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“ It may be thought that I am going a good deal out of the line of my duty to adopt these measures, or to advise thus freely. A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable blessings of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be my apology." These weighty representations were not fruitless.
Congress, by a resolution, invested their Dec. 27.
General with almost unlimited powers to manage the war.
The united exertions of civil and military officers had by this time brought a considerable body of militia into the field. General Sullivan too, on whom the command of General Lee's division de. volved upon his capture, promptly obeyed the orders of the Commander in Chief, and at this period joined him; and General Heath was marching a detachment from Peck's Kill.
The army, with these reinforcements, amounted to seven thousand men, and General WASHINGTON determined to recommence active operations.
General Maxwell had already been sent into New Jersey, to take the command of three regiments of regular forces, and about eight hundred of the militia. His orders were, to give the inhabitants all possible support, and to prevent the disaffected from goinginto the British lines to make their submission, to harass the marches of the enemy, to give early intelligence of their movements, particularly of those towards Princeton and Trenton.
These measures were preparatory to more enterprising and bold operations.
General WASHINGTON had noticed the loose and uncovered state of
the winter quarters of the British army ; and he contemplated the preservation of Philadelphia, and the recovery of New Jersey, by sweeping, at one stroke, all the British cantonments upon the Dela
The present position of his forces favoured the execution of his plan.
The troops under the immediate command of General 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 Cadwal- . lader received orders to pass the river at Bristol ferry, and assault the post at Burlington. The night of the twentyfifth 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 surprize it was given up. He formed his little ar
my into two divisions, one of which was directed to proceed by the river road into the west end of Treni ton, and the other 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 picket guard, to press after it into the town. The General accompanying the division on the Pennington road, reached the out post of the 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 Ger. mans 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 ex
tent 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 enterprise 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 operations. In pursuance of this resolution, he called in his out posts 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 detach. ment 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 towards the American
General with a superiour force, and reached Trenton at four o'clock of the afternoon. General WASHINGTON drew up his men behind Assumpinck creek, which runs through the town. A cannon. ade 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.
JAN. 2. 1777.
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 ? By this measure we shall avoid the appearance of a retreat, we shall assume the aspect of vigourous 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 shifted to a severe frost ; and the roads, which had been deep and muddy, immediately became hard and marching upon them easy.