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The British stormed the heights; mown down by the “embattled farmers," fighting behind cover, the officers being picked off by the marksmen, they twice returned to the assault and carried it the third time, though with tremendous losses. An American who was present said, “The dead lay as thick as sheep in a fold.” Whatever defects our generals had as strategists and tacticians, they were certainly splendid trainers of soldiers, for never in our history, as I think, did the British soldier show such steadfast courage, such splendid discipline, as in this war. Says Fortescue of this feat, “The return of the British infantry to the third attack after two such bloody repulses, is one of the very greatest feats ever recorded of them.” The ball supplied by the ordnance department for the artillery did not fit.
Although the British have been accustomed, from their insular position, to disparage superiority of numbers, both naval and military men at the outset realized the enormous difficulties which stood in the way of success. General Conway, voicing the fears of the opposition, estimated that the Americans could bring into the field 150,000 men; in July, 1775, Lord Barrington gives the number of British troops in Boston, exclusive of three regiments on the way to join them, as 8,550, of whom 1,482 were sick and wounded and 354 missing, i.e., deserters. In November he gives the actual force in America as upwards of 25,000 men, the whole Army estimates for the Empire being 55,000. Both Barrington and (later) Amherst, when consulted, advised a naval war, with 40,000 men to occupy ports, destroy coasting trade, and make raids. The strong arguments in its favour were offset by the damage done to British commerce, and the discouragement of the loyalists who, with those waiting to join the stronger side, were certainly one-half or more of the population. They were the commercial class on the coast, who would be chiefly injured by the check to trade : but they were living under terror and were unwilling to oppose the mob, who had got thoroughly the upper hand and were driving out the men of means and the officials.
In March, 1776, the British left Boston and went to Halifax, Howe abandoning cannon and many valuable stores, besides giving so little notice of departure that ships ignorant of the move and carrying supplies entered the port and were taken. The only reinforcements received by Howe up to this time were one half battalion of Highlanders, the other half battalion having been captured at sea by an American privateer. When Admiral Lord Howe came from England with a fresh force, the army moved to Staten Island, Sir William Howe defeated Washington and occupied New York. But he lost every opportunity given to him to follow up victory and destroy Washington's army, leaving him to recover, while the brothers spent their time to no purpose negotiating with Congress. Cornwallis, who had been expected in January, did not reach America until May, being three months on the voyage. Waiting for him, Clinton went to assist the loyalists in the Carolinas, failing in an attack on Charleston.
Meanwhile the Americans, prepared for war, invaded Canada. At first they met with success. Montgomery took Montreal, but was killed in an attack on Quebec which failed. But it was a foretaste of Burgoyne's expedition) Benedict Arnold's force, advancing to Quebec, underwent a terrible march of thirty-three days through a wilderness of forest. “They had endured indescribable toil and hardship through lack of supplies, and had been forced to devour even their own dogs. Two hundred men had died of starvation, as many more had been sent back sick, and quite three hundred more had deserted with a colonel at their head." Arnold besieged Quebec, but it was relieved by British ships making their way through the ice. Then, in May, 1776, Sir Guy Carleton sallied out and drove the Americans out of Canada.
After this, until Burgoyne's disaster in the autumn of 1777, the British made raids up the rivers for destruction of the enemy's supplies with varying success. For example, in an expedition against the town of Danbury in Connecticut they destroyed (with a loss to themselves of nearly two hundred men, including ten officers) sixteen hundred barrels of pork and beef, six hundred barrels of flour, two thousand barrels of various grains, a quantity of clothing, and two hundred tents, in fact, all those supplies of which both armies were in deadly need.
Otherwise events group themselves round Washington and Howe. Although Washington was supposed to have the
nation behind him and the whole country for foraging, his army, like the Highland tribes in 1745, melted away for harvest or under hardship. Stedman's figures (Vol. I., p. 284) for the winter of 1776–7 are :
8,800 March, 1777
4,500 June, 1777
With this superior force Howe did nothing, and when he moved at all, he fell back before Washington, finally going by sea to the Chesapeake, on the way to Philadelphia, a voyage which took some weeks, owing to contrary winds.
When he defeated Washington at Brandywine Creek, he lay inactive after the battle, while Washington entered Philadelphia, rallied his men and replenished his stores. The violence of the opposition in Great Britain, says Stedman, sarcastically, and the extreme tenderness of Sir William Howe towards the Americans, seemed to be linked together by a kind of connection similar to that between cause and effect.
When Howe entered Philadelphia, Washington went to Valley Forge where he spent the winter. Here the condition of the colonial army was pitiful in the extreme. His men were nearly naked, without proper provisions, great sickness and no medicines, with continual desertions. He lost five hundred horses. His cannon were frozen and could not be moved. The Congress had fled to Baltimore. Howe could undoubtedly have ended the war if he had chosen to act; but he spent his time in dissipation in Philadelphia, insulting the Quaker population and destroying discipline. Extracts from Washington's letters (Jared Sparks) show the desperate condition of his army ; many of our poor soldiers quite barefoot, and ill-clad in other respects ; every day more or less leave us ; my army was reduced to a handful of men and our affairs were in the most critical situation; numbers much reduced by desertions; of the vast numbers sent to the hospitals at different times few ever returned after they got well. The enemy, he says, must be ignorant of our numbers, or they have not horses to move their artillery, or they would not
leave us undisturbed ; the smallpox has made such head in every quarter that I find it impossible to keep it from spreading through the whole army ; most of the regiments, going off at different times from different places and under different circumstances, took off with them many public arms that were put into their hands." Then, on April 26, 1777, he writes, “I have with great concern observed the almost universal listlessness that prevails throughout the continent; the amazing desertions which have of late prevailed among our troops; the arms imported mysteriously disappear, taken away by the militia when they left for home.”
Meanwhile, Burgoyne was organizing his expedition from Canada which, if successful, would have ended the war. He had all the men and equipment asked for, starting in June with 7,173 men, and taking with him an immense train of artillery. Sir Guy Carleton, a man who had been long resident in Canada and knew the country, was passed over for Burgoyne, who would not appear to have had any conception of the difficulties ahead of him. From the falls of Skeneborough to Fort Edward on Hudson river, a distance of twenty miles, took the army with their enormous train of artillery twenty days, forty bridges having to be built, not only over the swamps and creeks but over ravines and gullies. The army had to clear the roads of forest trees. Burgoyne had insufficient transport, which for some reason had not been collected in time, and, as he advanced, his Indian allies deserted him, and the Americans increased hourly on his front, harrassing him by perpetual sniping. Expeditions to obtain more transport failed entirely. Collecting thirty days' provisions, he made a bridge of boats, crossed the Hudson and encamped on Saratoga Heights. The roads, owing to heavy rains, were almost impassable. After some engagements with the Americans Burgoyne's force .of 3,500 men, without food for days, completely surrounded by an army of from 15,000 to 20,000 men, surrendered on the terms that they were to have free passage from Boston for England. But the Congress, with whom the opposition were always desiring negotiations, shamefully broke the terms of agreement and detained the men until the end of the war.
Whoever was responsible for the surrender of Burgoyne's army, its effect was to create a situation which destroyed the last chance of settlement or success. This was not due to the efficiency of Washington's army, which, left without any help from New England, was in an absolutely desperate condition in the winter of 1777-8. As early as September 22, Washington writes, “The distressed situation of the army for want of blankets and many necessary articles of clothing is truly deplorable ; at least a thousand of the men are barefooted and have performed the marches in that condition.” Then on December 23, 1777, he gives his soul a loose, and tells the Congress of demagogues who had brought on the war what he thinks of their treatment of his army. Beginning with the commissariat, he says, “I am now convinced beyond a doubt that unless some great and capital change takes place this army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of three things : starve, dissolve or disperse in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.” Ordering the troops to be ready to attack the enemy, “I was not only informed but convinced that the men were unable to stir on account of provisions.” The commissary had not a single hoof of any kind to slaughter and not more than twenty-five barrels of flour.“ Three or four days of bad weather would prove our destruction.” “Finding that the inactivity of the army is charged to my account, it is time to speak plain in exculpation of myself.” The soap ordered by Congress they have not seen, but can do without it, “ few men having more than one shirt, many only the moiety of one and some none at all.” “We have, by a field return this day, made no less than 2,898 men unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and otherwise naked ”; the men, for want of blankets," having been obliged
to sit up all night by fires instead of taking comfortable rest in a natural and common way," had decreased their numbers by two thousand men. Then, referring to the remonstrance of the legislature of Pennsylvania against his going into winter quarters, he says, “What makes this matter still more extraordinary in my eyes is that these very gentlemen
should think a winter's campaign and the covering of these States from the invasion of the enemy so easy and practicable a business. I can assure these gentlemen that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside