From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
November 22. –A gentleman in the American army gives the following account of the late movements of the British forces on and about theDelawareandSchuylkillRivers:
About the 12th of October, the British erected a battery near the mouth of the Schuylkill, in order to prevent our boats going into that river, and then landed a large body of troops onProvinceIslandoppositeFortMifflin, with intention to erect batteries against that fort.
In the night they threw up one battery within point blank shot directly opposite to the fort, which was attacked the next day by the galleys, who kept up so warm a fire on them for two hours, that one captain, one lieutenant and ensign, with about eighty men, came on the bank with a flag, clubbed their muskets, and surrendered themselves prisoners; but a large body of fresh men coming in through the meadows to rescue them, they were fired at from the block house at Fort Mifflin, and many of those who had submitted, thinking it was them, ran off; that fifty-six privates with Lieutenant Finch and Ensign Hankey were brought off. On the next day the galleys attacked the battery again, but without any effect. The enemy now threw up another battery on the hospital wharf, from which they fired red hot shot, and kept up a firing every day of shells and red hot balls, but to little purpose, having since their first firing to the 9th November killed but two men and wounded a few, though they had thrown some thousand shot and shells. On Monday, the 10th of November, the enemy had completed five batteries, one on the hospital wharf above mentioned, one on the wharf below that, and three others, one just above the fort, another right opposite, and the third a little below the fort. From all these, about seven o’clock in the morning, they began a most furious cannonade, with shot, shells, and carcasses, not throwing less than fifteen hundred of them a day. Tuesday morning they began in the same manner, when Captain Treat of the artillery, a brave officer, with two others, were killed, and several wounded; and in the evening Colonel Smith, who commanded the fort, was brought off wounded. Three of the enemy’s ships came up the same morning a little above Mantua Creek, where we had thrown up a small battery, but had that day no guns in It, and kept a continual fire on it for some hours, without the least damage to the battery. Wednesday and Thursday the cannonade of shells, &c., was kept up most violently, which tore the stockades, barracks, &c., all to pieces, and dismounted and broke many of our guns. Friday the fire was also very hot, and the Vigilant galley, which had been cut down and carried sixteen twenty-four pounders, got behind Hog Island designing to get up to Fort Mifflin, but could not do it that day. Saturday the 15th we got three guns in the battery mentioned above, and that morning the Somerset of sixty-four guns, the Isis, and another fifty-gun ship, two large frigates, and a galley they brought from New York came up within reach of Fort Mifflin, when the battery began firing on them. This drew the fire from all the men-of-war, which was incessant; so that from the cannonade on the fort and the fire from the enemy, there was one continual roar of cannon. The wind was high, and directly against the galleys, which prevented them from getting to action for some time. In the afternoon the Vigilant got through close up to Fort Mifflin and fired most furiously on it. The commodore sent over six galleys to attack her; but she lay so covered by the enemy’s batteries that it could not be done to any purpose. The other galleys with the floating batteries, were engaged with the ships; and such a cannonade, I believe, was never seen in America. It continued till the evening, when all the ships fell down and the firing ceased except from the Vigilant and the batteries on Province Island against Fort Mifflin, which was by this time torn all to pieces, having scarce a stockade standing, the block houses almost beat down, and every gun dismounted or broken. It now being found impossible to defend it any longer, Major Thayer, who for some days had so bravely defended it, about eleven o’clock at night set fire to the remains of the barracks and brought off his garrison. Thus fell Fort Mifflin after a close siege of near one month, in which time we had on board the galleys only thirty-eight men killed and wounded.
Sunday and Monday the enemy were quite still, and on Tuesday the 18th, in the morning, a large number of transports with troops from New York came up to Billingsport and landed their men; and General Cornwallis came over from Pennsylvania with a number more, in order to attack the fort at Red Bank, where we had not men sufficient to hold a siege. In council it was thought best that it should be evacuated, and on Thursday evening the fort was blown up, and the garrison, with the ammunition, went off.
Our little fleet was now to be preserved; and in consultation with the land and sea officers, it was agreed that it should, if possible, pass by Philadelphia and go up the river. Accordingly, on Wednesday night, the commodore ordered the thirteen galleys to pass close under the Jersey shore, which they all did without a shot being fired at them. It being quite calm, the top-sail vessels could not attempt it. Friday morning, before day, it still being calm, the brig Convention, Captain Rice, the schooner Delaware, Captain Eyres, with six of the shallops, set off to get by, which they all did, through an exceeding hot fire of shells and shot, except the Delaware and one shallop, which were run aground and set on fire. Finding that all the troops were gone, and that there was no wind to carry the continental vessels by, it was thought better to set them on fire, than to let them fall into the enemy’s hands; and the same morning before day, the brig Andria Doria, the xebecks, Repulse and Champion, the sloops Racehorse and Champion, with the two floating batteries and three fire-ships, were accordingly set on fire and destroyed.1
1 New Jersey Gazette, December 5.