Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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delphia ?"

With no confidence in a militia, "who
come in you can not tell how, go you can
not tell when, and act you can not tell
where, consume your provisions, exhaust
your stores, and leave you at last at a
critical moment," Washington ventures to
advise the establishment of" a large stand
ing army sufficient of itself to oppose the
enemy." Not less than a hundred and
ten battalions, he declares, should at once

be raised, as the eighty-eight proposed by
Congress are by no means equal to the
opposition that must be made. "It is
not a time," says he, " to stand upon ex
pense." Emboldened by the necessities
of the occasion, Washington declares he
shall encourage those officers who offer to
raise men upon continental pay and es
tablishment, and "regiment them when
they have done it." His scrupulous sense
of his responsibility to the state, however,
here again shows itself in these remark
able words : " If Congress disapprove of
this proceeding, they will please to signi
fy it, as I mean it for the best. It may
be thought I am going a good deal out
of the line of my duty, to adopt these
measures, or to advise thus freely. A
character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the
inestimable blessings of liberty at stake,
and a life devoted, must be my excuse."

"What a wretched spectacle did our
troops present in retreating through the
Jerseys !" exclaims an American officer,
"without cavalry; but partially provided
with artillery ; deficient in transport foi
the little we had to carry ; without tents
tools, or camp-equipage ; without maga
zines of any kind ; half clothed ; badly
armed ; debilitated by disease, disheart
ened by misfortunes, and worn out with
fatigues." The very steps of the soldiers
during that toilsome retreat could be
traced upon the snow by stains of the
blood which had dropped from their na
ked feet !

Crippled and exhausted as the army
was, Washington could not make a show
of offensive operations, and resorted to
the only means in his power of saving




Philadelphia, which Congress had resolved
should be defended to the last extremity.
He did what he could to prevent the Brit
ish from crossing the Delaware. For thir
ty miles along the western bank of that
river (from Dunk s ferry, below Trenton,
to Cory ell s ferry above), at the ferries
and fords, he distributed his force into
patrolling-parties and stationary guards.
The craft on the Delaware were secured,
and the larger vessels formed into a chain
of guard-ships. With the advantage of
after-sight, which is the privilege of his
torians, we now discover that the enemy s
design was not to march upon Philadel
phia. General Lee s conjecture was cor
rect. Sir William Howe did not intend
to cross the Delaware during that win
ter s campaign. The British general, as
appears from his despatch, was satisfied
with establishing himself in New Jersey,
and thus securing shelter, forage, and pro
visions, for his army, till the spring should
open, and reinforcements arrive for car
rying out other and more extensive de

Washington s army, reinforced by the
division of Lee, the regiments from the
northern army under Gates, and the mi
litia from Pennsylvania, drawn out by the
spirited exertions of the ever-active Mif-
flin, now numbered nearly six thousand

effective men. With this addi-
Dect 22i

tion to his force, the commander-

in-chief resolved upon commencing offen
sive operations. How far he was actu
ated in this determination by a letter re
ceived from the adjutant-general, Colonel
Reed, it is difficult to decide. It detracts
nothing from the character of Washington

to concede that he acted from the sug
gestions of those in whose capacity and
character he trusted. One of the most
striking characteristics of the great man
was the readiness with which he adopted
any measure, come from what source it
might, which be believed to be conducive
to the welfare of the great cause in.which
he was engaged. No obstinate self-esteem
ever interrupted the course of his gener
ous love of country.

Reed was at the time with Colonel Cad-
wallader and a body of Pennsylvania mi
litia, stationed at Bristol, when

Dec* 22

he wrote this letter to Washing
ton : " If we could possess ourselves again
of New Jersey, or any considerable part,
the effect would be greater than if we
had not left it. Allow me to hope that
you will consult your own good judg
ment and spirit, and let not the goodness
of your heart subject you to the influence
of the opinions of men in every respect
your inferiors. Something must be at
tempted before the sixty days expire
which the commissioners have allowed ;
for, however many may affect to despise
it, it is evident a very serious attention
is paid to it : and I am confident that, un
less some more favorable appearance at
tends our arms and cause before that
time, a very great number of the militia-
officers here will follow the example of
Jersey, and take benefit from it. Our
cause is desperate and hopeless if we do
not strike some stroke. Our affairs are
hastening apace to ruin, if we do not re
trieve them by some happy event. De
lay with us is near equal to a total de
feat. We must not suffer ourselves to




Dec. 23.

be lulled into security and inactivity, be
cause the enemy does not cross the river.
The love of my country, a wife and four
children in the enemy s hands, the respect
and attachment I have to you, the ruin
and poverty that must attend me and
thousands of others, will plead my excuse
for so much freedom."

Washington, influenced or not by this
outspoken letter, had so far carried out
his purpose of offensive operations as to
appoint the time for an attack ; for he
writes to Reed that " Christmas-
day, at night, one hour before
day, is the time fixed upon for our at
tempt at Trenton. For Heaven s sake,
keep this to yourself, as the discovery of
it may prove fatal to us our numbers,
sorry am I to say, being less than I had
any conception of; but necessity, dire ne
cessity, will, nay must, justify an attack.
I have ordered our men to be pro
vided with three days provisions, ready
cooked, with which and their blankets
they are to march ; for if we are success
ful, which Heaven grant, and the circum
stances favor, we may push on."

Washington at this moment naturally
expected the cordial co-operation of Gen
eral Gates, but that officer unfortunately
was " unwell, and had applied for leave
to go to Philadelphia." He was, however,
desired by his superior, "if his health
would permit him," to call and stay two
or three days at Bristol, on his way, to
give his aid in settling some probable dis
putes about rank; for "the colonels of
the continental regiments," says Wash
ington, " might kick up some dust about
command." But Gates was not then in

the humor to co-operate with the com-
mander-in-chief. He had probably aims
of his own, which he was more anxious
to direct, than to aid in furthering those
of Washington and of the country. Ma
jor Wilkinson rode with Gates to Phila
delphia. They set out together on the
24th of December. On the road the gen
eral appeared much depressed in mind,
and frequently expressed the opinion that
while General Washington was watching
the enemy above Trenton, they would
privately construct batteaux, cross the
Delaware in his rear, and take possession
of Philadelphia, before he was aware of
the movement ; and that, instead of vain
ly attempting to stop Sir William Howe
at the Delaware, General Washington
ought to retire to the south of the Sus-
quehanna river, and there form an army
Gates, moreover, declared that it was his
intention to proceed to Baltimore, and
there lay this plan before Congress. Wil
kinson was entreated to accompany him,
but refused. At night, Gates wrote a let
ter to Washington, with which he charged
Wilkinson, who then took leave of him,
and prepared to return to the army.

"I was on horseback early the next
morning (Christmas-day)," says Wilkin
son, " and reached Newtown about two
o clock. On my arrival there I discov
ered, to my surprise, that General Wash
ington had transferred his quarters to
that place, and had himself marched with
the troops in that neighborhood. From
Colonel Harrison, the general s secretary,
who had been left in charge of his papers,
I received the necessary directions, and
proceeded in quest of the troops, whose



[PART n.

route was easily traced, as there was a
little snow on the ground, which was
tinged here and there with blood, from
the feet of the men who wore broken

" I got up with my brigade near M Con-
key s ferry about dusk and, inquiring for
the commander-in-chief, was directed to
his quarters. T found him alone, with his
whip in his t *-ad, prepared to mount his
horse, which I perceived as I entered.
When I presented the letter of General
Gates to him, before receiving it, he ex
claimed, with solemnity

" What a time is this to hand me let

" I answered that I had been charged
with it by General Gates.

( By General Gates ! Where is he ?

" 1 1 left him this morning in Philadel

" What was he doing there ?

" I understood him that he was on his
way to Congress.

"Washington then earnestly repeat
ed -

" On his way to Congress ! on his way
to Congress! " and broke the seal ; where
upon Wilkinson made his bow, took his
leave, and, joining his brigade, prepared
to bear his part in the eventful enterprise
of that stormy Christmas-night.


The British Troops in New Jersey. Their Confidence in Themselves, and Contempt of their Enemy. Colonel Rahl at
Tronton. His Military Character. Daring and reckless. A Warning unheeded. A Christmas-Dinner. A Hand at
Cards. Another Warning disregarded. The Approach of Washington. Disposition of his Force. Crossing of the
Delaware. The Storm. Squibbing. The Advance and Charge. The Attack on the Hessians at Princeton. Per
sonal Exposure of Washington. The Assault led by Stark. The Enemy driven from the Town. The Brave Rahl.
He rallies and returns to the Charge. He falls. Flight of his Hessians. They are overtaken and surrounded.
Their Surrender. The Loss on Both Sides. The March of Cadwallader. Its Delays and Failure. Reinforcement
from Putnam at Philadelphia. Count Donop left in the Lurch. The Dyinf ^iahJ visited and consoled by Washing
ton. No Pursuit. Washington recrosses the Delaware.

THE British troops in New Jersey
w r ere stretched in a line of canton
ments across from Brunswick to the river
Delaware, and along its banks to Burling
ton. The main body was at Brunswick,
and the rest were so widely scattered as
to leave but small forces at the various
other posts. Confident in the possession
of the country, and despising the meager
and ill-conditioned army of Washington,
Lord Corn wall is believed himself so se

cure, that ne was no longer vigilant. He
himself, in fact, had requested leave of
absence, and had gone to New York, to
prepare to embark for England. His
sense of security was shared by the offi
cers and the army which he left behind,
and none doubted their immunity from

Trenton was held by Colonel Rahl with
three regiments of Hessians (those of An-
spach, Knyphausen, and Rahl), number



ing fifteen hundred men, and a troop of
British light-horse. Rahl was a brave and
active executive officer, but careless of
danger even to recklessness. He was a
bustling disciplinarian, and was ever har
assing his men by his minute attention
to the formalities of dress and parade.
He was, however, no tactician, and could
neither foresee danger nor provide against
it. He had, moreover, a great contempt
for his enemy ; and when it was suggest
ed that an assault was possible, and that
he should fortify his position, he made a
jest of it, exclaiming, " Works ! pooh !
pooh! An assault by the rebels? Let
them come : we ll at them with the bay
onet !"* He had given proofs of his dash
ing qualities as a spirited officer in the
attack on the lines at Fort Washington,
and was placed in command at Trenton
as a compliment to his bravery. Notwith
standing his general want of forecaste, he
is said to have been aroused to a tempo
rary apprehension for the security of his
frontier post, and to have applied for a
reinforcement from General Grant, who
replied : " Tell the colonel he is very safe.
I will undertake to keep the peace in New
Jersey with a corporal s guard." He was
soon lulled into his habitual confidence,
which remained undisturbed, although he
was warned that the Americans threat
ened an attack.

On the afternoon of Christmas-day the
whole garrison was suddenly aroused to
arms by a firing at one of the outposts.
Colonel Rahl hastened to the point, and
found that a picket-guard had been fired
upon, and six men wounded. The ene-

* Irving.

my, however, had retired. So the colonel,
thinking all was over, hurried back to his
dinner and his bottle, to which he was de
votedly attached. It was Christmas, and
of course a high festival with the German
soldiers. Rahl himself was a guest on the
occasion, at the house of one Abraham
Hunt,* who was a trader, and made no
nice distinctions between whigs and to-
ries, provided they were his customers.
The Christmas-dinner was eaten, the wine
circulated freely, and finally cards were
proposed. The convivial colonel was as
fond of play as of his bottle, and soon be
came deeply absorbed in both. Thus the
afternoon and night passed gayly. " Just
at dawn a messenger came in haste with
a note to Colonel Rahl, sent by a tory on
the Pennington road, who had discovered
the approach of the Americans." There
was a negro-servant at the door, and he
refused admittance to the messenger, tel
ling him that " the gemihen can t be dis
turbed." The bearer of the note, howev
er, aware of its pressing importance, in
sisted upon the negro carrying it in. He
did as he was bidden, and handed it to
Rahl. The hilarious colonel carelessly
thrust the note into his pocket without
reading it, and continued his game. The
men, like their master, were revelling,
and forgetting all sense of danger and
duty in drunken frolic.

Washington had chosen this night of
Christmas for his attack with the expec
tation that his Hessian enemy, thus yield
ing to the festivities of the day, would be
more exposed to a surprise. His plan
was, to cross the Delaware with three di-

* Lossin<r.



[PART u.

Dec, 25,

visions of his army. One, under Cadwal-
lader and Reed, was to pass the river at
Bristol ; another, under Evving, at the fer
ry a little below Trenton ; and the main
body, consisting of twenty-five hundred
men, Washington proposed to lead him
self (in conjunction with Sullivan, Stir
ling, Greene, and Colonel Knox of the
artillery) across M Conkey s ferry, nine
miles above Trenton. The British posts
at Mount Holly, Burlington, Black Horse,
and Bordentown, were the points of at
tack set down for the first two divisions.
Trenton itself was reserved for the com-

Boats having been got in readiness,
Washington ordered the troops to be pa
raded early in the evening "back
of M Conkey s ferry," and began
to embark them as soon as it grew dark.
He hoped to be able to throw them all
over, with the artillery, by midnight, and
thus arrive at Trenton by five o clock in
the morning, the distance from the point
of landing on the opposite side being
about nine miles. The darkness of the
night, however ; the frost, by which ice
was rapidly made ; the severity of the
cold, so great that two or three men froze
to death; and the force of the current,
rendered still more violent by a high
wind, impeded the passage of the boats
so much, that it was three o clock before
all the artillery could be got over, and
nearly four when the troops took up their
line of march. Washington, thus delayed,
despaired of surprising the town, as he
knew that he could not reach it before
the day had fairly broken. He deter-

*/ */

mined, nevertheless, to push on, as he

could not retire without being discovered,
and harassed while recrossing the river.

On landing, Washington formed his de
tachment in two divisions. One, under
the command of Sullivan, was ordered to
march by the lower or river road, and
enter Trenton to the south. The other,
Washington was to lead himself by a cir
cuitous route to the Pennington road, and
thus into the town at the north. In or
der that the two divisions might be ready
to attack simultaneously, the general-in-
chief, as he had a circuit to make, ordered
Sullivan to halt for a few minutes at a
cross-road, to give him time to come up.
The final order being issued, that the
troops, having first forced the outguards,
should push directly into the town, and
thus charge the enemy before they had
time to form, each division took up its

When the division on the lower road
halted, in accordance with Washington s
order, it was discovered that the snow
storm which was beating violently in the
soldiers faces, had so wetted the best-
secured arms, that they were not in firing
condition. The fact was announced to
Sullivan. He cast a look at General St.
Clair, who was at his side, and observed,
" What is to be done ?" " You have noth
ing for it but to push on and charge," was
St. Glair s immediate answer. The march
was then continued, the troops being or
dered to clear their muskets in the best
manner they could as they moved along,
and a great deal of " squibbing" ensued.
In the meantime an officer was sent to
Washington, to inform him of the condi
tion of the arms. He returned for answer




that the soldiers "must advance and

It was now broad day, and both divis
ions having reached the outskirts of the
town at the same moment, their fires
were heard by each other, as they began
their simultaneous attacks upon the ene
my s pickets. As his column approached
the town, Washington kept near the front,
and, coining up with a man chopping
wood by the roadside, he asked, "Which
way is the Hessian picket?" "I don t
know," replied the fellow, with an air and
tone as if he were concealing the truth.
Captain Forrest, who was in command of
the artillery, was on horseback at the side
of the commander-in-chief, and, observing
the reluctance of the man, said, "You
may speak, for that is General Washing
ton." The man was astonished at the
discovery, and raising his hands to heav
en, exclaimed, addressing the general :
"God bless and prosper you, sir! the
picket is in that house, and the sentry
stands near that tree." Captain Wash
ington was immediately ordered to dis
lodge it, which he did with great prompts
ness. The artillery was now unlimbered,
and the column proceeded. As Forrest
opened his battery, Washington kept on
the left, and, advancing with it, directed
the fire. He was thus so much exposed,
that the officers repeatedly entreated him
to fall back ; but he continued on, not
withstanding their solicitude for his safe-


Colonel Stark commanded the advance-
guard of Sullivan s division, and made
quick work with the picket on his side.
Having forced this, he pressed on into

the town, dealing " death wherever he
found resistance, and breaking down all
opposition before him." The whole col
umn followed close at the heels of the
dauntless Stark. The enemy made a mo
mentary show of resistance by a wild and
aimless fire of musketry from the win
dows of the houses in which they were
quartered, but were soon compelled to
abandon their cover as the Americans ad
vanced. A troop of British dragoons,
with about five hundred infantry, took to
flight across the Assumpink, and joined
Count Donop at Bordentown.

Colonel Rahl seemed to have lost all
but his courage in the confusion of the
surprise. He was riding wildly about on
his horse, endeavoring to rally his men.
and crying, " Forward ! march ! advance !
advance !" His troops, thus encouraged
by the presence of their comrnander,made
an attempt to form in the main street.
Captain Forrest, however, opened his bat
tery (with General Washington at his
side, directing the fire) at the head of
King street, and greatly confused the
forming battalions ; while Captain Wil
liam Washington, who, seconded by Lieu
tenant James Monroe (afterward presi
dent), led the advance-guard of General
Washington s column, perceiving that the
Hessians were endeavoring to form a bat
tery in the street, rushed forward, drove
the artillerists from their guns, and took
two pieces just as they were about being
fired. Captain Washington and Lieuten
ant Monroe were both wounded in this
perilous act, the former in his wrist and
the latter in the fleshy part of his shoul
der. This gallant conduct of the advance-




guard was of great service ; for, if the en
emy had been able to serve their artillery
in the narrow street, the Americans might
have been checked.

Colonel Rahl succeeded, by a great ef
fort, in withdrawing his troops from the
town into a field near by. Here he formed
his grenadiers, and, instead of retreating,
as prudence would have suggested, he
recklessly led them on against the town,
now filled by the triumphant soldiers of
his enemy. He madly pushed on, right
in the teeth of the fire of the artillery
sweeping the streets, and the brisk mus
ketry of the American riflemen taking
deliberate and sure aim from the doors
and windows of the houses. At the first
onset, the gallant Rahl was shot from his
horse. His men, seeing their leader fall,
turned by their right along the river As-
sumpink, which runs through the town,
and endeavored to escape to Princeton.
General Washington, observing their pur
pose, instantly threw Colonel Hand with
his riflemen in their way, and ordered the
Virginia troops Tinder Colonels Scott and
Lawson to take them on their left. Thus
hemmed in on every side, the Hessians
halted and formed in order of battle. At
this moment General Washington ordered
the guns of Forrest s battery to be turned
on them, " with a discharge of canister."
" Sir, iliey have struck !" was Forrest s an
swer to the command. " Struck !" replied
the general. " Yes," said Forrest, " their
colors are doivn." " So they are," observed
Washington, and, putting spurs to his
horse, he galloped toward them, followed
by Forrest and his officers. The enemy
having ordered their arms, Washington

summoned them to surrender, when they
at once agreed to do so at discretion.

The wounded Rahl was now borne, by
a file of sergeants, to present his sword
to General Washington. At this moment,
Wilkinson rode up, having been sent for
orders. " On my approach," says he, " the
commander-in-chief took me by the hand
and observed, Major Wilkinson, this is a
glorious day for our country ! his counte
nance beaming with complacency ; while
the unfortunate Rahl, who the day before
would not have changed fortunes with
him, now pale, bleeding, and covered with
blood, in broken accents seemed to im
plore those attentions which the victor
was well disposed to bestow on him."

The whole loss of the Americans was
trifling, amounting in all to lour men
wounded, two killed, and two frozen to
death. The enemy had their command
er, six officers, and four men, killed ; and
surrendered to Washington twenty-three
officers, nearly one thousand non-commis
sioned officers and privates, four stand
of colors, twelve -Irums, six brass field-
pieces, and a thousand stand of arms and
accoutrements. The triumph was great,
and it might have been much greater had
Washington s plan been carried out in all
its details. But General Cadwallader, who
was to have crossed the Delaware at Bris
tol, and Ewing at Trenton ferry, had both
failed him. General Putnam, too, who
had been urged to lend his aid in the af
fair, had been prevented from carrying
out fully the orders of Washington.

Ewing did everything in his power to
cross ; but the quantity of ice in the river
was so great, that he could not possibly




o-et over. Cadwallader was also hindered


by the same difficulty in crossing above
Bristol. He then made an attempt at
Dunk s ferry, below. As soon as it was
dark, he sent down all the boats that he
could, muster, and marched down about

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 54 of 126)