The breastworks were manned by patriot militia who had recently served in Brooklyn. Disheartened by their late defeat, they fled at the first advance of the enemy. Two brigades of Putnam’s Connecticut troops, which had been sent that morning to support them, caught the panic, and, regardless of the commands and entreaties of their officers, joined in the general scamper.
At this moment Washington, who had mounted his horse at the first sound of the cannonade, came galloping to the scene of confusion. Riding in among the fugitives he endeavored to rally and restore them to order. All in vain. At the first appearance of sixty or seventy redcoats, they broke again without firing a shot, and fled in headlong terror.
Losing all self-command at the sight of such dastardly conduct, Washington dashed his hat upon the ground in a transport of rage.
“Are these the men,” exclaimed he, “with whom I am to defend America!”
In a paroxysm of passion and despair he snapped his pistols at some of them, threatened others with his sword, and was so heedless of his own danger that he might have fallen into the hands of the enemy, who were not eighty yards distant, had not an aide-de-camp seized the bridle of his horse, and absolutely hurried him away.
It was one of the rare moments of his life when the vehement element of his nature was stirred up from its deep recesses. He soon recovered his self-possession, and took measures against the general peril.