“I feel mad, vexed, sick, and sorry. …”
The preservation of the passage of the North River was an object of so much consequence, that I thought no pains or expense too great for that purpose, and therefore … I determined … to risk something to defend the post on the east side, called Mount Washington. … Afterwards, reflecting upon the smallness of the garrison, and the difficulty of their holding it, if General Howe should fall down upon it with his whole force, I wrote to General Greene, who had the command on the Jersey shore, directing him to govern himself by circumstances, and to retain or evacuate the post as he should think best. …
General Greene, struck with the importance of the post, and the discouragement which our evacuation of posts must necessarily have given, reinforced Colonel Magaw with detachments from several regiments of the Flying Camp, but chiefly of Pennsylvania, so as to make up the number about two thousand.
But supposing Fort Washington tenable, “what single purpose,” as it has been observed by General [Charles] Lee, “did it answer to keep it? Did it cover, did it protect a valuable country? Did it prevent the enemy’s ships from passing and repassing with impunity?” No; but we had been too much in the habit of evacuating posts, and it was high time to correct the procedure. This garrison must stand, because it had been hitherto too fashionable to run away; and Pennsylvania and Maryland must pay for the retreating alacrity of New England. If any thing better can be made of General Greene’s motives for retaining the post… I am willing to take to myself the discredit of perversion. If what I say should be thought to implicate the Commander-inchief, and to impugn his decision, I cannot help it. A good man he undoubtedly was, nor will party malignity be ever able to deprive him of the fame of a truly great one. But my veneration for truth, is even greater than that for his character; nor will my admiration of his virtues induce me to say, that his military career was without a blemish.
On the sixteenth of November, before day-break, we were at our post in the lower lines of Haerlem heights. … I think it was between seven and eight o’clock, when they gave us the first shot from one of their batteries on the other side of the Haerlem river. … Soon after, they approached the lines in great force under cover of a wood, in the verge of which they halted, and slowly began to form, giving us an occasional discharge from their artillery. … Soon after … it being observed that the enemy was extending himself towards the Hudson on our right, Colonel [Lambert] Cadwalader detached me thither with my company, with orders to post myself to the best advantage for the protection of that flank. I accordingly marched, and took my station at the extremity of the trench, just where the high grounds begin to decline towards the river. This situation … concealed from my view the other parts of the field. … But that the action had begun in earnest, I was some time after informed by my sense of hearing. It was assailed by a most tremendous roar of artillery, quickly succeeded by incessant vollies of small arms, which seemed to proceed from the east and north; and it was to these points, that General Howe chiefly directed his efforts. The direct and cross fire from his batteries on the east side of the Haerlem, effectually covered the landing of his troops, and protected them also in gaining the steep ascents on our side. It was no disgrace to the militia, that they shrunk from this fire. … I question whether the bravest veterans could have stood it. …
Colonel [Moses] Rawlings was some time late in the morning attacked by the Hessians, whom he fought with great gallantry and effect, as they were climbing the heights; until the arms of the riflemen became useless from the foulness they contracted from the frequent repetition of their fire.
At last … we got about on the top of the hill where there were trees and great stones. We had a hard time of it there together. Because they now had no idea of yielding, Col. Rail gave the word of command, thus: “All that are my grenadiers, march forwards!” All the drummers struck up the march, the hautboy-players blew. At once all that were yet alive shouted, “Hurrah!” Immediately all were mingled together, Americans and Hessians. There was no more firing, but all ran forward pell-mell upon the fortress.
The Americans, now generally driven from their outworks, retired to the fort, which was crowded full. A single shell, now dropping among them, must have made dreadful havock. …
The British had summoned Col. Magaw to surrender, and were preparing their batteries to play on the fort, when Col. Magaw thought it best to surrender the post, which he did accordingly, between two and three thousand men becoming prisoners. The loss in killed and wounded, on the American side was inconsiderable; but the loss in prisoners was a serious blow indeed. The prisoners were marched to New-York; where, being crowded in prisons and sugar-houses … they fell sick, and daily died, in a most shocking manner. It was common, on a morning, for the car-men to come and take away the bodies for burial, by loads!
I feel mad, vexed, sick, and sorry. Never did I need the consoling voice of a friend more than now. … This is a most terrible event; its consequences are justly to be dreaded.