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that injunction Greene, for his part, was keenly desirous to obey. He was in love with Fort Washington. To blockade it effectively, (according to his computation) would cost the hostile.army a number of troops at least double what would suffice for the American garrison ;1 and if, instead of an investment, the English preferred to try an assault by force, he bade them a hearty wel
For Howe was not the only general whose tactics were injuriously modified by a false analogy drawn from the recollections of Bunker's Hill. Nathanael Greene was still under an illusion that his countrymen, behind a breastwork, could inflict cruel punishment on an attacking force under all circumstances, and against any odds. His notion, (we are told,) was that, after slaughtering a host of the enemy, the Americans might methodically withdraw into the citadel of Fort Washington: and then, provided each had killed his man, they might be snugly shipped across the Hudson, and rejoin their main army with flying colours.?
Such, and so sanguine, were General Greene's anticipations; but, after all, Greene did not command the Continental army. The occasion was one on which Washington ought to have enforced his own views against his military subordinate, and his political superiors; and concerning the nature of those views there exists no doubt at all. On the eighth of November the Commander-in-Chief wrote to Greene that, inasmuch as British vessels could not be prevented from passing up the stream, and British troops possessed all the surrounding country, no benefit could be expected from the retention of the fortress on Manhattan Island. “I am therefore inclined to think," (he continued) " that it will not be prudent to hazard the men and stores at Mount Washington; but, as you are on the spot, leave it to you to give such orders as to evacuating Mount Washington as you may judge best, and so far revoking the order given to Colonel Magaw to
1 Greene to Washington ; Fort Lee, November 9, 1776.
defend it to the last." Having despatched those lines, which indicated a confidence in Greene that for once was misplaced, and a diffidence of himself, - Washington departed northwards on a visit to General Heath's quarters, and minutely examined the site for a new fortress near West Point. The orders which he left with Greene were, (to use his own epithet,) discretionary; 1 and the person upon whom the chief blame for those calamities, which promptly supervened, should rest has been a theme of frequent controversy. All that can certainly be said on the matter is that two very good generals contrived between them to commit a very signal blunder; and that Washington, as his rule was, insisted on assuming the responsibility for everything which went wrong under his auspices.
On the fifteenth of November Howe sent his Adjutant General to demand the surrender of Fort Washington, and reminded Colonel Magaw that, when an intrenchment had been carried by assault, it was difficult to prevent too free a use of the bayonet during the first moments of victory. Magaw returned an answer which Washington praised as a spirited refusal ; ? but the defiant tone of the reply was in excess of what the summons provoked, and most certainly beyond anything that the issue of the conflict justified. The American commandant interpreted the British general's humane and reasonable warning as a threat that the garrison would be massacred; and, with a glowing appeal to the justice of his cause, he proclaimed his intention of defending the post to the very last extremity. That extremity was not far off. At noon on the next day, under cover of a heavy cannonade which had begun in the early morning, the British army stormed in from every quarter except the west. To the south in the direction of Haerlem, Lord Percy, on a horse which soon was twice wounded, led his command into action, and
1 George Washington to John Augustine Washington ; Hackensac, November 19, 1776.
2 Washington to the President of Congress ; November 16, 1776.
came into collision with an advanced party of the Americans, so isolated and exposed that there was an interval of two miles between them and their nearest supports. Into this gap Howe despatched three regiments of infantry in boats across the Haerlem river. The Fortysecond Highlanders, who were the earliest on shore, swarmed up a steep path under a deadly fire, which laid low nearly a hundred men and officers; beat off their immediate adversaries; and, scouring fleetly over hill and dale, took Lord Percy's opponents in the rear, and secured then and there a considerable number of prisoners. One of those prisoners, who was a cool fellow, remarked on a circunstance which he noticed even in that moment of hurry and dismay. “ Not less than ten guns were discharged with their muzzles towards us, within the distance of forty or fifty yards; and some were let off within twenty. Luckily for us, it was not our riflemen to whom we were targets. I observed they took no aim, and the moment of presenting and firing was the
The Royal soldiers, however wild might be their shooting, everywhere showed great alacrity in coming to close quarters with the enemy. General Mathew and Lord Cornwallis brought seven battalions over Haerlem creek in flat-bottomed boats; made good their footing on the eastern shore of Manhattan Island; and pressed steadily inland, losing men, and capturing positions. To the north of the fort the struggle was severe and bloody; for there the Provincials were in some strength, and on ground exceptionally suited to their method of warfare. General Knyphausen and his Hessians advanced from King's Bridge in two columns; waded through a deep marsh; and climbed a precipitous rocky hill which rose behind it. The acclivity was so steep in places that the men had to pull themselves up by aid of the bushes. They were in heavy marching order; and that, in the case of German infantry, was heavy indeed. A grenadier went into action in a high cap, fronted with an im
1 Pennsylvanian Memoirs, chapter viii.
mense brass plate; a very long-skirted coat; a canteen which held a gallon; and a sword of enormous size, that had never killed anything except the calf or pig of a Loyalist farmer. But beneath these absurd trappings there was, on this occasion, no lack of martial ardour. The generals themselves led the way, pulling down fences with their own hands; and the private men never turned back, but went forwards and upwards wherever they could find a chance. At length they stood victorious on the top, in sorely diminished number; for between the foot and the summit, more than three hundred of them had been killed or wounded.1
Their loss, (wrote one of their officers,) was far greater than that of the adversary, from the manner in which the rebels fought. They lay singly behind stone-walls, and boulders, and the trunks of trees which had been felled as obstacles; they shot at long range, and with certainty; and they ran away very fast as soon as they had discharged their weapons. The Germans, on the other hand, could not shoot a third so far; and still less were they able to catch up their opponents when it came to running. Nevertheless the Provincial skirmishers, with whatever agility they might retreat, very soon reached the further end of their course. By this time the Americans had been driven inwards, from far and near, over the whole circle of the battle. Breathless and disheartened, they poured into the fort, and hud
1 According to one most competent and trustworthy observer, Knyphausen's people were even more heavily laden than with the ordinary burden of their regulation accoutrements. Every private," wrote Colonel Enoch Markham," carried a fascine before him in one hand, while he scaled with the other. In some places only one man could get up at a time, who assisted the man in the rear with his vacant hand. The Hessians and Waldecks most deservedly received the highest praise for this action.” Another English officer, (employing one of those not very recondite classical allusions which, even in the less learned professions, were a mannerism of that day,) said that Hannibal, in his passage over the Alps, could not have met with ground more formidable than what fell to the lot of the Germans to assail.
2 Account by the Quartermaster of the Grenadier Battalion von Minnigerode.
dled together behind ramparts which would become nothing better than the walls of a slaughter-house as soon as the British could bring up a single battery of howitzers. The affair in the commencement had resembled the escalade of the heights of Spicheren; and it now assumed the complexion of a miniature Sedan. Colonel Magaw, as his superior officer ought long ere this to have anticipated, was forced to abandon all hope of cutting a path through the serried array of excellent troops by whom he was surrounded ; - even apart from the consideration that the breadth and depth of the Hudson river in any case lay between him and safety.
Nothing now remained for the Americans except an immediate and unconditional surrender. The garrison,
- to the number of nearer three, than two, thousand, marched out between the ranks of the regiments Rall and von Lossberg ; laid down their arms; and gave up their white, and yellow, and light blue standards. Already, on Long Island, the Germans had captured a flag of bright scarlet damask, inscribed with the motto
Liberty; a word which to all these high-born servants of Grand Dukes, and Landgraves, and Prince Electors, seemed wonderfully out of place upon military colours. And the visible disdain with which now, at Fort Washington, the victors regarded the somewhat fantastic banners of a brand-new republic, was remembered when, after an interval of only six weeks, the same two Hessian regiments again took their share, - with the parts reversed, — in a very similar ceremony. Howe, handsomely enough, renamed the fortress after the German commander, to whose soldiers it was generally admitted that the honours of the day had fallen. The ill fortune which pursued our foreign auxiliaries, on all subsequent occasions when they were called upon to act independently, was so persistent and so notorious, that the charity of history has made the very utmost of their behaviour at Fort Washington. When the report of their exploit reached Waldeck and Hesse Cassel, their respective Sovereigns felt a thrill of conscious honesty at the