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Capture of Stony Point Criticized

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

July 20.—We have just seen a rebel newspaper which contains a very curious article relative to the late attack on Stony Point. The article is written in that turgid style, and in that little spirit of triumph, which distinguish almost all the rebel publications, on the acquisition of any trifling advantage; and is at once a just sample of the eloquence and temper of the rebels. It begins thus: “Our gallant light infantry, who, under the brave, intrepid General Wayne, have gained immortal honor by storming the British garrison at Stony Point, were composed of drafts from each State. The firm coolness with which they marched,” &c. It proceeds in the same style of bombast and exaggeration to describe the amazing fortitude, wonderful prowess, and astonishing humanity which marked the conduct of the rebel troops, from the beginning to the end of the whole business.

Far be it from me to detract from any bravery or humanity which may have been shown by the rebels on this occasion. I respect those qualities even in an enemy; and so far as the rebels exhibited either, or both, at Stony Point, (of which, however, I am unable to judge at present,) I give them full credit.

But the writer of the above article was not aware that by extolling the bravery and humanity of General Wayne and his men so extravagantly, he induces his readers to conclude that such instances are very rare among the rebels. People who would make a figure, and have but slender means, must make the most of the little they possess. This writer tells us that the men destined for the attack at Stony Point “were composed of drafts from each State;” and we are elsewhere assured that they amounted to upwards of twelve hundred— some say to double that number. Is it so extraordinary a matter that all the States, as he calls them, should furnish twelve hundred men, (reckoning them at the lowest calculation, and of whom many were Europeans,) who, in the dead of the night, and after taking every precaution to conceal their design—even killing all the dogs in the neighborhood of Stony Point to prevent an alarm—is it extraordinary, I say, that such a body of men, thus picked, and culled, and circumstanced, would venture to attack about four hundred men? for, if my information be right, the effective men at Stony Point did not exceed that number. Among troops accustomed to face and meet their enemies, I am sure this would not be esteemed any mighty affair. When the British troops, not amounting to twelve hundred men, really stormed the rebel forts at the Highlands, in open day—forts that were defended by a garrison three times as numerous as that at Stony Point— there was not half so much said about it as there is said here of General Wayne’s exploit. Such things are expected from British troops: there is nothing unusual in it, and therefore little is said about it.

Our writer reminds me of a passage in De Solis’s history of the conquest of Mexico. While Cortez was subduing that empire, a Spaniard was killed in a fray with the natives. The Mexicans got possession of the corpse, and viewed it with a mixture of admiration and joy: admiration at their own prowess in killing a Spaniard, and joy to find that the Spaniards were vulnerable and mortal! Similar to this is an incident related by Josephus, when Titus besieged Jerusalem. The Roman general constructed works, and planted engines on them to batter the walls. The Jews made a sally, destroyed the works, and burnt the engines. They exulted most extravagantly on this little success, which only served to confirm their obstinacy, hasten their ruin, and stimulate them to greater cruelties against their wretched brethren, who groaned under all the horrors of foreign and domestic war.

This writer is so hugely elevated with the affair at Stony Point, that he thinks Britain should now confirm the independency of America publicly! Can any one be so stupid as to imagine that such a trifling affair could be any way decisive at present, or influence the conduct of Britain? Or are incidents of this kind unusual in the course of war? I could mention several instances where outposts belonging to the greatest generals that ever led armies into the field, have been attacked and carried; and in wars, too, where those generals have been most successful. People who are so easily elevated, betray their own weakness, both in judgment and resources, and generally are easily depressed. Their minds, like a pendulum, will vibrate to either extreme equally, as circumstances occur; and it is an indubitable proof how low the affairs of the rebels are sunk, when so trivial an advantage is puffed off with so much parade. It evidently shows that they are obliged to seize every little incident which can serve, by exaggeration, to support the nagging spirits of their party.

Our writer goes on to extol the “humanity of the rebels,” and contrasts it with the “savage barbarity of burning unguarded towns, deflowering defenceless women,” &c. As far as truth will permit, I am willing to believe, for the honor of America, that the rebels on this occasion relaxed in their usual barbarity. As it is the first instance, it should be recorded, though it would have lost nothing had it been expressed in less exaggerated terms.

The rebels have hitherto been infamous for their wanton cruelties. Their brutal treatment of Governor Franklin, and many other persons of distinction whom I could mention,— their barbarity to loyalists in general, and at this present hour —hanging men for acting according to the dictates of conscience—whipping men almost to death because they will not take up arms—publicly whipping even women, whose husbands would not join the militia—their confiscations, fines, and imprisonments; these things which they daily and indubitably practice, very ill agree with the character of humanity so lavishly bestowed on them by this writer. Nothing but a long, very long series of conduct the reverse of this can wipe off the infamy which they hereby incurred.

The charge ofdeflowering defenceless women” is one of those deliberate, malicious falsehoods which are circulated by the rebels, purely to incense the inhabitants against the British troops. As to burning “unguarded towns,” this writer should know that the King’s troops burn no houses except public magazines, and those from which they are fired at, or otherwise annoyed. This was lately the case at Fairfield and Norwalk, the towns to which, I suppose, the author alludes; and when houses are thus converted into citadels, it is justifiable to burn them by the rules of war among all civilized nations.

New Haven was in the possession of the King’s troops, yet they did not burn it. The reason was, they were not fired at from the houses during their approach to, or retreat from, the town. Some of the inhabitants, however, did what would have justified the British troops in consigning it to the flames. Sentries placed to guard particular houses have been fired at from those very houses, and killed. An officer of distinction took a prisoner who was on horseback, and had a gun; the prisoner apparently submitted, but watching for an opportunity, he discharged his gun at the officer, and wounded him. The wounded officer was carried into an adjoining house to have his wound dressed; the owner of the house seemed to be kind and attentive to the officer; the latter, in gratitude for his attention, ordered the soldiery, on his departure, to be particularly careful of the house, that no injuries should be offered to it. Yet, no sooner was the officer gone, and at the distance of fifty yards, than this very man discharged a loaded musket at him. These are samples of rebel humanity, which sweetly harmonise with our writer’s sentiments.

In fine, this writer, and all others of his stamp, should remember that the colonies are now in a state of revolt and rebellion against their rightful sovereign. The British legislature is unalterably determined to bring them back to their allegiance. The most generous overtures have been made to them—a redress of grievances, an exemption from taxes, and a free trade, have been offered. These liberal terms would indubitably make America the happiest, freest, and most flourishing country in the world. But the American Congress have madly and insolently rejected these terms. The Congress, therefore, and their partisans, are justly chargeable, before God and the world, with all the calamities which America now suffers, and with all those other and greater calamities which it will probably hereafter suffer in the course of this unnatural contest.1


1“Candidas,” in the New York Gazette, August 16.