Robert Tomes.

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

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eight o clock. A few men were first em
barked, to line the river, and prevent any
persons from escaping to give intelligence
to the enemy ; next followed a part of
the first battalion of militia, and then two
fieldpieces, with which Cadwallader him
self crossed, in order to see if it was prac
ticable to land them. Upon reaching the
other side, and finding, in consequence
of the thickness of the ice, that it was
impossible to get the guns on shore, he
called together his field-officers, and con
sulted as to whether it would be proper
to march without the artillery. They all
agreed that it would not. In the mean
time, another battalion of troops had suc
ceeded in crossing. They were, however,
all taken back to the Pennsylvania side of
the Delaware, where, in consequence of
the ice and stormy weather, they did not
arrive until four o clock in the morning.
Cadwallader then marched to Bristol. "I
imagine," he said, in writing to Washing
ton, and giving an account of his own un
successful operations, " the badness of the
night must have prevented you from pas
sing over as you intended."

General Putnam had answered Wash
ington s solicitation for aid in the attack
upon Trenton, by a statement that such
was the insubordinate and defective con
dition of the militia, and the threatening
aspect of affairs (foreboding an insurrec
tion) in Philadelphia, that it was impos

sible for him to march in person, or be of
any material aid. At the last moment,
however, he sent off Colonel Griffin, with
a meager detaohment of Pennsylvania mi
litia. This officer reached the Jerseys in
time, but being indisposed himself, and
his troops ill conditioned, he declined to
join in the attack, and wrote to Cadwal
lader at Bristol, that he thought he could
be of more service by diverting Count
Donop at Bordentown,and thus draw him
off from giving his aid to Colonel Rahl at
Trenton. Griffin acted accordingly. He
marched toward Donop s camp sufficient
ly near to be observed, and to provoke
the enemy to come out. He then retired
leisurely, skirmishing here and there, fol
lowed by a large body of the Hessians,
until they reached Mount Holly, when
Griffin rapidly retreated, leaving Donop
in the lurch, who was left to find his way
back to Bordentown.

If all the details of Washington s plan
could have been successfully carried out.
not a man would have escaped from Tren
ton ; and, with the aid of Cadwallader, he
would have been able, as he hoped, to
drive the enemy from all their posts be
low that town. He was well satisfied,
however, with the conduct of those troops
who were with him and won the day. He
pays this tribute to them in his letter to
the president of Congress : " In justice to
the officers and men, I must add that their
behavior upon this occasion reflects the
highest honor upon them. The difficulty
of passing the river in a very severe night,
and their march through a violent storm
of snow and hail, did not in the least abate
their ardor; but when they came to the



charge, each secme 1 to vie with the other
in pressing forward : and were I to give
a preference to any particular corps, I
should do great injustice to the others."

When the wounded Rahl had surren
dered his sword, he was borne to a tavern,
kept by a Quaker of the name of Stacey
Potts. Rahl s wound was mortal, and, as
he was dying, Washington, in company
with General Greene, visited and consoled
him with expressions of sympathy, and
well-deserved praise for his heroic daring.
The Hessian commander was soothed, but
declared that he preferred rather to die
than to outlive his honor.

General Greene and Colonel Knox(the
latter of whom had been made a briga
dier-general the next day by Congress,
without a knowledge of the triumph at

[PART n.

Trenton) were solicitous that Washing
ton should push on and increase the alarm
of the enemy by striking a succession of
immediate blows. The general-in-chief
himself was apparently inclined to this
bold policy, but most of the officers were
against it ; and " his excellency did not
then think he could answer going con
trary to the judgment of the majority of
a council of war."*

Washington, therefore, with inferior
numbers to the enemy posted below, and
with "a strong battalion of light-infantry"
at Princeton above him, thought it most
prudent to return; and accord
ingly, on the evening of his tri
umph, he re crossed the Delaware with
the prisoners and artillery which he had

Dec. 26*


The Americans greatly encouraged by the Triumph at Trenton. Pennsylvania comes more readily to the Rescue. New-
Jersey Whigs more decided. The Tories more vacillating. The Insolence of the Hessians. Conduct of the British
Troops in New Jersey. "Protections." No Rights of Property. Rapine, Ravage, and Rape. New Jersey becomes
more favorable to the Patriots. Cadwallader crosses the Delaware, and marches to Burlington. No Resistance.
"Down with the Red Rags !" Panic of the Enemy. Cadwallader at Bordentown. Washington makes Great Prepa
rations to attack. Sir William Howe aroused. Lord Cornwallis sent to take the Command in New Jersey. Wash
ington without Money. Rol ert Morris called upon. His " Ways and Means." A Friend indeed. Washington
crosses the Delaware. Reed *jnt out to reconnoitre. His Capture of a Foraging-Party. Riding double. Washing
ton s Position on the Assumpink. The Arrival and Position of the Enemy. Washington made Military Dictator.
His Dignified Acceptance of the Trust. The Enemy postpone their Attack. The Americans in Danger. A Chance
of Escape.


THE triumph at Trenton was a
great encouragement to the Ameri
can cause. The troops were so much in
spirited by their success, that all were
more eager for the fight, and some whose
term of service was about expiring were

induced to re-enlist. Influences which be
fore proved unavailing were now brought
to bear with effect. When such as ap
peared determined to go off and return
to their homes were harangued, artfully

* Gordon.




reminded that they would be called cow
ards should they leave, and promised a
bounty of ten dollars each man, more
than half agreed to remain six weeks
longer. The militia more promptly an
swered to the call upon them. Pennsyl
vania was now roused, and General Mif-
ilin was enabled in the course of a few
days to send a reinforcement of upward
of a thousand men to Washington s army.
The vacillating whigs of New Jersey be
came more decided, and no longer feared
to declare and act for the American cause;
while even many of the tories clung less
tenaciously to British interests. The in
solence and violent outrages of the royal
troops, and especially of the Hessians,
had increased the virulence of their origi
nal foes, and even provoked some of their
former friends to hostility.

When the royal army entered the Jer
seys, most of the inhabitants remained in
their houses, and many thousands received
printed " protections," signed by Sir Wil
liam Howe. But these saved their hold
ers neither from insult nor robbery : their
property was taken or destroyed, without
distinction of persons. They might show
their "protections :" the Hessians could
not or would not understand them, and
the English took care to have their share
of the plunder. The officers, both Hes
sian and British, were no less ready to
violate the rights of property than their
soldiers. The carriages of gentlemen " of
the first rank" were seized, their arms de
faced, while the commissioned plunderers
blazoned their own on the panels, and
thus insolently paraded throughout town
and country.


"Discontents and murmurs increased
every hour at the licentious ravages of
the soldiery, both British and foreign, who
were shamefully permitted, with unre
lenting hand, to pillage friend and foe in
the Jerseys. Neither age nor sex was
spared. Indiscriminate ruin attended ev
ery person they met with. Infants, chil
dren, old men and women, were left in
their shirts, without a blanket to cover
them, under the inclemency of winter.
Every kind of furniture was destroyed
and burnt ; windows and doors were bro
ken to pieces : in short, the houses were
left uninhabitable, and the people with
out provisions for every horse, cow, ox,
and fowl, was carried off!

" Horrid depredations and abuses were
committed by that part of the army which
was stationed at or near Penny town. Six
teen young women fled to the woods, to
avoid the brutality of the soldiers, and
were there seized and carried off One
man had the cruel mortification* to have
his wife and only daughter (a child of ten
years of age) ravished. Another girl of
thirteen was taken from her father s
house, carried to a barn about a mile ofi^
there dishonored and abused by five oth
ers. A most respectable gentleman, in
the neighborhood of Woodbridge, was
alarmed with the cries and shrieks of a
most lovely daughter : he found a British
officer in the act of violating her, and in
stantly put him to death. Two other offi
cers rushed in with their fusees, and fired
two balls into the father, who was left
languishing under his wounds."*]"

* Rather a mild term for so heinous a crime !
t Gordon.



[PART n.

Dec, 27,

Exasperated by such enormities, the
people of New Jersey Avere ready, at the
least show of strength on the part of
Washington s army, to rally to his aid.
The commander-in-chief,thus assisted, not
only by reinforcements to his troops, but
by an accession of feeling in his favor, de
termined to cross over into New Jersey
again, and make another demonstration
against the enemy.

General Cadwallader, having heard of
Washington s successful attack upon the
Hessians at Trenton, crossed into Jersey
early the next morning, with fif
teen hundred of the Pennsylva
nia militia. He had no sooner landed
most of his troops, when he learned that
Washington had recrossed the Delaware
the night before, and was then on the
Pennsylvania side. As Cadwallader was
thus defeated in his intention of forming
a junction with the main body, he was
much embarrassed which way to proceed.
He himself thought it most prudent to
retreat. Colonel Reed, who was with him,
warmly advocated the bolder policy of
marching to Burlington, lest the fluctua
ting militia, whose spirit was now up,
should be discouraged by a second disap
pointment. It was soon discovered that
there was little fear of immediate oppo
sition from the enemy. Although Cad
wallader crossed the river in open day
light, there was no show of resistance to
his landing ; notwithstanding, with the
overpowering force of the enemy, they
could have readily overcome him. They
were, in fact, so panic-stricken by their
defeat at Trenton, that they fled precipi
tately, as we shall see, abandoning their

posts at Black Horse, Mount Holly, Bur
lington, and Bordentown, and were now
retreating toward South Amboy.

General Cadwallader, meeting with no
opposition, now did not hesitate to accede
to Colonel Reed s views, and determined
to push on, though cautiously. Reed, ac
companied by two other officers, rode on
in advance to reconnoitre. On approach
ing Burlington, the enemy s outposts were
found abandoned ; and, on entering the
place, there were all the signs of a late
and precipitate retreat. As Reed and his
companions in their continental uniforms
rode through the streets of the town, the
inhabitants pulled down the " red rags,"
which had been nailed to their doors as
a demonstration of loyalty to the British
flag, and gladly welcomed the protection
of another color. So Reed pushed on,
from post to post, sending back intelli
gence from each point to Cadwallader,
who followed with the troops. The coun
try was found everywhere clear of the
enemy as far as Bordentown ; and here,
when all arrived, they halted. Cadwal
lader immediately wrote to Washington,
informing him of his arrival at that place
with eighteen hundred men, and that five
hundred more were advancing from be
low. Washington, in reply, ordered Cad
wallader to remain at Bordentown until
he himself should pass over the Delaware,
which he proposed to do on the 29th of
December, when the troops might be suf
ficiently refreshed for another movement.

The commander-in-chief was making
extensive preparations for his enterprise.
He wrote to Generals M Dougall and Max
well, who were at Morristown, to use their




utmost efforts in collecting a body of mi
litia, with which to harass the enemy on
Hank and rear, should they advance or
retreat. They were informed that the
continental regiments from the eastern
provinces had agreed to stay six weeks
beyond their term of enlistment, and that
lie had agreed to pay them for " this ex
traordinary mark of their attachment to
their country" a bounty of ten dollars
each man. " I hope," added Washington,
" this noble example will be followed by
the four regiments under your command.
Promise them the same reward, and en
deavor to work upon them by every
means in your power." He also wrote to
General Heath to cross the Hudson from
Peekskill with the New-England militia,
and advance southerly by way of Hack-
ensack, in order that he might be ready,
on receiving orders from his chief, to co
operate with him, as " I think," he wrote,
" a fair opportunity is offered of driving
the enemy entirely from Jersey, or at
least to the extremity of the province."
Every precaution in his power had been
taken for subsisting the troops, and all
other preparations made ; and "I shall/
says Washington, " without loss of time,
and as soon as circumstances will admit
of it, pursue the enemy in their retreat,
try to beat up more of their quarters,
and, in a word, adopt in every instance
such measures as the exigency of our af
fairs requires and our situation will just-


In the meantime, Sir William Howe
heard with alarm of the defeat of the
Hessians at Trenton, and of the panic of
the troops. Earl Cornwallis was imme

diately sent from New York (where he
was preparing to embark for England) to
resume the command in New Jersey. He
accordingly hastened to Princeton, where
he was followed by a large force from the
British encampment at Brunswick.

Washington, by his liberal promise of
a bounty of ten dollars to each man, had
succeeded in keeping his army together,
but was puzzled, with an empty military
chest, to find means for the fulfilment of
his word. The army treasury was so far
exhausted, that the commander-in-chief,
when requiring a small amount of money
for secret service, had been obliged to
write to ROBERT MORRIS, a wealthy banker
at Philadelphia, in these terms : " If you
could possibly collect a sum, if it were
but one hundred or one hundred and fifty
pounds, it would be of service." Morris,
with his usual promptness, at once sent
the sum. His financial resources, howev
er, were now to be more severely tasked.
Washington wanted a large sum to meet
the payment of the promised bounty to
the troops. The " patriot financier" was
the only resource ; but he himself, when
written to, was, with all his facilities, mo
mentarily puzzled to meet the demand.

Morris pondered over the ordinary
ways and means of raising the money,
but, discovering that none were availa
ble, sallied out from his counting-house
almost in despair. He had not gone far
when he met a Quaker fellow-citizen, who
was known to be wealthy. Morris stopped
him, and acquainted him with his wants.
"Robert, what security wilt thou give?"
asked the Quaker. "My note, and my
honor," answered Morris. " Thou shalt



[PART n.

Dec. 30.

have it," was the prompt rejoinder.* The
next day, by the timely aid of his Quaker
friend, Morris was enabled to write to
Washington : " I am up very early this
morning, to despatch a supply of fifty
thousand dollars to your excellency. You
will receive that sum with this letter;
but it will not be got away so early as I
could wish, for none concerned in this
movement except myself are up. I shall
rouse them immediately. It gives me
great pleasure that you have engaged the
troops to continue ; and if further occa
sional supplies of money are necessary,
you may depend on my exertions either
in a public or private capacity."

Washington, being now fully
prepared, crossed the Delaware
with the van of his troops. The river,
however, was so full of drifting ice, and
the passage so difficult, that it was im
possible to get the entire army over un
til late on the following day. During
this movement, Washington sent Colonel
Reed out, at the head of twelve dragoons,
to reconnoitre and try to discover if the
enemy were approaching, about whose
operations nothing certain was known.
Reed, being well acquainted with the
country, had no difficulty in scouring it
pretty effectually. In the course of his
ride, he discovered that a British commis
sary, with a foraging-party, was in a house
on the road. Reed accordingly rode up
w r ith his dozen men and immediately sur
rounded the place. The party within,
which amounted in numbers to the same
as that of the Americans, was so taken
by surprise, and panic-stricken, that it

* Lossing.

surrendered without a blow. Reed and
his men galloped back to the American
camp ; and, as each trooper rode in with
a prisoner mounted behind him, he was
received with a loud shout of applause.

Washington could obtain no certain in
telligence of the number and situation of
the enemy ; but, from the most reliable
accounts, it appeared that they had col
lected the principal part of their force
from Brunswick and the adjacent posts at
Princeton, where they were throwing up
some works. Their number was reported
to be from five to six thousand. Gener
al Howe was also said to have landed at
Amboy with a thousand light-troops., with
which he was on his march.

As soon as he had crossed the Dela
ware, Washington took up his position on
the high ground to the east of Trenton,
along the bank of the Assumpink creek,
and was thus separated from the town by
this small stream. His delay in passing
his troops over the Delaware had given
the enemy an opportunity of drawing in
their several cantonments and assembling
their whole force at Princeton. They
evidently meditating an attack, and had
pushed forward strong advanced pickets
toward Trenton.

Washington, with his small force, now
felt himself to be in a most critical situ
ation, lie was embarrassed, as was fre
quently the case, by a want of reliance
upon his militia. He could not act mere
ly as the military tactician, and move his
men as a general could a well-disciplined
army. The American commander was
forced to become the politician, and con
sult the caprices of his fluctuating and




irregular troops. He might, as a strate
gist, have wished to retire ; but " to re
move immediately was again destroying
every dawn of hope which had begun to
revive in the breasts of the Jersey mili
tia." He therefore determined to hold
his present position, dangerous as it was,
and strengthen himself by ordering the
troops lying at Crosswicks, under Gener
al Cadwallader, and those under General
Mifflin, to join him at Trenton, although
it was " to bring them to an exposed
place." They accordingly came, and, af
ter a hard night s march, reached
the camp on the first day of the
new year.

Washington had now about five thou
sand men, encamped in a line of two
miles in length, along the Assumpink
creek. The bridge and the fords which
crossed that stream were strongly guard
ed with artillery, and General Greene was
sent out with a detachment to harass the
advance of the enemy. Greene, by pro
voking him to frequent skirmishes, suc
ceeded in delaying the approach of Lord
Cornwallis. While Greene was spiritedly
holding the British in check on the road
from Princeton, within a short distance of
Trenton, Washington rode up, and, join
ing the advanced detachment, thanked
the troops, and particularly the artillery,
for the services of the day. Then, hav
ing given orders for them to make as ob
stinate a stand as they could where they
were without risking the safety of their
cannon, he rode back to marshal his troops
on the other side of the Assumpink. The
commander-in-chief "stood fairly commit
ted to a general action if the enemy had

Jan, 2.

provoked it."* He was therefore partic
ularly anxious to retard their march un
til nightfall. His orders were so well
obeyed, that the head of the British col
umn did not reach Trenton un
til four o clock in the afternoon,
while their rear was as far back as Maid
enhead. As soon as the enemy entered
the town, they made a rush for the bridge
and the fords across the Assumpink creek,
but finding them well guarded, and re
ceiving a hot fire from the American ar
tillery, they halted and kindled their fires.
Thus the two opposing forces remained
until dark, with the small stream between
them, and cannonading each other with
their fieldpieces.

On the day before only. Washington
had received intelligence of a resolution
of Congress, which, although it freed him
from accountability to others, must have
greatly added to the feeling of personal
responsibility which now weighed upon
him at this trying time. He had, by the
deliberate act of the representatives of
his country, been endowed with the pow
ers of a dictator. The great cause of
achieving the independence of the com
bined states was confided to him alone.
With what a simple yet lofty calmness
does he accept the trust !

" Instead of thinking myself," Washing
ton wTites to the committee of Congress,
" freed from all civil obligations, by this
mark of their confidence, I shall constant
ly bear in mind that, as the sword was
the last resort for the preservation of our
liberties, so it ought to be the first thing

* Memoirs of our Own Times, by General James Wilkin



[PART ir.

laid aside when those liberties are firmly

* The following was the resolution of Congress, which
w;is then in session at Baltimore :

"December 27, 1776. This Congress, having maturely
considered the present; and having perfect reliance on the
wisdom, vigor, and uprightness, of General WASHINGTON,
do hereby

"Resolve, 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 or all of these United States, sixteen bat
talions of infantry, in addition to those already voted by
Congress; to appoint officers for the said battalions of in
fantry ; to raise, officer, and equip, three thousand light-
horse, three regiments of artillery, and a corps of engineers,
and to establish their pay; to apply 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 up all vacancies in ev
ery other department in the American army; to take, wher
ever he may be, whatever he may want for the use of the
army, if the inhabitants will not sell it, allowing a reason
able price for the same; to arrest and confine persons who
refuse to take the continental currency, or are otherwise dis
affected to the American cause ; and r^Mirn to the states of


which they are citizens, their names, and the nature of their
offences, together with the witnesses to prove them.

" That the foregoing powers be vested to General WASH
INGTON for and during the term of six months from the date
hereof, unless sooner determined by Congress."

A copy of these resolutions was sent to the governor of
each state, together with the following letter :

" BALTIMORE, December 30, 1776.

" SIR : Ever attentive to the security of civil liberty, Con
gress would not have consented to the vesting of such pow
ers in the military department as those which the enclosed
resolves convey to the continental commander-in-chief, if the
situation of public affairs did not require at this crisis a de
cision and vigor which distance and numbers deny to assem
blies far removed from each other, and from the immediate
seat of war.

" The strength and progress of the enemy, joined to pros
pects of considerable reinforcements, have rendered it not

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 55 of 126)