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Lincoln at the head of about eight hundred men, With these he retired to Sheldon, in the neighbourhood of Beaufort, where his primary object was to prepare for the next campaign, which it was supposed would open in October.
The invasion of the southern states wore so serious an aspect, that, notwithstanding the imbeci. lity of the army under the immediate command of General Washington, it was still further weak, ened for the preservation of that part of the union. Bland's regiment of cavalry, and the remnant of that lately Baylor's, now commanded by Lieute. nant-colonel Washington, with the new levies raised in the state of Virginia, were ordered to repair to Charlestown, and place themselves under General Lincoln. The execution of these orders was for a time suspended by the invasion of Virginia.
To interrupt the commerce of the Chesapeak, and to destroy the magazines which had been established on the waters, an expedition had been concerted in the spring, between Sir Henry Clin. ton and Sir George Collier, the commander in chief of the British naval force on the American station. The land troops assigned to this service amounted to somewhat less than two thousand men, and were commanded by Brigadier-general Mathews. The transports, on board of which they embarked, were conyoyed by the admiral in per
son. On the fifth of May the fleet passed the bar of the Hook, and on the ninth of that month entered the bay of Chesapeak. The next day it anchored in Hampton-road, a large basin of water formed by the confluence of James, Nansemond, and Elizabeth rivers.
To save her militia from being continually harassed by being called into the field on every appearance of predatory parties in her rivers, or on her coasts, Virginia had raised a regiment of artillery for the performance of garrison duty in the state. This regiment had been distributed along the eastern frontier in the manner most conducive to the general safety; and slight fortifications had been erected in the most important situations, for defence against any sudden attacks which might be made by light parties, with a view to plunder rather than to conquest. The small garrisons on the north and south sides of James river could communicate with each other over-land only by a circuitous route; and of consequence, when attacked by an enemy commanding the water, could afford each other no assistance. Independ, ently of this circumstance, the regiment, if united, was not strong enough to maintain any single position against a body of troops so respectable as to contemplate conquest; and the whole face of the lower country of Virginia, intersected with deep creeks, marshes, and rivers, is such as to afford
passes almost every where to those who command the water, by seizing which, they completely en. velope troops stationed on the rivers, and cut off their retreat into the broad open country. The forts, therefore, having been constructed exclusively with a view to defence against an attack to be made by shipping, were finished first on the side of the water, and were not rendered tenable against a military force strong enough to act on land. Fort Nelson, one of the most important which had been erected, was on the west side of Elizabeth river; and was garrisoned by about one hundred and fifty regular soldiers, commanded by Major Mathews. It was designed to secure from insult the towns of Norfolk and Portsmouth, which were on each side the river just above it, and the town of Gosport, which lies still higher. up, on a point of land intervening between two branches of the river. Norfolk and Portsmouth were places of the most considerable commerce in Virginia. They were the depôts of large supplies for the army; and at Gosport, the state government had established a marine-yard, where ships of war, as well as many other vessels, were build. ing, and naval stores to a great amount had been collected.
The destruction of these stores constituted the principal object of General Mathews; to the attainment of which, the possession of the fort which
guarded them was an essential preliminary: On the morning of the tenth, the fleet entered Eliza. beth river; and the boats having the troops on board proceeded up it, under convoy of a galley, to a place called the Glebe, about three miles below the fort, where a landing was made without any opposition. It was intended to storm the works the next day on the land șide, where they were incomplete; but the garrison, foreseeing that this attempt would be made, and that it would be equally impracticable to defend the place or to escape if the present moment should be permitted to pass unused, evacuated the fort in the night, and saved themselves in a deep and extensive swamp, called the Dismal, which could not be penetrated without difficulty even by single persons.
The whole bank on the south side of James ri. ver being now in possession of General Mathews, he fixed his head quarters at Portsmouth, whence small parties were detached to Norfolk, Gosport, Kempslanding, and Suffolk, where a great quantity of military and naval stores, and several vessels richly laden, were taken, and either brought away or destroyed. The loss sustained both by the public and by individuals was immense. The opposition encountered in effecting it was almost nothing.
The invasion of General Mathews was of short duration. Having destroyed the magazines col
lected in the small towns near the coast, and the shipping in the rivers, he was directed by Sir Henry Clinton to return to New York, where he arrived towards the end of May.
Impressed with the importance of Portsmouth as a permanent station, the Admiral and General Mathews united in representing to the commander in chief the advantages to be derived from keeping possession of it. But in the opinion of Sir Henry Clinton, the army at that time did not admit of so many subdivisions; and with a view to more interesting objects, Portsmouth was evacuated,