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Washington's army had no sooner reached the Hudson than ten of the best battalions[1] were hurried off to Albany, if possible, to retrieve the disasters which had recently overwhelmed the army of Canada, where three generals, two of whom, Montgomery and Thomas, were of the highest promise, with upwards of 5,000 men, had been lost. The departure of these seasoned troops made a gap not easily filled, and should not be lost sight of in reckoning the effectiveness of what were left. 

This large depletion was, however, more than made good, in numbers at least, by the reinforcements now arriving from the middle colonies, who, with troops forming the garrison of the city, presently raised the whole force under Washington's orders[2] to a much larger number than were ever assembled in one body again. A very large proportion, however, were militiamen, called out for a few weeks only, who indeed served to swell the ranks, without adding much real strength to the army.

It being fully decided upon that New York should be held, two entirely distinct sets of measures were found indispensable. First, the city was commanded by Brooklyn Heights, rising at short cannon-shot across the East River. These heights were now being strongly fortified on the water-side against the enemy's fleet, and on the land-side against a possible attack by his land forces.[3]

The second measure looked to defend the city from an attack in the rear. At this time New York City occupied only a very small section of the southern part of the island which it has since outgrown. A few farms and country seats stretched up beyond Harlem, but the major part of the island was to the city below as the country to the town, retaining all its natural features of hill and dale unimpaired. At this time, too, the only exit from the island was by way of King's Bridge,[4] twelve miles above the city, where the great roads to Albany and New England turned off, the one to the north, the other to the east, making this passage fully as important in a military sense, as was the heavy drawbridge thrown across the moat of some ancient castle.

Fort Washington[5] was, therefore, built on a commanding height two and a half miles below King's Bridge, with outworks covering the approaches to the bridge, either by the country roads coming in from the north or from Harlem River at the east. These works were never finished, but even if they had been they could not solve the problem of a successful defense, because it lay always in the power of the strongest army to cut off all communication with the country beyond--and that means the passing in of reënforcements or supplies--by merely throwing itself across the roads just referred to. This done, the army in New York must either be shut up in the island, or come out and fight, provided the enemy had not already put it out of their power to do so by promptly seizing King's Bridge. And in that case, there was no escape except by water, under fire of the enemy's ships of war.

One watchful eye, therefore, had to be kept constantly to the front, and another to the rear, between positions, lying twelve to thirteen miles apart and separated by a wide and deep river.

It thus appears that the defense of New York was a much more formidable task than had, at first, been supposed and that an army of 40,000 men was none too large for the purpose, especially as it was wholly impracticable to reënforce King's Bridge from Brooklyn or _vice versa_. But from one or another cause the army had fallen below 25,000 effectives by midsummer, counting also the militia, who formed a floating and most uncertain constituent of it. For the present, therefore, King's Bridge was held as an outpost, or until the enemy's plan of attack should be clearly developed; for whether Howe would first assail the works at Brooklyn, Bunker Hill fashion, or land his troops beyond King's Bridge, bringing them around by way of Long Island Sound, were questions most anxiously debated in the American camp.

However, the belief in a successful defense was much encouraged by the recent crushing defeat that the British fleet had met with in attempting to pass the American batteries at Charleston. Thrice welcome after the disasters of the unlucky Canada campaign, this success tended greatly to stiffen the backbone of the army, in the face of the steady and ominous accumulation of the British land and naval forces in the lower bay. Then again, the Declaration of Independence, read to every brigade in the army (July 9), was received with much enthusiasm. Now, for the first time since hostilities began, officers and men knew exactly what they were fighting for. There was at least an end to suspense, a term to all talk of compromise, and that was much.

Thus matters stood in the American camps, when the British army that had been driven from Boston, heavily reënforced from Europe, and by calling in detachments from South Carolina, Florida, and the West Indies, so bringing the whole force in round numbers up to 30,000 men,[6] cast anchor in the lower bay. Never before had such an armament been seen in American waters. Backed by this imposing display of force, royal commissioners had come to tender the olive branch, as it were, on the point of the bayonet. They were told, in effect, that those who have committed no crime want no pardon. Washington was next approached. As the representative soldier of the new nation, he refused to be addressed except by the title it had conferred upon him. The etiquette of the contest must be asserted in his person. Failing to find any common ground, upon which negotiations could proceed, resort was had to the bayonet again.



[1] These were Poor's, Patterson's, Greaton's, and Bond's Massachusetts regiments on April 21, two New Jersey, two Pennsylvania, and two New Hampshire battalions on the 26th. See _Burgoyne's Invasion_ of this series for an account of the Canada campaign.

[2] The numbers are estimated by General Heath (_Memoirs_, p. 51) as high as 40,000. He, however, deducts 10,000 for the sick, present. They were published long after any reason for exaggeration existed.

[3] The Brooklyn lines ran from Wallabout Bay (Navy Yard) on the left to Gowanus Creek on the right, making a circuit of a mile and a half. All are now in the heart of the city.

[4] King's Bridge was so named for William III., of England. It crosses Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The bridge at Morrisania was not built until 1796.

[5] Fort Washington stood at the present 183d street. Besides defending the approaches from King's Bridge, it also obstructed the passage of the enemy's ships up the Hudson, at its narrowest point below the Highlands. At the same time Fort Lee, first called Fort Constitution, was built on the brow of the lofty Palisades, opposite, and a number of pontoons filled with stones were sunk in the river between. The enemy's ships ran the blockade, however, with impunity.

[6] The British regiments serving with Howe were the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Tenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-seventh, Twenty-eighth, Thirty-third, Thirty-fifth, Thirty-seventh, Thirty-eighth, Fortieth, Forty-second, Forty-third, Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, Forty-sixth, Forty-ninth, Fifty-second, Fifty-fourth, Fifty-fifth, Fifty-seventh, Sixty-third, Sixty-fourth, and Seventy-first, or thirty battalions with an aggregate of 24,513 officers and men. To these should be added 8,000 Hessians hired for the war, bringing the army up to 32,500 soldiers. Twenty-five percent. would be a liberal deduction for the sick, camp guards, orderlies, etc. The navy was equally powerful in its way, though it did little service here. Large as it was, this army was virtually destroyed by continued attrition.