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After an unsuccessful attempt to procure boats to pass the Delaware, General Howe cantoned his army in New-Jersey, intending to wait until the frost of winter should furnish him with an easy passage upon the ice to Philadelphia. He stationed four thousand men along the Delaware at Trenton, Bordentown, the White Horse, and Burlington. And the residue of his force, he posted between the Delaware and the Hack ensack.
General WASHINGTON ordered the American galleys to keep the river, narrowly to watch the enemy, and to give the earliest notice of their movements. He posted his troops upon the south side of the Delaware, in situations the most favourable to guard the fords and ferries; and he gave written instructions to the commanding officer of each detachment, directing what passes he should defend, if driven from his post, on his retreat to the heights of Germantown. While waiting for reinforcements he kept a steady eye on the enemy, and used every means in his power to gain correct information of their plans. This moment of inaction he also embraced, to lay before Congress his reiterated remonstrances against the fatal system of short enlistments. He hoped that experience, by its severe chastisement, would produce the conviction upon that body, which his arguments and persuasions had not fully effected.
He urged Congress to establish corps DEC 20. of cavalry, artillerists, and engineers, and
pressed upon them the necessity of establishing additional regiments of infantry. He knew that objections to these measures would arise, on account of the expense, and from the consideration, that the old battalions were not yet filled ; these he obviated hy observing, that “more men would in this way on the whole be raised, and that our funds were not tho only object now to be taken into consideration. We find,” he added, “ that the enemy are daily gathorVol. 1
ing strength from the disaffected. This strength, liks a snowball by rolling, will increase, unless some means can be devised to check, effectually, the progress of the enerny's arms: militia may possibly do it for a little while ; but in a little while also, the militia of these states, which have frequently been called upon, will not turn out at call; or if they do, it will be with 80 much reluctance and sloth, as to amount to the same thing : instance New-Jersey! witness Pennsylvania' could any thing but the river Delaware have saved Philadelphia ? could any thing (the exigency of the case indeed may justify it) be more destructive to the recruiting service, than giving ten dollars boun: ty, for six weeks' service of the militia, who come in, you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when, and act, you cannot tell where-consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last, at a critical moment. These are the men I am to depend upon ten days hence. This is the basis on which your cause will, and must for ever depend, till you get a large standing army, sufficient of itself to oppose the enemy.”
With deference he suggested to Congress the expediency of enlarging his own powers, that he might execute important measures, without consulting with them, and possibly, by the delay, missing the favourable moment of action. “ It may be said,” he observed, “ that this is an upplication for powers that are too dangerous to be entrusted. I can only add, that despe rate diseases require desperate remedies, and with truth declare, that I have no lust after power, but wish with as much fervency as any man upon the wide extended continent, for an opportunity of turning the sword into a ploughshare. But my feelings as an officer and a man, have been such as to force me to say, that no person ever had a greater choice of difficulties to contend with than I have.” Having recommended sundry other measures, and mentioned several are
rangements which he had adopted beyond the spirit of liis commission, he concluded with the following observations.
“ 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 devolved 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 Wash Ington determined to recommence active operations.
General Maxwell had already been sent into NewJersey, 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 going into the British lines to make their stbmission, to harass the marches of the enemy, and to give early intelli gence of their mo:ements, particularly of those to wards Princeton and Trenton.
These measures were preparatory to more erter prising and bold operations. General Washington had noticed the loose and uncovered stace of the winter quarters of the British army; and he contemplated the preservation of Philadelphia, anů the recovery of New Jersey, by sweeping, at one stroke, all the British
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 at. tack 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
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 bis 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 dirisions, 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 Pennington road, reached the outpost 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.
T'he 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 artıllery 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 Bore denton. Of the American troops, twn 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 ar. tillery, a thousand stand of arms, and some militais stores.
General Howe was astonished at this display of en terprise and vigour. He found the American Com. mander, 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 forco 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