British Fail at Bagging the Fox – Thirty Days of Crisis for America’s Continental Army During the Revolutionary War

Washington’s Retreat Through New Jersey. November 9 – December 8, 1776.


British Ships run the blockade btw. Forts Lee and Washington
British Ships run the blockade btw. Forts Lee and Washington that hug the Hudson River along New Jersey and Manhattan Island.

Supreme British Commander Major General Sir [1]William Howe’s efforts to ‘bag the fox’ had failed. ‘The Fox”, first termed by British General Charles Cornwallis in and around New York City the fateful summer of 1776, was the ‘rebel’ General George Washington. Mr. Washington, as the British referred to him – shunning any military rank of American officers, grew in stature to symbolize the ‘patriotic cause’ that in July of 1776, declared freedom from England’s rule. In Europe, the objective of invading armies was to capture territory. Eventually it would bring the combatants to the table to negotiate a settlement satisfactory to the most successful belligerent. England applied the same strategy to America. They focused on gobbling up colonies instead of aggressively pursuing the armies of the rebellion. They soon learned that in this new land, there was not the manpower or means to do so effectively. America was just too large.

Each time the military took over a region, no sooner than they would advance, the ‘rebels’ would pour back from the outlying regions to harass them. To some in the military, it was becoming apparent that the only possible resolution of this conflict would be the capture of ‘Mr. Washington’. The fox had to be trapped. And once leaderless, the defeat of his army would soon follow; the fatal blow sought for and thereby dissolving the rebellion. But the war was in its infancy.   The majority of British aristocracy still believed that they needed to pacify the region’s major cities and regain control, thereby bringing the patriots to their senses and end this ‘nonsense’.

Battle of Valcour Bay, Oct. 11, 1776. General Benedict Arnold, though losing the battle, effected a delaying tactic that thwarted British efforts to claim Lake Champlain and invade the colonies’ northern regions.

By the fall of 1776, a grand pincer movement between two British armies designed to entrap Washington’s army had fizzled out. British General Carleton’s efforts to advance from Canada by way of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River were thwarted by American General Benedict Arnold’s bold delaying tactics. General William Howe’s enormous army and his brother Lord Admiral ‘Black Dick’ Howe’s vast fleet spent precious weeks maneuvering in and around New York City. Occasional armed clashes with Washington’s home spun citizen soldiers proved nothing more than a poorly executed game of chess. For all of these gargantuan efforts, the Howe brothers, in four months of campaigning and second guessing Washington’s movements, had little to show beyond capturing New York City and Long Island. The Howe brothers believed they had obtained their main objective, America’s greatest harbor and ‘decent’ winter quarters, yet Washington’s force remained elusive.

Washington Divides his Army

General George Washington, ‘The Fox.’

By the end of October, most of the Continental Army retreated into northern New York. They kept a presence on Manhattan Island along Harlem Ridge and a garrison in Fort Washington just to the north of Harlem on the heights overlooking Hudson’s River.

Map indicating Forts Washington and Lee.

On November 8th, Washington decided to divide his army into three parts. There were signs that the British had shifted their attention southward and information that pointed to a thrust into the Jerseys. In a letter from White Plains to Congress dated November 9th, Washington gives his reasoning: “… By every information I can obtain and from the accounts I had last night, by two deserters who were very intelligent and particular, Genl. Howe still has in view an expedition to the Jersey’s and is preparing for it with the greatest industry.[2]   Washington needed to protect New England as well as the country north of New York which would in turn support the Northern Army at Ticonderoga under General George Gage. A strong detachment would be sent southwest to counter any move Howe might make through New Jersey and in the direction of Philadelphia

General Lee was to remain in the position at North Castle, just north of White Plains. He was in command of three divisions. Twelve hundred men were on sick list leaving him 5,500 effective troops. He was to thwart any attempt by Howe to move his forces into New England. General Heath had four brigades in the vicinity of Peekskill, New York. He was to guard supplies and keep a presence along the Hudson, keeping communications open to General Gage. He had 3,200 soldiers fit for duty. Washington had the rest, 5,400 including General Greene’s troops at Fort Lee.

Washington writes to Congress on November 9th informing him he will move some of his men southwestward: “I have detached the first division of our troops, which was thought necessary to be sent, and which I hope will cross the river at Peekskill today. The second I expect will all march this evening, and tomorrow morning I propose to follow myself, in order to put things in the best train I can and to give him [General Howe] every possible opposition.”[3] Washington detached General Stirling’s brigade, troops from Maryland and Virginia, to find a suitable crossing over the Hudson. Stirling crossed from Peekskill to Haverstraw on the 9th, found a gap in the Palisades [heights that rim the Hudson to the west] through which passed a road to the west, posted a hundred men to hold it, and sent scouts to spy out the country beyond. Washington followed the next day and marched through the gap, called Clove, and encamped at Hackensack.[4]

Continental Army in Crisis

Hackensack, New Jersey. Where Washington made his headquarters prior to his retreat across New Jersey.

By the time Washington reached Hackensack, his numbers had dwindled considerably. The days were progressively colder and a thick frost covered the ground. Frigid nights without proper bedding or tents along with cold, chilling November rains, signaled the onslaught of winter. Men were clothed in summer attire that by now was too meager and ragged to keep them warm. Desertion became rampant. Entire companies left for home. British Lt. Frederick McKenzie wrote in his diary on Nov. 5,1776: “many of the rebels who were killed in the late affairs, were without shoes or stockings, and several were observed to have only linen drawers on, with a rifle or hunting shirt, without any proper shirt or waistcoat….” He went on to discuss the mild weather adding the sudden change: “but in less than a month they must suffer extremely.”[5]  Terms of enlistments were quickly approaching the rebel army. By Nov. 30th, some men were done with their enlistment. Just over 2,000 would go home after December 1st followed by the whole army on January 1st , Lee’s and Heaths detachments included. However many were not waiting for their official release. Washington commented on the epidemic number of desertions that ran through the ranks like plague. He wrote to Governor Livingston on November 30: “The time of General Heard’s Brigade of flying camp for this state [New Jersey], and that of Genl. Beall’s from Maryland, expires this day; so that the army will by that means, suffer a very considerable diminution. But what is still worse, altho’ most of the Pennsylvanians are enlisted till the first of January, I am informed that they are deserting in great numbers…”[6]

Forts Washington & Nearly 3,000 Men and Supplies Lost

British & Hessian troops cross the Harlem River to attack Fort Washington.

By the time Washington reached Hackensack, New Jersey, he was convinced that Howe’s next objective was Philadelphia. He sent General Thomas Mifflin to the capitol to meet with Congress and local government to press the need for states’ militias and additional supplies. He felt he had time to prepare against any excursion towards the American capital. Fort Washington, on the Manhattan side of the Hudson, was well garrisoned, positioned high on a bluff overlooking all avenues of attack. Many thought it to be impregnable, most especially General Nathaniel Greene of Rhode Island, the youngest general in the rebel army. Additional troops still held the line at Harlem Heights and Kingsbridge to the north of the island. Howe had to deal with 3,000 soldiers, many of Washington’s best, before he could advance into New Jersey. A siege could take weeks giving Washington the much needed time to reorganize his army and prepare for an attack. The Americans quickly discovered there are little certainties in war. Instead of weeks, the fort lasted but three hours before capitulating to the British and a formidable Hessian assault.

Fort Washington on Manhattan falls on Nov. 16, 1776. Hessian troops storm the embankments.

The fall of Fort Washington on November 16th, 1776 left American General Nathanael Green in shock. A little more than a week prior to the battle, British men-or-war had easily sailed past obstructions the Americans had laid in the Hudson River to halt passage upriver. The barriers in the water were in line with a pair of forts on each side of the river; Fort Lee in New Jersey and Fort Washington in New York. When Washington learned how easily the British sailed past the forts, he expressed his doubts as to the practicality of the forts in a letter to Greene dated Nov. 8th: “Sir, the late passage of the three vessels up the North River is so plain a proof of the inefficiency of all the obstructions we have thrown into it, that I cannot but think it will fully justify a change in the disposition which has been made. If we cannot prevent vessels passing up, and the enemy are possessed of the surrounding country, what valuable purpose can it answer, to attempt to hold a post from which the expected benefit cannot be had? I am therefore inclined to think it will not be prudent to hazard the men and stores at Mount Washington…” However, Washington faints from giving a direct order to evacuate: “… but as you are on the spot, leave it to you to give such orders as to evacuation Mount Washington, as you judge best, and so far revoking the order given to Colonel Magaw to defend it to the last.”[7]   True to Washington’s style of command, against his better judgment, he was leaving the decision to retain the two forts to a subordinate.

Soon after the Battle of White Plains, General Howe moved south towards New York City and massed his troops to make an assault on Fort Washington and the rebel line at Harlem Heights; the American’s last held territory in Manhattan. Greene had written back to his commander the day after he received the Nov. 8th letter. He strongly believed that Fort Washington would hold and if there were signs that it was in danger of falling to the enemy, the men could be gotten off in time.   He wrote:   “Sir, upon the whole, I cannot help thinking the garrison (at Fort Washington) is of advantage; and I cannot conceive it to be in any great danger; the men can be brought off at any time, but the stores may not be so easily removed; yet I think they can be got off in spite of the enemy, if matters grow desperate.” He adds that the garrison’s commander is confident of holding the fort; “… Colonel Magaw thinks it will take them till December expires before they can carry it.” He ends with a warning; “giving it up will open[for the British] a free communication with the country.”[8]

Still skeptical, Washington concurred. Soon after he arrived and set up his headquarters in Hackensack, the morning of the assault on Fort Washington, he rode to Fort Lee and from his vantage on the Palisades in New Jersey, witnessed the Hessian and British attack. The British assault forced all the troops stationed outside the fort to retreat to the garrison. When it was obvious that the Americans were on the verge of defeat, nearly3,000 men, ammunition, and all their supplies was at stake, Washington sent a desperate message to Colonel Magaw, commanding the fort.[9] Colonel Joseph Reed, aide to Washington recorded that “such was Washington’s almost desperate anxiety, that at the close of the action, during a temporary cessation of the cannonade, he sent a note to Colonel Magaw, promising that if he could hold out till evening, an effort should be made to bring off his men. It was too late. The articles of capitulation were by this time signed.”[10]

Major General Nathanael Greene

The Rhode Island Quaker’s decision cost the Americans 2,900 troops and an enormous amount of much needed supplies. Greene wrote his friend Henry Knox the day after the battle: “I feel mad, vexed, sick, and sorry.”[11] One half of the men lost were well-trained regulars, among Washington’s best soldiers. Historian George Bancroft wrote that “Green would never assume his share of responsibility for the disaster, and would never confess his glaring errors of judgment; but wrongfully ascribed the defeat to a panic which had struck the men, so that “they fell a prey to their own fears.”[12]

Washington summed up the devastating loss in a letter to Congress the day of battle: “The loss of such a number of officers and men, many of whom have been trained with more than common attention[13], will I fear be severely felt. But when that of the arms and accoutrements is added, much more so…”[14]

Loss of Fort Lee/ Howe advances into New Jersey

Having claimed all of Manhattan, Howe set his sights on Fort Lee[15], directly across the Hudson from Fort Washington. Washington wrote Congress the day the fort of his namesake fell. He said that he believed Fort Lee could be held. But three days later he had second thoughts, convincing himself that the fort was no longer needed. He writes on Nov. 19th while in Hackensack to Hancock, president of Congress:   “As Fort Lee was always considered, as only necessary in conjunction with that on the east side of the river, to preserve the communication across, and to prevent the enemy from a free navigation, it has become of no importance by the loss of the other, or not so material, as to employ a force for its defense…”[16] On the 20th, he ordered an immediate evacuation of Fort Lee along with all cannon and supplies. He was too late. The British were already marching on the Fort.

November 19th, 1776, British forces cross the Hudson River to attack Fort Lee. General Greene quickly abandons the fort leaving behind most of his cannon and supplies.

On the evening of November 19th, just two days after the fall of Fort Washington, General Cornwallis[17] crossed the Hudson. At 9 PM, in a heavy rain, the 1st and 2nd battalions of British light infantry and two of two British and two Hessian grenadiers, two of the Guards, two companies of Hessian jaegers [riflemen], plus the 33rd and 42nd regiments, 4,000 troops in all, struck their tents. By daylight the next day they had all landed on the Jersey side at Closter, six miles above Fort Lee and quickly weaved up the steep Palisades overlooking the Hudson River. “The nimble seamen were unmolested as they dragged the cannon for near half a mile up the narrow, steep, rocky road, to the top of the palisades.”[18] By early morning, they had dragged their artillery up the heights. Once assembled, the British began their march towards the fort, hoping to capture Washington’s army between the Hackensack and Hudson’s Rivers. Fortunately for the Americans, an officer on patrol discovered the British advance and rode to the fort, spreading the alarm. Fort Lee was in jeopardy. This time Greene made no effort to defend the garrison. Greene sent word to Washington then ordered his men under arms. His troops had been fixing breakfast and rushed to evacuate the fort, leaving their tents standing with all their belongings. Greene gained the bridge over the Hackensack and assembled as many confused men as he could. Leaving them with Washington, he raced back to gather over three hundred stragglers. But the British under Cornwallis had moved so rapidly that 100 Americans were captured[19] and ten killed.[20]

Greene was able to salvage most of the powder and ammunition plus two twelve-pounders that had been laid to carriage. They left behind thirty-two pieces of artillery mounted on the ramparts of the fort, a thousand barrels of flour, tents, baggage, and three months provisions for three thousand men, all sorely missed later that winter.[21] General Henry Clinton’s aide, Francis Lord Rawdon wrote to Robert Auchmuty on November 25, 1776: “… This grand point [Ft. Washington] being gained, by which York Island [Manhattan Island] and a great part of the province was cleared from the rebels, General Howe… landed 5,000 men under the command of Lord Cornwallis up the North River on the Jersey shore, a few miles above the other famous fortification, called Fort Constitution or Fort Lee. His Lordship immediately marched to attack this place… but found it had been evacuated by the rebels so precipitately that the pots were left absolutely boiling on the fire, and the tables spread for diner of some of their officers. In the fort they found but twelve men, who were all dead drunk. There were forty or fifty pieces of cannon found loaded, with two large iron sea mortars and one brass one, with a vast quantity of ammunition, provisions and stores, with all their tents standing.”[22]

The next day, November 21st, Washington writes to General Lee: “the Fort [Ft. Lee] was not tenable on this side, [I] directed the Troops consisting of Beall’s, Heard’s, the remainder of Ewing’s Brigades, and some other parts of broken regiments, to move over to the west side of Hackensack River… we have not an entrenching tool, and not above 3,000 men, and they [are] much broken and dispirited, not only with our ill success, but the loss of their tents and baggage [supplies left at Ft. Lee]; I have resolved to avoid any attack, tho’ by so doing I must leave a very fine country open to their ravages, or a plentiful Store House, from which they will draw voluntary supplies.”[23]

Philadelphia in the British Sights

Philadelphia waterfront in 1775

It was nearly confirmed, with Cornwallis’ move west and taking Fort Lee, that Howe’s intentions was to capture Philadelphia. Many of Howe’s officers agreed. General Clinton’s aide, Lt. Rawdon, shared the opinion of his fellow officers when he thought that Philadelphia, capital of ‘this seditious rebellion’ was the objective. He writes: “His Lordship’s face [Howe] seems to be set towards Philadelphia, where he will meet with no kind of opposition.” So too did the patriots think that Philadelphia would be the next city to fall. General Mifflin, Philadelphia Quaker, wrote Robert Morris on November 21st that the city would “in a few hours shake to her centre.”[24]  Throughout early December, as the British grew nearer, Congress vacated Philadelphia for Baltimore Maryland, 110 miles further south. As General Oliver Wolcott, delegate to Congress from Connecticut wrote to his wife: “… it was judged that the Council of America ought not to sit in a place liable to be interrupted by the rude disorder of arms…”[25]

While there was still some doubt as to Howe’s true intentions, Lee’s two divisions, over 5,000 men, remained at North Castle to oppose him if he moved towards New England. Washington strongly believed Howe’s objective was the capital.   On November 10, just before he left with his detachment for New Jersey: “…If the enemy should remove the whole, or the greatest part of their force, to the west side of Hudson’s River, I have no doubt of your following, with all possible dispatch, leaving the militia and invalids to cover the frontiers of Connecticut in case of need.”[26]

Washington Requests that General Lee Joins Him

Eleven days later, on November 21, Washington writes to Lee that he is totally convinced that Howe will move his main force into New Jersey. Washington is determined to show a body of force, however not bring on an attack. He urges Lee to join him. He writes: “… the public interest requires your coming over to this side, with the Continental Troops, leaving Fellows’ and Wadsworth’s Brigades… reasons for this measure… [is] that the enemy are evidently changing the seat of war to this side of the North River [Hudson River]; that this country therefore will expect the Continental Army to give what support they can… It is therefore of the utmost importance, that as least an appearance of force should be made to keep this province [New Jersey] in the connection with the others… I would have you move over by the easiest and best passage…”[27]   Three days later, Nov. 24 from New Ark [Newark], NJ, he writes Lee again warning him of enemy positions that might hinder his march and suggesting safer routes. He concludes: “I need not urge the necessity of your gaining intelligence of the enemy’s situation… Hoping and trusting that your arrival will be safe and happy….”[28] Washington has yet to guess that Lee is purposefully stalling and as of receipt of Washington’s letter, has yet to march to his side.

On November 27, three days later, Washington is clearly losing patience with Lee. He writes from New Ark, “My former letters were so full and explicit, as to the necessity of your marching, as early as possible, that it is unnecessary to add more on that head. I confess I expected you would have been sooner in motion…”[29]

Washington is Desperate for More Troops

Washington is not just counting on Lee’s support, but seeks men from wherever he can find them. He informs Congress on Nov. 27th that he has requested that General Schuyler of the northern army send him reinforcements. “I have wrote [written] to Genl. Schuyler to send down, as early as possible, the troops in the northern department, from this and the state of Pennsylvania…”[30]

Washington pens a letter on Nov. 29th to General Heath stationed at Peekskill, NY. Within the text he expresses hope to gain militia from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He seems to vacillating over offering resistance or not as it contradicts his letter to Lee just two days earlier where he laments that even with Lee’s men, they would not be able to resist:   “… I am led to expect considerable reinforcements from Pennsylvania and this state [NJ]… If the reinforcements are equal to my expectations, I hope I shall at least be able to prevent a further penetration of the enemy who have already [mutilated] in this part of the country…”[31]

Washington begins the retreat across New Jersey.

Washington, though calling for the NJ militia to join his regulars and publicly expressing confidence that they would heed his request, writes on Nov. 30th to Gov. William Livingston in which he express his doubt: “… General Williamson gives me small encouragement to hope for much assistance from the militia of this state; indeed some of the counties, if they were willing, are intimidated from coming in, as the enemy have possession of the country…”[32]   That same day, Washington wrote to Congress express some of his frustration with the New Jersey militia: “I hoped we should have met with large and early succors by this time; but as yet no great number of the militia of this state has come in, nor have I much reason to expect.”[33] Four days before this letter was written, Gov. Livingston called out the New Jersey militia to join Washington’s force, however the response proved to be dismal. If more troops could not be found, Washington feared the demise of the army and the whole cause. He writes on Nov. 18th to his brother Lund. He sums up his desperation for additional men noting that if replacements could not be found, “I think the game is pretty near up.”[34]

Fight or Flight?

During these stressful days, when desertion was epidemic and “the ranks melted like snow in summer”[35], all calls for additional troops went unheeded. Washington wrestled between hope for reinforcements and dismay – should he stand and resist or flee before the enemy? Washington knew that his fewer than 3,000 men would not be adequate to stop the British advance. Even with Lee’s additional men, he had his doubts. He writes to Lee on Nov. 27: “The force here, when joined by yours, will not be adequate to any great opposition; at present it is weak, and it has been more owing to the badness of the weather, that the enemy’s progress has been checked, than any resistance we could make. They are now pushing this way…”[36]

With no additional troops within sight, he is forced to accept the later. The rebel army had remained at New Ark while the rainy weather held up the British advance. By Nov. 30th, Washington pulled his army back to Brunswick.   He writes to Congress that he had heard that “the enemy were embarking or about to embark another detachment for Staten Island, with a view of landing at Amboy… it was necessary to proceed here [Brunswick] to prevent their bringing a force to act upon our front and rear…”[37] He writes to Congress over his frustration seeking militia and informs them that he cannot offer resistance: “Their arrival [militia] is much to be wished, the situation of our affairs being truly alarming and such as demands the earliest aids…It was the opinion of all the generals… that a retreat to this place [Brunswick] was requisite…as our force was by no means sufficient to make a stand against the enemy, much superior in number, with the least probability of success…”[38]

In this same letter he lists the progress of the enemy. Spies on Staten Island informed him that a detachment of enemy is preparing to disembark for Amboy in an attempt to attack his forces from the rear. He is told one division of the enemy had advanced as far as Elizabeth Town and that another division of Hessians are on the road through Springfield.

Criticism of Washington/General Lee Assumes his Own Command

By December 1st, Washington writes to General Lee from Brunswick. It has now been ten days since he had requested that Lee join him. Once more implores Lee to hasten his march to him: “The force I have with me is infinitely inferior in number and such as cannot give or promise the least successful opposition. It is greatly reduced by the departure of the Maryland flying Camp men and sundry other causes. I must entreat you to hasten your march as much as possible, or your arrival may be too late to answer my valuable purpose…”[39]

Because of what many considered the disastrous handling of the army throughout the New York City campaign and now with the army divided and one faction near certain defeat, many officers began questioning Washington’s ability as commander-in-chief.  Not all was negative. Some were willing to give Washington the benefit of the doubt: Governor Livingston of New Jersey writes to the commander-in-chief on Nov. 27th: “But depend upon it my dear sir, the impartial world will do you ample justice before long. May God support you under the fatigue both of body and mind to which you must be constantly exposed.”[40] In an army whose ranks are mostly made up of farmers, artisans, and merchants commanded by well off planters, politicians, and men of wealth, one who had any concrete experience in military operations was placed in high regard without the necessity of proving himself in battle. Major General Charles Lee was that sort of military man.

Major General Charles Lee

Historian Christopher Ward puts it best when he writes: “Lee was vain, as he himself admitted, and his vanity had been fed to bursting by the admiration and adulation which had been his from the moment he joined the army.   At a time when the Congress was making generals out of blacksmiths and booksellers, the appointment of Charles Lee as second in command under Washington was hailed with enthusiasm. Here was a professional soldier who from the age of fifteen had worn a military coat and had flashed a gleaming sword on many a battlefield in Europe and America. His homespun colleagues listened with awe and with but little understanding to his talk of redans and redoubts. Simple provincials as they were, they looked upon him as the very epitome of the arts of war in the grand manner and valued him accordingly.”[41]

Such adulation went to Lee’s head. Why would he delay in coming to Washington’s aid? The answer follows his character. He was now in sole possession of two divisions, his own command, and as such tended to follow his own judgment rather than follow Washington’s recommendations. He believed the threat to New England was real and his presence was needed in New Castle – not sitting second to a general who allowed himself to be chased across New Jersey. He also overestimated Washington’s strength and decided his commander was perhaps too timid or lacked the ability to stand firm against his pursuers. He should be in command of the Continental Army and America’s hope for independence. Many officers agreed, including Washington’s aide and member of His Excellency’s[42] ‘family,’[43] Adjunct General and previous lawyer in Philadelphia, Colonel Joseph Reed.[44]

Colonel Joseph Reed (1741-1785) Adjunct General and first personal secretary to General Washington.

Lee and Reed began a correspondence in which Reed encouraged Lee to act independently. He criticized Washington’s actions while reaping praise upon Lee’s merits. What better commander of this army than a military man of extensive experience. Reed writes to Lee on Nov. 21st: “I do not mean to flatter or praise you at the expense of any other, but I confess I do think it entirely owing to you that this army, and the liberties of America… are not entirely cut off. You have decision, a quality often wanted in minds otherwise valuable.” Clearly the last was a direct reference to Washington. He wished Lee to join Washington where his judgment and experience was “so likely to be necessary.” Reed went on to reassure Lee that he had the full confidence of Washington’s entire staff including the general officers. Criticizing Washington’s latest indecision as to the fall of Fort Washington he added: “…General Washington’s own judgment, seconded by representations from us, would I believe has saved the men and their arms [Fort Washington], but unluckily General Greene’s judgment was contrary; this kept the general’s mind in a state of suspense till the stroke was struck. Oh! General – an indecisive mind is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall an army – how often have I lamented it this campaign… We are in a very awful and alarming situation – one that requires the utmost wisdom and firmness of mind.”[45]

Lee wrote back to Reed on the 24th. “I received your most obliging, flattering letter, lament with you that fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification than stupidity ,or even want of personal courage; accident may put a decisive blunder in the right, but eternal defeat and miscarriage must attend the man of the best parts if cursed with indecision.” He continues that Washington “recommends in so pressing a manner as almost to amount to an order, to bring over the congenital troops under my command.” He proceeds to give a series of reasons why he has decided not to answer Washington’s call to join him. “…[this] throws me into the greatest dilemma…. Part of them [his troops] are so ill furnished with shoes and stockings, blankets, etc, that they must inevitable perish in this wretched weather.” He continues to list many of men’s service having reached their limit along with his concerns over enemy movements, noting Colonel Rogers’ Queen Rangers[46] of loyalists.  He finishes his letter telling Reed once the Rogers affair is concluded, he will march to him. “I shall fly to you; for to confess a truth, I really think our Chief will do better with me than without me.”[47]

Lee may have reasoned that if he were to delay aiding Washington, his commander’s detachment could be destroyed by a superior and aggressive foe. This would leave Lee in charge of the only large contingency of Continental troops; something Congress could not ignore when looking for a new commander for their struggling forces. Historian Bancroft wrote that Lee was weakened by the return home of the Massachusetts militia and used that as an excuse “to remain idle for sixteen days, pretending to defend a country which there was no enemy near to attack, indifferent to the full and explicit and constantly reiterated orders of Washington.”[48]

Colonial Peekskill, NY

Lee’s letter of the 24th, which was addressed to, Reed, had fallen into Washington’s hands. Reed was in Burlington, NJ, the seat of the state legislature, to press the need for the state’s militia.[49] Washington had thought it was official business that needed a response from the commander-in-chief. He had had taken the liberty to read it. The letter must have wounded him deeply. Not only did it disclose the private opinions with respect to himself, of the oldest and most highly esteemed officer in the service, [Lee] but it was calculated to inspire a suspicion that his more intimate and confidential friend, the Adjunct-General, was participating in a correspondence, which, on one side at least, was derogatory to his military capacity. He could infer what Reed had written only from Lee’s vehement and offensive answer.[50]

Washington’s reaction could be considered quite cool by comparison to the letter’s content. Perhaps he was conscious that he had, in the recent disastrous movements of the army, submitted too much to the guidance of men who were inferior to himself. All he could complain of was the tone of this correspondence and of the want of candor which it implied. Washington retained his usual self-control and dignity in replying to Reed with an explanation as to how Reed’s letter came to his attention: He writes to Reed on Nov. 30:   “The enclosed was put into my hands by an express from the White Plains. Having no idea of its being a private letter, much less suspecting the tendency of the correspondence, I opened it, as I had done all other letters to you from the same place and Peekskill, upon the business of your office… This, as it is the truth, must be my excurse for seeing the contents of a letter, which nether inclination or intention would have prompted me to…”[51]

The Race is On/Despair of Troops

By December 1, 1776, Washington had been driven from Hackensack, marched to the Acquackanonck Bridge, and crossed the Passaic River on Nov. 23rd. The bridge was destroyed as the army hurried onto New Ark [Newark]. Washington was to remain in Newark for five days while the enemy was delayed by rain. On the 28th, British General Cornwallis was on the move again. The American’s rearguard no sooner cleared Newark than the advance guard of British entered the other end. Washington marched to Brunswick where he was to remain three days until Dec. 1 when an artillery duel across the Raritan River announced the arrival of the British.

Lt. Enoch Anderson recorded in his diary: “In the afternoon of the fifth of December [the actual date was Dec. 1] the British appeared on the bank of the Raritan River. We were under the command of Lord Stirling… a severe cannonading took place on both sides[52], and several were killed and wounded on our side.”[53] They had marched from Newark in two columns along the roads which led through Springfield and Elizabeth Town, taking up a position behind the Raritan River.[54] With the hounds close behind, survival prompted Washington was to race across New Jersey to the sanctity of Pennsylvania.

Stirling’s brigade of eight regiments, about 1,200 men, had been the first to cross at Peekskill to head southwest through New Jersey. They headed directly for Brunswick and had been there since their arrival on Nov. 17th. Like the rest of the army, his troops were in deplorable condition. Lt. Enoch Anderson of Haslet’s Delawares wrote: “We arrived at Brunswick broken down and fatigued – some without shoes, some had no shirts.”[55]

Many of the officers serving under Washington were in deep despair over their military loses and the army’s retreat across New Jersey. Captain Ebenezer Huntington writes to his grandfather, Jabez Huntington from Peeks Kill, New York, on November 25, 1776: “…The present appearance is very gloomy, the British troops making head wherever they attempt. Our people, instead of behaving like brave men, behave like rascals, and to add to that, it seems that the British troops had gone into the Jerseys, only to receive the submission of the whole country… no man unless on the spot can have a tolerable idea of it… A Hell itself could not furnish worse beings than subsist in the world where our army is now posted.”[56]

Washington writes to Lee on November 27 noting the condition of his men and the helplessness he felt: “The distress of the troops, for want of cloaths, I feel much, but what can I do?”[57]

Dispirited by a succession of defeats, wearied with marching day after day, lacking tentage, blankets, clothing, food, etc., they were a ‘wretched lot’. Washington considered the plight of his army and the entire rebellion to be in the gravest danger. Enoch Anderson of Delaware and Lord Stirling’s division describes their plight after the last to flee Brunswick in the face of the enemy: “We made a double quick-step and came up with the army about eight o’clock [PM]. We encamped in the woods, with no victual, no tents, no blankets. The night was cold and we all suffered much…”[58] Historian Sir Otto Trevelyan describes Lord Stirling and his fourteen hundred southern infantry as “the flower of the army, though a fade flower it was…”[59] Reed described it, “the wretched remains of a broken army.”[60] And in such a ravaged state, could the American Army still fight?

British Thoughts of their Enemy

The British thought little of the ‘rebels’ ability to stand and fight. A British officer recorded: “On the appearance of our troops, the rebels fled like scared rabbits…” Rawdon writes: “You see my dear sir, [again to Robert Auchmuty] that I have not been mistaken in my judgment of this people. The southern people will no more fight than the Yankees. The fact is that their army is broken all to pieces, and the spirits of their leaders and their abettors is also broken. However, I think one may venture to pronounce that it is well nigh over with them.”[61]

General Cornwallis’ troops pursue.

The race was on with Cornwallis in hot pursuit of the American troops, at times within hours of the patriots’ rear guard. However the advance became bogged down as Americans retreated into the countryside, but when detachments of the pursuing British gave up and turned back to the main column, the Americans so too would turn around and once more were driven away. One British officer expressed his frustration: “As we go forward into the country, the rebels fly before us… and when they come back, they always follow us. ‘Tis almost impossible to catch them. They will neither fight, nor totally run away, but they keep at such a distance that we are always a day’s march from them. We seem to be playing at ‘bo-peep’.”

Francis Lord Rawdon

By all events since the Howe brothers arrived in New York in July of 1776, victory, by December 1st, seemed all but assured. British officers were writing home: “Peace must soon be the consequence of our success.”[62] Howe was so confident that the end of this ‘deplorable conflict’ was in sight and Washington’s small force would soon be dealt with, that he sent his annoying second in command, Major General Sir Henry Clinton, to Newport, Rhode Island along with 6,000 men to winter.[63] It is interesting that the British historian Sir George Otto Trevelyan made note of Clinton’s presence in Rhode Island writing: “For any effect which they produced upon the general result of the war, they might have been as usefully, and much more agreeably, billeted in the town of the same name in the Isle of Wight.”[64]


Washington Decides to Leave New Jersey/Fall of Philadelphia Immanent

On the evening of Dec. 1, 7:30 PM, Washington penned a brief letter to Congress that set in motion actions that would lead to Trenton and a startling turn of events that would breathe new life into the rebellion. That evening, as noted, the British approached Brunswick and a cannonade ensued. This brief action seemed to make up Washington’s mind for him. While retreating before the enemy, he had been calling for aid from Lee, the Northern Army, and the local militia. He vacillated between making a stand to halt the enemy’s progress or at least to delay it, or press hard in a general retreat and escape to the west. In the three weeks since arriving in New Jersey, he had expressed hope that his appeals for additional troops would give him the strength to hold back the British onslaught while acknowledging the reality that he had not the ability to do so. The day before, over two thousand troops in both Washington’s army and Heath and Lee’s detachments left for home. The same day that the Americans had lost a large portion of their fighting strength due to scheduled discharges, the Howe brothers, General William Howe and fleet commander Admiral Richard Howe, published a new proclamation of pardon and amnesty to all who would within sixty days, promise not to take up arms in opposition to the king. The offer appealed to thousands throughout New York and New Jersey.[65] With no help in sight, and a far superior force at his door step, he notified Congress he was giving up New Jersey and any thought of defending Philadelphia. He would save his army.

Washington writes to Congress on Dec. 1st: “In a little time after I wrote you this evening, the enemy appeared in several parties on the Heights opposite Brunswick and were advancing in a large body towards the crossing place. We had a smart cannonade whilst we were parading our men… It being impossible to oppose them with our present force with the least prospect of success, we shall retreat to the west side of Delaware… I have sent Colonel Humpton forward to collect the necessary boats for our transportation… the militia from Pennsylvania should be ordered towards Trenton, that they may be ready to join us and act as occasion may require…”[66] The stage was being set for the Battle of Trenton that would, before the year was over, resurrect the cause to establish a new nation in America.

This letter of Dec. 1st started a panic in Philadelphia.  On Nov. 30th, the Council of Safety of Philadelphia published a notice warning all who would wish to avoid the “insults and oppressions of a licentious soldiery” should be prepared to leave the city on a short warning. When Washington’s letter arrived on the 2nd, placing Howe’s army in Brunswick and on the road to Philadelphia, it was the match that ignited the city. For days after, the roads were crowded with wagons and a confused press of panic stricken supporters of the rebellion, all hurrying to leave the city. Shops were closed, schools ‘broke up’, with some determined to aid in the defense of the city.[67] Royalists, though, for their present safety, remained for the most part silent, were overjoyed with the news.

College of New Jersey (later Princeton Univ.) Nassau Hall. Built in 1746.

Washington arrives at Princeton on the morning of Dec. 2nd. He writes to Congress to inform him of his location and a general summation of matters including that concerning Lee’s delay: “When the enemy first landed on this side the North River [Hudson], I apprehended that they meant to make a push this way, and knowing that the force which I had was not sufficient to oppose ‘em, I wrote to Genl. Lee to cross with the several Continental Regiments in his Division, and hoped he would have arrived before now; by some means or other he has been delayed.”[68] He adds that he received a letter this day from General Heath saying that one Brigade crossed the Hudson on Nov. 26th with Lee supposedly following the next day, though he can only assume as he received nothing from Lee as to this occurring.

British General Howe Delays the Chase/Lee Never Shows

Major General Charles Lee

On Dec. 3rd, Washington writes to Congress from Trenton. He informs them that the British have halted their progress at the Raritan River and had not entered Brunswick and that he had left General Stirling with his brigade at Princeton as a rear guard. He writes that he has ordered all military stores and baggage over the Delaware, ‘a great quantity are already got over,’ and as soon as the boats arrive from Philadelphia, “we shall load them, by which means I hope to have everything secured this night and tomorrow if we are not disturbed.” He adds a comment about his frustration with Lee: “I have not heard a word from General Lee, since the 26th last month, which surprises me not a little, as I have dispatched daily expresses to him, desiring to know when I might look for him…”[69] Congress was also in the dark as to Lee’s whereabouts. They resolved on the 2nd to confirm Washington’s move to send Colonel Stewart, commander of the Penn. State Regiment, to find Lee and know the situation of him and his army.

On December 3rd, Washington finally receives a letter from Lee. The letter was written on Nov. 30th. In it he says that he is at Peekskill with two divisions and he planned to cross the Hudson in two days time. Washington quickly pens a letter shedding some of his frustration: “You will readily agree that I have sufficient cause for my anxiety and to wish for your arrival as early as possible…”[70] The next day, from Trenton, Washington informs Congress that he has heard from Lee giving his whereabouts and adding, “From this intelligence you will readily conclude that he will not be able to afford us any aid for several days…”[71]

Lee captured by British dragoons after spending the night with a prostitute.

Washington’s frustration with Lee’s blatant refusal to act upon his appeals, even failing to reply to the commander-in-chief’s letters, must have reached a breaking point by mid December. The Continental army had been driven from New Jersey, Philadelphia was within striking distance of Howe’s forces, and General Lee was finally moving to reinforce Washington, though at his own discretion at a painful snail’s pace. Washington must have felt some relief when his second in command’s desire for female comforts while in route to Pennsylvania resulted in Lee’s capture at the hands of an old subordinate.   September 15th, Widow White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, it’s after 10 AM and Lee had just finished his breakfast. He took parchment and penned a letter to General Horatio Gates of the Northern Army, taking time for what was becoming a frequent habit – sharing his disfavor of his commander-in-chief’s actions to anyone and everyone who would listen.   In it he condemned Washington for the loss of Fort Washington and the condition of Lee’s detachment, the last correspondence he would write before his capture by dragoons under the leaderships of Banastre Tarleton: “The ingenious maneuver of Fort Washington has completely unhinged the goodly fabric we had be building. There never was so damned a stroke; entre nous, a certain great man is most damnable deficient. He has thrown me into a situation where I have my choice of difficulties: if I stay in this province I risk myself and army; and if I do not stay, the province is lost forever…”[72] No sooner did he lay down his quill than a company of British cavalry was seen thundering down the road toward the tavern.

Washington Places the Blame for the Retreat on the Militia

State Militia

Washington was fuming over the militia of New Jersey’s lack of response. Even the appeal of New Jersey’s Governor Livingston to its militia’s several colonels “could not bring into the field one full company.”[73] Washington writes to Congress from Trenton on Dec. 5th. He places the blame for his retreat through New Jersey and having to leave the state to the British squarely on the New Jersey militia. He writes: “…sorry I am to observe however, that the frequent calls upon the militia of this state, the want of exertion in the principal gentlemen of the country, or a fatal soupiness and insensibility of danger, till it is too late to prevent an evil, that was not only foreseen but foretold, have been the causes of our late disgraces. If the militia of this state had step’d forth in season, and timely notice they had, we might have prevented the enemy’s crossing the Hackensack.”[74]

British General Cornwallis had since moved into Brunswick, but had remained in the city, for the next five days. Washington was curious as to this and writes that the cause may be the heavy rain, hoping that it may ‘prevent their further movement for some time.’ Actually, Cornwallis was ordered by General Howe to wait in Brunswick until he arrived. Howe did so by Dec. 6th and promptly sent Cornwallis to Princeton where he hoped to catch up to Washington.[75]

Washington Receives Reinforcements/Aborts a Possible Attack on Cornwallis

Washington received some fresh reinforcements and decided to take some kind of action against the enemy. On the 5th , in the same letter to Congress, he writes:   “As nothing but necessity obliged me to retire before the enemy, and leave so much of the Jerseys unprotected, I conceive it to be my duty… to make head against them… so that the country might in some measure be covered…. I shall now… face about with such troops as are here fit for service and march back to Princeton and there govern myself by circumstances and the movements of General Lee.”[76]

Lt. General Charles Cornwallis

The troops he was to ‘face about with’ and march back to Princeton were recently arrived fresh from home troops that had answered his call for reinforcements. They were Pennsylvania Associators, mainly from Philadelphia, and part of Colonel Nicholas Haussegger’s regiment of Pennsylvania and Maryland Germans, numbering in total close to 1,200 men. Historian Bancroft speaks of the political anarchy in Pennsylvania and credits General Thomas Mifflin, Quaker and merchant from Philadelphia, for his efforts to get the Pennsylvania militia to turn out.[77] Washington planned to combine these forces with the two brigades he had left at Princeton to guard the road while supplies and the rest of the army were ferried across the river. These included five Virginia regiments and that of Delaware (Colonel Haslet) totaling 1,200 men. Washington had left Trenton for Princeton on the 7th, but when he was within a few miles of the college town, he met Lord Stirling in full retreat. Howe had arrived at New Brunswick the day before and had sent Cornwallis forward.[78]

The Chase Ends

The Delaware regiment under Colonel Haslet was the rear guard in the last and final retreat from New Jersey. Lieutenant Enoch Anderson of the regiment describes the withdrawal from Princeton: “The British were now in chase of us with twenty thousand men, within three miles of us. We continued on our retreat; – our regiment in the rear, and I, with thirty men, in rear of the regiment, and General Washington in my rear with pioneers, – tearing up bridges and cutting down trees, to impede the march of the enemy. I was to go no faster than General Washington and his pioneers. It was dusk before we got to Trenton. Here we stayed all night.”[79]

Firing three pound field cannon. Credit – Historical Colonial Williamsburg, photo by David Doody.

Cornwallis had marched slowly and cautiously, with flankers thrown out on both sides to scour the woodlands and look out for ambushes. The torn bridges and downed trees delayed him. His vanguard did not reach Trenton until about two o’clock the next afternoon, just as the last American boats were putting onto the Pennsylvania shore. His light infantry and jaegers received the fire of American batteries that set them to flight, with the loss of 13 men.[80] The British returned the fire. Again Anderson relates: “In the afternoon of the next day [Dec. 8], we crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania, and in two hours afterwards the British appeared on the opposite bank and cannonaded us; but we were in the woods and bushes and none were wounded that I heard of.”[81]

Cornwallis sent his troops up and down the Delaware, looking for boats. There were none to be had for Washington had them all on the Pennsylvania side of the river. That night Lt. Anderson recorded in his diary: “This night we lay amongst the leaves without tents or blankets, laying down with our feet to the fire. It was very cold. We had meat, but no bread. We had nothing to cook with, but our ramrods, which we run through a piece of meat and roasted it over the fire, and to hungry soldiers it tasted sweet.”[82]

Washington posted Lord Stirling’s brigade both north and south along the river to keep watch on the British forces. Howe gave up the idea of crossing and distributed his troops in various posts in New Jersey; Pennington, Brunswick, Trenton, and Bordentown. The British seems to have assumed that the campaign of 1776 was ended. They went into winter quarters and set outposts along the Delaware River. Howe believed that there would be no further major military activity until the spring.[83] He would underestimate the determination and conviction of a hardened people whose mind was set on a cause that held no certain barriers. A little over two weeks after escaping into Pennsylvania, Washington’s rag-tag army would return to New Jersey with a vengeance.

Timeline of Events November 9th – December 8, 1776

Nov. 9th: Stirling’s brigade of Maryland and VA troops leave for NJ

Nov. 10: 11AM Washington sets out with rest of detachment

Nov. 11: Washington is at Peekskill NY – General Heath’s brigades are present and will remain

Nov. 12 – 14: Washington travels to General Greene’s headquarters in or around Fort Lee opposite from Fort Washington

Nov. 15: Washington at Hackensack, NJ

Nov. 16: Fort Washington falls to British

Nov. 17: Stirling arrives at Brunswick with his battalion of 1,200 men.

Nov. 19th: Cornwallis crosses Hudson.

Nov. 20th: Fort Lee abandoned and taken by British

Nov. 21: Washington first asks for Lee to join him. He is at Aquackinack Bridge. Decides not to remain because of ‘openness of the country’ and ‘unfit to make a stand’. “But as our numbers are still very inadequate to that of the enemy, I imagine I shall be obliged to fall down toward Brunswick…”Letter to Livingston pg. 302

Nov. 23: Washington is at New Ark [Newark]. Directs Gen. Mifflin to Philadelphia to help with possible evacuation by congress and troops of city. Writes that the British have been delayed by weather

Nov. 27: Wash. Reports to Lee that the British have passed the Passaic and the main body must have gotten over the North [Hudson] River by now. They have been delayed by rainy weather and are now pushing their way towards him.

Nov. 28: Washington’s rear guard is leaving New Ark [Newark] as the British advance guards enter from the other end of town.

Nov. 29: Washington is at Brunswick. Writes to Gen. Heath that the enemy gave them “not the least interruption trouble upon our march.”[84]

Nov. 30: Washington writes to Congress expressing frustration with lack of response from the New Jersey militia. Reports that one division of the enemy had advanced as far as Elizabeth Town and that another division of Hessians are on the road through Springfield.

Nov. 30: 2,000 men’s terms of enlistments were up including Maryland and New Jersey militia brigades of Generals Reazin Beall and Nathaniel Heard. They “being applied to they refused to continue longer in service.”[85]

Dec. 1: Washington writes to Lee once more asking that he begin his march to join him. Reports the British are at Woodbridge and Amboy and intend to push onto Philadelphia. Washington writes to Congress informing him that the British have entered Brunswick and he is fleeing with his army and will cross the Delaware to regroup near Trenton. The news starts a panic in Philadelphia.

Dec. 2: Washington is in Princeton. He writes to Congress saying he had received a letter this day from General Heath saying that one Brigade crossed the Hudson on Nov. 26th with Lee supposedly following the next day. Informs Congress that the British have halted outside of Brunswick.

Dec. 3: Washington is in Trenton. He is arranging for all stores and men to cross the Delaware by the next day. Gen. Stirling is left in Princeton to act as rear guard. He informs Congress that he has not heard anything from Lee since the 26th of Nov. Later that day he receives a letter from Lee who, as of the 30th was at Peekskill and expected to cross the Hudson two days later.

Dec. 5: Washington decides to make a stand at Princeton to confront the British while troops and supplies are transferred over the Delaware River. He has two brigades under Lord Stirling and General Stephen, five regiments from Virginia and Haslet’s Delaware regiment. To this he planned to add freshly arrived troops: Pennsylvania Associators and a German regiment from Pennsylvania and Maryland under Colonel Nicholas Haussegger.

Dec. 6: Cornwallis, waiting in Brunswick, NJ for five days until General Howe showed up this date.

Dec. 7: Washington marches to Princeton with the Associators and Germans. A few miles he runs into Lord Stirling in full retreat as Cornwallis had arrived at Princeton with a superior force. Washington remains with the rear guard tearing down bridges and cutting down trees across the road to hinder the British advance. He arrives Trenton that evening.

Dec. 8: Washington along with Haslet’s Delaware regiment and a detachment of pioneers were the last of their army to leave New Jersey. That afternoon they ferried across. No sooner did they proceed into the woods than the British appeared on the opposite bank and fired cannon.

Dec. 15: General Lee is captured by a company of dragoons led by his former subordinate, Banastre Tarleton.

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Anderson, Enoch. Personal Recollections of Captain Enoch Anderson, An Officer of the Delaware Regiment in the Revolutionary War. 1896: Historical Society of Delaware Papers, Vol. 16, Wilmington, Delaware. Reprint 1971: Arno Press, New York, NY.

Bancroft, George. History of the United States…, Vol. 9. 1875: Little Brown & Co., New York NY.

Chorlton, Thomas Patrick. The First American Republic, 1774 – 1789: The First Fourteen American Presidents Before Washington. 2012: AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN.

Commager, Henry Steele & Morris, Richard B. The Spirit ofSeventy-Six, The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants. 1958: 1995: Da Capo Press, Inc. New York, NY.

Di Ionna, Mark. A Guide to New Jersey’s Revolutionary War Trail. 2003: Rutgers University Press, Piscataway, NJ.

Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency George Washington. 2004: Random House, New York, NY.

Fitzpatrick, John Clement. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, Vol. 6. The U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Force, Peter. American Archives, Series V, Volume III. 1837: M. St. Claire Clark & Peter Forces, New York, NY.

Gordon, William. The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of America…, Vol. 2. 1788: Printed for the Author, Sold by Charles

Dilley: London, UK. 1801: Printed for Samuel Campbell by John Woods, New York, NY.

Huntington, Ebenezer. “Letters of Ebenezar Huntington, 1774-1781.” The American Historical Review, Published by Oxford Univ. Press, Vol. 5, No. 4 (July 1900), 702-729.

Irving, Washington. The Works of Washington Irving… Illustrated, Volume 13. 1897: Peter Fenelon Collier, New York, NY.

Lee, General Charles, edited by Scott, Richard. The Life and Memoirs of the Late Major General Lee, Second in Command to General Washington. 1813: Published by Richard Scott, New York, NY.

Lengel, Edward. General George Washington, A Military Life. 2005: Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, NY.

McKenzie, Lt. Frederick, edited by Allen French. A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, Being the Diary… 1926: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Nelson, Paul David. Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Marquess of Hastings: Soldier, Peer of the Realm… 2005: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, Teaneck, NJ.

Reed, William B (grandson). Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Vol I. 1847: Lindsay & Blakiston, Philadelphia, PA.

Trevelyan, Sir George Otto. The American Revolution… Vol. 3 & 4. 1922: Longmans, Green & Co., New York, NY.

Ward, Christopher:   The War of the Revolution. 1952: McMillian Company, New York, NY. 2011: Skyhorse Publishing, New York, NY.


[1] Presented the Order of the Bath with the title ‘Sir’ for his victory during the Battle of Long Island, Aug. 27,1776.

[2] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg 261.

[3] Ibid, pp. 261-262

[4] Ward, pg. 276.

[5] Ibid., pp. 275-276.

[6] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 313.

[7] Gordon, Vol. 2, pg. 122.

[8] Ibid, pg. 123.

[9] The officer this message was entrusted to was Captain Gooch of Boston. He ran down to the Hudson, jumped into a small boat, pushed over the river, landed under the bank and ran up to the fort. He delivered the message and immediately came out , ran and jumped over the broken ground, dodging the Hessians, come of whom struck at him with their pieces, and others attempted to thrust him with their bayonets; escaping through them, he got to his boat and returned to Fort Lee.   Force, V, III, pg. 708

[10] Reed, pg. 253.

[11] Trevelyan, Vol. 4, pg. 209.

[12] Bancroft, Vol. 9, pg. 193

[13] Indeed. Many of the troops taken captive were regulars and not militia including the remains of Knowlton’s Rangers, considered among the finest soldiers the Americans had.

[14] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 287.

[15] Fort Lee was renamed from Fort Constitution in honor of the number two commanding general of the American armed forces, General Charles Lee.

[16] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 293.

[17] General Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess. Earl Cornwallis, who on the third day of Feb., 1766, had voted with Camden, Shelburne, and only two others, that the British Parliament had no right to tax America, obtained the command in New Jersey. Ironically, throughout the war, from one of the first major actions at Charlestown until the British surrender at Yorktown, he had played a leading role in the British attempt to resolve the rebellion by force.

[18] Bancroft, Vol. 9, pg. 195.

[19] Those reported captured at Fort Lee included 1 lieut. 1 ensign, 1 quartermaster, 3 surgeons (detailed trying to remove sick and wounded) and 99 privates. Force, V, III, pg. 1058.

[20] Major Dimon reported that during the evacuation of Fort Lee some of his men had been killed while others were taken – “the exact number not known in the sudden retreat, in a confused manner, without carriages…” Force, V, III pg. 861.

[21] Trevelyan, Vol. III, pg. 17.

[22] Commager, pg. 496.

[23] Fitzpatric, Vol. 6, pg. 298.

[24] Ward, pg. 278.

[25] Chorlton, pg. 371.

[26] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 266.

[27] Ibid, pg. 299.

[28] Ibid., pg. 305

[29] Ibid, pg. 309.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 311.

[32] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 312.

[33] Ibid., pgl. 315

[34] Chorlton, pg. 371.

[35] Trevelyan, Vol. III, pg. 17.

[36] Ibid, pg. 309

[37] Fitzpatricdk, Vol. 6, pp. 314-315.

[38] Ibid, pg. 314.

[39] Ibid, pg. 318.

[40] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 312

[41] Ward, pg. 278.

[42] Washington was referred to and spoken to as His Excellency.

[43] The name ‘family’ was given to all those on Washington’s personal staff. Unually young and ambitious officers. Alexander Hamilton was the most famous family member.

[44] Joseph Reed was a young Philadelphia lawyer when he first met Washington. We was in awe of the ‘great man’s’ presence and immediately became Washington’s decuple. He followed Washington to New York and attended the general on several occasions. He enlisted and soon joined Washington’s staff as secretary and later Adjunct General. With each setback during the campaign around New York City where some will argue that Washington was learning how to command in battle the hard way, Reed became more skeptical of his idol. He began to join others who heaped praise upon Lee as the one who should be at the army’s helm. Perhaps the fall of Fort Washington was the last straw for Reed as he had many friends who fell into British hands. Many of them languished in prison ships where starvation and disease contributed to a high rate of death.

[45] Reed, pg. 255-256

[46] Robert Rogers of the famous ‘Rogers Rangers’ that fought in the French and Indian Wars. Rogers offered his services to the Americans at the start of the war. He was a drunkard and thought to have connections to the British. Washington had him jailed, however he escaped and formed a regiment of loyalists from Long Island he termed “Queens Rangers.” Eventually Colonel Rogers was dismissed from the service, drinking being no small part of the reason. The Queens Rangers would become an effective fighting force under Colonel Simcoe, doing much damage to the Americans during the campaigns around Philadelphia and later in the south.

[47] Reed, Vol. I, pp. 257-258.

[48] Bancroft, Vol. 9, pg. 197

[49] Ibid.

[50] Reed, Vol. I, pg. 258.

[51] Fitzpatrick, pg. 313

[52] During this cannon dual at Brunswick, a young captain of New York artillery aggressively worked his cannon to good effect. His name was Alexander Hamilton, future US Treasurer and Wall Street icon.

[53] Anderson, pg. 27.

[54] Trevelyan, pg. 19

[55] Ward, pg. 280.

[56] Letters of Huntington, pg. 715.

[57] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pg. 309.

[58] Anderson, pg. 27.

[59] Trevelyan, pg. 20

[60] Bancroft, Vol. 5, pg. 82

[61] Fitzpatric, pg. 497.

[62] Ward, pg. 281.

[63] Another reason for dispatching Clinton and a sizable force of British troops to Newport, Rhode Island was due to the lack of housing available in New York City. The great fire of September 21, thought to be set by patriots to deny Howe’s forces winter housing, burned a third of the city.

[64] Trevelyan, pt. II, Vol. II, pg. 20.

[65] On Nov. 30, 1776, the Howe brothers, the King’s Commissioners for restoring Peace,” issued a proclamation from New York City, promising a pardon to those who will within sixty days subscribe to a declaration that they will desist from ‘Treasonable Atings and Doings.” The offer appealed to thousands of residents from downstate New York and New Jersey who were willing to trade in their weapons for pardons.

[66] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6, pp. 321-322.

[67] Ibid, pg. 322.

[68] Ibid, pg. 323.

[69] Ibid, pg. 325.

[70] Ibid, pg. 326.

[71] Ibid, pg. 328.

[72] Irving, pg. 301.

[73] Bancroft, Vol. 9, pg. 198.

[74] Fitzpatrick, Vol. 6 pp. 331-332.

[75] Historians speculate that when Howe halted Corwallis’ until then hot pursuit of Washington, he was displaying the typical pattern of a cautious leader. Precautions he took in holding back his troops on Long Island, delaying attacking New York City, failing to capture Putnam’s division in the city, delays at White Plains, etc. Other authors write that Howe’s hands were tied to political concerns for a negotiated settlement. This forced him to hold back his forces when it seemed had he been more aggressive in his attack, he could have destroyed Washington’s army.

[76] Fitzpatrick, Vol 6, pg. 331.

[77] “The state of Pennsylvania was paralyzed by anarchy, continuous revolution, and disputes about the new constitution, which the majority disapproved… but Mifflin successfully addressed the old committee of safety, and the new assembly…” Bancroft, Vol. 9, pg. 197.   Dr. Rolad Baumann, Oberlin College and an authority on early Penn. history writes: “The Quaker dominated assembly in Pennsylvania insulated it from other colonial spokespersons. They supported middle of the road politics and sharply curtained opposition to British measures. Govern John Penn realized that a break with Britain spelled doom for the Pennsylvania Charter of 1701. He feared, moreover, that continued instability would jeopardize the Penn family’s interest. In the weeks before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the colony was seriously divided over the extent of resistance to Britain and the question of separation. Philadelphia was split between moderates and radicals which resulted in a chaotic government with equal support and non-support for the new state constitution. Amid this flux, Pennsylvanians established a Provincial Conference, which ultimately made change to a Declaration of Independence possible. Published in

[78] Ward, pg. 283.

[79] Anderson, pg. 28.

[80] Ibid, pg. 284.

[81] Anderson, pg. 28.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ward, pgt. 284.

[84] Ibid, pg. 311

[85] Ibid, pg. 320.

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