Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume II

Chapter VI
Movements of '79

The winter of 1778-79 was passed by the Americans at Middlebrook, New Jersey. With the opening of spring there was much discouragement among the soldiers; for they were neither paid nor fed. Only the personal influence of Washington and the patriotism of the camp prevented a mutiny. Clinton opened the campaign with a number of predatory incursions into the surrounding country. In February, Tryon, the old Tory governor of New York, a man so savage in his nature that the Indians called him the Big Wolf, marched from Kingsbridge with a body of fifteen hundred regulars and tories to destroy the salt works at Horse Neck, Connecticut. General Putnam, who chanced to be in that neighborhood, rallied the militia and made a brave defense. The Americans planted some cannon on the brow of a hill and fought with much spirit until they were outflanked by the British and obliged to fly. It was here that Genral Putnam, pursued and about to be overtaken by a party of dragoons, turned out of the road, spurred his horse down a precipice, and escaped.* Tryon destroyed the salt works, plundeed and burned the village of West Greenwich, and returned to Kingsbridge.

In the latter part of May, Clinton himself sailed with an armament up the Hudson to Stony Point. This strong position, commanding the river, had been chosen by Washington as the site of a fort; the Americans were engaged upon the unfinished works when Clinton's squadron came in sight. The feeble garrison, unable to resisst the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, escaped from the fortifications. On the 1st of June the British entered, mounted cannon, and began to bombard Verplanck's Point, on the other side of the river. Here the patriots made a brve resistance; but the British landed a strong force, surrounded the fort, and compelled a surrender. Both Verplanck's and Stony Point were strongly fortified and garrisoned by the enemy. About the same time Virginia suffered from an incursion of the Tories. A vast amount of public and private property was destroyed; and several towns, including Norfolk and Portsmouth, were laid in ashes.

In July the ferocious Tyron again distinguished himself. With a force of twenty-six hundred Hessians and Tories he sailed to New Haven, captured the city, and would have burned it but for fear of the gathering militia. Having set East Haven on fire, the destroyers sailed down the Sound to the beautiful town of Fairfield, which was given to the flames. At Norwalk, while the village was burning and the terrified people flying from their homes, Tryon, on a neighboring hill, sat in a rocking-chair and laughed heartily at the scene. It was not long before these dastardly outrages were made to appear more dastardly by contrast with a heroic exploit of the patriots.

Early in July, General Wayne received orders to attempt the recapture of Stony Point. On the 15th of the month he mustered a force of ight infantry at a convenient point on the Hudson and marched against the seemingly impregnable fortress. The movement was not discovered by the enemy. At eight o'clock in the evening Wayne halted a mile from the fort and gave orders for the assault. A negro who had learned the countersign went with the advance; the British pickets were deceived, caught, and gagged. The Americans advanced in two columns, the first led by Wayne, and the second by the gallant Frenchman, Colonel De Fleury. Everything was done in silence. Muskets were unloaded and bayonets fixed; not a gun was to be fired. The two divisions, attacking from opposite sides, were to meet in the middle of the fort. The assault was made a little after midnight. Within pistol-shot of the sentinels on the height, the Americans were discoverd. There was a cry, To Arms! the rattle of drums, and then the roar of musketry and cannon. The patriots never waivered. The ramparts were scaled; and the British, finding themselves between two closing lines of bayonets, cried out for quarter. Sixty-three of the enemy fell in the struggle the remaining five hundred and forty-three were made prisoners. Of the Americans only fifteen were killed and eighty-three wounded. In the days that followed the assault Wayne secured the ordnance and stores, valued at more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, then destroyed the fort, and marched away. On the 20th a division of the British army, arriving at Stony Point, found nothing but a desolated hill. In honor of his brave deed General Wayne received a gold medal from Congress.

In the summer of this year an army of four thousand six hundred men, commanded by General Sullivan and Jame Clinton, was sent against the Indians of the upper Susquehanna. The atrocities of Wyoming were now fully avenged, and the savages driven to destruction. At Elmira, on the Tioga River, the Indians and Tories had fortified themselves; but on the 29th of August they were forced from their stronghold and utterly routed. The whole country between the Susquehanna and the Genesee was wasted by the patriots, who, in the course of the campaign, destroyed forty Indian villages. In the latter part of October, Sr. Henry Clinton, alarmed by the rumored apprach of the French fleet, withdrew the British forces from Rhode Island. The retirement from Newport was made with so much haste that the heavy guns and large quantities of stores were left behind. Such were the leading military movements in the North.

Meanwhile, the war had continued in Georgia and South Carolina; and the patriots had met with many reverses. On the 29th of January the British captured Augusta and for a while the whole of Georgia was prostrated before the king's soldiery. In the meantime, the Tories of western Carolina had risen in arms and were advancing to join the forces at Augusta. While marching thither they were attacked and defeated in a canebrake by the patriots under Captain Anderson. On the 14th of February the Tories were again overtaken in the country west of Broad River. Colonel Pickens, at the head of the Carolina militia, fell upon them with such fury that the whole force was annihilated. Colonel Boyd, the Tory leader, and seventy of his men were killed. Seventy-five others were captured, tried for treason, and condemned to death; but only five of the ringleaders were hanged. On receiving intelligence of what had happened, the British hastily evacuated Augusta and retreated toward Savannah. The western half of Georgia was recovered more quickly than it had been lost.

While the British were retreating down the river, General Lincoln, who now commanded the American forces in the South, sent General Ashe with a division of two thousand men to intercept the enemy. Crossing the Savannah, Ashe met the enemy at Briar Creek and a battle was fought on the 3d of March. The Americans, after losing more than three hundred men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, were totally routed and driven into the swams and river. The remnants of Ashe's army rejoined General Lincoln at Perrysburg. The shock of this defeat again prostrated Georgia, and a royal government was established over the State.

But the Carlinians rallied with great vigor. Within a month General Lincoln was again in the field with a force of more than five thousand men. Still hoping to reconquer Georgia, he advanced up the left bank of the river in the direction of Augusta; but at the same time General Prevost crossed the Savannah and marched against Charleston. On the 12th of May he summoned the city to surrender, but General Moultrie, who commanded the patriots, was in no humor to do it. Prevost made preparations for a siege; but learning that General Lincoln had turned back to attack him, he made a hasty retreat. The Americans pursued, overtook the enemy at Stono Ferry, ten miles west of Charleston, made an imprudent attack, and were repulsed with considerable loss. Before retiring from the State, Prevost established a post at Beaufort, and then fell back to Savannah. From June until September military operations were almost wholly suspended.

And now came Count d'Estaing with his fleet from the West Indies to Carolina to co-operate with Geneal Lincoln in the reduction of Savannah. Prevost was alarmed, and concentrated his forces for the defense of the city. The storm-winds of the equinox were approaching, and D'Estaing stipulated with the Americans that his fleet should not be long detained on that coast devoid of harbors. On the 12th of September the French, numbering six thousand, effected a landing, and advanced to the siege. Eleven days elapsed before the slow-moving General Lincoln arrived with his forces. Meanwhile, on the 16h of the month, D'Estaing had demanded a surrender; but Prevost, who asked a day for consultation and used it in strengthening his works and in receiving re-enforcements from Beaufort, answered with a message of defiance. After Lincoln's arrival the siege was prosecuted with great vigor. The city was bombarded well-nigh to destruction; the people were driven into the cellars, and dared not venture forty on peril of their lives. But the British defenses remained unshaken. At last the impatient D'Estaing notified Lincoln that the city must be stormed or the siege abandoned. The attack was made irregularly, but with great vehemence; the defense, with desperate determination. The struggle around the ramparts was brief but furious. At one time it seemed that the works would be carried. The French and the patriots mounted the parapet and planted the flags of Carolina and France. But the emblems of victory, with those who bore them, were hurled into the dust. Here the brave Sergeant Jasper, the hero of Fort Moultrie, fell to rise no more. After an hour of the most gallant fighting, the allied columns were shattered and driven back with fearful losses. D'Estaing was twice wounded. The noble Puaski was struck with a grape-shot and borne dying from the field. The repulse was complete, humiliating, disastrous. D'Estaing reired with his men on board the fleet and sailed for France. Lincoln with the remnant of his army retreated to Charleston.

While the siege of Savannah was progressing, the American arms were made famous on the ocean. On the 23d of September, Paul Jones, cruising off the coast of Scotland with a flotilla of French and American vessels, fell in with a fleet of British merchantmen, convoyed by two men-of-war. The battle that ensued was bloody beyond precedent in naval warfare. for an hour and a half the Serapis, a British frigate of forty-four guns, engaged the Poor Richard* within musket-shot. Then the vessels, both in a sinking condition, were run alongside and lashed together. The marines fought with the fury of madmen until the Serapis struck her colors. Jones hastily transferred his men to the conquered ship, and the Poor Richard went down. The remaining British vessel was also attacked and captured. So desperate was the engagement that of the three hundred and seventy-five men on board the fleet of Jones three hundred were either killed or wounded.

So closed the year 1779. The colonies were not yet free. The French alliance, whichhad promised so much, had brought but little benefit. The credit of Congress had sunk almost to nothing; the natinal treasury was bankrupt. The patriots of the army were poorly fed, and paid only with unkept promises. The disposition of Great Britain was best illustrated in the measures adopted by Parliament for the campaigns of the ensuing year. The levies made by the House of Commons were eighty-five thousand marines and thirty-five thousand additional troops; while the extraordinary expenses of the War Department were set at twenty million pounds sterling.

*After all, Putnam's exploit was not so marvelous. In 1825 some of General La Fayette's dragoons rode down the same hill for sport.

*So named in honor of Dr. Franklin's almanac.

Return to Ridpath's History of the United States Table of Contents
Return to E-Books Index
Return to California AHGP Home Page
Return to Sacramento County AHGP Home Page

© 2000-2002 by Jacque Rogers