A View of the Attack on Fort Washington, by Thomas Davies, 1776 103
Fort Washington was located at the northern end of Manhattan Island, one mile south of Spuyten Duyvil Creek and Kingsbridge, with the Hudson River to the west and the Harlem River to the east. Its original purpose was to guard the eastern end of a line of sunken hulks and a chevaux de frise across the Hudson to prevent the passage of British ships, the western end being defended by Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. With the British victories on Long Island, their occupation of the lower end of Manhattan Island, and Gen. George Washington's retreat, however, Fort Washington received a new mission: to block the road up the center of the island to Kingsbridge.
The fort, situated on Mount Washington, now Washington Heights, was a rude affair. It was ill-suited to stop a concerted attack, given the superiority in numbers of the British and their ability to move at will by land or water owing to the Royal Navy's success in forcing the obstacles to navigation placed across the Hudson by the Americans. Nevertheless, the senior officers' confidence in the fort's ability to withstand a siege and Washington's indecision resolved the issue in favor of defense at all costs.
The British attacked on the morning of 16 November 1776. Lord Percy, commanding British and Hessian troops, proceeded north from lower Manhattan, while a second contingent of Hessian troops, under Lt. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen, crossed the Harlem north of the fort at Dykeman's Bridge and moved south. Supporting those movements was a landing on the Harlem side of the island, just to the northeast of the fort, undertaken in the face of heavy fire by troops under General Mathew and Lord Cornwallis. Despite the strong defense put up by the American troops, the British were successful, inflicting over 150 casualties and seizing more than 2,800 prisoners, one of the largest losses sustained by the Americans in any battle of the war.
The loss of Fort Washington is usually seen as Washington's most serious tactical defeat. In previous encounters with the British, even while losing territory, he had managed to withdraw his army intact. The damaged morale of Washington's troops made it doubtful whether an army could be maintained in the field after enlistments ran out at the end of December; the defeat and its consequences became major elements in Washington's decision to make
his dangerous crossing of the Delaware River in December to attack the Hessians at Trenton.
The watercolor by Thomas Davies of the Royal Artillery shows the battle as it appeared from the heights above the Harlem River looking southwest toward Fort Washington (A), which appears as a low structure on the top of the hill in the center of the picture. To the far left is smoke from the British battery (C) constructed to cover the landing of the troops under Mathew and Cornwallis (E), which can be seen taking place in the left center. Immediately above the landing point there appear to be a skirmish line and two redoubts (both labeled B) from which smoke can be seen. These were probably the positions commanded by a Colonel Baxter of the Pennsylvania militia and which were abandoned when he was killed. On the low ground to the north of the fort is the Hessian force under Knyphausen (D), the left column being under his direct command, while that on the right was directed by Col. Johann Rall. In front of the Hessians two British batteries (one marked C, the other unlabeled) fire on an American battery in the right center (B), probably that commanded by Col. Moses Rawlings. Immediately above that battery can be seen smoke from the guns of Fort Lee (B), which were attempting to support the American defense. On the Hudson, to the far right of the painting, can be seen the British frigate Pearl
(F), and to its right can be seen the smoke from a battery (C) of twelve-pounders and howitzers (Ward, War of the Revolution
, 1:267–274; Kenneth Nebenzahl and Don Higginbotham, Atlas of the American Revolution
, Chicago, 1974, p. 90–91).
Courtesy of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.
Map of Fort Ticonderoga and Surrounding Country 252
Gen. Arthur St. Clair's abandonment of “Ft. Ti” without firing a shot at the advancing army under Gen. John Burgoyne shocked disbelieving Americans, whose disbelief quickly turned to anger and demands for punishment of an apparently craven general. Ever since its capture by Americans from the British in 1775, the common opinion held Ticonderoga to be the bastion of the north, an impregnable defense against invasion from Canada. Contemporary accounts exaggerated the number and condition of the men under St. Clair's command. Burgoyne's engineers, who solved the technical problem of dragging cannon to the top of Mount Hope (marked T on the map and due west of the American fortress), ended any dream of an effective stand against the British. Vastly outnumbered and seeing his vulnerability to shot lobbed into the fortress from that height, St. Clair chose to lead a retreat on the night of 6 July 1777 before the British could commence firing. Public outcry forced a congressional investigation of his conduct, the first such investigation in American history, and a subsequent court martial. The general was acquitted, but his military career never recovered. Burgoyne, as it turned out, won an empty victory. The map was introduced as part of St. Clair's defense and held by Col. Thaddeus
Kosciuszko to be as accurate as it could be for one not based on an actual survey (from Samuel Cooper, 24 July 1777
, below; “Proceedings of a General Court Martial . . . of Maj. Gen. St. Clair,” NYHS, Colls.
, 13 :86, opposite p. 172).
Courtesy of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
The Flight of the Congress, 1777 293
Before and after the departure of the congress from Philadelphia on 19 September, John Adams indicated his view that Gen. William Howe and the British gained nothing by capturing the city (
Adams Family Correspondence
). In England, however, the “flight of the congress,” the American defeat at Brandywine Creek on 11 September, and the British entry into Philadelphia on the 26th were deemed evidence of a decisive victory over Washington's army. The elation was shortlived. News soon arrived of the indecisive action at Germantown and Gen. John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga. The war was far from over.
This was one of the few cartoons published in Britain that was hostile to the Americans. The British lion, his foot on a map marked “philadelphia” and “delawar,” roars “how,” and chases a panic-stricken congress represented by wild animals. Above, and representing the German troops in Howe's army, the Prussian eagle holds in its beak and talons the symbol of the American colonies: a rattlesnake inscribed “independence.” In the fleeing pack Henry Laurens is depicted as a tiger, John Hancock as an ass with a lion's skin draped over its back, George Washington as an armadillo, Richard Henry Lee as a wolf, John and Samuel Adams as two foxes, and Israel Putnam as a wild boar. The identity of the stag inscribed “V—D—” is unclear, and a badger and wildcat, which also run with the pack, are unidentified. The animals are fleeing from the “cave of rebellion,” beside which is inscribed “Resolv'd, nem: con never to run away.” Above the cave an opossum attempts to climb the liberty tree in which a squirrel sits throwing money of various denominations to the winds. The owl in flight perhaps represents Benjamin Franklin; and the tag in its beak: “louis baboon a Paris,” possibly suggests the hopelessness of seeking an alliance with France in the face of the American defeats. In the background, to the left, is a ship under full sail. This cartoon was published by William Hitchcock of London on 20 November 1777 (Mary Dorothy George, ed., British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, [London], 1935, 5:No. 5401).
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print Department.
Joint Commission to Conclude a Treaty with France, 27 November 1777 335
This commission was enclosed in a letter of 3 December
to John Adams from the Committee for Foreign Affairs (below). It was a revision, to provide for Adams' replacement of Silas Deane, of the
original document issued to Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee in 1776 (
, 5:833). Even though the signing of the Franco-American treaties in February 1778 had rendered the revised commission obsolete by the time that Adams reached France in April, a copy was presented to Joseph Mathias Gérard de Rayneval, first secretary of the French foreign office, on 13 April (JA, Diary and Autobiography
). Through an oversight the commission was dated 27 November, although Adams was not appointed by the congress until the 28th. The lapse in time between appointment and the order on 2 December to have the commission made out may account for the error (
, 9:975, 988).
Arthur Lee, by Charles Willson Peale, 1785 336
Arthur Lee (1740–1792), the brother of Richard Henry and William Lee, was educated in England and became a member of the Middle Temple. He had gained notoriety in the years before the Revolution from his political writings, many produced while he served as Massachusetts' agent in London. Because of his reputation, connections in the congress, and presence in Europe, Lee was appointed on 22 October 1776 one of the Commissioners to conclude a treaty with France; on 1 May 1777 he was given an additional responsibility, minister to the court of Spain (
, 6:897; 7:318). Although he was honest and loyal to the American cause, Lee's personality and, according to some, his attitude toward France and the French made him a poor choice for a diplomatic appointment.
In mid-December 1776 Lee joined Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane at Paris. His outlook, which at times bordered on the paranoid, produced a stormy relationship with his colleagues. He was suspicious of Silas Deane's financial undertakings and believed that Deane and Franklin were engaged in an ongoing effort to undermine Lee's influence both on the day-to-day work of the Commissioners and with the French court. As time passed, Arthur Lee, his brother William, and Ralph Izard became a faction in opposition to the Franklin-Deane combination. Although the conflict between Lee and his colleagues did not prevent the accomplishment of their major purpose, the conclusion of a treaty with France, it did make the work of the Commission more difficult. Ultimately Lee's dispute with Deane became public, produced sharp divisions in the congress, and destroyed the diplomatic careers of both men (
When John Adams arrived to take up his duties as a Commissioner, he immediately perceived the threat to national interests caused by the hostility between Franklin and Lee and determined to maintain a kind of neutrality. His effort was apparently successful. In private letters Adams was frank concerning the faults of Franklin and Lee, but during the first five months of his mission, as he worked closely with both men, there is little evidence of conflict (from Silas Deane, 8 April 1778
, and note 5
Peale's portrait probably did not result from Arthur Lee's promi•
nence as a diplomat and signer of the Franco-American treaties of 1778. It was more likely a result of his role in bringing peace to the frontier through his service as a member of the commission sent by the congress to conduct negotiations with the Indians that resulted in treaties with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix in October 1784 and with the northwest tribes at Fort McIntosh in January 1785 (
; Charles Coleman Sellers, Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale
, Phila., 1952, p. 124).
Courtesy of the Independence National Historical Park Collection, Philadelphia.