delaware was crossed, there was a diversity of sentiment respecting the measures proper to be pursued. Gen. Lee, who, having been exchanged, joined the army, was of opinion that the United States, in con, sequence of their late foreign connexions, were secure of their independence, unless their army was defeated; and that under such circumstances it would be criminal to hazard an action, unless they had some decided advantage. Though the numbers in both armies were nearly equal, and about ten thousand effective men in each, he attributed so much to the superiority of British discipline, as made him apprehensive of the issue of an engagement on equal

ground. These sentiments were sanctioned by the voice of a great inajority of the general officers. Washington was nevertheless strongly inclined to risk an action. Though cautious, he was enterprising, and could not readily believe that the chances of war were so much against him as to threaten consequences of the alarming magnitude which had been announced. There was a general concurrence in a proposal for strengthening the corps on the left fank of the enemy with fifteen hundred men, to improve any partial advantages that might offer, and that the main body should preserve a relative position for act: ing as circumstances might require.

When Sir Henry Clinton had advanced to Allentown, he determined, instead of keeping the direct course toward Staten Island, to draw toward the sea coast, and to push on toward Sandy Hook. Washington on receiving intelligence that Sir Henry was proceeding in that direction toward Monmouth court house, despatched one thousand men under Gen. Wayne, and sent the Marquis de la Fayette to take command of the whole, with orders to seize the first fair opportunity of attacking the enemy's rear. The command of this advanced corps was offered to Gen. Lee, but he declined it. The whole army followed at a proper distance for supporting the advanced corps, and reached Cranberry the next morning. Sir Henry Clinton, sensible of the approach of the Americans, placed his gre. nadiers, light infantry, and chasseurs, in his rear, and his baggage in his front. Washington increased his advanced corps with two brigades, and sent Gen. Lee, who now wished for the command, to take charge of the whole, and followed with the main army to give it support. On the next morning orders were sent to Lee to inove on and attack, unless there should be powerful reasons to the contrary. When Washington had marched about five miles to support the advanced corps, he found the whole of it retreating by Lee's orders, and without having made any opposition of consequence. Washington rode up to Lee and proposed certain questions; Lee answered with warmth, and unsuitable language. The commander in chief ordered Col. Stewart's, and Lieut. Col. Ramsay's battalions, to form on a piece of ground which he judged suitable for giving a check to the advancing enemy. Lee was then asked if he would command on that ground, to which he consented, and was ordered to take proper measures for checking the enemy; to which he replied, “your orders shall be obeyed, and I will not be the first to leave the field.” Washington then rode to the main army, which was formed with the utmost expedition. A warm cannonade immediately commenced between the British and American artillery, and a heavy firing between the advanced troops of the British army and the two battalions which Washington had halted. These stood their ground till they were intermixed with a part of the British army. Gen. Lee continued till the last on the field of battle, and brought off the rear of the retreating troops.

The check the British received gave time to make a disposition of the left wing and second line of the American army, in the wood and on the eminence to which Lee was retreating. On this some cannon were placed by lord Stirling, who commanded the left wing, which, with the cooperation of some parties of infantry, effectually stopped the advance of the British in that quarter. Gen. Greene took a very advantageous position on the right of lord Stirling. The British attempted to turn the left Alank of the Americans, but were repulsed. They also made a movement to the right, with as litile success; for Greene, with artillery, disappointed their design. Wayne advanced with a body of troops, and kept up so severe and well directed a fire, that the British were soon compelled to give way.They retired and took the position which Lee had before occupied. Washington resolved to attack them, and ore dered Gen. Poor to move round upon their right, and Gen. Woodford to their left; but they could not get within reach before it was dark. These remained on the ground which they had been directed to occupy, during the night, with an intention of attacking early next morning; and the main body lay on their arms in the field to be ready for supporting them. Gen. Washington, after a day of great activity and much personal danger, reposed among his troops on his cloak under a tree, in hopes of renewing the action the next day. But these hopes were frustrated. The British marched away in the night in such silence, that Gen. Poor, though he lay very near them, knew nothing of their departure. They left behind them four officers and about forty

privates, all so badly wounded that they could not be removed. Their other wounded were carried off. The Bri. tish pursued their march without farther interruption, and soon reached the neighbourhood of Sandy Hook, without the loss of either their covering party or baggage. The American General declined all

farther pursuit of the royal army, and soon after drew off his troops to the borders of the North River. The loss of the Americans in killed and wounded was about two hundred and fifty. The loss of the royal army, inclusive of prisoners, was about three hundred and fifty.

On the ninth day after this action, Congress unanimously resolved, “ that their thanks be given to Gen. Washington for the activity with which he marched from the camp at Valley Forge in pursuit of the enemy; for his distinguished exertions in forming the line of battle; and for his great good conduct in leading on the attack, and gaining the important victory of Monmouth, over the British grand army, under the command of Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, in their march from Philadelphia to New York." It is probable that Washington intended to take no further notice of Lee's conduct in the day of action, but the latter could not brook the expressions used by the former at their first meeting, and wrote him two passionate letters. This occasioned his being arrested, and brought to trial. The charges exhibited against him were,

Ist. For disobedience of orders in not attacking the enemy on the 28th of June, agreeable to repeated instructions.

2dly. For misbehaviour before the enemy on the same day, by making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.

3dly. For disrespect to the commander in chief in two letters.

After a tedious hearing before a court martial, of which lord Stirling was president, Lee was found guilty, and sentenced to be suspended from any command in the armies of the United States for the term of one year; but the second charge was softened by the court, which only found him guilty of misbehaviour before the enemy, by making an unnecessary, and, in some few instances, a disorderly retreat.

G 2

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »