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CAMPAIGN OF 1780.
Washington gives an opinion against attempting to
1780. The military establishment for the
1780 was nominally 35,000; but these were not voted till the 9th of February, and were not required to be in camp before the 1st of April following. Notwithstanding these embarrassments, the active mind of Washington looked round for an opportunity of deriving some advantage from the present exposed situation of his adversary. From recent intelligence, he supposed that an attack on about 1,200 British, posted on Staten island, might be advantageously made, especially in its present state of union with the continent by an un broken body of solid ice. The prospect of success depended on the chance of a surprise, and, if this fuiled, of reducing the enemy, though retired within their fortifications, before reinforcements could arrive from New York. The vigilance of the commanding officer prevented the first, and the latter could not be depended on; for, contrary to intelligence first received, the communication between the island and the city, though difficult, was practicable. The works were too strong for an assault, and relief too near to admit the delays of a siege. Lord Stirling, with 2,500 men, entered the island on the night of the 14th of January, 1780. An alarm was 1780. instantly and generally communicated to all the posts, and a boat dispatched to New York, to communicate intelligence and to solicit aid. The Americans, after some slight skirmishes, seeing no prospect of success, and apprehending that a reinforcement from New York might endanger their safety, very soon commenced their retreat. This was effected without any considerable loss. From the intenseness of the cold, and deficiency of warm clothing, several were frost bitten.
Soon after this event, the siege of Charleston commenced, and was so vigorously carried on by sir He..ry Clinton, as to effect the surrender of that place on the 12th of May. Washington, at the distance of more than 800 miles, could have no personal agency in defending that most important southern mart. What was in liis power was done ; for he
weakened himself by detaching, from the army under his own immediate command, the troops of North Carolina, the new levies of Virginia, and the remnants of the southern cavalry. Though Washington had never been in Charleston, and was without any personal knowledge of its harbour, yet he gave an opinion respecting it which evinced the soundness of his practical judgement. In every other case the defence of towns had been abandoned so far as to risk no armies for that purpose; but in South Carolina general Lincoln, for reasons that were satisfactory to his superiors, adopted a different line of conduct. Four continental frigates were ordered to the defence of Charleston, and stationed within its bar, and a considerable state marine force co-operated with them. This new mode of defence was the more readily adopted, on the generally received idea that this marine force could be so disposed within the bar as to make effectual opposition to the British ships attempting to cross it. In the course of the siege this was found to be impracticable, and all ideas of disputing the passage of the bar were given up.
This state of things being communicated by lieutenantcolonel John Laurens to Washington, the general replied, “ the impracticability, of de
fending the bar, I fear, amounts to the loss of the town and garrison. At this distance it is impossible to judge for you. I have the greatest confidence in general Lincoln's prudence, but it really appears to me that the propriety of attempting to defend the town, depended on the probability of defending the bar, and that, when this ceased, the attempt ought to have been relinquished. In this, however, I suspend a definitive judgement, and wish you to consider what I say as confidential.” The event corresponded with the general's predictions. The British vessels, after crossing the bar without opposition, passed the forts, and took such a station in Cooper river, as, in conjunction with the land forces, made the evacuation of the town by the Americans impossible, and finally produced the surrender of the whole southern army.
When intelligence of this catastrophe reached the northern states, the American army was in the greatest distress. This had been often represented to congress, and was particularly stated to general Schuyler, in a letter from general Washington, in the following words, “Since the date of my last, we have had the virtue and patience of the army put to the severest trial. Sometimes it has been five or six days together without
bread, at other times as many days without meat, and, once or twice, two or three days without either. I hardly thought it possible, at one period, that we should be able to keep it together; nor could it have been done, but for the exertions of the magistrates in the several counties of this state, on whom I was obliged to call, expose our situation to them, and in plain terms declare, that we were reduced to the alternative of disbanding, or catering for ourselves, unless the inhabitants would afford us their aid. I allotted to each county a certain proportion of four or grain, and a certain number of cattle, to be delivered on certain days, and, for the honour of the magistrates and good disposition of the people, I must add, that my requisitions were punctually complied with, and in many counties exceeded. Nothing but this great exertion could have saved the army from dissolution, or starving, as we were bereft of every hope from the commissaries. At one time the soldiers eat every kind of horse food, but hay. Buckwheat, common wheat, rye, and Indian corn, composed the meal which made their bread. As an army they bore it with the most heroic patience, but sufferings like these, accompanied by the want of clothes, blankets, &c. 17