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190

CAPTURE OF FORT WASHINGTON.

CHAP. III.

vented by a heavy rain, until the General, no longer thinking his position safe, withdrew to North Castle, about five miles from the White Plains.

Howe then decided to change his plan of operations. He marched his army back to Kingsbridge; and Washington, judging that his object was to cross over to New Jersey, and perhaps aim at Philadelphia, ordered his troops to the west of the Hudson; and to effect the passage in safety with only five thousand men, it was necessary to ascend the river to King's Ferry. On the approach of the British, the Americans stationed near Fort Independence retired higher up the river to Fort Washington.

The Commander-in-chief presuming that Howe would endeavor to possess himself of Fort Washington, wrote to Greene, who had the command in New Jersey, that since the Fort had not answered its intended purpose, as appeared by the passage of three frigates up the Hudson in safety, he thought the men and "stores ought not to be hazarded;" but he submitted the decision of the matter to Greene, who was on the spot. General Lee was left on the eastern side of the Hudson, and had orders to join Washington, if Howe should move the chief part of his force across that river. Greene overrating the strength of Fort Washington, and thinking that further obstructions might prevent the British from ascending the river, decided on retaining it. It was naturally strong, and it was commanded by Colonel Magaw, an officer of reputation. The place was, however, attacked on the sixteenth of November, in four divisions; and the enemy having carried the outworks and lines, Colonel Magaw finding further resistance unavailing, consented to a capitulation. The number of prisoners, including a reinforcement sent by General Lee, was two thousand eight hundred and eighteen.

1776.]

FORT LEE ABANDONED.

191

This serious disaster has afforded much occasion for censure, sometimes on General Greene for his error of judgment, and sometimes on Washington for not having overruled Greene, after he himself was sensible of the little real value of the fort for its chief purpose, and of the difficulty of retaining it. It contributed with some to bring on Washington the imputation that he wanted decision; and seemed to be the beginning of that distrust of his qualifications as Commander-in-chief, which was subsequently manifested, but which he at last totally

overcame.'

A few days later Fort Lee, on the opposite bank of the Hudson, fell into the possession of the enemy-the garrison, profiting by the example of Fort Washington, had previously abandoned it, and crossed to the west side of the Hackensac. All the cannon and stores, except the a nmunition, fell into the hands of the enemy.

Washington's force was now so reduced by the numbers who had returned home after the expiration of the term for which they enlisted, that he urged General Lee to join him; but under one pretext or another, Lee remained on the east of the Hudson; and, as is now generally believed, because he was desirous of signalizing himself, either by an attack on the City of New York, or the rear of the enemy, and thus, perhaps, to raise his reputation at the expense of that of Washington. Whatever were his motives, he paid dearly for the course he took. Passing a night at a private house three miles from his camp, the British, who were informed of it by some tories, sent a detachment next morning, and made him prisoner. This was regarded as another serious

1

Washington's defence of himself may be found in a letter to his brother, dated three days after the surrender.-See IV. Sparks's Washington, page 183.

192

WASHINGTON CONTINUES TO RETREAT. [CHAP. III.

disaster to the American cause, as he had a high reputation for military skill, which the recent defence of Fort Moultrie had greatly augmented. General Sullivan, who was next in command, after this occurrence, soon joined the main army in Jersey.

As Washington was exposed to the danger of being hemmed in between the Hackensac and Passaic, in the same way as he had been previously exposed between the Hudson and Hackensac, he found it necessary to move on towards the Delaware, which he finally reached through Newark, Brunswick, Princeton, to Trenton the British so closely pressing on his rear, that sometimes, at the moment that the Americans had destroyed a bridge, the British advanced guard had arrived, ready to rebuild it.

When he reached Trenton, he sent over his stores and baggage, and decided to march back to Princeton, with the view of delaying the progress of the enemy; leaving two thousand four hundred men at Trenton, under the command of Lord Stirling.

General Mifflin had been sent on to use his influence in Philadelphia and with Congress to procure reinforcements, and by great efforts succeeded, to the amount of two thousand men; but before the troops from Philadelphia had all arrived, while on his march to Princeton, understanding that Cornwallis had been strongly reinforced, and was endeavoring, by a rapid march, to get in his rear, he decided on passing the Delaware. Having made the passage, he used all the means he could command to destroy bridges and other facilities for crossing the river.

Lord Howe now issued another proclamation commanding all persons in arms to disband, and all civil officers to desist from treasonable practices, in conse

1776.]

WASHINGTON'S FIRMNESS IN ADVERSITY.

193

quence of which numbers flocked to his standard, and gave in their adhesion.

This was, perhaps, the period when the American cause was at its lowest point of depression. The minds of all were filled with gloom and apprehension. A foe formidable by superiority in numbers, as well as in skill, discipline and appointments, was in close pursuit of the main body of the American army, which, already so inadequate to defence, was every day losing its most efficient men, while the number of disaffected increased with the success of the British, and the growing feebleness of the Americans. Then it was that the firm texture of Washington's mind was truly displayed: his efforts redoubled with his difficulties, and however desperate he might have thought the condition of the army to be, he neither said nor did any thing to betray his want of confidence. Then, too, it was that, when asked what he would do if the enemy obtained possession of Philadelphia, he answered, We will retreat beyond the Susquehanna, and if necessary, beyond the Alleghany Mountains.1

Howe, finding himself unable to transport his troops across the Delaware, decided on going into winter quarters at Princeton, Trenton, Bordentown, &c., while Washington's force was encamped at different stations in the neighborhood of Philadelphia.

The remonstrances of Washington, founded as they were on facts known to all, had a proper influence in Congress. After they had authorised eighty-eight battalions to be enlisted for the war, on Washington's representations that even this force was not sufficient, he was authorised to raise sixteen battalions of infantry in addi1 I. Sparks, page 221.

VOL. I.—13

194

WASHINGTON'S POWERS ENLARGED. [CHAP. III.

tion, and to appoint the officers; to raise and equip three thousand light-horse, three regiments of artillery, and a corps of engineers; to call upon any of the States for aids of militia; to displace and appoint all officers under the rank of brigadier; to take whatever he wanted for the army, allowing a reasonable price for it; to arrest and confine those who refused the continental money. They invested him, in fact, with the powers of a dictator,' which were to continue six months.

The next day, aware of the jealousy felt against military power, Congress appointed a committee to prepare a circular letter to the several States, explaining the reasons of that body for enlarging the powers of the Commander-in-chief, and requesting the co-operation of the States.2

No doubt being entertained that the British would cross the river as soon as it was frozen, to attack Philadelphia, Congress adjourned to Baltimore on the twelfth of December, to meet on the twentieth.

In this moment of despondency, Washington had the bold and lucky thought of attempting offensive operations.

1 II. Journals of Congress, page 508.

2 Ibid. page 529.

An English historian, Mr. Adolphus, who has been followed by Lord Mahon, has attempted to give to Benedict Arnold, on the authority of an unnamed informant, the credit of first suggesting the attack on the Hessians at Trenton; but Washington's published letters plainly show that he meditated such an enterprise before Arnold had returned from the expedition to Canada; and that he exerted himself to concentrate the forces under Lee, Gates, and Arnold, to carry the scheme into

execution.

In his letter to General Gates, of the fourteenth of December, he plainly indicates his purpose; as he does also in a letter to Governor Trumbull of the same date. He at the same time ordered Arnold (on his way from Ticonderoga) to New London; but Arnold being on his route to head-quarters, did not receive the order, and seems to have arrived at Philadelphia about the twentieth of December.

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