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State of the American Army

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

March 1. –A deserter from the rebel army at Westchester, who came into New York this morning, says that the Congress troops are suffering extremely for food and rum; that there is not a whole pair of breeches in the army, and that the last news from Mr. Washington’s camp was, that he had to tie his up with strings, having parted with the buttons to buy the necessaries of life. There is a great plenty of rag money, but since old Franklin went to France, there is no one left to argue it into the favor of the Jerseymen, who, though justly called republicans, are not willing to give even bad provisions for Congress notes, or mere rebel promises to pay. At a frugal dinner lately given by the under officers in Heath’s command, (supposed to be in honor of his demand, at Fort Independence,1) but seven were able to attend; some for the want of clean linen, but the most of them from having none other than breeches past recovery.2


1 This refers to the attempt made in January, 1777, to take Fort Independence, and thus secure a passage into New York island. About four thousand militia, in four divisions, under Generals Heath, Wooster, Parsons, and Lincoln, were destined for the service. General Heath was commander-in-chief. All met on the heights about and near Kingsbridge. The fort had but a trifling garrison, which could have made no effectual resistance had a vigorous push been made; and the men were in spirits for the attempt. In this way only could it be carried, was defence attempted, as the Americans had no other artillery than three field-pieces. With these they fired a number of shots at eighty or one hundred Hessians, and a few light horse, who collected on the York side of Harlem River. The Hessians were thrown into a momentary confusion, but soon formed again. General Heath demanded a surrender of the fort, and threatened in case of non-compliance. The threat was disregarded. The troops were now employed chiefly in picking up Tories, in foraging, and in taking stores that had been in the possession of the enemy, till more artillery could arrive from Peekskill, which a council of war had agreed to send for.
About nine days from the first appearance of the Americans before the fort, the artillery came to hand, and consisted of one brass twenty-four pounder and two howitzers. The twenty-four pounder was fired twice when the carriage broke; and a few shells were thrown without any execution. A great number of teams were then employed in carrying off forage. The British, who had been reinforced during these delays, sallied out, but were repulsed. Soon after the Americans retired. General Heath’s conduct was censured by men of sense and judgment, who were with him on the expedition. It was fraught with so much caution, that the army was disappointed, and in some degree disgraced. His summons, as he did not fulfil his threats, was idle and farcical, and tended to bring on all of them the ridicule of their enemies. —Gordon, ii. 181.
2 Smythe’s Diary, 51.

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