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field officers were, with a degree of severity which the treatment of General Lee did not warrant.
The general plan of retaliation, adopted by Congress for abuses offered to Americans in the power of the British, the sound judgment of General Washington conceived to be unjust and impolitic, and his humane heart relucted to execute it. Some of the resolutions of that honourable body on this subject, he thought exposed his own honour to impeachment by Sir William Howe. Against those resolutions he pointedly remonstrated, and detailed the evils they were calculated to produce to the nation, and to the Americans, prisoners with the British. His representations, through a long period, had not their due effect; but eventually Congress was constrained to adopt the measures he recommended.
Resolving never himself to aggravate the miseries of war by wanton deeds of cruelty, General Washington was disposed to adopt and execute those laws of retaliation, which would constrain the enemy to conduct their military operations in the spirit of humanity. Repeated and heavy complaints were made of the cruel treatment which the American prisoners received in New York; and the sickly and debilitated state of those who were sent out to be exchanged, confirmed the truth of the charge. Many of them fainted and died before they reached head quarters. General Howe demanded that all prisoners, delivered at the lines to an American officer, should be accounted for in the cartel, and British soldiers returned to the full amount. General Washington absolutely refused to reckon those who died on their way to the American camp; and he unweariedly exerted himself to correct the abuse to American prisoners. In the beginning of April this year, he wrote Sir William Howe, “ It is a fact not to be questioned, that the usage of our prisoners, while in your possession, the privates at least, was such as could not be justified. This was proclaimed by the concurrent testimony of all who came out, their appearance sanctified the assertion, and melancholy experience, in the speedy death of a large part of them, stamped it with infallible certainty.” These measures induced the enemy to a more humane treatment of their prisoners ; but disputes on the subject prevented the establishment of a regular cartel until a late period of the war.
In March the enemy sent out two detachments to destroy the American stores at Peck’s Kill on the North River, and at Danbury in Connecticut. Both succeeded in their attempt; and although the stores destroyed did not equal in quantity the report on which the expeditions were planned, yet their loss was sensibly felt by the Americans in the active season of the campaign.
In the near approach of active operations, Congress resolved that a camp should be formed on the western side of Philadelphia. General Washington had already adopted his plan for the campaign, and requested that this camp, if formed, should consist wholly of militia. In the expectation that Sir William Howe would either attempt to gain possession of the high lands on North
river, and co-operate with General Burgoyne from Canada ; or renew the plan of the last campaign, to march through New Jersey for Philadelphia, the General determined to post his army upon the strong ground in New Jersey, north of the road through Brunswick, to Philadelphia. In this position he might protect Philadelphia, and a great part of New Jersey. The situation was also favourable to defend the passes and forts on the North river. To this post he wished to collect a force sufficient to repel an assault from General Howe. In the location of his army, the General had another object of magnitude upon his mind. In his opinion it was uncertain whether General Burgoyne would by sea join Sir William Howe, or, retaining a separate command, attempt the conquest of Ticonderoga, and an impression upon the Hudson : which of these measures would be pursued, he could not determine, until the plans of the enemy were unfolded. To guard against both, he ordered the troops raised north of the Hudson to be divided between Ti. conderoga and Peck's Kill; and those south, including North Carolina, to be stationed in New Jersey. The troops of South Carolina and Georgia were left for their own defence. By this disposition of his forces, the General was in a situation to reinforce Ticonderoga from Peck’s Kill, should Burgoyne attack that post; or reinforce his own army from those posts, should Burgoyne join Sir William Howe.
In pursuance of this plan, on the last of May, the winter encampment at Morristown was broken
up, and a camp formed at Middlebrook, about ten miles from Brunswick. The position, naturally strong, was strengthened by entrenchments. The weak state of the American army required for its safety every advantage of ground, as well as the utmost caution of the General. On the 20th of May, the troops in New Jersey, exclusive of cavalry and artillery, amounted only to eight thousand three hundred and seventy-eight men, of whom more than two thousand were sick. The troops of North Carolina had not then joined the army, and about five hundred of the militia of Jersey were not included in the estimate. This force was in numbers much inferior to the army commanded by Sir William Howe, and many
of the Americans were recruits, who had never faced an enemy.
Sir William having collected his force at Brunswick about the middle of June, marched in two columns towards the Delaware. By this movement, be expected to induce General Washington to quit his fortified camp, to oppose the enemy's
, passage of the river, and that a general engagement would, in consequence, take place on ground
, favourable to the British commander. General Washington was not ensnared by this stratagem. In a letter written at the moment, bis apprehensions of this manæuvre are thus conveyed. “ The views of the enemy must be to destroy this army, and get possession of Philadelphia. I
I am, how ever, clearly «f opinion, that they will not move that way, until they have endeavoured to give a serere blow to this army. The risk would be too
great to attempt to cross a river, when they must expect to meet a formidable opposition in front, and would have such a force as ours in the rear. They might possibly be successful, but the probability would be infinitely against them. Should they be imprudent enough to make the attempt, I shall keep close upon their heels, and will do every thing in my power to make the project fatal to them.”
“But besides the argument in favour of their intending, in the first place, a stroke at this army, drawn from the policy of the measure, every appearance contributes to confirm the opinion. Had their design been for the Delaware, in the first instance, they would probably have made a secret, rapid march for it, and not have halted so as to awaken our attention, and give us time to prepare for obstructing them. Instead of that, they have only advanced to a position necessary to facilitate an attack on our right, the part in which we are most exposed. In addition to this circumstance,
. they have come out as light as possible ; leaving all their baggage, provisions, boats, and bridges, at Brunswick. This plainly contradicts the idea of their intending to push for the Delaware.”
When the British army was collected at Brunswick, General Washington knowing that the high lands on the Hudson were not exposed while the enemy held that position, ordered a large detachment from Peck's Kill to Middlebrook, and he determined to defend himself in this post. Finding that his opponent could not be ma