Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

1776.

The Declaration of Independence.

273

shamefully lost. Everywhere the Declaration was hailed with joy. It was read to the army amidst exulting shouts. The soldiers in New York expressed their transferrence of allegiance by taking down a leaden statue of King George and casting it into bullets to be used against the king's troops. Next day Washington, in the dignified language which was habitual to him, reminded his troops of their new duties and responsibilities. “The General,” he said, “ hopes and trusts that every officer and soldier will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country."

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

CHAPTER XIII.

THE WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE.

It was

ENGLAND put forth as much strength as she deemed needful to subdue her rebellious colonists. She prepared a strong fleet and a strong army. She entered into contracts with some of the petty German princes to supply a certain number of soldiers. These were chiefly Hessians. a matter of regular sale and purchase. England supplied money at a fixed rate. The Duke of Brunswick and some others supplied a stipulated number of men, who were to shed their blood in a quarrel of which they knew nothing. Even in a dark age these transactions were a scandal. Frederick of Prussia loudly expressed his contempt for both parties. When any of the hired men passed through any part of his territory he levied on them the toll usually charged for cattle, — like which, he said, they had been sold !

So soon as the safety of Boston was secured, Washington moved with his army southward to New York. Thither, in the month of June, came General Howe. Thither also came his brother, Lord Howe, with the forces which England had provided for this war. These reinforcements raised the British army to twenty-five thousand men. Lord Howe brought with him a commission from King George to pacify the dissatisfied colonists. He invited them to lay down their arms, and he assured them of the king's pardon. His proposals were singularly inopportune. The Declaration of Independence had just been published. The Americans had deter

1776.

The War for Independence.

275

mined to be free. They were not seeking to be forgiven, and they rejected with scorn Lord Howe's proposals. The sword must now decide between King George and his alienated subjects.

Lord Howe encamped his troops on Staten Island, a few miles from New York. His powerful fleet gave him undisputed command of the bay, and enabled him to choose his point of attack. The Americans expected that he would land upon Long Island, and take possession of the heights near Brooklyn. He would then be separated from New York only by a narrow arm of the sea, and he could with ease lay the city in ruins. Washington sent a strong force to hold the heights, and throw up intrenchments in front of Brooklyn. General Putnam was appointed to the command of this army. Staten Island lies in full view of Brooklyn. The white tents of the English army, and the formidable English ships lying at their anchorage, were watched by many anxious eyes; for the situation was known to be full of peril. Washington himself did not expect success in the coming fight, and hoped for nothing more than that the enemy's victory would cost him dear.

After a time it was seen that a movement was in progress among the English. One by one the tents disappeared. One by one the ships shook their canvas out to the wind, and moved across the bay. Then the Americans knew that their hour of trial was at hand.

Putnam marched his men out from their lines to meet the English At daybreak the enemy made his appearance. The right wing of the American army was attacked, and troops were withdrawn from other points to resist what seemed the main attack. Meanwhile a strong English force made its way unseen round the American left, and established itself between the Americans and their intrenchments. This decided the fate of the battle. The Americans made a brave

He was

but vain defence. They were driven within their lines after sustaining heavy loss.

Lord Howe could easily have stormed the works, and taken or destroyed the American army. But his lordship felt that his enemy was in his power, and he wished to spare his soldiers the bloodshed which an assault would have caused. to reduce the enemy's works by regular siege. It was no part of Washington's intention to wait for the issue of these operations. During the night of August 29 he silently withdrew his broken troops, and landed them safely in New York. So skilfully was this movement executed, that the last boat had pushed off from the shore before the British discovered that their enemies had departed.

But now New York had to be abandoned. Washington's army was demoralized by the defeat at Brooklyn. Washington confessed to the President of Congress with deep concern that he had no confidence “in the generality of the troops.” To fight the well-disciplined and victorious British with such unskilful men seemed useless. He marched northward, and took up a strong position at Harlem, a village nine miles from New York. But the English ships, sweeping up the Hudson River, showed themselves on his flank and in his rear. The English army approached him in front. There was no choice but retreat. Washington crossed over to the Jersey side of the river. The English followed him, after storming a fort in which nearly three thousand men had been left, the whole of whom were made prisoners.

The fortunes of the revolted colonies were now at the very lowest ebb. Washington had only four thousand men under his immediate command. They were in miserable condition, - imperfectly armed, poorly fed and clothed, without blankets or tents or shoes. An English officer said of them, without extreme exaggeration, “ In a whole regiment there is scarce one pair of breeches." This was the army which was

« ÎnapoiContinuați »