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Source: April 1984 Volume 22 Number 2, Pages 51–54

Drover Wayne

Page 51

One of Anthony Wayne's lesser known contributions to the American cause during the Revolutionary War was his participation in various foraging expeditions. They were conducted to obtain much-needed food and supplies for the American army, not only during the encampment at Valley Forge, but later in the war as well. For these activities the General was sometimes referred to by the British as "Drover" Wayne.

Benson J. Lossing, in a footnote in his The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, has given us a detailed account of one of these expeditions. It took place on July 25, 1780; notwithstanding strong enemy opposition, Wayne and "Light-Horse" Harry Lee succeeded in procuring "a large number of cattle" for the American troops.

"Three or four miles below Fort Lee," Lossing wrote, "at the base of the Palisades is a little village called Bull's Ferry. Just below the village, on Block-house Point, was a blockhouse occupied in the summer of 1780 by a British picket, for the protection of some wood cutters, and the neighboring Tories. On Bergen Neck below was a large number of cattle and horses, within reach of the British foragers who might go out from the fort at Paulus's Hook. Washington, then at Hopper's, near Suffern, sent General Wayne, with some Pennsylvania and Maryland troops, horse and foot, to storm the work on Block-house Point, and to drive the cattle within the American lines.

Page 52

Wayne sent the cavalry, under Major Lee, to perform the latter duty, while he and three Pennsylvania regiments marched against the block-house with four pieces of artillery. They made a surprise attack, but their cannons were too light to be effective, and after a skirmish the Americans were repulsed, with a loss in killed and wounded, of sixty-four men. After burning some wooden boats near, and capturing the men in charge of them, Wayne returned to camp, with a large number of cattle, driven by dragoons. ... "

The foray was described in quite another manner in "The Cow Chase", a ballad written a week later, on August 1, 1780, by a young British officer. The author was the famed Major John Andre, who in addition the his military career was also something of an amateur artist and poet. Published in Rivington's Royal Gazette, in its 73 quatrains or stanzes, in three cantos, Andre presented a satirical - and not very complimentary - picture of Wayne and his "dung-born tribe", as he described the American troops. In fact, in Andre's version of the incident, Wayne and Lee did not even accomplish their mission to "drive the kine" back to the American line!

(So unflattering was his account of the expedition that in the last quatrain of the ballad Andre observed

"And now I've closed my epic strain,
I tremble as I show it,
Lest this same warrior-drover Wayne
Should ever catch the poet."

As the expedition set out, for example, it is suggested that the Americans had all fortified themselves for the occasion with spirits. After Wayne had ''speechified the whole", Andre noted

"Then from the cask of rum once more,
They took a heady gill;
When one and all, they loudly swore,
They'd fight upon the hill.

"Near the meridian pomp, the sun
Had journey'd from the horizon;
When fierce the dusky tribe mov'd on,
Of heroes drunk as pizen.

"At Irving's nod 'twas fine to see
The left prepare to fight;
The while, the drovers, Wayne and Lee
Drove upon the right."

As the attackers on the left met stiff resistance from the blockhouse, Lee carried out his assignment. But Wayne allegedly ran into a difficulty of another sort - a brief dalliance with a wood nymph! After some twenty-two more stanzas, Andre reported

Page 53

"Whilst valiant Lee, with courage wild
Most bravely did oppose
The tears of woman and of child
Who begg'd he'd leave the cows.

"But Wayne, of sympathetic heart,
Required a relief;
Not all the blessings could impart
Of battle or of beef.

"For now a prey to female charms,
His soul took more delight in
A lovely hamadryad's arms,
Than cow-driving or fighting.

"A nymph the refugees had drove
Far from her native tree,
Just happen'd to be on the move,
When up came Wayne and Lee.

"Great Wayne, by soft compassion sway'd
To no inquiry stoops,
But takes the fair afflicted maid
Right into Yan Van Poop's.

"So Roman Anthony, they say,
Disgrac'd the Imperial banner,
And for a gypsy lost a day,
Like Anthony the tanner."

Small wonder Major Andre trembled "lest this warrior-drover Wayne should ever catch the poet"! The ballad continues

"The hamadryad had but half
Receiv'd address from Wayne,
When drums and colors, cow and calf
Came down the road amain.

"And in a cloud of dust were seen
The sheep, the horse, the goat,
The gentle heifer, ass obscene,
The yearling and the shoat.

"And pack horses with fowls came by,
Befeathered on each side;
Like Pegasus, the horse that I
And other poets ride.

"Sublime upon his stirrups rose
The mighty Lee behind,
And drove the terror-smitten cows
Like chaff before the wind,"

Page 54

It was at this point, however, that a counterattack by the British, according to Andre, caused the foray to fail. Continuing, he observed

"But sudden see the woods above,
Pour down another corps,
All helter-skelter is a drove
Like that I sung before.

"So met these dung-born tribes in one.
As swift in their career,
And so to Newbridge they run on -
But all the cows got clear."

Not only was the "plunder" taken by the foraging party lost, but, it is reported in the last two quatrains before the final one previously quoted, General Wayne also ignominiously lost his own horse!

"This solemn prophecy, of course,
Gave all such consolation,
Except to Wayne, who lost his horse,
Upon the great occasion.

"His horse that carried all his prog,
His military speeches,
His corn-stalk whisky for his grog,
Blue stockings and brown breeches."

That's our General Anthony Wayne he is saying these things about!

Actually, according to John Hyde Preston's biography of the general (A Gentleman Rebel), while Wayne "was furious .. . he was also hugely amused" by Andre's rhyme.

Ironically, "The Cow Chase" was published in the Royal Gazette on September 23, 1780, the very day on which Major John Andre was captured at Tarrytown. When later a copy of the poem, or "epic strain", in Andre's handwriting, came into the possession of an unidentified American officer, he added a final quatrain at its end:

"When the Epic strain was sung
The poet by the neck was hung;
And to his cost he finds too late,
The Dung-born tribe decides his fate."



The complete ballad of "The Cow Chace" can be found, among other places, in Lossing's The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1855) in the supplement, and in Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, edited by Frank Moore (New York, D. Appleton & Company, 1856.)


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