Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

Howe seems to have thought that so long as Washington remained in New York he might be bagged at leisure. In no other way can his dilatory proceedings be accounted for. Sixteen days passed without any demonstration on his part whatever. Meantime, however, the steady extension of his lines toward Hell Gate had operated such a change of opinion in the American camp that the decision to hold the city was now reconsidered, and the evacuation fixed for September 15.

It was seen that the storm center was now shifting over toward the American communications, but just where it would break forth was still a matter of conjecture.

Howe was fully informed of what was going on by his royalist friends in the city, and like the cat watching the wounded mouse while it is recovering its breath, he prepared to spring at the moment his enfeebled adversary should show signs of returning animation.

All being ready, on the very day fixed for the evacuation, Sir Henry Clinton crossed the East River in boats from Newtown Bay to Kipp's Bay, with 4,000 men, landed without opposition, owing to a disgraceful panic which seized the Americans posted there for just such an emergency, and thus thrust himself in between the Americans in the city and those at Harlem Heights. Thus cut off, it was only at the greatest risk of capture that the garrison below was saved, with the loss of much artillery, tents, baggage, and stores, by marching out on one road while the enemy were marching in on another,[1] as Clinton had immediately pushed on up the island, at the heels of the retreating Americans.

A captain of British grenadiers describes what took place after the landing, in the following animated style:

"After landing in York Island we drove the Americans into their works beyond the eighth milestone from New York, and thus got possession of the best half of the island. We took post opposite to them, placed our pickets, borrowed a sheep, killed, cooked, and ate some of it, and then went to sleep on a gate, which we took the liberty of throwing off its hinges, covering our feet with an American tent, for which we should have cut poles and pitched had it not been so dark. Give me such living as we enjoy at present, such a hut and such company, and I would not care three farthings if we stayed all the winter, for though the mornings and evenings are cold, yet the sun is so hot as to oblige me to put up a blanket as a screen."

Each side now rested in possession of half the island, Washington of all above Harlem Heights, Howe of all below. His conquest was, however, near proving a barren one, at best, for within a week a third part of the city was laid in ashes, some say by incendiaries, some by accident.

The situation was now so far reversed that Washington seemed to be blockading Howe in the city.

Though it had little bearing upon the result of the campaign, one other event is deserving of brief mention here. Clinton's descent had been cleverly managed, out of Washington's sight. What were the enemy proposing to do next? It was imperative to know. To ascertain this Capt. Nathan Hale volunteered to go over to Long Island. At his returning, he was arrested. The papers found upon him betrayed his purpose in going within the enemy's lines, and he was forthwith hanged in a manner that would have disgraced Tyburn itself.

Howe's next move was probably conceived with the twofold design, first of cooping Washington up within the island, and second of capturing or breaking up his entire army.

But again and again, we are puzzled to account for Howe's delays. Hard fighter that he unquestionably was, he seemed never in a hurry to begin. There is even some ground for believing that in New York he had found his Capua. Be that as it may, it is certainly true that nearly a whole month passed by before the sluggard Sir William again drew sword.

Leaving Lord Percy to defend the lines below Harlem with four brigades, at eight o'clock P.M. of the 11th of October, General Clinton with the reserves, light infantry, and 1,500 Hessians embarked on the East River, passed through Hell Gate, and landed at Throg's Neck,[2] in Westchester, early the next morning.

 

[Illustration: STORMING OF FORT WASHINGTON.  Explanation--E, American positions; A-C, British attacks by Harlem River; B, _via_ King's Bridge; D, from Harlem Plains.]
[Illustration: STORMING OF FORT WASHINGTON.
Explanation--E, American positions; A-C, British attacks by Harlem River; B, _via_ King's Bridge; D, from Harlem Plains.]

 

Here he lay inactive for six whole days, within six miles of the road on which Washington was moving out from King's Bridge to White Plains; for at the first notice given him of the enemy's movements, which indeed had all along been anxiously expected, Washington had been drawing out his forces from Harlem to King's Bridge, first sending forward some light troops to delay Howe as much as possible, until the army could get into position. It is evident that but for Howe's delays, this purpose could not have been successfully accomplished.[3]

Meantime the enemy had been bringing up re├źnforcements, and on the 18th, finding the mainland too strongly held at Throg's Neck, for an advance from that point, they made another landing six miles beyond, whence they marched toward New Rochelle. From here they again marched (22d) for White Plains, where Washington was found (27th) drawn up in order of battle behind the Bronx, waiting for them.

Here Washington attempted to make a stand, but his right[4] being vigorously attacked and turned, he was forced to fall back upon a second position, in which he remained unmolested for several days, when (November 1) he moved still farther back, to the heights of North Castle, where he felt himself quite safe from attack.

Howe had now maneuvered Washington out of all his defenses except Fort Washington, which by General Greene's advice was to be defended, though now cut off from all support.

Things remained in this situation until November 16, when the fort was assaulted on three sides, with the result that the whole garrison of about 3,000 men were made prisoners of war.[5] At some points, the resistance was obstinate, notably at the north, and again at the east, where one of the attacking divisions attempted to gain the rocky shore back of the Morris House, under Harlem Heights. A British officer,[6] there present, says of it that "before landing the fire of cannon and musketry was so heavy that the sailors quitted their oars and lay down in the bottom of the boats, and had not the soldiers taken the oars and pulled on shore we must have remained in this situation."

The loss of the garrison of Fort Washington, 2,000 of whom were regular troops, was universally regarded as the most severe blow that the American cause had yet sustained, and it had a most depressing effect both in and out of the army, but more particularly in the army, as it tended to develop the growing antagonism between the commander-in-chief and General Lee, who had ineffectually advocated the evacuation of Fort Washington when the army was withdrawn from the island. Lee's military insight had now been most decisively vindicated. His antipathy to serving as second in command became more and more pronounced and was more or less reflected by his admirers, of whom he now had more than ever. Worse still, it was destined soon to have the most deplorable results to the army, the cause, and even to Lee himself.

 

Footnotes:

[1] A British brigade was sent down to the city in the course of the evening.

[2] A contraction of Throgmorton's Neck. As this was an island at high tide, the Americans quickly barred the passage to the mainland by breaking down the bridge.

[3] On account of the want of wagons, this was very slowly done, as the wagons had to be unloaded and sent back for what could not be brought along with the troops.

[4] This rested on Chatterton's Hill, some distance in front of the mainline. Not having entrenched, the defenders were overpowered, though not until after making a sharp fight.

[5] An excellent account of the operations at Fort Washington will be found in Graydon's _Memoirs_, p. 197 _et seq._

[6] Lieut. Martin Hunter, of the Fifty-second Foot.