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1777.

CHAP. II. contemplated its own danger, and claimed a 1777. portion of the protection due from the whole to

its parts. The spirit incident to every league,
although the object of the confederation was-
perfectly the same with that pursued by each of
its members, could not be totally inoperative
in an empire, where, notwithstanding the ex- .
istence of a head, the essentials of government
resided in the members. It was displayed in
an effort to give to the energies of the army -
such various directions, as would have left it
totally unable to effect any great object, or to
obstruct any one plan the enemy might have
formed. The patriotism of the day, however,
and the unexampled confidence placed by the
state authorities in the commander in chief,
prevented the mischiefs this spirit is so well
calculated to generate. He represented to the
governors, in strong terms, the immense advan-
tages which the possession either of Philadel.
phia, or the highlands on the Hudson, would
probably give to the enemy; and the powerful
reasons for the opinion, that one or both of these
great objects would be attempted the next
campaign. That the continental army, when
collected in its utmost force, would be scarcely
competent to a defence of these important
points; and, if weakened by detachments to
cover every place exposed to the sudden and
predatory incursions of the enemy, would be
totally unable to effect any of the great pur-

poses essential to the maintenance of the war. CHAP. II. That although the British might harass the 1777. coasts and injure the maritime towns by their shipping, and by sudden debarkations of small bodies of troops, it was not probable that their general would attempt, at one and the same time, to make a permanent acquisition of various parts of the continent; since such a divi. sion of his force would probably defeat all his objects. It was indeed to be wished, but not expected, that this mode of carrying on the war might be adopted. To protect the coast against an enemy entirely in possession of the sea, was impracticable; and though the mischief resulting from these predatory expeditions might be considerable; yet they were expected when resistance was determined on, and could have no influence on the war, which was the great and common cause of all America. But if by detaching parts of the army, with the vain hope of giving security to places it was really impossible to secure, the main body should be so enfeebled as to permit the enemy to take possession of the strong grounds on the Hudson, both the upper and lower communication between the eastern and southern parts of the continent would be cut off, and the enemy would open to themselves a free intercourse between New York and the lakes.

These representations made their proper im. pression on the sovereignties now united, by a

CHAP. II. sense of common danger, in a war, on the 1777. event of which the all of each was staked; and

the intention of retaining continental regiments for local defence was abandoned, though with some reluctance. The burden, however, of calling militia from their domestic avocations, at every threat of invasion, and of watching the different stations of the enemy with men whose principal pursuit was the cultivation of the soil, began to be so intolerable, that the people cast about for other expedients to relieve themselves from its weight. The plan of raising regular corps, to be exclusively under state authority, to serve in the state only, and thus be a perpetual substitute for the yeomanry of the country, presented itself as the most effectual mode of protecting the coasts from the insults of small bodies of the enemy, without too much interrupting domestic economy, by perpetually harassing the husbandman, and calling him from his plough.

Against this plan also, general Washington felt the necessity of remonstrating. While the regiments in the service of the United States were unfilled, it was apparent that its tendency must be to impede the progress of their completion; and he deemed all measures of partial defence impolitic, which served in diminishing the common strength. All his influence could only suspend a measure, of the mischievous consequences of which he entertained such

serious fears; and, after the new regiments had chap. II. been ordered to take the field, though they 1777. were far from being full, the inconvenience of relying on militia only for security against even sudden invasion, was so strongly felt, that the states generally resolved to raise particular corps of regular troops for individual defence.

As the spring began to open, and the season for more active operations to approach, the first attentions of general Howe were directed to the destruction of the scanty resources pre. pared by the Americans for the ensuing campaign.

During the winter, magazines of provisions and other stores had been laid up in the highlands, as a place of security, from whence the garrisons, and other troops stationed on the Hudson, might draw their supplies. About fifty miles above New York, on the river, was a small unimportant place called Peck's-Kill, which had served as a kind of post, where mills had been erected, and where a small body of troops were generally stationed. This was usually the residence of the officer commanding in the highlands. It was a place intended for the reception of stores, from whence they were distributed into the neighbouring posts, as occasion might require. From this post also, parties were occasionally detached towards New York to forage, and to cover the country. General Heath had commanded at it, but hay.

CHAP. II. ing been directed to succeed general Ward at 1777. Boston, who had resigned his commission, the

command had devolved on general M‘Dougal.

The strength of this post, like that of all others depending for defence on militia, was subject to great fluctuation. At some times it had amounted to three or four thousand men, and at other times it was reduced to as many hundred. General Howe had understood it to be a much more considerable depot of stores than it really was, and as soon as the ice was out of the river, took advantage of the occasional weakness of M‘Dougal, to plan an expedition against it, for the purpose of either destroying; or bringing away the stores there

deposited. . March 23. Colonel Bird was detached up the river on

this service, with about five hundred men, under convoy of a frigate and some armed ves. sels. General M‘Dougal, whose numbers did not, at that time, exceed two hundred and fifty. men, received timely notice of his approach, and exerted himself for the removal of the

stores into the strong country in his rear. Destruction Before this could be effected the enemy ap.

peared; and finding himself unable to oppose them, he set fire to the remaining magazines, and to the barracks, and retired about two miles into the strong grounds back of Peck's,

of stores at Peck's-Kill.

f Annual Register.

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