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The dilemma now confronting Washington was hydra-headed. Either way, it was serious. On one side New England lay open to the enemy, on the other New Jersey. And an advance was also threatened from the North. If he stayed where he was, the enemy would overrun New Jersey at will. Should he move his army into New Jersey, Howe could easily cut off its communications with New England, the chief resource for men and munitions.

Of course, this was not to be thought of. On the other hand, the conquest of New Jersey, with Philadelphia as the ultimate prize, in all probability would be Howe's next object. At the present moment, there was nothing to prevent his marching to Philadelphia, arms at ease. To think of fighting in the open field was sheer folly. And there was not one fortified position between the Hudson and the Delaware where the enemy's triumphal march might be stayed.

Forced by these adverse circumstances to attempt much more than twice his present force would have encouraged the hope of doing successfully, Washington decided that he must place himself between the enemy and Philadelphia, and at the same time hold fast to his communications with New England and the upper Hudson. This could only be done by dividing his greatly weakened forces into two corps, one of which should attempt the difficult task of checking the enemy in the Jerseys, while the other held a strong position on the Hudson until Howe's purposes should be more fully developed. With Washington, it was no longer a choice of evils, but a stern obedience to imperative necessity.

Lee was now put in command of the corps left to watch Howe's movement east of the Hudson, loosely estimated at 5,000 men, and ordered back behind the Croton. Heath, with 2,000 men of his division, was ordered to Peekskill, to guard the passes of the Highlands, these two corps being thus posted within supporting distance. With the other corps of 4,000 men, Washington crossed into New Jersey, going into camp in the neighborhood of Fort Lee, where Greene's small force was united with his own command.[1] Orders were also despatched to Ticonderoga, to forward at once all troops to the main army that could be spared. Fort Lee had thus become the last rallying point for the troops under Washington's immediate command, and in that sense, also, a menace to the full and free control of the lower Hudson, which the guns of the fort in part commanded at its narrowest point. Howe determined to brush away this last obstruction without delay.


Regarding Fort Lee as no longer serving any important purpose, perhaps foreseeing that it would soon be attacked, Washington was getting ready to evacuate it, when on the night of November 19[2] Lord Cornwallis made a sudden dash across to the New Jersey side, passing Fort Lee unperceived, landed a little above the fort at a place that had strangely been left unguarded, climbed the heights unmolested, and was only prevented from making prisoners of the whole garrison by its hurried retreat across the Hackensack. Everything in the fort, even to the kettles in which the men were cooking their breakfasts, was lost.

As regards any further attempt to stay the tide of defeat, all was now over. The enemy had obtained a secure foothold on the Jersey shore from which to march across the State, when and how he pleased. Unpalatable as the admission may be, the fact remains that the Americans had been everywhere out-generaled and out-fought. Nearly everything in the way of war material had been lost in the hurried evacuation of New York.[3] Confidence had been lost. Prestige had been lost. Clearly, it was high time to turn over a new leaf. With this lame affair, the first division of the disastrous campaign of 1776 properly closes, and the second properly begins. It had been watched with alternate hope, doubt, and despondency. Excuses are never wanting to bolster up failing reputations. The generals said they had no soldiers, the soldiers declared they had no generals; the people hung their heads and were silent.





[1] The Eastern troops remained on the east bank of the Hudson, under Lee's command, while those belonging to the Middle and Southern colonies crossed the Hudson with Washington. This disposition may have been brought about by the belief that the soldiers of each section would fight best on their own ground, but the fact is notorious that a most bitter animosity had grown up between them.

[2] This movement is assigned to the 18th by Gordon and those who have followed him. The 19th is the date given by Captain Harris, who was with the expedition.

[3] An enumeration of these losses will be found in Gordon's _American Revolution_, Vol. II., p. 360.