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adversary than the Germans whom he had overthrown at Trenton. His head-quarters were transferred to that village; where all his levies, new and old, had been directed to muster. Stirling was left in charge on the Pennsylvanian bank of the river, temporarily crippled by a well-earned attack of rheumatism; that scourge of elderly generals who have enjoyed life freely, but who do not shrink from hardship and exposure in the field. Within three days Washington had collected round him five thousand men and forty pieces of artillery. His army was a medley of unequally sized and very dissimilar fragments, of which the best were the smallest. Of Haslet's eight hundred Delawares only a hundred remained; and the Marylanders, who had marched to Long Island a thousand strong, had been reduced, there and elsewhere, to less than eight-score effective soldiers. The militia regiments on the other hand, none of which had been embodied during more than a fortnight, were full to overflowing, and made up quite half the numbers, though very much less than half the strength, of Washington's army.
Different, indeed, was the character and the composition of that force which was being hurried forward to recover New Jersey for the Crown, and to retrieve the credit of the Royal arms. When Colonel Rall's defeat became known in New York, time was not squandered, nor pains spared. The finest of the English regiments were sent off as fast as they could be got into travelling order, and pushed quickly towards the Delaware, gathering up the garrisons which were stationed along their line of march. Lord Cornwallis, whose baggage was already on board for England, gave up all thought of that voyage; started for the front on the first morning of the New Year; covered fifty miles of road at the pace of a fox-hunter on the way to a distant meet; and by nightfall was already at Princeton, at the head of eight thousand magnificent soldiers, and a powerful train of cannon.
Before daylight next morning he set the bulk of his troops in motion for an immediate advance on Trenton; while a
PT. II.-VOL. II.
strong rear-guard remained behind at Princeton, with orders to rejoin the main army early on the morrow.
It was a bad prospect for Washington; but he had very carefully weighed the alternative dangers which beset him; and he had made up his mind, at any risk whatsoever, to hold his ground to the east of the Delaware. He was firmly resolved on no account to abandon those inhabitants of New Jersey who had hailed his recent victory as the signal of their own deliverance, and had openly and definitively cast in their lot with the Revolution. Trenton, however, (as Washington, in the course of the past week, had brilliantly and conclusively proved,) was not a defensible post. He therefore established himself on the flank of the village, and disposed his army in line of battle over a space of three miles along the southern shore of the Assunpink Creek, with his left resting on the Delaware river. Time was of moment to him ; for his force was not yet completely assembled, and his more remote detachments were still coming into camp during the whole forenoon of the second of January. He accordingly despatched a body of picked troops towards Maidenhead, with orders to delay the enemy's march, and stave off the impending general engagement during at least four-and-twenty hours. His injunctions were faithfully and scrupulously obeyed. Cornwallis advanced in three columns along, and alongside, the Princeton highway. The English light infantry swarmed on ahead, together with a strong party of Hessian chasseurs attached to the command of Colonel von Donop, who always knew the trick of making his soldiers fight. But the Americans had by now acquired the self-respect and the self-possession of veterans who would be equally ashamed to fail in their duty by remissness, or by rashness to sacrifice in killed and wounded a
1 “Our situation was most critical, and our force small. To remove immediately was again destroying every dawn of hope which had begun to revive in the breasts of the Jersey militia.” Washington to the President of Congress; January 5, 1777.
heavier toll than the performance of that duty unavoidably exacted. They disputed each turn of the road, and every thicket and ravine which lay to the right or the left of it. Once at least the British artillery had to be fetched up from the rear in order to dislodge them from a position of advantage. Both sides, as is usual in an affair of that nature, imagined that they were destroying a great number of their opponents, and knew that they were losing very few of their own people; but, although the Americans had not shot down many adversaries, they had killed much time. The British advance guard which, without displaying any backwardness, had consumed eight hours in traversing just as many miles, did not reach the houses of Trenton until four in the evening; after which, in the first week of January, there is little daylight left.
Cornwallis, when on active service, was an early riser; and he was sure to be at work the next morning as soon as he left his bed. So able a soldier could be under no doubt as to what it was incumbent on him to do. A front attack on the hostile position was altogether out of the question. Except in a very few places the Assunpink was too deep for wading, as the Von Knyphausens had learned to their cost; the bridge, and all the fords, were protected by earthworks; and the passage of the stream was commanded by more than three times as many muskets, and six times as many cannon, as had swept the slope in front of Bunker's Hill. But Cornwallis had a superior force of welltrained troops, who manæuvred with promptitude and precision; and it would be an easy matter for him to turn the right flank of the enemy in the direction of Allenstown, and force them into a combat on equal terms and in the open country. A full half of the
1 Two or three American officers were wounded, and some of their men were killed. The Hessians lost fifteen, including a chasseur whose ghost, according to the negroes of the neighbourhood, walked the Maidenhead woods for many years afterwards.
Americans were militiamen, badly drilled, and new to warfare; whereas none of Cornwallis's regiments were much below the average quality of the Royal army, and that average was very high. Most military critics hold that, in a pitched battle, Washington would probably have been beaten; and they all of them are agreed that, if beaten, he would have been utterly ruined.1
The situation was alarming, but of the class with which Washington had always been singularly capable of dealing. He rapidly thought out a scheme by which he might extricate his troops from the front of peril without discouraging or humiliating them, and might attain the fruits of victory more cheaply than at the price of a bloody and dubious encounter with the whole of the Royal army. His objects were very clear before him; and there was no bungling or hesitation in the methods which he adopted in order to ensure success. Cornwallis and his staff noticed a display of activity in the American lines which, to their view, augured a deep anxiety on Washington's part as to the issue of the impending battle. Camp fires, fed with cedar rails from the fences round, were blazing all along the bank-top, and all through the night. Sentinels challenged; and strong parties of infantry paced up and down the foreground of the position until morning broke. Especially observable was the industry with which the American engineers employed the interval of darkness for strengthening the fortification at the bridge. The British pickets could distinctly hear the voices of workmen, the blows of axes, and the rattle of frozen earth as it was tossed
1 General Knox put the case very frankly in a letter to his wife. “The situation,” he wrote, “ was strong to be sure, but hazardous on this account, that, had our right been defeated, the defeat of the left would almost have been an inevitable consequence, and the whole thrown into confusion, or pushed into the Delaware, as it was impassable by boats.”
2 Washington gave President Hancock his reason for marching on Princeton in a sentence of involved construction, but perfectly plain in meaning. “One thing I was certain of, that it would avoid the appearance of a retreat, (which was of consequence, or to run the hazard of the whole army being cut off;) whilst we might by a fortunate stroke withdraw General Howe from Trenton, and give some reputation to our arms."
out of the ditches by the spade. But the real business of the night was conducted elsewhere. The heaviest American cannon, and all the stores and baggage, were packed off to Bordentown and Burlington; and at one in the morning the army commenced a movement the nature and the direction of which had been disclosed to no one below the rank of Brigadier. So strictly was the secret kept that officers, who had taken up their quarters in farmhouses to rear of the bivouacs, were left to have their sleep out, and next day found difficulty in rejoining their regiments. Orders were given in a whisper; muskets were gingerly handled, and footfalls lightly planted; and the tires of the gun-wheels had all been carefully wrapped in strips of cloth. A hard frost made the muddy causeways passable for artillery; and the frequent forests through which those causeways led did not confuse or impede the progress of the expedition. An army containing so many Indian fighters, from the Commander-in-Chief downwards, was at home among the woods in night-time; and the journey proceeded from start to finish without mishap or misadventure. Washington steered his course with an inclination towards the east, and then gradually worked round to the northwest, until at daybreak he struck the Princeton highway a mile and a half to the southward of that town. He came out exactly where he intended; but he lighted upon something which he had not anticipated; for marching down the road across his front was a column of red-coated infantry.
Cornwallis had left at Princeton for the night three regiments of the British line, with two guns, and a small force of light dragoons. Some of these troops were now pushing on for Trenton, to take their part in the expected battle, with a haste which was to the credit of their courage, and an absence of caution that was a
1 Chapter xv. of Stryker's Trenton and Princeton. The account there given of Washington's flank-march is illustrated by the local knowledge of a neighbour, and the oral traditions accessible to the member of an old Revolutionary family,