Sunday, October 27, 2019

Episode 120: The American Crisis




Last week I covered a few side events in Rhode Island and Canada that took place in late 1776.  But we all know the main event was along the Delaware River.  Over the last few weeks, I addressed the British push to take New Jersey and the Continental retreat to Pennsylvania.  Continental soldiers were leaving in droves as their enlistments ended, or just plain deserting.  General Washington had another very large enlistment expiration at the end of December, leaving him with little more than a few regiments to command.  Very few soldiers saw any chance of victory and were eager to go home.

One of the soldiers retreating with the Continentals was Thomas Paine.  The author of Common Sense had enlisted in the Pennsylvania militia sometime after writing his famous pamphlet.  He ended up in Fort Lee where he volunteered to serve as General Nathanael Greene’s aide-de-camp.  Paine marched with the rest of the army from Fort Lee as the British under Cornwallis pursued them.

According to legend, Paine marched with the army during the day and penned The American Crisis, No. 1, during the evenings as the army marched from Newark to the Delaware River. It is hard to imagine, though, having much time to do anything during the march.  Perhaps he had time to scratch out a few notes.  There is no good record as to exactly how much of The Crisis he wrote during the march.  Years later, Paine said that he wrote The Crisis in Philadelphia after his arrival in the city on December 8th.

The purpose of Paine’s essay was not to inspire the troops.  It was an attempt to rally the public to the cause and encourage more men to enlist.  Although it is a bit lengthy for this podcast, I’m going to read it in full since it is such a powerful work.

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.


Printing from "American Crisis"
(from Wikimedia)
Whether the independence of the continent was declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now enter into as an argument; my own simple opinion is, that had it been eight months earlier, it would have been much better. We did not make a proper use of last winter, neither could we, while we were in a dependent state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own*;      

* The present winter is worth an age, if rightly employed; but, if lost or neglected, the whole continent will partake of the evil; and there is no punishment that man does not deserve, be he who, or what, or where he will, that may be the means of sacrificing a season so precious and useful.we have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet. All that Howe has been doing for this month past, is rather a ravage than a conquest, which the spirit of the Jerseys, a year ago, would have quickly repulsed, and which time and a little resolution will soon recover.

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent. Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that He has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils; and as I do not, I cannot see on what grounds the king of Britain can look up to heaven for help against us: a common murderer, a highwayman, or a house-breaker, has as good a pretence as he.

'Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world. Many a disguised Tory has lately shown his head, that shall penitentially solemnize with curses the day on which Howe arrived upon the Delaware.

As I was with the troops at Fort Lee, and marched with them to the edge of Pennsylvania, I am well acquainted with many circumstances, which those who live at a distance know but little or nothing of. Our situation there was exceedingly cramped, the place being a narrow neck of land between the North River and the Hackensack. Our force was inconsiderable, being not one-fourth so great as Howe could bring against us. We had no army at hand to have relieved the garrison, had we shut ourselves up and stood on our defence. Our ammunition, light artillery, and the best part of our stores, had been removed, on the apprehension that Howe would endeavor to penetrate the Jerseys, in which case Fort Lee could be of no use to us; for it must occur to every thinking man, whether in the army or not, that these kind of field forts are only for temporary purposes, and last in use no longer than the enemy directs his force against the particular object which such forts are raised to defend. Such was our situation and condition at Fort Lee on the morning of the 20th of November, when an officer arrived with information that the enemy with 200 boats had landed about seven miles above; Major General [Nathanael] Green, who commanded the garrison, immediately ordered them under arms, and sent express to General Washington at the town of Hackensack, distant by the way of the ferry = six miles. Our first object was to secure the bridge over the Hackensack, which laid up the river between the enemy and us, about six miles from us, and three from them. General Washington arrived in about three-quarters of an hour, and marched at the head of the troops towards the bridge, which place I expected we should have a brush for; however, they did not choose to dispute it with us, and the greatest part of our troops went over the bridge, the rest over the ferry, except some which passed at a mill on a small creek, between the bridge and the ferry, and made their way through some marshy grounds up to the town of Hackensack, and there passed the river. We brought off as much baggage as the wagons could contain, the rest was lost. The simple object was to bring off the garrison, and march them on till they could be strengthened by the Jersey or Pennsylvania militia, so as to be enabled to make a stand. We staid four days at Newark, collected our out-posts with some of the Jersey militia, and marched out twice to meet the enemy, on being informed that they were advancing, though our numbers were greatly inferior to theirs. Howe, in my little opinion, committed a great error in generalship in not throwing a body of forces off from Staten Island through Amboy, by which means he might have seized all our stores at Brunswick, and intercepted our march into Pennsylvania; but if we believe the power of hell to be limited, we must likewise believe that their agents are under some providential control.

I shall not now attempt to give all the particulars of our retreat to the Delaware; suffice it for the present to say, that both officers and men, though greatly harassed and fatigued, frequently without rest, covering, or provision, the inevitable consequences of a long retreat, bore it with a manly and martial spirit. All their wishes centred in one, which was, that the country would turn out and help them to drive the enemy back. Voltaire has remarked that King William never appeared to full advantage but in difficulties and in action; the same remark may be made on General Washington, for the character fits him. There is a natural firmness in some minds which cannot be unlocked by trifles, but which, when unlocked, discovers a cabinet of fortitude; and I reckon it among those kind of public blessings, which we do not immediately see, that God hath blessed him with uninterrupted health, and given him a mind that can even flourish upon care.

I shall conclude this paper with some miscellaneous remarks on the state of our affairs; and shall begin with asking the following question, Why is it that the enemy have left the New England provinces, and made these middle ones the seat of war? The answer is easy: New England is not infested with Tories, and we are. I have been tender in raising the cry against these men, and used numberless arguments to show them their danger, but it will not do to sacrifice a world either to their folly or their baseness. The period is now arrived, in which either they or we must change our sentiments, or one or both must fall. And what is a Tory? Good God! what is he? I should not be afraid to go with a hundred Whigs against a thousand Tories, were they to attempt to get into arms. Every Tory is a coward; for servile, slavish, self-interested fear is the foundation of Toryism; and a man under such influence, though he may be cruel, never can be brave.

But, before the line of irrecoverable separation be drawn between us, let us reason the matter together: Your conduct is an invitation to the enemy, yet not one in a thousand of you has heart enough to join him. Howe is as much deceived by you as the American cause is injured by you. He expects you will all take up arms, and flock to his standard, with muskets on your shoulders. Your opinions are of no use to him, unless you support him personally, for 'tis soldiers, and not Tories, that he wants.

I once felt all that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the Tories: a noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, "Well! give me peace in my day." Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;" and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty. Not a place upon earth might be so happy as America. Her situation is remote from all the wrangling world, and she has nothing to do but to trade with them. A man can distinguish himself between temper and principle, and I am as confident, as I am that God governs the world, that America will never be happy till she gets clear of foreign dominion. Wars, without ceasing, will break out till that period arrives, and the continent must in the end be conqueror; for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire.

Thomas Paine (from Wikimedia)

America did not, nor does not want force; but she wanted a proper application of that force. Wisdom is not the purchase of a day, and it is no wonder that we should err at the first setting off. From an excess of tenderness, we were unwilling to raise an army, and trusted our cause to the temporary defence of a well-meaning militia. A summer's experience has now taught us better; yet with those troops, while they were collected, we were able to set bounds to the progress of the enemy, and, thank God! they are again assembling. I always considered militia as the best troops in the world for a sudden exertion, but they will not do for a long campaign. Howe, it is probable, will make an attempt on this city [Philadelphia]; should he fail on this side the Delaware, he is ruined. If he succeeds, our cause is not ruined. He stakes all on his side against a part on ours; admitting he succeeds, the consequence will be, that armies from both ends of the continent will march to assist their suffering friends in the middle states; for he cannot go everywhere, it is impossible. I consider Howe as the greatest enemy the Tories have; he is bringing a war into their country, which, had it not been for him and partly for themselves, they had been clear of. Should he now be expelled, I wish with all the devotion of a Christian, that the names of Whig and Tory may never more be mentioned; but should the Tories give him encouragement to come, or assistance if he come, I as sincerely wish that our next year's arms may expel them from the continent, and the Congress appropriate their possessions to the relief of those who have suffered in well-doing. A single successful battle next year will settle the whole. America could carry on a two years' war by the confiscation of the property of disaffected persons, and be made happy by their expulsion. Say not that this is revenge, call it rather the soft resentment of a suffering people, who, having no object in view but the good of all, have staked their own all upon a seemingly doubtful event. Yet it is folly to argue against determined hardness; eloquence may strike the ear, and the language of sorrow draw forth the tear of compassion, but nothing can reach the heart that is steeled with prejudice.

Quitting this class of men, I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you. It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America.

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both. Howe's first object is, partly by threats and partly by promises, to terrify or seduce the people to deliver up their arms and receive mercy. The ministry recommended the same plan to Gage, and this is what the tories call making their peace, "a peace which passeth all understanding" indeed! A peace which would be the immediate forerunner of a worse ruin than any we have yet thought of. Ye men of Pennsylvania, do reason upon these things! Were the back counties to give up their arms, they would fall an easy prey to the Indians, who are all armed: this perhaps is what some Tories would not be sorry for. Were the home counties to deliver up their arms, they would be exposed to the resentment of the back counties who would then have it in their power to chastise their defection at pleasure. And were any one state to give up its arms, that state must be garrisoned by all Howe's army of Britons and Hessians to preserve it from the anger of the rest. Mutual fear is the principal link in the chain of mutual love, and woe be to that state that breaks the compact. Howe is mercifully inviting you to barbarous destruction, and men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.

I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it. While our army was collected, Howe dared not risk a battle; and it is no credit to him that he decamped from the White Plains, and waited a mean opportunity to ravage the defenceless Jerseys; but it is great credit to us, that, with a handful of men, we sustained an orderly retreat for near an hundred miles, brought off our ammunition, all our field pieces, the greatest part of our stores, and had four rivers to pass. None can say that our retreat was precipitate, for we were near three weeks in performing it, that the country might have time to come in. Twice we marched back to meet the enemy, and remained out till dark. The sign of fear was not seen in our camp, and had not some of the cowardly and disaffected inhabitants spread false alarms through the country, the Jerseys had never been ravaged. Once more we are again collected and collecting; our new army at both ends of the continent is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the next campaign with sixty thousand men, well armed and clothed. This is our situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils—a ravaged country—a depopulated city—habitations without safety, and slavery without hope—our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.

Thus ended the Crisis.

These powerful word began to spread across North American in late December 1776.  Historians also don’t agree on the day it was published.  Most say December 19, but it may have been as late as December 23.  Popular legend says he published it in the Pennsylvania Journal and that Washington had it read to his army just before they crossed the Delaware to attack the Hessians.  But again, there is no contemporary evidence that Washington did this.  Paine’s first printing came as an independent pamphlet. The Pennsylvania Journal had ceased publishing entirely in early December because of the expected British invasion of Philadelphia.  It did not resume publishing until mid-January.

Another paper, the Pennsylvania Packet reprinted the first half a few days after Christmas. It did not publish the second half until January.  That said, it is quite possible that copies of the original American Crisis pamphlet reached the Continental Army a few days before the crossing and that many soldiers either read it or had it read to them.

Whatever the details of its release, Paine’s Crisis called on the nation to rally against the British Army.  Next week, we will cover the beginning of the country’s counterattack.

- - -

Next Episode 121 Battle of Iron Works Hill

Previous Episode 119: Fort Cumberland (Nova Scotia) and Newport, RI


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Further Reading

Websites

The American Crisis series (full texts): http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis

The American Crisis Before Crossing the Delaware, by Jett Conner, Journal of the American Revolution 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/02/american-crisis-before-crossing-the-delaware

A Brief Publication History of the “Times That Try Men’s Souls,” by Jett Conner, Journal of the American Revolution 2016:
https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/01/a-brief-publication-history-of-the-times-that-try-mens-souls

How Thomas Paine's Other Pamphlet Saved the Revolution: https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/how-thomas-paines-other-pamphlet-saved-the-revolution

Biography of Thomas Paine: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/biographies/thomas-paine

Thomas Paine: https://www.biography.com/scholar/thomas-paine

The Writings of Thomas Paine: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31270/31270-h/31270-h.htm

Thomas Paine, works: https://oll.libertyfund.org/people/thomas-paine

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Clarke, Harry Hayden Thomas Paine, American Book Company, 1944.

Conway, Moncure The Life of Thomas Paine, Vol 1 and Vol. 2, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908.

Conway, Moncure (ed) The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. 1 1774-1779,  New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1906.

Drake, Samuel A. The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77, Lee and Shepard, 1899.

Foner, Phillip (ed) The Complete Works of Thomas Paine, Citidel Press, 1945.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Atkinson, Richard The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Henry Holt & Co. 2019

Dwyer, William The Day Is Ours: How a Ragged Rebel Army Stood the Storm and Saved the Revolution,  Viking, 1983.

Fischer, David Hackett Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Foner, Eric Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976

Foner, Eric Thomas Paine: Collected Writings: Common Sense / The Crisis / Rights of Man / The Age of Reason / Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters, Library of America, 1995 (book recommendation of the week).

Kaye, Harvey J. Thomas Paine and the Promise of America: A History & Biography, New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Kean, John Tom Paine: A Political Life, London: Bloomsbury, 1995

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. The Long Retreat, The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776, Upland Press, 1998.

Nelson, Craig Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, New York: Viking, 2006.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Episode 119: Fort Cumberland (Nova Scotia) & Newport RI




In late 1776, British war plans seemed to be going reasonably well for the British.  In Canada, General Carleton had destroyed General Arnold’s fleet on Lake Champlain, and opened up the path for a spring invasion from the north.  General Howe had pushed General Washington out of New York and New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.  The patriot cause seemed to be in trouble.

Fort Cumberland

Despite being on the ropes, many Patriots were still looking to take the fight to the British.  Some still wanted to go on the offensive.  A revolution is not controlled by a single authority.  In many places, locals will take the initiative.

Back in March 1776, General Howe had evacuated Boston and moved his forces up to Halifax Nova Scotia before beginning the summer campaign in New York.  After Howe’s army left Halifax for New York, there were few British soldiers left in the area.  Recall that back at the beginning of the French and Indian war, Britain had removed most of the local French Acadians from the region and forced them to return to France.  See, Episode 007.  Thousands of colonists from New England moved into the area to take the farmland that the French Canadians had been forced to abandon.  During the French and Indian war, it seemed like a good idea for Britain to populate the area with British colonists. But by 1776, those same New Englanders were at war with Britain.  The New Englanders who had settled in Halifax shared the same political views as their friends and family in Massachusetts.

Model of Ft Cumberland, Nova Scotia (from Johnwood1946)
Among those settlers was Jonathan Eddy.  He had served as a New England militia officer fighting in Halifax during the French and Indian War.  When hostilities ended in 1760, Eddy took advantage of the cheap land, and moved his family to Halifax.  There, he settled into life as a farmer and an elected member of the local assembly.  In 1775, the Assembly expelled Eddy for non-attendance, though the real reason was probably more for his involvement in revolutionary activities.

In February 1776, Eddy traveled to Cambridge to convince General Washington to send a contingent to Halifax to take control of the region.  At the time, Washington was still besieging Boston and preparing his own offensive there. He did not want to deploy resources to begin another campaign.  Eddy then traveled to Philadelphia to get the support of the Continental Congress for a campaign to take Halifax.  Congress also rejected his proposals.  Finally, he returned to Massachusetts to get the Provincial Congress to assist with his plans.  Massachusetts refused to provide him with troops, but promised to provide arms and ammunition if he could raise enough men to attempt a takeover of Nova Scotia.

As I said,by the end of March, General Howe had moved the bulk of his army from Boston to Halifax.  But everyone expected it would be leaving soon.  Eddy spent most of the summer, attempting to raise a regiment.  Despite aggressive recruiting among small villages in northern New England, Eddy could not raise even 100 men.  Most men who wanted to fight for the patriot cause, had already left for Boston where they were fighting in the Continental Army.

Undeterred, Eddy took his small force back to Nova Scotia, where he was able to recruit more locals and a few Indians, bringing his force to around 180.

After Howe had departed for New York, there were few British soldiers in the region.  Eddy’s force targeted Fort Cumberland, which fell under the Command of British Lt. Col. Joseph Gorham.  Like Eddy, Gorham had served as an officer during the French and Indian war, and had settled in Halifax.  He received an appointment as Deputy Agent for Indian Affairs.  At the same time Eddy tried to recruit a patriot corps, Gorham attempted to recruit a loyalist corps.  He also toured much of New England, mostly before the fighting at Lexington and Concord, to put together a fighting force to support the King.  Gorham did not have much luck with recruitment either.  He ended up with a total command of about 190 men.

Jonathan Eddy
In the summer of 1776, after Howe’s forces left, Gorham took command of Fort Cumberland.  This was former French Fort Beauséjour, which sat on the isthmus between Nova Scotia and mainland Canada.  The fort was far from a priority for British, leaving Gorham’s militia with little supplies or anything else to build up the fort’s defenses.  Still Gorham and his men used equipment leftover from the French and Indian War, repaired the walls, and made the fort relatively defensible.

In early November, Eddy’s forces moved into the area. He recruited more locals, including several members of local tribes as well as some French speaking Acadians who remained in the area.  The force captured a small contingent of Loyalist militia under Captain Walker.  The patriots also captured a small sloop under Gorham’s command, the Polly along with its crew.  Eddy’s forces then began to lay siege to Fort Cumberland.  By some accounts, Eddy’s forces had grown to over 500 men, though this seems exaggerated.  Gorham had less than 200 in his garrison.  Eddy had already taken about 60 men prisoner.  However, Eddy had no cannons to use against the fort, while Gorham had three mounted cannons to put into use against the attackers.

On November 10, Eddy sent a letter to Gorham, calling for his surrender.  In response, Gorham suggested that Eddy surrender.  Two days later, Eddy attempted a night attack against the fort, hoping that surprise and confusion would allow his men to get inside the fort and take the garrison.  Gorham’s men, however, repulsed the attack.

Joseph Gorham at Fort Cumberland (from Wikimedia)
Following that failure, the soldiers serving under Eddy began to question his leadership.  A council of officers voted to remove Eddy from leadership.  Remember these were all local civilians acting as militia, with no professional officers or men around.  A little over a week later, the new leadership council ordered another attack on November 22 and again on November 23.  They burned a few outbuildings but failed to capture the fort itself.

On November 27, a British relief force arrived aboard the ship Vulture.  The ship carried 200 reinforcements, mostly Royal Marines under the command of Major Thomas Batt.  Two days later, Batt led a counterattack on the patriot lines outside the fort.  The British killed or wounded an unknown number of patriots while taking five casualties, two dead and three wounded, themselves.

The patriot forces scattered. Most of the men simply left the fight and went home. The British spent the next few days trying to chase down patriots, but with little luck.  They scoured the countryside and captured a few suspected rebels.  They also burned farms of those suspected of participating in the attack on the fort or other supporters of the rebellion.

The locals protested the destruction of property. Colonel Gorham offered a full pardon to anyone who surrendered and agreed to take an oath of allegiance, with the exception of Eddy and a few other leaders.  This upset Major Batt, who charged Gorham with neglect of duty.  Gorham later received exoneration of the charges.  The pardon seemed to return the area to loyal obedience and ended the patriot movement there.  Eddy, and a few others unwilling to submit, left for Massachusetts.

The battle at Fort Cumberland, also sometimes called Eddy’s Rebellion, ended up being a relatively minor affair involving mostly militia.  While some historians argue that a patriot victory there might have brought Nova Scotia over to the patriot side and made it the 14th State, it seems unlikely that the patriots would have been able to hold the territory against an almost certain British counterattack from Halifax.  In any event, the British, despite a victory, did not consider it terribly significant.

Occupation of Newport

All of this fighting in Halifax was happening while the British under General William Howe were pushing the Continental Army out of New York and across New Jersey, still moving slowly toward Philadelphia.  As I said, General Howe had joined General Cornwallis in New Jersey, slowly pushing Washington’s army into Pennsylvania.

Newport Map, 1777 (from Boston Rare Maps)
Howe had left General Clinton back in New York.  Clinton spent most of his days, I imagine, banging his head on his desk out of frustration.  Since the first British troops landed in New York earlier that summer, Clinton had proposed one plan after another to encircle, entrap, and destroy the Continental Army.  His commander, General Howe, continually rejected his advice, preferring to push the Americans back slowly, and always offering them an avenue of retreat.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, during the New York campaign, Howe and Clinton’s relationship, which had never been particularly good, grew even more strained.  Clinton attempted to push beyond Howe’s orders on several occasions only to receive a reprimand from the commander.  During the battle of White Plains, a frustrated Clinton spoke openly of his frustration about serving under Howe to Cornwallis.  When Cornwallis passed along these comments to Howe, the commander decided to leave Clinton completely out of any combat plans under his command.

As the British and Hessians pushed the Continental Army across New Jersey, Clinton once again proposed taking a fleet up the Delaware while another army pushed Washington back to the river.  Washington’s army would be trapped and forced to surrender.  But Howe once again said no, and allowed Clinton’s subordinate, Cornwallis, to lead the British Army attacking Washington in New Jersey.

Still, Howe needed to give Clinton something to do other than sitting in New York writing letters to London about how badly Howe was performing.  Howe deployed Clinton to capture Rhode Island, or in particular the island and harbor areas around Newport.  General Howe’s brother, Admiral Howe needed a winter port for the Royal Navy.  The fresh water areas around New York might freeze up for the winter, thus trapping the navy and possibly damaging the ships.  The salt water port at Newport, Rhode Island would be a much safer nearby location to host the Royal Navy for the winter.  Newport would also once again give the British a toe hold in New England and would also serve as a good post to block New England privateers from coming and going.  Newport was thought to have one of the largest percentages of loyalist populations in New England, thus minimizing the dangers from local militia.

Clinton received a force of about six or seven thousand regulars and Hessians and took General Lord Percy as his second in command.  Some sources say the force was larger, but that may have been counting the thousands of sailors aboard ships carrying the army to Rhode Island.   Howe had originally promised Clinton a force of 10,000 soldiers, but reduced that number shortly before Clinton set sail.

A fleet of 83 ships under the command of Commodore Peter Parker carried Clinton and his forces troops from New York to Rhode Island.  You may recall that Parker had carried Clinton to the Carolinas where they faced the embarrassing loss at Fort Sullivan in Charleston Harbor.  See, Episode 96.  Clinton certainly had not forgotten about it.  He took this opportunity to bicker with Parker again over the incident.  He demanded that Parker take the blame for the failure at Charleston and clear the cloud over Clinton’s good name.  Parker was pretty conciliatory and wanted to put the issue behind them.  But making a fuss about it now only made the situation between the two commanders worse.

Even so, the landing at Newport on December 8, 1776 turned out to be a nonevent.  There were no Continental soldiers prepared to oppose the landing.  Washington’s army was in New Jersey, fleeing toward Philadelphia.  Charles Lee’s army was in southern New York, but seemed more interested in what was happening in New Jersey than attempting to oppose the British in Rhode Island.  Before the British fleet arrived, the local patriot militia had abandoned the defensive works along the shore and had already removed their cannons.

Sir Henry Clinton, 1777
(from Wikimedia)
Most patriot civilians in the area simply left town before the British arrived.  A prewar population of about 9000 had fallen to under 5000.  Clinton found the much reduced population remaining behind to be loyalists or Quakers who were willing to submit to British rule.  The British force landed unopposed.  There were a few patriot militia in the area, who the British easily captured or dispersed.

For the last year, Clinton had constantly recommended to General Howe that he should use forces to envelope the enemy and surround them so that the British could capture the enemy.  Instead, Howe just pushed the enemy further back, allowing them an avenue of retreat.  Now, Clinton in his first independent command, did exactly the same as Howe.  He landed his forces at Newport and simply allowed the enemy militia to flee.  Clinton was not interested in taking prisoners.  He simply wanted to take Newport as ordered and move on to other things.

The Continental Navy was still hanging around Rhode Island at this time.  Most of it remained bottled up near Providence. It did not confront the British or attempt to oppose the landing.  In fact, after a British ship, the HMS Diamond, ran aground in January 1777, the Continentals were still unable to capture or destroy it.  After the better part of a day, the tide came in and the British sailed on their way.  Shortly after that incident, Congress suspended Commodore Esek Hopkins from command of the Continental Navy.  The navy remained a nonentity of little concern to the British.

General Clinton was wary about spreading his forces to thinly.  He did not attempt to occupy the whole colony but kept his forces in and around Newport.  Clinton’s goal was not to occupy large portions of New England.  It was to secure a good salt water port for the navy to use over the winter.  From there, the Navy could protect its occupation of New York as well as harass patriot shipping all along the New England coast.  It also proved once again that the British could take control of any town they wished.  The Continental army or militia was not going to stop them.  Receiving word of Washington’s attack on Trenton, reinforced Clinton's view that he should not spread his troops too thinly, where small outposts would be vulnerable to a similar attack.

New England militia mobilized about 6000 soldiers in the area around Rhode Island to oppose any attempts to move inland.  General Howe, instead of providing reinforcements for an offensive, recalled many of the soldiers under Clinton’s command, for use in New Jersey.  As a result the British occupation would remain strictly on the defensive.

Clinton Goes Home

In January, 1777, Clinton turned over command to Lord Percy and returned home to Britain.  Clinton was frustrated at not getting any real command opportunity and still felt the need to clear his name over the failure to take Charleston.  He also wanted to express his frustration over Howe’s go-slow strategy and refusal to take any advice that might result in the capture and destruction of the Continental Army. Further, Clinton felt slighted by the fact that General John Burgoyne, a more junior general, had been given an independent command in Canada.

Clinton had planned to resign his commission once he returned.  As we’ll see in future episodes, the King would not accept his resignation and still had other plans for him.  But for the winter of 1777, once Newport was secure, Clinton hopped on a ship and went home to England, expecting that would be the end of his military career.

Percy Goes Home

After Clinton’s departure, General Lord Percy took command for a few months.  Then, he too decided to return to London.  Percy, who had saved the British during the retreat from Concord, and had led divisions in the Battle of Long Island and the assault on Fort Washington, had also regularly clashed with General Howe.  He had proven himself a highly capable officer on the battlefield, and also had the respect of the officers and men who had served under him.

Lord Percy (from Wikimedia)
Like Clinton, Percy felt he was being banished to Rhode Island where nothing interesting was likely to happen.  Adding to his frustration at being removed from the main action, Percy felt Howe was questioning his abilities as a general.  Howe, who was not exactly known for his aggressive strategy, wrote several letters to Percy over the winter, criticizing him for being too cautious in capturing territory in Rhode Island.

Since Percy had followed orders, and since Howe’s attempts in New Jersey to occupy more territory that winter had ended in disaster, it’s hard to say or certain why Howe was so critical.  It appears that Howe saw Percy as a Clinton ally and therefore a political threat to Howe’s leadership.  By putting Percy in a theater where he would not see much action, and then generally criticizing his failure to impress, Howe seemed to be trying to diminish Percy’s reputation among leaders back in London.

Officials in London seemed perfectly happy with Percy.  They even promoted him to Lieutenant General.  Despite the promotion, Percy decided to return home in the spring of 1777 and resign his commission.  Unlike Clinton, the King accepted Percy’s resignation, ending his military career.  General Richard Prescott assumed command of the British forces in Rhode Island.  I’ll have more to say about Prescott in a future episode.

Percy seemed content to retire and live out his life in wealth and comfort.  He divorced his wife, who had been cheating on him while he was away.  He then remarried.  He had nine children with his new wife.  In 1786 his father died.  Percy inherited the family estates and the title of Duke of Northumberland.

Ironically, Americans probably remember Percy’s illegitimate half brother, James Smithson, better than Percy.  Many years after Percy’s death, Smithson, who never visited America, left a large bequest in his will which formed the foundation of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Next week: Thomas Paine will attempt to reinvigorate the Army with his publication of The American Crisis.

- - -

Next Episode 120: The American Crisis

Previous Episode 118 British Capture Stockton and Lee



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Further Reading

Websites

Jonathan Eddy: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/eddy_jonathan_5E.html

Joseph Gorham: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/goreham_joseph_4E.html

Eddy Rebellion at Cumberland: http://www.blupete.com/Hist/NovaScotiaBk2/Part2/Ch12.htm

The Eddy Rebellion: https://www.albertcountymuseum.com/the-eddy-rebellion

Jonathan Eddy's Account of the Attack on Fort Cumberland:
https://johnwood1946.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/jonathan-eddys-account-of-the-attack-on-fort-cumberland-november-1776

Cumberland Planters and the Aftermath of the Attack on Fort Cumberland, by Earnest Clark:
https://journals.lib.unb.ca/static_content/ACAD/acadpress/theyplantedwell/042-060Clarke.pdf

British and Hessian Forces Occupy Newport and Aquidneck Island in 1776, by Fred Zilian: http://smallstatebighistory.com/british-hessian-forces-occupy-newport-aquidneck-island-1776

Lord Percy: http://www.oshermaps.org/special-map-exhibits/percy-map/percy-biography

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The Detail and Conduct of the American War, under Generals Gage, Howe, Burgoyne, and Vice Admiral Lord Howe, (original reports and letters) The Royal Exchange, 1780.

Field, Edward Revolutionary Defences in Rhode Island, Preston & Rounds, 1896.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 5, Vol 3, Washington: St. Claire Clarke, 1837.

Kidder, Frederick Military Operations in Eastern Maine and Nova Scotia During the Revolution, Joel Munrell, 1867.

Porter, Joseph Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy of Eddington, Me, Sprague, Owen & Nase, 1877.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Clarke, Ernest The Siege of Fort Cumberland, 1776: An Episode in the American Revolution, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995.

McCullough, David 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Willcox, William Portrait of a General: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence,  Knopf, 1964.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Episode 118: British Capture Stockton and Lee




Last week, we followed the race across New Jersey as the British pushed Washington’s Continentals across the State in a matter of weeks.  The Continental Army could not mount a stand against the advancing British and Hessian force, bu at least avoided capture.  As the British swept across New Jersey, they swept up many soldiers and civilians who were considered traitors.  Today, I want to take a look at two of those prisoners, Richard Stockton and Charles Lee.

Richard Stockton

Richard Stockton was a New Jersey native.  His Quaker family had lived in Princeton for generations.  Richard attended the local College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) and later became a trustee of the school.  He took a break from practicing law in New Jersey, to travel to Britain, where among other things, he had an audience with King George III to thank him on behalf of the College of New Jersey for his role in repealing the Stamp Tax.

Richard Stockton
(from Princeton Art Museum)
After his return to New Jersey, Stockton served on the Provincial Council for the colony and as a judge.  Most people label Stockton a political moderate.  Like most colonists, he was not crazy about Parliament’s taxes, but at the same time was not leading the charge toward revolution.  New Jersey appointed him to serve at the Second Continental Congress.  There, he voted against independence.  After it passed, he signed the document anyway.

Stockton then ran for the Presidency of the new independent state of New Jersey.  He lost to William Livingston by one vote and kept his position as a delegate to the Continental Congress.  When the British invaded New Jersey, like most leading Patriots, he packed up what valuables he could and abandoned his family home.  As a signer of the Declaration, he was a target.  He already knew the story of fellow signer Francis Lewis of Long Island.  British regulars had burned Lewis’ house and imprisoned his wife.

Instead of heading to Pennsylvania though, Stockton moved to a friend’s home in Monmouth county.  This was behind enemy lines, but it was an out of the way country estate.  I guess Stockton thought no one would come looking for him there.  If so, he was wrong.  The British had hoped that a show of strength in the area would encourage many locals who still wanted to be loyal to the King, to join the cause.

Although the numbers were not as large as Howe had hoped, a great many colonists did volunteer to support the regulars.  Once such regiment of Tory New Jersey volunteers got a tip about Stockton’s location.  They sent a force to arrest him.  Most accounts of the arrest indicate they treated him very harshly, forcing him to walk all the way to the British camp at Amboy (modern day Perth Amboy) through rivers and without proper winter clothing.  Stockton arrived in Amboy in terrible condition.  There, officials put him in chains and threw him in jail.  He spent about a month there enduring hardships similar to captured soldiers.

Stockton’s Release

Given Stockton’s position as a gentleman, many patriot leaders were aghast at his treatment.  The Continental Congress demanded investigations and wanted to protest the treatment if found to be true.  But by the time these complaints reach the British, Stockton was already on his way home.

Gen. Howe's Amnesty Proclamation
(from National Park Service)
The terms of his release are controversial to this day without clear and convincing evidence on either side.  According to one story, Stockton accepted General Howe’s offer of amnesty, swore allegiance to the King and went home.  Other accounts say that Howe simply pardoned him and he returned home.  The distinction is a big one for Stockton’s reputation.  If he really accepted amnesty and swore loyalty to King George, he would be considered a traitor to the patriot cause.  If Howe simply paroled him, he would be like a great many other officers who were honor bound to remain neutral until exchanged for a prisoner of equal rank.

The strongest piece of evidence that I have seen that Stockton did not take amnesty is that General Howe submitted a list of neary 5000 names to London of those who had accepted amnesty.  Stockton’s name was not on the list, and Howe noted that no important people had accepted amnesty.  Howe certainly would have included and indeed highlighted Stockton’s name had he been on that list.  Stockton also was investigated by a New Jersey Committee of Safety about a year later on suspicion of being a Tory.  At that time, he affirmed his loyalty to the Patriot cause.  If he had received a note of amnesty, he would have had to give it to the committee, though he gave them nothing.

There is also a case that Stockton did accept amnesty. It begins with a note from a British officer on December 29, 1776 in Amboy where Stockton had been a prisoner.  It says that Howe had granted Stockton a full pardon and that he was entitled to the return of property, including a horse and saddle that the Tories had taken from him.  The British also never made any attempt to exchange Stockton for a British prisoner of equal value, something they almost certainly would have done if he was on parole.

Stockton returned to his home in Princeton where he left all public office.  He resigned as a delegate to the Continental Congress.  After his health returned, he took up the private practice of law. He died four years later from cancer without revealing fully what he may have done to obtain release from capture.

Charles Lee in New Jersey

Probably an even more famous prisoner resulting from the British invasion of New Jersey was General Charles Lee.  At the time, Lee was the third ranking commander in the Continental Army, behind only Washington and Artemas Ward.  Since Ward was in Boston and months away from resigning due to poor health, many were looking at Lee to replace Washington as commander.  Washington had just lost New York and New Jersey.  Many felt he just wasn’t up to the job.  Lee, had far more military experience.  Leaders on both sides considered him far and away the best military mind the Continental Army had.

Gen. Charles Lee
(from Wikimedia)
As I discussed last week, ever since the fall of Forts Washington and Lee in November, and the capture of thousands of prisoners of war, Washington had been requesting, but not ordering, General Lee to bring his army down to join with Washington so they could face the British force led by General Cornwallis.

Lee kept finding one excuse after another to stay in New York.  His correspondence to Washington indicated that his men were unfit to travel, and that he would be better off being in a position to attack the British rear once Cornwallis moved south in pursuit of Washington.

Finally, in early December, General Lee crossed into northern New Jersey.  Even so, he showed little inclination to join Washington near Philadelphia.  Washington continued to send a stream of ever increasingly desperate and more insistent letters to Lee, hoping that the combined armies could mount a defense of Philadelphia, an attack that Washington thought was imminent.  Instead, Lee kept insisting it would be better for him to retain his independent command in North Jersey.  His army remained camped for a week, with no apparent inclination to join Washington.

In truth, Lee seemed to be waiting for Washington’s army to be captured, or for Washington himself to make some sort of reckless stand and be killed.  At that point, Lee expected to become Commander and would rescue America from defeat. He had spent the last few weeks writing letters to undermine Washington to other generals, Continental Congress delegates, and other influential leaders.  Given circumstances, many seemed inclined to follow him.

White's Tavern, where Lee was captured
On December 12, an overconfident Lee left his army camped in a frozen field while he tried to get a good night’s rest at a nearby tavern.  He did not take any of his regular aides with him.  Instead, he had only a handful of officers, including two French officers.  One of them, Virnejoux, had received a commission as captain in the Continental army a couple of months earlier.  The other, French. Lt. Col. Boisbertrand, had just gotten a two year leave from the French Army and had travelled to America in search of a commission.  American privateers had seized his ship off the Massachusetts coast.  After Boston patriots learned of his wish to join the army, they gave him some travel money and told him to go to Philadelphia for a commission.  Along the way, Boisbertrand met up with Lee.  He decided to stay with Lee for now and worry about the paperwork of getting a commission later.  Aside from those officers, Lee had only a small guard of about thirty soldiers.

That evening, General Horatio Gates, sent Major James Wilkinson with a letter to General Washington asking for clarification on how to reach Washington’s army.  Washington had reached out to both Gates and Lee, trying to get reinforcements to defend Philadelphia.

For reasons I still do not entirely understand, Major Wilkinson instead went to see General Lee that night and gave the letter meant for Washington to Lee.  According to Wilkinson’s Memoirs, when he found out Washington had crossed into Pennsylvania, and learned that Lee was nearby, he went to Lee instead, to get instructions on where Gates’ troops should go next.  I’m not clear on whether Wilkinson was simply so naive that he didn’t realize that Washington and Lee were pursuing different strategies, or whether he just decided that Washington was done for and he wanted to get in good with Lee.

One reason to suspect Wilkinson’s motives was that he would prove to be a quite the weasel later in life.  Decades later, he would command the US army, and would be an active participant in the conspiracy that resulted in the trial of Aaron Burr for treason in 1807.  Wilkinson saw the conspiracy was going to get exposed, and turned on Burr to save himself.

But that is a whole different story that is decades away.  At this time, Major Wilkinson was standing in for his boss, General Gates in contact with General Lee.  The two generals, both former officers in the British regulars, seemed to be highly critical of Washington’s leadership and both thought the cause was probably lost.  Since Wilkinson arrived in the middle of the night, Lee told him to get some rest and they would talk more in the morning.  Lee spent most of the next morning, still not dressed, and trying to enjoy a leisurely breakfast while drafting a response for Gates.  That draft was highly critical of Washington.  Lee stated that Washington had forced him to move into territory overrun with Tories and the cause was probably lost.

It is telling that Lee noted that the area was thick with Tories, since it made his decision to leave his army miles away and stay at an isolated tavern, especially foolhardy.  Lee received multiple visitors overnight, so it became public knowledge where he was staying.  I don’t think it requires the benefit of hindsight to realize that local Tories would discover Lee’s position, away from the protection of his army, and that they would relay that information to the regulars.

Charles Lee Captured

That is what happened.  A few days earlier, British Lt. Col. William Harcourt volunteered to ride out with the cavalry to gain intelligence on Lee’s army.  The twenty-four British dragoons on this mission were rightfully feared.  They had a habit of killing people on sight if they suspected them of being rebels.  One of the Cornets in this force was Banastre Tarleton who would gain infamy later in the war for his practice of murdering the wounded on the battlefield and other harsh tactics against the local citizenry.  Both Harcourt and Tarleton had boasted that they would kill or capture the traitor Lee.  Aside from being considered the best officer in the Continental Army, many British soldiers took offense at Lee’s betrayal of his comrades by joining the rebels.  Harcourt’s dragoons had actually served under Lee at a battle in Spain during the Seven Years War.

Capture of Charles Lee (from British Battles)
Several conflicting accounts describe how the British tracked down Lee, but it appears to be combination of tips from Tories, as well as intelligence from captured patriots who were threatened with death if they did not reveal Lee’s position.

Harcourt’s dragoons reached the White Tavern around 10:30 AM.  They surprised the sentries, who they either killed or chased away. Lee found himself in the tavern with only Wilkinson, Lee's aide Major William Bradford, and the two French officers.  A brief firefight ensued, during which the French Col. Boisbertrand fled out the back door.  The British saw him run. Tarleton rode him down down and forced his surrender.

Harcourt threatened to burn down the tavern with everyone in it unless Lee surrendered.  After a few minutes, Lee and Bradford, who was wounded, walked out the front door.  They surrendered and asked to be treated like gentlemen.  Virnejoux and Wilkinson remained in the house, hidden from view.

The British dragoons were in a hurry, they knew that Continental reinforcements from the main army could arrive any minute and capture all of them.  Their target was Lee, who they had in custody.  Lee requested his hat and cloak. Bradford agreed to go back into the house and get them.  After going into the house, he put on a servant’s hat and cloak, took Lee’s hat and cloak to the front door, put them down and then scurried back inside.

The British, however, did not bother to search the house nor do anything else that might lengthen their stay at the tavern.  They had Lee and Boisbertrand as prisoners on horseback and decided to race back to the British lines rather than waste more time scouring the tavern for a few lesser prisoners.  The entire incident at the tavern lasted only about 15 minutes.

As soon as the British left, Wilkinson, Bradford, and Virnejoux rushed back to the Continental camp with the news of Lee’s capture.

Lee Captured at White's Tavern
(from Revolution Trilogy)
Harcourt’s dragoons, along with their prisoners sped back to Hillsborough where several companies of regulars would support against any rescue party.  The troop had to fight its way through a few sentry points but made it to safety back to British lines with their prisoners.

The British initially held Lee under close guard.  Lee demanded to write to General Howe. When he did, Howe returned his letter unopened and addressed to Lt. Col. Lee.  By using Lee’s British rank, Howe was implying that we was a deserter and that he could be hanged as such.  Howe wrote to London to confirm whether or not Lee had properly resigned his commission and whether he should be treated as a deserter.  In the meantime, he held Lee under heavy guard and refused to offer him parole.

Harcourt the officer who captured Lee, returned to England where over the next few years, would become an Earl after his older brother died childless, become Aide-de-Camp to the King, and receive promotion to major general before the end of the war.  After the war, he would also receive a knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and become one of the very few British officers ever to rise to the rank of Field Marshal.

The guy I feel sorriest for in this story is Colonel Boisbertrand.  Since the French officer had not received his Continental commission before being captured, the British did not recognize him as a prisoner of war.  They held him in a New York prison for a time, then shipped him to London.  He sat in prison for a couple of years before finally escaping in 1778 and returning to France.  There, he found that the French government had taken away his commission for overstaying his two year leave, never mind that he was a prisoner and could not return.  Neither the Americans nor the French offered him another commission.  He never served again, and I’m not sure what happened to him.

The big story though was Lee.  For many on both sides, Lee’s capture was considered more important than the capture of 3000 Continentals at Fort Washington.  Many thought Lee really was the only hope for the Continental Army.  With his capture, Washington would never be able to lead the army to victory.  Some top British officers predicted his capture would soon result in a complete surrender of the Continental army and an end to the rebellion.

Washington Braces for a Final Blow

Washington himself seemed devastated by the loss. Despite Lee’s insubordination, Washington shared the consensus view that Lee was one of the Army’s most valuable leaders.  In hindsight, of course, the capture was probably a miracle.  Lee’s capture ended any talk of him replacing Washington.  It also meant that General John Sullivan now took control of the army under Lee’s command and began moving them to Philadelphia as Washington had ordered.  Although it felt like a loss, Lee’s capture actually marked the beginning of a turnaround for Washington.

Washington continued to soldier on, still trying to consolidate his forces and make plans to confront the enemy.  He did not display any evidence of defeatism in his correspondence with officers or Congress, but on December 18, did confide in a letter to his brother Samuel that with enlistments coming to an end, he might not have an army to continue the war:
“I have no doubt but that General Howe will still make an attempt upon Philadelphia this Winter—I see nothing to oppose him in a fortnight from this time...  In a word my dear Sir, if every nerve is not straind to recruit the New Army with all possible Expedition I think the game is pretty near up”
Washington was also fortunate in that the British had no intention of attempting to take Philadelphia that winter.  It seems like it would have been relatively easy given the condition of the defenses.  The ever cautious Howe decided to consolidate his gains for the year.  He returned to New York with most of his army settling into comfortable winter quarters in and around New York.  Howe left a series of outposts throughout New Jersey to secure the colony and to continue taking oaths of allegiance from the local citizenry.  He still held out hope that Washington’s army might dissolve away over the winter and prevent any need for another bloody battle.

Whatever the justification, the Continentals seemed pleasantly shocked that the British would once again pull back rather than capture Philadelphia.  Many British officers were appalled at Howe’s orders.  Letters back to London indicate a flood of frustration that Howe never seemed to want to let his army finish off the Americans so they could go home.  As commander though, Howe had the final word and put his army into winter quarters, expecting an end to fighting for the year.

Next week: I’m going to step away from New Jersey to cover the patriot attempt to capture Fort Cumberland in Nova Scotia.  Also, the British capture Newport, Rhode Island to use as a winter port for the navy.

- - -

Next Episode 119: Fort Cumberland (Nova Scotia) and Newport, RI

Previous Episode 117 Retreat Across New Jersey



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Further Reading

Websites

Letter from Hortio Gates to George Washington Dec. 12, 1776 (carried by Wilkinson to Lee): https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0244

Bell, J.L. “The Martyrdom of Richard Stockton” Boston 1775 Blog, Sept. 4, 2008: https://boston1775.blogspot.com/2008/09/martyrdom-of-richard-stockton.html

Wiener, Frederick “The Signer Who Recanted” American Heritage Mag., June 1975:  http://www.americanheritage.com/content/signer-who-recanted

Dacus, Jeff “Charles Lee: The Gift of Controversy” Journal of the Am. Rev. Dec. 2013: https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/12/charles-lee-gift-controversy

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The Detail and Conduct of the American War, under Generals Gage, Howe, Burgoyne, and Vice Admiral Lord Howe, (original reports and letters) The Royal Exchange, 1780.

Carrington, Henry Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781, A.S. Barnes & Co. 1876.

Collins, Varnum L. A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-1777; a contemporary account of the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Princeton Univ. Library, 1906.

Drake, Samuel A. The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77, Lee and Shepard, 1899.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 5, Vol 3, Washington: St. Claire Clarke, 1837.

Johnston, Henry The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn, Long Island Historical Society, 1878.

Martin, Joseph Plumb The Adventures of a Revolutionary Soldier, 1830 (This is a copy of the original print, but in poor quality.  You can borrow a better quality copy or listen to a free audio copy of the book) or see below in "books worth buying" section.

Stryker, William Battles Of Trenton And Princeton, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1898.

Wilkinson, James Memoirs of My Own Times, Vol. 1, Philadelphia: Abraham Small, 1816.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Atkinson, Richard The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Henry Holt & Co. 2019

Dwyer, William The Day Is Ours: How a Ragged Rebel Army Stood the Storm and Saved the Revolution,  Viking, 1983.

Fischer, David Hackett Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. The Long Retreat, The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776, Upland Press, 1998.

Mazzagetti, Dominick Charles Lee: Self Before Country, Rutgers Univ. Press, 2013 (book recommendation of the week).

McBurney, Christian M. Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott, Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2014.

McCullough, David 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Papas, Phillip Renegade Revolutionary: The Life of General Charles Lee, NYU Press, 2014.

Schecter, Barnet The Battle for New York, New York: Walker Publishing, 2002.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.