- Historic Sites
“We was amazingly fortunate”
—OR—Through the American Revolution with Pluck & Cheek
October 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 6
“It is hardly possible to conceive what a tremendous fire was kept up by those five ships for fifty-nine minutes, in which time we fired away in the Orpheus alone 5,376 pounds of powder. The first broadside made a considerable breach in their works and the enemy fled on all sides, confused and calling for quarter, while the army landed, but, as usual, did not pursue the victory, though the rebels in general had left their arms in the entrenchment. The havock was by no means so great as it would have been had we not been obliged to cease firing on the landing of the troops; however, the ground in some places was filled with the slain and numbers got off with the loss of arms, etcetera.
“As soon as the firing ceased from the ships I was sent in the barge to tow on shore the flat boats, when curiosity led me to follow the army through the works where I saw a Hessian sever a rebel's head from his body and clap it on a pole in the entrenchments. While I was amusing myself with these sights, and picking up some curious trifles, several volleys of musketry was fired from a boat belonging to the Orpheus at us, who had, in rowing along shore, taken us for rebels as I had on a white linen jacket which I wore at my quarters and which was all colors at this time with powder and dirt.
“As I knew the boat I made signs of friendship, but all in vain; and I was obliged to throw away my little affairs and take to my heels, as the enemy had done before, amidst a constant fire from the boat who fortunately only wounded one man slightly in the leg. On my arrival on board I found the second lieutenant amusing the captain with an account of his attack on a body of rebels, which I gave him to understand was myself and the barge’s crew, by which I had lost some valuable swords and little trifles, which in the precipitate retreat before his arms I had left behind me. Captain Hudson permitted me to go again on shore with the above lieutenant but all our little matters were taken and we procured only nine drums and some fusees.
”Mr. Barton [the lieutenant] leaving me by accident on shore, I rambled into the woods with one of the midshipmen of the Phoenix who had with him the gunner and seven men. On our entrance into an orchard we took a rebel prisoner who had lain concealed there for some time. From this man we learned there had been a skirmish in the woods with the rebels and a body of the Hessians and that the former was dispersed all round the woods. Having consulted each other on the consequences of advancing further from the ships, and pleased in some measure with the success of taking the above man, we determined to go in quest of some more and shortly after heard several voices in an orchard at the end of the wood on which we assembled with our muskets presented to the gate and levelling at some men we saw in the grass were about to fire, when up start two or three hundred Hessians with flaming large brass caps on and with charged bayonets advanced rapidly towards us.
“The sudden unexpected surprise of such a visit alarmed us prodigiously, and we made signs of being friends, which had little or no effect in our favour, as on their coming close to us they knocked us down with their muskets, frequently using the word ‘rebel’ for which they really took us. In vain I assured them with signs that we were part of the British navy and pointed to my white cuff, having changed my clothes on going on board, that I might not a second time be taken for an American. But I was much surprised, and in fact at a loss how to act, when they pointed out a rebel officer who lay there with a leg shot off, who had on the very exact uniform of a midshipman, which having explained to each other, they again beat us unmercifully and would undoubtedly have put their bayonets through us had not General [Robert] Pigot, who commanded that party and who knew me when in the Chatham, have come to our relief, when they made a thousand ridiculous apologies for their treatment, and we returned to our ships in need of both cook and doctor, and totally weary of our expedition.”
Not satisfied with harrying James on land, the God of War now proceeded to give him a bad time on the water as well. “The 25th I was sent down to Lord Howe with some dispatches, having ten miles to row; and on my return, the people having got drunk, mutinied and made an attack on me which obliged me to use my hanger [short cutlass] and by cutting them over their hands, disabled them, in doing which I broke my hanger in two pieces, but first had very fortunately got the better of the most insensible part of them, two having promised to row on board, where I arrived in a most fearful situation about half past one in the morning, when I had them sufficiently punished for their infamous conduct.”
A few days later, James went ashore again and “walked out to the encampment of our army at Kingsbridge, and having viewed the situation of both armies, whose advanced sentinels were within call of each other, saw, in returning, a rebel spy taken and hung immediately to a tree [almost certainly not Nathan Hale, who had been hanged shortly before, on September 22]; he died with great heroism, lamenting only that he could not communicate his intelligence to his commander, as he had done with success twice before.”