Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 5: Defeat and the Restoration of Native Courage: Command in New York (June to September 1776) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 5: Defeat and the Restoration of “Native Courage”: Command in New York (June to September 1776) - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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Defeat and the Restoration of “Native Courage”: Command in New York (June to September 1776)
Lord and Sir William Howe arrive before New York.—Circular letter of Lord Howe.—State of the American army.—The British land on Long Island.—Battle of Brooklyn.—Fruitless negotiations.—New York evacuated.—Skirmish on the heights of Haarlem.
While Congress was deliberating in Philadelphia on the great question of independence, the British fleet appeared before New York.
June 1776On evacuating Boston, General Howe1 had retired to Halifax, from which place he sailed for New York in June. In the latter end of that month, he arrived off Sandy Hook; and on the 3d and 4th of July his troops were landed on Staten Island. They were received with great demonstrations of joy by the inhabitants, who took the oaths of allegiance to the British crown, and embodied themselves for the defence of the island. Strong assurances were also given by the inhabitants of Long Island, and the neighboring parts of New Jersey, of the favorable disposition of a great proportion of the people to the royal cause.
The command of the fleet had been conferred on Lord Howe, the brother of the general;2 and they were both commissioners for restoring peace to the colonies. He arrived at Staten Island on the 12th of July.
Lord Howe was not deterred by the declaration of independence from trying the influence of his powers for pacification. He sent on shore a circular letter, dated off the coast of Massachusetts, addressed severally to the late governors under the crown, inclosing a declaration which he requested them to make public. It announced his authority to grant pardons, and to declare any colony, town, port, or place, in the peace, and under the protection of the King. Assurances were also given that the meritorious services of all persons who would aid in restoring tranquillity in the colonies would be duly considered.
These papers were immediately transmitted by the commander-in-chief, to Congress, who directed their publication, “that the good people of the United States might be informed of what nature were the Commissioners, and what the terms, with the expectation of which the insidious court of Britain had sought to amuse and disarm them.”
About the same time, General Howe addressed, by a flag, a letter to “George Washington, Esquire,” which the General refused to receive, “as it did not acknowledge the public character with which he was invested.” In a resolution approving this proceeding, Congress directed “that no letter or message whatever be received by the commander-in-chief, or others, the commanders of the American army, but such as shall be directed to them in the characters they respectively sustain.”
To evade the preliminary difficulty which the unwillingness of the commissioners to recognize the existing powers in America, opposed to any discussion of the terms they were authorized to propose, Colonel Patteson, Adjutant-General of the British army, was sent on shore by General Howe, with a letter directed to “George Washington,” &c. &c. &c. He was introduced to the General, whom he addressed by the title of “Excellency;” and, after the usual compliments, opened the subject of his mission by saying that General Howe much regretted the difficulties which had arisen respecting the address of the letters; that the mode adopted was deemed consistent with propriety, and was founded on precedent in cases of ambassadors and plenipotentiaries, where disputes or difficulties had arisen about rank; that Lord and General Howe did not mean to derogate from his rank, or the respect due to him, and that they held his person and character in the highest esteem; but that the direction with the addition of “&c. &c. &c.” implied every thing that ought to follow. Colonel Patteson then produced a letter which he said was the same that had been previously sent, and which he laid on the table.
The General declined receiving it. He said that a letter addressed to a person in a public character, should have some description or indication of that character; otherwise it would be considered as a mere private letter. It was true the et-ceteras implied every thing, and they also implied any thing; and that he should absolutely decline any letter relating to his public station, directed to him as a private person.
Colonel Patteson then said that General Howe would not urge his delicacy farther, and repeated the assertion that no failure of respect was intended.
After some conversation relative to the treatment of prisoners, Colonel Patteson said that the goodness and benevolence of the King had induced him to appoint Lord Howe and General Howe, his commissioners to accommodate the unhappy dispute at present subsisting; that they had great powers, and would derive much pleasure from effecting the accommodation; and that he wished this visit to be considered as the first advance towards so desirable an object.
General Washington replied that he was not vested with any powers on this subject; but he would observe that, so far as he could judge from what had yet transpired, Lord Howe and General Howe were only empowered to grant pardon; that those who had committed no fault wanted no pardon; and that the Americans were only defending what they deemed their indubitable rights. This, Colonel Patteson said, would open a very wide field for argument; and, after expressing his fears that an adherence to forms might obstruct business of the greatest moment and concern, took his leave.
The reinforcements expected from Europe, of whom about four hundred and fifty were captured on their passage by the American cruisers, were now chiefly arrived; and the British army was estimated at twenty-four thousand men.
To this army, aided in its operations by a numerous fleet, was opposed a force unstable in its nature, incapable from its structure of receiving discipline, and inferior to its enemy in numbers, in arms, and in every military equipment. It consisted, when General Howe landed on Staten Island, of ten thousand men, much enfeebled by sickness. At the instance of General Washington, a few regiments stationed in the different states were ordered to join him; and the neighboring militia were called into service. Yet in a letter dated the 8th of August, he stated that his army consisted of only seventeen thousand, two hundred and twenty-five men, of whom three thousand, six hundred and sixty-eight were sick. This force was rendered the more inadequate to its objects by being necessarily divided for the defence of posts, some of which were fifteen miles distant from others, with navigable waters between them.
“Under every disadvantage,” continued the letter, “my utmost exertions shall be employed to bring about the great end we have in view; and, so far as I can judge from the professions and apparent dispositions of my troops, I shall have their support.”
The army was soon afterwards reinforced by three regiments of regulars, and by militia,3 which augmented it to twenty-seven thousand men, of whom one-fourth were sick. A part of it was stationed at Brooklyn, on Long Island, under General Sullivan.
Believing that the effect of the first battle would be considerable, the commander-in-chief employed every expedient which might act upon that enthusiastic love of liberty, that indignation against the invaders of their country, and that native courage, which were believed to animate the bosoms of his soldiers, and were relied on as substitutes for discipline and experience. The orders of the day contain the most animating exhortations to both officers and soldiers; recommending to the officers, coolness in time of action, and to the soldiers, strict attention and obedience, with becoming spirit. He directed explicitly that any soldier who should attempt to conceal himself, or retreat without orders, should instantly be shot; and solemnly promised to notice and reward those who should distinguish themselves. Thus did he, by infusing into every bosom those sentiments which would stimulate to the greatest individual exertion, endeavor to compensate for the want of arms, of discipline, and of numbers.
Early in the morning of the 22d of August, the principal part of the British army, under the command of General Clinton, landed on Long Island, under cover of the guns of the fleet, and extended from the ferry at the Narrows, through Utrecht and Gravesend, to the village at Flatbush. A large division, commanded by General Clinton, turned short to the right and approached Flatland. General Sullivan had been strongly reinforced as soon as the movements of the British fleet indicated an intention to make the first attack at this point. On the 25th, Major-General Putnam,4 with a reinforcement of six regiments, was directed to take command at Brooklyn, and was charged most earnestly by the commander-in-chief, to be in constant readiness for an attack, and to guard the woods between the two camps with his best troops. General Washington passed the 26th at Brooklyn, making arrangements for the expected engagement, and returned at night to New York.5
The two armies were separated from each other by a range of hills covered with thick woods, which extended from east to west nearly the length of the island, and across which were three different roads leading directly to Brooklyn ferry. The British centre at Flatbush was distant scarcely four miles from the American lines, and a direct road led across the heights from one to the other. Another road, more circuitous than the first, led from Flatbush and entered the road leading from Jamaica to Bedford, a small village on the Brooklyn side of the hills; and a third, leading from the Narrows along the coast by the way of Gowan’s Cove, afforded the most direct route to their left.
The direct road from Flatbush to Brooklyn was defended by a fort in the hills; and the coast and Bedford roads were guarded by detachments posted on the hills within view of the British camp. Light parties of volunteers were directed to patrol on the road leading from Jamaica to Bedford; about two miles from which, near Flatbush, Colonel Miles, of Pennsylvania, was stationed with a regiment of riflemen.6 The Convention of New York7 had ordered General Woodhull, with the militia of Long Island, to take post on the high grounds, as near the enemy as possible.
About nine at night, General Clinton drew off the right of the British army in order to seize a pass in the heights three miles east of Bedford, on the Jamaica road. About two in the morning of the 27th, his patrols fell in with and captured one of the American parties directed to watch this road. Learning from his prisoners that the pass was unoccupied, he immediately seized it; and, on the appearance of day, the whole column passed the heights, and appeared in the level country between them and Brooklyn.
Before Clinton had secured the passes on the road leading from Jamaica, General Grant,8 in order to draw the attention of the Americans from their left, advanced slowly along the coast, at the head of the British left wing, supported by ten pieces of cannon, skirmishing as he advanced with the light parties stationed on that road. These were reinforced by Putnam; and, about three in the morning, Brigadier-General Lord Sterling9 was detached to that point, with the two nearest regiments. Major-General Sullivan, who commanded all the troops without the lines, advanced about the same time at the head of a strong detachment, on the road leading to Flat Bush; while another detachment occupied the heights still farther to his left.
About break of day, Lord Sterling reached the summit of the hills, where he was joined by the troops which had been already engaged, soon after which the enemy appeared in sight. A warm cannonade commenced, and some sharp but not very close skirmishing took place between parties of infantry. Lord Sterling was content with defending the pass; and General Grant did not wish to drive him from it until that part of the plan which had been entrusted to Sir Henry Clinton should be executed.
In the centre, General de Heister,10 soon after daybreak, began a cannonade on the troops under Sullivan. In the mean time, in order the more effectually to draw off the attention of the Americans from the point at which the general attack was to be made, the fleet was put in motion, and a heavy cannonade was commenced on the battery at Red Hook.
Aug. 27About half-past eight, the British right having then reached Bedford in the rear of Sullivan’s left, General de Heister ordered Colonel Donop’s corps to attack the hills, following himself with the centre of the army. The approach of Clinton was now discovered by the American left, which immediately endeavored to regain the camp at Brooklyn. While retiring from the woods by regiments, they encountred the front of the British. About the same time the Hessians advanced from Flat Bush against that part of the army which occupied the direct road to Brooklyn, where General Sullivan commanded in person. The firing heard towards Bedford had disclosed to these troops the alarming fact that the British had turned their left flank, and were getting completely into their rear. They sought to escape the danger by regaining the camp with the utmost celerity. The sudden rout of this party enabled De Heister to detach a part of his force against those who were engaged near Bedford. In that quarter, too, the Americans were broken and driven back into the woods; and the front of the column, led by General Clinton, intercepted those who were retreating along the direct road from Flat Bush. Thus attacked both in front and rear, driven alternately by the British on the Hessians, and by the Hessians back on the British, a succession of skirmishes took place in the woods, in the course of which some parts of corps forced their way through the enemy, and regained the lines of Brooklyn; but the greater part of the detachment was killed or taken.
The fire towards Brooklyn gave the first intimation to the American right that the enemy had gained their rear. Lord Sterling immediately directed the main body of his troops to retreat across the creek; and, to secure this movement, determined to attack in person a British corps commanded by Lord Cornwallis,11 stationed rather above the place at which he intended to cross. The attack was made with great spirit; but the force in front increasing, and General Grant advancing in his rear, his lordship, and the survivors of this gallant corps, were made prisoners of war. This attempt, though unsuccessful, enabled a great part of the detachment to cross the creek and save themselves in Brooklyn.
The loss sustained by the American army in this battle was estimated by General Washington at one thousand men; but in this estimate he must have included only his regular troops. In the letter of General Howe, the number of prisoners is stated at one thousand and ninety-seven, among whom were Major-General Sullivan, and Brigadiers Lord Sterling and Woodhull. He computes the total loss at three thousand three hundred. He states his own loss at twenty-one officers, and three hundred and forty-six privates, killed, wounded, and taken.
As the action became warm, the commander-in-chief passed over to the camp at Brooklyn, where he saw with inexpressible anguish, the destruction in which his best troops were involved, without the ability to extricate them. An attempt to save them by sallying from his entrenchments, and attacking the enemy, would put the camp in imminent danger, and expose that whole division of the army to ruin. His efforts, therefore, were necessarily directed to the preservation of those that remained.
General Howe did not think it advisable to risk an immediate assault on the American lines. He encamped in front of them; and, the night of the 28th, broke ground in form, within six hundred yards of a redoubt12 on the left.
In this perilous state of things, General Washington determined to withdraw from Long Island. This difficult movement was effected on the night of the 28th, so silently, that all the troops and military stores were carried over in safety. Early next morning, the British out-posts perceived the rear-guard crossing the East river, out of reach of their fire. The manner in which this critical operation was executed, added greatly to the reputation of General Washington in the opinion of all military men.
The resolution to defend Long Island was so hazardous in itself, and so disastrous in its consequences, that it has been condemned by many as a great error in the commander-in-chief. But the event will not always determine the wisdom of a measure. It is necessary to consider the previous state of things; and to compare the value of the object, and the means of securing it, with the hazards attending the attempt.
It was very desirable to defend New York, or to waste the campaign in a struggle for that important place. The difficulty of effecting either of these objects would be incalculably increased by abandoning Long Island to the enemy. It was, therefore, to be maintained if possible.
The impossibility of maintaining it, was not evident until the battle had been fought. It is true that the American force on the island could not have been rendered equal to that of the British; but with the advantages of the defensible country through which the assailants were to pass, and of a fortified camp assailable only on one side, hopes might be entertained without the imputation of rashness, of maintaining the position for a considerable time, and of selling it ultimately at a high price. This opinion is supported by the fact that, even after the victory of the 27th, General Howe was unwilling to hazard an assault on the works, and chose rather to carry them by regular approaches.
With more appearance of reason the General has been censured for not having guarded the road which leads from Jamaica to Bedford.
The written instructions given to the officer commanding on Long Island, directed that the woods should be well guarded, and the approach of the enemy through them be rendered as difficult as possible. But his numbers were not sufficient to furnish detachments for all the defiles through the mountains; and if a corps sufficient for defending that pass had been posted on the Jamaica road, and a feint had been made on it, while the principal attack was by the direct road leading from Flat Bush, or that along the coast, the events of the day would probably have been equally disastrous. The column marching directly from Flat Bush would probably have been in possession of the plain in rear of the detachment posted on the road from Jamaica, so as to intercept its retreat to the camp. So great is the advantage of those who attack, in being able to select the point against which to direct their grand effort.
The most advisable plan then appears to have been to watch the motions of the enemy, to oppose with a competent force, every attempt to seize the heights, and to guard all the passes in such a manner as to receive notice of his approach through any one of them, in sufficient time to recall the troops maintaining the others.
This plan was adopted:—and the heavy disasters of the day are attributable chiefly to the failure of those charged with the execution of that very important part of it which related to the Jamaica road.
The events of this day disclosed a radical defect in the structure of the American army. It did not contain a single troop of cavalry. Had the General been furnished with a few light-horse, merely to serve as videts,13 it is probable that the movement so decisive of the fate of the day, would not have been made unnoticed. The troops on the lines do not appear to have observed the column which was withdrawn on the evening of the 26th, from Flat Bush, to Flatland.
Whatever causes might have led to this defeat, it gave a gloomy aspect to the affairs of America. Heretofore, her soldiers had manifested a great degree of intrepidity.14 A confidence in themselves, a persuasion of superiority over the enemy, arising from the goodness of their cause, and their habitual use of fire-arms, had been carefully encouraged. This sentiment had been nourished by experience. When they found themselves, by a course of evolutions in which they imagined they perceived a great superiority of military skill, encircled with unexpected dangers from which no exertions could extricate them, their confidence in themselves and in their leaders was greatly diminished, and the approach of the enemy inspired the apprehension that some stratagem was concealed from which flight alone could preserve them. The impression made on the militia, was attended with consequences immediately injurious. Great numbers left the army; in some instances almost by whole regiments, in many, by companies, at a time.
The first use made by Lord Howe of this victory, was to avail himself of the impression it had probably made, by opening a negotiation with Congress. For this purpose, General Sullivan was sent on parole15 to Philadelphia, with a verbal message, the import of which was, that though he could not at present treat16 with Congress as a political body, he was very desirous of having a conference with some of its members; that, in conjunction with General Howe, he had full powers to compromise the dispute between Great Britain and America, on terms advantageous to both; and wished a compact might be settled when no decisive blow was struck, and neither party could allege being compelled to enter into an arrangement; that in case Congress were disposed to treat, many things which they had not yet asked, might, and ought to be granted them; and that, if upon the conference, they found any probable ground of accommodation, the authority of Congress must be afterwards acknowledged—otherwise the compact would not be complete.
This proposition was not without its embarrassments. Congress dreaded the effects of an opinion, that the restoration of the ancient connexion on principles formerly deemed constitutional, was practicable; and was at the same time unwilling to enter into a negotiation, which might excite a suspicion, that the determination to maintain independence was not immovable.
The answer given through General Sullivan was, “that Congress, being the representatives of the free and independent states of America, cannot with propriety send any of its members to confer with his lordship in their private characters; but that, ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, they will send a committee of their body, to know whether he has any authority to treat with persons authorized by Congress for that purpose, on behalf of America; and what that authority is; and to hear such propositions as he shall think proper to make respecting the same.”
Mr. Franklin, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Edward Rutledge, all zealous supporters of independence, were appointed to receive the communications of Lord Howe.17
They waited on his lordship, and on their return reported that he had received them, on the 11th of September on Staten Island, with great politeness.
He opened the conversation by saying, that though he could not treat with them as a committee of Congress, yet as his powers enabled him to consult with any private gentlemen of influence on the means of restoring peace, he was glad of this opportunity of conferring with them on that subject, if they thought themselves at liberty to enter into a conference with him in that character. The committee observed that, as their business was to hear, his lordship might consider them in what light he pleased, and communicate any propositions he might be authorized to make; but that they could consider themselves in no other character, than that in which they were placed by Congress. His lordship then proceeded to open his views at some length. A return to their allegiance to the British crown was the condition on which peace was offered. He gave assurances of a good disposition in the King and his ministers, to make the government easy to them; and intimated that, in case of submission, the offensive acts of Parliament would be revised, and the instructions to the Governors reconsidered.
The committee gave it as their opinion, that a return to the domination of Great Britain was not now to be expected. They mentioned the repeated humble petitions which had been treated with contempt, and answered only by additional injuries; the unexampled patience which had been shown under their tyrannical government; and that it was not until the late Act of Parliament, which denounced war against them, and put them out of the King’s protection,18 that they declared their independence. All now considered themselves as independent states, and it was not in the power of Congress to agree for them that they should return to their former dependent state. There was no doubt of their inclination for peace, and of their willingness to enter into a treaty with Britain that might be advantageous to both countries. If the same good disposition existed on the part of Britain, his lordship might obtain powers for that purpose, much sooner than powers could be obtained from the several colonies to consent to submission.
His lordship expressed his regret that no accommodation was likely to take place, and put an end to the conference.
These fruitless negotiations produced no suspension of hostilities.
The British army, posted from Bedford to Hurlgate, fronted and threatened York island from its southern extremity to the part opposite to the northern boundary of Long Island, a small distance below the heights of Haarlem, comprehending a space of nine miles.
The two armies were divided only by the East river, which is generally less than a mile wide.
Immediately after the victory at Brooklyn, dispositions were made by the enemy to gain possession of New York. The movements of the fleet indicated an intention to land near Kingsbridge, and take a position which would cut off the communication of the American army with the country.
Aware of his danger, General Washington began to remove such stores as were not immediately necessary, and called a council of general officers to determine whether New York should be immediately evacuated. His own opinion appears to have been in favor of immediate evacuation; but the majority of the council was opposed to it. In the hope of defending the place till the campaign should be too far wasted to admit of further operations, the advice they gave was that the army should be formed into three divisions; one to remain in New York; the second to be stationed at Kingsbridge; and the third to occupy a camp in the intermediate space, so as to support either extreme.
This opinion was soon changed. The movements of the British general indicated clearly an intention either to break their line of communication, or to inclose the whole army in York island. A second council determined, by a large majority, that it had become absolutely necessary to withdraw the army from New York.
In consequence of this determination, Brigadier-General Mercer, who commanded the flying camp19 on the Jersey shores, was directed to move up the North river20 to the post opposite fort Washington; and every effort was made to expedite the removal of the stores.
On the morning of the 15th of September, three ships of war sailed up the river as far as Bloomingdale; a movement which stopped the removal of the stores by water. About eleven o’clock on the same day, Sir Henry Clinton, with a division of four thousand men, who had embarked at the head of New Town bay, unperceived by the troops on York island, proceeded through that bay into the East river, which he crossed; and, under cover of the fire of five men-of-war, landed at Kipp’s bay, about three miles above New York.
The works thrown up at this place were capable of being defended for some time; but the troops abandoned them, and fled with precipitation. On the commencement of the cannonade, General Washington ordered the brigades of Parsons and Fellows to their support, and rode in person towards the scene of action. The panic of those who had fled from the works was communicated to the troops who had been ordered to sustain them, and the commander-in-chief had the extreme mortification to meet the whole party retreating in the utmost disorder, regardless of the efforts made by their generals to stop their disgraceful flight. The only part now to be taken was to secure the posts on the heights, and to withdraw the few troops still remaining in New York. In the retreat from the town, a small skirmish took place at Bloomingdale, in which an inconsiderable loss of men was sustained; but all the heavy artillery, and a large portion of the baggage, provision, and military stores, were unavoidably abandoned.
The British army, after taking possession of New York, encamped near the American lines. Its right was at Hoven’s hook, near the East river, and its left reached the North river, near Bloomingdale. Both flanks were covered by ships of war.
The strongest point of the American lines was at Kingsbridge. M’Gowan’s Pass and Morris’s Heights were also occupied in considerable force. A strong detachment was posted in an entrenched camp, on the heights of Haarlem, within about a mile and a half of the British lines.
The present position of the armies favored the views of the American general. He wished to habituate his soldiers, by a series of skirmishes, to meet the enemy in the field; and he persuaded himself that his detachments, knowing a strong entrenched camp to be immediately in their rear, would engage without apprehension, would display their native courage, and would soon regain the confidence they had lost.
Opportunities to make the experiments he wished were soon afforded. The day after the retreat from New York, the British appeared in considerable force in the plain between the two camps; and the general rode to his advanced posts in order to make such arrangements as this movement might require. Lieutenant-Colonel Knowlton,21 of Connecticut, who, at the head of a corps of rangers, had been skirmishing with this party, soon came in and stated their numbers at about three hundred.
The general ordered Colonel Knowlton with his rangers, and Major Leitch,22 with three companies of the third Virginia regiment, which had joined the army the preceding day, to gain their rear, while he amused them with the appearance of making dispositions to attack their front.
This plan succeeded. The British ran eagerly down a hill, in order to take possession of some fences and bushes which presented an advantageous position, and a firing commenced, but at too great a distance to do much execution. In the mean time, Colonel Knowlton, not being precisely acquainted with their new position, made his attack rather on their flank than rear; and a warm action ensued.
In a short time Major Leitch, who led the detachment, was brought off the ground mortally wounded, having received three balls through his body; and soon afterwards the gallant Knowlton also fell. Not discouraged by the loss of their field-officers, the Captains continued the action with great animation. Both parties were reinforced. The Americans drove the enemy out of a wood into the plain, and were pressing him still farther, when the General, content with the present advantage, called back his troops into their entrenchments.
In this sharp encounter, the British loss was double that of the Americans; but its real importance was its operation on the spirits of the army. To give it the more effect, the parole23 the next day was Leitch; and the General, in his orders, publicly thanked the troops under the command of that officer, who had first advanced on the enemy, and the others who had so resolutely supported them; contrasting, at the same time, their conduct with that which had been exhibited the day before. He appointed a successor to the gallant and brave Colonel Knowlton, “who would,” he said, “have been an honor to any country.”
[1. ]Sir William Howe (1729–1814), British Commander in Chief in the Colonies, 1775 to 1778; younger brother of Admiral Richard Howe.
[2. ]Lord Richard Howe (1726–99), British Admiral and Chief Naval Commander in America, 1776 to 1778.
[3. ]The regulars of the Continental army, professional soldiers, are distinct both in training and in command from the militia, the part-time citizen-soldiers of the distinct states; see chapter 2, note 4.
[4. ]Israel Putnam (1718–90) of Connecticut, hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill and Major General in the Continental army.
[5. ]Manhattan Island was also called City Island, New York Island, and York Island; Marshall often refers to Manhattan as New York or York Island.
[6. ]The light patrols and riflemen discussed here are variations on the light infantry used at the time as a company in each regiment or a distinct regiment; their light arms and equipment gave them maximum mobility for their role as skirmishers (to discover and test the disposition of the enemy). In the Revolutionary War these companies were sometimes exclusively riflemen, and sometimes called rangers, but generally the early rifle companies developed into companies or regiments of elite troops, armed with muskets (thus bayonets), much like the British grenadiers (see chapter 4, note 6).
[7. ]The revolutionary governments of the colonies; see chapter 4, notes 1 and 8.
[8. ]James Grant (1720–1806), British Brigadier General, ultimately Lieutenant General, renowned for his contempt of the fighting capacity of American soldiers.
[9. ]William Alexander (1726–83) of New York and New Jersey, who claimed the title of the earldom of Sterling (or Stirling) in Scotland, and thus termed himself Lord Stirling; later Major General in the Continental army of the United States.
[10. ]Leopold Philip von (or de) Heister (1707–77), Hessian Commander in Chief of the first contingent of German mercenaries employed by the British in the war.
[11. ]Lord Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805), British Major General (ultimately Lieutenant General), second in command of British forces in America, under Sir Henry Clinton, from 1778. Cornwallis presided over the decisive British defeat at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 (see chapter 22).
[12. ]A small defensive outwork, completely enclosed; fortresses were surrounded by redoubts covering the main avenues of enemy approach.
[13. ]Mounted sentries at the outposts, guarding the main body of the army and maintaining surveillance of the enemy (from the French, vedette).
[14. ]Fearlessness, boldness, courage.
[15. ]From the French parole d’honneur (word of honor): a pledge or oath under which a prisoner of war is released with the understanding that he will not again bear arms until exchanged for prisoners held by the enemy. Parole also means a special password; see note 23 below.
[16. ]Negotiate, settle.
[17. ]Zealous indeed—see chapter 4, note 18, and the note by Marshall in the sequel: these men had served on the committees of the Second Continental Congress which, in May and June of 1776, recommended independent governments in the colonies (Rutledge) and drafted the Declaration of Independence (Franklin); Adams had served on both.
[18. ]On August 23, 1775, King George III issued a proclamation which declared the Americans to be in rebellion and warning all persons against giving them aid and comfort; when the Continental Congress officially learned of this in November 1775 it was understood to be the King’s answer to its so-called Olive Branch Petition of July 1775. In his speech opening Parliament in October 1775 the King declared that the rebellion would be suppressed by force, and Parliament subsequently passed the Prohibitory Act, subjecting all American commerce on the seas to confiscation by the Royal Navy during the continuance of the rebellion. The text of the Prohibitory Act reached Congress in late February 1776.
[19. ]A mobile, strategic reserve of troops; see chapter 4, note 16.
[20. ]At the time of the Revolution the Hudson River also was referred to as the North River.
[21. ]Thomas Knowlton (1740–76) of Connecticut; Captain in the militia when he distinguished himself at the Battle of Bunker Hill, he was promoted to Major in the Continental army and led a daring raid into Charlestown during the seige of Boston; then promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
[22. ]Andrew Leitch (d. 1776) of Virginia, Major in Colonel George Weedon’s Third Virginia Regiment of Continentals; Weedon wrote shortly after Leitch’s death that “in him America has lost as brave and prudent an officer as ever defended her rights.” See D. S. Freeman, George Washington (New York: Scribner’s, 1951) volume IV, pp. 200–201 and n. 161.
[23. ]The password or watchword differing from the general password (the “countersign”) in that it was only communicated to officers of the guard; often used as a check on the countersign.