The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77
by Samuel Adams Drake
THE CAMPAIGN OF
II. PLANS FOR
III. LONG ISLAND
IV. NEW YORK
V. THE SITUATION
VI. THE RETREAT
VII. LEE'S MARCH
IX. THE MARCH TO
XI. THE FLANK
CAMPAIGN OF TRENTON
SAMUEL ADAMS DRAKE
LEE AND SHEPARD PUBLISHERS
10 MILK STREET
COPYRIGHT, 1895, BY LEE AND SHEPARD All rights reserved THE
CAMPAIGN OF TRENTON
PRESS OF Rockwell and Churchill BOSTON, U.S.A.
Seldom, in the annals of war, has a single campaign witnessed such a
remarkable series of reverses as did that which began at Boston in
March, 1776, and ended at Morristown in January, 1777. Only by
successive defeats did our home-made generals and our rustic soldiery
learn their costly lesson that war is not a game of chance, or mere
masses of men an army.
Though costly, this sort of discipline, this education, gradually
led to a closer equality between the combatants, as year after year
they faced and fought each other. When the lesson was well learned our
generals began to win battles, and our soldiers to fight with a
confidence altogether new to them. In vain do we look for any other
explanation of the sudden stiffening up of the backbone of the
Revolutionary army, or of the equally sudden restoration of an
apparently dead and buried cause after even its most devoted followers
had given up all as lost. As with expiring breath that little band of
hunted fugitives, miserable remnant of an army of 30,000 men, turning
suddenly upon its victorious pursuers, dealt it blow after blow, the
sun which seemed setting in darkness, again rose with new splendor upon
the fortunes of these infant States.
Certainly the military, political, and moral effects of this
brilliant finish to what had been a losing campaign, in which almost
each succeeding day ushered in some new misfortune, were prodigious.
But neither the importance nor the urgency of this masterly
counter-stroke to the American cause can be at all appreciated, or even
properly understood, unless what had gone before, what in fact had
produced a crisis so dark and threatening, is brought fully into light.
Washington himself says the act was prompted by a dire necessity.
Coming from him, these words are full of meaning. We realize that the
fate of the Revolution was staked upon this one last throw. If we would
take the full measure of these words of his, spoken in the fullest
conviction of their being final words, we must again go over the whole
field, strewed with dead hopes, littered with exploded reputations,
cumbered with cast-off traditions, over which the patriot army marched
to its supreme trial out into the broad pathway which led to final
The campaign of 1776 is, therefore, far too instructive to be
studied merely with reference to its crowning and concluding feature.
In considering it the mind is irresistibly impelled toward one central,
statuesque figure, rising high above the varying fortunes of the hour,
like the Statue of Liberty out of the crash and roar of the surrounding
Nowhere, we think, does Washington appear to such advantage as
during this truly eventful campaign. Though sometimes troubled in
spirit, he is always unshaken. Though his army was a miserable wreck,
driven about at the will of the enemy, Washington was ever the
rallying-point for the handful of officers and men who still surrounded
him. If the cause was doomed to shipwreck, we feel that he would be the
last to leave the wreck.
His letters, written at this trying period, are characterized by
that same even tone, as they disclose in more prosperous times. He does
not dare to be hopeful, yet he will not give up beaten. There is an
atmosphere of stern, though dignified determination about him, at this
trying hour, which, in a man of his admirable equipoise, is a thing for
an enemy to beware of. In a word, Washington driven into a corner was
doubly dangerous. And it is evident that his mind, roused to unwonted
activity by the gravity of the crisis, the knowledge that all eyes
turned to him, sought only for the opportune moment to show forth its
full powers, and by a conception of genius dominate the storm of
disaster around him.
Washington never claimed to be a man of destiny. He never had any
nicknames among his soldiers. Napoleon was the Little Corporal,
Marlborough Corporal John, Wellington the Iron Duke, Grant the
Old Man, but there seems to have been something about the personality
of Washington that forbade any thought of familiarity, even on the part
of his trusty veterans. Yet their faith in him was such that, as
Wellington once said of his Peninsular army, they would have gone
anywhere with him, and he could have done anything with them.
THE CAMPAIGN OF TRENTON.
NEW YORK THE SEAT OF WAR
[Sidenote: New views of the war.]
Upon finding that what had at first seemed only a local rebellion
was spreading like wildfire throughout the length and breadth of the
colonies, that bloodshed had united the people as one man, and that
these people were everywhere getting ready for a most determined
resistance, the British ministry awoke to the necessity of dealing with
the revolt, in this its newer and more dangerous aspect, as a fact to
be faced accordingly, and its military measures were, therefore, no
longer directed to New England exclusively, but to the suppression of
the rebellion as a whole. For this purpose New York was very
judiciously chosen as the true base of operations.
In the colonies, the news of great preparations then making in
England to carry out this policy, inevitably led up to the same
conclusions, but as the siege of Boston had not yet drawn to a close,
very little could be done by way of making ready to meet this new and
We must now first look at the ways and means.
[Sidenote: The new Continental Army.]
A new army had been enlisted in the trenches before Boston to take
the place of that first one, whose term of service expired with the new
year, 1776. On paper it consisted of twenty-eight battalions, with an
aggregate of 20,372 officers and men. By the actual returns, made up
shortly before the army marched for New York, there were 13,145 men of
all arms then enrolled, of whom not more than 9,500 were reported as
fit for duty. These were all Continentals, as the regular troops
were then called, to distinguish them from the militia.
[Sidenote: It marches to New York.]
Immediately upon the evacuation of Boston by the British (March 17,
1776), the army marched by divisions to New York, the last brigade,
with the commander-in-chief, leaving Cambridge on April 4. This move
distinctly foreshadows the general opinion that the seat of war was
about to be transferred to New York and its environs.
There is no need to discuss the general proposition, so quickly
accepted by both belligerents, as regards the strategic value of New
York for combined operations by land and sea. Hence the Americans were
naturally unwilling to abandon it to the enemy. A successful defence
was really beyond their abilities, however, against such a powerful
fleet as was now coming to attack them, because this fleet could not be
prevented from forcing its way into the upper bay without strong
fortifications at the Narrows to stop it, and these the Americans did
not have. Once in possession of the navigable waters, the enemy could
cut off communication in every direction, as well as choose his own
point of attack. Afraid, however, of the moral effect of giving up the
city without a struggle, the Americans were led into the fatal error of
squandering their resources upon a defence which could end only in one
way, instead of holding the royal army besieged, as had been so
successfully done at Boston.
Having arrived at New York, Washington's force was increased by the
two or three thousand men who had been hastily summoned for its
defence, and who were then busily employed in throwing up works at
various points, under the direction of the engineers.
[Sidenote: Make-up of the army.]
Now, it is usual to call such a large body of raw recruits, badly
armed, and without discipline, an army, in the same breath as a well
armed and thoroughly disciplined body. This one had done good service
behind entrenchments, and in some minor operations at Boston had shown
itself possessed of the best material, but the situation was now to be
wholly reversed, the besiegers were to become the besieged, their
mistakes were to be turned against them, the experiments of
inexperience were to be tested at the risk of total failure, and the
morale severely tried by the grumbling and discontent arising for
the most part from laxity of discipline, but somewhat so, too, from the
wretched administration of the various civil departments of the
army. The officers did not know how to instruct their men, and the
men could not be made to take proper care of themselves. In consequence
of this state of things, inseparable perhaps from the existing
conditions, General Heath tells us that by the first week of August the
number of sick amounted to near 10,000 men, who were to be met with
lying in almost every barn, stable, shed, and even under the fences
and bushes, about the camps. This primary element of disintegration is
always one of the worst possible to deal with in an army of citizen
soldiers, and the present case proved no exception.
Except a troop of Connecticut light-horse, who had been curtly and
imprudently dismissed because they showed sufficient esprit de corps
to demur against doing guard duty as infantry, and whose absence was
only too soon to be dearly atoned for, there was no cavalry, not even
for patrols, outposts, or vedettes. These being thus of necessity drawn
from the infantry, it was usual to see them come back into camp with
the enemy close at their heels, instead of giving the alarm in season
to get the troops under arms.
As for the infantry, it was truly a motley assemblage. A few of the
regiments, raised in the cities, were tolerably well armed and
equipped, and some few were in uniform. But in general they wore the
same homespun in which they had left their homes, even to the field
officers, who were only distinguished by their red cockades. In few
regiments were the arms all of one kind, not a few had only a
sprinkling of bayonets, while some companies, whom it had been found
impracticable to furnish with fire-arms at the home rendezvous, carried
the old-fashioned pikes of by-gone days. Among the good, bad, and
indifferent, Washington had had two thousand militia poured in upon
him, without any arms whatever. But these men could use pick and spade.
The single regiment of artillery this rabble army, as Knox calls
it, could boast was unquestionably its most reliable arm. Under Knox's
able direction it was getting into fairly good shape, though the guns
were of very light metal. In the early conflicts around New York it was
rather too lavishly used, and suffered accordingly, but its efficiency
was so marked as to draw forth the admission from a British officer of
rank that the rebel artillery officers were at least equal to their
These plain facts speak for themselves. If radical defects of
organization lay behind them, it was not the fault of Washington or the
army, but is rather attributable to the want of any settled policy or
firm grasp of the situation on the part of the Congress.
Washington had no illusions either with regard to himself or his
soldiers. His letters of this date prove this. He was as well aware of
his own shortcomings as a general, as of those of his men as soldiers.
There could, perhaps, be no greater proof of the solidity of his
judgment than this capacity to estimate himself correctly, free from
all the prickings of personal vanity or popular praise. With reference
to the army he probably thought that if raw militia would fight so well
behind breastworks at Bunker Hill, they could be depended upon to do so
elsewhere, under the same conditions. His idea, therefore, was to fight
only in intrenched positions, and this was the general plan of campaign
 As will be seen farther on, New England had no strategic value
in this relation.
 Continentals. This term, for want of a better, arose from the
practice of speaking of the colonies, as a whole, as the Continent, to
distinguish them from this or that one, separately.
 The last brigade to march at this time is meant. As a matter of
fact one brigade was left at Boston, as a guard against accidents.
Later on it joined Washington.
 General Lee had been sent to New York as early as January. He
took military possession of the city, with militia furnished by
 In a private letter General Knox indignantly styles it this
 Being fully persuaded that it would be presumption to draw out
our young troops into open ground against their superiors, both in
numbers and discipline, I have never spared the spade and pickaxe.
II. PLANS FOR DEFENCE
[Sidenote: Troops sent to Canada.]
Washington's army had no sooner reached the Hudson than ten of the
best battalions were hurried off to Albany, if possible, to retrieve
the disasters which had recently overwhelmed the army of Canada, where
three generals, two of whom, Montgomery and Thomas, were of the highest
promise, with upwards of 5,000 men, had been lost. The departure of
these seasoned troops made a gap not easily filled, and should not be
lost sight of in reckoning the effectiveness of what were left.
[Sidenote: Strength of the army.]
This large depletion was, however, more than made good, in numbers
at least, by the reinforcements now arriving from the middle colonies,
who, with troops forming the garrison of the city, presently raised the
whole force under Washington's orders to a much larger number than
were ever assembled in one body again. A very large proportion,
however, were militiamen, called out for a few weeks only, who indeed
served to swell the ranks, without adding much real strength to the
[Sidenote: Plans for defence.]
It being fully decided upon that New York should be held, two
entirely distinct sets of measures were found indispensable. First the
city was commanded by Brooklyn Heights, rising at short cannon-shot
across the East River. These heights were now being strongly fortified
on the water-side against the enemy's fleet, and on the land-side
against a possible attack by his land forces.
[Sidenote: New York in 1776.]
The second measure looked to defending the city from an attack in
the rear. At this time New York City occupied only a very small section
of the southern part of the island which it has since outgrown. A few
farms and country seats stretched up beyond Harlem, but the major part
of the island was to the city below as the country to the town,
retaining all its natural features of hill and dale unimpaired. At this
time, too, the only exit from the island was by way of King's
Bridge, twelve miles above the city, where the great roads to Albany
and New England turned off, the one to the north, the other to the
east, making this passage fully as important in a military sense, as
was the heavy drawbridge thrown across the moat of some ancient castle.
[Sidenote: Fort Washington.]
Fort Washington was, therefore, built on a commanding height two
and a half miles below King's Bridge, with outworks covering the
approaches to the bridge, either by the country roads coming in from
the north or from Harlem River at the east. These works were never
finished, but even if they had been they could not solve the problem of
a successful defence, because it lay always in the power of the
strongest army to cut off all communication with the country
beyondand that means the passing in of reënforcements or suppliesby
merely throwing itself across the roads just referred to. This done,
the army in New York must either be shut up in the island, or come out
and fight, provided the enemy had not already put it out of their power
to do so by promptly seizing King's Bridge. And in that case there was
no escape except by water, under fire of the enemy's ships of war.
One watchful eye, therefore, had to be kept constantly to the front,
and another to the rear, between positions lying twelve to thirteen
miles apart, and separated by a wide and deep river.
It thus appears that the defence of New York was a much more
formidable task than had, at first, been supposed, and that an army of
40,000 men was none too large for the purpose, especially as it was
wholly impracticable to reënforce King's Bridge from Brooklyn, or
vice versa. But from one or another cause the army had fallen below
25,000 effectives by midsummer, counting also the militia, who formed a
floating and most uncertain constituent of it. For the present,
therefore, King's Bridge was held as an outpost, or until the enemy's
plan of attack should be clearly developed; for whether Howe would
first assail the works at Brooklyn, Bunker Hill fashion, or land his
troops beyond King's Bridge, bringing them around by way of Long Island
Sound, were questions most anxiously debated in the American camp.
However, the belief in a successful defence was much encouraged by
the recent crushing defeat that the British fleet had met with in
attempting to pass the American batteries at Charleston. Thrice welcome
after the disasters of the unlucky Canada campaign, this success tended
greatly to stiffen the backbone of the army, in the face of the steady
and ominous accumulation of the British land and naval forces in the
lower bay. Then again, the Declaration of Independence, read to every
brigade in the army (July 9), was received with much enthusiasm. Now,
for the first time since hostilities began, officers and men knew
exactly what they were fighting for. There was at least an end to
suspense, a term to all talk of compromise, and that was much.
[Sidenote: The British army.]
Thus matters stood in the American camps, when the British army that
had been driven from Boston, heavily reënforced from Europe, and by
calling in detachments from South Carolina, Florida, and the West
Indies, so bringing the whole force in round numbers up to 30,000
men, cast anchor in the lower bay. Never before had such an armament
been seen in American waters. Backed by this imposing display of force,
royal commissioners had come to tender the olive branch, as it were, on
the point of the bayonet. They were told, in effect, that those who
have committed no crime want no pardon. Washington was next approached.
As the representative soldier of the new nation, he refused to be
addressed except by the title it had conferred upon him. The etiquette
of the contest must be asserted in his person. Failing to find any
common ground, upon which negotiations could proceed, resort was had to
the bayonet again.
 These were Poor's, Patterson's, Greaton's, and Bond's
Massachusetts regiments on April 21, two New Jersey, two Pennsylvania,
and two New Hampshire battalions on the 26th. See Burgoyne's
Invasion of this series for an account of the Canada campaign.
 The numbers are estimated by General Heath (Memoirs, p.
51) as high as 40,000. He, however, deducts 10,000 for the sick,
present. They were published long after any reason for exaggeration
 The Brooklyn lines ran from Wallabout Bay (Navy Yard) on the
left, to Gowanus Creek on the right, making a circuit of a mile and a
half. All are now in the heart of the city.
 King's Bridge was so named for William III., of England. It
crosses Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The bridge at Morrisania was not built
 Fort Washington stood at the present 183d street. Besides
defending the approaches from King's Bridge, it also obstructed the
passage of the enemy's ships up the Hudson, at its narrowest point
below the Highlands. At the same time Fort Lee, first called Fort
Constitution, was built on the brow of the lofty Palisades, opposite,
and a number of pontoons filled with stones were sunk in the river
between. The enemy's ships ran the blockade, however, with impunity.
 The British regiments serving with Howe were the Fourth, Fifth,
Sixth, Tenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth,
Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-seventh, Twenty-eighth,
Thirty-third, Thirty-fifth, Thirty-seventh, Thirty-eighth, Fortieth,
Forty-second, Forty-third, Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, Forty-sixth,
Forty-ninth, Fifty-second, Fifty-fourth, Fifty-fifth, Fifty-seventh,
Sixty-third, Sixty-fourth, and Seventy-first, or thirty battalions with
an aggregate of 24,513 officers and men. To these should be added 8,000
Hessians hired for the war, bringing the army up to 32,500 soldiers.
Twenty-five per cent. would be a liberal deduction for the sick,
camp-guards, orderlies, etc. The navy was equally powerful in its way,
though it did little service here. Large as it was, this army was
virtually destroyed by continued attrition.
III. LONG ISLAND TAKEN
[Sidenote: British move to L. Island.]
Up to August 22, the British army made no move from its camps at
Staten Island. On their part, the Americans could only watch and wait.
On this day, however, active operations began with the landing of
Howe's troops, in great force, on the Long Island shore, opposite. This
force immediately spread itself out through the neighboring villages
from Gravesend, to Flatbush and Flatlands, driving the American
skirmishers before them into a range of wooded hills, which formed
their outer line of defence. Howe had determined to attack in front,
clearing the way as he went.
[Sidenote: Plan of attack.]
As the enemy would have to force his way across these hills, before
he could reach the American intrenched lines around Brooklyn, all the
roads leading over them were strongly guarded, except out at the
extreme left, beyond Bedford village, where only a patrol was
posted. This fatal oversight, of which Howe was well informed,
suggested the British plan of attack, which was quickly matured and
successfully carried out. It included a demonstration on the American
left, to draw attention to that point, while another corps was turning
the right, at its unguarded point.
A third column was held in readiness to move upon the American
centre from Flatbush, just as soon as the other attacks were well in
progress. When the flanking corps was in position, these demonstrations
were to be turned into real attacks, which, if successful, would throw
the Americans back upon the flanking column, which, in its turn, would
cut off their retreat to their intrenchments.
This clever combination, showing a perfect knowledge of the ground,
worked exactly as planned.
By making a night march, the turning column got quite around the
American flank and rear unperceived, and on the morning of the 27th was
in position, near Bedford, at an early hour, waiting for the
signal-guns to announce the beginning of the battle at the British
[Illustration: BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND.]
[Sidenote: Battle of Long Island.]
Both columns then advanced to the attack. Being strongly posted, and
well commanded, the Americans made an obstinate resistance and did hold
the enemy in check for some hours at one end of the line, only to find
themselves cut off by the hurried retreat of all the troops posted at
the passes on their left; for as soon as the firing there showed that
the turning column had come up in their rear, these troops, with great
difficulty, fought their way back to the Brooklyn lines, leaving three
generals and upwards of 1,000 men in the enemy's hands.
The resistance met with by the enemy's turning corps may be guessed
from what an officer who took part has to say of it. We have had,
he goes on to relate, what some call a battle, but if it deserves that
name it was the pleasantest I ever heard of, as we had not received
more than a dozen shots from the enemy, when they ran away with the
[Sidenote: Washington re-enforces.]
Though not in personal command when the action began, Washington
crossed over to Brooklyn in time to see his broken and dispirited
battalions come streaming back into their works. Fearing the worst, he
had called down two of his best regiments (Shee's and Magaw's) from
Harlem Heights, and Glover's from the city, to reënforce the troops
then engaged on Long Island, but as has already been pointed out,
reënforcing in this manner was out of the question. By making a rapid
march, the Harlem troops reached the ferry in the afternoon, after
firing had ceased. They were, however, ferried across the next morning.
[Sidenote: 28th and 29th.]
These movements would indicate a resolution to hold the Brooklyn
lines at all hazards, and were so regarded, but during the two days
subsequent to the battle, while the enemy was closing in upon him,
Washington changed his mind, preparations were quietly made to withdraw
the troops, while still keeping up a bold front to the enemy, and on
the night of the 29th the army repassed the East River without accident
Having thus cleared Long Island, the British extended themselves
along the East River as far as Newtown, that river thus dividing the
hostile camps throughout its whole extent. And though New York now lay
quite at his mercy, Howe refrained from cannonading it, for the same
reason as Washington did from shelling Boston; namely, that of securing
the city intact a little later.
In spite of this brilliant opening of the campaign, and outside of
the noisy subalterns who were making their début in war, it was
felt that the British army, fresh, numerous, and splendidly equipped,
had acquitted itself most ingloriously in permitting the Americans to
make their retreat from the island as they had, when the event of an
assault must probably have been most disastrous to them.
[Sidenote: Losses so far.]
On the other side defeat had seriously affected the morale of
the Americans. Fifteen hundred men had been lost on Long Island. A
great many more were now being lost through desertion. In Washington's
own words the unruly militia left him by companies, half regiments or
whole regiments, leaving the infection of their evil example to work
its will among the well-disposed.
[Sidenote: New York to be held.]
Although the defence of New York had thus broken down at its vital
point, a majority of generals favored still holding the city. To this
end Washington now divided his forces, leaving 4,000 in the city,
posting 6,500 at Harlem Heights, and 12,000 at Fort Washington and
King's Bridge. Though furnished by a general officer, these figures
really include the sick, who were estimated at nearly 10,000, as well
as the large number detached on extra duty. Washington, himself,
vaguely estimated his effective force at under 20,000 at this time.
As thus arranged, Harlem Heights, in the centre, became the army
headquarters for the time being, Washington, by one of those little
accidents that sometimes arrest a passing thought, occupying the
house of the same lady who had formerly refused the offer of his
hand in marriage, Miss Mary Phillipse, later to accept that of Colonel
Roger Morris, his old companion in arms during Braddock's fatal
 This range of hills includes the present Prospect Park and
 This weak point was the approach from the east where the Jamaica
road crossed the hills into Bedford village. By striking this road
somewhat higher up, the enemy got to Bedford before the Americans,
guarding the hills beyond, had notice of their approach.
 Captain Harris, of the Fifth Foot.
 General Glover's estimate.
 The Morris House is still standing at 160th street, near 10th
avenue, N. Y., and is now occupied by Gen. Ferdinand P. Earle.
IV. NEW YORK EVACUATED
Howe seems to have thought that so long as Washington remained in
New York he might be bagged at leisure. In no other way can his
dilatory proceedings be accounted for. Sixteen days passed without any
demonstration on his part whatever. Meantime, however, the steady
extension of his lines toward Hell Gate had operated such a change of
opinion in the American camp that the decision to hold the city was now
reconsidered, and the evacuation fixed for September 15. It was seen
that the storm centre was now shifting over toward the American
communications, but just where it would break forth was still a matter
Howe was fully informed of what was going on by his royalist friends
in the city, and like the cat watching the wounded mouse while it is
recovering its breath, he prepared to spring at the moment his
enfeebled adversary should show signs of returning animation.
[Sidenote: British seize New York.]
All being ready, on the very day fixed for the evacuation, Sir Henry
Clinton crossed the East River in boats from Newtown Bay to Kipp's Bay,
with 4,000 men, landed without opposition, owing to a disgraceful panic
which seized the Americans posted there for just such an emergency, and
thus thrust himself in between the Americans in the city and those at
Harlem Heights. Thus cut off, it was only at the greatest risk of
capture that the garrison below was saved, with the loss of much
artillery, tents, baggage, and stores, by marching out on one road
while the enemy were marching in on another, as Clinton had
immediately pushed on up the island, at the heels of the retreating
A captain of British grenadiers describes what took place after the
landing, in the following animated style:
After landing in York Island we drove the Americans into their
works beyond the eighth milestone from New York, and thus got
possession of the best half of the island. We took post
to them, placed our pickets, borrowed a sheep, killed, cooked,
ate some of it, and then went to sleep on a gate, which we
liberty of throwing off its hinges, covering our feet with an
American tent, for which we should have cut poles and pitched
it not been so dark. Give me such living as we enjoy at
such a hut and such company, and I would not care three
if we stayed all the winter, for though the mornings and
are cold, yet the sun is so hot as to oblige me to put up a
as a screen.
[Sidenote: Great fire, September 21.]
Each side now rested in possession of half the island, Washington of
all above Harlem Heights, Howe of all below. His conquest was, however,
near proving a barren one, at best, for within a week a third part of
the city was laid in ashes, some say by incendiaries, some by accident.
The situation was now so far reversed that Washington seemed to be
blockading Howe in the city.
[Sidenote: Captain Hale hanged.]
Though it had little bearing upon the result of the campaign, one
other event is deserving of brief mention here. Clinton's descent had
been cleverly managed, out of Washington's sight. What were the enemy
proposing to do next? It was imperative to know. To ascertain this
Capt. Nathan Hale volunteered to go over to Long Island. At his
returning he was arrested. The papers found upon him betrayed his
purpose in going within the enemy's lines, and he was forthwith hanged
in a manner that would have disgraced Tyburn itself.
Howe's next move was probably conceived with the twofold design,
first of cooping Washington up within the island, and second of
capturing or breaking up his entire army.
[Sidenote: Howe's delays.]
But again and again we are puzzled to account for Howe's delays.
Hard fighter that he unquestionably was, he seemed never in a hurry to
begin. There is even some ground for believing that in New York he had
found his Capua. Be that as it may, it is certainly true that nearly a
whole month passed by before the sluggard Sir William again drew sword.
[Sidenote: Lands at Throg's Neck.]
Leaving Lord Percy to defend the lines below Harlem with four
brigades, at eight o'clock P.M. of the 11th of October, General Clinton
with the reserves, light infantry and 1,500 Hessians, embarked on the
East River, passed through Hell Gate, and landed at Throg's Neck, in
Westchester, early the next morning.
[Illustration: STORMING OF FORT WASHINGTON.
ExplanationE, American positions; A-C, British attacks by Harlem
River; B, via King's Bridge; D, from Harlem Plains.]
[Sidenote: Washington moves to White Plains.]
Here he lay inactive for six whole days, within six miles of the
road on which Washington was moving out from King's Bridge to White
Plains; for at the first notice given him of the enemy's movements,
which indeed had all along been anxiously expected, Washington had been
drawing out his forces from Harlem to King's Bridge, first sending
forward some light troops to delay Howe as much as possible, until the
army could get into position. It is evident that but for Howe's delays
this purpose could not have been successfully accomplished.
[Sidenote: Howe marches to give battle.]
Meantime the enemy had been bringing up reënforcements, and on the
18th, finding the mainland too strongly held at Throg's Neck, for an
advance from that point, they made another landing six miles beyond,
whence they marched toward New Rochelle. From here they again marched
(22d) for White Plains, where Washington was found (27th) drawn up in
order of battle behind the Bronx, waiting for them.
[Sidenote: Battle of White Plains, October 28.]
Here Washington attempted to make a stand, but his right being
vigorously attacked and turned, he was forced to fall back upon a
second position, in which he remained unmolested for several days, when
(November 1) he moved still farther back, to the heights of North
Castle, where he felt himself quite safe from attack.
Howe had now manoeuvred Washington out of all his defences except
Fort Washington, which by General Greene's advice was to be defended,
though now cut off from all support.
[Sidenote: Fort Washington taken.]
Things remained in this situation until November 16, when the fort
was assaulted on three sides, with the result that the whole garrison
of about 3,000 men were made prisoners of war. At some points the
resistance was obstinate, notably at the north, and again at the east,
where one of the attacking divisions attempted to gain the rocky shore
back of the Morris House, under Harlem Heights. A British officer,
there present, says of it that before landing the fire of cannon and
musketry was so heavy that the sailors quitted their oars and lay down
in the bottom of the boats, and had not the soldiers taken the oars and
pulled on shore we must have remained in this situation.
[Sidenote: Effect on the army.]
[Sidenote: Washington and Lee.]
The loss of the garrison of Fort Washington, 2,000 of whom were
regular troops, was universally regarded as the most severe blow that
the American cause had yet sustained, and it had a most depressing
effect both in and out of the army, but more particularly in the army,
as it tended to develop the growing antagonism between the
commander-in-chief and General Lee, who had ineffectually advocated the
evacuation of Fort Washington when the army was withdrawn from the
island. Lee's military insight had now been most decisively vindicated.
His antipathy to serving as second in command became more and more
pronounced, and was more or less reflected by his admirers, of whom he
now had more than ever. Worse still, it was destined soon to have the
most deplorable results to the army, the cause, and even to Lee
 A British brigade was sent down to the city in the course of the
 A contraction of Throgmorton's Neck. As this was an island at
high tide, the Americans quickly barred the passage to the mainland by
breaking down the bridge.
 On account of the want of wagons this was very slowly done, as
the wagons had to be unloaded and sent back for what could not be
brought along with the troops.
 This rested on Chatterton's Hill, some distance in front of the
main line. Not having intrenched, the defenders were overpowered,
though not until after making a sharp fight.
 An excellent account of the operations at Fort Washington will
be found in Graydon's Memoirs, p. 197 et seq.
 Lieut. Martin Hunter, of the Fifty-second Foot.
V. THE SITUATION REVIEWED
[Sidenote: The new situation.]
The dilemma now confronting Washington was hydra-headed. Either way
it was serious. On one side New England lay open to the enemy, on the
other New Jersey. And an advance was also threatened from the North. If
he stayed where he was, the enemy would overrun New Jersey at will.
Should he move his army into New Jersey, Howe could easily cut off its
communications with New England, the chief resource for men and
munitions. Of course this was not to be thought of. On the other hand,
the conquest of New Jersey, with Philadelphia as the ultimate prize, in
all probability would be Howe's next object. At the present moment
there was nothing to prevent his marching to Philadelphia, arms at
ease. To think of fighting in the open field was sheer folly. And there
was not one fortified position between the Hudson and the Delaware
where the enemy's triumphal march might be stayed.
Forced by these adverse circumstances to attempt much more than
twice his present force would have encouraged the hope of doing
successfully, Washington decided that he must place himself between the
enemy and Philadelphia, and at the same time hold fast to his
communications with New England and the upper Hudson. This could only
be done by dividing his greatly weakened forces into two corps, one of
which should attempt the difficult task of checking the enemy in the
Jerseys, while the other held a strong position on the Hudson, until
Howe's purposes should be more fully developed. With Washington it was
no longer a choice of evils, but a stern obedience to imperative
[Sidenote: The army divided.]
[Sidenote: Washington in New Jersey.]
Lee was now put in command of the corps left to watch Howe's
movement east of the Hudson, loosely estimated at 5,000 men, and
ordered back behind the Croton. Heath, with 2,000 men of his division,
was ordered to Peekskill, to guard the passes of the Highlands, these
two corps being thus posted within supporting distance. With the other
corps of 4,000 men Washington crossed into New Jersey, going into camp
in the neighborhood of Fort Lee, where Greene's small force was united
with his own command. Orders were also despatched to Ticonderoga, to
forward at once all troops to the main army that could be spared. Fort
Lee had thus become the last rallying-point for the troops under
Washington's immediate command, and in that sense, also, a menace to
the full and free control of the lower Hudson, which the guns of the
fort in part commanded at its narrowest point. Howe determined to brush
away this last obstruction without delay.
[Sidenote: Fort Lee taken.]
Regarding Fort Lee as no longer serving any important purpose,
perhaps foreseeing that it would soon be attacked, Washington was
getting ready to evacuate it, when on the night of November 19 Lord
Cornwallis made a sudden dash across to the New Jersey side, passing
Fort Lee unperceived, landed a little above the fort at a place that
had strangely been left unguarded, climbed the heights unmolested, and
was only prevented from making prisoners of the whole garrison by its
hurried retreat across the Hackensack. Everything in the fort, even to
the kettles in which the men were cooking their breakfasts, was lost.
As regards any further attempt to stay the tide of defeat, all was
now over. The enemy had obtained a secure foothold on the Jersey shore
from which to march across the State, when and how he pleased.
Unpalatable as the admission may be, the fact remains that the
Americans had been everywhere out-generaled and out-fought. Nearly
everything in the way of war material had been lost in the hurried
evacuation of New York. Confidence had been lost. Prestige had been
lost. Clearly it was high time to turn over a new leaf. With this lame
affair the first division of the disastrous campaign of 1776 properly
closes, and the second properly begins. It had been watched with
alternate hope, doubt, and despondency. Excuses are never wanting to
bolster up failing reputations. The generals said they had no soldiers,
the soldiers declared they had no generals; the people hung their heads
and were silent.
[Illustration: AMERICAN POSITION BEHIND THE HACKENSACK.]
 The Eastern troops remained on the east bank of the Hudson,
under Lee's command, while those belonging to the Middle and Southern
colonies crossed the Hudson with Washington. This disposition may have
been brought about by the belief that the soldiers of each section
would fight best on their own ground, but the fact is notorious that a
most bitter animosity had grown up between them.
 This movement is assigned to the 18th by Gordon and those who
have followed him. The 19th is the date given by Captain Harris, who
was with the expedition.
 An enumeration of these losses will be found in Gordon's
American Revolution, Vol. II., p. 360.
VI. THE RETREAT THROUGH THE JERSEYS
It was now the 20th of November. 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.
[Sidenote: Strength of the army.]
[Sidenote: State of public feeling.]
Losses in battle, by sickness or desertion, or other causes, had
brought his dismembered forces down to a total of 10,000 men, of whom
3,500 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 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
Though himself a Pennsylvanian by adoption, Mercer's answer was
given with true soldierly frankness. If the lower counties give up,
the back counties will do the same, was his discouraging reply.
We must then retire to Augusta County in Virginia, said
Washington, with grave decision, and if overpowered there, we must
cross the Alleghanies.
A volume would fail to give half as good an idea of the critical
condition of affairs as that brief dialogue.
[Sidenote: Cruelties to prisoners.]
First and foremost among the many causes of the army's disruption
was its losses in prisoners. Not less than 5,000 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. The calculated barbarities practised upon these
poor prisoners, with no other purpose than to make them desert their
cause, or if that failed, totally to unfit them for serving it more,
are almost too shocking for belief. 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.
[Sidenote: Affects recruiting.]
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 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.
[Sidenote: Retreat begins.]
After the evacuation of Fort Lee, Lee was urged, unfortunately not
ordered, to cross his force into the Jerseys, and so bring it into
coöperation with the troops already there. The demonstrations then
making in his front 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. On the 24th Cornwallis, who now had assumed control of all
operations in the Jerseys, was reënforced with two British brigades and
a regiment of Highlanders.
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 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
[Sidenote: New Brunswick evacuated.]
Sustained by the vain hope of being reënforced here, either by Lee
or by new levies of militia coming up as he fell back toward
Philadelphia, Washington meditated making a stand at New Brunswick,
which should at least show the exultant enemy that there was still some
life left in his jaded battalions, and perhaps delay pursuit, which was
all that could be hoped for with his small force. Instead, however, of
the expected reënforcement, the departure of the New Jersey and
Maryland brigades, still so called by courtesy alone, since they were
but the shadows of what they had been, put this purpose out of the
question. 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 had come. He therefore wrote to his laggard lieutenant, Hasten
your march as much as possible or your arrival may be too late.
[Sidenote: December 7.]
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. On the 7th Cornwallis moved on to Princeton, arriving there
on the same day that Washington left it. 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 altogether
hopeless. In this firm hold on his soldiers, at such an hour, we
recognize the leader.
 Captain Graydon (Memoirs) and Ethan Allen (Narrative
), both prisoners at this time, fix the responsibility where it belongs.
 Cornwallis (Lord Brome) was squint-eyed from effects of a blow
in the eye received while playing hockey at Eton. 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. 8, 1756.
 This delay is chargeable to Howe, who kept the troops halted
until he could consult with Cornwallis in person as to future
operations. The question was, Should or should not the British army
cross the Delaware?
VII. LEE'S MARCH AND CAPTURE
[Sidenote: December 2 and 3.]
Hasten your march or your arrival may be too late. When this
urgent appeal was penned Lee had not yet seen fit to cross the Hudson,
nor was it until Washington had reached Princeton that Lee's troops
were at last put in motion toward the Delaware.
Hitherto Lee had been in some sort Washington's tutor, or at least
military adviser,a rôle for which, we are bound in common justice to
say, Lee was not unfitted. 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 cannot be acquitted of disloyalty to the cause he
served, if that course threatened to wreck the cause itself.
[Sidenote: Lee's plans.]
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, 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.
[Sidenote: December 7 and 8.]
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. The
prospect of this reënforcement, which in all probability he had been
expecting to intercept, may account both for the slowness of Lee's
march, and for the closing sentence of his reply to Heath. 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.
[Sidenote: Washington crosses the Delaware.]
[Sidenote: December 8.]
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. Here was a rare opportunity for fighting in retreat being
thrown away, as Washington conceived, by Lee's dilatoriness in
reënforcing him. 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 2,200 or 2,400
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
Cornwallis immediately began a search for the means of crossing in
his turn. Here, again, he was baffled by Washington's foresight, as
every boat for seventy miles up and down the Delaware had been removed
beyond his adversary's reach.
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.
[Sidenote: Gates arrives.]
[Sidenote: Lee taken.]
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
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
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 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 covetedof 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. With this end in view he designed holding a position
on the enemy's flank, arguing, perhaps, that Washington would be
compelled to reënforce him rather than see him defeated, with the
troops now beyond the Delaware. 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.
 Lee had expected the first place and had been given the second.
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.
 Cornwallis took no boats with him, as he might have done, from
Brunswick. A small number would have answered his purpose.
 Ticonderoga being out of danger for the present, Washington had
ordered Gates down with all troops that could be spared.
 As Washington had been urged to do, instead of keeping between
Cornwallis and Philadelphia.
 Lord George Harris, of the Fifth Foot.
 It will be noticed that this account differs essentially from
that of Wilkinson, who, though present at Lee's capture, hid himself
until the light-horse had left with their prisoner.
VIII. THE OUTLOOK
To all intents the campaign of 1776 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 himselfthat last despairing cry of the
vanquishedbegan to be echoed throughout the colonies. We have seen
that even Washington himself seriously 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
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 menalways the least
despondent portion of any communityreceived the news of the retreat
through the Jerseys.
Elkanah Watson sets down the following at Plymouth, Mass.: We
looked upon the contest as near its close, and considered ourselves a
vanquished people. 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 with
the assurance that Washington was not dismayed, but evinced the same
serenity and confidence as ever. Upon him rested all our hopes.
[Sidenote: British plans.]
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? Washington was beyond the Delaware, with
the débris of the army he had lately commanded, which served him rather
as an escort than a defence. If let alone, even this would shortly
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.
[Sidenote: Chain of posts.]
To hold what had been gained a chain of posts was now stretched
across the Jerseys from Perth Amboy to the Delaware, with Trenton,
Bordentown, and Burlington as the outposts and New Brunswick as the
dépôt, the first being well placed either for making an advance, or for
checking any attempts by the Americans to recross the river. 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 2,000 Hessians, and Colonel Rall at Trenton with 1,200 to
1,300 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.
[Illustration: THE ATTACK ON TRENTON.]
[Sidenote: Rall and Donop.]
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. Holly, thus establishing himself at the
base point of a triangle from which his outposts could be speedily
reënforced, either from Bordentown or each other. 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 the usual
crossing places, which were being vigilantly watched.
[Illustration: OPERATIONS IN THE JERSEYS.]
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 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.
[Sidenote: Cruelties of troops.]
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 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.
IX. THE MARCH TO TRENTON
[Sidenote: Spirit of the officers.]
[Sidenote: Post at Bristol.]
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. The
hope was still further encouraged by a reënforcement of Pennsylvania
militia, whose pride had been aroused at seeing the invader's vedettes
in sight of their capital. 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.
[Sidenote: Rall's danger.]
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 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.
[Sidenote: Gates sulking.]
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.
[Sidenote: In Philadelphia.]
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 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
[Sidenote: A first move.]
Putnam was the first to beard the lion by throwing part of his force
across the Delaware. Whether this was done to mask any purposed
movement from above, or not, it certainly had that result. After
crossing into the Jerseys Griffin marched straight to Mt. Holly, where
he was halted on the 22d, waiting for the reënforcements he had asked
for from Cadwalader. 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 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:
[Sidenote: Rall the object.]
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. This
little band was all on fire to be led against the enemy. No holiday
march lay before them, yet every officer and man instinctively felt
that the last hope of the Republic lay in the might of his own good
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.
[Sidenote: Strong array of officers.]
Greene, Sullivan, St. Clair, Sterling, Knox, Mercer, Stephen,
Glover, Hand, Stark, Poor, and Patterson were there to lead these
slender columns to victory. 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.
[Sidenote: The Delaware crossed.]
Boats being held in readiness the troops began their memorable
crossing. Its difficulties and dangers may be estimated by the failure
of the two coöperating; corps to surmount them. 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 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.
 John Cadwalader, of Philadelphia. His services in this campaign
were both timely and important.
 Joseph Reed succeeded Gates as adjutant-general after Gates was
promoted. 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.
 This force was under command of Colonel Griffin, Putnam's
 James Ewing, brigadier-general of Pennsylvania militia, posted
opposite to Bordentown. In some accounts he is called Irvine, Erwing,
 Col. 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.
[Sidenote: The 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 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.
[Sidenote: Street combats.]
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. Grape and canister
cleared the streets in the twinkling of an eye. 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.
[Sidenote: Sullivan in action.]
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 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.
[Sidenote: Hessians surrender.]
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 immortal twenty-four hundred
had behaved like men determined to be free.
[Sidenote: The river recrossed.]
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. Donop, reënforced by the fugitives from
Trenton, outnumbered him three to two. Reënforced by the garrison at
Princeton, the odds would be as two to one. All these enemies he would
soon have on his hands, with no certainty of any increase of his own
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
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.
 Harris says that Rall had intelligence of the intended attack,
and kept his men under arms the whole night. 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.Life, p. 64.
 General Knox's account is here followed.Memoir, p. 38.
XI. THE FLANK MARCH TO PRINCETON
[Sidenote: Cadwalader crosses.]
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
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.
[Sidenote: At Bordentown.]
On getting over the river, Cadwalader learned 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 loyalty. Jersey will be the most whiggish colony
on the continent, writes an officer of this corps of Cadwalader's.
The very Quakers declare for taking up arms.
[Sidenote: Trenton reoccupied.]
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.
[Sidenote: Princeton reënforced.]
Meantime the alarm brought about by Donop's falling back on
Princeton caused the commanding officer there to call urgently for
reënforcements. None were sent, however, for some days, when the
grenadiers and second battalion of guards marched in from New
Brunswick. In evidence of the wholesome terror inspired by Washington's
daring movements comes the account of the reception of this
reënforcement by an eye-witness, Captain Harris, of the grenadiers, who
writes of it: You would have felt too much to be able to express your
feelings on seeing with what a warmth of friendship our children, as we
call the light-infantry, welcomed us, one and all crying, 'Let them
come! Lead us to them, we are sure of being supported.' It gave me a
pleasure too fine to attempt expressing.
Howe was now pushing forward all his available troops toward
Princeton. Cornwallis hastened back to that place with the élite
of the army. 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.
[Sidenote: Washington concentrates.]
Through the efforts of their officers most of the New England troops
reënlisted for six weeksStark's regiment almost to a man. And
these battalions constituted the real backbone of subsequent
operations. Hearing that the enemy was at least ready to move forward,
Cadwalader's and 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, 1777, 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.
[Sidenote: His position, Jan. 2, 1777.]
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
On the 2d the enemy's advance came upon the American pickets posted
outside of Trenton, 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 dayall 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.
[Sidenote: Washington's tactics.]
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. It was then and there that
Washington proposed making a flank march to Princeton that very
night, boldly throwing themselves upon the enemy's communications,
defeating such reënforcements as might be found in the way, and perhaps
dealing such a blow as would, if successful, baffle all the enemy's
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.
[Sidenote: Jan. 3, 1777.]
[Sidenote: March to Princeton.]
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 themhe
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.
[Sidenote: British in pursuit.]
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.
[Sidenote: Mercer's fight.]
Three British battalions lay at Princeton the night before. Two
of them were on the march to Trenton when Washington's troops were
discovered approaching on a back road. 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. The fight was
short, sharp, and bloody. 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. Clair. 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 American loss in officers was, however, very severe. The
brave Mercer was mortally wounded, and that gallant son of Delaware,
Colonel Haslet, killed fighting at his commander's side.
After a short halt Washington again pushed on toward Brunswick, but
tempting as the opportunity of destroying the dépôt there seemed to
him, it had to be given up. His troops were too much exhausted, and
Cornwallis was now thundering in his rear. When Kingston was reached
the army therefore filed off to the left toward Somerset Court
House, leaving the enemy to continue his headlong march toward
Brunswick, which was not reached until four o'clock in the morning,
with troops completely broken down with the rapidity of their fruitless
Washington could now say, I am as near New York as they are to
 Cadwalader seems to have done all in his power to cross his
troops in the first place. His infantry mostly got over, but on finding
it impossible to land the artilleryice being jammed against the
shores for two hundred yardsthe infantry were ordered back. Indeed,
his rear-guard could not get back until the next day. This was at
Dunk's Ferry. The next and successful attempt took from nine in the
morning till three in the afternoon, when 3,000 men crossed one mile
 Thomas Rodney's letter.
 Heath was ordered to make a demonstration as far down as King's
Bridge, in order to keep Howe from reënforcing the Jerseys. It proved a
 Part of Donop's force fell back even as far as New Brunswick.
 Stark made a personal appeal with vigor and effect. His regiment
had come down from Ticonderoga in time to be given the post of honor by
 In a letter to his wife Knox gives the credit of this suggestion
to Washington, without qualification.
 These were the Seventeenth, Fortieth, and Fifty-first.
 The hostile columns met on the slope of a hill just off the main
road, near the buildings of a man named Clark, Mercer reaching the
 The Seventeenth regiment, Colonel Mawhood, carried off the
honors of the day for the British.
 The position at Morristown had been critically examined by
Lee's officers during their halt there. Washington had therefore
decided to defend the Jerseys from that position.
XII. AFTER PRINCETON
It had taken Cornwallis a whole week to drive Washington from
Brunswick to Trenton; Washington had now made Cornwallis retrace his
steps inside of twenty-four hours. In the retreat through the Jerseys
there had been neither strategy nor tactics; nothing but a retreat,
pure and simple. In the advance, strategy and tactics had placed the
inferior force in the attitude menacing the superior, had saved
Philadelphia, and were now in a fair way to recover the Jerseys without
the expenditure even of another charge of powder.
While Washington was looking for a vantage ground from which to hold
what had been gained, everything on the British line was going to the
rear in confusion. Orders and counter orders were being given with a
rapidity which invariably accompanies the first moments of a panic, and
which tend rather to increase than diminish its effects.
What was passing at Brunswick has fortunately found a record in the
diary of a British officer posted there when the news of Washington's
coming fell like a bombshell in their camp. It is given word for word:
On the 3d we had repeated accounts that Washington had not only
taken Princeton, but was in full march upon Brunswick. General
Matthew (commanding at Brunswick) now determined to return to
Raritan landing-place, with everything valuable, to prevent
rebels from destroying the bridge there. We accordingly
back to the bridge, one-half on one side, the remainder on the
other, for its defence, never taking off our accoutrements
On the 3d, Lord Cornwallis, hearing the fate of Princeton,
to it with his whole force, but found the rebels had abandoned
upon which he immediately marched back to Brunswick, arriving
break of day on the 4th. I then received orders to return to
Sparkstown (Rahway?). Washington marched his army to
Springfield. At about the time I arrived at Sparkstown, a
was spread that the rebels had some designs upon Elizabethtown
Sparkstown. The whole regiment was jaded to death. Unpleasant
Before day notice was brought to me by a patrol that he had
some firing towards Elizabethtown, about seven miles off. I
immediately jumped out of bed and directed my drums to beat to
arms, as nothing else would have roused my men, they were so
Soon after this an express brought me positive orders to march
immediately to Perth Amboy, with all my baggage. At between
seven the rebels fired at some of my men that were quartered
miles distance. I had before appointed a subaltern's guard for
protection of my baggage. This duty unluckily fell upon the
lieutenant of my company, which left it without an officer,
ensign being sick at New York. I immediately directed my
lieutenant, who was a volunteer on this occasion, to march
guard, that was then formed, to the spot where the firing was,
while I made all the haste I could to follow him with the
The lieutenant came up with them and fired upwards of twelve
rounds, when, the rebels perceiving the battalion on the
off as fast as they could. Had I pursued them I should perhaps
given a good account of them.
The company baggage-wagon was, however, carried off by the
Americans, driver and all. The garrison got to Perth Amboy that night.
Elizabethtown was evacuated at the same time. The narrative goes on to
The only posts we now possess in the Jerseys are Paulus Hook,
Amboy, Raritan Landing, and Brunswick. Happy had it been if at
first we had fixed on no other posts in this province....
Washington's success in this affair of the surprise of the
has been the cause of this unhappy change in our affairs. It
recruited the rebel army and given them sufficient spirit to
undertake a winter campaign. Our misfortune has been that we
held the enemy too cheap. We must remove the seat of war from
Jerseys now on account of the scarcity of forage and
The writer shows the wholesome impressions his friends were under in
this closing remark: The whole garrison is every morning under arms at
five o'clock to be ready for the scoundrels.
In New York great pains were taken to prevent the truth about the
victories at Trenton and Princeton from getting abroad. False accounts
of them were printed in the newspapers, over which a strict military
censorship was established; but in spite of every precaution enough
leaked out through secret channels to put new life and hope in the
hearts and minds of the long-suffering prisoners of war.
It was one of the misfortunes of this most extraordinary campaign
that every blow Washington had struck left his army exhausted. After
each success it was necessary to recuperate. It was now being
reorganized in the shelter of its mountain fastness, strengthened by a
simultaneous uprising of the people, who now took the redress of their
wrongs into their own hands. No foraging party could show itself
without being attacked; no supplies be had except at the point of the
sword. A host of the exasperated yeomanry constantly hovered around the
enemy's advanced posts, which a feeling of pride alone induced him to
hold. Putnam was ordered up to Princeton, Heath to King's Bridge, so
that Howe was kept looking all ways at once. Redoubts were thrown up at
New Brunswick, leading Wayne to remark that the Americans had now
thrown away the spade and the British taken it up. Looking back over
the weary months of disaster the change on the face of affairs seems
almost too great for belief. From the British point of view the
campaign had ended in utter failure and disgrace. In England, Edward
Gibbon says that the Americans had almost lost the name of rebels, and
in America Sir William Howe found that he had to contend with a man in
every way his superior.