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viting. Some officers urged an immediate assault; but night was falling, and Cornwallis, sure of the game, decided to wait till the morrow. He, too, forgot that he was facing an enemy who never overlooked a mistake, and never waited an hour. With quick decision Washington left his camp-fires burning on the river bank, and taking roundabout roads, which he had already reconnoitred, marched on Princeton. By sunrise he was in the outskirts of the town. Mercer, detached with some three hundred men, fell in with Mawhood's regiment, and a sharp action ensued. Mercer was mortally wounded, and his men gave way just as the main army came upon the field. The British charged, and as the raw Pennsylvanian troops in the van wavered, Washington rode to the front, and reining his horse within thirty yards of the British, ordered his men to advance. The volleys of musketry left him unscathed, the men stood firm, the other divisions came rapidly into action, and the enemy gave way in all directions. The two other British regiments were driven through the town and routed. Had there been cavalry they would have been entirely cut off. As it was, they were completely broken, and in this short but bloody action they lost five hundred men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. It was too late to strike the magazines at Brunswick, as Washington had intended, and so he withdrew once more with his army to the high lands to rest and recruit. His work was done, however. The country, which
had been supine, and even hostile, rose now, and the British were attacked, surprised, and cut off in all directions, until at last they were shut up in the immediate vicinity of New York. The tide had been turned, and Washington had won the precious breathing-time which was all he required. Frederic the Great is reported to have said that this was the most brilliant campaign of the century. It certainly showed all the characteristics of the highest strategy and most consummate generalship. With a force numerically insignificant as compared with that opposed to him, Washington won two decisive victories, striking the enemy suddenly with superior numbers at each point of attack. The Trenton campaign has all the quality of some of the last battles fought by Napoleon in France before his retirement to Elba. Moreover, these battles show not only generalship of the first order, but great statesmanship. They display that prescient knowledge which recognizes the supreme moment when all must be risked to save the state. By Trenton and Princeton Washington inflicted deadly blows upon the enemy, but he did far more by reviving the patriotic spirit of the country fainting under the bitter experience of defeat, and by sending fresh life and hope and courage throughout the whole people. It was the decisive moment of the war. Sooner or later the American colonies were sure to part from the mother-country, either peaceably or violently. But there was nothing inevitable in the
Revolution of 1776, nor was its end at all certain. It was in the last extremities when the British overran New Jersey, and if it had not been for Washington that particular revolution would have most surely failed. Its fate lay in the hands of the general and his army; and to the strong brain growing ever keener and quicker as the pressure became more intense, to the iron will gathering a more relentless force as defeat thickened, to the high, unbending character, and to the passionate and fighting temper of Washington, we owe the brilliant campaign which in the darkest hour turned the tide and saved the cause of the Revolution.
AFTER the “two lucky strokes at Trenton and Princeton,” as he himself called them, Washington took up a strong position at Morristown and waited. His plan was to hold the enemy in check, and to delay all operations until spring. It is easy enough now to state his purpose, and it looks very simple, but it was a grim task to carry it out through the bleak winter days of 1777. The Jersey farmers, spurred by the sufferings inflicted upon them by the British troops, had turned out at last in deference to Washington's appeals, after the victories of Trenton and Princeton, had harassed and cut off outlying parties, and had thus straitened the movements of the enemy. But the main army of the colonies, on which all depended, was in a pitiable state. It shifted its character almost from day to day. The curse of short enlistments, so denounced by Washington, made itself felt now with frightful effect. With the new year most of the continental troops departed, while others to replace them came in very slowly, and recruiting dragged most wearisomely. Washington was thus obliged, with temporary reinforcements of raw militia, to keep up
appearances; and no commander ever struggled with a more trying task. At times it looked as if the whole army would actually disappear, and more than once Washington expected that the week's or the month's end would find him with not more than five hundred men. At the beginning of March he had about four thousand men, a few weeks later only three thousand raw troops, ill-fed, ill-clad, illshod, ill-armed, and almost unpaid. Over against him was Howe, with eleven thousand men in the field, and still more in the city of New York, well disciplined and equipped, well-armed, well-fed, and furnished with every needful supply. The contrast is absolutely grotesque, and yet the force of one man's genius and will was such that this excellent British army was hemmed in and kept in harmless quiet by their ragged opponents. Washington's plan, from the first, was to keep the field at all hazards, and literally at all hazards did he do so. Right and left his letters went, day after day, calling with pathetic but dignified earnestness for men and supplies. In one of these epistles, to Governor Cooke of Rhode Island, written in January, to remonstrate against raising troops for the State only, he set forth his intentions in a few words. “You must be sensible,” he said, “that the season is fast approaching when a new campaign will open ; nay, the former is not yet closed ; nor do I intend it shall be, unless the enemy quits the Jerseys.” To keep fighting all the time, and never let the fire of active resistance flicker or die