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Chap. viii. vouring to recover the whole, or a great part
1776. of Jersey.
With this view he ordered general Heath, who was stationed atPeck's-Kill for the defence of the highlands, on the North river, to leave a small detachment of troops at that place, and, with the main body of the New England militia, to move into Jersey, and approach the cantonments of the enemy on that side. General Maxwell was ordered to collect as many militia as possible, to harass their flank and rear, and to attack their out posts when any favourable occasion should present itself. Having made
December30. these dispositions, he again crossed the Delaware himself with his continental regiments, and once more took post at Trenton. Here he exerted all his influence to prevail on the troops from New England, whose terms of service expired on the last day of December, to continue during the present exigency, and, with infinite difficulty, added to a bounty of ten dollars, many of them were induced to re-em
... . .... gage for six weeks;
1777. The enemy were now collected in force at
January 1. » 4
Princeton, under lord Cornwallis, where some
works were thrown up; and, from their advancing a strong corps towards Trenton, as well as from their knowledge that the continental troops from New England were now entitled to be discharged, and from some private intelligence, it was expected they would attack that placei
Generals Mifflin and Cadwalader, who lay at Chap, Vih. Bordentown and Crosswix with three thou- 177T. sand six hundred militia, were ordered to march up in the night of the first of January to join the commander in chief, whose whole effective force, with this addition, did not exceed five thousand men.
As had been expected, the enemy advanced upon them the next morning; and, after some January2. slight skirmishing with troops detached to Maidenhead to harass and delay their march, the van of their army reached Trenton about four o'clock in the afternoon; while their rear was at Maidenhead, about half way between Princeton and Trenton. On their approach, general Washington retired across the Assumpinck, a creek which runs through the town, behind which he drew up his army. The enemy attempted to cross this creek at several places, but finding all the fords guarded, they halted and kindled their fires. The American troops kindled their fires likewise, and a cannonade, which had commenced on their first appearance, was kept up on both sides until dark.
The situation of general Washington was, now again, extremely critical. If he maintained his present position, it was certain that he should be attacked, next morning, by a force in all respects superior to his own; and the result would, most probably, be the destruction of his little army. If he should retreat
Chap, Viii over the Delaware, the. passage of that river 1777. was now so difficult, being filled with ice, which, in consequence of a few mild and foggy days, was not firm enough to march upon, that a considerable loss, perhaps a total defeat, would be sustained) and, in any event, the Jerseys would once more be entirely in possession of the enemy; the public mind would again be depressed, and recruiting discouraged by his apparent inferiority; and Philadelphia M ould once more be in the grasp of general Howe. It was obvious that the one event or the other would deduct very greatly from the advantages promised from his late success; and, if it did not render the American cause absolutely desperate, would very essentially injure it.
In this state of things, he formed the bold and judicious design of abandoning the Dela^ ware, and marching silently in the night by a circuitous route, along the left flank of the enemy, into their rear at Princeton, where he knew they could not be very strong. After beating them there, it was his intention to make a rapid movement to Brunswick, where their baggage and principal magazines lay under a weak guard. He had sanguine expectations that this manoeuvre would call the attention of the British general to his own defence; in which event very great objects would be accomplished; Philadelphia would be saved for the present; great part of Jersey recovered; and, not only the appearance of a retreat Ciap.viil avoided, but the public mind encouraged by .777. active and offensive operations. If he should even be disappointed in this expectation, and, contrary to every calculation, lord Cornwallis should proceed to Philadelphia, nothing worse could happen in that quarter, than must happen, should the American army be driven before him; and in the mean time, he would lessen that calamity by expelling the enemy completely from Jersey, and cutting up all their parties in that state by detail.
The council of war approved the plan, aid preparations were immediately made for ts execution. The baggage, as soon as it wts dark, was removed silently to Burlington; ani about one o'clock, after renewing their fires, January 3. and leaving their guards at the bridge and other passes over the creek which runs though Trenton, to go the rounds as usual, they decamped with perfect secrecy, and tooka circuitous route through Allen's town to Jrinceton. At the latter place three British reriments had encamped the preceding night, two of which commenced their march earb in the morning to join the rear of their armyat Maidenhead. About sunrise* they fell inwith the
* The march of the enemy had been redered much more expeditious, than it could otherwise hve been, by a fortunate change of weather. On the tening of the second, it became excessively cold, and tl- roads which had become soft, were rendered as hard a pavement.
Chap, vit van of the Americans conducted by general 1777. Mercer, and a very sharp action ensued, which however was not of long duration. The militia,
Of PriiKtton of which the advanced party was principally composed, soon gave way, and the few regulars attached to them were not strong enough to maintain their ground. General Mercer was mortally wounded while gallantly exerting himself to rally his broken troops, and the van was entirely routed. But the fortune of the day was soon changed. The main body of the amy led by general Washington in person folowed close in the rear, and attacked the eiemy with great spirit. Persuaded that defeat vould irretrievably ruin the affairs of America, le advanced in the very front of danger, and exposed himself to the hottest fire of the enemy. He was so well supported by the sam« troops who had, a few days before, saved their country at Trenton, that the British in tun were compelled to give way. Their line w\s broken, and the two regiments separated fbm each other. Colonel Mawhood who commaded that in front, forced his way through a part of the American troops, and reachedVIaidenhead. The fifty-fifth regiment, which wrs in the rear, retreated, by the way of HillsborQgh, to Brunswick. The vicinity of the Britis forces at Maidenhead secured colonel Mawhod from being pursued, and general Washingtq pressed forward to Princeton.