« AnteriorContinuar »
the officer who had planned the fortifications. Smaller works were constructed at Horen's Hook and Throg's Neck, to defend the approach by Hell Gate, while the approach to the city by land was guarded by a redoubt at McGowan's pass, near Haerlem. Intrenchments were also thrown up on Long Island, and forts erected or repaired at Red Hook and the Narrows, and on the small islands in the barbour.
General Washington reached New York with the remainder of his army, on the 14th of April, and assumed the chief command. General Howe, instead of proceeding at once, as was expected, to New York, had retired to Halifax, to await reinforcements from England. He arrived in New York towards the close of June, and landed on Staten Island on the 4th of July, the day on which Congress had solemnly proclaimed the independence of the United States. Being joined by his brother, Lord Howe, in command of a formidable fleet, the two were empowered as commissioners to treat of peace. They accordingly made overtures for this purpose; but as their powers extended to little beyond granting pardons to those who, as General Washington remarked, " had committed no fault, and therefore wanted no pardon,
97 their overtures were ineffectual.
On the 22d of August, the British landed with nearly their whole force, under cover of their fleet, at Gravesend, on Long Island. General Putnam had the chief command on the island, and he remained within the line of fortifications which Stirling had erected. Under his orders, Generals Sullivan and Stirling were appointed to command without the lines. Only a portion of the American army had been ferried over to Long Island, probably to prevent the sacrifice of the whole ; and General Washington did not assume the command in person. The object, therefore, was not a general and decisive battle, but a temporary check and annoyance; even this was considered perilous.
The centre of the British army, consisting of Hessians under General de Heister, occupied Flatbush. Earl Percy and Lord Cornwallis were on the right, and General Grant on the left. On the night of the 25th, General Clinton drew off the van of the British army to the eastward, and in the morning seized some heights which commanded the road from Jamaica to Brooklyn. General Grant, at the same time, advanced along the shore of the bay, at the head of the left wing, with ten pieces of cannon. Stirling was directed by Putnam to oppose this advance with the two regiments nearest at hand. Early in the morning, he came in sight of the enemy, before whom our advanced parties were retiring. These he rallied, and skirmishing immediately commenced, the contending parties having come within one hundred and fifty yards of each other. The fire was kept up briskly for two hours, when the British light troops retired, though the cannonade continued on both sides.
Meantime, it became apparent from the firing that the British had turned the left wing of our sorce, and gained its rear, and that the centre also had given way, and was in full retreat. Stirling perceived that immediate retreat could alone save his own detachment from being made prisoners. Ordering the main body of his force to make the best of their way through Gowan's creek, he gallantly, and with great selfdevotion, placed himself at the head of four hundred of Smallwood's Maryland regiment, and attacked a corps under Lord Cornwallis, advantageously posted at a house at the mills, near which his detachment was to pass the creek. The attack was kept up with the greatest intrepidity, the small party having been checked five times, and rallied again, under his encouragement, with fresh ardor. They were on the point of driving Cornwallis from his station, when the approach of a British reinforcement compelled Stirling to draw off, in the hope of providing for the safety of the brave men who were still with him, those for whom they were sacrificing themselves having already effected their retreat. But fresh bodies of the enemy encountered him in every direction, keeping up a galling fire from several quarters. He succeeded in turning a hill-side, which covered him frorn the fire of the British, and was making a rapid retreat, when, meeting a fresh body of the enemy, he was compelled to surrender to the Hessian general, De Heister. He was soon taken on board of Lord Howe's ship, the Eagle.
Had not the enemy been allowed to turn the left of our army, from neglect of a precaution which had been specially enjoined by Washington, and had all parts of the line been defended with equal obstinacy with that intrusted to Stirling, the check to the British army would have been more effectual. Its advance would have been purchased by greater sacrifice, and Stirling would have been able to make good his retreat. Washington bore strong testimony to the bravery and resolution with which he had defended bis position, and took the earliest occasion to effect his exchange ; and Congress, in acknowledgment of bis services, promoted him to the rank of major-general.
Soon after the evacuation of New York, he returned to his duty in the army, and took part in the retreat through New Jersey, and in the operations on the Delaware, where he again signalized himself by the successful desence of Coryell's Ferry, which the British attempted to seize. When the army, elated by its successful efforts at Trenton and Princeton, but worn out by fatigue and privation, settled down for necessary repose, very late in the season, in winter-quarters at Morristown, Stirling's vigilance recommended him to Washington as a suitable person to command the lines immediately opposite to the enemy. This led to bis being frequently engaged in skirmishes with detached parties of the British. On the opening of the campaign in 1777, Stirling encountered a strong party under Cornwallis, and, after sustaining the attack of the British with great gallantry, was compelled by their superior numbers to retire from the open country, with the loss of three field-pieces. But after reaching a more advantageous position, he made so obstinate a stand as to arrest the further progress of Cornwallis. Other similar checks led Sir William Howe to abandon the attempt to reach Philadelphia by land.
Stirling was then detached with bis division up the Hudson, to reinforce the army intended to operate against Burgoyne. He had reached the Highlands, when intelligence of the British army having embarked, with the probable intention of passing round by sea to Philadelphia, led to his recall to reinforce the main army under Washington. Discouraged by the difficulties of ascending the Delaware, Sir William Howe entered the Chesapeake, and, ascending to the mouth of Elk river, moved his army up in the transports as far as it continued navigable, and disembarked his troops to the number of eighteen thousand men. The effective force of Washington did not exceed eleven thousand, a considerable part being militia, in whom he had little confidence. This force he assembled on the Brandywine, to oppose the approach of the British to Philadelphia, and he determined to hazard a battle for the protection of our seat of government.
On the morning of the 11th of September, the British army got in motion to attempt crossing the river, and skirmishing commenced. Cornwallis had been detached from the left of the British up the bank of the Brandywine, and had crossed it at the Forks, without opposition. Washington immediately detached Generals Sullivan, Stirling, and Stephen to oppose this column under Cornwallis, with whom was Sir William Howe, in person. Stirling's and Stephen's divisions formed on favorable ground, having both flanks covered with wood, and the artillery judiciously posted. Sullivan's troops, having made a longer circuit, had not had time to form, when the British commenced their attack with great impetuosity. The American column made a spirited resistance; but the right wing being in some disorder, was obliged to give way. Sullivan succeeded in rallying his command, but being briskly charged, it again gave way, and, the flank of the column being thus exposed, the remainder of the line began to waver. Sullivan, left behind by his flying troops, joined those who continued to resist, and throwing himself, with Stirling and Lafayette, personally into the condict, made a stand until our forces were completely broken, and the enemy were within twenty yards of them; then, taking refuge in the woods, they succeeded in rejoining their routed followers. Lafayette was wounded, but Sullivan and Stirling escaped uphurt.
Washington soon after pressed forward, with Greene, to the succor of this column; but finding it broken, he succeeded in covering its retreat, and checking the advance of the British. The remainder of Howe's army having crossed the Brandy wine, Washington retreated to Chester, and on the following day to Philadelphia. He again offered battle to the British army, and the action had commenced, when a heavy rain coming on, it was suspended. Washington then continued his retreat to Skippack, and the British took possession of Philadelphia, from which, notwithstanding their superior force, Washington had kept them out an entire month since their landing at Elk river.
Howe having extended the cantonments of the British army, Washington thought the moment favorable for attacking the portion of it which lay in Germantown. Stirling was to command the reserve, consisting of the brigades of Nash and Maxwell. At seven in the evening, the various
corps began their march, and falling upon the British advanced parties by surprise, routed them with little difficulty. . The plan was well concerted; but an unusually thick fog prevented the Americans from distinguishing friend from foe, occasioned them to lose their way in some instances, and threw everything into confusion. A very determined and successful resistance was also made by a party of British troops which occupied Chew's house, a stone building of such strength as to resist a cannonade. The attack failed, therefore, in its main object. The reserve under Lord Stirling appears to have been actively engaged, General Nash, who formed part of it, having been among the slain.
Soon after, Washington called a council of his generals, to consider the question of an attack on Philadelphia. Eleven of them were opposed to the attack, and four in favor of it. Stirling, in behalf of this minority, prepared an able plan for attacking Philadelphia at daylight. But the experiment was deemed too hazardous, considering the weakness of our own, and the strength of the British army, and our troops soon after went into winter-quarters at Valley Forge.
Just before this period, the American arms had gained a great triumph on the banks of the Hudson by the capitulation of the entire army of Burgoyne to the forces under General Gates. The successful commander, who, besides being favored by fortune and the errors of the enemy, had conducted himself with ability, immediately became an object of admiration to the whole country. Many were in favor of placing the whole army under his command, instead of leaving it under the more cautious guidance of Washington, who, though he had shown that he could act with great decision and vigor when there was a fair prospect of success, was yet unwilling to hazard the liberties of his country by exposing an ill-provided and imperfectly disciplined army in frequent combats with superior numbers. This opinion had its favorers even in Congress. But the army, estimating Washington at his full worth, with two or three exceptions, was decidedly in his favor. General Conway, an Irishman, educated in France, had come with other foreigners to America to seek advancement in our army. He had been made a brigadier-general, but not having won any distinction in this rank, and having excited WashingVOL. LXIV. — NO. 135.