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“ The enemy
every reason to believe, that Heaven would crown with success so just a cause.”—He further added : will endeavour to intimidate, by show and appearance ; but remember, they have been repulsed by a few brave Americans. Their cause is bad ; their men are conscious of it; and, if opposed with firmness and coolness on their first onset, with our advantage of works and knowledge of the ground, the victory is most assuredly ours. Every good soldier will be silent and attentive; wait for orders; and reserve his fire until he is sure of doing execution. Of this, the officers are to be. particularly careful.” He then gave the most explicit orders, that any
soldier who should attempt to conceal himself, or retreat without or ders, should instantly be shot, as an example of the punishment of cowardice ; and desired every officer to be particularly attentive to the conduct of his men, and report those whủ should distinguish themselves by brave and noble actions. These he solemnly promised to notice and reward.
On the 22d of August, the greater part of the British troops landed on Long Island. Washington immediately made a further effort to rouse his troops to deeds of valour. “ The enemy,” said he,“ have landed, and the hour is fast approache ing, on which the honour and success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding country, depends. Remember, officers and soldiers, that you are freemen, fighting for the blessings of liberty: that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men. Remember how your courage has been despised and traduced by your cruel invaders, though they have found, by dear experience, at Boston, Charlestown, and other places, what a few brave men, contending in their own land, and in the best of causes, can do against hirelings and mercenaries.-Be cool, but determined. Do not fire at a distance, but wait for orders from your
officers.” He repeated his injunctions, “ to shoot down any person who should misbehave in action," and his hope “ that none so infamous would be found ; but that, on the contrary, each for himself, resolving to conquer or die, and trusting to the smiles of Heaven on so just a cause, would behave with bravery and resolution.” His assurance of rewards to those who should distinguish themselves, were repeated, and he declared his confidence “that, if the army would but emulate and imitate their brave countrymen in other
parts of America, they would, by a glorious victory, save their country, and acquire to themselves immortal honour.”
On the 5th day after their landing, the British attacked the Americans on Long Island, commanded by general Sullivan. The variety of ground, and the different parties employed in different places, both in the attack and defence, occasioned a succession of small engagements, pursuits, and slaughter, which lasted for many hours.
The Americans were defeated in all directions. The circumstances which eminently contributed to this, were, the superior discipline of the assailants, and the want of early intelligence of their movements. There was not a single corps of cavalry in the American army. The transmission of intelligence was of course always slow, and often impracticable. From the want of it, some of their detachments, while retreating before one portion of the enemy, were advancing towards another, of whose movements they were ignorant.
In the height of the engagement, Washington passed over to Long Island, and, with infinite regret, saw the slaughter of his best troops, but had not the power to prevent it; for had he drawn his whole force to their support, he must have risked every thing on a single engagement. He adopted the wiser plan, of evacuating the island with all the forces that he could bring off. In superintending this necessary, but difficult and dangerous movement, and the events of the
preceding day, Washington was indefatigable. For forty-eight hours, he never closed his eyes, and was almost constantly on horseback. In less than thirteen hours, the field-artillery, tents, baggage, and about nine thousand men, were conveyed from Long Island to the city of New York, over East River, and without the knowledge of the British, though not six hundred yards distant. The darkness of the night, and a heavy fog in the morning, together with a fair wind after midnight, favoured this retreat, which was completed, without interruption, some time after the dawning of the day.
The loss sustained by the American army, in the engage ments on Long Island, was very considerable, but it could not be accurately ascertained. Numbers were supposed to have been drowned in the creek, or suffocated in the marsh, whose bodies were never found; and exact accounts from the militia are seldom to be expected, as the list of the missing is
always swelled by those who return to their homes. General Washington computes the total loss of the Aniericans at three thousand three hundred men; but this computation is probably excessive. The loss of the enemy is stated, by general Howe, at twenty-one officers, and three hundred and fortysix privates, killed, wounded and captured.
The attempt to defend Long Island was so disastrous in its issue, and believed to have been so perilous in itself, that persons were not wanting who condemned it; and it is yet represented as a great error in the commander-in-chief.' But, in deciding upon the wisdom of measures, the event will not always lead to a correct judgment. Before a just opinion can be formed, it is necessary to consider the previous state of things ; to weigh the motives which led to the decision, and to compare the value of the object, and the probability of securing it, with the hazards attending the attempt. The importance of the town of New York, and of Long Island, to either party, has been already stated, and was, throughout the war, very clearly demonstrated. It was extremely desirable to maintain the possession of both, or, if that could not be done, to consume the campaign in the struggle for them. The abandonment of Long Island, besides giving the enemy secure and immediate possession of our extensive and fertile country, would certainly very much facilitate the success of their attempt upon New York. It was therefore to be avoided, if possible.
The impossibility of avoiding it was not evident, until the battle had been fought. It was true, that the American force on the island could not be rendered equal, even in point of numbers, to the enemy; but, with the advantage of the defensible country, through which it was necessary to pass, and of a fortified camp, which could be attacked only on one side, considerable hopes might be entertained, without being over sanguine, of at least maintaining the position for a considerable time.—That such an opinion was not ill-founded, seems to be evidenced by the cautious movement of general Howe, who, even after the victory of the 27th, was not disposed to attack it without the co-operation of the fleet, but chose to carry it rather by regular approaches. Nor would the situa: tion of the troops on Long Island have been desperate, even in the event of a conjoint attack both by land and water, be. fore their strength and spirits were broken by the action of
the twenty-seventh.-- The East River was guarded by very strong batteries, on both sides; and its entrance, from the bay, was defended by Governor's Island, which was fortified and garrisoned by two regiments. The ships could not lie in that river, without first silencing those batteries, an operation which would have been found extremely difficult, and therefore their aid could be given only when a storm of the works should be intended ; and when that should appear impracticable, the troops should be withdrawn from the island.
There was then, certainly, in the plan of maintaining Long Island, considerable hazard ; but not so much as to demonstrate the propriety of relinquishing a post of so much importance, without a struggle to preserve it.
The unsuccessful termination of the late action, led to consequences more seriously alarming to the Americans, than the loss of their men. Hitherto, they had had such confidence in themselves, because engaged in the cause of liberty and their country, that it outweighed all their apprehensions from the exact discipline of the British troops ; but now tinding that
of them had been encircled in inextricable difficulties by the superior military skill of their adversaries, they went to the opposite extreme, and began to think very indifferently of themselves and their leaders, when opposed to disciplined troops.-As often as they saw the enemy approaching, they suspected a military maneuvre, from which they supposed nothing could save them but immediate flight. Apprehensions of this kind might naturally be expected, from citizen-soldiers, lately taken from agricultural pursuits, who expected to lay aside the military character at the end of the ensuing year. Washington, tremblingly alive to the state of the army, wrote to congress, on the sixth day after the defeat on Long Island, as follows: “Our situation is truly distress ing. The check which our detachment lately sustained, has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops, and filled their minds with apprehensions and despair.—The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition, in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off; in some instances, almost by whole regiments; in many, by half regiments, and by companies at a time. This circumstance of itself, independent of others, when fronted by a well appointed enemy, superior in number
to our whole collected force, would be sufficiently disagree able ; but when it is added, that their example has affected another part of the army; that their want of discipline, and refusal of almost every kind of restraint and government, have rendered a like conduct but too common in the whole, and have produced an entire disregard of that order and subordination which is necessary for an army; our condition is still more alarming, and with the deepest concern I am obliged to confess my want of confidence in the generality of the troops.—All these circumstances fully confirm the opinion I ever entertained, and which I more than once in my letters took the liberty of mentioning to congress, that no dependence could be put in a militia, or other troops than those enlisted and embodied for a longer period than our regulations have hitherto prescribed. I am fully convinced that our liberties must of necessity be greatly hazarded, if not entirely lost, if their defence be left to any but a permanent army:
"Nor would the expense incident to the support of such a body of troops, as would be competent to every exigency, far exceed that which is incurred by calling in daily succours, and new enlistments, which, when effected, are not attended with any good consequences. Men who have been free, and subject to no control, cannot be reduced 10 order in an instant; and the privileges and exemptions which they claim, and will have, influence the conduct of others, in such a manner, that the aid derived from them is nearly counterbalanced by the disorder, irregularity, and confusion, they occasion."
Unfortunately, causes in addition to those so often stated, existed in a great part of the army. In New England, whence the war had as yet been principally supported, the zeal excited by the revolution had taken such a direction, as, in a great degree, to abolish those distinctions between the platoon-officers and the soldiers, which are so indispensable to the formation of an army, capable of being applied to all the purposes of war. In many instances, these officers, who constitute so important a part of every army, were elected by the men; and a disposition to associate with them on the footing of equality, was a recommendation of much more weight, and frequently conduced much more to the choice, than individual merit. In some instances, those were elected, who agreed to put their pay into mess with the privates, and