The American Revolution: northern campaign in 1779



In 1779 Sir Henry Clinton was not idle in the North, but sought to distress the Americans by marauding expeditions. In this business Ex-Governor Tryon, who had been named "The Wolf" by the suffering people of North Carolina over whom he had been ruler, was a willing worker. Late in April, 1779, he left camp near Kingsbridge, at the northern end of New York Island, with fifteen hundred regulars and Hessians, to destroy some salt-works at Horse Neck and attack an American detachment under General Putnam at Greenwich, on the borders of Connecticut. Putnam's scouts had discovered them, and on the morning of the 26th, he had his little band drawn up in battle array, with a two-gun battery to meet them. They approached in solid column, horse and foot. Perceiving their overwhelming numbers, Putnam ordered a retreat. That retreat became a rout. The soldiers fled to adjacent swamps, while the general, putting spurs to his horse, sped toward Stamford, pursued by several of the British dragoons. Near a meeting-house was a very steep hill, around the brow of which the road swept in a broad curve. Up the acclivity some stone steps had been constructed, to allow the people beyond a nearer way to the meeting-house. When Putnam reached the turn in the road at the brow of the hill, the dragoons were so near, that he must either dash down the declivity or surrender. Choosing the former alternative, he spurred the horse down the hill at full speed, in a zigzag course, traversing a few of the lower steps, and escaped, for the troopers dared not follow him. They sent a few harmless bullets after him, and he flung curses upon the British behind him, in his flight. Tryon plundered the inhabitants there of everything valuable, destroyed a few salt-works and some vessels, damaged the houses of Whigs, and then went back to Kingsbridge. Putnam rallied a few of his men and some militia and pursued the marauders. He recaptured some of the plunder, which he returned to the inhabitants, and made thirty-eight of the British prisoners, having lost in the affair about twenty of his own men.

A little later, a marauding expedition appeared on the coast of Virginia. On the 9th of May, a squadron commanded by Sir George Collier, entered Hampton Roads, with land troops under General Matthews, who desolated the region on both sides of the Elizabeth River from the Roads to Norfolk and Portsmouth. After destroying a vast amount of property, they withdrew and returned to New York; and on the 30th of May this naval force accompanied Sir Henry Clinton up the Hudson River to dislodge the Americans at Stony Point and Verplanck's Point opposite. In this expedition, the troops were commanded by General Vaughan, the officer who led the marauders who burned Kingston in the autumn of 1777. The British landed on the morning of the 31st, when the little garrison at Stony Point fled to the Highlands. The next morning (June 1, 1779) the guns of the captured fortress were pointed toward Fort Fayette, opposite. The little garrison there, attacked by troops in the rear, surrendered as prisoners of war. The loss of these forts was lamented by Washington, and his first care was to recover them.

These achievements accomplished, Sir Henry sent Collier with his squadron to the shores of Connecticut, with a band of marauders under Governor Tryon, about twenty-five hundred strong, composed of British and Hessians. The latter were sent on these expeditions, because they were more cruel than the Britons, and delighted in plundering, burning buildings, and ill-treating the defenceless inhabitants; a mode of warfare ordered by Lord George Germain to awe the people into submission. The expedition left New York on the night of the 3d of July, and in the course of about a week, laid waste and carried away a vast amount of property. They plundered New Haven on the 5th, laid East Haven in ashes on the 6th, destroyed Fairfield on the 8th, and plundered and burned. Norwalk on the 12th. Not content with this wanton destruction of property, the invaders cruelly abused the defenceless inhabitants. The soldiery were given free license to oppress the people, Tryon encouraging instead of restraining them in their horrid work. The Hessians were his incendiaries. To them he entrusted the operation of the torch and the most brutal acts, which British soldiers would not perform. Whilst Norwalk was in flames, Tryon sat in a rocking-chair upon a hill in the neighborhood, a delighted spectator of the scene. Nero fiddled while Rome was burning; this puny imitator of the emperor made merry over the conflagration of a defenceless town inhabited by people of his own nation. In allusion to this and kindred expeditions, Trumbull, in his McFingal, makes Malcolm say:

"Behold like whelps of British lion, Our warriors, Clinton, Vaughan and Tryon, March forth with patriotic joy To ravish, plunder and destroy. Great gen'rais, foremost in their nation, The journeymen of Desolation! Like Sampson's foxes, each assails, Let loose with firebrands in their tails, And spreads destruction more forlorn Than they among Philistines' corn."

When Tryon (whom the English people abhorred for his wrong doings in America) had completed the destruction of these pleasant New England villages, he boasted of his extreme clemency in leaving a single house standing on the coast of Connecticut.

The atrocities of the Indians in the valley of Wyoming and around the headwaters of the Susquehanna in the summer and autumn of 1778, kindled the hottest indignation of the American people, and it was determined by the Congress to chastise the savages who committed the murderous deeds, especially the Senecas. In the summer of 1779, Washington sent General Sullivan, with a little army of Continental troops, into the heart of the country of the Six Nations, all of whom, excepting the Oneidas, had been won over to the royal cause by the Johnsons and other British emissaries. Sullivan gathered his troops in the Wyoming Valley, and with these, three thousand strong, he marched up the Susquehanna on the last day of July. On the 22nd of August he was joined, at Tioga Point, by General James Clinton, who had come from the Mohawk Valley with about fifteen hundred men. Meanwhile there had been hostilities in the wilderness. In April several hundred soldiers, led by Colonels Van Schaick and Willett, had penetrated the Onondaga country from Fort Schuyler, destroyed three villages, burned the provisions of the inhabitants, and slaughtered their live-stock. Three hundred Onondaga braves were immediately sent out upon the warpath charged with the vengeance of the nation. They spread terror and desolation far and near, in conjunction with other savages. They pushed down to the waters of the Delaware and the borders of Ulster county. In July, Brant, with Indians and Tories, fell upon and devastated the settlement of Minnisink in the night. Growing crops were destroyed, and cattle and other plunder were carried away. One hundred and fifty militia and volunteers went in pursuit, when, on the 22nd of July, the savages turned upon them. A severe conflict ensued; the republicans were beaten, surrounded, and murdered after they were made prisoners. Only thirty of the patriotic pursuers survived to tell the dreadful story. These events gave strength to the courage of Sullivan's men.

The forces of Sullivan and Clinton, at Tioga Point, numbered five thousand men. They moved cautiously, and on the morning of the 29th, dispersed a party of eight hundred Indians and Tories strongly fortified at Chemung, now Elmira. Brant was at the head of the Indians, and Sir John Johnson, with the Butlers and Captain McDonald, led the Tories. The fight was severe. Sullivan's army rested on the battle-ground that night, and the next morning pushed on in pursuit of the fugitives.

That pursuit was quick and sharp. A part of the army penetrated the wilderness to the Genesee Valley, and a part to Cayuga Lake. In the course of three weeks, they destroyed forty-three Indian villages, with a vast amount of food in fields, gardens, and garrisons--one hundred and sixty thousand bushels of corn. Flourishing and fruitful orchards were cut down; hundreds of gardens were desolated; the inhabitants were driven into the forests to starve, and were hunted like wild beasts; their altars were overturned, and their graves were trampled upon by strangers; and a beautiful well-watered country, teeming with a prosperous people, and just rising from a wilderness state by the aid of cultivation, to a level with the productive regions of civilization, was desolated, and cast back almost a century. This scourging awed the Indians for the moment, but did not crush them. The fires of hatred were fiercely kindled, and spread like a conflagration far among the tribes upon the great lakes and in the valley of the Ohio. Washington, who ordered the chastisement, was called "The Town Destroyer." Cornplanter, a chief of the Senecas, standing before President Washington, said, in the course of a long speech: "When your army entered the country of the Six Nations, we called you The Town Destroyer; and to this day, when that name is heard, our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers."

With the chastisement of the Indians, the campaign of 1779 ended in the North, where, at the close of the year, events appeared somewhat encouraging to the Americans. The British had withdrawn from Rhode Island, and had abandoned the forts on the Hudson, giving the freedom of King's Ferry, at Stony Point, to the Americans; and nowhere in New England, west of the Penobscot, did the enemy hold a foot of the soil. At the same time the army and the finances of the Americans were in a wretched condition, and gave a gloomy appearance to the future of the republican cause. The army, cantoned in New Jersey, were enveloped in snow two feet in depth, before the middle of December, and suffered dreadfully, at times, because of a lack of the necessaries of life. Washington's headquarters were again at Morristown, in the midst of a fertile region and patriotic people. Fortunately for the army and the cause, the crops in New Jersey during the year just closed, were abundant, and the people were willing to do all in their power to meet the requisitions upon the several counties from time to time, by the commander-in-chief, for supplies, notwithstanding the Continental bills offered in payment were rapidly depreciating. At the close of 1779 one dollar in gold or silver would purchase thirty dollars of paper money. Terms of enlistment of many of the troops would soon expire, and large bounties offered to those who should engage "for the war" brought very few into the ranks. The Congress could compel nothing; yet their appeals to the people--to the militia--in serious emergencies, seldom failed to receive an encouraging response. The Congress, the army and the people, never lost faith in the cause. That faith, and the generous aid afforded by the inhabitants of New Jersey from time to time, saved the army from disbanding in the winter of 1779-80.





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