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180

BATTLE OF BROOKLYN.

[CHAP. III.

a village then occupied by the British, to Brooklyn; another, about a mile south-east of it, ran from Flatbush to Bedford; and the third, four miles further to the south-east, led to Jamaica. The two first passes were defended by three regiments and breast-works; but the pass to Jamaica was undefended.

The British, under General Grant, began the attack at three o'clock in the morning of the twenty-seventh of August, from the west end of the Island. Lord Stirling was sent out to meet them, and as this was supposed to be the main attack, he was reinforced, and the further advance of the enemy was warmly contested. Sullivan was sent to the command of the regiments at the passes, where he was assailed by the Hessians under De Heister. The attack on Lord Stirling was a feint to conceal from the Americans their purpose of making their principal attack on the left and rear of the provincials. This object was greatly assisted by their surprising a scouting party of the Americans about midnight, who were thus prevented from informing their countrymen of the approach of the British, and they at the same time learnt that the pass between Jamaica and Bedford was unguarded. They immediately possessed themselves of it, and at daybreak the main body of the British force was thus able to take possession of the level country between Brooklyn and the ridge in front of it; and thus both the right wing under Sullivan, and the left, were successively placed between two fires, and all cut to pieces or made prisoners, except a portion who bravely effected their escape to the camp.

The whole loss sustained by the Americans was about twelve hundred men, mostly captured. The British loss was something more than three hundred. After the battle, the enemy encamped in front of the American lines.

1776.]

RETREAT FROM LONG ISLAND.

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There were not more than five thousand men actually engaged under Stirling and Sullivan; but the enemy's force was at least three times that number. Most of the Americans fought with spirit, especially the troops from Maryland and Delaware; and it was generally believed that the battle would have had a very different result if the whole American force had been on Long Island, or if Greene, who was well acquainted with the localities of the scene of action, had continued in command.

General Washington, who was in New York when the battle commenced, crossed over to Brooklyn while it was going on, but he arrived in time only to witness the hopeless discomfiture of his countrymen. The next day he ordered General Mifflin to cross over with one thousand men to reconnoitre; and, on his report, a council of war decided that no time was to be lost in withdrawing their troops from Long Island. This purpose was carried into execution on the following night with so much secresy, despatch, and order, that the whole American army of nine thousand men, with all their baggage and artillery (a few heavy cannon excepted), had nearly crossed East River before they were discovered by the British. They were happily favored by a fog, which is rare at that season of the year. This retreat from an enemy so much superior to them, and so near, has always been considered as an extraordinary feat of generalship.

The success of the British on Long Island, the first fruits of the large armament sent to reduce the colonies to submission, had a very depressing effect on the American people. Its consequences were forcibly exhibited by General Washington to Congress. "The check," he remarks, "our detachment sustained on the twentyseventh ultimo, has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops, and filled their minds with apprehension and

182

OVERTURES FROM LORD HOWE.

[CHAP. III. despair. The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition, in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off, in some instances almost by whole regiments, in many by half ones, and by companies at a time. With the deepest concern, I am obliged to confess my want of confidence in the generality of the troops." He again pressed upon Congress the necessity of enlisting men for a longer period; and he seemed confident that they had no chance of success without a standing army, that is, one to continue during the war.

Lord Howe, presuming that, after his brother's recent victory, his pacific overtures could be renewed with advantage, sent a verbal message to Congress, by his prisoner General Sullivan, who was permitted to go to Philadelphia to deliver it. He said that though he could not treat with Congress as a public body, he wished to have a conference with some of its members- both he and they acting in their private capacity. That he, with his brother, General Howe, had full powers to settle the dispute between Great Britain and America, upon terms advantageous to both: that he wished such a settlement at this time, when no decisive blow had been struck, and when neither party was compelled to enter into such agreement. That in case Congress was disposed to treat, many things they had not yet asked might be granted, and that if there was any accommodation, the authority of Congress must be subsequently acknowledged.

Three days afterwards- September fifth-Congress requested General Sullivan to inform Lord Howe that they could not with propriety send any of their members to confer with him in their private characters; but that, being desirous of establishing peace, they would send a

1776.]

CONFERENCE WITH LORD HOWE.

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committee of their body, to know if he had any power to treat with persons authorised by Congress to hear his propositions. They accordingly appointed Dr. Franklin, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Rutledge, a committee for this conference.

Three days after the appointment of this committee Congress thought proper to change their designation from "United Colonies" to "United States." 1

The meeting between the committee of Congress and Lord Howe took place on Staten Island, on the eleventh of September, but no more specific proposition was made by him than that the colonies should return to their allegiance and obedience to Great Britain. To this the committee replied, "that a return to the domination of Great Britain was not now to be expected; and, referring to the course of that government, which had led to the Declaration of Independence, and the approbation of that act by the several colonies, they said it was not now in the power of Congress to agree to Lord Howe's proposition. That they were willing to enter into a treaty with Britain, which would be advantageous to both countries, and that Lord Howe could more easily obtain powers from his government to make such a treaty than Congress could obtain from the colonies authority to consent to such submission.

Lord Howe, expressing his regret that there was no prospect of accommodation, put an end to the conference. The committee, in their report of the conference, add that Lord Howe appeared to have no power except to grant pardons and to receive the submissions of any portion of the colonies.

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184

NEW YORK EVACUATED.

[CHAP. III.

This report, and the message from Lord Howe, Congress deemed it prudent to publish.

A new set of articles of war was adopted by Congress on the twentieth of September, and a loan of five millions of continental dollars authorised, at an interest of four per cent.

The movements of the British army plainly showed that their purpose was not only to get possession of New York, but by means of their fleet on the south, and of a large force sent to the north of the city, to hem in the American army, so as to compel them to put all to hazard in a general engagement, which would too probably result like that of Long Island.

To prevent this, Washington had sent a large part of his army and stores to Kingsbridge, twelve miles north of New York; had left five thousand men in the city, and the rest of his forces between the two points, to aid either, according to circumstances.

At first there was a division of opinion about abandoning New York to the enemy-some thinking the city might be held, and that great efforts should be made to retain it, both on account of its value to the enemy, and because their acquisition of it would have a very discouraging effect on the American people; but it soon became apparent to all that the attempt to retain it by militia against an army, scarcely inferior in numbers, and so superior in efficiency, would be rashness and folly; and measures were at once taken by the General to evacuate the city. There was then a question whether it should be destroyed. General Greene was in favor of this course, but Congress, having been consulted on the point by the commander-in-chief, decided that as the place would hereafter probably be retaken from the enemy, no injury should

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