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THE DECISIVE PERIOD OF THE WAR. SURRENDER OF BURGOYNE AND CAPTURE OF PHILADELPHIA BY HOWE. THE NAVAL PART IN EACH OPERATION
HE leading purpose of the British government in the campaign of 1777 was the same as that with which it had begun in 1776, - the control of the line of the Hudson and Lake Champlain, to be mastered by two expeditions, one starting from each end, and both working towards a common centre at Albany, near the head of navigation of the River. Preliminary difficulties had been cleared away in the previous year, by the destruction of the American flotilla on the Lake, and by the reduction of New York. To both these objects the Navy had contributed conspicuously. It remained to complete the work by resuming the advance from the two bases of operations secured. In 1777 the fortifications on the Hudson were inadequate to stop the progress of a combined naval and military expedition, as was shown in the course of the campaign. The northern enterprise was intrusted to General Burgoyne. The impossibility of creating a new naval force, able to contend with that put afloat by Carleton, had prevented the Americans from further building. Burgoyne therefore moved by the Lake without opposition to Ticonderoga, before which he appeared on the 2d of July. A position commanding the works was discovered, which the Americans had neglected to occupy. It being seized, and a battery established, the fort had to be evacuated. The retreat being made by water, the British Lake Navy, under Captain Skeffington Lutwidge, with whom Nelson had served a few years before in the Arctic seas, had a conspicuous part in the pursuit; severing the boom blockading the narrow upper lake and joining impetuously in an attack upon the floating material, the flat-boat transports, and the few relics of Arnold's flotilla which had escaped the destruction of the previous year. This affair took place on the 6th of July. From that time forward the progress of the army was mainly by land. The Navy, however, found occupation upon Lake George, where Burgoyne established a dépôt of supplies, although he did not utilise its waterway for the march of the army. A party of seamen under Edward Pellew, still a midshipman, accompanied the advance, and shared the misfortunes of the expedition. It is told that Burgoyne used afterwards to chaff the young naval officer with being the cause of their disaster, because he and his men, by rebuilding a bridge at a critical moment, had made it possible to cross the upper Hudson. Impeded in its progress by immense difficulties, both natural and imposed by the enemy, the army took twenty days to make twenty miles. On the 30th of July it reached Fort Edward, forty miles from Albany, and there was compelled to stay till the middle of September.
Owing to neglect at the War Office, the peremptory orders to Sir William Howe, to move up the Hudson and make a junction with Burgoyne, were not sent forward. Consequently, Howe, acting upon the discretionary powers which he possessed already, and swayed by political reasons into which it is not necessary to enter, determined to renew his attempt upon Philadelphia. A tentative advance into New Jersey, and the consequent manoeuvres of Washington, satisfied him that the enterprise by this route was too hazardous. He therefore embarked fourteen thousand men, leaving eight thousand with Sir Henry Clinton to hold New York and make diversions in favor of Burgoyne; and on the 23d of July sailed from Sandy Hook, escorted by five 64-gun ships, a 50, and ten smaller vessels, under Lord Howe's immediate command. The entire expedition numbered about 280 sail. Elaborate pains were taken to deceive Washington as to the destination of the armament; but little craft was needed to prevent a competent opponent from imagining a design so contrary to sound military principle, having regard to Burgoyne's movements and to the well-understood general purpose of the British ministry. Accordingly Washington wrote, “Howe's in a manner abandoning Burgoyne is so unaccountable a matter, that till I am fully assured of it, I cannot help casting my eyes continually behind me.” He suspected an intention to return upon New York. On the 31st of July, just as Burgoyne reached Fort Edward, where he stuck fast for six weeks, Howe's armament was off the Capes of the Delaware. The prevailing summer wind on the American coast is south-south-west, fair for ascending the river; but information was received that the enemy had obstructed the channel, which lends itself to such defences for some distance below Philadelphia. Therefore, although after occupying the city the free navigation of the river to the sea would be essential to maintaining the position, —for trial had shown that the whole army could not assure communications by land with New York, the other sea base, — Howe decided to prosecute his enterprise by way of the Chesapeake, 'the ascent of which, under all the conditions, could not be seriously impeded. A fortnight more was consumed in contending against the south-west winds and calms, before the fleet anchored on the 15th of August within the Capes of the Chesapeake; and yet another week passed before the head of the Bay was reached. On the 25th the troops landed. Washington, though so long in doubt, was on hand to dispute the road, but in inferior force; and Howe had no great difficulty in fighting his way to Philadelphia, which was occupied on the 26th of September. A week earlier Burgoyne had reached Stillwater, on the west bank of the Hudson, the utmost point of his progress, where he was still twenty miles from Albany. Three weeks later, confronted by overwhelming numbers, he was forced to capitulate at Saratoga, whither he had retreated. Lord Howe held on at the head of the Chesapeake until satisfied that his brother no longer needed him. On the 14th of September he started down the Bay with the squadron and convoy, sending ahead to the Delaware a small division, to aid the army, if necessary. The winds holding southerly, ten days were required to get to sea; and outside further delay was caused by very heavy weather. The Admiral there quitted the convoy and hastened up river. On the 6th of October he was off Chester, ten miles below Philadelphia. The navy had already been at work for a week, clearing away obstructions, of which there were two lines; both commanded by batteries on the farther, or Jersey, shore of the Delaware. The lower battery had been carried by troops; and when Howe arrived, the ships, though meeting lively opposition from the American galleys and fire-rafts, had freed the channel for large vessels to approach the upper obstructions. These were defended not only by a work at Red Bank on the Jersey shore, but also, on the other side of the stream, by a fort called Fort Mifflin, on Mud Island." As the channel at this point, for a distance of half a mile, was only two hundred yards wide, and troops could not reach the island, the position was very strong, and it detained the British for six weeks. Fort Mifflin was supported by two floating batteries and a number of galleys. The latter not only fought, offensively and defensively, but maintained the supplies and ammunition of the garrison. On the 22d of October, a concerted attack, by the army on the works at Red Bank, and by the Navy on Fort Mifflin, resulted disastrously. The former was repulsed with considerable loss, the officer commanding being killed. The squadron, consisting of a 64, three frigates, and a sloop, went into action with Mud Island at the same time; but, the channel having shifted, owing possibly to the obstructions, the sixty-four and the sloop grounded, and could not be floated that day. On the 23d the Americans concentrated their batteries, galleys, and fire-rafts upon the two; and the larger ship took fire and blew up in the midst of the preparations for lightening her. The sloop was then set on fire and abandoned. So long as this obstacle remained, all supplies for the British army in Philadelphia had to be carried by boats to the shore, and transported considerable distances by land. As direct attacks had proved unavailing, more deliberate measures were adopted. The army built batteries, and the navy sent ashore guns to mount in them; but the decisive blow to Mud Island was given by a small armed ship, the Vigilant, 20, which was successfully piloted through a channel on the west side of the river, and reached the rear of the work, towing with her a floating battery with three 24-pounders. This was on the 15th of November. That night the Americans abandoned Fort Mifflin. Their loss, Beatson says, amounted to near 400 killed and wounded; that of the British to 43. If this be correct, it should have established the invincibility of men who under such prodigious disparity of suffering could maintain their position so tenaciously. After the loss of Mud Island, Red Bank
* This was just below the mouth of the Schuylkill, a short distance below the present League Island navy yard.