Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small][merged small][subsumed]
[graphic]

same time that the combined army encamped before Yorktown, the French fleet anchored at the mouth of the river, and completely prevented the British from escaping by water, as well as from receiving supplies or reinforcements in that way. The legion of Lauzun and a brigade of militia, amounting to upwards of four thousand men, commanded by the French general De Choisié, were sent across the river to watch Gloucester Point, and to enclose the British on that side.

On the 30th, Yorktown was invested. The French troops formed the left wing of the combined army, extending from the river above the town to a morass in front of it; the Americans composed the right wing, and occupied the ground between the morass and the river below the town. Till the 6th of October, the besieging army was assiduously employed in disembarking its heavy artillery and military stores, and in conveying them to camp from the landing place in James River, a distance of six miles.

On the night of the 6th, the first parallel was begun, six hundred yards from the British works. The night was dark, rainy, and well adapted for such a service; and in the course of it the besiegers did not lose a man. Their operations seem not to have been suspected by the besieged till daylight disclosed them in the morning, when the trenches were so far advanced as in a good measure to cover the workmen from the fire of the garrison. By the afternoon of the 9th, the batteries were completed, notwithstanding the most strenuous opposition from the besieged; and immediately opened on the town. From that time an incessant cannonade was kept up; and the continual discharge of shot and shells from twenty-four and eighteen-pounders, and ten-inch mortars, damaged the unfinished works on the left of the town, silenced the guns mounted on them, and occasioned a considerable loss of men. Some of the shot and shells from the batteries passed over the town, reached the shipping in the harbour, and set on fire the Charon of forty-four guns, and three large transports, which were entirely consumed.*

The succeeding operations of the siege are very graphically described by Dr. Thatcher, one of the surgeons of the army, in the following extract from his Military Journal:

"The duty of our troops has been for several days extremely severe; our regiment labours in the trenches every other day and night, where I find it difficult to avoid suffering by the cold, having no other covering than a single blanket in an open field. We

* Western World.

erected a battery last night in front of our first parallel, without any annoyance from the enemy. Two or three of our batteries being now prepared to open on the town, his excellency General Washington put the match to the first gun, and a furious discharge of cannon and mortars immediately followed, and Earl Cornwallis has received his first salutation.

"From the 10th to the 15th, a tremendous and incessant firing from the American and French batteries is kept up, and the enemy return the fire, but with little effect. A red-hot shell from the French battery set fire to the Charon, a British 44 gun ship, and two or three smaller vessels at anchor in the river, which were consumed in the night. From the bank of the river, I had a fine view of this splendid conflagration. The ships were enwrapped in a torrent of fire, which spreading with vivid brightness among the combustible rigging, and running with amazing rapidity to the tops of the several masts, while all around was thunder and lightning from our numerous cannon and mortars, and in the darkness of the night, presented one of the most sublime and magnificent spectacles which can be imagined. Some of our shells, overreaching the town, are seen to fall into the river, and bursting, throw up columns of water like the spoutings of the monsters of the deep. We have now made further approaches to the town, by throwing up a second parallel line and batteries within about three hundred yards; this was effected in the night, and at. daylight the enemy were roused to the greatest exertions, the engines of war have raged with redoubled fury and destruction on both sides, no cessation day or night. The French had two officers wounded, and fifteen men killed or wounded, and among the Americans two or three were wounded. I assisted in amputating a man's thigh. The siege is daily becoming more and more formidable and alarming, and his lordship must view his situation as extremely critical, if not desperate. Being in the trenches every other day and night, I have a fine opportunity of witnessing the sublime and stupendous scene which is continually exhibiting. The bomb-shells from the besiegers and the besieged are incessantly crossing each other's path in the air. They are clearly visible in the form of a black ball in the day; but in the night, they appear like fiery meteors with blazing tails, most beautifully brilliant, ascending majestically from the mortar to a certain altitude, and gradually descending to the spot where they are destined to execute their work of destruction. It is astonishing with what accuracy an experienced gunner will make his calculations, that a shell shall fall within a

few feet of a given point, and burst at the precise time, though at a great distance. When a shell falls, it whirls round, burrows, and excavates the earth to a considerable extent, and bursting, makes dreadful havoc around.

"I have more than once witnessed fragments of the mangled bodies and limbs of the British soldiers thrown into the air by the bursting of our shells; and by one from the enemy, Captain White, of the seventh Massachusetts regiment, and one soldier were killed, and another wounded near where I was standing. About twelve or fourteen men have been killed or wounded within twenty-four hours; I attended at the hospital, amputated a man's arm, and assisted in dressing a number of wounds. The enemy having two redoubts about three hundred yards in front of their principal works, enfiladed our entrenchment and impeded our approaches; it was resolved to take possession of them both by assault. The one on the left of the British garrison, bordering on the banks of the river, was assigned to our brigade of light infantry, under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. The advanced corps was led on by the intrepid Colonel Hamilton, who had commanded a regiment of light infantry during the campaign, and assisted by Colonel Gimat. The assault commenced at eight o'clock in the evening, and the assailants bravely entered the fort with the point of the bayonet without firing a single gun. We suffered the loss of eight men killed, and about thirty wounded, among whom Colonel Gimat received a slight wound in his foot, and Major Gibbs, of his excellency's guard, and two other officers, were slightly wounded. Major Campbell, who commanded in the fort, was wounded and taken prisoner, with about thirty soldiers; the remainder made their escape. I was desired to visit the wounded in the fort, even before their balls had ceased whistling about my ears, and saw a sergeant and eight men dead in the ditch. A captain of our infantry, belonging to New Hampshire, threatened to take the life of Major Campbell to avenge the death of his favourite, Colonel Scammel; but Colonel Hamilton interposed, and not a man was killed after he had ceased to resist. During the assault, the British kept up an incessant firing of cannon and musketry from their whole line.

"His excellency General Washington, Generals Lincoln and Knox, with their aids, having dismounted, were standing in an exposed situation, waiting the result. Colonel Cobb, one of General Washington's aids, solicitous for his safety, said to his excellency, Sir, you are too much exposed here, had you not better

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »