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The unsoldierly conduct displayed on this CHAP. VII. occasion, was not attributable to a want of 1776. personal courage, but to, other causes. The apprehensions, excited by the defeat on Long island, had not yet subsided, nor had the American troops recovered their confidence either in themselves, or their commanders. Their situation appeared to themselves to be perilous; and they had not yet acquired that temper which teaches the veteran, to do his duty wherever he may be placed; to assure himself that others will do their duty likewise; and to rely that those, who take into view the situation of the whole, will not expose him to useless hazards, or neglect those precautions which the safety and advantage of the whole may require.
Unfortunately, causes, in addition to those so often stated, existed in a great part of the army, which were but too operative in obstructing the progress of such military sentiments. In New England, from whence the war had as yet been principally supported, the zeal excited by the revolution had taken such a direction, as in a great degree to abolish those distinctions between the platoon officers and the soldiers, which are so indispensable to the formation of an army, capable of being applied to all the purposes of war. In many instances, these officers, who constitute so important a part of every army, were elected by the men; and a
CHAP. Vil disposition to associate with them on the foot. 1776. ing of equality, was a recommendation of much
more weight, and frequently conduced much more to the choice, than individual merit. It has been stated by gentlemen of high rank, that, in some instances, those were elected who agreed to put their pay in mess with the soldiers, and to divide equally with them. Among such officers, the most disgraceful and unmilitary practices frequently prevailed, and the privates could not sufficiently respect them, to acquire habits of obedience and subordination.'
These defects had been in some degree remedied, in new modelling the army before Boston, but they still existed to a fatal extent; and, in examining the orders of that period, it appears that several officers of inferior grade, were not, themselves, exempt from the general spirit of pillage and plunder, which, at that time, disgraced the American troops; and which will disgrace all troops not subjected to an exact and rigid discipline; but particularly those who have not been officered with care.
Skirmish on the heights of Haerlem.... The enemy land
at Frogs' neck.... The American army evacuates York island, except fort Washington....Both armies move towards the White Plains....Battle of the White Plains.... The British army returns to King's bridge, and general Washington with a part of his army crosses the North river.... The lines of fort Washington carried by the enemy, and the garrison made prisoners....Evacuation of fort Lee.... Weakness of the American army.... Ineffectual attempts to raise the militia....General Washington retreats through Jersey ....Capture of general Lee....General Washington crosses the Delaware.... Danger of Philadelphia.... The British go into winter quarters....Battle of Trenton....Of Princeton....Firmness of Congress.
The enemy, being now in possession of 1776.
* Soon after New York fell into the hands of the enemy, a fire broke out in the night about eleven o'clock, and continued to rage until the next morning, when it was extinguished by great exertions on the part of the military stationed in the town, after having consumed about one third of the buildings. It is said to have been purposely set on fire, and several individuals, believed to have perpetrated the act, were precipitated into the
CHAP. VIII though about sixteen miles in length, is in this 1776. place scarcely. two miles wide; and both their
flanks were covered by their ships.
The strongest point of the American lines was at King's bridge, both sides of which had been carefully fortified, and to which they were very attentive, because it preserved their communication with the continent. They also occupied in considerable force M'Gowan's pass and Morris's heights, which were fortified, and capable of being defended against superior numbers. On the heights of Haerlem too, still nearer the enemy, within about a mile and a half of them, a strong detachment was posted in an intrenched camp.
The present position of the armies was ex. tremely favourable to the views of the American general. He wished to habituate his soldiers, by a series of successful skirmishes, to meet the enemy in the field; and he persuaded himself that his detachments, knowing that a strong
flames. It was alleged by the enemy, that the American general had designed to reduce the town to ashes, had he not been compelled to abandon it so precipitately as to render the execution of this intention impracticable, and that the fire was in consequence of this design. But this allegation is founded entirely in mistake. Neither the congress, nor general Washington, had formed so destructive a plan; and the fire must either have been kindled by individuals, whose misguided zeal induced them to adopt so terrible a measure; or by flagitious incendiaries, who hoped to plunder in security during the confusion of extinguishing the flames.
intrenched camp was immediately in their rear, CHAP. VIII. would engage the enemy without apprehension, 1776. would display their native courage, and would soon regain the confidence they appeared to have lost.
Opportunities of this sort could not long be wanting. The day after the retreat from New York, the enemy appeared in considerable force in the plains between the two camps; and the general immediately rode to his advanced posts, in order to make, in person, such arrangements as this muvement might require. Soon after his arrival, lieutenant colonel Knowlton of Connecticut, a very brave and valuable officer, who had been skirmishing with them, at the head of a corps of rangers, composed of volunteers from different New England regiments, came in, and, on conjecture, stated the number of the British party, the main body of which was concealed in a wood, at about three hundred men.
The general ordered colonel Knowlton with his rangers, and major Leitch with three companies of the third Virginia regiment, which had joined the army only the preceding day, . to endeavour to get in their rear, while he amused them with the appearance of making dispositions to attack their front.
This plan succeeded. The enemy ran eagerly down a hill in order to possess themselves of some fences and bushes, which they considered