Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Revolutionary Pilgrimage, Written and Illustrated by Ernest Peixotto (1917)

A Revolutionary Pilgrimage, Written and Illustrated by Ernest Peixotto (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907)
page 147


CONSIDERING that the great modern city of New York, like a giant octopus, growing bigger year by year, has reached out its tentacles and spread over the outlying country for many mijes, defying every prediction and surpassing every dream of its founders, it seems a wonder indeed that anything at all remains among its gigantic edifices and close-built streets to recall the period of the American Revolution.

Yet such remains do exist and a visit to them, with a rehearsal of their souvenirs, will, I think, prove most interesting.

So let us begin our New York pilgrimage at the Battery, where Fort George (originally Fort Amsterdam), the outward and visible sign of military authority in Colonial days, used to stand upon the site of the present customhouse. It was a strong work, and its guns were supplemented by an important battery of artillery placed along the water-front to command the harbor-^-the battery that gave its name to the promenade.

In front of Fort George, on Bowling Green, stood a big equestrian statue of the King, George III, a cloaked figure, crowned and mounted on a prancing horse, and surrounded, in the year 1771, by the heavy iron railing brought out from England that still, despite all vicissitudes and changes in the neighborhood, fences in the


little triangular plot of grass. The ornamental supports for the lanterns are still in place, and the sharp iron palings and the posts that used to be surmounted with

(Pen Drawing)

Old Houses on State Street, New York City

heads, so clumsy in workmanship with their worn, hand-wrought appearance, contrast sharply with the finely finished, ornate bronze work on all the surrounding buildings.


From the town that centred round Bowling Green one main artery led north through the island and that was Broadway. Number One upon that thoroughfare, now a big office-building, bears a tablet stating that
Here stood Kennedy House
once Headquarters
of Generals Washington and Lee.
General Charles Lee used it upon his arrival in the city at the beginning of the war while he was inspecting and putting in order its defenses. Washington occupied it as his headquarters during most of the troubled period of active operations which we shall soon follow in some detail. Lossing gives a picture of the old house that is reminiscent of some of those that still front the Battery on State Street houses that afford an excellent idea of the fashionable residences of the Revolutionary period. The tablet might have added that Kennedy House, after the evacuation of New York by the Americans, became the headquarters of Sir Henry Clinton and of Sir Guy Carleton.

Now, if we walk up that narrow slit, walled in by gigantean structures that


Tomb of Alexander
Hamilton, Trinity

wonder of the New World that is lower Broadway, we soon reach Trinity Church, in whose graveyard sleep many men and women of the Revolution. Near the south railing lies Alexander Hamilton, under a conspicuous tomb erected to the memory of
The Patriot of Incorruptible Integrity
The Soldier of Approved Valour
The Statesman of Consummate Wisdom
as the epitaph records. In front of it is the plain slab that marks his wife's grave " Eliza, daughter of Philip Schuyler" whose girlhood home we have just visited at Albany, and to whose courtship I allude in my chapter devoted to Morristown.

In the north half of the cemetery, near the Broadway line, rises the so-called martyrs' monument, a tall Gothic memorial
Sacred to the memory of
Those brave and good men who died
Whilst imprisoned in this city for their devotion to
The Cause of Independence.
the men who died in the Sugar House prison and were interred in Trinity Churchyard in nameless graves*

A few blocks farther up Broadway stands St. Paul's Chapel, now toned to a rich, smoky brown, recalling the London churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren and retaining more of its Colonial atmosphere than any other edifice in the city. It was finished about ten years prior to the Revolution and stood on the outskirts of the


city, fronting the river, with a lawn sloping down to the water, which at that time came up to Greenwich Street.

Under the Broadway portico is the monument erected in 1776, by order of Congress, to the memory of Major- General Richard Montgomery, who fell gloriously while charging the citadel at Quebec, killed just as he had called to his men: "Men of New York, you will not fear to follow where your general leads/' In 1818 his remains were brought down from Canada and interred close by this monument.

During the British occupation many of the / leading officers worshipped at St. Paul's, and on the day of his inauguration as first President of the United States, Washington went to it to attend divine service. Thereafter he attended it regularly and the double pew

Wherein he Sat is The Monument to Montgomery, St. Paul's Church


still to be seen in the left aisle, against the north wall of the church. Opposite it, in the right aisle, is the one occupied by the first American governor of New York, George Clinton.

To Fraunces' Tavern and its associations I allude in another chapter.

Now let us rehearse the story of the capture of New York by the British in 1776 and visit the places connected with that campaign.

When General Howe evacuated Boston in March, 1776, we saw him embark his army and set sail for Halifax. There he remained until the month of June, when he turned his attention to New York, his object being to capture the chief American seaport and make it the base of his future operations.

On the 28th of June four fleet frigates suddenly appeared off Sandy Hook, slipped through the Nar- rows, and dropped anchor in the outer harbor. On board of one of them, the Greyhound, was Howe himself, come ahead of his forces to confer with the royal governor, Tryon, who was awaiting him in the Lower Bay on one of the King's ships. On the following morn-


Washington's Pew, St. Pauls Church


ing forty sail were sighted off the Hook, and within a few days a hundred and thirty men-of-war and transports lay anchored under the lee of Staten Island, where the Quarantine Station now is. They rapidly discharged their troops until the green hills of the island were whitened with their tents.

Washington had foreseen this probable move of Howe's and had done everything he could to prepare the city for it. He had carefully gone over the defenses and put them in the best order
possible. There were four main strategic points to be guarded: King's Bridge, at the extreme north end of Manhattan Island; Fort George, at the Battery, whose guns, with those of Paulus Hook on the Jersey shore opposite, commanded the entrance to the Hudson Biver;



Map of Operations near New York City

Governor's Island, that defended the mouth of the East River; and Brooklyn Heights, which overlook and command what was then New York City.

But a distance of fifteen miles separated King's Bridge from Brooklyn and two ferries were necessary to transport troops from Paulus Hook to the same locality* For these extensive lines of defense Washington disposed of scarcely twenty thousand men, many of them insufficiently armed and equipped, and many raw recruits.

A few days after the arrival of the British ships a messenger from Philadelphia brought tidings of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The threatening presence of the enemy's army down the bay and the hourly expectation of an attack had keyed the people of the city to a high tension. So that, when this news reached them, their patriotic enthusiasm knew no bounds.

At six in the evening, on the 9th of July, 1776, the Declaration was read at the head of the army drawn up on the common, where the present City Hall stands a tablet on its southwest corner recording that fact. Then the populace, joined by a number of the soldiers, unable to control their feelings and not content with bonfires, tolling bells, and noise of all descriptions, flocked to Bowling Green, where stood the statue of the King, and, with shouts and jeers, pulled down the leaden effigy to melt it into bullets for the "cause of independence."

Only a day or two later, toward evening, a great booming of cannon from the fleet down the bay brought every


citizen to some point of vantage and every spy-glass in the city was fixed upon the British vessels. A great ship-of-the-line was seen standing grandly through the Narrows and, as she passed, she was greeted by every man-of-war with an admiral's salute. A flag flew at her peak and those of the watchers who knew cried out: "It's the admiral's ship; Lord Howe has come!"

Lord Richard, the admiral, who thus came to America to take command of the combined British fleets, was the brother of Sir William, the general, and these two were now to co-operate in putting down the rebellion in the colonies and in bringing them back to allegiance to the King* The admiral tried very honestly at first to accomplish this by peaceful means pardons, treaties, and the like but, of course, failed. Then his brother, the general, turned to sterner measures.

Besides the army that he had brought with him from Halifax, he had now been reinforced, in the month of August, by the arrival of Clinton's and Cornwallis's commands; by Commodore Hotham's fleet from England, bringing twenty-six hundred British troops and eighty-four hundred Hessians; and, lastly, by Sir Peter Parker's discomfited squadron from Charleston, thus swelling his effectives to twenty-five thousand men.

He now determined to transport the bulk of this formidable army from Staten to Long Island and there attack the Americans who were posted upon Brooklyn Heights in a line of intrenchments extending from Gowanus Cove to Waliabout Bay where the Brooklyn Navy


Yard now is. On the summit of the intervening hills, now Fort Greene Park, stood the main redoubt, then called Fort Putnam but since renamed Fort Greene.

The British landed in admirable order in the Narrows near Fort Hamilton and the Hessians were " transported

View from Old Fort Putnam (now Fort Greene), Brooklyn

to Gravesend Cove and made their landing with equal skill." A long range of hills crosses Long Island, extending from the Narrows toward Jamaica the hills of Greenwood Cemetery, Prospect Park, Flatbush, and Cypress Hills. They are cut by four passes and Howe proceeded at once to threaten all four of them, sending one column, his left, under General Grant, along the bay to the vicinity of Gowanus Cove; de Heister with the Hessians, his centre, to occupy the two passes at Flat-


bush; and, at the last moment, Lord Percy, with the right wing, slipped silently by night far around by what is still known as the King's Highway, the road that passes Flatlands and leads to the Cypress Hills, returning behind them to take the American outposts in the rear.

Unfortunately, the American commander in Brooklyn, Nathanael Greene, who knew its defenses so well, was stricken with a raging fever a day or two before the battle, and Israel Putnam had been assigned to his place.

General Putnam's eyes seem to have been too intently fixed upon the very evident advance of the British left wing, so that when firing began in the direction of Gowanus Cove, before daylight on the 22d of August, he instantly ordered Lord Stirling, a fine active officer, "to stop the advance of the enemy" with two of the best American regiments Haslet's Delawares and Smallwood's Marylanders. Stirling obeyed and by dawn was in contact with Grant's advancing column.

General Sullivan, who was in command of three important American outposts at the Flatbush Pass Battle Pass, as the little valley in Prospect Park that I have drawn has come to be called also at daybreak found the Hessians under de Heister in front of him, firing upon his positions and threatening an attack in force.

The firing near Gowanus Cove and the boom of de Heister's cannon were plainly audible in New York City, and Washington, hearing these guns, realized that a general action was on. He jumped into his barge, crossed


the East River, and galloped to the Brooklyn works just in time to witness the catastrophe that was there taking place.

Sullivan had maintained his position well, when the sudden thunder of Lord Percy's guns out on his left, on the Jamaica Road, told him he was outflanked and in serious danger of being cut off. He immediately ordered a retreat, but it was already too late. For as he re- tired he met, in his rear, the dragoons and light infantry and, at the same time, the Hessians charged upon his front. Caught thus between two fires, driven back and forth from one enemy to the other, the Americans fought gallantly and desperately. But numbers were against them. Some were trampled under the horses' hoofs; others furiously bayoneted by the hated Hessians, until the narrow pass became a terrible scene of slaughter. A few stragglers managed to cut their way through and escape, but nearly all were either killed or made prisoners; General Sullivan himself among the latter.

But this was not all; a worse disaster was impending. Washington, from his position on the heights, could see it coming, but was powerless to prevent it.

Stirling, who had been holding Grant's column in check, now also heard firing in his rear. He, too, thought he could retreat by fording Gowanus Creek, but upon retiring toward it he fell into Cornwallis and his grenadieis. No thought of surrender entered his head, how- ever, and with his small army he boldly faced the enemy on both fronts. A fierce and desperate battle ensued,



Prospect Park, Brooklyn

for the Marylanders were a game regiment, largely composed of young men of the best families of their State, Lord Stirling animated them with voice and example and they fought with such conspicuous gallantry and fire that Washington, watching them from his hilltop, wrung his hands in despair, exclaiming: "Good God! what brave fellows I must this day lose/' But at last, pushed to desperation and seeing no hope of escape, Stirling surrendered.

In view of this defeat, Washington now fully expected that Howe would make an assault upon his main line of intrenchments, but the British general decided otherwise. Instead, he collected his men out of range of musket-shots and encamped for the night. It was an anxious night for the Americans, for everything portended a decisive battle on the morrow, and, in truth, when daylight did come it revealed the British army close at hand. The soldiers were already beginning to throw up intrenchments when a drenching rain drove them from their work.

Meanwhile reinforcements for the Americans had come over from New York: Shee's and Magaw's Pennsylvanians fine, well-disciplined troops and well officered and Colonel Glover's regiment of Marblehead fishermen, stalwart, hardy, amphibious men, whom we shall meet again on the banks of the Delaware.

On the morning of the 29th a dense fog overhung Long Island. But a reconnoitring party that rode out to Red Hook saw, through a rift, the British fleet bustling with activity and they feared that the ships might be


planning to sail up the East River and thus completely cut off the American army on the island. So they hastened back to Washington and reported what they had seen. A council of war was quickly convoked and it decided that a retreat was imperative and must be effected that very night.

Here, indeed, was a stupendous task to ferry nine thousand men with their artillery and baggage over the East River, with its swirling tides and eddying currents, and to do this with such secrecy and in such silence that the enemy's pickets, only a quarter of a mile away, might suspect nothing of their movements.

Washington hastily requisitioned every boat that could be found and collected them on the Brooklyn side of the Fulton Ferry, placing them in charge of the men of Marblehead. A strong northeaster had been blowing all day accompanied by a heavy rain. The river was dark and angry, with a strong tide running. The militia regiments were first embarked but the wind was so high that even the Marblehead fishermen could not spread a close-reefed sail. So for three hours all boats were rowed with muffled oars.

But at midnight, as if by act of Providence, the tide turned, the wind dropped and veered to a gentle, favoring breeze; the barges could be loaded to the gunwale and their sails could be hoisted; and thus the retreat proceeded with celerity. General Mifflin, who, with the best troops, had remained up in the trenches till the last, now came down to the ferry with his covering party and


embarked. Washington, who had watched all this time at the point of embarkation, directing the movements of the troops, then crossed the river in the very last boat.

This retreat from Long Island remains one of the outstanding events of the war, one of Washington's great achievements, for by it he saved his army from inevitable disaster, rescuing it from the grip of a foe quite double its strength.

His stealthy departure was not discovered until dawn when, warned by reports, "Captain Montressor, aide-de- camp of General Howe, followed by a handful of men, climbed cautiously over the crest of the works and found them deserted." Howe's prey had escaped.

After the retreat from Long Island the army in New York was reorganized, but the Americans could scarcely hope to successfully defend both sides of Manhattan Island, whose long water-front was so exposed to attack. During the first days of September the British advanced up the Long Island side of the East River and threw out- posts as far as Flushing. Their frigates succeeded in passing Governor's Island and ascended the East River to Newtown Inlet; so that the whole east shore of Manhattan was threatened.

Under this menace the Americans decided to evacuate the city, and, two weeks after the battle of Long Island, Washington began to remove the artillery and military stores to New Jersey. He was given little time to accomplish his purpose, however, for three British frigates ascended the Hudson and anchored near Bloomingdale,


On Saturday, the 14th of September, the bulk of the army marched out of the city and up to Harlem, leaving only General Putnam with about four thousand men to cover their retreat. The very next morning a heavy cannonading was heard in the East River- Many barges were seen to put out from Newtown Inlet and crossed, approximately at the East 34th Street Ferry to Kipp's Bay, under cover of the frigates, the "open flatboats filled with soldiers standing erect; their arms all glittering in the sunbeams."

Some militia was there to oppose their landing, but they broke and ran at the first sight of the redcoats, as Washington himself thus describes:4

"At the first sound of firing, I rode with all possible dispatch towards the place of landing, when to my surprise and mortification, I found the troops that had been posted in the lines, retreating with the utmost precipitation. . . . I used every means in my power to rally and get them in order, but my attempts were fruitless and ineffectual, and on the appearance of a small party of the enemy, not more than sixty or seventy in number, their disorder increased, and they ran away without firing a shot."

This was one of the rare occasions upon which Washington lost his temper, and his rage at the cowardly militia was unbridled as he exclaimed: "Are these the men with whom I am to defend America?"

The British then marched unopposed across the island as far as the Inclenberg or Murray Hill and took up their


position upon the high ground that rises just above 34th Street, extending from Lexington to Sixth Avenues.

General Howe, with some of his officers, stopped for refreshments at the house of Robert Murray, a wealthy Quaker, whose residence gave its name to the hill. He happened to be away, but his wife set cakes and wine before the sybaritic British general and plied him so assiduously with good things that he remained quite a time in the house. This delay gave Putnam and his rear-
guard the needed opportunity to hasten forward and join the army up in Harlem. So it was generally asserted that Mrs. Murray saved Putnam's division of the army.

Washington now took up his quarters in the house of Colonel Roger Morris, that still stands on Washington Heights and is now better known as the Jumel Mansion.

Despite the fact that its surroundings are now disfigured by a great apartment-house, a huge water-tank, and several acres of car yards, its situation is still quite wonderful. As I sat with its genial and erudite curator on the little porch under The Jumel Mansion


the big white portico, watching the cloud shadows play over the hills, I thought of the anxious hours that Washington must have passed up here, scanning the heights across the Harlem River for scouting-parties or watching the hills to the south where Earl Percy's troops lay encamped.

The handsome house is now maintained under the auspices of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and in its rooms is displayed a notable collection of Revolutionary relics of all descriptions: portraits, souvenirs, uniforms, arms and ammunition, besides furniture and old prints. There are, too, some of those curious andirons of Hessian soldiers, that were so popular, for the patriots loved to sit and toast their toes while they spat at the hated mercenaries who sizzled in reply.

Washington's council-chamber, as it is called, juts out at the back of the hall a great drawing-room having windows on three sides and a fine chimneypiece at its far end. In the hall itself hangs Ercole's large portrait of Madame Jumel, now restored to its original position after many years of absence. But her story, fascinating as it is, does not belong to our quest, so we shall turn from thoughts of her to a rare old map that hangs in one of the rooms a map of the "North Part of New York Island, exhibiting the Plan of Fort Washington, now Fort Knyphausen, with the rebel lines to the Southward which were forced by the troops under the command of Rt. Hon.ble Earl Percy on the 16th of Nov r ., 1776."

The territory embraced in this map is the scene of our next field of operations, for I do not mean to burden the


reader with the minor battles that intervened between the evacuation of New York City and the capture of Fort Washington. The encouraging encounter on Harlem Heights; the engagements along the shore of the Sound; the battles at Chatterton Hill and White Plains were among these, but they ended with no material advantage to either side. Besides, little or no vestige of them remains in the now flourishing suburban towns of New Rochelle, White Plains, Mamaroneck, and Tuckahoe.

The last engagement took place at White Plains, and, after it, to obviate a more decisive battle, Washington retired to North Castle Heights about five miles above his last position. A day or two later Howe, to his surprise, turned about and left him.

"Yesterday morning the enemy made a sudden and unexpected movement from the several posts they had taken in our front. They broke up their whole encampments the preceding night and have advanced toward King's Bridge and the North River, The design of this manoeuvre is a matter of much conjecture and speculation and cannot be accounted for with any degree of certainty. ... I think it highly probable and almost certain that he (Howe) will make a descent with a part of his troops into Jersey, and as soon as I am satisfied that the present manoeuvre is real, and not a feint, I shall use every means in my power to forward a part of our forces to counteract his design. I expect the enemy will bend their force against Fort Washington and invest it immediately. From some advices, it is an object that will attract their earliest attention,"*
* Washington, in a letter to Congress.


Washington was right. The enemy did "bend their force against Fort Washington" and prepare to attack it.

The north end of Manhattan Island is a narrow strip of land, high, rocky, and precipitous in places. The Hudson River skirts it to the west; the Harlem River to the east; while its north end is separated from the mainland by the narrow but swirling rapids, of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. At the time of the Revolution but one tie to the mainland existed King's Bridge, in the locality that still retains that name.

The Americans had perfected quite an elaborate system of fortifications in this vicinity. On the height north of King's Bridge stood Fort Independence, supported by a number of redoubts designated by numerals. Upon Manhattan Island itself Cock Hill Fort commanded the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and on the heights above it were Fort George and Fort Tryon. Still south of these the ground again rises, culminating at 183d Street in a bluff that overlooks both the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. Here, prior to the battle of Long Island, the Pennsylvania troops had built "a strong work, intended as a kind of citadel," which they named Fort Washington in honor of the commander-in-chief.

Major Graydon, who was captured with it, thus describes it in his "Memoirs":6

There were no barracks, or casemates, or fuel or water within the body of the place. It was an open construction, with ground at a short distance on the back of it equally high, if not higher; without a ditch of any


consequence, if there was a ditch at all; no outworks but an incipient one on the north not deserving the appellation, or any of those exterior multiplied obstacles and defenses that, so far as I can judge, could entitle it to the name of fortress in any degree capable of sustaining a siege. It required no parallels to approach it; the citadel was at once within reach of assailants."

About a mile to the south of it an inner line of intrenchments stretched across the island at 162d Street, just including the Morris Mansion, Washington's head- quarters, within it. At 155th Street was a second line of intrenchments and at 145th Street an outer or first line, with batteries and outposts as far south as 128th Street, where the American defenses ended.

This part of the city should be of especial interest to New Yorkers, for upon it was fought the only battle in. the city's history. Yet how many of its citizens, I wonder, have ever knowingly visited the site of Fort Washington P

Leaving Broadway at 181st Street, the nearest that is cut through, you climb quite a hill as you walk toward the river. Soon you reach Fort Washington Road, a broad avenue that leads to the north, and at the top of the hill you will find a monument, whose bronze tablet is thus inscribed:
This Memorial Marks the Site of
Fort Washington
Constructed by the Continental Troops
in the Summer of 1776.
Erected through the generosity of James Gordon Bennett by the Empire State Society, Sons of the American Revolution, 1901.


From this memorial you gain an excellent idea of the terrain that the fortress commanded. The vicinity is not built over, but remains quite green and open, and its grassy slopes afford rendezvous for the mothers of the neighborhood and playgrounds for their children. To the east the land falls away abruptly to Broadway that lies far below you; to the north you overlook the slopes that bore Fort George and Fort Try on; to the south lay the triple lines of the American defenses; while to the westward the precipitous bluffs overlook the Hudson.

Fort Washington, with Fort Lee opposite upon the Palisades, were supposed to command this North River, but, despite their cannon and the chevaux-de-frise that connected them, British ships could and did pass. This being the case, Washington was in favor of abandoning Fort Washington altogether, but his good judgment was overruled by some of his generals.

When Howe had turned his back on him at White Plains, Washington had marched his army to Tarrytown, crossed to the Jersey shore, and encamped near Hackensack, keeping in close touch, however, with the garrison he had left in Fort Washington under Colonel Magaw.

Howe now prepared to storm this last fortress remaining in American hands on the New York side of the Hudson. The Hessians, under Knyphausen, came down to Spuyten Duyvil and were ferried across to the lowlands northeast of Fort Washington. They were seen as day broke and cannonaded, but, splitting into two columns, they began to advance, Knyphausen leading the main


body by the present Kingsbridge Road, while Rail (of whom we shall see more at Trenton) directed his troops


Site of Fort Washington, Looking toward Fort Lee

against Fort Tryon, fighting, according to Cornwallis, "to the admiration of the entire British army." His soldiers were worthily matched, however, by the Marylanders, who held them at bay for several hours until


"at length they were obliged to submit to a superiority of numbers and retire under the cannon of the fort."

Meanwhile Lord Percy had been attacking the intrenchments to the south of the fort and Colonel Cadwalader, who commanded there, had been obliged to withdraw his men to the third or innermost line. Then the British succeeded in crossing the Harlem River at two points and took Cadwalader in the rear. He ordered a retreat, and his men, in much confusion, finally reached the fort. But there all was in disorder, the entire garrison being now crowded into a space intended for only one thousand men. A flag was sent in with a summons to surrender, and Colonel Magaw, completely surrounded and feeling further resistance futile, gave up the fort.

Thus fell Fort Washington, whose loss was one of the severest blows sustained by the patriots during the entire war. More than two thousand men, besides forty-three cannon and a large quantity of military stores, fell into the hands of the British. Greene, who had advised defending the fort, felt "mad, vexed, sick and sorry," and Washington wrote to Congress:

"The loss of such a number of officers and men, many of whom have been trained with more than usual attention, will, I fear, be severely felt; but when that of the arms and accoutrements is added, much more so; and must be a further incentive to procure as considerable a supply as possible for the new troops, as soon as it can be done."

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