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THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
FORT WASHINGTON. THROUGH THE JERSEYS.
SUFFERINGS OF THE INHABITANTS
The war was soon transported into the heart of New Jersey; for the British Commander-in-Chief had very speedily, and very successfully, completed the business that detained him on the east shore of the Hudson river. Those arrangements which Washington had made, with the view of encountering all possible emergencies, were workmanlike, and might even be pronounced faultless, save and except in one important particular. Public attention in the States had been keenly interested by a scheme of defence for the protection of the Hudson, -- the great water highway of New York State. Four or five miles north of Haerlem in the island of Manhattan, at a point where the current was not more than a mile in breadth, a work called Fort Washington had been erected on a bluff that overhung the river. On the opposite bank stood Fort Lee; and up-stream, on the safe side of these strongholds, the American authorities, with energy much inferior to Arnold's, had collected and armed a small flotilla. For further security, ath wart the river and between the forts, a barricade had been constructed of which all good patriots spoke with pride and confidence under the imposing title of the “sunken chevaux-de-frise;"
1 Washington's disposition of his forces is shortly described on page 337 of the last volume.
PT. II.-VOL. II.
although sceptics alleged that Washington's engineers had shirked the difficulty of extending it across that part of the channel where the current ran strongest. On the sixth of October three British men-of-war came up the Hudson with a southerly wind, under a smart, and not altogether ineffective, fire from the batteries. They sailed through, or over, or, (as was strongly suspected afterwards,) round, the chevaux-de-frise, without perceiving that any such obstacle existed; and, when they had reached the upper waters, they made very short work of the American naval preparations. They drove ashore, or captured, four or five ships and galleys; and they sank a sloop containing an ingenious machine for blowing up the British fleet. The inventor had designed his contrivance to act under water; and under water it went, and to this hour it there remains. The joyous and elastic national temperament, which has done so much towards carrying America through many a crisis, discerned in this untoward event nothing worse than a presage of future triumphs. Congress desired General Washington, now that the British ships were entrapped above his forts, to take good care they never either got back again themselves, nor were 'reinforced from the main fleet which lay below. But, in plain truth, both before and afterwards, Lord Howe's captains made no account whatever of the perils which beset them in their passage up and down the river. An officer who did not mind a few holes in his sails, and a very few casualties in his crew, so far as the safety of his vessel was concerned might travel the Hudson as securely as the Humber; and much more securely than, without the aid of a good local pilot, he would have threaded the sand-banks of the Mersey.
The maintenance, or abandonment, of the two American stations on the Hudson river was therefore a problem to be determined in no sense by naval, but exclusively by military, considerations. Nathanael Greene was entrusted with the care of both the places, which were garrisoned by near five thousand men, of
whom somewhat the larger part were at Fort Washington. To keep that force cooped up on Manhattan Island, without any reasonable hope of escape in case of an attack which it was impossible successfully to resist, was an awful risk to run. Mount Washington, (as the general after whom it was named sometimes called it,) was not a fortress which, like Quebec, could only be captured by a regular siege, or reduced by famine. It was an open work, bordered on three sides by heights, and of small extent, which a few hours of shell-fire would render quite untenable. It was, indeed, surrounded by an exterior position partially fortified, and so strong by nature that one of General Howe's officers asserted that all the world could not have taken it from ten thousand Englishmen. But that outer circuit of defence had a front of more than six miles; Colonel Magaw, the American who was in charge on the spot, had barely the fourth of ten thousand men at his disposal; and that force, while utterly inadequate to the task imposed upon it, was much larger than Washington could afford to throw away in order to comply with the behests, and save the self-respect, of Congress.
The politicians, who sate at the Board of war in Philadelphia, had planned the operations of that summer with the declared object of holding New York City, and barring the mouth of the Hudson river against a British fleet; and the evacuation of Fort Washington would be, in their eyes, nothing short of an admission that their campaign had finally and totally failed. Congress, bent on keeping the place, proclaimed their opinion by a vote which was equivalent to a peremptory injunction; and
1 “ About noon a young officer, smartly dressed and well mounted, rode up with his horse in a foam, and, pulling out his watch, observed that he had scarcely been an hour in coming from New York. He was a genuine, smooth-faced, fresh-coloured Englishman ; and from the elegance of his horse, and importance of his manner, I supposed him to be a person of family and consideration. • Becket,' (said he, looking around him,) 'this is a damned strong piece of ground. Ten thousand of our men would defend it against the world.'” Memoirs of a Life chiefly passed in Pennsyl. vania ; chapter viii.