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CHAP. VII. position of which, had they possessed the 1776. power, might produce very serious effects on
the dispositions of the people. It was therefore necessary to disburse money with great caution: yet this saving temper, however necessary to a certain extent, might be carried too far; and it was possible to expose to hazard, by a too rigid economy, the most important objects. But there were certain opinions prevalent in the United States, from which they receded slowly, and from which melancholy experience only could drive them, that were productive of the most fatal consequences. One of these, and the most essential, was, that an army could be created every campaign, for the purposes of that campaign; and that such temporary provisions might be relied on, for the defence of the country. It is probable that this system owes its introduction, in some degree, to the state of things when the army was raised, that measure being the act of separate and temporary governments; in some degree, to the nature of the war, the prosecution of which they still hoped would be abandoned by the British nation, when the extent of the opposition in America should be known; in some degree to the ancient habits of the eastern colonies; and in some degree to the prejudices against a regular army, and a disinclination to believe in the superiority of a permanent and disciplined force. It is probable that the hope was cherished
by many, that the commissioners, who had CHAP. VII. been long expected, would bring with them 1776. propositions which would serve as the basis of an accommodation; and, though the majority had taken up opinions in favour of independence, yet the minority was capable of impeding measures which seemed to exclude every idea of terminating the war but by the sword. In a private letter written by general Washington whilst attending congress in May, to a confi. dential friend, he declared the opinion, that nothing was to be expected from the commissioners, and that the idea had only been suggested to deceive America, and prevent her taking those measures which her situation rendered necessary. “This,” he added, “has been too effectually accomplished, as many members of congress, in short the representatives of whole provinces, are still feeding themselves on the dainty food of reconciliations, and though they will not allow that the expectation of it has any influence on their judgments, so far as respects preparations for defence, it is but too obvious that it has an operation on every part of their conduct, and is a clog to all their proceedings. It is not in the nature of things to be otherwise; for no man who enter. tains a hope of seeing this dispute speedily and equitably adjusted by commissioners, will go to the same expense, and incur the same hazards, to prepare for the worst event, that
CHAP. VI. he will, who believes that he must conquer, or 1776. submit unconditionally, and take the conse
quences, such as confiscation and hanging."
Whatever might be the causes, it is certain
that the American army was not in a condition State of the to realize the hopes of the country, or the
wishes of its chief. It consisted, when general Howe landed on Staten island, of not more than ten thousand men. This small force was not yet sufficiently furnished with arms, and the men were very sickly. The diseases which always' aMict new troops were, probably, in some degree, increased by their being greatly exposed in consequence of the want of tents. At the instance of the general, some regiments stationed in the different states were ordered to join him, and in addition to the requisitions of men to serve until December, requisitions not yet complied with, the neighbouring militia were called into service for the present exigency. Yet on the eighth of August, in a letter to congress, he stated, that “ for the several posts on New York, Long, and Governor's islands, and Paulus hook, the army consisted of only seventeen thousand two hundred and twenty-five men, of whom three thousand six hundred and sixty-eight were sick; and that, in case of an immediate attack, he could count certainly on no other addition to his numbers, than a battalion from Maryland under the command of colonel Smallwood. This force was rendered the more inadequate to its chap. VII. objects by being necessarily divided for the 1776. defence of posts, some of which were fifteen miles distant from others, with navigable waters between them."
“These things,” continued the letter, "are melancholy, but they are nevertheless true. I hope for betters Under every disadvantage, 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 superiority of the enemy, and the expected attack do not seem to have depressed their spirits. These considerations lead me to think that though the appeal may not terminate so happily as I could wish, yet the enemy will not succeed in their views without considerable loss. Any advantage they may gain, I trust will cost them dear.”
Soon after this letter, the army was reenforced by Smallwood's regiment, and by two regiments from Pennsylvania, with a body of New England and New York militia, which increased it to twenty-seven thousand men, of whom one fourth were sick.
A part of this army was stationed on Long island, where major general Greene originally commanded, but he being unfortunately taken extremely ill, was succeeded by major general
CHAP. vu. Sullivan. The residure occupied different sta. 1776. tions on York island, except two small detach.
ments, one on Governor's island, and the other at Paulus hook: and except a part of the New York militia under general Clinton, who were stationed on the sound, towards New Rochelle, East and West Chester, in order to give some opposition to the enemy in the event of a sudden attempt to land above Kingsbridge, and cut off the communication with the country.
As an attack from the enemy was daily ex. pected, and it was believed that the influence of the first battle would be very considerable, all the vigilance and attention of the general was unremittingly exerted to prevent among his raw troops those unmilitary and dangerous practices, into which men, unused to the neces. sary restraints of a camp, will ever indulge; and to establish, as far as possible, those principles of subordination and exact observance of orders, so essential to victory. He also used every expedient to rouse the latent sparks of that enthusiastic love of liberty, that indig. nation against the invaders of their country, and that native courage, which he believed now animated the bosoms of Americans; and
which he greatly relied on as substitutes for July 2. discipline and experience. “The time,” say
his orders issued soon after the arrival of general Howe, “is now near at hand, which must probably determine whether Americans