« AnteriorContinuar »
* These heroic citizens disdained to receive his protection or regard his proclamations. They remembered that their ancestors left them free, ancestors who had bled in rescuing their country from the tyranny of kings. They invoked the protection of the Supreme Being; they bravely defended heir city with undaunted resolution, they repelled the enemy, and recovered their country.” The author of the
address was John Jay. It was not only approved of by a * special vote of Congress, but ordered to be translated into
the German language, and circulated at the expense of the United States.
After the removal to Baltimore, and the conferring of the unlimited powers already mentioned upon Washington, Congress adopted other means for recruiting the army, by offering bounties and rewards, and to provide pecuniary resources, by large paper emissions, pledging the faith of the United States for its redemption. Hard measures, ill-advised and of mischievous consequences, were soon adopted, to sustain the credit of this paper, and prevent its depreciation. This part of the civil history of the day belongs however to another part of the subject.
On no occasion, and by no set of men, in authority in this depressed condition, was the idea suggested, of accepting peace, by making any conditions whatever with Great Britain. In the discussions which frequently occupied Congress, on the subject of obtaining French assistance, it was several times proposed to offer France, as a compensa. tion for her aid in establishing Independence, a monopoly of commerce, such as Great Britain had enjoyed. This was refused, and all modifications, offering her peculiar advantages of trade, also refused, upon the principal ground that it would endanger the union of the people in favor of independence, by destroying the force of the chief argu
ments against British supremacy. A stronger inducement i for French aid, and one more consonant with the principles
of the Revolution, was thought to be, the determination to abide by their Declaration at all hazards, and to convince the French court of the impossibility of their returning under British subjection. The occasion of the publication in England of some intercepted despatches sent to American agents at European courts, was embraced by the American Congress to reiterate, in a formal resolution, passed in the worst and darkest times, that they would listen to go terms of
union with Great Britain, that should deprive other nations of a free trade in American ports.
The most energetic measures were at the same time prosecuted to secure foreign alliances, a narrative of which belongs with more propriety, to that of a subsequent period, when by successful negotiations, France had been induced to furnish them aid.
The interval of inaction, after the crossing of the Delaware on the 12th of December, improved by the energy of Congress and the Commander-in-chief, was of vital importance to the American cause. What might have been the issue had General Howe felt less confident of final triumph and less contempt for an exhausted and flying enemy, and pushed on resolutely to complete the war at once, it is impossible to conjecture. He certainly had it in his power to strike a blow which would have materially changed the course of events. But, pausing to shelter his troops from the rigors of the season in winter-quarters, and believing the foe hopelessly routed and incapable of action, he extend ed his forces along the left bank of the Delaware; and, not apprehending any molestation, kept negligent watch of the motions of Washington. Colonel Rhal, a Hessian officer of merit, with a corps of Hessian infantry and English dragoons amounting to about fourteen hundred men, were stationed at Trenton and Bordentown; a few miles below was occupied by Colonel Donop with another Hessian brigade ; and still lower down and within twenty miles of Philadel. phia, was another corps of Hessians and English.
The combined efforts of the civil and military authorities had, in the interval, brought considerable reinforcements to the army of Washington. The Pennsylvania militia came into the field; the corps of Lee, which on the capture of that officer was commanded by Sullivan, joined him, and detachments from New York, under the orders of General Heath, soon came to his aid. About Christmas the army, with these reinforcements, amounted to about seven thousand effective men, when Washington conceived a bold plan of action, which changed the face of the war, and in a few days crowned the American arms with a series of successes and victories ihat roused and inspirited the people. Observing the scattered and loosely guarded positions of the British quarters, he determined to make a sudden and daring effort for the preservation of Philadelphia, and the recovery of New Jersey,
by surprising and sweeping at a stroke all the British cantonments upon the Delaware. • The night of the 25th of December was selected for the execution of this scheme. A part of his forces, under the command of General Irvine, were directed to cross at Tren. ton Ferry, below the town, to secure the bridge, and intercept the retreat of the enemy in that direction; General Cadwallader was directed to cross at Bristol and carry the post at Burlington. The Commander-in-chief led the main body, of twenty-four hundred men, across the river at McKenkey's Ferry, nine miles above Trenton, to make the principal attack.
The night of the twenty-fifth proved to be intensely cold. The Delaware was covered and obstructed with ice, and the passage was one of extreme difficulty, Dec
Dec. 25th. peril and suffering. The divisions under Irvine and Cadwallader, after the most strenuous efforts, were unable to cross, and abandoned their parts of this enterprise. Washington succeeded, but was delayed much beyond his calculations. He had expected to reach Trenton by the dawn of day, but it was not until four o'clock that his artillery was brought over and the line of march formed, at a distance of nine miles from the enemy's camp. Advancing in two bodies, one by the river road to the west side of the town, and the other by the Pennington road to the northern extremity, the expedition passed on rapidly, with orders to drive in the piquet guards on the instant of arrival, and attack the town. Washington accompanied the Pennington corps, and about eight o'clock both parties made a nearly simultaneous assault upon the surprised Hessians. Colonel Rhal behaved with great gallantry, and rallied his men for the defence of the post, but at the first fire he fell mortally wounded; the Hessian artillery was almost immediately seized, and the troops, after a random attempt to resist, endeavoured to escape towards Princeton. Washington,
anticipating this movement, had thrown a part of his troops i before them in that direction, and being thus hemmed in by i the victorious Americans, about two thirds of them surrenį dered. A part, consisting of some Hessians and a troop of
British lighthorse, fied by the Bordentown road; and in consequence of the failure of Cadwallader's division in crossing the river,, escaped. Twenty-three officers and eight hundred and eighty-six men laid down their arms, and
the whole artillery, ammunition, and four stands of colors were taken.
Twenty of the Hessians were killed, and counting those who had hidden themselves in the houses and were afterwards captured, about one thousand prisoners. Of the Americans, two privates were killed and two frozen to death; one officer, Colonel Washington, afterwards so distinguished in the southern campaign, and several privates wounded.
Not choosing to hazard the fruits of this brilliant victory, by further advance in the face of the very superior force which it was in the power of the British general to concentrate against him, Washington safely recrossed the Delaware. Had the other parts of the plan succeeded, the whole of the British posts on the Delaware would have shared the fate of Trenton.
The British general, startled at this daring feat, resolved, though in the depth of winter, to recommence operations. Lord Cornwallis, who was at New York preparing to carry to England intelligence of the total subjugation of the Americans, hastily returned to New Jersey, and he and General Howe, soon threw a powerful force upon Princeton.
After two or three days rest, having secured his prisoners, Washington again passed into New Jersey, and with about five thousand men, posted himself again at Trenton. He pushed forward a small detachment at Maidenhead, half way between Trenton and Princeton, to watch the enemy.
On the next morning, the 2d of January, Corn
wallis advanced, and at about 4 P. M. encoun. tered the troops of Washington, who were drawn up behind Assumpink Creek. A cannonading was commenced between the parties, and several efforts made to force the passes of the creek, which were too strongly guarded, and night put an end to the skirmishing.
The situation of Washington was now exceedingly critical; with a superior army in front he knew defeat to be certain in a pitched battle; and to retreat over the Delaware encumbered by floating ice, difficult and dangerous. To fight was to lose all the benefits of the late victories, upon the spirits
, as well as upon the fortunes, of the Americans; and a retreat, besides the peril, was little less disheartening. With his usual sagacityand boldness, he struck out another extraordinary scheme, which was accomplished with consummate skill, and followed by the happiest results. It
I was determined in council silently to quit their present posi.
tion, and by a circuitous route to gain the enemy's rear at Princeton, and thus assume vigorous offensive operations, at the enemy's weakest point. Both armies were crowded within the village of Trenton, separated only by a narrow creek, and the British were sanguine that the whole American army was in their power beyond escape.
As soon as night fell, Washington's measures were silently and swiftly taken. The fires were renewed and ordered to be diligently kept up through the night. Guards were posted at the bridge and passes, and ordered to go their rounds; the baggage was removed to Burlington; and about one o'clock in the morning, the whole army, unperceived, took up their line of march for the enemy's rear.
By one of those fortunate events, upon which the success of the best laid plans frequently depends, a sudden and favorable change in the weather took place in the night. The wind veered unexpectedly to the north-west, and the roads, that had been almost impassable with mud, and broken up by rains and thaws, were frozen so hard that the artillery was conveyed as easily as upon a solid pavement, and the troops marched with swiftness and comfort. In the morning the British general found himself out-maneuvred; and instead of arming for an easy victory, was forced to break up his camp and retreat towards Princeton, to save his stores from capture.
The whole army of Washington approached Princeton about daybreak. Near the town they encountered three regiments under Colonel Mawhood, forming the Jan. 3d, British advance, who were marching to join 1777. Cornwallis at Trenton. General Mercer, with the Phil. adelphia militia, engaged them; but being charged with bayonets, they gave way, and General Mercer was mortally wounded. The moment was critical, and the destruction of the enterprise, with all the hopes of the army, imminent, when Washington rallied the troops in person, dashing into the open space between the armies, and exposing himself to the fire of both sides, fortunately without receiving a wound. The enemy were soon routed, a considerable sumber fell, but the colonel, with great bravery, cut his way with a few followers through the surrounding battalions, and escaped towards Pennington. The rear, which had not been engaged, saved themselves and retreated to Brunswick.