Robert Tomes.

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

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only necessary that the American forces should be augment
ed beyond what Congress had heretofore designed, but that
they should be brought into the field with all possible expe
dition. These considerations induce Congress to request,
in the most earnest manner, that the fullest influence of your
state may be exerted to aid such levies as the general shall
direct, in consequence of the powers now ^iven him; and
that your quota of battalions, formally fixed, may be com
pleted and ordered to headquarters with all the despatch that
an ardent desire to serve the public happiness can dictate.

<; I have the honor to be, <kc. " JOHN HANCOCK, President."

Washington was only a thousand yards
distant from the front of his enemy. It
was true, there was the little stream of
the Assumpink intervening, but this was
ford able at almost every point. Corn-
wallis s columns were displayed in great
force along the border of the town and
the heights beyond. "Thirty minutes
would have sufficed to bring the two ar
mies into contact, and thirty more would
have decided the combat." But it was
growing dark, and the British troops were
fatigued with the long march of that day
" from sunrise to sunset." They had been
under arms for twelve long hours ; they
were consequently languid, and required
rest. Moreover, Cornwallis thought he
had " the enemy safe enough, and could
dispose of them the next morning." He
therefore ordered his men to make fires
refresh themselves, and take repose. The
other British officers coincided with their
chief, with the exception of Sir William
Erskine, who could not control his vexa
tion at this imprudent resolution, and ex
claimed impetuously, "My lord, if you trust
these people to-night, you will see nothing of
them in the morning /" Sir William, how
ever, was not heeded : the fires were light
ed, the men ordered to supper, and the
advanced sentries posted for the night.

Opposite was Washington s army, ap-

The committee of Congress, composed of Robert Morris
and George Clymer of Pennsylvania, and George Walton
of Georgia, who remained in Philadelphia, sent the resolu
tions of Congress to Washington, with these words : " We
find, by these resolves, that your excellency s hands will be
strengthened with very ample powers ; and a new reforma
tion of the army seems to have its origin therein. Happy
it is for the country that the general of their forces can safely
be intrusted with the most unlimited power, and neither per
sonal security, liberty, nor property, be in the least degree
endangered thereby !" SPAKKS.



parently preparing, like the enemy, for
repose ; with fires blazing up here and
there along the whole line, and the sen
tinels pacing the bank of the Assumpink
stream, within a hundred and fifty yards
of their antagonists. But the approach
of night did not bring with it any sugges
tion of repose to the minds of Washing
ton and his general officers. They were
anxiously pondering upon the hazardous
position of their army. With an enemy
greatly superior in numbers and disci
pline before them, and with the Delaware
river (clogged with floating ice) behind,
there was certainly enough in the pros
pects of the dangers of the coming morn
ing to disturb the slumbering influences
of night.

Washington, fully conscious of all the
hazards of his position, early in the even
ing called together his general officers in
council. He had but a brief statement
to make. The situation of the army was
known to all : a battle was certain if his
troops remained where they were until
the morning, and a defeat hardly less
sure, with the superior advantages of the
enemy ; if a defeat without means of re
treating, the result would be disastrous,
and perhaps fatal to the cause. What,
then, was to be done, was the question
submitted. Some were in favor of re
treating at once ; while others were dis

posed to await the chances of the morn
ing, and risk a general engagement, with
all its hazards to the troops and to the

In the course of the day, General St.
Clair, when charged with the guarding of
the fords of the Assumpink, and while ex
amining the ground to his right, had dis
covered a circuitous route, which was
called the " Quaker road," or that leading
to the Quaker bridge and meetinghouse.*
He, therefore, is said to have suggested
this as a way by which Princeton might
be reached, and the rear of the British
(under the command of General Leslie,
on the high-road) be avoided. Washing
ton heartily welcomed this suggestion,
and adopted it without hesitation. It was
accordingly determined to march at once
by this roundabout Quaker road to Prince
ton, where it was concluded, from the
large force which Cornwallis had thrown
into Trenton, that he could not have left
many troops, and might have left stores.
" One thing I was certain of," says Wash
ington, " that it would avoid the appear
ance of a retreat (which was of conse
quence, or to run the hazard of the whole
army being cut off), whilst we might,
by a fortunate stroke, withdraw General
Howe from Trenton, and give some rep
utation to our arms."

* Wilkinson.





The Quaker Road Providential Change of Wind. The Stolen March. A Successful Ruse. The Night. The Route
to Princeton. General Mercer and the Advance. Meeting with the Enemy. A Surprise. A Conflict. The Pro
vincials beaten back. Washington to the Rescue. His Personal Exposure and Danger. The Enemy routed. " The
Day is our own !" Turned out of College. The Pursuit. A Fine Fox-Chase. Bayoneting of General Mercer.
Lord Cormviillis bewildered. " Washington at Princeton !" No Pursuit. Loss on Boih Sides Death of Mercer.
Biographical Sketch. Washington retires from Princeton. The Winter s Bivouac. Alarm of Cornwallis, and his
Rapid March to Brunswick. The American Winter-Quarters at Morristown. Movements of General Heath. Au
Affair, and Heath s own Account of it.


THERE was one serious difficulty
in carrying out the plan proposed
of a rapid movement that night (January
2d) along the rough and circuitous route
called the " Quaker road." The weather
for two days had been unusually mild,
and the ground had become so soft, that
it would be almost impracticable to get
on with the cattle, carriages, and artille
ry. While the council of war, however,
are pondering over this difficulty, it is
providentially removed. The wind sud
denly changes into the northwest ; the
weather becomes intensely cold ; and the
ground freezes so hard, that soon the road
is like a solid pavement. There is now
no obstacle to the manoeuvre, and imme
diate preparations are made for its exe

Great precautions are taken to prevent
the suspicions of the enemy. Washing
ton orders the guards to be doubled at
the bridge and the fords of the Assumpink
stream, sends a strong fatigue-party with
their picks and spades to work on an in-
trenchment within hearing distance of the
British sentries, and directs the camp-fires
to be kept blazing by using the neighbor-

Jan, 2,

ing fences for fuel. The first movement
is to send off the baggage to Burlington,
which is done early in the night. The
troops are not prepared to march until
twelve o clock.

The army was filed off silently by de
tachments. The night was ex
ceedingly dark, although calm,
clear, and severely cold. The working-
parties, guards, and those charged with
keeping the fires blazing, were left be
hind, with orders not to retire until tow
ard the break of day. The stratagem is
entirely successful. The whole American
army gets away without exciting the least
suspicion on the part of Earl Cornwallis,
who reposes for the night in the confi
dent expectation of "catching the fox in
the morning," as he himself declared to
his officers.

The Quaker road, comparatively new,
and not much used, was so scored with
deep, frozen ruts, and studded with stumps
of trees, that the march was greatly ob
structed. Washington s purpose was, to
have reached Princeton before daylight,
with the expectation of taking the Brit
ish troops there by surprise, and of then



pushing on rapidly to Brunswick, and
seizing the magazine and stores before
the enemy should take the alarm. The
march, however, was so long dehoyed, that
the day broke before his van
arrived at Princeton. Washing
ton, crossing the lower bridge over the
Stony brook, kept his main body on the
"Quaker road" until he reached a thick
wood, when he denied to the right, with
the view of taking a by-path toward the
town. He ordered General Mercer, how
ever, with three hundred and fifty men
(composed of the fragments of Colonel
Smallwood s brave Delawares and Mary-
landers, of the first Virginia regiment, and
some few volunteers), together with two
fieldpieces, to continue to the left on the
Quaker road, which conducted along the
Stony brook, until he reached the bridge
over which passed the highway that led
from Princeton to Trenton. Here he was
to take possession of the bridge, for the
double purpose of intercepting the fugi
tives from Princeton, and to guard against
an attack from Cornwallis at Trenton.

The British had left three regiments at
Princeton, under the command of Lieu
tenant-Colonel Mawhood, when the main
body pushed on to Trenton. These were
the seventeenth, fortieth, and fifty-fifth.
They had been quartered during the pre
vious night in the town ; but, at early
dawn, the first-named regiment (the sev
enteenth), with Mawhood at its head, had
marched out by the main road, to join
Cornwallis. Passing the bridge over Sto
ny brook, they reached some high ground
a little distance beyond, on their route,
at the moment when Washington s troops

were emerging from behind the wood,
around which they were defiling toward
the town.

The morning was fine, and in the clear
frosty air every object could be distinctly
seen. /The British and Americans seemed
at this moment to have caught a simul
taneous view of each other. On looking
across the country toward the Trenton
road, some of Washington s officers saw
the reflection of arms in the light of the
rising sun, as the enemy were ascending
the high ground. It was but for a mo
ment, however, for the British had imme
diately shifted their position. That they
had not been less observant was soon evi
dent, for two of their horsemen were seen
to leap a fence and advance through the
fields for the purpose of reconnoitring.
After a hurried glance, they galloped
back ; and soon the enemy, having faced
about, were observed rapidly descending
the hill and retracing their steps toward
Princeton. They had succeeded in re-
crossing the bridge, when, without sus
pecting its approach, they suddenly came
upon General Mercer s detachment, which
was hurrying along the Quaker road tow
ard its junction with the highway, for the
purpose of securing, in accordance with
Washington s orders, the crossing of Stony
brook near that point. The two parties
were within less than five hundred yards
of each other when the mutual surprise
took place for Mercer, like Mawhood,
was unconscious of the approach of his

The two hostile detachments now hur
ried to anticipate each other in getting
possession of some rising ground, about



[PATCT ir.

half a mile north of Stony brook, to the
east of the main road, and on the west
ern edge of the town. The Americans,
manoeuvring for this purpose, had got in
to the orchard behind the house of Wil
liam Clark, when they observed the Brit
ish, from an opposite point, making for
the height. Mercer pushed on his de
tachment in all haste through the orchard,
and succeeded in first gaining the ground
beyond, and so disposing his men as to
leave a "worm fence" stretching curvi-
cally across the acclivity between them
and the enemy.

Mercer, in possession of the ground,
began the attack, under the cover of the
fence, with a volley from his riflemen.
Mawhood returned the fire, and then or
dered his men to charge. The Americans
fired again and again, and with terrible
effect ; but, as they were only armed with
rifles, they could not withstand the onset
of the British troops thrusting home their
formidable bayonets, and were obliged to
retire. At the first volley from the ene
my, Mercer s gray horse was shot in the
knee, and that gallant officer was forced
to dismount, and struggle with the foe
hand to hand. The British continued
to pursue, and the Americans to retreat,
when Washington, hearing the fire, im
mediately summoned the Pennsylvania
militia and Moulder s battery of two guns
to the support of General Mercer, and led
them in person against the enemy.

Colonel Mawhood, observing a large
force coming up, is suddenly checked in
in the midst of his hot pursuit, and, halt
ing, brings up his artillery. The Ameri
can militia hesitate to advance, waver be

fore the shot, and are giving w r ay, when
Washington gallops forward and strives
to press them on. He is thus, while bran
dishing his sw r ord, and spurring his white
charger in front of the lines, a conspicu
ous target for the enemy. His death ap
pears inevitable. His aid-de-camp, Colo
nel Fitzgerald, a warm-hearted Irishman,
is in a moment aware of the danger of
his chief. He drops the reins upon his
horse s neck, and draws his hat over his
face, that he may not see him die a fate
which he believes that Washington at that
moment can not possibly escape.

A shout of victory immediately suc
ceeds, and Fitzgerald ventures to raise
his eyes. Washington is safe : the mili
tia have rallied, Moulder s battery has dis
charged a volley of grapeshot, and the
British are flying in confused haste, over
fields and fences, toward the road lead
ing to Trenton, leaving their artillery be
hind them. Colonel Fitzgerald, who was
" celebrated as one of the finest horsemen
in the American army," digs his spurs in
to his steed, dashes forward, and, bring
ing up by the side of Washington, ex
claims, " Thank God, your excellency is
safe !" The sudden reaction from despair
to joy was too much for the impulsive
Irishman, and he " wept like a child."
The chief grasped his hand with warmth,
and only said : " Away, my dear colonel,
and bring up the troops. The day is our
own !"

While the enemy s seventeenth regi
ment was being hotly engaged, the fifty-
fifth was marching to its aid ; but, on dis
covering that their comrades had been
put to flight, they returned to the college,




at the north of the town; where, being re
inforced by the fortieth, quartered there,
they marched out again to encounter the
American detachment under General St.
Glair, which had been sent after them.
A ravine separated the parties, which, al
though deep and precipitous, the Ameri
cans did not hesitate to cross. While as
cending the acclivity on the opposite side,
and when within sixty or eighty yards of
them, the British wheeled about, and hur
ried back to the college. On reaching
it, they began to knock out the windows,
that they might have free scope for the
use of their musketry. The Americans,
as they came up, expected warm work ;
but they had hardly got within a quarter
of a mile of the building, when the ene
my rushed out at the front, and retreated
by long and loose files to Rock hill, and
thence to Brunswick. As St. Glair had
no cavalry, he could not pursue the fugi
tives, although such was the disorder of
their flight, that " two troops of dragoons
would have picked up the two regiments."

While Colonel Mawhood was fly ing over
the fields and fences toward the road to
Trenton, Washington was encouraging his
troops in pursuit, and, as his riflemen were
charging them, he shouted, " It is a fine
fox-chase, my boys !" The American gen
eral, no less spirited a sportsman than
Lord Cornwallis, was evidently enjoying
" the run" as much as that nobleman had
anticipated for himself, when, on the pre
ceding night, he so complacently talked
of " catching the fox in the morning."

General Mercer s horse was crippled
by a shot, as we have seen, in the begin
ning of the engagement, and he himself

obliged to dismount. As he was in front
of his men, trying ineffectually to rally
them, he was left alone on the field, and
the British soldiers, coming up, knocked
him down, bayoneted him, and left him
for dead. He was afterward found near
the barn of William Clark, still alive, and
conveyed to Clark s house, where he lin
gered for awhile under the effect of his
fatal wounds.

The distant firing was heard in the Brit
ish camp at Trenton. Some thought it
w r as thunder ; and Earl Cornwallis, with
an expression of anxiety, asked his sur
rounding officers what it could be. Sir
William Erskine (who had so earnestly
recommended an attack on the evenino-


before) immediately answered, "My lord,
it is Washington at Princeton !"

While the American troops were gath
ering together in Princeton, there was
great alarm felt for the safety of Wash
ington, who had followed the enemy in
pursuit several miles along the road to
Trenton. He continued after the fugi
tives, and did not turn back until General
Leslie, commanding the rear of the Brit
ish at Maidenhead, discovering that Wash
ington s army was behind and not before
as he had supposed, changed his front,
and, followed by Cornwallis and his main
body, began to march toward Princeton,
which he reached just as the rear-guard
of the Americans was leaving Wash
ington, on his return, having ordered his
troops to march immediately. The pre
caution was taken to break down the
bridge over Stony brook ; but the British
commander, not waiting to replace it, or
dered his men (he himself showing them




the example) to plunge into the shallow
stream and wade across. Thus thorough
ly wetted, and then stiffened into ice by
the frost, the troops hurried on into the
town and thence along the road toward
Brunswick, which, with its stores and mag
azines, was supposed to be Washington s
next point of attack.

The Americans were not disposed to
linger at Princeton, with the whole army
of Cornwallis pressing by a forced march
on their rear. Washington s original plan
was, to have pushed on to Brunswick ;
but the harassed state of the troops, many
of them having had no rest for two nights
and a day, and the danger of losing the
advantage he had gained by aiming at
too much, induced him, "by the advice
of his officers," to give it up. But " in
my judgment," says Washington, " six or
eight hundred fresh troops, upon a forced
march, would have destroyed all their
stores and magazines, taken their mili
tary chest containing seventy thousand
pounds, and put an end to the war."

The result at Princeton was sufficiently
successful to greatly encourage the Amer
icans and dishearten the enemy. Wash
ington had only lost about a hundred in
all, fourteen of whom were buried on the
field. The British, in killed, wounded,
and prisoners, suffered a loss of nearly six
hundred. Amono; the killed of the Ens;-


lish officers was a Captain Leslie, son of
the earl of Levin, who was so much be
loved, that those who were taken prison
ers besought the privilege of his being
buried with the honors of war ; and when
it was gran ted, the men who had belonged
to his company were observed to weep

bitterly over the grave of their young
commander. Washington, too, grieved
over the death of some of the most able
and spirited of his officers. These were,
Colonels Haslet and Potter; Major Mor
ris ; Captains William Shippen, Fleming,
and Neal; and, above all, General Mer

Mercer was at first supposed to have
died on the field, or Washington would
have endeavored to bring him away, al
though he believed, as he declared, " that
it could not have been effected." When
he heard that he was still lino-erin^ at

o O

Princeton, the commander-in-chief sent his
nephew, Major Lewis, under a flag, to the
enemy, to visit him. Mercer was dying ;
but with his aid-de-camp, Major Arm
strong, constantly at his side, and the
family of the Clarks (in whose house he
was) ever at hand to administer to his
wants, the last moments of the general,
though his w r ounds gave him acute pain,
were greatly soothed. He died in the
fifty-sixth year of his age, in the arms of
Major Lewis, on the 12th of January.

HUGH MERCER was a Scotchman by birth
and a Jacobite, having served on the side
of the Young Pretender, Prince Charles
Edward, as a surgeon s mate, at the battle
of Culloden, in 1746. When the cause
of the Stuarts was extinguished for ever,
and its friends dispersed, Mercer emigra
ted to Virginia. In the French border
wars, he laid aside the scalpel for the
sword, and became a military officer, serv
ing in the campaigns of 175-5 and 1756
as a comrade of Washington, by whom
he was greatly beloved. Mercer was liv
ing in Fredericksburg, Virginia, when the



American Revolution began, and, though
he was practising as a doctor with suc
cess, he gave up his profession, and vol
unteered to bear arms in the cause of the
colonies. In 1775 and 1776, he organ
ized and commanded large bodies of the
Virginia militia; and on the 5th of June,
of the latter year, he was appointed by
Congress a brigadier-general. He was an
intimate associate of Washington s moth
er and sister, who were his neighbors at
Fredericksburg, and highly esteemed by
Washington himself, who knew him as a
faithful comrade and sincere friend. He
spoke of him, while mourning his death,
as " the brave and worthy General Mer

Having given up all thought of march
ing immediately upon Bruns
wick, Washington now retired
from Princeton. He was not greatly en
cumbered with baggage, for that of his
own army he had sent to Burlington, and
there was nothing of the enemy s to take
away but some blankets, shoes, and a few
other trifling articles. The two fieldpieces
which had been captured from the Brit
ish could not be brought away for the
want of horses. The hay and " other
such things" as the shortness of the time
would admit were destroyed, and then
the army marched out. The Americans
proceeded down the Millstone river, and
halted for the first night at Somerset
courthouse, where many of the militia on
that January night were obliged to lie
down in the open air without blankets,
which with the rest of their baggage had
been sent to Burlington.

Next morning, Washington marched to

Jan. 4.

Pluckimen, where he halted for
several days. The hardships of
a winter campaign would, it was feared,
discourage the militia, as well might be
the case, when they were day after day
and night after night in midwinter with
out " any cover," and many of the " poor
soldiers quite barefoot and ill clad in oth
er respects. . . They have undergone, how
ever," says Washington, "more fatigue
and hardship than I expected militia, es
pecially citizens, could have done at this
inclement season."

Earl Cornwallis was in a state of great
alarm for the safety of his stores, maga
zines, and well -filled military chest, at
Brunswick. He pushed on with his whole
army, in the greatest speed, to save them.
The camp at Trenton was broken up and
totally abandoned. Princeton was en
tered, and, after a check from the battery
of the American rear-guard which delayed
him over an hour, Cornwallis hurried on
again, and by forced marches (here and
there retarded by the want of bridges,
which Washington had taken care to de
stroy) reached Brunswick.

The enemy seemed to be panic-struck,
and Washington was in " some hopes of
driving them out of the Jerseys." In or
der to effect this, he wrote to General
Putnam, then at Philadelphia, and also to
General Heath at Peekskill, to co-operate
with him in his design. To the former
he says : " It is thought advisable
for you to march the troops un
der your command to Crosswicks, and
keep a strict watch upon the enemy in
that quarter. If the enemy continue at
Brunswick, you must act with great cir-

Jau. 5.



[PART n.

Jail. 5.

cumspection, lest you meet with a sur
prise. As we have made two successful
attacks upon them by surprise, if there is
any possibility of retaliating, they will at
tempt it. You will give out your strength
to be twice as great as it is. Forward on

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 56 of 126)