In a few weeks more, at farthest, the season for active campaigning would be over. Thus far delay had been the only thing that the Americans had gained; but at what a cost! Yet Washington's last hopes were of necessity pinned to it, because the respite it promised was the only means of bringing another army into the field in season to renew the contest, if indeed it should be renewed at all.
Losses in battle, by sickness or desertion, or other causes, had brought his dismembered forces down to a total of 10, men, of whom 3, only were now under his immediate command, the rest being with Lee and Heath. And the work of disintegration was steadily going on. Always hopeful so long as there was even a straw to cling to, Washington seems to have expected that 51 the people of New Jersey would have flown to arms, upon hearing that the invader had actually set foot upon the soil of their State. Vain hope! His appeal had fallen flat.
The great and rich State of Pennsylvania was nearly, if not quite, as unresponsive. Disguise it as we may, the fire of '76 seemed all but extinct on its very earliest altars, and in its stead only a few sickly embers glowed here and there among its ashes. The futility of further resistance was being openly discussed, and submission seemed only one step farther off.
In one of his desponding moments Washington turned to his old comrade, Mercer, with the question, "What think you, if we should retreat to the back parts of Pennsylvania, would the Pennsylvanians support us? Though himself a Pennsylvanian by adoption, Mercer's answer was given with true soldierly frankness. A volume would fail to give half as good an idea of the critical condition of affairs as that brief dialogue.
First and foremost among the many causes of the army's disruption was its losses in prisoners. Not less than 5, men were at that moment dying by slow torture in the foul prisons or pestilential floating dungeons of New York. Turn from it as we may, there is no escaping the conviction that if not done with the actual sanction of Sir William Howe, these atrocities were at least committed with his guilty knowledge.
It was such acts as these that wrung from the indignant Napier the terrible admission that "the annals of civilized warfare furnish nothing more inhuman towards captives of war than the prison ships of England. This method of disposing of prisoners was none the less potent that it was in some sort murder. Washington had not the prisoners to exchange for them, Howe would not liberate them on parole, and when exchanges were finally effected, the men thus released were too much enfeebled by disease ever to carry a musket again.
In brief, more of Washington's men were languishing in captivity in New York than he now had with him in the Jerseys. And he was not losing nearly so many by bullets as by starvation. We have emphasized this dark feature of the contest solely for the purpose of showing its material influence upon it at this particular time.
The knowledge of how they would be treated, should they fall into the enemy's hands, undoubtedly deterred many from enlisting. In a broader sense, it added a new and more aggravated complication to the general question as to how the war was to be carried on by the two belligerents, whether under the restraints of civilized warfare, or as a war to the knife. Thrown back upon his own resources, Washington 54 must now bitterly have repented leaving Lee in an independent command.
If there was any secret foreboding on his part that Lee would play him false, we do not discover it either in his orders or his correspondence. If there was secret antipathy, Washington showed himself possessed of almost superhuman patience and self-restraint, for certainly if ever man's patience was tried Washington's was by the shuffling conduct of his lieutenant at this time; but if aversion there was on Washington's part he resolutely put it away from him in the interest of the common cause, feeling, no doubt, that Lee was a good soldier who might yet do good service, and caring little himself as to whom the honor might fall, so the true end was reached.
It was a great mind lowering itself to the level of a little one. But Lee could only see in it a struggle for personal favor and preferment. The demonstrations then making in his front 55 decided Washington to fall back behind the Passaic, which he did on the 22d, and on the same day marched down that river to Newark. Before this force Washington had no choice but to give way in proportion as Cornwallis advanced, until Lee should join him, when some chance of checking the enemy might be improved. At any rate, such a junction would undoubtedly have made Cornwallis more circumspect.
As Lee still hung back, Washington saw this slender hope vanishing. He for a moment listened to the alternative of marching to Morristown, where the troops from the Northern army would sooner join him; but as this plan would leave the direct road to Philadelphia open, it neither suited Washington's temper nor his views, and he therefore adhered to his former one of fighting in retreat. And though he had failed to check Cornwallis at Newark he would endeavor to do so at New Brunswick.
For New Brunswick, therefore, the remains of the army marched, just as the enemy's rear-guard 56 was entering Newark in hot pursuit. On finding himself so close to the Americans, Cornwallis pushed on after them with his light troops, but as Washington had broken down the bridge over the Raritan after passing it, the British were brought to a halt there. Again Washington reluctantly turned his back to his enemy. Lee's troops were now the chief resource. What few militia joined the army one day melted away on the next.
In Washington's opinion the crisis 57 had come. He therefore wrote to his laggard lieutenant, "Hasten your march as much as possible or your arrival may be too late. Fortunately Cornwallis had orders not to advance beyond New Brunswick. He therefore halted there until he could receive new instructions, which caused a delay of six days before the pursuit was renewed. This was getting dangerously near, with a wide river to cross, at only one short march beyond. In view of the actual state of things, this retreat must stand in history as a masterpiece of calculated temerity.
Keeping only one day's march ahead of his enemy, Washington's rear-guard only moved off when the enemy's van came in sight. There is nowhere any hint of a disorderly retreat, or any serious infraction of discipline, or any deviation from the strict letter of obedience to orders, such as usually follows in the wake of a beaten and retreating army. Washington simply let himself be pushed along when he found resistance 58 altogether hopeless. In this firm hold on his soldiers, at such an hour, we recognize the leader. His playmate who caused the accident was Shute Barrington, afterwards Bishop of Durham.
He entered the army as an ensign in the Foot Guards. His first commission is dated Dec. The question was, Should or should not the British army cross the Delaware? But from the moment of separation he appears in the light of a rival and a critic, and not too friendly as either. In the beginning Washington had looked up to Lee. Lee now looked down upon Washington. Unquestionably the abler tactician of the two, Lee seemed to have looked forward to Washington's fall as certain, and to so have shaped his own course as to leave him master of the situation.
In so doing he 60 cannot be acquitted of disloyalty to the cause he served, if that course threatened to wreck the cause itself. It is only just to add that for troops taking the field in the dead of winter, Lee's were hardly better prepared than those they were going to assist. General Heath, who saw them march off, says that some of them were as good soldiers as any in the service, but many were so destitute of shoes that the blood left on the rugged, frozen ground, in many places, marked the route they had taken; and he adds that a considerable number, totally unable to march, were left behind at Peekskill.
This brings us face to face with the extraordinary and unlooked-for fact that instead of bending all his energies toward effecting a junction with the commander-in-chief, east of the Delaware, in time to be of service, Lee had decided to adopt an entirely different line of conduct, more in accord with his own ideas of how the remainder of the campaign should be conducted. Meantime, as a cloak to his intentions, he kept up a show of obeying the spirit, if not the letter, of his instructions, leaving the impression, 61 however, that he would take the responsibility of disregarding them if he saw fit.
If he had written to Washington, "You have had your chance and failed; mine has now come," his words and acts would have been in exact harmony. On the 7th Lee was at Pompton. This day an express was sent off to him by Heath informing him of the arrival of Greaton's, Bond's, and Porter's battalions from Albany. Lee replied from Chatham directing them to march to Morristown, where his own troops were then halted.
Here it is: "I am in hopes to reconquer if I may so express myself the Jerseys. It was really in the hands of the enemy before my arrival. In halting as he did Lee was deliberately forcing a crisis with Washington, who was all this time falling back upon his supplies, while the British, having to drag theirs after them, could only advance by spurts.
Reluctant to abandon his last chance of giving the enemy a check, Washington seems to have thought of doing so at Princeton ignorant that this spot was so soon to be the field of more brilliant operations as a means of gaining time for the removal of his baggage across the Delaware.
It was probably with no other purpose that his advance, which had reached Trenton as early as the 3d, was marched back to Princeton, which Lord Sterling was still holding with the rear-guard as late as the 7th, when, as we have seen, Cornwallis made his forced march from Brunswick to Princeton, in such force as to put resistance out of the question. Here he halted for seventeen hours, thus giving Washington time to reach Trenton, get his 2, or 2, men across the Delaware, and draw them up on the other side, out of harm's reach, just as his baffled pursuers arrived on the opposite bank.
Cornwallis immediately began a search for the means of crossing in his turn. On the day of this catastrophe, which seemed, in the opinion not only of the victors, but of the vanquished, to have given the finishing stroke to the American Revolution, Lee's force, augmented by the junction of the troops marching down to join him, was the sole prop and stay of the cause in the Jerseys. That force lay quietly at Morristown until the 12th of the month, when it was again put in motion toward Vealtown, now Bernardsville. At this time a second detachment from the army of the North, under Gates,  was on the march across Sussex County to the Delaware.
Being cut off from communication with the commander-in-chief, Gates sent forward a staff officer to learn the condition of affairs, report his own speedy appearance, and receive directions as to what route he should take, Hearing that Lee was at Morristown, this officer pushed on in search of him, and at four o'clock in the morning of the 13th, he found Lee quartered in an out-of-the-way country tavern at 64 Baskingridge, three miles from his camp, and by just so much nearer the enemy, whose patrols, since Washington had been disposed of, were now scouring the roads in every direction.
One of these detachments surprised the house Lee was in, and before noon the crestfallen general was being hurried off a prisoner to Brunswick by a squadron of British light-horse. Lee's troops, now Sullivan's, with those of Gates, one or two marches in the rear, freed from the crafty hand that had been leading them astray, now pressed on for the Delaware, and thus that concert of action, for which Washington had all along labored in vain, was again restored between the fragments of his army, impotent when divided, but yet formidable as a whole.
Lee's written and spoken words, if indeed his acts did not speak even louder, leave no doubt as to his purpose in amusing Washington by a show of coming to his aid, when, in fact, he had no intention of doing so. He not only assumed the singular attitude, in a subordinate, of passing judgment upon the propriety or necessity of his orders,—orders given with full knowledge 65 of the situation,—but proceeded to thwart them in a manner savoring of contempt. Lee was Washington's Bernadotte.
Neither urging, remonstrance, nor entreaty could swerve him one iota from the course he had mapped out for himself. Conceiving that he held the key to the very unpromising situation in his own hands, he had determined to make the gambler's last throw, and had lost. Although Lee's conduct toward Washington cannot be justified, it is more than probable that some such success as that which Stark afterwards achieved at Bennington, under conditions somewhat similar, though essentially different as to motives, might, and probably would, have justified Lee's conduct to the nation, and perhaps even have raised him to the position he coveted—of the head of the army, on the ruins of Washington's military reputation.
Could he even have cut the enemy's line so as to throw it into confusion, his conduct might have escaped censure. Washington saw through Lee's schemes, refused to be driven into doing what his judgment did not approve, and the tension between the two generals was suddenly snapped by the imprudence or worse of Lee himself. Captain Harris,  who saw Lee brought to Brunswick a prisoner, has this to say of him: "He was taken by a party of ours under Colonel Harcourt, who surrounded the house in which this arch-traitor was residing.
Lee behaved as cowardly in this transaction as he had dishonorably in every other. After firing one or two shots from the house, he came out and entreated our troops to spare his life. Had he behaved with proper spirit I should have pitied him. I could hardly refrain from tears when I first saw him, and thought of the miserable fate in which his obstinacy has involved him.
He says he has been mistaken in three things: first, that the New England men would fight; second, that America was unanimous; and third, that she could afford two men for our one. His successes while acting in a separate command at Charleston told heavily against Washington's reverses in this campaign; and his outspoken criticisms, frequently just, as the event proved, had produced their due impression on the minds of many, who believed Lee the better general of the two.
Events had so shaped themselves, in consequence, as to raise up two parties in the army. And here was laid the foundation of all those personal jealousies which culminated in Lee's dismissal from the army. While his abilities won respect, his insufferable egotism made him disliked, and it is to be remarked of the divisions Lee's ambition was promoting, that the best officers stood firmly by the commander-in-chief. A small number would have answered his purpose. To all intents the campaign of had now drawn its lengthened disasters to a close.
It had indeed been protracted nearly to the point of ruin, with the one result, that Philadelphia was apparently safe for the present. But with Washington thrown back across the Delaware, Lee a prisoner, Congress fled to Baltimore, Canada lost, New York lost, the Jerseys overrun, the royal army stretched out from the Hudson to the Delaware and practically intact, while the patriot army, dwindled to a few thousands, was expected to disappear in a few short weeks, the situation had grown desperate indeed.
So hopeless indeed was the outlook everywhere that the ominous cry of "Every one for himself"—that last despairing cry of the vanquished—began to be echoed throughout the colonies. We have seen that even Washington himself seriously 69 thought of retreating behind the Alleghanies, which was virtual surrender. Even he, if report be true, began to think of the halter, and Franklin's little witticism, on signing the Declaration, of, "Come, gentlemen, we must all hang together or we shall hang separately," was getting uncomfortably like inspired prophecy.
If we turn now to the people, we shall find the same apparent consenting to the inevitable, the same tendency of all intelligent discussion toward the one result. One instance only of this feeling may be cited here, as showing how the young men—always the least despondent portion of any community—received the news of the retreat through the Jerseys. Elkanah Watson sets down the following at Plymouth, Mass. The young men present determined to emigrate, and seek some spot where liberty dwelt, and where the arm of British tyranny could not reach us.
Major Thomas who had brought them the dispiriting news from the army animated our desponding spirits 70 with the assurance that Washington was not dismayed, but evinced the same serenity and confidence as ever. Upon him rested all our hopes. At the British headquarters the contest, with good reason, was felt to be practically over.
Unless all signs failed one short campaign would, beyond all question, end it; for at no point were the Americans able to show a respectable force. In the North a fresh army, under General Burgoyne, was getting ready to break through Ticonderoga and come down the Hudson with a rush, carrying all before them, as Cornwallis had done in the Jerseys.
This would cut the rebellion in two. On the same day that Washington crossed the Delaware, Clinton had seized Newport, without firing a shot. This would hold New England in check. In short, should Howe's plans for the coming season work, as there was every reason to expect, then there would be little enough left of the Revolution in its cradle and stronghold, with the troops at New York, Albany, and Newport acting in well-devised combination.
Brilliant only when roused by the presence of danger, Howe as easily fell into his habitual indolence when the danger had passed by. In effect, what had he to fear? If let alone, even this would shortly disappear. Under these circumstances Howe felt that he could well afford to give himself and his troops a breathing-spell. This was now being put in train. Cornwallis was about to sail for England, on leave of absence. The garrison of New York disposed itself to pass the winter in idleness, and even those detachments doing outpost duty in the Jerseys, after having chased Washington until they were tired, turned their attention exclusively to the disaffected inhabitants.
The field had already been reaped, and these troops were the gleaners. Washington believed that the British would be in Philadelphia just as soon as the ice was strong enough to bear artillery.
If the expected dissolution of his army had happened, no doubt the enemy's advanced troops would have taken possession of the city at once. And it is even quite probable that this contingency was considered a foregone conclusion, since British agents were now actively at work in Washington's own camp, undermining the feeble authority which everybody believed was tottering to its fall. Be that as it may, the fact remains that active operations were for the present wholly suspended. At the officers' messes or in the barracks all the talk was of going home.
Besides, if Howe had really wanted to take Philadelphia there was nothing to prevent his doing so. There were no defences. If saved at all, the city must be defended in the field, not in the streets. Bordentown being rather the most exposed, Count Donop was left there with some 2, Hessians, and Colonel Rall at Trenton with 1, to 1, more.
Both were veterans. As these Hessians were about equally hated and feared, it was well reasoned that they would be all the more watchful against a surprise. As soon as he had time to look about him, Donop at once extended his outposts down to Burlington, on the river, and to Black Horse, on the back-road leading south to Mt. The post at Burlington was only eighteen miles from Philadelphia.
In order to understand the efforts subsequently made to break through it this line should be carefully traced out on the map. In spots it was weak, yet the long gaps, like that between Princeton and Trenton, and between Princeton and Brunswick, were thought sufficiently secured by occasional patrols.
To meet these dispositions of the enemy Washington stretched out the remnant of his force along the opposite bank of the Delaware, from above Trenton to below Bordentown, looking chiefly to 76 the usual crossing places, which were being vigilantly watched. Under date of December 16 a British officer writes home as follows: "Winter quarters are now fixed.
Our army forms a chain of about ninety miles in length from Fort Lee, where our baggage crossed, to Trenton on the Delaware, which river, I believe, we shall not cross till next campaign, as 77 General Howe is returning to New York. I understand we are to winter at a small village near the Raritan River, and are to form a sort of advanced picket. There is mountainous ground very near this post where the rebels are still in arms, and are expected to be troublesome during the winter. He then goes on to speak of the deplorable condition in which the inhabitants had been left by the rival armies, dividing the blame with impartial hand, and moralizing a little, as follows: "A civil war is a dreadful thing; what with the devastation of the rebels, and that of the English and Hessian troops, every part of the country where the scene of the action has been looks deplorable.
Furniture is broken to pieces, good houses deserted and almost destroyed, others burnt; cattle, horses, and poultry carried off; and the old plundered of their all. The rebels everywhere left their sick behind, and most of them have died for want of care. This telling piece of testimony is introduced here not only because it comes from an eye-witness, but from an enemy.
Beneath the uniform the man 78 speaks out. But his omissions are still more eloquent. It was not so much the loss of property, bad as that was, as the nameless atrocities everywhere perpetrated by the royal troops upon the young, the helpless, and the innocent, that makes the tale too revolting to be told. In truth, all that part of the Jerseys held by the enemy had been given up to indiscriminate rapine and plunder.
It was in vain that the victims pleaded the king's protection. As vainly did they appeal to the humanity of the invaders. The brutal soldiery defied the one and laughed at the other. Finding that the promised pardon and mercy were synonymous with murder, arson, and rapine, such a revulsion of feeling had taken place that the authors of these cruelties were literally sleeping on a volcano; and where patriotism had so lately been invoked in vain, hope of revenge was now turning every man, woman, and child into either an open or a secret foe to the despoilers of their homes.
One little breath only was wanting to fan the revolt to a flame; one little spark to fire the train. All eyes, therefore, were instinctively turned to the banks of the Delaware. Enough has been said to show that only heroic measures could now save the American cause. Fortunately Washington was surrounded by a little knot of officers of approved fidelity, whose spirit no reverses could subdue.
And though a calm retrospect of so many disasters, with all the jealousies, the defections, and the terror which had followed in their wake, might well have carried discouragement to the stoutest hearts, this little band of heroes now closed up around their careworn chief, and like the ever-famous Guard at Waterloo, were fully resolved to die rather than surrender.
This was much. It was still more when Washington found his officers inspired by the same hope of striking the enemy unawares which he himself had all along secretly entertained. These were posted at Bristol, under Cadwalader,  as a check to Count Donop, while what was left of the old army was guarding the crossings above, as a check to Rall.
To do something, and to do it quickly, were equally imperative, because the term of the regular troops would expire in a few days more, and no one realized better than the commander-in-chief that the militia could not long be held together inactive in camp. The isolated situation of Rall and Donop seemed to invite attack. Their fancied security seemed also to presage success. An inexorable necessity called loudly for action before conditions so favorable should be changed by the freezing up of the Delaware when, if the enemy had any enterprise whatever, the river would no longer prevent, but assist, his marching into Philadelphia, and perhaps dictating a peace from the halls of Congress.
Donop being considerably nearer Philadelphia than Rall, was, as we have seen, being closely 81 watched by Cadwalader, whose force being largely drawn from the city had the best reasons for wishing to be rid of so troublesome a neighbor. More especially in view of possible contingencies, which he could not be on the ground to direct, Washington sent his able adjutant-general, Reed,  down to aid Cadwalader.
This action, too, removed a difficulty which had arisen out of Gates' excusing himself from taking this command on the plea of ill-health. Below Cadwalader, again, Putnam was in command at Philadelphia, with a fluctuating force of local militia, only sufficiently numerous to furnish guards for the public property, protect the friends, and watch the enemies, of the cause, between whom the city was thought to be about equally divided.
Most reluctantly the conclusion had been reached that the appearance of the British in force, on the opposite bank of the Delaware, would be the signal for a revolt. Here, then, was another rock of danger, upon which the losing cause was now steadily drifting,—another warning not to delay action. It was then that Washington resolved on 82 making one of those sudden movements so disconcerting to a self-confident enemy. It had been some time maturing, but could not be sooner put in execution on account of the wretched condition of Sullivan's lately Lee's troops, who had come off their long march, as Washington expresses it, in want of everything.
Putnam was the first to beard the lion by throwing part of his force across the Delaware. After crossing into the Jerseys Griffin marched straight to Mt. Donop having promptly accepted the challenge, marched against Griffin, who, having effected his purpose of drawing Donop's attention to himself, fell back beyond striking distance. It was Washington's plan to throw Cadwalader's and Ewing's  forces in between Donop and Rall, while Griffin or Putnam was threatening Donop from below; and he was striking Rall from above.
Had these blows fallen in quick 83 succession there is little room to doubt that a much greater measure of success would have resulted. Orders for the intended movement were sent out from headquarters on the 23d. They ran to this effect:. Cadwalader at Bristol, Ewing at Trenton Ferry, and Washington himself at McKonkey's Ferry, were to cross the Delaware simultaneously on the night of the 25th and attack the enemy's posts in their front.
Cadwalader and Ewing having spent the night in vain efforts to cross their commands, returned to their encampments. It only remains to follow the movements of the commander-in-chief, who was fortunately ignorant of these failures. Twenty-four hundred men, with eighteen cannon, were drawn up on the bank of the river at sunset. Tolstoi claims that the real problem of the science of war "is to ascertain and formulate the value of the spirit of the men, and their willingness and eagerness to fight. No holiday march lay before them, yet every officer and man 84 instinctively felt that the last hope of the Republic lay in the might of his own good right arm.
Did we need any further proof of the desperate nature of these undertakings, it is found in the matchless group of officers that now gathered round the commander-in-chief to stand or fall with him. With such chiefs and such soldiers the fight was sure to be conducted with skill and energy. Greene, Sullivan, St. Among the subordinates who were treading this rugged pathway to renown were Hull, Monroe, Hamilton, and Wilkinson.
Rank disappeared in the soldier. Major-generals commanded weak brigades, brigadiers, half battalions, colonels, broken companies. Some sudden inspiration must have nerved these men to face the dangers of that terrible night. History fails to show a more sublime devotion to an apparently lost cause. Boats being held in readiness the troops began their memorable crossing. Of this part of the work Glover  took charge. Again his Marblehead men manned the boats, as they had done at Long Island; and though it was necessary to force a passage by main strength through the floating ice, which the strong current and high wind steadily drove against them, the transfer from the friendly to the hostile shore slowly went on in the thickening darkness and gloom of the waiting hours.
Little by little the group on the eastern shore began to grow larger as the hours wore on. Washington was there wrapped in his cloak, and in that inscrutable silence denoting the crisis of a lifetime. Did his thoughts go back to that eventful hour when he was guiding a frail raft through the surging ice of the Monongahela?
Knox was there animating the utterly cheerless scene by his loud commands to the men in charge of his precious artillery, for which the shivering troops were impatiently waiting. At three o'clock the last gun was landed. The crossing had required three hours more than had been allowed for it.
Nearly another hour was used up in forming the troops 86 for the march of nine miles to Trenton, which could hardly be reached over such a wretched road, and in such weather, in less than from three to four hours more. To make matters worse, rain, hail, and sleet began falling heavily, and freezing as it fell. To surround and surprise Trenton before daybreak was now out of the question. Nevertheless, Washington decided to push on as rapidly as possible; and the troops having been formed in two columns, were now put in motion toward the enemy.
The march was horrible. A more severe winter's night had never been experienced even by the oldest campaigners. To keep moving was the only defence against freezing. Enveloped in whirling snow-flakes, encompassed in blackest darkness, the little column toiled steadily on through sludge ankle-deep, those in the rear judging by the quantity of snow lodged on the hats and coats of those in front, the load that they themselves were carrying. Not a word, a jest, or a snatch of song broke the silence of that fearful march.
At a cross-road four and a half miles from Trenton the word was passed along the line to halt. Here the columns divided. With one Greene filed off on a road bearing to the left, which, after making a considerable circuit, struck into Trenton more to the east. Washington rode with this division. The other column kept the road on which it had been marching. Sullivan led this division with Stark in the van. At this moment Sullivan was informed that the muskets were too wet to be depended upon.
He instantly sent off an aid to Washington for further orders. The aid came galloping back with the order to "go on," delivered in a tone which he said he should never forget. With grim determination Sullivan again moved forward, and the word ran through the ranks, "We have our bayonets left. All this time Ewing was supposed to be nearing Trenton from the south.
In that case the town would be assaulted from three points at once, and a retreat to Bordentown be cut off. His services in this campaign were both timely and important. Reed's early life had been passed in New Jersey, though he had moved to Philadelphia before the war broke out. His knowledge of the country which became the seat of war was invaluable to Washington.
In some accounts he is called Irvine, Erwing, etc. John Glover commanded one of the best disciplined regiments in Washington's army. Very early in the evening there had been firing at Rall's outposts, but the careless enemy hardly gave it his attention. Some lost detachment had probably fired on the pickets out of mere bravado. The night had been spent in carousal, and the storm had quieted Rall's mind as regards any danger of an attack. But in the gray dawn of that dark December morning the two assaulting columns, emerging like phantoms from the midst of the storm, were rapidly approaching the Hessian pickets.
All was quiet. The newly fallen snow deadened the rumble of the artillery. The pickets were enjoying the warmth of the houses in which they had taken post, half a mile out of town, when the alarm was raised that the enemy were upon them. They turned out only to be swept away before the eager rush of the 90 Americans, who came pouring on after them into the town, as it seemed in all directions, shouting and firing at the flying enemy. That long night of exposure, of suspense, the fatigue of that rapid march, were forgotten in the rattle of musketry and the din of battle.
Roused by the uproar the bewildered Hessians ran out of their barracks and attempted to form in the streets. The hurry, fright, and confusion were said to be like to that with which the imagination conjures up the sounding of the last trump. The houses were then resorted to for shelter. From these the musketry soon dislodged the fugitives. Turned again into the streets the Hessians were driven headlong through the town into an open plain beyond it. Here they were formed in an instant, and Rall, brave enough in the smoke and flame of combat, even thought of forcing his way back into the town.
But Washington was again thundering away in their front with his cannon. In person he directed their fire like a simple lieutenant of artillery. Off 91 at the right the roll of Sullivan's musketry announced his steady advance toward the bridge leading to Bordentown. The road to Princeton was held by a regiment of riflemen. Those troops, whom Sullivan had been driving before him, saved themselves by a rapid flight across the Assanpink.
Why was not Ewing there to stop them! Sullivan promptly seized the bridge in time to intercept a disorderly mass of Hessian infantry, who had broken away from the main body in a panic, hoping to make their escape that way. Not knowing which way to turn next, Rall held his ground, like a wounded boar brought to bay, until a bullet struck him to the ground with a mortal wound. Finding themselves hemmed in on all sides, and seeing the American cannoneers getting ready to fire with canister, at short range, the Hessian colors were lowered in token of surrender.
A thousand prisoners, six cannon, with small-arms and ammunition in proportion, were the trophies of this brilliant victory. The work had been well done. From highest to lowest the 92 immortal twenty-four hundred had behaved like men determined to be free. Now, while in the fresh glow of triumph, Washington learned that neither Ewing nor Cadwalader had crossed to his assistance.
He stood alone on the hostile shore, within striking distance of the enemy at Bordentown, and at Princeton. All these enemies he would soon have on his hands, with no certainty of any increase of his own force. His combinations had failed, and he must have time to look about him before forming new ones. There was no help for it. He must again put the Delaware behind him before being driven into it. Washington heard these tidings as things which the incompetence or jealousies of his generals had long habituated him to hear.
Orders were therefore given to repass the river without delay or confusion, and, after gathering up their prisoners and their trophies, the victors retraced their painful march to their old encampment, where they 93 arrived the same evening, worn out with their twenty-four hours' incessant marching and fighting, but with confidence in themselves and their leaders fully restored. This little battle marked an epoch in the history of the war. It was now the Americans who attacked. Trenton had taught them the lesson that, man for man, they had nothing to fear from their vaunted adversaries; and that lesson, learned at the point of the bayonet, is the only one that can ever make men soldiers.
The enemy could well afford to lose a town, but this rise of a new spirit was quite a different thing. Therefore, though a little battle, Trenton was a great fact, nowhere more fully confessed than in the British camp, where it was now gloomily spoken of as the tragedy of Trenton.
Long after daybreak, a most violent snow-storm coming on, he thought he might safely permit his men to lie down, and in this state they were surprised by the enemy. The events of the next two days, apart from Washington's own movements, are a real comedy of errors. The firing at Trenton had been distinctly heard at Cadwalader's camp and its reason guessed. Later, rumors of the result threw the camps into the wildest excitement.
Bitterly now these men regretted that they had not pushed on to the aid of their comrades. Supposing Washington still to be at Trenton, Cadwalader made a second attempt to cross to his assistance at Bristol on the 27th, when, in fact, Washington was then back in Pennsylvania. Cadwalader thus put himself into precisely the same situation from which Washington had just hastened to extricate himself. But neither had foreseen the panic which had seized the enemy on hearing of the surprise of Trenton. On getting over the river, Cadwalader learned 95 the true state of things, which placed him in a very awkward dilemma as to what he should do next.
As his troops were eager to emulate the brilliant successes of their comrades, he decided, however, to go in search of Donop. He therefore marched up to Burlington the same afternoon. The enemy had left it the day before. He then made a night march to Bordentown, which was also found deserted in haste. Crosswicks, another outpost lying toward Princeton, was next seized by a detachment. That, too, had been hurriedly abandoned. Cadwalader could find nobody to attack or to attack him. The stupefied people only knew that their villages had been suddenly evacuated. In short, the enemy's whole line had been swept away like dead leaves before an autumnal gale, under that one telling blow at Trenton.
Even Washington himself seems not to have realized the full extent of his success until these astonishing reports came in in quick succession. As the elated Americans marched on they saw the inhabitants everywhere pulling down the red rags which had been nailed to their doors, as badges of 96 loyalty. In view of the facts here stated, Washington was strongly urged to secure his hold on West Jersey before the enemy should have time to recover from their panic. The temper of the people seemed to justify the attempt, even with the meagre force at his command.
On the 29th he therefore reoccupied Trenton in force. At the same time orders were sent off to McDougall at Morristown, and Heath in the Highlands, to show themselves to the enemy, as if some concerted movement was in progress all along the line. None were sent, however, for some days, when the grenadiers and second battalion of guards marched in from New Brunswick. Lead us to them, we are sure of being supported.
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Howe was now pushing forward all his available troops toward Princeton. While these heavy columns were gathering like a storm-cloud in his front Washington and his generals were haranguing their men, entreating them to stay even for a few weeks longer. Such were the shifts to which the commander-in-chief found himself reduced when in actual presence of this overwhelming force of the enemy.
Hearing that the enemy was at least ready to move forward, Cadwalader's and 98 Mifflin's troops were called in to Trenton, and preparations made to receive the attack unflinchingly. This force being all assembled on the 1st of January, , Washington posted it on the east side of the Assanpink, behind the bridge over which Rail's soldiers had made good their retreat on the day of the surprise, with some thirty guns planted in his front to defend the crossing.
Washington and Rall had thus suddenly changed places. The American position was strong except on the right. It being higher ground the artillery commanded the town, the Assanpink was not fordable in front, the bridge was narrow, and the left secured by the Delaware. The weak spot, the right, rested in a wood which was strongly held, and capable of a good defence; but inasmuch as the Assanpink could be forded two or three miles higher up, a movement to the right and rear of the position was greatly to be feared.
If successful it would necessarily cut off all retreat, as the Delaware was now impassable. On the 2d the enemy's advance came upon the American pickets posted outside of Trenton, 99 driving them through the town much in the same manner as they had driven the Hessians. As soon as the enemy came within range, the American artillery drove them back under cover, firing being kept up until dark. Having thus developed the American position, Cornwallis, astonished at Washington's temerity in taking it, felt sure of "bagging the fox," as he styled it, in the morning.
The night came. The soldiers slept, but Washington, alive to the danger, summoned his generals in council. All were agreed that a battle would be forced upon them with the dawn of day—all that the upper fords could not be defended. And if they were passed, the event of battle would be beyond all doubt disastrous. Cornwallis had only to hold Washington's attention in front while turning his flank.
Should, then, the patriot army endeavor to extricate itself by falling back down the river? There seems to have been but one opinion as to the futility of the attempt, inasmuch as there was no stronger position to fall back upon. As a choice of evils, it was much better to remain where they were than be forced into making a disorderly retreat while looking for some other place to fight in. Who, then, was responsible for putting the army into a position where it could neither fight nor retreat?
If neither of these things could be done with any hope of success, there remained, in point of fact, but one alternative, to which the abandonment of the others as naturally led as converging roads to a common centre. In all the history of the war a more dangerous crisis is not to be met with. It is, therefore, incredible that only one man should have seen this avenue of escape, though it may well be that even the boldest generals hesitated to be the first to urge so desperate an undertaking.
In effect, the very danger to which the little army was exposed seems to have suggested to Washington the way out of it. If the enemy could turn his right, why could not he turn their left? If they could cut off his retreat, why could not he threaten their's? This was sublimated audacity, with his little force; but safety here was only to be plucked from the nettle danger.
The very audacity of the proposal fell in with the temper of the generals, who now saw the knot cut as by a stroke of genius. This would not be a retreat, but an advance. This could not be imputed to fear, but rather to daring. The proposal was instantly adopted, and the generals repaired to their respective commands. Replenishing the camp fires, and leaving the sentinels at their posts, at one o'clock the army filed off to the right in perfect silence and order. The baggage and some spare artillery were sent off to Burlington, to still further mystify the enemy.
By one of those sudden changes of weather, not uncommon even in midwinter, the soft ground had become hard frozen during the early part of the night, so that rapid marching was possible, and rapid marching was the only thing that could save the movement from failure, as Cornwallis would have but twelve miles to march to Washington's seventeen, to overtake them—he by a good road, they by a new and half-worked one.
Miles, therefore, counted for much that night, and though many of the men wore rags wrapped about their feet, for want of shoes, and the shoeless artillery horses had to be dragged or pushed along over the slippery places, to prevent their falling, the column pushed on with unflagging energy toward its goal. Shortly after daybreak the British, at Trenton, heard the dull booming of a distant cannonade.
Washington, escaped from their snares, was sounding the reveille at Princeton. The British camp awoke and listened. Soon the rumor spread that the American lines were deserted. Drums beat, trumpets sounded, ranks were formed in as great haste as if the enemy were actually in the camps, instead of being at that moment a dozen miles away. Cornwallis, who had gone to bed expecting to make short work of Washington in the morning, saw himself fairly outgeneralled. His rear-guard, his magazines, his baggage, were in danger, his line of retreat cut off.
There was not a moment to lose. Exasperated at the thought of what they would say of him in England, he gave the order to press the pursuit to the utmost. The troops took the direct route by Maidenhead to Princeton; and thus, for the second time, Trenton saw itself freed from enemies, once routed, twice disgraced, and thoroughly crestfallen and stripped of their vaunted prestige. Three British battalions lay at Princeton the night before. Astonished at seeing troops coming up from that direction, the leading battalion instantly turned back to meet them.
At the same time Washington detached Mercer to seize the main road, while he himself pushed on with the rest of the troops. This movement brought on a spirited combat between Mercer and the strong British battalion, which had just faced about. After a few volleys, the British charged with the bayonet, broke through Mercer's ranks, scattered his men, and even drove back Cadwalader's militia, who were coming up to their support. Other troops now came up.
Washington himself rode in among Mercer's disordered men, calling out to them to turn and face the enemy. It was one of those critical moments when everything must be risked. Like Napoleon pointing his guns at Montereau, the commander momentarily disappeared in the soldier; and excited by the combat raging around him, all the Virginian's native daring flashed out like lightning.
Waving his uplifted sword, he pushed his horse into the fire as indifferent to danger as if he had really believed that the bullet which was to kill him was not yet cast. Taking courage from his presence and example the broken troops re-formed their ranks. The firing grew brisker and brisker. Assailed with fresh spirit, the British, in their turn, gave way, leaving the ground strewed with their dead, in return for their brutal use of the bayonet among the wounded. Finding themselves in danger of being surrounded, that portion of this fighting British regiment  which still held together retreated as they could toward Maidenhead, after giving such an example of disciplined against undisciplined valor as won the admiration even of their foes.
While this fight was going on at one point, the second British battalion was, in its turn, met and routed by the American advance, under St.
This battalion then fled toward Brunswick, part of the remaining battalion did the same thing, and part threw themselves into the college building they had used as quarters, where a few cannon shot compelled them to surrender. Three strong regiments had thus been broken in detail and put to flight. Two had been prevented from joining Cornwallis. Besides the killed and wounded they left two hundred and fifty prisoners behind them.
The Americans suffered two frozen to death and five wounded. Realizing his men could not hold Trenton against British reinforcements, Washington withdrew across the Delaware. However, on December 30 he crossed back into New Jersey with an army of 2, Informed that 8, British troops under Generals Charles Cornwallis and James Grant were marching south from Princeton, Washington worked quickly to supplement his numbers, urging militiamen whose terms had expired to stay on for six weeks.
The next day Cornwallis arrived with an army 5, After skirmishes at the American lines and three attempts to cross the bridge at Assunpink Creek, Cornwallis relented for the day, assuming he had Washington trapped. That night, Washington deployed men to keep the campfires going while the rest of his troops made a nighttime march north to Princeton. To keep their movement secret, torches were extinguished and wagon wheels muffled in heavy cloth.
Washington sent a small force under General Hugh Mercer to destroy a bridge. Charles Mawhood and Mercer was killed in the fighting. Arriving militiamen under Col. Cadwalader had little effect. Then Washington arrived, riding between the firing lines until his terrified horse refused to go on. As at Trenton, the Americans took prisoners, arms and supplies but quickly withdrew after winning the Battle of Princeton.
The Continental Army basked in its achievements—at Princeton they had defeated a regular British army in the field. Moreover, Washington had shown that he could unite soldiers from all the colonies into an effective national force. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. Fought eighteen days apart in the fall of , the two Battles of Saratoga were a turning point in the American Revolution.
The Americans inflicted heavy They clashed with a larger force of American soldiers led by General Horatio Gates Despite their loss, the inexperienced colonial forces inflicted significant casualties against the enemy, and the battle provided them