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LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York -- was chosen to draw up a declaration embodying that resolution. Thomas Jefferson did the work. On the Fourth of July, 1776, John Hancock (§ 160), President of Congress, signed the Declaration of American Independence in that bold, decided hand which "the King of England could read without spectacles.". When the patriots of Philadelphia met, they rang the "Liberty Bell" in the Old State House (now called " Independence Hall") till it nearly cracked with the joyous peal. In New York City the people pulled down a gilded lead statue of the King and melted it up into bullets.
Later, the representatives of the colonies added their names to the Declaration. That completed the work; the thirteen British colonies had ceased to exist; in their place stood a new nation -- the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA -- your country and mine.
168. Summary. George III endeavored to tax the English colonists in America against their will, and in violation of their rights as English subjects. The colonists resisted, and finally took up arms to defend themselves. The King refused to do justice to the Americans, hired a foreign army to help subdue them, and so drove them to separate from Great Britain and to declare themselves independent.
THE BRITISH AIM AT NEW YORK
II. THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, FROM JULY 4, 1776,
TO THE VICTORY OF SARATOGA, 1777
169. The British aim at New York; Our Navy. Driven out of Boston (§ 165) and defeated at Charleston (§ 165), the British determined to strike New York. Their plan was to get possession of the city and of the Hudson River. They could then prevent the New England colonists and those south of New York from helping each other, for our force on land was small, and we had no proper war ships to attack the enemy by sea.
Later, we built a little navy. It was commanded by such heroes as John Barry (§ 214), who captured the first English armed vessel taken by us (1776), and Paul Jones, who did a great work a little later (§ 183).
Our privateers also captured many English merchant ships laden with powder and war supplies.
170. Washington's Preparations to receive the British; Fort Washington and Fort Lee. Washington foresaw this design of the enemy and prepared for it. When General Howe (§ 165), with his brother, Lord Howe, commander of the English fleet, reached New York in the summer (1776) they found Washington in possession of the city. They found, too, that they could not send their ships up the Hudson as easily as they had hoped, for the Americans had built Fort Washington and Fort Lee expressly to prevent it. (Map, p. 140.)
171. The Two Armies; the Battle of Long Island. Still the British were confident that they could win the day. Howe and his brother were experienced military commanders. They had the aid of General Clinton and General Cornwallis, and over 30,000 well-armed soldiers -- men who fought for a living. Washington had less than 18,000, most of whom knew nothing of war, while many had no muskets fit to fight with. But Washington held the city and the forts on the Hudson and he had possession of Brooklyn Heights on Long Island, directly opposite the city on the south.
General Howe, with his army, was on Staten Island. He saw that if he could take Brooklyn Heights and plant his cannon
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
there, he could drive Washington out of New York, just as Washington, by seizing Dorchester Heights, had driven him out of Boston (§ 165).
General Putnam was in command of the Heights with a force of 9000 Americans. In the battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776) the gallant little American army met with defeat.
Putnam with his whole force would certainly have been captured if it had not been for Washington's energy and skill. During the night a dense fog came up, and under cover of it Washington got all of Putnam's men safe across the river in boats to New York. In the morning, when the British commander stretched out his hand to take the "nest of rebels," as he called it, he got the nest indeed, but it was empty -- the birds had flown.
172. Washington retreats Northward; Nathan Hale; Fort Washington taken; Lee's Disobedience. Washington was now forced to abandon New York and retreat up the east side of the river. He was naturally very anxious to find out what the British meant to do next. Captain Nathan Hale of Connecticut volunteered to try to get this information for him, but the brave young man was arrested and hanged as a spy. As he stood on the gallows he said to the British officer in charge, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
Washington ordered West Point (Map, p. 140), the strongest place on the west bank of the Hudson, to be fortified, to prevent the enemy from going up to Albany. He then crossed to the west bank of the river, but could not hold his ground against Lord Cornwallis, and he lost both Fort Washington and Fort Lee (§ 170). He had left some of his best soldiers, under the command of General Charles Lee, on the east side of the Hudson. He now ordered Lee to join him, but that traitorous officer disobeyed him.1
1 General Charles Lee was born in England. He had been an officer in the British army, but had left that service, come to this country, and had obtained the rank of major general in the American army. He was in no way connected with the Lees of Virginia. While he was in command on the Hudson he was trying to prejudice Congress against Washington, in hope of getting his place. Later, he showed himself to be utterly unprincipled and treacherous (§ 182).
GENERAL LEE CAPTURED
173. Washington retreats across the Delaware; General Lee captured. Washington with his small force now began to retreat across New Jersey toward Philadelphia. He broke down bridges after he had crossed them, destroyed the provisions Cornwallis hoped to get for his army, and so delayed the enemy that it took them nearly three weeks (November 19 to December 8) to march less than seventy miles across a level country.
Cornwallis and his "redcoats" followed the retreating Americans sometimes at a distance, then again close on their heels. There were times when the British would be entering a town just as our men were hurrying out of it.
Many patriots began to despair of success. How, they asked, can our fugitive army of only 3000 men, wretchedly armed, scantily clothed, and half fed hope to escape their pursuers? Under any other general they could not have escaped; but they had Washington for their leader, and Washington was the heart, strength, and soul of the Revolution.
Finding that he could not hold New Jersey, he was forced at last (December 8, 1776) to cross the Delaware at Trenton. The British would have pushed on after him; but the American general had seized every boat for nearly a hundred miles up and down the river. All that the British could do was to sit down on the bank and wait for the stream to freeze over.
Not long after Washington had reached Pennsylvania the false-hearted Lee (§ 172) crossed the Hudson and marched with 4000 men toward Morristown, New Jersey. While he was asleep in a tavern several miles from his men, a squad of British soldiers surprised and captured him. His army, thus fortunately rid of him, advanced and found an opportunity to join Washington.
174. The Victory of Trenton. On Christmas night (1776) Washington, with a force of less than 2500 men, recrossed the Delaware -- then full of floating ice -- and marched on Trenton in a furious snowstorm. There he surprised a body of Hessian (§ 166) soldiers and took 1000 prisoners and a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
All this he did with scarce the loss of a man. It was not only a bold stroke, but a great victory, because it had great results. Thousands of patriots had begun to despair; now their hearts leaped with joy. It was a Christmas long to be remembered.
175. What Robert Morris did for Washington. But it was near the end of the year; the time for which many of Washington's men had enlisted would be up in a few days, and he needed money to get them to reënlist. Congress had indeed tried hard to manufacture money. It had printed bills, called "continental currency," by the wagon load. But the poor soldiers, barefooted, half-starved, ragged, and miserable, did not want what Congress offered them. They had left wives and children at home who were crying for bread, and the men wanted to send them something that would buy it. They knew by sad experience that a dollar bill issued by a government that had no silver or gold to make it good was worth just as much as any other dingy scrap of paper of the same size -- and worth no more.
Washington sympathized with the men. He felt that on this occasion he must have money that had the genuine ring in it. He wrote to his friend Robert Morris, merchant and banker, of Philadelphia, begging him to send $50,000 in hard cash. Morris set out on New Year's morning (1777) before it was light, went from house to house, roused his friends from their beds, and got the money. He sent it at once to Washington. It was as good as another victory. It saved the army.
176. Cornwallis outwitted; Victory of Princeton; Winter Quarters at Morristown; Coming of Lafayette, De Kalb, and Steuben. Cornwallis, leaving part of his force at Princeton, New Jersey, hurried south to catch Washington. He found him between Trenton and a bend of the Delaware. That night the British general
went to sleep, certain that Washington could not get away. For how could he hope to escape, with the British army in front and the broad, deep Delaware River full of floating ice behind him? Cornwallis told his brother officers that they would "bag the old fox" in the morning. While the English general lay dreaming, Washington like an "old fox" crept stealthily round him, and got to Princeton.
In the battle there (January 3, 1777), the American advance force was driven back. just then Washington came up and saved the army from defeat. Then the American general with his little army made themselves snug and safe in the hills about Morristown, in northern New Jersey. There they remained until the last of May (1777). (Map, p. 140.)
Cornwallis knew that he could not drive Washington out of his strong position without a desperate battle, so he hurried back to New Brunswick, New Jersey, for fear that the Americans would cut off his food supplies from New York City.
The next summer Lafayette, a French nobleman of nineteen, came from Paris to offer his services to Washington in behalf of American liberty. He became one of Washington's generals, and not only gave his services to the country, but equipped many of the men under his command with arms and clothing furnished at his own expense. Lafayette brought with him Baron de Kalb, a German military veteran, who also became a general in the United States army. Later, Baron Steuben, a Prussian military engineer, joined the Americans and made himself of the greatest use in drilling and disciplining our troops. Kosciusko and Pulaski, two eminent Polish patriots, joined our army at the same time.
177. Burgoyne's Expedition; Battle of Oriskany; Battle of Bennington. Meanwhile, the British made a new move. General Burgoyne (§ 163) marched down from Canada (1777) with 8000 men by way of Lake Champlain, and took Fort Ticonderoga (§ 162). He then pushed forward toward the Hudson, expecting to join a part of Howe's army there.
Another British expedition started from Oswego with a force of Iroquois Indians (§ 32) and Tories (§ 160) to unite with Burgoyne.