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From the painting by G. H. Houghton.






Edited by EDWIN WILEY, M.A., Ph.D.


of the Library of Congress and




i ii -iiifti i finii



A'- '


i< 1928 i-


American Educational Alliance



The Revolutionary Era, 1 764 — 1 783


16. The Northern Campaigns; Foreign Relations and Finances (Part 2)

17. The Southern Campaign and the Establishment of Independence (Part 1)

The United States

chapter xv.


Washington's letter to Congress regarding army affairs — Washington appointed dictator — He determines to
strike an effective blow at the British — Captures the Hessians under Rail at Trenton — Consternation
of the British — Cornwallis attacks Washington — The battle of Princeton — American troops overrun
Jersey — Americans take advantage of Howe's proclamation — Washington's counter proclamation — Excesses
and barbarities of both armies — Howe's treatment of prisoners — Washington's protests — Army is inocu-
lated — Heath attempts to capture Fort Independence — British depredations at Peekskill and in Connecti-
cut — Attack on Sag Harbor — Capture of General Prescott.

had a greater choice of difficulties to contend
with than I have. It is needless to add, that short
enlistments, and a mistaken dependence upon
militia, have tieen the origin of all nur misfor-
tunes, and the great accumulation of our debt. We
find. Sir, that the enemy are daily gathering
strength from the disaffected. This strength, like
a snowball, by rolling, will increase, unless some
means can be devised to check effectually the
progress of the enemy's arms. Militia may pos-
sibly do it for a little while ; but in a little while,
also, and the militia of those States, which have
been frequently called upon, will not turn out at
all; or. if they do, it will be with so much reluct-
ance and sloth, as to amount to the same thing.
Instance New Jersey! Witness Pennsylvania!
Could any thing but the river Delaware have
saved Philadelphia? Can any thing (the exigency
of the case may indeed justify it), be more de-
structive to the recruiting service than giving ten
dollars' bounty for six weeks' service of the
militia, who come in, you cannot tell how, go,
you cannot tell when, and act, you cannot tell
where, consume your provisions, exhaust your
stores, and leave you at a critical moment? These,
Sir, are the men I am to depend upon ten days
hence ; this is the basis on which your cause will
and must forever depend, till you get a large
standing army sufficient of itself to oppose the
enemy." *

He said also that the 88 battalions,
which had already been ordered by

* Sparks, Life of Washington, pp. 206-207.

It will be remembered tbat when the
British army approached Philadel-
phia, Congress had considered it pru-
dent to retire to Baltimore. Despite
the success of the British, Congress
still manifested unshaken faith in the
ultimate outcome and resolved upon
active measures in behalf of the cause
of liberty. One of the most important
steps upon which they decided would
probably never have taken place, had
not Washington been in command of
the army. Washington was well
aware that the numerous reverses ex-
perienced by the Continental army had
taught Congress that greater vigor
and efficiency must be infused into the
military system, or otherwise the
colonial cause must be hopeless. On
December 20, therefore, he addressed
a letter to the President of Congress
in which he urged that his views be
adopted. He said:

" My feelings as an officer and a man have been
such as to force me to say, that no person ever


Congress, were insufficient to carry on
the war, and urged that the army be
greatly augmented. He concluded his
letter in the following terms:

" It may be thought that I am. going a good
deal out of the line of my duty, to adopt these
measures, or to advise thu9 freely. A character
to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable bless-
ings of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must
be my excuse." *

This letter deeply impressed the
members of Congress, and they
promptly met the emergency. On De-
cember 27 it was resolved that un-
limited powers be placed in "Washing-
ton 's hands. Declaring that ' ' the un-
just, but determined purpose of the
British court to enslave these free
states, obvious through every insinua-
tion to the contrary, having placed
tilings in such a situation, that the
very existence of civil liberty, now de-
pends on the right exercise of military
powers ; and the vigorous and decisive
conduct of these being impossible to
distant, numerous, and deliberate
bodies," Congress passed the follow-
ing resolution :f

" That General Washington shall be, and he is
hereby, vested with full, ample, and complete
powers to raise and collect together, in the most
speedy and effectual manner, from any and all of
these United States, sixteen battalions of infantry,
in addition to those already voted by Congress;
to appoint officers for the said* battalions of

* Sparks' ed. of Washington's Writings, vol. iv.,
p. 232; Hid, Life of Washington, p. 207; Lodge,
George Washington, vol. i., p. 174.

f Journals of Congress, vol. ii., p. 475. This
resolution was adopted December 27 before Con-
gress had heard of the battle of Trenton, which
occurred on the 25th. — Stryker, Buttles of Tren-
ton and Princeton, pp. 243-244 ; Force, American
Archives, 5th series, vol. iii., p. 1613.

infantry; to raise, officer, and equip three thou-
sand light horse, three regiments of artillery, and
a corps of engineers, and to establish their pay;
to app-ly to any of the states for such aid of the
militia, as he shall judge necessary; to form such
magazines of provisions, and in such places as he
shall think proper ; to displace and appoint all
officers under the rank of brigadier-general, and
to fill all vacancies in every other department of
the American armies; to take, wherever he may
be, whatever he may want for the use of the army,
if the inhabitants will not sell it, allowing a rea-
sonable price for the same; to arrest and confine
persons who refuse to take the continental cur-
rency, or are any otherwise disaffected to the
American cause ; and return to the states, of which
they are citizens, their names and the nature of
their offences, together with the witnesses to prove
them." *

These powers were entrusted to
Washington for a period of six
months, unless Congress should re-
voke them prior to that time. When
acknowledging these resolves, Wash-
ington assured Congress that he
would employ his best endeavors to
properly direct the powers which had
been bestowed upon him, and to ad-
vance those objects and those only,
which had given rise to so honorable
a distinction. He said:

" If my exertions should not be attended with
the desired success, I trust the failure will be
imputed to the true cause — the peculiarly dis-
tressed situation of our affairs, and the difficulties
I have to combat, — rather than to a want of zeal
for my country, and the closest attention to her
interests, to promote which has ever been my
study." t

At this time, the condition of affairs
was extremely alarming, and it was of
great importance that some blow

* See also Carrington, Battles of the Revolution,
p. 280 ; Lossing, Field-Book of the Revolution, vol.
ii., pp. 24-25.

t Sparks' ed. of Washington's Writings, vol. iv.,
pp. 252, 552.


should be struck to revive the spirit of
the country, which had been greatly-
depressed because of the retreat
through Jersey. When Washington
crossed the Delaware, winter was fast
approaching, and the British general
had not planned to carry on military
operations during the winter. The
British had constantly driven the
Americans before them without loss
on their part, and it was now confi-
dently expected that it would be possi-
ble to completely annihilate the Ameri-
can army by a short and decisive cam-
paign in the spring. Consequently,
fearing little from the feeble Ameri-
can army, Howe cantoned his troops
rather with the view to the conven-
ient resumption of their march in the
spring than with any regard to secur-
ing their present safety. He had not
the slightest apprehension that an at-
tack would be made, and established
his posts with little regard as to
whether they would be able to render
mutual support to each other.

A body of about 1,500 Hessians had
been stationed at Trenton under Col-
onel Rail,* and 2,000 at Bordentown,
further down the river, under Count
Donop, while the remainder of the
army was scattered over the country
between the Hackensack and the Dela-
ware, f Because of his overpowering

force, Howe had no reason to suspect
that the Americans would make an at-
tack, and the idea that Washington
would undertake any offensive meas-
ures never entered Howe's mind.*
Washington, however, determined to
anticipate Howe's movements and to
strike a blow which would demonstrate
to the enemy that the strictest military
discipline must be maintained, if
Howe wished to retain his army intact.
He also wished to show that the cause
of independence was by no means
hopeless. t In pursuance of his plan,
Washington formed his army into
three divisions, and, accompanied by
Greene, Sullivan, and Henry Knox
with the artillery, he proposed to
cross the Delaware at McConkey's
Ferry, nine miles above Trenton, and
fall upon the Hessians stationed at
that town. A second division under
General James E wing J was to cross at
Trenton ferry and cut off the enemy's

* This is also spelled Rohl, Roll, Ralle, Rhalle,
Rhal, Rawle, but Rail is undoubtedly correct.
See the notes in Carrington, Battles of the Revolu-
tion, p. 277; Lossing, Field-Book of the Revolu-
tion, vol. ii., p. 20.

t Lowell, Hessians in the Revolution, p. 87. On
the measures taken to defend themselves, see Tre-

velyan, American Revolution, vol. iii., p. 55 et

* According to the journals of two Hessian
lieutenants, there was more bustle than business
at Trenton. The men were put through all sorts
of maneuvers, apparently without cause or pur-
pose. These officers state that Rail was a boon
companion, kept late hours at night and slept
until late in the morning, having little respect
for his military duties. See Irving, Life of Wash-
ington, vol. ii., p. 504 et seq.

t See the letter quoted in Carrington, Battles of
the Revolution, pp. 267-268; and the instructions
in Brooks, Life of Knox, p. 78.

t The name of this officer is spelled differently
by several writers. Marshall and Lossing spell it
Irvine; Washington himself gives it as Ewing;
Wilkinson has it Irvin ; Botta, Irwin; and Gordon,
Erwing. Washington certainly ought to have
known the proper spelling of the names of his
generals, and we have followed him.


retreat on the bridge over the Assan-
pink. The other division, under Gen-
eral John Cadwalader, was to cross
the river lower down, from Bristol
over to Burlington.* The only un-
fortunate part of the whole affair was
that Washington's plan was not exe-
cuted as he proposed, for, had it been
carried out in all its details, the whole
line of British cantonments would un-
doubtedly have been captured. Wash-
ington selected Christmas Eve as the
time for the attack, under the belief
that the British troops would be more
than ordinarily given up to festivity
and indulgence, and consequently
would be more or less off their guard.
The night proved to be intensely cold ;
the river was filled with masses of
floating ice; the current was strong
and the wind was keen and sharp.
The encumbered state of the river pre-
vented the passage of Washington's
division until long after midnight, and
it was not until four o'clock that the
whole body was in marching order on
the opposite side of the river. A
heavy fog had also arisen, the road
was rendered slippery by a frosty
mist, and to further add to their dis-
comfort, the whole march was con-
ducted through a heavy storm of snow
and hail.f Because of the delay in
transporting the troops over the river,
it would be daylight before the troops
could reach Trenton, and consequently

•Johnston, Campaign of 177G, pp. 2S9-290;
Stryker, Battles of Trenton and Princeton, pp. 81-
82, 113, 344-347.

t Brooks, Life of Knox, p. 79.

a surprise of the Hessians at that
place was impossible. There was now
no alternative but to proceed accord-
ing to the plan.* Accompanied by
Generals Stirling, Greene, Hugh Mer-
cer, and Adam Stephen, Washington
proceeded by the upper road, while
Sullivan took the lower.f About 8
o'clock in the morning, the pickets of
the enemy were encountered. The lat-
ter opened a brisk fire on the Ameri-
cans from behind the houses, and
gradually fell back upon the town
where they aroused their sleeping
comrades. But the Americans fol-
lowed the pickets so closely that be-
fore the Hessians could offer any
effectual resistance, a battery had
been opened up at the end of the main
street of the town. Upon being called
to arms, the Hessians attempted to
form a battery in King Street, but
William Washington and James
Monroe (afterward President), with
a small party, drove the artillery men
from their post and captured the two

Washington was now in a critical
position, for the intended attack had
been made known to Grant at Prince-
ton and the latter had warned Rail to
be on guard ;| | accordingly, Rail was
on the alert. About dusk on the 24th,
a party of Americans had fired on the

* Fisher, Struggle for American Independence,
vol. i., pp. 559-500; Trevelyan, American Revolu-
tion, vol. iii., pp. 99-101.

t Lossing, Field-Book of the Revolution, vol. ii..
p. 20.

% Hid, pp. 20-21.

|| Trevelyan, p. 102; Irving, Life of Washington,
vol. ii., p. 514.



T1L»«* '■•V-~ • ATlOWg


picket, but were soon driven off.* As
no further attack seemed imminent,
Rail supposed that the attempt on the
post had been abandoned, and, as the
night was cold and stormy, allowed his
troops to retire to quarters and lay
aside their arms. Rail was very
much mistaken in his surmise, how-
ever, for at this very moment Wash-
ington was crossing the Delaware. f
By many it is said that Rail spent the
night prior to the attack in a disgrace-
ful carouse, and that even when the at-
tack began he was still at the card
table. When aroused by the roll of
the American drums and the sound of
the musketry, he hurried to his quar-
ters, mounted his horse, and in a few
moments was at the head of the troops,
vainly endeavoring to atone for his
fatal neglect by making as effectual
a resistance as was possible under the
circumstances. His attempt to rally
the Hessians was cut short, however,
when he was mortally wounded and
carried to his quarters in a dying con-
dition. All order was now at an end,
and, bewildered and panic-stricken,
the Hessians gave way and endeav-
ored to make good their retreat by
the road to Princeton. They were cut
off, however, by a body of American
troops which had been placed there
for that special purpose, and about
1,000 men surrendered. Washington

* Gordon (vol. ii.. p. 153) states that Captain
William Washington was in command of a scout-
ing party of about 50 soldiers, and performed this
exploit without being aware of the advancing force
under the commander-in-chief. See also Trevelyan,
].. 103.

t Lowell, Eessians in the Revolution, pp. 90-91.

also captured six cannon, about 1,000
stand of arms, and several colors.*
Upon the termination of the battle,
Washington, accompanied by Greene,
visited the dying Hessian soldier and
expressed his sympathy for Rail, even
though he was engaged in an entirely
opposite, cause.t

Meanwhile, the divisions under
Ewing and Cadwalader had been un-
able to cross the river according to
the plan, because of the ice floes,
and for the same reason it was
impossible to land the artillery 4
Had the operations of these two
divisions been successful, undoubt-
edly the party of light horse that fled
from Trenton would have been inter-
cepted and captured, and Cadwalader
would also have been able to do good
service at Burlington. As it was,
however, these divisions were of little
service to Washington. In this at-
tack upon Trenton, the Americans
lost only four or five men, while the
Hessians lost, in addition to prison-
ers, 22 killed and 84 wounded. |[ Two
of the Americans reported as lost
were frozen to death. On the night of
December 26, Washington recrossed

* See Stryker, Battles of Trenton and Princeton,
pp. 21S-220; Lowell. Hessians in the Revolution,
pp. 92 99; Bancroft, vol. v., pp. 89-99; Thacher,
Military Journal, pp. 70-71; Carrington, Battles
of the Revolution, pp. 270-275; Stedman, Ameri-
can War, vol. i., pp. 230-234 ; Hildreth, vol. iii..
pp. 106—1(57 ; Trevelyan. American Revolution, vol.
iii.. pp. 104-124; Brooks, Life of Knox, pp. S0-S1.

f Irving, Life of Washington, vol. ii., pp. 522-

t See Cadwalader's letter to Washington in
Sparks, Correspondence of the Revolution, vol. i..
pp. 309-310; Sparks, Life of Washington, p. 213.

|| Stryker, pp. 194-195.


the Delaware with his prisoners and failed in several parts of his enter-
the artillery, arms, etc., which he had prise, the success of the division
captured.* While Washington had under his own personal direction had


j-an. a-* r irrfi.


■ a most heneficial effect upon the minds

* Sparks' ed. of Washington's Writings, vol. iv., Q f fl ie Americans ; and the Hessians,

pp. 24fi-248; F. V. Greene, Life of Greene, p. 63; n , , .,,

Brooks, Life of Knox, P . 82. the very mention of whom had hith-


erto inspired the people with fear,
now ceased to be terrible. The pris-
oners were paraded through the
streets of Philadelphia, whore Put-
nam was now in command, to prove
that the victory was a reality, as the
British had denied that such an event
had occurred.* The hopes of the
Americans were considerably re-
vived, because they had now clearly
proven that the British were not in-
vincible, and they became more firm
in their belief that perseverance and
courage would finally result in suc-
cess.t The British also discovered
that they had to deal with a com-
mander who was not only daring, but
at the same time cautious and pru-
dent; who, while he was prepared to
retreat, was also ever ready to take
advantage of the least oversight on
their part, in order to convert defeat
into victory.

While General Cadwalader had been
unable to make the passage of the
Delaware at the appointed hour, yet
on the 27th, believing that Washington
was still on the Jersey shore, he
crossed the Delaware with about 1,500
men, two miles above Bristol, and
though ho had been informed that
Washington had again passed into
Pennsylvania, he proceeded to Bur-
lington and then marched to Borden-

* Stryker, Battles of Trenton and Princeton,
213-214; Lowell, Hessians in the Revolution, pp.
102-106; Force, American Archives, 5th series,
vol. iii., pp. 1429, 1441-1448; Livingston, Life of
Putnam, pp. 335-336; Irving, Life of Washington,
vol. ii., pp. 525-528.

t Trevelj-an, American Revolution, vol. iii., pp.

town, all the while driving the enemy
before him as he advanced.* Large
numbers of the militia in Pennsyl-
vania now joined the army under
Washington,! and on the 29th, he again
crossed the Delaware and marched to
Trenton, where early in January,
1777, he was able to gather together a
force of 5,000 men.

Becoming alarmed at the success of
the Americans, the British determined
to offset these recent successes by in-
flicting a crushing blow. General
Grant marched to Princeton with a
strong detachment, and Lord Corn-
wallis, who at that time was on the
point of sailing for England, was
ordered to resume his command in the
Jerseys, t Cornwallis and Grant
joined forces and then pressed for-
ward to Trenton. On their approach,
Washington crossed the Assanpink
and took post on some high ground
with a rivulet in his front. II On Jan-

* Carrington, Battles of the Revolution, p. 276;
Stryker, Battles of Trenton and Princeton, p. 218;
Cadwalader's letter to Washington in Sparks, Cor-
respondence of the Revolution, vol. i., pp. 313-314.

t Ford's edition of Washington's Writings, vol.
v., pp. 136, 137, 141.

t Fiske, American Revolution, vol. i., p. 231.

|| Marshall, speaking of the importance to Wash-
ington of obtaining secret intelligence of the plans
of Cornwallis, states that at that critical moment
Mr. Robert Morris raised on his private credit in
Philadelphia £500' in specie, which he transmitted
to the commander-in-chief, who employed it in
securing information not otherwise to be obtained.
— Life of Washington, vol. i., p. 130. Oberholtzer
says that the sum consisted of 410 Spanish dollars,
2 English crowns, a French half-crown, and lOMs
English shillings. — Life of Robert Morris, p. 30.
Morris also sent him $50,000 which he had raised
on his own credit from friends in Philadelphia, so
that Washington could pay the soldiers a bounty
to re-enlist. See Stryker, p. 256; Oberholtzer,



uary 2 the British troops advanced
against Washington's forces, and a
cannonade was maintained until far
into the night ;* but though Corwallis
was urged by some of his officers to
make an immediate attack, he con-
cluded to wait until the next morning
when he thought that it would be still
more easy to secure a victory over the
American forces. "At last," said lie
" we have run down the old fox, and
we will bag him in the morning. ' ' t

Washington was now in a critical
situation, for if he awaited the attack
he would surely be crushed by a
superior force, while, on the other
hand, to attempt to escape by cross-
ing the Delaware would be even more
hazardous. He therefore called a'
council of war, at which it was sug-
gested that he take his troops around
the British army and strike them sud-
denly upon the rear, fall upon their
magazines at Brunswick and carry the
war again from the neighborhood of
Philadelphia into the mountainous
interior of Jersey. This plan was
adopted and no time was lost in put-
ting it into operation.! Sending the

Life of Robert Morris, pp. 30-32; Force, Ameri-
can Arc-hives, 5th series, vol. iii., p. 1514; Henry
Simpson, The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians. p.
705. See also Morris' letter to Washington, in
Sparks, Correspondence of the Revolution, vol. i.,
pp. 316-317.

* Carrington, Battles of the Revolution, pp. 2S4-
286; Knox's letter of January 7 to his wife, in
Brooks, Life of Knox, pp. 83-84.

f Fiske, American Revolution, vol. i., p. 232.
See also Trevelyan, American Revolution, vol. iii.,
pp. 130-132; F. V. Greene, Life of Greene, p. 64.

% General St. Clair is supposed to have been the
author of this plan. See Wilkinson's Memoirs,
vol. i., p. 140; Stryker, Battles of Trenton and

superfluous baggage clown the river to
Burlington, keeping the watch fires
lighted, maintaining a strict patrol,
and also working upon new entrench-
ments so as to deceive the enemy,
Washington's army silently aban-
doned the camp about midnight and
marched off by a circuitous route
through Allentown toward Prince-

While it was the most inclement
season of the year, the Americans
were greatly favored by the weather.
For two days it had been warm and
foggy, which rendered the roads
almost impassable; but at about the
time the march was begun, the wind
suddenly shifted and a heavy frost
set in, leaving the roads solid and easy
of passage.f Greatly encouraged by
this turn of affairs, the American
army marched forward with high
spirits. At Princeton, Cornwallis
had left three regiments, under Colo-
nel Charles Mawhood, with orders to

Online LibraryEdwin WileyLectures on the growth and development of the United States; (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 34)