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Skirmish on the heights of Haerlem.
CHAP. VIII. as an advantageous position to take, against 1776. the party advancing in their front: and a firing
ensued, but at too great a distance to do any execution. In the mean time, colonel Knowl. ton, not being precisely acquainted with their new position, commenced his attack, rather on their flank than rear, and a very warm action ensued.
In a short time, major Leitch, who had very gallantly led on the detachment, was brought off the ground mortally wounded, having received three balls through his body; and not long afterwards, colonel Knowlton also fell, bravely fighting at the head of his troops. Yet, the captains with their companies kept their ground; and with much animation, continued the action. The British were re-enforced; and general Washington, perceiving the necessity of supporting the Americans also, ordered to their aid some detachments from the adjacent regiments of New England and Maryland. Thus re-enforced, they charged the enemy with great intrepidity, drove them out of the woods into the plains, and were pressing them still further, when the general, content with the present advantage, and apprehending that a much larger body of the enemy would soon change the aspect of affairs, called back his troops to their intrenchments.
In this sharp conflict, in which they had engaged a battalion of light infantry, another of highlanders, and three companies of Hessian CHAP. VIII. riflemen, the Americans had about fifty men 1776. killed and wounded, while the enemy lost more than double that number; but the real importance of the affair was derived from its operation on the spirits of the whole army. It was the first success they had experienced, this campaign; and its influence was very discernible. To give it the more effect, the parole, 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. He contrasted their conduct with that which had been exhibited the day before, and the result, he said, evidenced what might be done where officers and soldiers would exert themselves. Once more, therefore, he called on them so to act, as not to disgrace the noble cause in which they were engaged; but to support the honour and liberties of their country.
He appointed a successor to “the gallant and brave colonel Knowlton, who would,” he said, “have been an honour to any country, and who had fallen gloriously fighting at his post.”
In this active state of the campaign, when the utmost stretch of every faculty was required to watch and counteract the plans of
P Annual Register..., Stedman,
CHAP. VIII. the enemy, the effects of the original errors 1776. committed by the government in its military
establishment, were beginning to be so seri. ously felt, as to induce the commander in chief to devote a portion of his time and atten. tion to the complete removal of the causes which produced them.
The situation of America was now becoming extremely critical. The almost entire dissolution of the existing army, by the expiration of the time for which the greater number of the troops had been engaged, was fast approaching. No steps had been taken to recruit the new regi. ments resolved on by congress for the ensuing campaign, and there was much reason to apprehend, that the terms offered would not, in the actual state of things, hold forth sufficient inducements to fill them:
With so unpromising a prospect before him, the general found himself pressed by an army, permanent in its establishment, supplied with every requisite for war, formidable for its discipline and the experience of its leaders, and superior to him, even at present, in numbers. These circumstances, and the impressions they created, will be best exhibited by inserting an extract from a letter written at the time to congress. It is in these words : “From the hours allotted to sleep, I will borrow a few moments to convey my thoughts, on sundry important matters, to congress. I shall offer
them with that sincerity which ought to cha- Chap. VIII. racterize a man of candour; and with the 1776. freedom which may be used in giving useful information, without incurring the imputation of presumption.
“ We are now, as it were, upon the eve of another dissolution of our army. The remembrance of the difficulties which happened upon that occasion last year ; the consequences which might have followed the change, if proper advantages had been taken by the enemy; added to a knowledge of the present temper and situation of the troops, reflect but a very gloomy prospect upon the appearance of things now, and satisfy me beyond the possibility of doubt, that, unless some speedy and effectual measures are adopted by congress, our cause will be lost.
“ It is in vain to expect that any, or more than a trifling part of this army will engage again in the service, on the encouragement offered by congress. When men find that their townsmen and companions are receiving twenty, thirty, and more dollars, for a few months service (which is truly the case) this cannot be expected, without using compulsion; and to force them into the service would answer no valuable purpose. When men are irritated, and their passions inflamed, they fly hastily and. cheerfully to arms; but after the first emotions are over, to expect among such people as VOL. II.
CHAP. VIII. compose the bulk of an army; that they are 1776. influenced by any other principles than those
of interest, is to look for what never did, and I fear never will happen; the congress will deceive themselves therefore if they expect it.
“ A soldier, reasoned with upon the good. ness of the cause he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears you with patience, and acknowledges the truth of your observations; but adds, that it is of no more consequence to him than to others. The officer makes you the same reply, with this further remark, that his pay will not support him, and he cannot ruin himself and family to serve his country, when every member of the community is equally benefited and interested by his labours. The few, therefore, who act upon principles of disinterestedness are, comparatively speaking, no more than a drop in the ocean. It becomes evidently clear then, that, as this contest is not likely to be the work of a day; as the war must be carried on systematically, and to do it, you must have good officers; there is, in my judgment, no other possible means to obtain them, but by establishing your army upon a permanent foot. ing, and giving your officers good pay; this will induce gentlemen, and men of character, to engage, and until the bulk of your officers are composed of such persons as are actuated by principles of honour and a spirit of enter.