Abbildungen der Seite

and reluctant admiration for their adversary, in their subsequent operations, which might have been expected, if Washington had silently surrounded their main body, and charged upon them in the dead of the night. They forgot their own force, and his weakness at the same moment. Terrour and dismay contributed to magnify the one in the same proportion as it diminished the other. The first shock was felt like electricity along their ranks, but at the second, which was given at Trenton, their extremities were suddenly contracted;—and their centre, for a moment, was affected like the human heart, when its pul. sation is stopped.

At the very moment when this daring plan was executed, they had a strong battalion of infantry at Princeton, and a force distributed near the Delaware, much superiour to the whole American army. The knowledge of this, induced Wasbington to march off his prisoners to Philadelphia, on the evening after their capture. Having thus provided against the success of any attempt to retake them, he recrossed the Delaware again,and took possession of Trenton; while the scattered detachments of the British were instantly concentrated at Princeton, and were soon joined by the main body from Brunswick, formerly under Lord Cornwallis. From Princeton, nearly the whole body was put in motion against Trenton, with a view of retrieving the loss of reputation by the late disaster, and deciding at once and forever, the long litigated question.

The situation of Washington, at this moment, was extremely critical. When he took possession of Trenton on the 29th of December, his force was only eighteen hundred continental troops; of these, twelve

hundred were to be released on the first of January. Attempts had been made, but in vain, to detain them for a few weeks longer. A bounty of two dollars was offered for this period. It was accepted, but nearly one half abandoned the camp immediately after. At this time it was determined to advance the Pennsylvania militia to Washington's relief ; but when they arrived, his total force of continentals and militia, did not exceed five thousand.

To retreat with this force, at the very moment when the hearts of all America were lifted to exultation, by an enterprise achieved with means so much less efficient—to abandon a post with five thousand men, and retreat, immediately after having advanced and beaten the enemy, with half that number, was but little else than quenching, at once, the light which had just been kindled. Yet, to risk an action with a force so superiour in front, and a river in the rear, was hazardous in the extreme. The first might have eclipsed the star of their hopes for a time, but the latter, if the issue should be calamitous, would be blotting it out from the heavens.

An opportunity soon presented itself for avoiding the one, and the other of these alternatives. There were links and joints in the armour of his adversary, and Washington had an eye to discover, and a hand to take advantage of them. Lord Cornwallis had once gone to New York with the intention of carrying to Great Britain the intelligence of their successes—the entire destruction of the American army, which certainly seemed unavoidable; and the consummation of American slavery ; but the unexpected awakening of Washington at Trenton, so startled his Lordship, that he began to think such communications might be a little VOL, I.


premature; abandoned his design for a time; hurried back to the Jerseys; joined the main army just before its arrival at Trenton, and leaving the fourth brigade, consisting of the seventeenth, fortieth, and fiftyfifth regiments, under Lieutenant Colonel Mawhood, at Princeton, and the second brigade under General Leslie at Maidenhead, was now advancing against Washington.

For checking the advance of Cornwallis, and giv. ing his own main body an opportunity for passing the enemy's advance, and gaining his rear, Washington advanced a considerable detachment, under Geeral Greene, with four field pieces, to the support of a small body which had been previously stationed about a mile in front; but General Greene found them already on the retreat, which they continued with such precipitation, as to throw his reinforcement into confusion. The British pushed forward until they were checked at the bridge on Surpinck Creek, by four field pieces, when they soon fell back beyond their fire. The passage of this creek, was guarded by about forty pieces of artillery; but this was a very inconsiderable protection to a stream which was fordable in many places. The Americans were drawn up in order of battle upon the bank, and, in that situation, remained till night, cannonading the enemy, Lord Cornwallis displayed his columns and extended his lines to the heights at the westward of the town. Every thing was to be apprehended by Washington ; his rear might be gained by a small circuit ; and, from the superiority of the enemy and the nature of the ground, he could not but anticipate a disastrous issue. In this critical situation, two armies, upon which the destinies of a whole continent reposed.

[ocr errors]

were within one thousand yards of each other, crowded into a small village, and only separated by a fordable creek.

In the mean time, a council was called in the American camp. Their situation was deliberately considered. They were to retreat by the Jersey side and cross the Delaware at Philadelphia, or fight. Both were extremely hazardous; but there seemed no other alternative. At length General St. Clair proposed to turn the enemy's left flank. On consideration, it was adopted by the Commander in Chief, whọ before had inclined to give battle in front; he agreed that Lord Cornwallis must have advanced with his main body, in the hope of atoning for the de. feat at Trenton, and, consequently, must have left a weaker rear at Princeton. How exactly this was the case, will be seen by the event. The proposition was agreed to. A fortunate, and somewhat remarkable change took place at the same time, that rendered the movement of their artillery and heavy baggage over roads, which for several days before, had been almost impassible, as expeditious and easy, as it would have been over a solid pavement. It had been warm and rainy, but the wind suddenly changed to the north west while the council was sitting, and, blew so coldly, that by the time the troops were put in motion, the roads were firm enough for the heaviest artillery. Washington ordered the fires to be doubled along the whole front of his army, and constantly supplied till day light. These fires necessarily concealed the operations in their rear, and the baggage, with three pieces of ordinance, was sent off to Burlington, to divert the attention of the enemy. About one, the troops were filed off in detachments, with the greata

est silence, the creek was crossed, and the whole army arrived at Princeton a little before day break. It happened that the three British regiments, was already on their march to Trenton, by another road, about a quarter of a mile distant. They were first discovered by Major, afterwards General Wilkinson, and General Mercer, with the Philadelphia militia was advanced against them. Colonel Mawhood, who commanded the first party, regarding the Americans as only a flying body, detached to harrass him on the march, neither halted nor formed, but advanced steaddy till his bayonets almost crossed, poured in a vol. ley upon them, and then charged. The Americans gave way in all directions, many were armed only with rifles, and the officers were panick struck. It was a moment of extreme peril. Washington saw it -leaped his horse into the narrow space between the British and the Americans-reined his head towards the former, and in that situation, while waving his sword to his troops, received successively the fire of each, when not more than fifteen yards from either party. Not a ball struck him. This decided the battle. Sixty of the enemy were bayonetted on the spot. But the gallant Colonel, with a few followers, cut his way through the surrounding battalions, and pursued his route, though in great disorder, over fields and fences, towards Pennington. At the moment of attack, intelligence had been communicated to the rear, which was thus enabled to save itself. The fifty-fifth being hard pressed, and finding it could not advance, had retreated to Brunswick by the way of Hillsborough. The fortieth was but little engaged, and with a very inconsiderable loss, retired to the same place. During the action a party bad escaped to the college, but they

« ZurückWeiter »