Imágenes de páginas


boldly against the enemy; but in a short time he unexpectedly found himself in presence of the British army drawn up to receive him. Instant retreat he considered impracticable, and thought the boldest course the most safe. With 800 men he made a brisk attack; and for some minutes the conflict was sharp and bloody. But La Fayette, discovering the mistake, ordered a retreat, which was made with precipitation, leaving two pieces of cannon in the hands of the British. The Americans retired behind a morass; and, it being nearly dark, Cornwallis, suspecting an ambuscade, ordered no pursuit. In this encounter, the Americans had 118 men, including ten officers, killed, wounded, or taken pris

The loss of the British was not so great, amounting to five officers, and about seventy privates. In the course of the night the British passed into the island ; whence soon afterward they proceeded to Portsmouth.

The troops required by the commander-in-chief were embarked; but, before they sailed, despatches arrived from New York countermanding the order. At the same time, the commander-in-chief deprecated the thought of abandoning the Chesapeake, stating, that as soon as the season for military operations in that quarter returned, he would probably send thither all the disposable troops under his command, and recommending the establishment of a defensive post for the reception of ships-of-the-line, either at York, on the river of that name, or at Point Comfort in Hampton Road. Cornwallis accordingly ordered Point Comfort and York to be surveyed by engineers and officers of the navy, from whose report it appeared that works constructed on old Point Comfort could neither defend the entrance into Hampton Road, nor afford protection to ships lying there; and as it was admitted that Portsmouth was not a station of the description required, Cornwallis thought his instructions left him no alternative but to fortify York and Gloucester, as the only points capable of affording the requisite protection to ships-of-the-line. Measures were accordingly taken for seizing and fortifying those places, and for evacuating Portsmouth. Part of the army proceeded, in boats and transports, up the Chesapeake and York river, and, on the 1st of August, took possession of Yorktown and Gloucester Point, the former on the south, the latter on the north side of the river. The evacuation of Portsmouth was completed ; and on the 22d the British force in Virginia concentrated at York and Gloucester. Here we shall leave Cornwallis and his army diligently fortifying themselves, and for a while turn our attention to the northward.

In the early part of the year the affairs of congress wore a gloomy and alarming aspect : the finances were exhausted, the troops mutinous, the army much diminished in numbers, and the soldiers who remained with the standards of their country, were in a state of entire destitution. The necessity of a foreign loan and of European auxiliaries was obvious; and an early application for both had been made to France. But, how well disposed soever that power was to grant the desired assistance, compliance was no easy matter : for the treasury had enough to do in answering the national demands necessarily made on it, and was little

able to supply foreign wants. As a signal proof of friendship, however, the French monarch gave his allies a donation of six millions of livres, and promised to support them with a strong naval and military armament.

Early in May, the Count de Barras, who had been appointed to the command of the French fleet on the American coast, arrived at Boston, accompanied by the Viscount' de Rochambeau, commander of the land forces. An interview between General Washington and the French commanders was immediately appointed to be held at Wethersfield, on the 21st; but some movements of the British fleet made De Barras repair to Newport, while the two generals met at the appointed place, and agreed on a plan of the campaign. It was resolved to unite the French and American armies on the Hudson, and to commence vigorGus operations against New York. The regular army at that station was estimated at only 4,500 men ; and though Sir Henry Clinton might be able to reinforce it with 5,000 or 6,000 militia, yet it was believed he could not maintain the post, without recalling a considerable part of his troops from the southward, and enfeebling the operations of the British in that quarter; in which case it was resolved to make a vigorous attack on the point which presented the best prospect of success.

General Washington immediately required the states of New England to have 5,000 militia in readiness to march, wherever they might be called for; and sent an account of the conference at Wethersfield to congress. His despatch was intercepted in the Jerseys, and carried to Sir Henry Clinton ; who, alarmed by the plan which it disclosed, made the requisition, already mentioned, of part of the troops under Cornwallis, and took diligent precautions for maintaining his post against the meditated attack.

Meanwhile the several states of the Union were extremely dilatory in furnishing their contingents of troops, and it was found difficult to procure subsistence for the small number of men already in the field.

In consequence of this dilatory spirit, when the troops left their winter quarters in the month of June, and encamped at Peekskill, the army under Washington did not amount to 5,000 men. This force was so much inferior to what had been contemplated when the plan of operations was agreed on at Wethersfield, that it became doubtful whether it would be expedient to adhere to that plan. But the deficiency of the American force was in some measure compensated by the arrival at Boston of a reinforcement of 1,500 men to the army under Rochambeau.

The hope of terminating the war in the course of the campaign, encouraged the states to make some exertions. Small as was their military force, it was difficult to find subsistence for the troops ; and, even after the army had taken the field, there was reason to apprehend that it would be obliged to abandon the objects of the campaign for want of provisions. In that critical juncture of American affairs, when the government was without money and without credit, the finances of the Union were intrusted to Mr. Robert Morris, a member of congress for Pennsylvania, a man of capital, and of much sagacity and mercantile enterprise. He extensively pledged his personal credit for articles of the first necessity to the army ; and, by an honorable fulfilment of his engagements, did much to restore public credit and confidence. It was owing mainly to his exertions that the active and decisive operations of the campaign were not greatly impeded or entirely defeated, by want of subsistence to the army, and of the means of transporting military stores.

In this way, and by a liberal and judicious application of his own resources an individual afforded the supplies which government was unable to furnish.

The French troops marched from Newport and Boston toward the Hudson. Both in quarters and on the route their behavior was exemplary, and gained the respect and good-will of the inhabitants. Toward the end of June, General Washington put his army in motion ; and, learning that a royal detachment had passed into the Jerseys, he formed a plan to surprise the British posts on the north end of York island ; but it did not succeed ; and General Lincoln, who commanded the Americans, being attacked by a strong British party, a sharp conflict ensued. General Washington marched with his main body to support his detachment, but on his advance the British retired into their works at Kingsbridge.

Having failed in his design of surprising the British posts, General Washington withdrew to Valentine's hill, and afterward to Dobb's ferry. While encamped there, on the 6th of July, the van of the long-expected French reinforcements was seen winding down the neighboring heights. The arrival of those friendly strangers elevated the minds of the Americans, who received them with sincere congratulations. General Washington labored, by personal attentions, to conciliate the good-will of his allies, and used all the means in his power to prevent those mutual jealousies and irritations which frequently prevail between troops of different nations serving in the same army. An attack on New York was still meditated, and every exertion made to prepare for its execution ; but with the determination, if it should prove impracticable, vigorously to prosecute some more attainable object.

On the evening of the 21st of July, the greater part of the American and pari of the French troops left their encampment; and, marching rapidly during the night, appeared in order of battle before the British works at Kingsbridge, at four next morning. Generals Washington and Rochambeau, with the general officers and engineers, viewed the British lines, in their whole extent, from right to left, and the same was again done next morning. But, on the afternoon of the 23d, they returned to their former encampment, without having made any attempt on the British works.

At that time the new levies arrived slowly in the American camp; and many of those who were sent were unfit for active service. The several states discovered much backwardness in complying with the requisitions of congress, so that there was reason to apprehend that the number of troops necessary for besieging New York could not be procured. This made General Washington turn his thoughts more seriously to the southward than he had hitherto done ; but all his movements confirmed Sir Henry Clinton in the belief that an attack on New York was in contemplation. As the British commander-in-chief, however, at that time received about 3,000 troops from Europe, he thought himself able to defend his post, without withdrawing any part of the force from Virginia. Therefore he countermanded the requisition which he had before sent to Cornwallis for part of the troops under his command. The troops were embarked before the arrival of the counter order; and of their embarcation the Marquis de la Fayette sent notice to General Washington. On the reception of new instructions, however, as formerly mentioned, they were relanded, and remained in Virginia.

No great operation could be undertaken against the British armies, so long as their navy had the undisputed command of the coast, and of the great navigable rivers. The Americans had accordingly made an earnest application to the court of France for such a fleet as might be capable of keeping in check the British

navy in those seas, and of affording effectual assistance to the land forces. That application was not unsuccessful; and, toward the middle of August, the agreeable information was received of the approach of a powerful French fleet to the American coast.

Early in March, the Count de Grasse sailed from Brest with twenty-five ships-of-the-line, five of which were destined for the East, and twenty for the West Indies. After an indecisive encounter, in the straits of St. Lucie, with Sir Samuel Hood, whom Sir George Rodney, the British admiral in the West Indies, had detached to intercept him, Count de Grasse formed a junction with the ships of his sovereign on that station, and had a fleet superior to that of the British in the West Indies. De Grasse gave the Americans notice that he would visit their coast in the month of August, and take his station in Chesapeake bay ; but that his continuance there could only be of short duration. This despatch at once determined General Washington's resolution with respect to the main point of attack; and, as it was necessary that the projected operation should be accomplished within a very limited time, prompt decision and indefatigable exertion were indispensable. Though it was now finally resolved that Virginia should be the grand scene of action, yet it was prudent to conceal to the last moment this determination from Sir Henry Clinton, and still to maintain the appearance of threatening New York.

The defence of the strong posts on the Hudson or North river was intrusted to General Heath, who was instructed to protect the adjacent country as far as he was able; and for that purpose a respectable force was put under his command. Every preparation of which circumstances admitted was made to facilitate the march to the south ward. General Washington was to take the command of the expedition, and to employ in it all the French troops, and a strong detachment of the American army.

On the 19th of August, a considerable corps was ordered to cross the Hudson at Dobb's ferry, and to take a position between Springfield and Chatham, where they were directed to cover some bakehouses, which it was rumored were to be immediately constructed in the vicinity of those places, in order to encoužage the belief that there the troops intended to establish a permanent post. On the

Oth and 21st the main body of the Americans passed the river at King's ferry ; but the French made a longer circuit, and did not complete the passage till the 25th. Desirous of concealing his object as long as possible, General Washington continued his march some time in such a direction as still to keep up the appearance of threatening New York. When concealment was no longer practicable, he marched southward with the utmost celerity. His movements had been of such a doubtful nature, that Sir Henry Clinton, it is said, was not convinced of his real destination till he crossed the Delaware,

Great exertions had been made to procure funds for putting the army in motion ; but, after exhausting every other resource, General Washington was obliged to have recourse to Count Rochambeau for a supply of cash, which he received.

On the 30th of August, at three in the afternoon, the combined American and French armies entered Philadelphia, where they were received with ringing of bells, firing of guns, bonfires, illuminations at night, and every demonstration of joy. Meanwhile, Count de Grasse, with 3,000 troops on board, sailed from Cape François with a valuable fleet of merchantmen, which he conducted out of danger, and then steered for Chesapeake bay with twenty-eight sail-of-theline and several frigates. Toward the end of August he cast anchor just within the

capes extending across from Cape Henry to the middle ground. There an officer from the Marquis de la Fayette waited on the count, and gave him fuli information concerning the posture of affairs in Virginia, and the intended plan of operations against the British army in that state.

Cornwallis was diligently fortifying himself at York and Gloucester; the Marquis de la Fayette was in a position on James river to prevent his escape into North Carolina, and the combined army was hastening southward to attack him. In order to co-operate against Cornwallis, De Grasse detached four shipsof-the-line and some frigates to block up the entrance of York river, and to carry the land forces which he had brought with him, under the Marquis de St. Simoni, to La Fayette's camp. The rest of his fleet remained at the entrance of the bay.

Sir George Rodney, who commanded the British fleet in the West Indies, was not ignorant that the count intended to sail for America ; but, knowing that the merchant vessels which he convoyed from Cape François were loaded with valuable cargoes, the British admiral believed that he would send the greater part of his fleet along with them to Europe, and would visit the American coast with a small squadron only. Accordingly, Sir George Rodney detached Sir Samuel Hood with fourteen sail-of-the-line to America, as a sufficient force to counteract the operations of the French in that quarter. Admiral Hood reached the capes of Virginia on the 25th of August, a few days before De Grasse entered the bay; and, finding no enemy there, sailed for Sandy Hook, where he arrived on the 28th of August.

Admiral Graves, who had succeeded Admiral Arbuthnot in the command of the British fleet on the American station, was then lying at New York with seven sail-of-the-line; but two of his ships had been damaged in a cruise near Boston, and were under repair. At the same time that Admiral Hood gave information of the expected arrival of De Grasse on the American coast, notice was received of the sailing of De Barras with his fleet from Newport. Admiral Graves, therefore, without waiting for his two ships which were under repair, put to sea on the 31st of August, with nineteen sail-of-the-line, and steered to the southward.

On reaching the capes of the Chesapeake early on the morning of the 5th of September, he discovered the French fleet, consisting of twenty-four ships-ofthe-line, lying at anchor in the entrance of the bay. Neither admiral had any previous knowledge of the vicinity of the other till the fleets were actually seen. The British stretched into the bay: and soon as Count de Grasse ascertained their hostile character, he ordered his ships to slip their cables, form the line as they could come up, without regard to their specified stations, and put to sea. The British fleet entering the bay, and the French leaving it, they were necessarily sailing in different directions ; but Admiral Graves put his ships on the same tack with the French; and, about four in the afternoon, a battle began between the van and centre of the fleets, which continued till night. Both sustained considerable damage. The fleets continued in sight of each other for five days; but De Grasse's object was not to fight unless to cover Chesapeake bay; and Admiral Graves, owing to the inferiority of his force and the crippled state of several of his ships, was unable to compel him to renew the engagement.

On the 10th, Count de Grasse bore away for the Chesapeake, and anchored within the capes next day, when he had the satisfaction to find that Admiral de Barras, with his fleet from Newport, and fourteen transports laden with heavy artillery and other military stores for carrying on a siege, had safely arrived during his absence. That officer sailed from Newport on the 25th of August, and, making a long circuit to avoid the British, entered the bay while the contending fleets were at sea. Admiral Graves followed the French fleet to the Chesapeake; but, on arriving there, he found the entrance guarded by a force with which he was unable to contend. He then sailed for New York, and left Count de Grasse in the undisputed possession of the bay.

While these naval operations were going on, the land forces were not less actively employed in the prosecution of their respective purposes. The immediate aim of the one party was to overwhelm Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, that of the other to rescue him from their grasp. As soon as Sir Henry Clinton was convinced of General Washington's intention of proceeding to the southward, with a view to bring him back, he employed Arnold, with a sufficient naval and military force, on an expedition against New London. Arnold passed from Long Island, and on the forenoon of the 6th of September landed his troops on both sides of the harbor ; those on the New London side being under his own immediate orders, and those on the Groton side commanded by LieutenantColonel Eyre. As the works at New London were very imperfect, no vigorous resistance was there made, and the place was taken possession of with little loss. But Fort Griswolde, on the Groton side, was in a more finished state, and the small garrison made a desperate defence. The British entered the fort at the point of the bayonet; when, though opposition ceased, a murderous carnage ensued. Few Americans had fallen when the British entered the works, but eighty-five were killed, sixty wounded, most of them mortally, and the remain

« AnteriorContinuar »