From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
November 4.—A writer in the New York Packet of this date, offers the following to Sir Henry Clinton:— “Although your military track in America is marked with a variety of misfortunes, yet is it no less worthy of panegyric than that of your predecessors. Like them, you have adventured your character in the execution of desultory objects; but like them, you may not return to reap the rewards of your labors.
“I will presume that your cabinet, after four years’ projection, had conceived the idea of reducing the States by the capture of West Point; or, if this could not be established, had directed the establishment of a post in its vicinity. Could these sages have given you force and wisdom to have captured, with West Point, the American army, it would perhaps have been doing something effectual towards their project. But the reduction and occupancy of this post on any other condition, was a mere sound; a rattle, like all other rattles, only calculated to please for the moment.
“Had you arrived at West Point before General Washington could have reached it from Middlebrook, (which you might have done without a possibility of interruption, from your commanding the water,) and carried the post by storm, it must have been at the expense of all further operations, and at the certain risk of being besieged by the American army. Had you invested the place, General Washington would alone, with his forces, have been sufficient to have raised the siege, and you might” have lost your heavy cannon and stores, if not the greatest part of your army; or, had you carried it without any material loss, still the object of the ministry would have been defeated. A new fort would have instantly appeared on the Hudson, capable of insulting West Point, and of rendering its supposed advantages nugatory and ridiculous.
“Your orders arrived, and you received them with all the complacency of accustomed submission. The caution, however, with which you moved towards an object considered as the most capital in America, at least does credit to your prudence. You approached within nine miles of West Point, and halted before a small work at King’s Ferry that could neither disturb the passage of your shipping, nor give obstruction to the progress of your army. Its design was merely to give a show of cover to the ferry way, and prevent the piracies of your picaroons.
“Sir William Howe could not have invested this insignificant place with more unmeaning formality. No display of ostentatious arrangements was overlooked on this occasion; and Mr. Andre, your aid, as if in compliance with the taste of his general, signed a capitulation, in all the pomp of a vainglorious solemnity, on the very edge of the glacis, which he had gained under cover of a flag.
“What, Sir Henry, could you intend by this farce? What excuse will a person of Mr. Andre’s reputed sense find for this parade? Was it that you were obliged to do something in order to avoid the scandal of doing nothing? If you meant to astonish all Europe, there is no doubt but the intention has been answered. The capture of fifty men after a foolish variety of movements, and under a vain pomp of capitulation, must appear to all the world a strange effort towards the reduction of America—but a poor recompense for the millions voted by Parliament, which you have cheerfully expended for this single purpose.
“When you established your garrison on each side the ferry, and improved Stony Point till it acquired, in the language peculiar to your nation, the title of the American Gibraltar, what was the good it comprehended? It did not interrupt the provisions for the army of your enemy—their wagons came and returned as usual. A few dragoons and a company or two of light troops under Major Lee, circumscribed you to the lines you had erected; and the country between Haverstraw and Powle’s Hook afforded its usual supplies. Thus your enemy experienced no injury, and you felt a thousand inconveniences from your new situation.
“It is a maxim in Rochefoucauld, ‘that fortune turns every thing to the advantage of her favorites.’ By this rule it would seem that neither you nor your nation are within her patronage, for the business of both, since the beginning of this happy contest, has been constantly going backwards. Nay, as if she had placed you at the extremity of her malice, she has even made the blunders of your directors serve as the steps to your ruin; and to complete the catalogue of your evils, she haunts your bewildered imagination with the fate of Burgoyne.
“How often, Sir Harry, in your affairs, has the song of the morning been closed with the evening tear! You had scarce finished your despatches, which were to flatter the hopes of an all-expecting ministry, when Stony Point was stormed and carried at the bayonet by a body of troops but little superior in numbers to its garrison.
“In your account of this event (which holds so small a corner in the Gazette, as if wishing to escape the public eye,) have you told your nation that the American soldiery, in the full career of their ardor, exhibited a compassion and magnanimity of which the practice of their army had not afforded one single solitary proof?
“As this place was of small moment to the States, when your stores and prisoners were safely lodged you were permitted to re-possess it without opposition. The only circumstance that could have added to the entertainment of a re-possession, you happily adopted. You landed your disgusted troops under a furious waste of ammunition, directed from your shipping at both flanks of the rock, while the enemy at several miles’ distance, were enjoying their victory, and laughing at such a profusion of folly. Was it, Sir Harry, to soothe the shortsighted sagacity of a deluded people that you again attempted to hold what you had so ostentatiously acquired and so degradingly lost? or because the ministerial mist was not to be too rudely dissipated, that you were obliged to re-occupy a few acres of unprofitable rock?
“But scarce had you announced the second solemnity of re-possessing Stony Point, when the ministry were compelled to shed fresh tears over the surprise of Powle’s Hook.
“The situation of this post gave it every possible security, and you might have laughed over the midnight bottle without imputation of folly. Formed on a peninsula, within protection of your shipping, and the instant support of the city of New York, the approach hazardous in its nature, and rendered still more so by the difficulty of keeping the least movement of your enemy from the knowledge of your emissaries that were scattered for that purpose in your neighborhood. The retreat was equally dangerous, being conducted along several miles of your flanks, and liable at every step to intersection. All these obstacles were surmounted, and another ray plucked from that star whose lustre is nearly extinguished.
“Did the tale end here, you might have solaced yourself in the full security of reward. But the strength of your army was to be worn down in forming new works on both sides of King’s Ferry, arid the health of your troops wasted in nightly watchings to guard against a surprise, and to add to the triumph of your enemy by their evacuation.
“How shall we account for this change m your conduct? Was it the new fascines which were ordered to be cut, and General Wayne’s taking post on Haverstraw Heights, within five miles of your principal fortress, the bringing of a few boats down the North River, and the armies on each side of the ferry under Lord Stirling and General Howe, drawing nearer your works, that forced you from a place without making the smallest resistance? It is, however, a just punishment, that what was occupied from folly should be evacuated through fear. How will you explain to the ministry the mystery of your campaign; and how will they explain to the people its labyrinth of absurdities? How will they make it appear that it was proper to do one day what was improper the next—that to conquer America it was necessary to disgrace their arms— that to hold lung’s Ferry was right, and that to hold King’s Ferry was wrong? That it was expedient, and founded upon true English policy, to expend several millions of money to bring an army up the North River and take only a part of it back again, after having lost in prisoners, and by deaths, and desertions, a tenth of the whole!
“Alas, Sir Harry! in aiming at a campaign, you. have rendered yourself ridiculous to the world. They will suppose that you wanted either means or capacity; or that, possessing these, you mistook your enemy and ventured against your superior in both. The momentary hopes you had raised, like the fugitive gleams of a winter’s sun, have been scarcely felt before they were succeeded by all the severity of disappointment. Even the flatterers your prospects had drawn around you withhold their wonted adulation, and dispose of your character, in order to make peace with your supposed successor. You have even dishonored your new formed acquirements, in the disgrace of publishing negro proclamations.1 You have suffered yourself to be repeatedly defeated, by a people boastingly called cowards, and ridiculously, rebels. You have taken away from your Prince the chief support of his speeches, and the courage and conduct of his commanders. To the dull ear that the Dutch turned to Sir Joseph Yorke’s plaintive memorial, you have added the storm of Stony Point, the surprise of Powle’s Hook, and degrading evacuation of King’s Ferry: a campaign commenced in exultation, and ended in sackcloth. You have multiplied the enemies of your patrons, and opened against Lord North the full-mouthed cry of his antagonist, Charles Fox.
“But I leave you, Sir Henry, to your own reflections. I cannot increase their severity; and your present situation needs not the scourge of the satirist.”2
1 Sir Henry Clinton’s proclamation to sell negroes captured from the enemy. See June 30, 1779 (Volume II, Chapter V)
2 New Jersey Gazette, December 29.