The War of American Independence
The Continental troops under Washington at New York did not number more than 8,000, while the British army, which Howe led thither in June, including the German mercenaries, amounted to 24,000. Among them were the troops lately employed against Charleston, South Carolina, where they had attempted to land, but the fleet had been driven off by the heavy fire from the forts. The fortifications at New York did not prove so formidable, as the British vessels passed them without damage, and entered the Hudson river. Howe landed most of his troops on Long Island, where the tories were very numerous, and marched to attack the Americans, who were in an entrenched camp at the western end of the island, opposite New York. A battle followed, in which the British army succeeded in gaining the rear of the Americans by an unguarded road, and totally defeated them, taking over a thousand prisoners. The remainder of the army secretly retreated, on the second night after the battle, from Long Island to New York. Leaving a garrison in the town, Washington placed the body of the troops on Harlem heights, a strong position at the northward. But the garrison was soon obliged with loss to quit New York, as the place was not tenable except by a large force, and even the troops on the heights behaved so ill that a further retreat became necessary. Discouragement was now very general the militia deserted by companies, and the Continentals, as the regular troops were called, began to follow their example. Washington adopted the only system of warfare which was practicable under these gloomy circumstances he resolved to risk no general engagement, to encamp only in strong positions, to weary out the enemy by frequent marches, and not to meet them except in skirmishes. A partial action was fought at White Plains, October 28, without any decisive result, and most of the Americans were then withdrawn to the western shore of the Hudson, as an invasion of New Jersey was threatened. A large garrison was left in Fort Washington, on New York island, about ten miles above the city but the British attacked it before the fortifications were completed, and the commander was obliged to capitulate, giving up the place and stores, and over 2,000 prisoners. The enemy then crossed the Hudson in force, and Washington was obliged to abandon Fort Lee, on the Jersey shore, with a great quantity of baggage and artillery. He then retreated rapidly southward through New Jersey as far as Trenton, where, for safety, the army crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania. At this gloomy period for the American cause, Sir William Howe issued a proclamation, offering pardon to all who would return to their allegiance within sixty days, and commanding all persons who had taken up arms, and all congresses and associations, to desist from their treasonable proceedings, and give up their usurped authority. Many individuals, among them were two former members of Congress, were weak enough to accept the proposal. As the British army approached Philadelphia, Congress adjourned to Baltimore, having first granted to the commander-in-chief almost dictatorial powers.
Washington perceived that some bold stroke was necessary to revive the spirits of his countrymen. Some reinforcements had joined him, and the English army had gone into winter-quarters, being stationed in detachments in several' places in New Jersey. On Christmas night, at the head of 2,500 men, he recrossed the Delaware with great difficulty, as the river was full of floating ice, surprised a body of Hessians in Trenton, took 900 prisoners and then returned to his former position with only a trifling loss. A week afterwards, he reöccupied Trenton with a larger force but lord Cornwallis came up to meet him with a large portion of the British army, and it appeared too hazardous either to stand an engagement or retreat when the enemy were so near. Washington devised a manoeuvre which was completely successful. Leaving the watch-fires burning in the deserted camp, the troops were led by a circuitous route into the rear of the British, and then conducted to Princeton, where they fell unexpectedly upon three regiments that were stationed there, drove them out of the town with great loss, and took 300 prisoners. Cornwallis heard the firing in his rear, and divining the cause, hurried off in pursuit but before he could overtake the Americans, they were encamped on unassailable ground at Morristown. These exploits taught Sir William Howe to respect an opponent whom he had begun to contemn; and he therefore withdrew his troops from the greater part of New . Jersey, and concentrated them round New York. Washington stationed his army at Morristown, Princeton, and in the Highlands on the Hudson; and the next six months were spent in organizing it anew, and reducing it to discipline. The British had taken possession of the southern part of Rhode Island, and had surprised and captured G-en. Lee. On the other hand, privateers and national cruisers had been fitted out in the ports of Massachusetts, and had captured many valuable British ships, which were carried to the West Indies and the harbors of continental Europe, and sold.