The Hessians and the other German auxiliaries of Great Britain in the revolutionary war/22 New York in 1780 and 1781
NEW YORK IN 1780 AND 1781.
When Sir Henry Clinton set sail for Charleston in December, 1779, he left the command of the garrison of New York to Lieutenant-general von Knyphausen. The regular troops in and about the city numbered some six thousand—Englishmen, Hessians, and Anspachers. By arming the inhabitants and the sailors from the ships that were icebound in the harbor, Knyphausen succeeded in nearly doubling the number of his men, and the new recruits were such as could do good service behind fortifications. Washington, meanwhile, commanded a small, ill-fed, and unpaid army, which in the spring of 1780 contained less than seven thousand regulars, only half of whom could be spared from garrison duty and made available for active operations.
The winter was an unusually cold one. The North and East rivers and Long Island Sound were frozen over, as was also the channel between Staten Island and the New Jersey shore. This state of things was favorable to expeditions, and these were constantly undertaken by both sides. In January, Lord Stirling landed on Staten Island, but found that the garrison there was expecting him, and returned to New Jersey, many of his men having suffered from frost-bites. Knyphausen was preparing to send reinforcements to the island through the floating ice of the harbor. At the end of this month and early in February the British made expeditions against Elizabethtown, Newark, and Young's House, and took a number of prisoners.
Before the year 1780 a new spirit was brought into the conduct of the war, Howe and Burgoyne had hoped not only to conquer, but to conciliate. The homes and property of non-combatants had been spared, at least to some extent. Clinton and Cornwallis, acting under the instructions of Lord George Germaine, abandoned this conciliatory policy. Expeditions were undertaken with no other purpose than robbery and destruction. In these, also, the Hessians were employed. On the evening of the 22d of March, 1780, for instance, a body of four hundred men, British and German, was set across the Hudson. About three in the morning they reached Hackensack, then a beautiful and rich village. No resistance was made. Not an American soldier was in the place. There was no one to withstand the barbarities that were committed. The British and Germans broke into the houses and loaded themselves with spoil. They made prisoners of all the male inhabitants they could lay hands on, and having completed their robbery, they set fire to the Town-house and to some of the principal dwellings. At daybreak five or six hundred Americans came to the rescue from Pollingtown, and it might have gone hard with the invaders had not another detachment of about four hundred men, under the partisan Emmerich, advanced to support them. As it was, they were chased back to the Hudson. From the journal of the Anspach musketeer Doehla, Eelking makes the following quotation: “We took considerable booty, both in money, silver watches, silver dishes and spoons, and in household goods, clothes, fine English linen, silk stockings, gloves, and neckerchiefs, with other precious silk goods, satin, and stuffs. My own booty, which I brought safely back, consisted of two silver watches, three sets of silver buckles, a pair of woman's cotton stockings, a pair of man's mixed summer stockings, two shirts and four chemises of fine English linen, two fine table-cloths, one silver tablespoon and one teaspoon, five Spanish dollars and six York shillings in money. The other part, viz., eleven pieces of fine linen and over two dozen silk handkerchiefs, with six silver plates and a silver drinking-mug, which were tied together in a bundle, I had to throw away on account of our hurried march, and leave them to the enemy that was pursuing us.”
Knyphausen claimed to have inflicted on the Americans a loss of sixty-five killed and three hundred and twenty prisoners during the winter. The beginning of the summer brought round the time for more important action. On the evening of the 6th of June, 1780, the first of the five divisions of a British expeditionary force was landed in New Jersey at Elizabethtown Point, and the four other divisions followed the next day. They comprised almost all the regular soldiers at Knyphausen's disposal. The first and second divisions pressed on through Elizabethtown and Connecticut Farms, meeting with some resistance. At the latter place the army halted, and the chasseurs were thrown out towards Springfield. The chasseurs were but three hundred strong at this time, a part of the corps being at Charleston, and another part being turned into cavalry, or, more properly, mounted chasseurs. On these three hundred fell the brunt of the fighting on that day. The Americans showed great pertinacity, and charged repeatedly with the bayonet. About one o'clock the chasseurs received reinforcements, and the enemy were driven back to Springfield. A cannonade was now begun, but at about four in the afternoon the chasseurs were ordered back to their first position, and the army encamped. The pickets were posted in some houses in front of the line, but were presently attacked. The chasseurs charged and drove the Americans back a long distance, and the houses were burned. Three cannon were brought up, but the enemy did not renew the attack. The chasseurs lost fifty-five men killed and wounded during the day. At dusk news was brought by deserters that Washington with his main army was expected at Springfield during the night. Thereupon Knyphausen started at eleven in the evening and returned to Elizabethtown Point. On the following day Lord Stirling, with the American advanced guard, attacked an English regiment, but this was supported by two regiments of Germans, and the Americans were driven back to Elizabethtown. During the days that followed there was continual skirmishing. On the 13th, the mounted chasseurs made an attempt to surprise and capture an American cavalry picket, but their purpose was betrayed and the picket escaped. “It is almost impossible to surprise the enemy on any occasion,” says the journal of the Jäger Corps, “because every house that one passes is an advanced picket, so to speak; for the farmer, or his son, or his servant, or even his wife or daughter fires off a gun, or runs by the foot-path to warn the enemy.”
On the 19th of June Sir Henry Clinton, who had just returned from Charleston with the Hessian grenadiers and detachment of chasseurs, the British grenadiers and light infantry, and the Provincial Queen's Rangers, reviewed Knyphausen's army. Preparations were made for an advance, and on the 23d, four German regiments besides the chasseurs, and six regiments of Englishmen and Tories marched out towards Springfield. For a time the Americans held their ground at Connecticut Farms, but soon they fell back to the battlefield of the 7th, and the English army was drawn up on the heights on this side of Springfield. The Passaic River lay between the opposing forces, and the Americans, under Major Lee, held the bridge. The Hessian chasseurs waded through the stream in the face of a brisk fire, while an English regiment charged on the bridge, and Lee was driven back to the heights beyond the town, where he joined a larger corps. The town of Springfield was occupied, and for an hour the chasseurs in the advanced guard were skirmishing with the enemy beyond it. Then the British set fire to the town and retreated. The chasseurs now formed the rear guard, and could hardly pass between the burning houses. The Americans pressed hard upon them and harassed their retreat. About two miles from Elizabethtown the chasseurs were relieved by an English regiment, and the retreat continued to Elizabethtown Point. Here the troops took up their old positions, but were, during the night, ordered to break camp and pass over to Staten Island. This was done, and the bridge of boats which had been built on the 11th between the island and the mainland was immediately broken up, one Hessian regiment remaining in the tête de pont on the Jersey shore until the operation was completed. At about three o'clock in the morning the whole army had crossed. The loss of the chasseurs during the day was considerable, twenty-four being killed and wounded at the attack on the bridge over the Passaic, and perhaps as many more beyond the bridge and during the retreat.
This expedition to Springfield was the last attempt made by Sir Henry Clinton to attack Washington's main army in New Jersey. The remainder of the year was uneventful in the Northern States, except for the treason of Arnold and the execution of André; nor was the first half of 1781 marked by any engagement in that region more important than a skirmish. On the evening of the 2d of July, 1781, the partisan Emmerich, with a hundred men, had marched out to the Phillips House. During the night word was brought to Lieutenant-colonel von Wurmb that the American army was approaching New York in force, and that its advanced guard had been seen at Sing Sing. A lieutenant-colonel, with two hundred chasseurs and thirty cavalrymen, was, therefore, sent out at dawn to bring in news and to cover Emmerich's retreat. The lieutenant-colonel passed over Kingsbridge and continued on his march along Harlem Creek, sending a non-commissioned officer and ten men to explore the ruins of Fort Independence, which commanded his road. On reaching the heights on which the fort was built, Rübenkönig, the sergeant in command of the scouting party, saw men at a little distance. Unable to distinguish what they were in the gray of the morning, he advanced alone to meet them, and thought he recognized the blue coats and straw-colored trimmings of the Regiment von Donop, a part of which was with Emmerich's command. He had hardly wished them good-morning, when half a dozen men sprang at him, seized him by the hair and by the straps of his cartridge-box, and tried to choke him. Rübenkönig twisted himself out of their hands, and with cries of “Rebels! Rebels!” made off to his own party.
The advanced guard of the chasseurs was already in the narrow pass between the hill on which the fort stood and Harlem River. The men had to make their way back across the morass. The ground where the main body was drawn up was narrow and unfavorable, and the first assault on the Americans was repulsed, the Germans falling back in a disorderly mass. The cavalry then attacked without success, but the Americans retreated to the ruins of the fort, and the chasseurs had time to form properly and on good ground. The Americans were at last driven from their position, perhaps by the approach of reinforcements to the Germans, for Lieutenant-colonel von Wurmb arrived at about this time. They fell back to high ground, about one thousand yards off, and appeared to be some six or seven hundred strong. Emmerich and his party, meanwhile, had retreated across Spyt den Duyvel Creek, and were cut off from the chasseurs, as the bridge was in the hands of the enemy. The whole corps with the cavalry therefore advanced to clear the bridge, and the Americans retreated slowly. Wurmb having accomplished his first object, and believing that the enemy was trying to draw him into an ambuscade, halted his command and reported to headquarters. In the afternoon the American army advanced and encamped on Valentine's Hill, extending over Courtland's Reach to Spyt den Duyvel. The Hessian loss in the engagement was thirty men killed and wounded.
On the 6th of July, 1781, the French army, under Rochambeau, joined that of Washington before New York, and for more than a month a skirmishing warfare was kept up. Sir Henry Clinton expecting to be besieged in New York whenever the French fleet should arrive from the West Indies. At last, on the 18th of August, 1781, the enemy was reported to be crossing the North River. Still Clinton's eyes were not opened. In vain did Lieutenant-colonel von Wurmb of the chasseurs, who had permission to send out spies on his own account, warn the commander-in-chief that the allied army was on its way to Virginia. The lieutenant-colonel had two grounds for believing this. The first was that preparations had been made to provide the Americans and Frenchmen with food and forage on the road across New Jersey; the second, that the lieutenant-colonel had been informed that an American woman, who was the mistress of a French officer of distinction, had been instructed to go to Trenton. General Clinton was not convinced until it was too late to oppose the movement.
Even after Washington's plan had become clear to him, Sir Henry Clinton was unwilling to employ his whole available force in any operation important enough to have served as a diversion in favor of Lord Cornwallis. It is probably now impossible to say whether an expedition in force against Philadelphia, or up the Hudson, might not have caused the return of the allied army from their southern expedition. Clinton, however, contented himself with preparing to embark a corps for Yorktown, and sending a party under Benedict Arnold, who had lately returned from Virginia, to the coast of Connecticut. Arnold, at the head of two English regiments and one hundred Hessian chasseurs, reached New London on the 6th of September and stormed the fort, whose small garrison made an obstinate resistance. Arnold burned part of the town, the magazines, and the ships on the stocks. Those in the harbor escaped up the river.
It was not until the 19th of October that the British fleet put to sea to go to the assistance of Lord Cornwallis. The Hessian grenadiers and the other troops were carried as passengers on the men-of-war. On the 28th of October the fleet was off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, and received from the shore the news of Cornwallis's surrender. “This second Burgoynade,” writes a Hessian officer, “will probably contribute much to bring the war to an unhappy issue.” The prediction was certainly verified from its author's point of view, and we must now turn our attention to the events which led up to the catastrophe at Yorktown.
- Eelking's “Hülfstruppen,” vol. ii. p. 86.
- Ibid. p. 87.
- See MS. journal of the Jäger Corps; also Greene's report to Washington, Washington, vol. vii. p. 506 et seq., and Lord Stirling's report, Sparks's Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 5.
- MS. journal of the Jäger Corps; Ewald's “Belehrungen,” vol. i. p. 5-8.
- MS. journal of the Jäger Corps, August 18th.
- See Clinton's letters to Cornwallis, Tarleton, chap. vi. Notes A, M, O, Q, S.