Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

cantonments upon the Delaware. The present posi tion of his forces favoured the execution of his plan. The troops under the immediate command of Gene ral WASHINgtoN, consisting of about two thousand and four hundred men, were ordered to cross the river at M'Konkey's ferry, nine miles above Trenton, to attack that post. General Irvine was directed to cross with his division at Trenton ferry, to secure the bridge below the town, and prevent the retreat of the enemy that way. General Cadwallader received orders to pass the river at Bristol ferry, and assault the post at Burlington. The night of the twenty-fifth was assigned for the execution of this daring scheme. It proved to be severely cold, and so much ice was made in the river, that General Irvine and General Cadwallader, after having strenuously exerted themselves, found it impracticable to pass their divisions, and their part of the plan totally failed. The Commander in Chief was more fortunate. With difficulty he crossed the river, but was delayed in point of time. He expected to have reached Trenton at the dawn of day, and it was three o'clock in the morning before he had passed the troops and artillery over the river, and four before he commenced his line of march. Being now distant nine miles from the British encampment, the attempt to surprise it was given up. He formed his little army into two divisions, one of which was directed to proceed by the river road into the west end of Trenton, and the cther by the Pennington road which leads into the north end of the town. The distance being equal, the General supposed that each division would arrive at the scene of action about the same time; and therefore he ordered each to attack the moment of its arrival, and driving in the piquet guard, to press after it into the town. The General accompanying the division on the Ponnington road, reached the outpost of tho enemy precisely at eight o'clock, and in three minutes after, had the satisfaction to hear the firing of his men on the other road. The brave Colonel Rawle, the commanding officer, paraded his forces for the defence of his post. He was by the first fire mortally wounded, and his men in apparent dismay, attempted to file off towards Princeton. General WASHINGTon perceiving their intention, moved a part of his troops into this road in their front, and defeated the design. Their artillery being seized, and the Americans pressing upon them, they surrendered. Twenty of the Germans were killed, and one thousand made prisoners. By the failure of General Irvine, a small body of the enemy stationed in the lower part of the town escaped over the bridge to Bordenton. Of the American troops, two privates were killed, and two frozen to death, one officer and three or four privates were wounded. Could the other divisions have crossed the Delaware, General WASHINGTon's plan in its full extent would probably have succeeded. Not thinking it prudent to hazard the fruits of this gallant stroke by more daring attempts, the General the same day, recrossed the Delaware with his prisoners, with six pieces of artillery, a thousand stand of arms, and some military stores. General Howe was astonished at this display of en terprise and vigour. He found the American Commander, a formidable enemy under circumstances of the greatest depression, and although in the depth of winter, determined to recommence active ope rations. In pursuance of this resolution, he called in his outposts and assembled a powerful force at Princeton. Having allowed his men two or three days' rest, General WASHINGTon again passed into New-Jersey, and concentrated his forces, amounting to five thousand, at Trenton. He pushed a small detachment to

Maidenhead, about half way between Trenton and Princeton, to watch the movement of the enemy, and delay their march, should they advance upon him. On the next morning, Lord Cornwallis moved o towards the American General with a supe. riour force, and reached Trenton at foul o'clock of the afternoon. General WASHINGTON drew up his men behind Assumpinck creek, which runs th: Jugh the town. A cannonade was opened on both sides. His Lordship attempted at several places to cross the creek; but finding the passes guarded, he halted his troops, and kindled his fires. Early in the evening General WASHINGTon assembled his officers in Council, and stated to them the critical situation of the army. “In the morning,” he observed, “we certainly shall be attacked by a superiour force, defeat must operate our absolute destruction, a retreat across the Delaware is extremely hazardous, if practicable, on account of the ice. In either case, the advantages of our late success will be sacrificed. New-Jersey must again be resigned to the enemy, and a train of depressing and disastrous consequences will ensue.” He then proposed to their consideration the expediency of the following measure “Shall we silently quit our present position, by a circuitous route, gain the rear of the enemy at Princeton, and there avail ourselves of favourable circumstances 2 By this measure we shall avoid the appearance of a retreat, we shall assume the aspect of vigorous operation, inspirit the publick mind, and subserve the interests of our country.” The plan was unanimously approved, and measures were instantly adopted for its execution; the baggage was silently removed to Burlington; the fires were renewed, and ordered to be kept up through the night guards were posted at the bridge and fords of the creek, and directed to go the usual rounds. At one o clock at night, the army moved upon the left flank

of the enemy, and unperceived gained their rear. The weather, which for several days had been warm, suddenly changed to a severe frost; and the roads, which had been deep and muddy, immediately became hard, and marching upon them, easy. About sunrise the American van met the advance of three British regiments, which had the preceding might encamped at Princeton, and were on their way to join Lord Cornwallis. A severe skirmish took place between this advancod corps and General Mercer, who commanded the militia in front of the American line. The militia at length gave way, and in the effort to rally them, General Mercer was mortally wounded. General WAsHINGtoN advanced at the head of those troops which had signalized themselves at Trenton, and exposed himself to the hottest fire of the enemy. His men bravely supported him, and the British in their turn were repulsed, and the different regiments separated. That in the rear, retreated with little loss to Brunswick. Colonel Mawhood in the van, with a part of his men, forced his way through the Americans, and reached Trenton. More than a hundred of the British were left on the field of battle, and three hundred of them were made prisoners. Besides General Mercer, whose death was greatly lamented, the Americans in this action lost two Colonels, two Captains, five other officers, and nearly a hundred privates. On the return of day, Lord Cornwallis found that he had been out-generalled. Comprehending the design of WAshington, he broke up his encampment, and with the utmost expedition retraced his steps, for the preservation of the stores in his rear; and he was close upon the Americans, as they marched out of Princeton. It had been the intention of General WASHINGton to proceed to Brunswick, where the British had large magazines, and where was their military chest, which at this time, as it afterwards appeared, contained seventy thousand pounds sterling. But many of his soldiers had not slept for forty-eight hours, none of them for the last twenty-four, and they were exhausted by excessive duty. They were closely pursued by a superiour force, which must be up with them before the stores at Brunswick could be destroyed, should they meet with serious opposition at that place. Ge neral Washington therefore relinquished this part of his plan, and prudently led his army to a place of security, to give them the rest which they greatly needed.

The successes of the American arms at Trenton, and at Princeton, were followed by important conse quences. The affairs of the United States, before these events, appeared to be desperate. Two thousand of the regular troops had a right, on the first of January, to demand their discharge. The recruiting service was at an end, and general despondency prevailed. The triumphs of the British through the previous parts of the campaign produced a common apprehension, in the citizens of the middle states, that any further struggle would be useless; and that America must eventually return to her allegiance to Great Britain. Many individuals made their peace with the Commissioners, and took protection from the officers of the crown; and more discovered the inclination to do it, when opportunity should present. General Howe supposed New-Jersey restored to the British government, and thought the war drawing to a close. But these successes were considered as great victories, and produced consequent effects upon the publick mind. The character of the Commander in Chief proportionably rose in the estimation of the great mass of American people, who, now respected themselves, and confided in their persevering efforts to secure the great object of contention, the independence of their country.

« ZurückWeiter »