The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter II
Part IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Montgomery's death meant the loss to America of more than Canada. It probably prolonged the war; it left New York open to the enemy, and for eight long years through that open gateway the armed legions of the enemy passed, keeping the upper part of the province in a constant state of war. Had Montgomery succeeded, the Canadians would probably have joined their fellow-colonists, in the attractive hope of liberty. Had Quebec been taken the Burgoyne operations might never have been attempted. had the frontier been in the hands of Americans the Tories of Tryon County would never have attempted their bloody work in conjunction with the Iroquois. The whole course of the Revolution might have been changed had the course of one bullet been deflected. However, 'tws not to be. Fortune joined with the elements in blasting the chances of American on that fateful day of 1775 before Quebec.

The chivalrous Carleton paid especial honor to the remains of his gallant vis a vis. The body of General Montgomery was taken within the city and interred with all the ceremonious respect that his heroism and reputation inspired. Ramsay, the first Revolution historian, writes: "Few men have ever fallen in battle so much regretted by both sides as General Montgomery. His many amiable qualities had procured him an uncommon share of private affection, and his great abilities an equal proportion of public esteem. Being a sincere lover of liberty, he had engaged in the American cause from principle; and quitted the enjoyment of an easy fortune, and the highest domestic felicity, to take an active share in the fatigues and dangers of a war instituted for the defense of the community of which he was an adopted member. His well known character was almost equally esteemed by the friends and foes of the side which he had espoused. In America, he was celebrated as a martyr to the liberties of mankind; in Great Britain as a misguided good man, sacrificing to what he supposed to be the right of his country. His name was mentioned in Parliament with singular respect. Some of the most powerful speakers in that illustrious assembly displayed their eloquence in sounding his praise and lamenting his fate. Those, in particular, who had been his fellow soldiers in the late war, expatiated on his many virtues. The minister himself acknowledged his worth, while he reprobated the cause for which he fell. He concluded an involuntary panegyric by saying: 'Curse on his virtues, they have undone his country.'" #14

For forty-two years Montgomery's remains lay where they had been interred by Carleton in Quebec. Then they were exhumed for removal to New York City. "The return of Montgomery to New York borne in state down the Hudson, past the balcony where his devoted wife stood to honor whim, is one of the beautiful traditions of the war." "At length" wrote the widow, a Livingston, "they came by, with all that remained of a loved husband, who left me in the bloom of manhood, a perfect being. Alas! how did he return?" He had left her with the comforting thought that "you will never have to blush for your Montgomery." He had been true to his word; he had achieved an immortal name; yet, as his widow wrote of the manner of his return: "However gratifying to my heart . . . . . .to my feelings every pang I felt was renewed. The pomp with which it was conducted added to my woe; when the steamboat passed with slow and solemn movement, stopping before my house, the troop sunder arms, the dead march from the muffled drum, the mournful music, the splendid coffin canopied with crepe and crown with plumes, you may conceive my anguish. I cannot describe it." #15 General Montgomery's monument in St. Paul's churchyard in the heart of New York City "is a perpetual reminder to the thongs that pass and re-pass on lower Broadway that success lies not in getting but in giving."

Until April, 1776, colonel Arnold retained command of the forces defeated before Quebec. Then, with the arrival of reinforcements under General Wooster, the siege was renewed. Several attempts to force an entrance were made, but the defense was equal to the emergency; and upon the approach of General Burgoyne early in May, the Americans had to retreat hastily. British soldiers were now pouring into Canada, and the retreat became a flight. Carleton pursued the American forces, capturing many guns, most of the stores, and many of the sick. It was necessary to evacuate Montreal, and retire into New York State along the Great Warpath. Thus, the daring invasion of Canada came to a disastrous end. The campaign had been well conceived and the generalship had been good. Frederick the Great indeed praised the generalship of the dead Montgomery, but like many other military operations of that war and the next, it was doomed to failure because of a fundamental weakness of the American army--the dislike of Americans of the restrains imposed by military discipline.

How difficult were the tasks of Washington and other colonial generals during the first years of the war! Divided command could never being full success. Military maneuvers call for unquestioning obedience to the command in the directing hand; but each militiaman was a freelance--captain of his own body as well as of his soul; years were to pass before the average colonial soldier realized that incoming or going as he pleased, he was imperiling the case for which he had taken up arms. Washington once said: "The militia come in, you cannot tell how; go you cannot tell where; consume you provisions; exhaust your stores; and leave you at last at a critical moment." #16 The Canadian campaign was a painful object-lesson. Montgomery and Arnold, when they most needed man-power before Quebec, found themselves in command of less than half the number of soldiers they had once had, and many of those were prostrated by sickness. However, this condition had to be borne, and the American leaders had to thankful that in general, the efforts of the British general were not vigorous. "Nothing but the supineness or folly of the enemy could have saved us," admitted Washington himself in 1780. The American militiamen were valiant and generally enthusiastic; yet without discipline they were inferior to the British regular. Fortunately the British troops were not always strenuously used, otherwise the rebellion might have been suppressed before Washington had at his back American regular soldiers who would act at the word of command. Of the English generals Carleton seemed to be the most capable. It is said that "had he been given command in place of Sir William Howe he would in all probability have suppressed the rebellion and captured Washington in the winter of his discontentment and wretchedness at Valley Forge." Not until the Revolution was near its close did Washington have at his disposal a well-trained continental army of long term soldiers--well-disciplined veterans equal t the British regular, responsive to the national commanders, and possessed of stronger morale than the American militiamen showed. Until that time Washington had to made the most of what militia units came and went.

When he realized that the Quebec failure opened New York to attack, when he recognized that British success in that province might crush the centre of colonial resistance, Washington hastened to meet the danger. New York was indeed in danger, threatened from within as well as from the sea, and from the north. A British warship in the harbor was still the executive mansion of Governor Tryon, who was still an influence, or becoming more evident; and in the north and west of the province civil war seemed imminent, a war in which the Tories would have at their side the Iroquois we well as the Canadians. New York City had been denuded of militia, to make up Montgomery's Canadian force. The English might have occupied it almost without bloodshed in the last months of 1775. Early in January, 1776, however, Washington heard that Sir Henry Clinton had departed from Boston with an expeditionary force. He surmised the their destination was New York, and he immediately made plans to forestall them. General Charles Lee was then in Connecticut. Washington ordered him to proceed "with such volunteers as he could quickly assemble on his march and pout the city of New York in the best posture of defense which the season and circumstances would admit of." Lee made himself somewhat unpopular in New York City by carrying out these orders of the national commander too literally. New Yorkers did not like to think that men of Connecticut should take possession of their own city. When the occupation was first suggested, the provincial congress had protested, and criticism had come even from members of the Continental Congress. Nevertheless, Lee, at the head of 1,500 Connecticut troops reached New York on February 4th. On that very day, Clinton's fleet anchored off Sandy Hook. It was an exciting day for the inhabitants. One New Yorker, writing to a friend regarding it, said: "Although it was Sabbath, it threw the whole city in such a convulsion as it never knew before. All that day and all night were their carts going, and boats loading, and women and children crying, and distressed voices heard in the roads in the dead of night. Clinton came here; but to his great surprise found that he could not put his foot on shore. He expressed much concern at seeing so much distress on his account; he declared his juvenile love for this place brought him here, and was pleased to send for the mayor to desire he would acquaint the people he only came on a visit."

Clinton soon departed southward but Lee could not rest until he had made the city capable of defense. He did not stand upon ceremony, or pay scrupulous heed to municipal rights; he applied himself to his military tasks, and soon put the city "in the best posture of defense." He honeycombed the city with barricades, and girdled the island with earthworks. With Lee's coming, the local political situation crystallized. Earlier the Committee of One Hundred had tolerated the presence of Crown functionaries, ever hoping that the differences between the Crown and the Colonies would be compromised without further bloodshed. The dual government could no longer be tolerated. All civil authority, indeed, was subordinated to the military in the metropolis; "thenceforth, for eight years, New York was to be ruled by tap of drum."

In March, the British under Howe evacuated Boston, sailing for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Washington was therefore able to study more closely the military situation in other fields. He sent Putnam to New York on April 4th, to supersede Lee, whom he ordered to Charlestown, whither Clinton had gone. Washington transferred his own headquarters to New York ten days later. New York was again to take place as the "Flanders:" of the colonies, the "cockpit" of America's fighting ship. On march 14, the Continental Congress had voted 8,000 men for the defense of the city, and New Jersey and Connecticut had been asked to hold their militia ready for service in New York "to be paid when on duty as Continental troops." Curfew was established by Putnam, who also ordered that communication "with the ministerial fleets" (Governor Tryon's) must cease. The civil authorities business themselves with matters of war munitions, while the military commanders south to instill in the militia a readier recognition of the need of obedience to commands they did not succeed very well; militiamen had minds of their own; they were soldiers of initiative; when they passed a Tory home they would "levy tribute." These farmer soldiers had no patience with drills, parades, fatigue duty, guard details. "they came to fight, not to pace up

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And down a cowpath with no enemy in sight." So imbued one gallant band of "Connecticut Light Horse," 500 strong, manifested more then usually dignified individualism. It was time to make an example. So they were sent--with their fowling pieces--back to their native heath, where they would possibly be happier in shooting game than in "playing the game" as Washington wish it to be played.

The task of the commander-in-chief was by no means enviable or easy. It is said that "at no other time, perhaps, was Washington more severely tried than during the occupation of New York in the spring and summer of 1776." To confront "untrained husbandmen," armed "with fowling-pieces or scythe-blades," and clothed principally in "the armor of righteousness." This was discouraging enough in itself, but to be hindered by a somewhat bewildered populace, many of whom hardly yet knew whether they eve wanted liberty that would cost them so much to gain, must have been disheartening we well as exasperating to those who were fighting for them. Again the pettiness of the provincial legislators who were indifferent to matters that pertained to other colonies must have distressed those patriots of national vision. Washington had cause to complain to the National Congress, also. That at any moment Washington might find his military plans thwarted "by the well-meant measures of a congress of lawyers in session one hundred miles away" (at Philadelphia) was another of the difficulties that came more poignantly to him than to any other general officer, probably. However, a thoughtful Providence had endowed him with the power to bear all and keep on. He was no longer a stranger to despondency, but his determination was even steadier than his outward serenity , which was inspiring.

Every possible expedient that was available and could strengthen the defense was used. Brass field pieces, fourteen pounders, were cast, as well as iron twenty-four pounders. Small powder factories were established, and the manufacture of small arms was busily followed. The British warship "Asia" dropped down the bay, and the defenders of the city patrolled New York waters in small boats, to prevent the enemy within from communicating with British warships in the bay. The Committee headed by John Jay arrest Oliver DeLancey and other leading citizens of Tory affiliation "for conspiring with Tryon and seeking to enlist men for the King's Army," and many of the aristocrats of the metropolis had to suffer the indignity of being ridden on rails through the streets.

Two weeks after his arrival in New York Washington's forced in the metropolitan area numbered 10,235 officers and men, "of whom 8,301 were reported present for duty." Whether they actually were present, no one can say, bearing in mind how uncertain an element were the militiamen at that time; but even two months later the Continental Army possessed only 6,921 firelocks and 5,142 bayonets; so even this number of troops could not operate satisfactorily. There were other militiamen available, or at least likely to rally, but New York was not the only position likely to be attacked.

The Canadian situation became ominous in May, and it was necessary top keep a close watch upon the Iroquois. Johnstown, the seat of the Johnson family, has been the interior seat of loyalism. In January, 1776, an expedition had been despatched to Johnstown, and 300 armed Scotch Highlanders found there were captured. Sit John Johnson, son of the deceased "frontier baron" was given parole, but the situation became so dangerous very soon that General Schuyler, in May ,1776, ordered Colonel Dayton, who was then returning with his regiment from Canada, to go to Johnstown and arrest Sir John Johnson. The latter, however, received word of it, and "with a large number of his tenants fled through the forest to Montreal." There he was made colonel of the Royal Greens. Another of his family comes conspicuously into war record--his cousin, Guy Johnson. He escaped with Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chieftain whose native name was "Thayendenega." The two went to England in 1776, but both returned to Canada, and were very troublesome border enemies of the Americans during the war, through Brant does not seem to have been the "evil genius" who conceived all the "massacres" attributed to him. It seems that the Johnson influence was the main factor that drew four of the six Iroquois nations into alliance with England in 1776. Another reason was the clashing of a band of patriot with a Tory body at Schoharie. Some Mohawks were with the latter, and in the fight a Mohawk chieftain, "Neckus" was slain.

With the Canadians expedition ending in confusion, and the Iroquois country in a ferment, the situation in northern and western New York brought anxious moments to Washington in the early summer of 1776. The Canadian governor, Carleton, was following the retreating Americans closely, and was likely to eat into the heart of New York. At the same time Washington had to keep vigilant watch of Howe's large army, which was daily expected in New York waters. At the end of May, he wrote to Schuyler: "We expect a very bloody summer at New York and Canada, as it is there, I presume, that the great efforts of the enemy will be aimed.: He adds: "I am sorry to say that we are not either in men or arms prepared for it." He did not then know the worst as to the Canadian situation. Major-General Thomas had superseded Wooster early in May, and although during the winter Arnold's force in Canada had been reinforced to the extent of 3,000 men, only 1,000 were in the field when Thomas arrived on May 2d. So General Thomas resolved to retreat from Quebec at once. He was followed by Carleton's force, now considerably reinforced. The retreat continued to the Sorel--"a retched march of a disorganized, disheartened, half-starved and rapidly decreasing force." Small-pox had broken out among them, and on June 2d General Thomas died of it. Sullivan arrived at the Sorel four days later to succeed Thomas. He brought a strong force of militia, and was over-confident. Ignorant of the condition of the army, he wrote to Washington that he could "put a new face upon conditions here." Sullivan at once approved a forward movement to Three rivers, assigning 2,000 men to General Thompson, and colonels Wayne, Maxwell and Irvine for the purpose. This force joined that of Colonel St. Clair at Nicolet, and on the 7th the combined force crossed the rover to Point du Lac. Next morning they found the Canadians before them with a force three times as large. Advance was impossible, and 150 of the Americans failed to regain their boats. Returning to the Sorel, Sullivan then ordered a general retreat to Ticonderoga and Crown Point. The Canadian expedition thus ended in June, with the British holding all positions above Isle aux Noix, and the Americans busily strengthening their defenses on Lake chaplain in anticipation of invasion.

On the 29th of the same month the long-expected British fleet arrived off Sandy Hook. By July 2d there had gathered in the lower and upper bays "such a fleet as those waters had never known before." In all, there were 130 ships, among them "stately ships of the line, fierce frigates, and saucy tenders, guarding ponderous transports." Sir William Howe came with vanguard of 9,000 soldiers, most of when were veterans from the home stations. Howe was welcomed by governor Tryon, who still held viceregal state and some governmental influence on the warship "Asia." He still contrived to keep in touch with provincial affairs through the medium of the Tories, who abounded on Long Island. Howe was welcomed too by "many gentlemen, fast friends of government." From them the English general gained the fullest information of the state of the rebels." This information, as well as the visible evidences that American forces were on Long Island, caused Howe to abandon his original intention of making that island his base. Instead, on July 2d, he landed on Staten Island, from which the American forces has been withdrawn. In "Will Hick's Mansion House" General Howe established his headquarters, his troops debarking on the island also.

New York bays were a "forest of masts," and the forest grew steadily denser. Sit Peter Parker's fleet of ten warships, somewhat battered, and thirty-five transports came into the bay bringing 3,000 somewhat dejected troops of Sir Henry Clinton's command from their quite distressing clash with Moultrie before Charlestown. Very soon another fleet from England hove into sight. Admiral Lord Howe, elder brother of the commanding general, was in command; his fleet had convoyed more British soldiers and some Hessians across the Atlantic. Finally, on August 12th, the main body of the Hessian troops reached New York waters. With their coming, the fleet of enemy ships that the anxious Americans saw riding at anchor in the upper and lower bays constituted "the mightiest force that England had ever sent to sea--52 large ships of war, 27 armed sloops and cutters, 400 transports, and 31,625 soldiers."

Washington had anticipated "a very bloody summer," but even he probably was surprised that the English fleet had been able to concentrate such a formidable army and navy in New York. Of course, the Canadian danger to the English had passed, and Howe could divert to new York waters troops that might otherwise have been assigned to the frontier defense. Still, Washington's estimates of the forces against him had been probably much exceeded, for he could not oppose them with forces of even equal size, notwithstanding that it was generally recognized that poorly-armed militia could not successfully oppose a regular army of equal size.

A year earlier, few Americans had believed it possible that England could raise such a force fro such a purpose. In England in 1775, there had been a strong underlying opposition to the war. Then lord Camden had expressed his opinion, based on observation, "that the merchants, tradesmen, and common people were generally opposed to a war," though he was ready to admit that "the landed interests supported the government." A volunteer army could not be raised even among the landed interests. The people were the essential element in such plans; and the King's ministers were forced to recognize the apparent apathy of the people. Indeed, they used t to justify their at in employing foreign troops to fight England's battles. The feeble response in England to the call to arms had made it necessary to weaken the garrisons of outlying possessions so as to bring home regiments to war-strength; but this expedient had increased the home strength by only 2,300 men, whereas the King's plans called for 40,000 soldiers and 22,000 sailors to put down "by the most decisive exertions" the rebellion in America. The suggestion that England was wealthy, and that foreign mercenaries had, in the past, fought many of Europe's battles, inclined King George to believe that Holland might be attracted by the proposition. An autograph letter to the States General of Holland carried King George's request for permission to use Holland's Scot brigade in America. He was refused, the answer indicating that Holland did not view the rebellion through English glasses. "Our troops, said the Baron Van der Capellen, "would be employed toward suppressing what some please do call a rebellion in the American colonies; for which purpose I would rather see janissaries hired then soldiers of a free state. Such a measure must appear superlatively detestable to me, who think the Americans worthy of every man's esteem, and look on them as a brave people, defending, in a becoming manly and religious manner, those rights which as men they derive from God, not from the Legislature of Great Britain."

An appeal to Russia for troops might have succeeded, had not other European powers, both openly and secretly, opposed the movement. The truth was that, except in the petty German States of little political power, Europe's sympathy was not with England. France was probably quickened by the hope that England's troubles might bring her some gain--perhaps a return of new France. Frederick of Prussia was disinclined to consider England's "perplexing" affair. He had no colonies, and therefore no experience in colonial administration, though, as a soldier, he thought that if England intended "conciliation," some of her measures were "too rough"; and "if subjection, too gentle." An English physician, who travelled through the principal cities of the continent in 1775, wrote from Vienna: "At present, the inhabitants of the Continent seem as impatient as those of Great Britain for new from the other side of the Atlantic; but with this difference, that here they are all of one mind--all praying for success to the American, and rejoicing in every piece of bad fortune which happens to out Army." #17 However, the petty German princes of Hesse-Cassel, Brunswick, Hanau, and other States, would not disturb the balance of power in Europe appreciably, whichever way one or more of them acted; and as most of them were of somewhat extravagant habits and slender purse, and moreover, had autocratic power over their people, the English King's ministers saw that they might find the needed man-power there. To those markets, Sir Joseph Yorke accordingly went. Colonel William Fawcett followed later, to princes for such subjects as were seized and forced into the service of Britain. These officers were to all intents the only volunteers; the Hessian rank and file were pressed into service. Even King George had some compunction in resorting to such a method of increasing the English army. "To give," he said, "German officers authority to raise recruits for me is, in plain English, neither more nor less than to become a manstealer, which I cannot look upon as a very honorable occupation." Still, injustice to King George, it should be said that his was not the controlling voice; much of the execration heaped upon him should be shifted from his shoulders on to those of his ministers. True, George III was more assertive then the Earlier Georges, but at the best, he was merely a "constitutional King"--a figure-head, whose opinion would not outweigh that of Parliament and Cabinet. So recruiting offices were opened in the petty German States, and the princes thereof began to fill their pockets with English gold. They had so many other personal needs for the head money that not enough was left to properly clothe the conscripted subjects. The Hessians were short of shoes and stockings, and were without overcoats and some other apparel, when they were assembled in England in the early months of 1776. However, by the time they reached America the Hessians were most presentably attired, though their broad leather belts were probably stronger then their resolution. So enlisted, what could induce such soldiers to fight well, except in self-defense? They might develop a degree of ferocity in returning blow for blow, but in desperate fighting they could not be expected to show the dogged heroism that patriotism along could instill. However, England's armies in all absorbed 29,166 German soldiers, more than half of them coming from Hesse-Cassel. Of this number 11,853 were destined never to return to their native State.

Of course, by the time the brothers Howe reached New York, the Americans had positively taken their stand for independence. Reconciliation was not longer possible. The Declaration of Independence had been drafted. On the very day that General Howe had landed on Staten island, the Continental Congress had adopted a resolution which read: "That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." The delegates from New York had not been authorized to vote for the Declaration, but the Congress of that province, having doubted whether the people had vested in it the necessary authority to vote for independence, had already given way to another; and this new Congress, a week or so later, in the face of the enemy, was to fearlessly align New York with the other independent States. Admiral Lord Howe was no doubt aware of these political happenings; yet he thought that his great armada would make his task of reconciliation somewhat easy. Certainly, force was strong argument. Furthermore, he was inclined to believe that demonstration of force would make the use of it unnecessary. Why shed the blood of his own countrymen, colonial and insular, unnecessarily? With even two or three of his ships he could destroy most of New York. Washington's "rabble" could not resist the immense land force that England had gathered. Lord Howe, indeed, could not think of the colonial force as an army; he was not disposed to accord the American general any military status whatsoever. The bearer handed the letter to two American officers, Adjutant-General Reed and Lieutenant-Colonel Webb; but when Webb noticed that it was addressed to George Washington, Esq., they refused to even receive it, Reed remarking: "We have not person in our army with that address." The return of his letter unopened must have shaken the confidence of the would-be mediator. Nevertheless, on July 20th, Lord Howe tried again, consenting now to address Washington as a general officer. The British emissary was now courteously received by Washington, who however pointed out that as Lord Howe was not empowered to acknowledge American independence, negotiations were futile, for peace on any other basis was impossible; the colonies had taken their stand, and the issue now lay with the armed forces. Lord Howe would not be denied, however; he tried his powers of persuasion upon Franklin, whom he had entertained in his London home; but Franklin replied with such sting that, it is said, Lord Howe turned away with tears in his eyes.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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