Part 3 out of 6
English was now all but universal.
On May 5 two frigates and a sloop-of-war made their way up the river
to Quebec. The Americans endeavored to embark their sick and
artillery above the town. Re-enforced by the marines, the garrison
sallied out and attacked the enemy, who fled with precipitation,
leaving their provisions, cannon, five hundred muskets, and two
hundred sick behind them. The British pursued them until they reached
the mouth of the Sorrel.
The arrival of the fleet from England brought news of what had taken
place since Captain Wilson's company had marched from Boston, a short
time after the battle of Bunker's Hill. Immediately after the battle the
colonists had sent two deputies, Penn and Lee, with a petition to
Parliament for the restoration of peace. This petition was supported by
a strong body in Parliament. The majority, however, argued that, from
the conduct of the Americans, it was clear that they aimed at
unconditional, unqualified, and total independence. In all their
proceedings they had behaved as if entirely separated from Great
Britain. Their professions and petition breathed peace and moderation;
their actions and preparations denoted war and defiance; every attempt
that could be made to soften their hostility had been in vain; their
obstinacy was inflexible; and the more England had given in to their
wishes, the more insolent and overbearing had their demands become. The
stamp tax had been repealed, but their ill will had grown rather than
abated. The taxations on imports had been entirely taken off save on one
small item; but, rather than pay this, they had accumulated arms and
ammunition, seized cannon belonging to the king, and everywhere prepared
for armed resistance. Only two alternatives remained for the British
nation to adopt--either to coerce the colonists to submission or to
grant them their entire independence.
These arguments were well founded. The concessions which had been made
had but encouraged the colonists to demand more. No good whatever would
have come from entering into negotiation; there remained but the two
alternatives. It would have been far better had Parliament, instead of
deciding on coercion, withdrawn altogether from the colonies, for
although hitherto the Americans had shown no great fighting qualities,
it was clear that so small an army as England could spare could not
permanently keep down so vast a country if the people were determined
upon independence. They might win every battle,--might overpower every
considerable force gathered against them,--but they could only enforce
the king's authority over a mere fractional portion of so great an area.
England, however, was unaccustomed to defeat; her spirit in those days
was proud and high; and by a large majority Parliament voted for the
continuance of the war. The next step taken was one unworthy of the
country. It tended still further to embitter the war, and it added to
the strength of the party in favor of the colonists at home. Attempts
were made by the government to obtain the services of large numbers of
foreign troops. Negotiations were entered into with Russia, Holland,
Hesse, and other countries. Most of these proved ineffectual, but a
considerable number of troops was obtained from Hesse.
The news of these proceedings excited the Americans to renewed efforts.
The force under Washington was strengthened, and he took possession of
Dorchester Heights, commanding the town of Boston. A heavy cannonade
was opened on the city. The British guns answered it, but the American
position gave them an immense advantage. General Howe, who was in
command, at first thought of attempting to storm the heights, but the
tremendous loss sustained at the battle of Bunker's Hill deterred him
from the undertaking. His supineness during the past four months had
virtually lost the American colonies to England. He had under his
command 8000 troops, who could have routed, with ease, the
undisciplined levies of Washington. Instead of leading his men out
against the enemy, he had suffered them to be cooped up for months in
the city, and had failed to take possession of the various heights
commanding the town. Had he done this Boston might have resisted a
force many times as strong as that which advanced against it, and there
was now nothing left for the English but to storm the heights with
enormous loss or to evacuate the city.
The first was the alternative which had been chosen when the Americans
seized Bunker's Hill; the second was that which was now adopted.
Having adopted this resolution, Howe carried it out in a manner which
would in itself be sufficient to condemn him as a military leader.
Nothing was done to destroy the vast stores of arms and ammunition, and
two hundred and fifty pieces of cannon were left for the colonists to
use against England. No steps were taken to warn ships arriving from
England of the surrender of the town. The consequence was that, in
addition to the vast amount of stores captured in the town, numbers of
the British storeships fell into the hands of the Americans--among them
a vessel which, in addition to carbines, bayonets, gun-carriages, and
other stores, had on board more than seventy tons of powder, while
Washington's whole stock was all but exhausted.
But worse even than this hurried and unnecessary abandonment of vast
munitions of war was the desertion of the loyalist population. Boston
was full of loyalists, among whom were many of the wealthier and
better-born persons in the colony, who, from the commencement of the
troubles had left their homes, their fortunes, and their families to
rally round the standard of their sovereign. The very least that Howe
could have done for these loyal men would have been to have entered into
some terms of capitulation with Washington, whereby they might have been
permitted to depart to their homes and to the enjoyment of their
property. Nothing of the sort was attempted, and the only choice offered
to a loyalist was to remain in the town, exposed to certain insult and
ill treatment, perhaps to death, at the hands of the rebels, or to leave
in the transports for England or Halifax and to be landed here penniless
Howe's conduct in this was on a piece with his behavior throughout the
campaign; but he was little, if at all, inferior to the other generals,
who vied with each other in incapacity and folly. Never in the whole
history of England were her troops led by men so inefficient, so
sluggish, and so incapable as those who commanded her armies in the
American Revolutionary War.
The first ships from England which arrived at Quebec were followed, a
few days later, by the _Niger_ and _Triton_, convoy transports, with
troops. The British now took the offensive in earnest. From the west
Captain Forster marched from Detroit, with 40 men of the Eighth
Regiment, 100 Canadians, and some Indians, against a pass called the
Cedars, situated fifteen leagues above Montreal. This was held by 400
men with two cannon. As soon as the British force opened fire the
Americans surrendered. The following day Forster's force, advancing,
came upon 140 men under Major Sherbourne, who were marching to
re-enforce the garrison at the Cedars. These were forced to retreat and
100 of them taken prisoners.
Arnold, with 700 men, advanced against the British force. The British
officer, fearing that in case of an attack the Indians with him might
massacre the prisoners, released the whole of them, 474 in number, under
the promise that an equal number of British prisoners should be
returned. This engagement was shamefully broken by the Americans, who
raised a number of frivolous excuses, among others that prisoners taken
by the British were ill treated--an accusation which excited the
indignation of the prisoners themselves, some of whom wrote to members
of Congress, stating that nothing could be kinder or more courteous than
the treatment which they received.
While Forster was advancing toward Montreal from the west, Carleton
was moving up against the Americans at Sorrel from Quebec. At the
death of Montgomery, Wooster had taken the command of the main
American force. He had been succeeded by Thompson, but the latter
dying of smallpox, Sullivan took his place. The new commander
determined to take the offensive against the English, and dispatched a
force of about 2000 men to attack General Fraser, who held a post at a
place called Three Rivers.
A Canadian peasant brought news to General Fraser of the approach of the
Americans, and as he had received re-enforcements from below he
determined to anticipate their attack. His movements were completely
successful. Some of the Americans fought well, but the rest dispersed
with but little resistance. Two hundred were killed and 150 taken
prisoners. The rest succeeded in returning to Sorrel.
The main body of the British army now came up the river in their ships,
and, as they approached Sorrel, Sullivan broke up his camp and
retreated. At the same time Arnold, who commanded at Montreal, evacuated
the town and joined Sullivan's army at St. John's.
Had the English pushed forward with any energy the whole of the American
army of invasion would have fallen into their hands. They were
completely broken in spirits, suffering terribly from sickness, and were
wholly incapable of making any defense. Burgoyne, who commanded the
advance of the English army, moved forward very slowly, and the
Americans were enabled to take to their boats and cross, first to
Isle-aux-Noix and then to Crown Point. An American historian, who saw
them after they landed, says: "At the sight of so much privation and
distress I wept until I had no more power to weep. I did not look into a
tent or hut in which I did not find either a dead or dying man. Of about
5000 men full half were invalids. In little more than two months they
had lost by desertion and death more than 5000 men."
Captain Wilson and his company were not present with the advance of the
British troops. General Howe, after evacuating Boston, had sailed with
his army to Halifax, there to wait until a large body of re-enforcements
should be sent in the spring from England. General Carleton had, in his
dispatches, mentioned favorably the services which the little company of
loyalists from Boston had performed, and Lord Howe wrote requesting that
the company should be sent down by ship to Halifax, as he was about to
sail from New York to undertake operations on a large scale, and should
be glad to have with him a body of men accustomed to scouting and
acquainted with the country. Accordingly, the company was embarked in a
transport and reached Halifax early in June. On the 11th they sailed
with the army and arrived at Sandy Hook on the 29th. On July 3 the army
landed on Staten Island, opposite Long Island, and soon afterward Lord
Howe, brother of General Howe, arrived with the main army from England,
raising the total force to nearly 30,000 men. It consisted of two
battalions of light infantry, two of grenadiers, the Fourth, Fifth,
Tenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-seventh,
Thirty-fifth, Thirty-eighth, Fortieth, Forty-second, Forty-third,
Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, Forty-ninth, Fifty-second, Fifty-fifth,
Sixty-third, and Sixty-fourth regiments of foot, part of the Forty-sixth
and Seventy-first regiments, and the Seventeenth Regiment of light
dragoons. There were, besides, two battalions of volunteers from New
York, each 1000 strong. Had this force arrived, as it should have done,
three months earlier, it might have achieved great things; but the delay
had enabled the Americans to make extensive preparations to meet the
Lord Howe brought with him a communication from Parliament, giving him
and his brother full power to treat with the Americans on any terms
which they might think fit. Upon his arrival Lord Howe addressed a
letter to Dr. Franklin, informing him of the nature of his
communication, expressing hopes that he would find in America the same
disposition for peace that he brought with him, and requesting his aid
to accomplish the desired end. Dr. Franklin, in answer, informed Lord
Howe that, "prior to the consideration of any proposition for friendship
or peace, it would be required that Great Britain should acknowledge the
independence of America, should defray the expense of the war, and
indemnify, the colonists for all damages committed."
After such a reply as this Lord Howe had no alternative but to commence
hostilities, which he did by landing the army in Gravesend Bay, Long
Island. The enemy offered no opposition to the landing, but retreated at
once, setting fire to all the houses and granaries, and taking up a
position on the wooded heights which commanded the line by which the
English must advance.
The American main force, 15,000 strong, was posted on a peninsula
between Mill Creek and Wallabout Bay, and had constructed a strong line
of intrenchments across the end of the peninsula. The intrenchments were
strengthened by abattis and flanked by strong redoubts. Five thousand
remained to guard this post, and 10,000, under General Puttenham,
advanced to hold the line of wooded hills which run across the island.
In the center of the plain, at the foot of these hills, stood the
village of Flatbush.
The Hessian division of the British army, under General De Heister,
advanced against this, while General Clinton, with the right wing of the
English army, moved forward to attack the enemy's left.
This force marched at nine o'clock at night on August 26; General Sir
William Howe himself accompanied it. The line of hills trended away
greatly to the left, and the enemy had neglected to secure the passes
over the hills on this flank; consequently, at nine o'clock in the
morning, the British passed the range of hills without resistance, and
occupied Bedford in its rear. Had Sir William Howe now pushed on
vigorously, the whole of Puttenham's force must have been captured.
In the meantime the Hessians from Flatbush attacked the center of the
Americans, and after a warm engagement, routed them and drove them into
the woods with a loss of three pieces of cannon.
On the British left General Grant also advanced, and at midnight carried
a strong pass on the enemy's left. Retiring, they held a still stronger
position further back and offered a fierce resistance until the fires at
Bedford showed that the English had obtained a position almost in their
rear, when they retreated precipitately.
[Illustration: Sketch of the British Position on Long Island.]
The victory was a complete one, but it had none of the consequences
which would have attended it had the English pushed forward with
energy after turning the American left. Six pieces of cannon were
captured and 2000 men killed or taken prisoners. The English lost 70
killed and 230 wounded.
So impetuously did the English attack that even Sir William Howe
admitted that they could have carried the intrenchments. He alleges he
did not permit them to do so, because he intended to take the position
by regular approaches and wished therefore to avoid the loss of life
which an immediate assault would have occasioned. On the 27th and 28th
regular approaches were commenced, but on the 29th, under cover of a
fog, the Americans embarked in boats and succeeded in carrying the whole
of their force, without the loss of a man, across to the mainland.
The escape of this body of men was disgraceful in the extreme to the
English commanders. They had a great fleet at their disposal, and had
they placed a couple of frigates in the East River, between Long Island
and New York, the escape would have been impossible, and General
Washington and his army of 15,000 men must have been taken prisoners.
Whether this misfortune would have proved conclusive of the war it is
now too late to speculate; but so splendid an opportunity was never
before let slip by an English general, and the negligence was the more
inexcusable inasmuch as the fleet of boats could be seen lying alongside
of the American position. Their purpose must have been known, and they
could at any moment have been destroyed by the guns of a ship-of-war
taking up its position outside them.
Lord Howe dispatched the American General Sullivan, who had been taken
prisoner on Long Island, to Congress, repeating his desire to treat. A
committee of three members accordingly waited on Lord Howe, who informed
them that it was the most ardent wish of the king and the government of
Great Britain to put an end to the dissatisfaction between the mother
country and the colonists. To accomplish this desire every act of
Parliament which was considered obnoxious to the colonists should
undergo a revisal, and every just cause of complaint should be removed,
if the colonists would declare their willingness to submit to the
authority of the British government. The committee replied that it was
not America which had separated herself from Great Britain, but Great
Britain had separated herself from America. The latter had never
declared herself independent until the former had made war upon her, and
even if Congress were willing to place America in her former situation,
it could not do so, as the Declaration of Independence had been made in
consequence of the congregated voice of the whole people, by whom alone
it could be abolished. The country was determined not to return under
the domination of England.
The negotiations were therefore broken off. Lord Howe published a
declaration to the people of America, giving the answer of the committee
to his offer of reconciliation. He acquainted them with the fact that
the parent country was willing to receive into its bosom and protection
all who might be willing to return to their former obedience. In taking
this step, Lord Howe was convinced that a majority of the inhabitants of
America were still willing to enter into an accommodation of the
differences between the two powers, and the conviction was not ill
founded. The declaration, however, produced but little effect, for the
dominant section, that resolved to break off all connection with
England, had acquired the sole management of affairs, and no offers
which could possibly have been made would have been accepted by them.
Convinced that all further negotiations would be ineffectual, Lord Howe
prepared to carry his army across from Long Island to New York, where
the American army had taken up their post after the retreat from Long
Island. The armies were separated by the East River, with a breadth of
about thirteen hundred yards. A cannonade was kept up for several days.
On September 13 some ships-of-war were brought up to cover the passage.
Washington, seeing the preparations, began to evacuate the city and to
abandon the strong intrenchments which he had thrown up. At eleven
o'clock on the morning of the 15th the men-of-war opened a heavy fire,
and Clinton's division, consisting of 4000 men in eighty-four boats,
sailed up the river, landed on Manhattan Island at a place called Kipp's
Bay, and occupied the heights of Inclenberg, the enemy abandoning their
intrenchments at their approach. General Washington rode toward Kipp's
Bay to take command of the troops stationed there, but found the men who
had been posted at the lines running away, and the brigades which should
have supported them flying in every direction, heedless of the exertions
of their generals.
Puttenham's division of 4000 men was still in the lower city, and would
be cut off unless the British advance should be checked. Washington
therefore made the greatest efforts to rally the fugitives and to get
them to make a stand to check the advancing enemy, but in vain; for, as
soon as even small bodies of redcoats were seen advancing, they broke
and fled in panic.
Howe, as usual, delayed giving orders for an advance, and thus permitted
the whole of Puttenham's brigade, who were cut off and must have been
taken prisoners, to escape unharmed. And thus, with comparatively little
loss, the Americans drew off, leaving behind them only a few heavy
cannon and some bayonets and stores.
So rapid had been their flight at the approach of the English that only
fifteen were killed, two men falling on the English side.
THE SURPRISE OF TRENTON.
The Americans, finding that they were not pursued, rallied from their
panic and took up a position at Harlem and Kingsbridge. So great was the
disorganization among them that had the British advanced at once they
would have taken the place with scarcely any loss, strong as it was by
nature and by the intrenchments which Washington had prepared. Great
numbers deserted, disputes broke out between the troops of the various
States, insubordination prevailed, and the whole army was utterly
disheartened by the easy victories which the British had obtained over
them. Washington reported the cowardice of his troops to Congress, who
passed a law inflicting the punishment of death for cowardice.
Before leaving New York the Americans had made preparations for burning
the whole town, but the speediness of their retreat prevented the
preparations being carried into effect. Fire was set to it in several
places and a third of the town was destroyed.
The position taken up by the enemy was so strong that it was determined
to operate in the rear. Some redoubts were thrown up to cover New York
during the absence of the main part of the British force.
A portion of the British army was landed at a point threatening the
retreat of the Americans, and a series of skirmishes of no great
importance took place. The enemy fell back from their most advanced
works, but no general move was undertaken, although, as the numbers on
both sides were about even and the superior fighting powers of the
English had been amply demonstrated, there could have been no doubt as
to the result of a general battle. Lord Howe, however, wasted the time
in a series of petty movements, which, although generally successful,
had no influence upon the result and served only to enable the Americans
to recover from the utter depression which had fallen upon them after
the evacuation of Long Island and the loss of New York.
Gradually the Americans fell back across a country so swampy and
difficult that it was now no longer possible to bring on a general
action. Their retreat had the effect of isolating the important
positions of Kingsbridge and Fort Washington. The latter post was of the
utmost importance, inasmuch as it secured the American intercourse with
the Jersey shore. The fortifications were very strong and stood upon
rising and open ground. It was garrisoned by 3000 of the best American
troops under the command of Colonel Magaw. Washington was gradually
withdrawing his army, and had already given orders that Fort Washington
should be evacuated; but General Lee, who was second in command, so
strongly urged that it should be retained that, greatly against his own
judgment, he was obliged to consent to its being defended, especially as
Colonel Magaw insisted that the fort could stand a siege. On the night
of November 14 the British passed some troops across the creek, and Lord
Howe summoned the place to surrender on pain of the garrison being put
to the sword. Magaw had upon the previous day received large numbers of
re-enforcements, and replied that he should defend the fort. Soon after
daybreak on the 16th the artillery opened on both sides. Five thousand
Hessians, under the command of General Knyphausen, moved up the hill,
penetrated some of the advanced works of the enemy, and took post within
a hundred yards of the fort. The second division, consisting of the
guards and light infantry, with two battalions of Hessians and the
Thirty-third Regiment, landed at Island Creek, and after some stiff
fighting forced the enemy from the rocks and trees up the steep and
rugged mountain. The third and fourth divisions fought their way up
through similar defenses. So steep was the hill that the assailants
could only climb it by grasping the trees and bushes, and so obstinate
was the defense that the troops were sometimes mixed up together.
The bravery and superior numbers of the British troops bore down all
resistance, and the whole of the four divisions reached their places
round the fort. They then summoned it to surrender, and its commander,
after half an hour's consideration, seeing the impossibility of
resisting the assault which was threatened, opened the gates.
Upon the English side about 800 men were killed and wounded, of whom the
majority were Hessians. These troops fought with extreme bravery. The
American loss, owing to their superior position, was about 150 killed
and wounded, but the prisoners taken amounted to over 3000.
On the 18th Lord Howe landed a strong body on the Jersey shore under
Lord Cornwallis, who marched to Fort Lee and surprised it. A deserter
had informed the enemy of his approach and the garrison had fled in
disorder, leaving their tents, provisions, and military stores behind
them. Lord Cornwallis, pushing forward with great energy, drove the
Americans out of New Jersey. Another expedition occupied Rhode Island.
Cold weather now set in and the English went into winter quarters. Their
success had been complete, without a single check, and had they been led
vigorously the army of Washington might on two occasions have been
wholly destroyed. In such a case the moderate portion of the population
of the colonies would have obtained a hearing, and a peace honorable to
both parties might have been arrived at.
The advantage gained by the gallantry of the British troops was,
however, entirely neutralized by the lethargy and inactivity of their
general, and the colonists had time given them to recover from the alarm
which the defeat of their troops had given them, to put another army in
the field, and to prepare on a great scale for the following campaign.
The conduct of General Howe in allowing Washington's army to retire
almost unmolested was to the officers who served under him
unaccountable. His arrangements for the winter were even more singularly
defective. Instead of concentrating his troops he scattered them over a
wide extent of country at a distance too great to support each other,
and thus left it open to the enemy to crush them in detail.
General Howe now issued a proclamation offering a free pardon to all who
surrendered, and great numbers of colonists came in and made their
submission. Even in Philadelphia the longing for peace was so strong
that General Washington was obliged to send a force there to prevent the
town from declaring for England.
During the operations which had taken place since the landing of the
British troops on Long Island Captain Wilson's company had taken but
little part in the operations. All had been straightforward work and
conducted on the principles of European warfare. The services of the
volunteers as scouts had not, therefore, been called into requisition.
The success which at first attended the expedition had encouraged
Captain Wilson to hope, for the first time since the outbreak of the
Revolution, that the English might obtain such decisive successes that
the colonists would be willing to accept some propositions of peace such
as those indicated by Lord Howe--a repeal of all obnoxious laws, freedom
from any taxation except that imposed by themselves, and a recognition
of the British authority. When he saw that Lord Howe, instead of
actively utilizing the splendid force at his disposal, frittered it away
in minor movements and allowed Washington to withdraw with his beaten
army unmolested, his hopes again faded, and he felt that the colonists
would in the long run succeed in gaining all that they contended for.
When the army went into winter quarters the company was ordered to take
post on the Delaware. There were four frontier posts, at Trenton,
Bordentown, White Horse, and Burlington. Trenton, opposite to which lay
Washington with the main body of his army, was held by only 1200
Hessians, and Bordentown, which was also on the Delaware, was, like
Trenton, garrisoned by these troops. No worse choice could have been
made. The Hessians were brave soldiers, but their ignorance of the
language and of the country made them peculiarly unsuitable troops for
outpost work, as they were unable to obtain any information. As
foreigners, too, they were greatly disliked by the country people.
Nothing was done to strengthen these frontier posts, which were left
wholly without redoubts or intrenchments into which the garrison could
withdraw in case of attack.
Captain Wilson's little company were to act as scouts along the line of
frontier. Their headquarters were fixed at Bordentown, where Captain
Wilson obtained a large house for their use. Most of the men were at
home at work of this kind, and Peter Lambton, Ephraim, and the other
frontiersmen were dispatched from time to time in different directions
to ascertain the movements and intentions of the enemy. Harold asked
his father to allow him, as before, to accompany Peter. The inactivity
of a life at a quiet little station was wearisome, and with Peter he
was sure of plenty of work, with a chance of adventure. The life of
exercise and activity which he had led for more than a year had
strengthened his muscles and widened his frame, and he was now able to
keep up with Peter, however long and tiresome the day's work might be.
Jake, too, was of the party. He had developed into an active soldier,
and although he was but of little use for scouting purposes, even Peter
did not object to his accompanying him, for the negro's unfailing good
temper and willingness to make himself useful had made him a favorite
with the scout.
The weather was now setting in exceedingly cold. The three men had more
than once crossed the Delaware in a canoe and scouted in the very heart
of the enemy's country. They were now sitting by the bank, watching some
drifting ice upon the river.
"There won't be many more passages of the river by water," Peter
remarked. "Another ten days, and it'll be frozen across."
"Then we can cross on foot, Peter."
"Yes, we can do that," the scout said, "and so can the enemy. Ef their
general has got any interprise with him, and ef he can get them chaps as
he calls soldiers to fight, he'll be crossing over one of these nights
and capturing the hull of them Hessians at Trenton. What General Howe
means by leaving 'em there is more nor I can think; he might as well
have sent so many babies. The critters can fight, and fight well, too,
and they're good soldiers; but what's the good of 'em in a frontier
post? They know nothing of the country; they can't speak to the people,
nor ask no questions, nor find out nothing about what's doing the other
side of the river. They air no more than mere machines. What was wanted
was two or three battalions of light troops, who would make friends with
the country people and larn all that's doing opposite. If the Americans
are sharp they'll give us lots of trouble this winter, and you'll find
there won't be much sitting quiet for us at Bordentown. Fortunately
Bordentown and Trenton aint far apart, and one garrison ought to be able
to arrive to the assistance of the other before it's overpowered. We
shall see. Now, I propose that we cross again to-night and try and find
out what the enemy's doing. Then we can come back and manage for you to
eat your Christmas dinner with yer father, as you seem to have bent yer
mind upon that, though why it matters about dinner one day more than
another is more nor I can see."
That night the three scouts crossed the river in the canoe. Avoiding all
houses, they kept many miles straight on beyond the river and lay down
for a few hours before morning dawned; then they turned their faces the
other way and walked up to the first farmhouse they saw.
"Can we have a drink of milk?" the hunter asked.
"You can," the farmer replied, "and some breakfast if you like to pay
for it. At first I was glad to give the best I had to those who came
along, but there have been such numbers going one way and the other,
either marching to join the army or running away to return to their
homes, that I should be ruined if I gave to all comers."
"We're ready to pay," Peter said, drawing some money from his pocket.
"Then come in and sit down."
In a few minutes an excellent breakfast was put before them.
"You are on your way to join the army, of course?" the farmer asked.
"Jest that," Peter replied. "We think it's about our time to do a little
shooting, though I don't suppose there'll be much done till the spring."
"I don't know," the farmer said. "I should not be surprised if the
general wakes up them Germans when the Delaware gets frozen. I heard
some talk about it from some men who came past yesterday. Their time was
expired, they said, and they were going home. I hear, too, that they are
gathering a force down near Mount Holly, and I reckon that they are
going to attack Bordentown."
"Is that so?" Peter asked. "In that case we might as well tramp in that
direction. It don't matter a corn-shuck to us where we fight, so as it's
soon. We've come to help lick these British, and we means to do it."
"Ah!" the farmer said, "I have heard that sentiment a good many times,
but I have not seen much come of it yet. So far, it seems to me as the
licking has been all the other way."
"That's so," Peter agreed. "But everyone knows that the Americans are
just the bravest people on the face of the habitable arth. I reckon
their dander's not fairly up yet; but when they begin in arnest you'll
see what they'll do."
The farmer gave a grunt which might mean anything. He had no strong
sympathies either way, and the conduct of the numerous deserters and
disbanded men who had passed through his neighborhood had been far from
impressing him favorably.
"I don't pretend to be strong either for the Congress or the king. I
don't want to be taxed, but I don't see why the colonists should not pay
something toward the expenses of the government; and now that Parliament
seems willing to give all we ask for, I don't see what we want to go on
"Waal!" Peter exclaimed in a tone of disgust, "you're one of the
"I am like the great majority of the people of this country. We are of
English stock and we don't want to break with the Old Country; but the
affairs have got into the hands of the preachers, and the newspaper men,
and the chaps that want to push themselves forward and make their pile
out of the war. As I read it, it's just the civil war in England over
again. We were all united at the first against what we considered as
tyranny on the part of the Parliament, and now we have gone setting up
demands which no one dreamed of at first and which most of us object to
now, only we have no longer the control of our own affairs."
"The great heart of this country beats for freedom," Peter Lambton said.
"Pooh!" said the farmer contemptuously. "The great heart of the country
wants to work its farms and do its business quietly. The English general
has made fair offers, which might well be accepted; and as for freedom,
there was no tyranny greater than that of the New England States. As
long as they managed their own affairs there was neither freedom of
speech nor religion. No, sir; what they call freedom was simply the
freedom to make everyone else do and think like the majority."
"Waal, we won't argue it out," Peter said, "for I'm not good at
argument, and I came here to fight and not to talk. Besides, I want
to get to Mount Holly in time to jine in this battle, so I guess
we'll be moving."
Paying for the breakfast, they started at once in the direction of Mount
Holly, which lay some twenty-five miles away. As they approached the
place early in the afternoon they overtook several men going in the same
direction. They entered into conversation with them, but could only
learn that some 450 of the militia from Philadelphia and the counties of
Gloucester and Salem had arrived on the spot. The men whom they had
overtaken were armed countrymen who were going to take a share in the
fight on their own account.
Entering the place with the others, Peter found that the information
given him was correct.
"We better be out of this at once," he said to Harold, "and make for
"You don't think that there is much importance in the movement," Harold
said as they tramped along.
"There aint no importance whatever," Peter said, "and that's what I want
to tell 'em. They're never thinking of attacking the two thousand
Hessians at Bordentown with that ragged lot."
"But what can they have assembled them for within twelve miles of the
place?" Harold asked.
"It seems to me," the hunter replied, "that it's jest a trick to draw
the Germans out from Bordentown and so away from Trenton. At any rate,
it's well that the true account of the force here should be known.
These things gets magnified, and they may think that there's a hull
It was getting dusk when they entered Bordentown, and Harold was glad
when he saw the little town, for since sunset on the evening before they
had tramped nearly sixty miles. The place seemed singularly quiet. They
asked the first person they met what had become of the troops, and they
were told that Colonel Donop, who commanded, had marched an hour before
with his whole force of 2000 men toward Mount Holly, leaving only 80 men
in garrison at Bordentown.
"We are too late," Harold said. "They have gone by the road and we kept
straight through the woods and so missed them."
"Waal, I hope no harm 'ill come of it. I suppose they mean to attack at
daylight, and in course that rabble will run without fighting. I hope,
when the colonel sees as how thar's no enemy ther worth speaking of,
he'll march straight back again."
Unfortunately this was not the case. The militia, according to their
orders, at once dispersed when their outposts told them of the approach
of the British, but the German officer, instead of returning instantly,
remained for two days near Mount Holly, and so gave time to Washington
to carry out his plans.
Captain Wilson's company had gone out with the force, and Peter and his
companions had the house to themselves that night. Harold slept late,
being thoroughly fatigued by his long march the day before, carrying his
rifle, blanket, and provisions. Peter woke him at last.
"Now, young un, you've had a good sleep; it's eleven o'clock. I'm off to
Trenton to see what's doing there. Will you go with me, or will you stop
here on the chance of eating your dinner with your father?"
"Oh, it's Christmas Day," Harold said, stretching. "Well, what do you
think, Peter--are they likely to come back or not?"
"They ought to be back, there's no doubt about that, but whether they
will or not is a different affair altogether. I've never seed them hurry
themselves yet, not since the war began; things would have gone a good
deal better if they had; but time never seems of no consequence to them.
They marched twelve miles last night, and I reckon it's likely they'll
halt to-day and won't be back till to-morrow. I feel oneasy in my mind
about the whole affair, for I can't see a single reason for the enemy
sending that weak force to Mount Holly, unless it was to draw away the
troops from here, and the only motive there could be for that would be
because they intended to attack Trenton."
"Very well, Peter, I will go with you."
Accompanied by Jake they set out at once for Trenton. On arriving there
they found no particular signs of vigilance. Since the Hessians had
reached Trenton their discipline had much relaxed. A broad river
separated them from the enemy, who were known to be extremely
discontented and disorganized. They had received instruction on no
account to cross the river to attack the colonials, and the natural
consequence of this forced inactivity had manifested itself. Discipline
was lax, and but a slight watch was kept on the movements of the enemy
across the stream. Ignorant of the language of the people, they were
incapable of distinguishing between those who were friendly and those
who were hostile to the Crown, and they behaved as if in a conquered
country; taking such necessaries as they required without payment, and
even sending parties to a considerable distance on plundering
Peter, on his arrival, proceeded to the headquarters of Colonel Rhalle,
who was in command--an officer of great bravery and energy. One of his
officers was able to speak English, and to him Peter reported the
departure of the force from Bordentown, of which Colonel Rhalle was
already aware, and the weakness of the American force at Mount Holly.
He stated, also, his own belief that it was merely a feint to draw off
Colonel Donop, and that preparatory to an attack on Trenton. The
officer treated the information lightly, and pointing to the mass of
ice floating down the river asked whether it would be possible for
boats to cross.
"When the river freezes," he said, "there may be some chance of attack.
Till then we are absolutely safe."
Peter, shaking his head, rejoined his companions and told them of the
manner in which his advice had been received.
"But it would be difficult to cross the river," Harold said. "Look at
the masses of ice on the water."
"It would be difficult," the hunter admitted, "but not by no manner of
means impossible. Determined men could do it. Waal, I've done my duty
and can do no more. Ef the night passes off quietly we'll cross again
before daybreak and go right into the Yankee camp and see what they're
up to. Now, Harold, you can take it easy till nightfall; there's naught
to be learned till then, and as we shall be on foot all night ye may as
well sleep to-day."
Returning to a spot on the banks of the river at a short distance from
the town, they made a fire, on which Jake cooked some steaks of
venison they had procured. After smoking a pipe, the hunter set the
example by stretching himself on the ground near the fire and going to
sleep. Used as he was to night marches, he had acquired the faculty of
going to sleep at any hour at will. Jake and Harold were some time
before they followed his example, but they too were at last asleep. At
sunset they were on their feet again, and after taking supper
proceeded along the river.
The night passed off quietly, and Harold became convinced that his
companion's fears were unfounded. Toward morning he suggested that it
was time to be crossing the river.
"I'm not going yet," the hunter said. "Before I start we'll go down to
Trenton Ferry, a mile below the town. Ef they come over at all, it's
likely enough to be there. There'll be time then to get back and cross
before it's light; It's six o'clock now."
They kept along the road by the river until they were within a quarter
of a mile of the ferry. Presently they saw a dark mass ahead.
"Jerusalem!" Peter exclaimed. "There they are."
They immediately discharged their rifles and ran back at full speed to
the outposts, which were but a quarter of a mile from the town. The
Americans had also pressed forward at full speed, and the outposts, who
had been alarmed by the discharge of the rifles, were forced at once to
abandon the post and to run into the town, whither they had, on hearing
the rifles, already sent in one of their number with the news. Here all
was in confusion. The Hessian leader was trying to collect his troops,
who were hurrying in from their quarters, but many of them thought more
of storing their plunder away in the wagons than of taking their places
in the ranks.
Washington had crossed with 2500 men and a few field-pieces, and upon
gaining the Jersey side had divided his troops into two detachments, one
of which marched by the river side, the other by an upper road. Hurrying
forward they surrounded the town, and placing their field-pieces in the
road, opened fire on the astonished Hessians. Rhalle had by this time
succeeded in assembling the greater part of his force and charged the
Americans with his usual courage. He received, however, a mortal wound
as he advanced. His troops immediately lost heart, and finding their
retreat cut off at once surrendered. A body of Hessian light horse
succeeded in making their escape. The casualties were few on either
side, but 1000 prisoners were taken. Two other divisions of the
Americans had attempted to cross, the one at Bordentown, the other at
Mackenzie's Ferry, but both had failed, owing to the quantity of
floating ice. Washington retired across the Delaware the same afternoon.
The consequences of this success were great. The spirits of the
Americans, which had fallen to the lowest ebb in consequence of the
uninterrupted series of defeats, rose greatly. They found that the
British were not invincible, and that, if unable to oppose them in great
battles, they might at least inflict heavy losses on them and weary them
out with skirmishes and surprises. The greatest joy reigned throughout
the various States; fresh levies were ordered; the voices of the
moderate party, which had been gaining strength, were silenced, and the
determination to continue the war vigorously was in the ascendency.
The lesson given at Trenton was wholly lost upon the English
commander-in-chief. Instead of at once ordering General Leslie to
advance from Princeton and to hold the enemy in check by reoccupying and
fortifying Trenton, he allowed Colonel Donop to abandon Bordentown and
to fall back to Princeton--thus laying it open to Washington to cross
the Delaware again and carry the war into New Jersey. Washington, after
waiting eight days, seeing the indecision and ineptitude of the British
general, again crossed with 4000 men and occupied Trenton.
Peter Lambton and his two companions were not among the prisoners
taken at Trenton. On entering the town Harold was about to join the
Hessians assembling under Colonel Rhalle, but Peter gave a violent tug
to his coat.
"Come along, young un!" he said. "The darned fools have let themselves
be caught in a trap and they'll find there's no way out of it. In ten
minutes the Americans will be all round the place, and as I don't wish
to spend a year or two in a Yankee prison at present, I'm going to make
tracks at once. Fighting aren't no good now. Men who'll let 'emselves
be caught in a trap like this'll never be able to cut their way out of
it. Come on!"
Much against his will Harold yielded to Peter's wishes, and the three
kept straight on through the town by the river side and issued into the
country beyond before the Americans had surrounded it. A minute or two
after leaving the town the light horse galloped past.
"There are some more out of the hole, and I reckon that's about all.
There, do you hear the guns? The Yanks have brought their artillery
over--I reckon the fight won't last long."
For two or three minutes there was a roar of musketry; then this
"I thought as much," Peter said. "They've surrendered. If they had only
kept together and fought well, they should have cut their way through
the enemy. Lord! what poor things regular soldiers are in the dark! A
frontiersman would just as soon fight in the dark as in the light; but
here are the men who climbed up the hill to Fort Washington--and that
was no child's play--no better nor a pack of women when they're attacked
half-asleep and half-awake, just as day is breaking."
The three comrades walked to Bordentown, which, they were relieved to
find, had not been attacked. A few miles beyond this place they met
Colonel Donop marching back at full speed with his corps, having
received the news of the disaster at Trenton from the horsemen who had
fled. They joined their company and marched to Princeton.
A fortnight later Lord Cornwallis, with the forces at Brunswick, under
General Grant, advanced to Princeton and then moved forward to attack
the army at Trenton. General Washington on his approach retired from the
town and, crossing a rivulet at the back of it, took post on some high
ground there, with the apparent intention of defending himself against
an attack. It was late in the afternoon, and a heavy cannonade was kept
up till night-time. Lord Cornwallis determined to attack next morning.
At two in the morning Washington retired suddenly, leaving his fires
burning. Quitting the main road he made a long circuit through Allentown
and marched with all speed toward Princeton, which place he intended to
surprise. When Lord Cornwallis advanced he had left the Seventeenth,
Fortieth, and Fifty-fifth regiments there.
On arriving at Trenton he had sent word back for the Seventeenth and
Fifty-fifth to advance to Maidenhead, a village halfway between
Princeton and Trenton. Colonel Mawhood, who commanded, marched at
daylight, but scarcely had he started when he met Washington advancing
with his army. The morning was foggy, and it was at first supposed that
the enemy were a body of British troops marching back to Princeton, but
it was soon found that the force was a hostile one. Its strength could
not be seen on account of the fog, and he determined to engage it.
Possessing himself of some high ground, he sent his wagons back to
Princeton and ordered the Fortieth Regiment to come out to his
As the Americans advanced, the artillery on both sides opened fire. The
leading columns of the colonists soon snowed signs of disorder. The
Seventeenth Regiment fixed bayonets and with great gallantry charged the
enemy in front of them, driving them back with considerable slaughter;
and so far did they advance that they were separated from the other
battalions, and cutting their way through the American force the
regiment pursued its march to Maidenhead. The Fortieth and Fifty-fifth
fought stoutly, but were unable to make their way through the American
force, and fell back to Brunswick, while the Americans occupied
Princeton. At daybreak Lord Cornwallis discovered the retreat of the
American army, and being apprehensive for the safety of Brunswick, where
great stores of the army were accumulated, marched with all haste toward
Brigadier Matthew, the officer commanding there, on hearing of the
approach of the enemy, at once dispatched the store wagons toward the
rear and drew up his small command to defend the place to the last. The
gallant resistance before Princeton had delayed the Americans so long
that the van of the army of Cornwallis was already close to their rear
as they approached Brunswick. Seeing this, Washington abandoned his
design on that town and crossed the Millstone River, breaking down the
bridge at Kingston to stop pursuit.
Washington now overran East and West Jersey, penetrated into Essex
County, and making himself master of the country opposite to Staten
Island, thus regained almost all the district which the English had
taken from him in the autumn.
All this greatly heightened the spirit and courage of the Americans,
while the loyalists and the English troops were disheartened and
disgusted at seeing an army of 30,000 fine troops kept inactive, while
the enemy, with but 4000 men, who were wholly incapable of opposing an
equal number of English troops, were allowed to wander unchecked, to
attack and harass the English pickets, and to utilize the whole of the
resources of their country. Had General Howe entertained a fixed desire
to see English authority overthrown in America he could not have acted
in a manner more calculated to carry those wishes into effect.
A TREACHEROUS PLANTER.
It must not be supposed that the whole of the time was spent in scouting
and fighting. Between the armies lay a band of no man's land. Here, as
elsewhere, the people of the country were divided in their opinions, but
generally made very little display of these, whatever they might be. It
is true that, as a rule, non-combatants were but little interfered with;
still, a warm and open display of sympathy with one side or the other
was likely to be attended by the loss of cattle and damage to crops when
the other party got the upper hand. In some other States feeling ran
much higher. In the Carolinas the royalists were most cruelly
persecuted. Their property was destroyed and they were, in many cases,
shot down without mercy; but generally, throughout the colonies, a
considerable latitude of opinion was allowed. This was especially so in
the zone between the armies in the Jerseys. None could tell what the
positions of the armies a week hence might be, and any persecution
inflicted by the one party might lead to retaliation upon a shift of
positions a few weeks later. A general toleration therefore reigned.
Next to Peter Lambton, Harold's greatest friend in the corps was a young
man named Harvey. He was of good family and belonged to New York. Being
a strong loyalist, he had, like many other gentlemen, enlisted for
service under the old flag. He had, naturally, many acquaintances among
the county families, and Harold often accompanied him in his visits to
one or other of them.
During the winter, when things were quiet, the duties of the scouts were
light, and it was the habit among them that one-third should be on
outpost duty at a time, the rest being free to move about as they liked.
The scouts had no fixed order of position. They went out alone or in
twos or threes, as it pleased them, their duty simply being to watch
everything that was going on along the enemy's line of outposts, to
bring the earliest news of any intended movements, and to prevent
dashing parties of the enemy's horsemen from making raids into or behind
the British lines. They were not, of course, expected to check bodies of
cavalry starting on a raid, but simply to obtain information of their
having left their lines and of the direction taken, and then to hurry
back to the British posts, whence a force of cavalry would be sent out
to intercept or check the invaders. Many dashing exploits were performed
by the cavalry on both sides in the way of getting behind their
opponents' quarters, cutting off provision trains, attacking small
posts, and carrying off straggling parties.
One of the houses to which Harold used most frequently to accompany his
friend Harvey was situated nearly halfway between the rival armies, and
was about eight miles from either. The owner--Mr. Jackson--was a man of
considerable wealth, and the house was large and well appointed. He had,
before the troubles began, a fine business as a lawyer in New York; but,
as the outbreak of hostilities put a stop to all business of a legal
kind in that city, he had retired to his country house. Although himself
born in England, he professed to be entirely neutral, but his family
were undisguisedly loyal. It consisted of his wife and two daughters,
girls of seventeen and eighteen years old.
When the English army advanced to the neighborhood of his property Mr.
Jackson was always ready to offer his hospitality to the officers of the
corps which might be stationed near him, and he similarly opened his
house to the Americans when they, in turn, advanced as the British
turned back. Being, as he always made a point of saying, perfectly
neutral in the struggle, he was glad to meet gentlemen, irrespective of
the opinions they held. The line taken by Mr. Jackson was the one which
was very largely pursued among the inhabitants of the country houses and
farms scattered over what was, throughout the war, a debatable land. So
frequent were the changes of the position of the armies that none could
say who might be in possession in a week's time, and it was, therefore,
an absolute necessity for those who wished to live unmolested to abstain
from any stronger show of partisanship.
As is always the case in struggles of this kind, the female population
were more enthusiastic in their partisanship and more pronounced in
their opinions than the men; and although, upon the arrival of a troop
of cavalry or a detachment of foot belonging to the other side, the
master of the house would impartially offer what hospitality he was
capable of, it was not difficult to perceive, by the warmth or coldness
of the female welcome, what were the private sentiments of the family.
Harold was not long in discovering, from the frequency with which Harvey
proposed an excursion to the Jacksons' and from his conduct there, that
Isabelle, the eldest daughter, was the object which mainly attracted
him. The families had long been friends, and Harvey, although now
serving as a simple scout, was of a position equal to her own. The
friends were always cordially received by Mr. Jackson, and Harold was
soon as intimate there as his comrade. They usually left their quarters
a little before dusk and started back late at night. Often as Mr.
Jackson pressed them to stay, they never accepted his invitation.
The scouts, from their activity and ubiquitousness, were the
_betes-noirs_ of the Americans, whose most secret plans were constantly
detected and foiled by the sagacity and watchfulness of these men, whose
unerring rifles made frequent gaps in the ranks of the officers. They
therefore spared no pains, whenever there was a chance, of killing or
capturing any of these most troublesome foes, and Harvey and Harold knew
that a report of their presence at the Jacksons' would suffice to bring
a party of horsemen from the American lines. Their visits, therefore,
were always made after dark, and at irregular intervals, and, in spite
of their inclination to the contrary they made a point of returning at
night to their quarters.
Other visitors were often present at the Jacksons', the sons and
daughters of neighbors, and there was generally music and singing, and
sometimes the young people stood up for a dance.
The scouts wore no regular uniform, although there was a general
similarity in their attire, which was that of an ordinary backwoods
hunter. When off duty they were allowed to dress as they pleased, and at
Mr. Jackson's the two friends were attired in the ordinary dress of
colonists of position. At these little gatherings political subjects
were never discussed, and a stranger spending an evening there would not
have dreamed that the house stood between two hostile armies; that at
any moment a party of horsemen belonging to one side or other might dash
into the courtyard, and that even those laughing and talking pleasantly
together might be of opinions diametrically opposed.
Harvey and Harold were introduced to visitors simply as friends from New
York, and, although the suspicions as to their character and position
might be strong, no one thought of asking questions.
"I do not like that fellow Chermside," Harvey said one night, as he and
his friend were returning to their quarters.
They were mounted; for, although when on duty the scouts worked on foot,
many of them, who were men of property, kept horses which they used when
not engaged. Harvey had two horses, and one of these was always at
"I am not surprised you don't like him," Harold replied with a laugh,
"and I imagine the dislike is mutual. When two gentlemen are paying
attentions to one young lady they seldom appreciate each other's merits
"I don't think it is entirely that," Harvey laughed. "Isabella and I
understand each other, and I have no fear of his rivalry; but I do not
"I do not think I like him myself," Harold said more seriously; "and yet
I do not know why I should not. When he has been there alone with us and
the family, he has frequently used expressions showing his strong
leaning toward the loyalists' side."
"I don't put much faith in that," Harvey said. "He knows how strongly
Mr. Jackson and the girls lean toward the Crown, and would say anything
that he thought would please Isabelle. I have spoken to her and she
thinks that he is sincere; in fact, she has rather a good opinion of
him. However, we shall see. It was rather curious that that party of
Morgan's cavalry should have ridden up the other night and searched the
house two hours after we left. You see, we had agreed to sleep there
that night, and only changed our minds after the others had all left,
when we remembered that we were both for duty early next morning. It
might have been a coincidence, of course, but it had an ugly look. I
think Mr. Jackson thought so, too, for he did not ask us to stop
to-night; anyhow, I wish Chermside's plantation was not so near this and
that he did not drop in so often."
A week later they paid another visit. When dinner was over Harold
was chatting with Mr. and Mrs. Jackson. Harvey was sitting at the
piano, where the eldest girl was playing, and the younger was
looking out of window.
"We are going to have another fall of snow," she said. "There is not a
star to be seen. Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly.
"What is it, my dear?" Mr. Jackson asked.
"There is a rocket gone up from the woods."
"A rocket!" Mr. Jackson repeated.
"Yes, papa; there are the stars falling now."
"That is a curious thing," Mr. Jackson said, while the others went
to the window. They stood watching for some minutes, but nothing
was to be seen.
"I do not like that rocket," Mr. Jackson said as they left the window.
"It means something. It can only be a signal. People don't let off
rockets for amusement nowadays. Did you meet anyone on the road?" "No,
sir," Harvey said, "not a soul."
"I do not like it," their host repeated. "It means mischief of some sort
or other. I do not wish to seem inhospitable, but my advice to you is,
get on your horses at once and ride to your quarters. You are on duty
to-morrow, and you told me you would pass near here on your way toward
the enemy's lines. You might look in as you go past and hear whether
anything came of it. If I mistake not, we shall have another visit from
Morgan's horse this evening."
Much against their inclination the young men followed Mr.
The next day they, with Peter and Jake, stopped at the house as
"I was right," their host said, as the two young men entered. "An hour
after you left twenty of Morgan's horse rode up here. They would not
take my word that we were alone, but searched the house from top to
bottom, and were evidently greatly disappointed at finding no one. I
have been making inquiries this morning and find that all the servants
were in the house at the time my daughter saw the rocket, so I hope that
I have no traitor here. Still, it is clear that someone must be keeping
watch over your movements."
"Have you asked, sir," Harvey said, after a pause, "whether anyone came
after we had arrived?"
"I do not see how anyone could come, but I will ask."
He rang the bell and a negro servant appeared.
"Did anyone come to the house yesterday, Caesar, after these gentleman
came--any beggar or peddler, or anyone of that sort?"
"No, sir; no one came except Massa Chermside. He get off his horse and
ask if you, hab any visitors. I said that Massa Harvey and Massa Wilson
were here. He say he call again another night when the family alone, and
"Just what I expected, sir," Harvey said, when the servant left the
room. "I have always doubted that fellow's honesty."
"Oh, nonsense!" Mr. Jackson replied. "You must be mad, Harvey.
Chermside's father was an old friend of mine, and I have known the young
fellow since he was a child. I should as soon suspect one of my own
daughters of being capable of such an act of gross treachery as laying a
plot to bring the American cavalry down upon guests of mine. The idea is
preposterous. Bless me, how amused the girls will be at your suspecting
their old playfellow!"
"I hope I may be mistaken, sir," Harvey said, "but Harold's opinion of
him agrees with mine; and, in talking it over last night, we both put
our finger on him as the man who fired the rocket. Well, now, we must be
pushing on. We are bound for the ford where Morgan's horse must have
come over, and shall hear from our fellows there whether they rode
straight here after crossing, as, if so, there can be no doubt whatever
that the rocket was a signal."
Upon arriving at the ford they found that Morgan's horse had only
crossed an hour before the time at which they arrived at Mr. Jackson's.
One of the scouts had instantly taken word to the nearest cavalry
outpost, but the enemy had recrossed the river before these had arrived
on the spot.
After three days on duty at the front, the party returned to their
lines, and the next time that the young men rode out to their friends
they took with them Jake and Peter, to whom they related the
The scouts proceeded on foot and separated from the others a mile before
reaching the house, having arranged that Peter should scout round it,
while Jake should proceed to the plantation of Mr. Chermside and keep a
sharp lookout there.
They had arranged with Mr. Jackson that no mention of the rocket should
be made to anyone, however intimate with the family.
"I am glad to see you again," the host said, as they entered the room
where the family were assembled, "although I own that these two raids of
Morgan's horse have made me uneasy. The girls have been immensely amused
at your suspicions of young Chermside."
"How could you think such a thing?" Isabelle said. "He was here on the
following evening, and was as indignant as we were at the thought of
treachery being at work. He quite agreed with us that the coming of the
Yankees could hardly have been accidental."
"You said nothing about the rocket, I hope?" Harvey asked.
"No, we kept quite silent about that, as you made such a point of it;
but it seemed ridiculous with him. But I shall be in a fright, now,
every time you come."
"We have brought two of our men with us," Harvey said, "and they are
scouting round, so we shall hear if another rocket goes up; and, even if
the person who let it up suspects that the last was seen,--as he might
do from our having left so suddenly,--and tries some other plan to warn
the enemy, we can trust our men to fire a shot and so give us warning in
time. We have told the groom not to take the saddles off the horses, as
we may stop but a short time."
At eight o'clock a disturbance was heard outside, and Jake entered the
room, dragging with him by main force the young planter.
"What is the meaning of this?" Mr. Jackson asked, as they rose from
their seats in surprise.
"Me tell you, sar," Jake answered. "Me had orders from Massa Harold to
watch outside ob de house ob dis feller and see what going on dere.
About half an hour after me got dere a nigger come along running from
dis direction. Dat no business of Jake's, so he stood in de trees and
let him pass. He go into de house; five minutes afterward dis feller he
come out and he walk away. Jake follow him bery quiet to see what him
after. He walk more dan a mile, den he get on to de oder side of dat big
hill; den me see him stop, and Jake tink it time to interfere, so he ran
up and catch him. He had put dis ting against a stump of a tree, and had
him pistol in him hand, and was on de point of firing it close to dis
ting, so as to light him."
As Jake spoke he held out a rocket. Several times while Jake had been
speaking the planter had tried to interrupt him, but each time Jake, who
had not released his hold of him, gave him so violent a shake that he
was fain to be silent.
"This is a scandalous indignity," he exclaimed furiously when Jake
finished. "What do you mean, sir," he demanded of Harvey, "by setting
this nigger to watch my abode? I will have satisfaction for this
"It seems, sir," Mr. Jackson said, signing to Harvey to be silent,
"that you have been detected in a gross act of treachery. My friends
have suspected you of it, but I indignantly denied it. Could we
believe, I and my family, that you, whom we have known as a child,
would betray our guests to the Americans? Loyalists and republicans are
alike welcome here. I do not ask my friends their opinions. My house is
neutral ground, and I did not think that anyone who used it would have
had the treachery to turn it into a trap; still less did I imagine you
would do so. These gentlemen would be perfectly within their right did
they take you out and hang you from the nearest tree; but, for my sake,
I trust that they will not do so; but should the American cavalry ever
again visit this house under circumstances which may lead it to be
supposed that they have been brought here to capture my guests, I shall
let them punish you as you deserve. No word of mine will be raised in
your favor. Now, sir, go, and never again enter this house, where the
loathing and contempt that I feel for you will, I know, be shared by
the ladies of my family."
At a nod from Harold Jake released his hold of the captive, who, without
a word, turned and left the room.
Not a word was spoken for a minute or two after he had left. The
youngest girl was the first to speak.
"The wretch!" she exclaimed. "To think that Herbert Chermside should
turn out such a mean traitor! Papa, I would have let them hang him at
once. It would have served him right. Now he may do us all harm."
"I do not know that you are not right, Ada," Mr. Jackson replied
gravely. "I am far from saying that I acted wisely. Young Chermside has
many friends among the Americans, and it is possible that he may work us
harm. However, my position as a neutral is well established. Officers on
both sides have at times been welcomed here, and his report, therefore,
that our friends here are often with us can do us no harm. Henceforth he
must be regarded as an enemy, and there will always be danger in these
visits. So long as the American outposts are within an hour's ride he
can have the road watched; and, although he is not likely to venture
upon signaling with rockets, he may send or take word on horseback. A
bonfire, too, might be lit at the other side of the hill to call them
over. Altogether you will never be safe from home except when you have a
strong body of your own troops between this and the river."
"I am glad to say," Harvey said, "that in consequence of the news of
Morgan's raids on this side a body of 200 infantry and a troop of
cavalry are to move to-morrow and take up their position by the ford, so
we shall be safe from any surprise from that direction."
"I am very glad to hear it," Mr. Jackson said. "It will relieve me of a
great anxiety. But pray be watchful when you are in this neighborhood.
You have made a bitter enemy, and, after what he has proved himself
capable of, we cannot doubt that he would hesitate at nothing. I
understand," he went on with a smile toward his eldest daughter, "what
is at the bottom of his conduct, and, as I have long suspected his hopes
in that quarter, I am not surprised that he is somewhat hostile to you.
Still, I never for a moment deemed him capable of this."
The next day Mr. Jackson learned that his neighbor had left his
plantation, and had told his servants that he was not likely to return
for some time.
Shortly after this a series of bad luck attended the doings of the
British scouts. Several parties were killed or captured by the enemy,
and they were constantly baffled by false reports, while the Americans
appeared to forestall all their movements. It was only when enterprises
were set on foot and carried out by small bodies that they were ever
successful, anything like combined action by the orders of the officers
constantly turning out ill.
"There must be a traitor somewhere," Peter said upon the return of a
party from an attempt which, although it promised well, had been
frustrated, to carry off a number of cattle from one of the American
depots. "It aint possible that this can be all sheer bad luck. It aint
no one in our company, I'll be bound. We aint had any new recruits
lately, and there aint a man among us whom I could not answer for. There
must be a black sheep in Gregory's or Vincent's corps. The enemy seem up
to every move, and, between us, we have lost more than thirty men in the
last few weeks. There aint no doubt about it--there's a traitor
somewhere and he must be a clever one, and he must have pals with him,
or he couldn't send news of what we are doing so quickly. It beats me
altogether, and the men are all furious."
"I've been talking with some of our men," Peter said a few days
afterward, "and we agree that we are bound to get to the bottom of this
matter. We're sartin sure that the traitor don't belong to us. What we
propose is this, that the hull of us shall go up together, without
saying a word to a soul, and scatter ourselves along the river at all
the points where a chap going with a message to the enemy would be
likely to cross. The night we go out we'll get the three captains all to
give orders to their men for an expedition, so that whoever it is that
sends messages from here would be sure to send over word to the Yankees;
and it'll be hard if we don't ketch him. What do you say?"
"I think the plan is a very good one," Harold answered. "If you like, I
will go with my father and ask Gregory and Vincent to send their men."
Captain Wilson at once went to these officers. They were as much
irritated and puzzled as were their men by the failures which had taken
place, and agreed that, next evening, an order should be issued for the
men of the three corps to act in combination, and to allow it to leak
out that they intended to surprise an American post situated near the
river, twenty-one miles distant. Captain Wilson's scouts, instead of
going with the others, were to act on their own account.
On the day arranged, as soon as it became dark, the forty scouts quietly
left their quarters in small parties and made their way toward the
river, striking it at the point where a messenger would be likely to
cross upon his way to give warning to the American post of the attack
intended to be made upon it. They took post along the river, at a
distance of fifty or sixty yards apart, and silently awaited the result.
Several hours passed and no sound broke the stillness of the woods. An
hour before dawn Peter Lambton heard a slight crack, as that of a
breaking twig. It was some distance back in the woods, but it seemed to
him, by the direction, that the man who caused it would strike the river
between himself and Jake, who was stationed next to him. He noiselessly
stole along toward the point. Another slight sound afforded him a sure
indication of the direction in which the man, whoever he might be, was
approaching. He hastened his steps, and a minute later a negro issued
from the wood close to him. He stood for an instant on the river bank
and was about to plunge in, when Peter threw his arms around him.
Although taken by surprise, the negro struggled desperately and would
have freed himself from the grip of the old scout had not Jake run up
instantly to his comrade's assistance. In a minute the negro was bound
and two shots were then fired, the concerted signal by which it would be
known along the line that a capture had been effected. In a few minutes
the whole body was assembled. The negro, who refused to answer any
questions, was carried far back into the woods and a fire was lighted.
"Now, nigger," Peter said, taking, as captor, the lead in the matter,
"jest tell us right away where you was going and who sent you."
The negro was silent.
"Now, look ye here, darky, you're in the hands of men who are no
jokers. Ef you tell us at once who put ye on to this trick no harm will
happen to you; but ef ye don't we'll jest burn the skin off your body,
bit by bit."
Still the negro was silent.
"Half a dozen of yez," Peter said, "as have got iron ramrods shove them
into the fire. We'll soon find this nigger's tongue."
Not a word was spoken until the ramrods were heated red-hot.
"Now," Peter said, "two of yez clap your ramrods against this
The negro struggled as the men approached him, and gave a terrific yell
as the hot iron was applied to his sides.
"I will tell you, sars--oh! have mercy upon me and I will tell you
"I thought," Peter said grimly, "that you'd find a tongue soon enough.
Now, then, who sent you?"
"My massa," the negro answered.
"And who is your master?"
The negro was again silent, but as, at a nod from Peter, the men again
raised the ramrods, he blurted out:
The name was known to many of the scouts, and a cry of anger broke
"I thought as much," Harvey said. "I suspected that scoundrel was at the
bottom of it all along. Where is he?" he asked the negro.
"Me not know, sar."
"You mean you won't say," Peter said. "Try the vartue of them
"No, no!" the negro screamed. "Me swear me do not know where him be. You
may burn me to death if you will, but I could not tell you."
"I think he is speaking the truth," Harvey said. "Wait a minute. Have
you done this before?" he asked the negro.
"Yes, sar. Eight or ten times me swim de river at night."
"With messages to the Americans?"
"Yes, sar; messages to American officers."
"Have you any written message--any letter?"
"No, sar, me never take no letter. Me only carry dis." And he took out
from his hair a tiny ball of paper smaller than a pea.
It was smoothed out, and upon it, were the words, "General Washington."
"Where I go, sar, I show dem dis, and dey know den dat de message can be
"But how do you get the message? How do you see your master?"
"Master's orders were dat me and two oders were to meet him ebery night,
after it got dark, at a tree a mile from de place where de soldiers are.
Sometimes he no come. When he come he gibs each of us a piece of money
and tell us to carry a message across the river. We start by different
ways, swim across de water in different places, take de message, and
come back to de plantation."
"A pretty business!" Peter said. "Now you must come back with us to the
post and tell your story to the commanding officer. Then we must see if
we can't lay hands on this rascally master of yours."
Upon the news being told, the general in command sent a party out, who,
after searching the house and out-buildings of the plantation in vain,
set fire to them and burned them to the ground. The negroes were all
carried away and employed to labor for the army. The town and all the
surrounding villages were searched, but no trace could be obtained of
the missing man. One of the men of Gregory's corps of scouts
disappeared. He had recently joined, but his appearance, as a man with
beard and whiskers, in no way agreed with that of the planter. He might,
however, have been disguised, and his disappearance was in itself no
proof against him, for the scouts were under no great discipline, and
when tired of the service often left without giving notice of their
intention of doing so. It was, moreover, possible that he might have
fallen by an enemy's bullet.
The strongest proof in favor of the deserter being Chermside was that,
henceforth, the scouts were again as successful as before, often
surprising the enemy successfully.
Now that the ford nearest Mr. Jackson's was strongly guarded, the young
men had no apprehension of any surprise, although such an event was just
possible, as the cavalry on both sides often made great circuits in
their raids upon each other's country. That Chermside was somewhere in
the neighborhood they believed; having, indeed, strong reason for doing
so, as a rifle was one evening fired at them from the wood as they rode
over, the ball passing between their heads. Pursuit, at the time, was
impossible. But the next day a number of scouts searched the woods
without success. Soon after they heard that Chermside had joined the
Americans and obtained a commission in a body of their irregular horse.
Harvey was now formally engaged to Isabelle Jackson, and it was settled
that the wedding should take place in the early spring at New York. When
not on duty he naturally spent a good deal of his time there, and Harold
was frequently with him. Since he had been fired at in the woods
Isabelle had been in the highest state of nervous anxiety lest her
lover's enemy should again try to assassinate him, and she begged Harold
always to come over with him, if possible, as the thought of his riding
alone through the wood filled her with anxiety.
Although he had no order to do so, Jake, whenever he saw Harold and his
friend canter off toward the Jacksons, shouldered his rifle and went out
after them to the house, where, so long as they stayed, he scouted round
and round with the utmost vigilance. Very often Harold was ignorant of
his presence there; but when, after his return, he found, by questioning
him, how he had been employed, he remonstrated with him on such
"Can't be too cautious, massa," Jake said. "You see dat fellow come one
of dese days."
Jake's presentiment turned out correct. One evening when, with several
friends, the young men were at Mr. Jackson's the sound of the report of
a rifle was heard at a short distance.
"That must be Jake's rifle!" Harold exclaimed.
"Quick, Harvey, to your horse!"
It was too late. As they reached the door a strong party of American
cavalry dashed up to it.
"Surround the house!" an officer shouted. "Do not let a soul escape!"
The young men ran upstairs again.
"We are caught," Harvey said. "Escape is cut off. The Yankee cavalry are
all round the house. Good-by, Isabelle. We shall meet one of these days
again, dear." The girl threw herself into his arms.
"Be calm, love!" he said. "Do not let this scoundrel have the
satisfaction of triumphing over you."
A moment later Chermside, accompanied by several soldiers,
entered the room.
"I am sorry to disturb so pleasant a party," he said in a sneering
voice, "but if Americans choose to entertain the enemies of their
country they must expect these little disagreeables."
Mr. Jackson abruptly turned his back upon him, and no one else spoke,
although he was personally well known to all.
"These are the two men," he said to the soldiers--"two of the most
notorious scouts and spies on the frontier. We will take them to
headquarters, where a short shrift and two strong ropes will be
"The less the word spy is in the mouth of such a pitiful traitor as
yourself the better, I should say," Harvey said quietly; and, walking
forward with Harold, he placed himself in the hands of the soldiers.
No one else spoke. Isabelle had fainted when she heard the threat of
execution against her lover. Ada stood before her with a look of
such anger and contempt on her young face that Chermside fairly
winced under it.
"To horse!" he said sullenly, and, turning, followed his men and
The troop, Harold saw, numbered some 200 sabers. They had with them a
number of riderless horses, whose accouterments showed that they
belonged to an English regiment; most of the men, too, had sacks of
plunder upon their horses. They had evidently made a successful raid,
and had probably attacked a post and surprised and driven off the
horses of a squadron of cavalry, and were now on their return toward
"This is an awkward business, Harold," Harvey said as, in the midst
of their captors, they galloped off from the Jacksons'. "Of course
it's all nonsense about our being hung. Still, I have no wish to see
the inside of a prison, where we may pass years before we are
exchanged. Once handed over to the authorities we shall be safe; but
I shall not feel that we are out of danger so long as we are in this
scoundrel's hands. Fortunately there are officers of superior rank to
himself with the squadron, otherwise I have no doubt at all that he
would hang us at once."
Such was indeed the case, and Chermside was, at that moment, fuming
intensely at the chance which had thrown his rival in his hands at a
time when he was powerless to carry out his vengeance. He had, indeed,
ventured to suggest that it would be less trouble to hang the prisoners
at once, but the major in command had so strongly rebuked him for the
suggestion that he had at once been silenced.
"I blush that I should have heard such words from the mouth of an
American officer. It is by such deeds, sir, that our cause is too often
disgraced. We are soldiers fighting for the independence of our
country--not lawless marauders. Had these men been taken in their
civilian dress over on our side of the river they would have been tried
and hung as spies; but they were on neutral ground, and, in fact, in the
rear of their own posts. There is no shadow of defense for such an
accusation. Should I ever hear a similar suggestion I shall at once
report your conduct to General Washington, who will know how to deal
"I wonder what has become of Jake," Harold said to his comrade. "I trust
he was not shot down."
"Not he," Harvey said. "He made off after firing his rifle, you may be
sure, when he saw that there was nothing to be done. The fellow can run
like a hare, and I have no doubt that, by this time, he has either got
back to the village and given the alarm there or has made for the ford.
There are 100 cavalry there now as well as the infantry. Jake will be
there in an hour from the time he started. The dragoons will be in the
saddle five minutes later, and it is just possible they may cut off our
retreat before we have crossed the river. Peter is on duty there, and,
if he happens to be at the post when Jake arrives, he will hurry up with
all the scouts he can collect."
Jake had taken flight as Harvey supposed. He had, after firing his
rifle, taken to the wood, and had remained near the house long enough to
see which way the cavalry rode when they started. Then he made for the
post at the ford at the top of his speed. It was less than an hour from
starting when he arrived there, and three minutes later the cavalry
trumpets were blowing "To horse!" After giving his message to the
officer in command Jake went into the village, where the sounds of the
trumpet brought all the soldiers into the street.
"Hullo, Jake! is that you?" a familiar voice asked. "What the tarnal
is up now?"
Jake hastily related what had taken place.
"Tarnation!" Peter exclaimed. "This is a bad job. They're making, no
doubt, for Finchley's Ford, fifteen mile down the river. With an hour's
start they're sure to be there before us."
"What are you going to do, Peter? Are you thinking of running wid
"Thinking of running to the moon!" the scout said contemptuously. "You
can run well, I don't deny, Jake, but you couldn't run fifteen mile with
the dragoons; and, if you could, you'd get there too late. Yer bellows
are going pretty fast already. Now don't stand staring there, but hurry
through the camp and get all our boys together. Tell them to meet by the
water side. Get Gregory and Vincent's men as well as our own. There's
twenty or thirty altogether in the place."
Without asking a question Jake ran off to carry out the orders, and, in
a few minutes, twenty-four men were collected together on the bank.
"Now, you fellows," Peter said, "we've got to rescue these two chaps out
of the hands of the Yankees. Them who don't want to jine--and mind you
the venture is a risky one--had better say so at once and stop behind."
No one moved.
"What I propose is this: we'll take the ferryboat, which aint no good
to no one, seeing as how the Yankees are on one side of the river and
we the other, and we'll drop down the stream about ten mile. Then we'll
land on their side of the river and strike inland, hiding the boat
under the bushes somewhere. They'll halt for the night when they're
safe across the river. There's five or six hundred of their infantry
camped on the ford. There's two hundred on our side, but the Yankees'll
ride through in the dark and get across before the redcoats are awake.
Now, I propose that, after we've landed, we make a sweep round until we
get near the Yanks' camp. Then the rest'll wait and two or three of
us'll go in and see if we can't get the young fellows out of wherever
they've put 'em. Then we'll jine you and make a running fight of it
back to the boat."
The others assented. The boat was amply large enough for all, and,
pulling her out into the stream, they dropped down, keeping under
shelter of the trees on the British side. Half an hour after they had
started they heard the faint sound of distant musketry.
"There," Peter said, "the Yanks are riding through the British camp,
close to the ford."
A few more shots were heard, and then all was silent. The stream was
swift, for it was swollen by recent rains, and at three in the morning
the boat touched the bank about a mile above the ford. The party
disembarked noiselessly and, fastening the boat to a tree, moved along
toward the camp.
When they were within four or five hundred yards of the village Peter
chose Jake and two others of his band, and, telling the rest to remain
where they were, ready for action, he struck inland. He made a _detour_
and came in at the back of the camp.
Here there were no sentries, as the only danger to be apprehended was
upon the side of the river. Peter therefore entered boldly. In front of
the principal house a sentry was walking up and down, and he, in the
free-and-easy manner usual in the American army, gladly entered into
conversation with the newcomers.
"All pretty quiet about here?" Peter asked. "We're from the West, and
have jest come down to do a little fighting with the Britishers. I
reckon they aint far off now?"
"They are just across the river," the sentry said. "Have you come far?"
"We've made something like two hundred mile this week, and mean to have
a day or two's rest before we begin. We've done some Injun fighting, my
mates and me, in our time, and we says to ourselves it was about time we
burned a little powder against the redcoats. Things seem quiet enough
about here. Nothing doing, eh?"
"Not much," the sentry said; "just skirmishes. Some of our cavalry came
across through the redcoats late to-night. I hear they have got a
quantity of plunder and some fine horses, and they have brought in a
couple of the British scouts."
"And what have they done with 'em?" Peter asked. "Strung 'em up,
"No, no; we aint fighting Indians now; we don't hang our prisoners. No,
they are safe under guard over there in the cavalry camp, and will be
taken to headquarters to-morrow."
"Waal," Peter said, stretching himself, "I feel mighty tired and shall
jest look for a soft place for an hour's sleep before morning."
So saying he sauntered away, and the sentry resumed his walk.
Peter and his three companions now moved off toward the spot where, as
the sentry had indicated, the cavalry were encamped. They were not in
tents, but were sleeping wrapped up in their blankets. Two tents had
been erected, lent probably by the infantry on the spot. One was much
larger than the other, and sentries were placed before each. They had
some difficulty in making their way, for the night was dark, and the
cavalry had picketed their horses without order or regularity. In their
search they had to use great caution to avoid stumbling over the
sleeping men, but at last they saw the tents faintly against the sky.
They crawled cautiously up. There were two sentries on the smaller tent.
"Now, Jake," Peter whispered, "you're the blackest and so had better do
the trick. Don't cut a hole in the tent, for they'd be safe to hear the
canvas tear. Crawl under. It's, been put up in haste and aint likely to
be pinned down very tight. They're safe to be bound, and when you've cut
the cords and given them time to get the use of their feet, then crawl
along and jine us."
Jake did as he was instructed. One of the sentries was pacing up and
down before the entrance, the other making a circuit round the tent. The
circle was a somewhat large one to avoid stumbling over the tent ropes.
Jake, watching his opportunity, had no difficulty in crawling up and
squeezing himself under the canvas before the sentry returned.
"Hush!" he whispered, as he let the canvas fall behind him. "It's Jake."
Both the captives were fast asleep. Jake, feeling about in the darkness,
found them, one after the other, and, putting his hands on their mouths
to prevent them making an exclamation, he woke them, and soon cut the
cords with which they were bound hand and foot. Then in whispers he told
them what had happened. They chafed their limbs to produce circulation,
for they had been tightly tied, and then, one by one, they crawled out
of the tent.
Harvey went first and was safely across before the sentry returned.
Harold followed; but, as he went, in his hurry he struck a tent rope.
"What's that?" the sentry in front asked sharply. "Bill, was that you?"
"No," his comrade replied. "Something's up. Look into the tent."
And, so saying, he ran round behind, while the sentry in front rushed
into the tent and, kicking about with his feet, soon found that it
Jake, on hearing the exclamation, at once crawled from the tent; but, as
he did so, the sentry, running round, saw him and leveled his rifle.
Before he could fire a shot was heard and the man fell dead.
Jake started to his feet and joined his friends. The other sentry also
discharged his rifle, and the whole camp awoke and sprang to their feet.
The horses, alarmed at the sudden tumult, plunged and kicked; men
shouted and swore, everyone asking what was the matter. Then loud cries
were heard that the sentry was shot and the prisoners had escaped.
Running closely together and knocking down all who stood in their way,
the fugitives hurried in the darkness until at the edge of the camp, and
then started at full speed.
The trumpets were now sounding to horse, and several shots were fired
after them. Many of the horses had not been unsaddled, and mounted men
at once dashed off. Several had seen the little party rush away, and the
horsemen were speedily on their track. The six men ran at the top of
their speed and were soon close to their hidden friends.
"This way! this way! I see them!" shouted a voice, which Harold and
Harvey recognized as that of their enemy, who, a minute later, galloped
up with half a dozen troopers. It was not until he was within a few
yards that his figure was clearly discernible; then Peter Lambton's
rifle flashed out, and the planter fell from his horse with a bullet in
Jake and the other two men also fired, and the horsemen, astonished at
their number, reined in their horses to await the coming up of more of
In another minute the fugitives were with their friends, and, at a rapid
trot, the whole ran up the river bank toward the spot where they had
hidden their boat.
The country was covered with brushwood and forest and, as the cavalry,
now swollen to a considerable force, advanced, they were greeted by so
heavy a fire that, astonished at this strong force of foes upon their
side of the river, and not knowing how numerous they might be, they
halted and waited for the infantry to come up. Long before the enemy
were prepared to advance against the unknown foe the scouts reached
their boat and crossed safely to the other side.
Shortly after this adventure Mr. Jackson and his family moved for the
winter to New York, where, soon after their arrival, the wedding
between Harvey and Isabella took place, the former retiring from the
corps of scouts.
THE CAPTURE OF PHILADELPHIA.
During the course of the spring of 1777 a large number of loyal
colonists had volunteered their services. They had been embodied into
battalions, and when the army prepared to take the field they were
placed in garrisons in New York and other places, thus permitting the
employment of the whole of the British force in the field. The Americans
had occupied themselves in strongly fortifying the more defensible
positions, especially those in a mountain tract of country called the
Manor of Courland. This was converted into a sort of citadel, where
large quantities of provisions, forage, and stores of all kinds were
collected. About fifty miles from New York, up the North River, was a
place called Peekskill, which served as a port to the Manor of Courland.
The country was so difficult and mountainous that General Howe shrank
from engaging his army in it. He determined, however, to attack and
destroy Peekskill, and a party of 500 men, under the command of Colonel
Bird of the Fifteenth Regiment, were sent up the river in two transports
to destroy it. The garrison, consisting of 800 men, set fire to the
place and withdrew without firing a shot. The British completed the
destruction of the stores and returned to New York.
A little later 2000 men were sent on a similar expedition against the
town of Danbury, another place on the confines of Courland Manor, where
great stores had also been collected. They proceeded up the East River
and landed at Camp's Point. They started on foot at ten o'clock at
night, and after a ten hours' march arrived at eight o'clock at Danbury.
The enemy evacuated the place on their approach, and the English set
fire to the great magazines filled with stores of all kinds.
The news of the march of the English had spread rapidly, and the enemy
assembled from all quarters and posted themselves under the command of
General Arnold at a town called Ridgefield, through which the English
would have to pass on their return. Here they threw up intrenchments. It
was late in the afternoon when the English, fatigued with the long
march, arrived at this spot. They did not hesitate, but when the
Americans opened fire they boldly assailed the intrenchments and carried
them with the bayonet. They were unable to march further, and lying down
so as to form an oblong square, slept till morning. All night the
Americans continued to come up in great force, and in the morning as the
troops advanced a terrible fire was opened upon them from the houses and
stone walls in which the country abounded. The British had to fight
every foot of their way. General Wooster had brought up some
field-artillery on the side of the Americans. Gradually the column
fought its way forward until it arrived within half a mile of Camp's
Point. Here two strong bodies of the enemy barred their way. The column
was by this time greatly exhausted; the men had had no real rest for
three days and two nights, and several dropped on the road with fatigue.
Brigadier General Erskine picked out 400 of those who were in the best
condition and attacked the two bodies of the enemy with such vigor that
he put them utterly to flight, and the column, again advancing, reached
their destination without further molestation. Nearly 200 men, including
10 officers, were killed and wounded on the part of the British; the
loss of the Americans was still greater, and General Wooster and some
field officers were among the slain.
Many other skirmishes took place with varied success. The Americans at
Bondwick, seven miles from Brunswick, 1200 in number, were surprised and
routed by Cornwallis, while on the other hand the American Colonel Meigs
carried out a most dashing expedition by crossing to Long Island and
destroying a quantity of stores at a place called Sag Harbor, burning a
dozen brigs and sloops which lay there, taking 90 prisoners, and
returning safely across the Sound.
In June Washington with 8000 men was encamped in a strong position at
Middlebrook. General Howe, although he had 30,000 men, hesitated to
attack him here. By a feigned retreat he succeeded in drawing General
Washington from his stronghold and inflicted a decisive defeat on 3000
of his men. Washington fell back to his position in the mountains, and
General Howe retired altogether from Jersey and withdrew his troops to
Staten Island. A dashing feat was executed at this time by Colonel
Barton of the American army. Learning that General Prescott, who
commanded at Rhode Island, had his headquarters at a distance of a mile
from his troops, he crossed from the mainland in two boats, seized the
general in his bed, and carried him off through the British fleet. The
object of this dashing enterprise was to obtain a general to exchange
for the American General Lee, who had been captured by the British.
General Howe, in June, again marched against Washington and again fell
back without doing anything. Had he, instead of thus frittering away his
strength, marched to the Delaware, crossed that river, and advanced
against Philadelphia, Washington would have been forced to leave his
stronghold and either fight in the open or allow that important city to
fall into the hands of the English.
General Howe now embarked his army in transports. Had he sailed up the
North River to Albany he would have effected a junction with General
Burgoyne's army, which was advancing from Canada, and with the united
force could have marched through America from end to end as he chose.
Instead of doing so he sailed down to Chesapeake Bay and there
disembarked the whole army, which had been pent up in transports from
July 3 to August 24. Not till September 11 did they advance in earnest
toward Philadelphia. The Americans thus had ample time to take up a
strong position and fortify it. This they did on the other side of
Brandywine Creek. Under cover of a cannonade the British advanced,
mastered the fort, and carried the intrenchments. General Sullivan, with
a considerable force, had now arrived, accompanied by General Washington
himself. He took up his position a short distance from the Brandywine,
his artillery well placed and his flanks covered with woods.
The following afternoon the British attacked. The Americans fought well,
but the British were not to be denied, and rushing forward drove the
enemy from their position into the woods in their rear. Here they made a
stand and were only dislodged after a desperate resistance. The greater
portion of them fled in all directions. Washington himself, with his
guns and a small force, retreated eight miles from Chester and then
marched by Derby to Philadelphia. Here he waited three days rallying his
troops, and then, having recruited his stores from the magazines,
All this time the British remained inactive on the ground they had won.
In the battle the Americans lost 300 killed, 600 wounded, and 400
prisoners. Several guns were also taken. The British lost 100 killed and
On September 20 they advanced toward Philadelphia. The American General
Wayne had concealed himself in the woods with 1500 men, with the
intention of harassing the rear of the British army. News of this having
been obtained, Major General Grey was dispatched at once to surprise
him; he ordered his men not to load, but to rely wholly on the bayonet.
The success of the expedition was complete. General Wayne's outpost was
surprised and the British troops rushed into his encampment. Three
hundred of the Americans were killed or wounded and 100 taken prisoners.
The rest escaped through the woods. On the English side 1 officer was
killed and 7 privates killed and wounded.
The capture of Philadelphia was an important advantage to the British,
but it could not be thoroughly utilized until the fleet could come up
the river to the town. The American Congress, which had sat at
Philadelphia until General Howe approached the town, had taken extensive
measures for rendering the passage impracticable. Three rows of
chevaux-de-frise, composed of immense beams of timber bolted and
fastened together and stuck with iron spikes, were sunk across the
channel, and these lines were protected by batteries. At these forts
were fourteen large rowboats, each carrying a heavy cannon, two floating
batteries carrying nine guns each, and a number of fireships and rafts.
The forts commanding the chevaux-de-frise were abandoned on the
approach of the British, and Captain Hammond of the _Roebuck_
succeeded, in spite of the opposition of the enemy's boats and
batteries, in making an opening through the chevaux-de-frise
sufficiently wide for the fleet to pass.
Large numbers of troops having been sent away from Germantown, a place
seven miles from Philadelphia, where the main body of the British army
were posted, General Washington determined to attempt the surprise of
that position. For this purpose he re-enforced his army by drawing 1500
troops from Peekskill and 1000 from Virginia, and at daybreak on October
4, under cover of a thick fog, he made an attack on the troops posted at
the head of the village.
Half of the British force lay on one side of the village, and half on
the other, and had the attack upon the place succeeded the British army
would have been cut in two. The village was held by the Fortieth
Regiment, who, fighting obstinately, were driven back among the houses.
The Americans were pushing forward in five heavy columns, when
Lieutenant Colonel Musgrave, who commanded the Fortieth, threw himself
into a large stone house. Here he offered a desperate resistance, and so
impeded the advance of the enemy that time was given for the rest of the
British troops to get under arms.
General Washington ordered a whole brigade of infantry to attack the
house and turned four guns against it. Colonel Musgrave and his men
resisted desperately and held the post until Major General Grey, with
the Third Brigade, and Brigadier General Agnew, with the Fourth Brigade,
came up and attacked the enemy with great spirit. The engagement was for
some time very hot. At length a part of the right wing fell upon the
enemy's flank, and the Americans retired with great precipitation. The
fog was so dense that no pursuit could be attempted.
On the part of the English 600 were killed and wounded. The loss of the
Americans amounted to between 200 and 300 killed, 600 wounded, and 400
taken prisoners. General Howe had on the previous night been acquainted
with the intention of General Washington to attack the place, and had he
taken the proper measures to have received them the American army would
have been destroyed. He took no measures whatever, gave no warning to
the army, and suffered the camp to be taken by surprise.
After this battle the fleet and army united, cleared away the
chevaux-de-frise across the Delaware, and took the forts commanding them
after some hard fighting.
The passage of the Delaware being thus opened and the water
communication secured, the army went to their winter quarters at
Captain Wilson, and his son had taken no part in any of these
operations, as a short time after the capture of Harold and Harvey by
the American cavalry the company had been disbanded. The men, when they
entered the service, had volunteered for a year. This time already had
been greatly exceeded--twenty months had passed since the battle of
Bunker's Hill--and although the men were willing to continue to give
their services so long as it appeared to them that there was a prospect
of a favorable termination of the war, no such hope any longer remained
in their minds. The great army which England had sent over had done
nothing toward restoring the king's authority in the colonies, and if,
after a year's fighting, its outposts were still within a few miles of
New York, how could it be expected or even hoped that it could ever
subdue a country containing hundreds of thousands of square miles? The
retreat from the Delaware and the virtual handing over of New Jersey
again to Washington was the finishing stroke which decided the
volunteers to demand their discharge, according to the terms of their
engagement. Except during the Canadian campaign they had had but little
fighting, nor in such a warfare as that which General Howe was carrying
on was there much scope for their services. Many of the gentlemen who
formed the majority of the company, and who for the most part had
friends and connections in England, sailed for that country; some had
left wives and families on their estates when they took up arms; and
most of them, despairing of the final success of the war, had instructed
their agents to sell these estates for any sum that they would fetch;
others--among them Captain Wilson--now followed their example. It was
but a mere tithe of the value of the property that was obtained, for
money was scarce in the colonies, and so many had sold out and gone to
England, rather than take part on one side or the other of the
fratricidal strife, that land and houses fetched but nominal prices.