Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Beginning of the End

The British army now numbered thirty thousand troops, while Washington's entire command was not over seven thousand strong. The Howes, one a general and the other an admiral, now turned their attention to New York. Washington, however, was on the ground beforehand.

Howe's idea was to first capture Brooklyn, so that he could have a place in which to sleep at nights while engaged in taking New York.

The battle was brief. Howe attacked the little army in front, while General Clinton got around by a circuitous route to the rear of the Colonial troops and cut them off. The Americans lost one thousand men by death or capture. The prisoners were confined in the old sugar-house on Liberty Street, where they suffered the most miserable and indescribable deaths.

The army of the Americans fortunately escaped by Fulton Ferry in a fog, otherwise it would have been obliterated. Washington now fortified Harlem Heights, and later withdrew to White Plains. Afterwards he retired to a fortified camp called North Castle.

Howe feared to attack him there, and so sent the Hessians, who captured Fort Washington, November 16.

It looked scaly for the Americans, as Motley says, and Philadelphia bade fair to join New York and other cities held by the British. The English van could be seen from the Colonial rear column. The American troops were almost barefooted, and left their blood-stained tracks on the frozen road.

It was at this time that Washington crossed the Delaware and thereby found himself on the other side; while Howe decided to remain, as the river was freezing, and when the ice got strong enough, cross over and kill the Americans at his leisure. Had he followed the Colonial army, it is quite sure now that the English would have conquered, and the author would have been the Duke of Sandy Bottom, instead of a plain American citizen, unknown, unhonored, and unsung.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Washington decided that he must strike a daring blow while his troops had any hope or vitality left; and so on Christmas night, after crossing the Delaware as shown elsewhere, he fell on the Hessians at Trenton in the midst of their festivities, captured one thousand prisoners, and slew the leader.

The Hessians were having a symposium at the time, and though the commander received an important note of warning during the Christmas dinner, he thrust it into his pocket and bade joy be unconfined.

When daylight came, the Hessians were mostly moving in alcoholic circles trying to find their guns. Washington lost only four men, and two of those were frozen to death.

The result of this fight gave the Colonists courage and taught them at the same time that it would be best to avoid New Jersey symposiums till after the war was over.

Having made such a hit in crossing the Delaware, Washington decided to repeat the performance on the 3d of January. He was attacked at Trenton by Cornwallis, who is known in history for his justly celebrated surrender. He waited till morning, having been repulsed at sundown. Washington left his camp-fires burning, surrounded the British, captured two hundred prisoners, and got away to Morristown Heights in safety. If the ground had not frozen, General Washington could not have moved his forty can non; but, fortunately, the thermometer was again on his side, and he never lost a gun.

September 11 the English got into the Chesapeake, and Washington announced in the papers that he would now fight the battle of the Brandywine, which he did.

Marie Jean Paul Roch Yves Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, fought bravely with the Americans in this battle, twice having his name shot from under him.

The patriots were routed, scoring a goose-egg and losing Philadelphia.

October 4, Washington attacked the enemy at Germantown, and was beaten back just as victory was arranging to perch on his banner. Poor Washington now retired to Valley Forge, where he put in about the dullest winter of his life.

The English had not been so successful in the North. At first the Americans could only delay Burgoyne by felling trees in the path of his eight thousand men, which is a very unsatisfactory sort of warfare, but at last Schuyler, who had borne the burden and heat of the day, was succeeded by Gates, and good luck seemed to come slowly his way.

A foolish boy with bullet-holes cut in his clothes ran into St. Leger's troops, and out of breath told them to turn back or they would fill a drunkard's grave. Officers asked him about the numbers of the enemy, and he pointed to the leaves of the trees, shrieked, and ran for his life. He ran several days, and was barely able to keep ahead of St. Leger's troops by a neck.

Burgoyne at another time sent a detachment under Colonel Baum to take the stores at Bennington, Vermont. He was met by General Stark and the militia. Stark said, "Here come the redcoats, and we must beat them to-day, or Molly Stark is a widow." This neat little remark made an instantaneous hit, and when they counted up their string of prisoners at night they found they had six hundred souls and a Hessian.

Burgoyne now felt blue and unhappy. Besides, his troops were covered with wood-ticks and had had no washing done for three weeks.

He moved southward and attacked Gates at Bemis Heights, or, as a British wit had it, "gave Gates ajar," near Saratoga. A wavering fight occupied the day, and then both armies turned in and fortified for two weeks. Burgoyne saw that he was running out of food, and so was first to open fire.

Arnold, who had been deprived of his command since the last battle, probably to prevent his wiping out the entire enemy and getting promoted, was so maddened by the conflict that he dashed in before Gates could put him in the guard-house, and at the head of his old command, and without authority or hat, led the attack. Gates did not dare to come where Arnold was, to order him back, for it was a very warm place where Arnold was at the time. The enemy was thus driven to camp.

Arnold was shot in the same leg that was wounded at Quebec; so he was borne back to the extreme rear, where he found Gates eating a doughnut and speaking disrespectfully of Arnold.

A council was now held in Burgoyne's tent, and on the question of renewing the fight stood six to six, when an eighteen-pound hot shot went through the tent, knocking a stylographic pen out of General Burgoyne's hand. Almost at once he decided to surrender, and the entire army of six thousand men was surrendered, together with arms, portable bath-tubs, and leather hat-boxes. The Americans marched into their camp to the tune of Yankee Doodle, which is one of the most impudent compositions ever composed.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


During the Valley Forge winter (1777-78) Continental currency depreciated in value so that an officer's pay would not buy his clothes. Many, having also spent their private funds for the prosecution of the war, were obliged to resign and hire out in the lumber woods in order to get food for their families. Troops had no blankets, and straw was not to be had. It was extremely sad; but there was no wavering. Officers were approached by the enemy with from one hundred to one thousand pounds if they would accept and use their influence to effect a reconciliation; but, with blazing eye and unfaltering attitude, each stated that he was not for sale, and returned to his frozen mud-hole to rest and dream of food and freedom.

Those were the untitled nobility from whom we sprung. Let us look over our personal record and see if we are living lives that are worthy of such heroic sires.

Five minutes will now be given the reader to make a careful examination of his personal record.

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In the spring the joyful news came across the sea that, through the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, France had acknowledged the independence of the United States, and a fleet was on the way to assist the struggling troops.

The battle of Monmouth occurred June 28. Clinton succeeded Howe, and, alarmed by the news of the French fleet, the government ordered Clinton to concentrate his troops near New York, where there were better facilities for getting home.

Washington followed the enemy across New Jersey, overtaking them at Monmouth. Lee was in command, and got his men tangled in a swamp where the mosquitoes were quite plenty, and, losing courage, ordered a retreat.

Washington arrived at that moment, and bitterly upbraided Lee. He used the Flanders method of upbraiding, it is said, and Lee could not stand it. He started towards the enemy in preference to being there with Washington, who was still rebuking him. The fight was renewed, and all day long they fought. When night came, Clinton took his troops with him and went away where they could be by themselves.

An effort was made to get up a fight between the French fleet and the English at Newport for the championship, but a severe storm came up and prevented it.

In July the Wyoming Massacre, under the management of the Tories and Indians, commanded by Butler, took place in that beautiful valley near Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

This massacre did more to make the Indians and Tories unpopular in this country than any other act of the war. The men were away in the army, and the women, children, and old men alone were left to the vengeance of the two varieties of savage. The Indians had never had gospel privileges, but the Tories had. Otherwise they resembled each other.

In 1779 the English seemed to have Georgia and the South pretty well to themselves. Prevost, the English general, made an attack on Charleston, but, learning that Lincoln was after him, decided that, as he had a telegram to meet a personal friend at Savannah, he would go there. In September, Lincoln, assisted by the French under D'Estaing, attacked Savannah. One thousand lives were lost, and D'Estaing showed the white feather to advantage. Count Pulaski lost his life in this fight. He was a brave Polish patriot, and his body was buried in the Savannah River.

The capture of Stony Point about this time by "Mad Anthony Wayne" was one of the most brilliant battles of the war.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Learning the countersign from a negro who sold strawberries to the British, the troops passed the guard over the bridge that covered the marsh, and, gagging the worthy inside guard, they marched up the hill with fixed bayonets and fixed the enemy to the number of six hundred.

The countersign was, "The fort is won," and so it was, in less time than it takes to ejaculate the word "scat!" Wayne was wounded at the outset, but was carried up the hill in command, with a bandage tied about his head. He was a brave man, and never knew in battle what fear was. Yet, strange to say, a bat in his bed would make him start up and turn pale.