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practical and most indisputable compliment to the craft and secrecy of Washington's strategy. The British, (so General Knox wrote,) were as much astonished as if an army had dropped perpendicularly upon them from the clouds ;1 but, though amazed, they were not confounded. They at once faced about, deployed into line, and came valiantly, and even jauntily, forwards. Colonel Mawhood, of the Seventeenth Foot, who was their acting Brigadier, rode among them on a small brown pony, with two favourite spaniels bounding before him. The Americans were cold and hungry, and worn out by toil and want of sleep. The English were fresh and well breakfasted; but that was the sole advantage which they enjoyed; for they were outnumbered four to one, and their scanty force was dispersed in three segments. The Fortieth regiment had remained in Princeton to guard the stores; the Fifty-fifth, though already on the road, was a mile to the rear; and Colonel Mawhood had under his hand little besides his own battalion. During the first few minutes the odds were not unequal. In the van of the American army was a weak brigade of Continental infantry, under the command of General Mercer, a man of mature years, with a varied, an eventful, and a most honourable career behind him. He served as surgeon in Prince Charles's army at Culloden; he had borne arms with distinction in French and Indian warfare; and before the Revolution he was a physician, noted throughout Virginia for his skill and gentleness. Both parties raced for the possession of an orchard which lay midway between them. The Americans reached it first, but the English appeared to want it the most. Three volleys were exchanged across a space of forty yards; and then Colonel Mawhood led on his people at a run.
It was a bayonet-charge of another sort from that of poor Colonel Rall. The Continental soldiers broke and fed ; but some of the officers remained at their post, and died very staunchly. Two New Jersey field-pieces were
1 General Knox to his wife ; Morristown, January 7, 1777.
captured, and the captain in charge of them was killed at his guns. Mercer himself used his sword until he fell covered with wounds. Those who witnessed the behaviour of the Seventeenth Foot on that occasion might well ask themselves what would have happened if Cornwallis had hurled not one, but twelve or fifteen, of such regiments against the right wing of the American army while it was enclosed and entrapped between the ice-laden flood of the Delaware, and the unfordable Assunpink Creek.
The British followed in pursuit; but they found themselves in presence of numerous reinforcements which were flocking in towards the sound of the firing. Immediately to their front was a great mass of the Philadelphia Associators. These unpractised soldiers, civilians of yesterday, were thrown into disorder by the backward rush of their defeated countrymen; but they were recalled to their duty by the strenuous exertions of some gallant men who did not ask themselves whether that lead-swept spot of ground was the precise place to which their special business called them. Captain William Shippen, a naval officer of the Delaware squadron, there got his death-wound; and Colonel Haslet dropped with a bullet through his brain. In his pocket was an order directing him to go home on recruiting service, which he had divulged to no one, and had silently disobeyed. Washington himself rode forward between the opposing lines, until he was within thirty paces of the hostile muzzles. His friends disapproved the action as an excess of rashness; but it was a matter on which, like Wolfe before him, and Wellington after him, he had no conscience whatsoever.1 The veterans from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, whom Colonel Hitchcock brought into action in soldierly array, showed
1 One of our generals, in the Peninsular war, had been too reckless of his own safety under fire. “Lord Wellington," wrote Sir George Larpent, “blames his exposing himself ; with what face I know not." That was a fine compliment to the valour of the Commander-in-Chief; and very pithily turned.
a steadfast countenance; the Philadelphia Associators warmed to their work, and Mercer's soldiers began to come back, as soon as there was a nucleus of discipline and martial resolution on which to rally; and the whole space in front, and in Aank, of the English regiment was rapidly thronged with as many militiamen, regulars, and riflemen from the Western frontier, as could find room to ply their firelocks. The adversaries were separated by so short a distance that they could hear each other speak during the moments which elapsed before the roar of musketry commenced. A Pennsylvanian battery was brought almost within pistol range, and the guns were discharged with such terrible effect as to shock those American officers who observed the ravages of the grape-shot. It was the old story. During the early portion of the war it had sometimes not been easy to induce the country-bred troops to stand; but, whenever they held their ground, their fire was extraordinarily destructive. The line of British infantry, a bare four hundred to begin with, must very soon have been annihilated. No military object could be promoted by such a tragedy; enough had been done for honour; and Colonel Mawhood turned his attention to the task of saving the remnant of his battalion. He abandoned the two cannon which he had taken, and two others of his own, and made off in the direction of Trenton, covering his retreat, as best he might, with a handful of cavalry:2
According to those who professed to have taken the time by their watches, all this desperate fighting was crowded into fifteen minutes; and in that quarter of an hour the affair had been decided. When Colonel Mawhood retired from the field, the rest of the British
1 As the First Virginians were being got into position, Captain John Fleming called out, “ Gentlemen, dress the line." “ We will dress you," a British private retorted ; and Fleming was killed the next instant.
2 “In this trying and dangerous situation the brave commander, and his equally brave regiment, have gained immortal honour.” That sentence, from the “ History of Europe" in the Annual Register, expressed the unanimous opinion of Colonel Mawhood's countrymen.
force would have done well at once to march away in the opposite direction; but they now were entirely cut off from their commanding officer, and they had no orders. Without artillery, and on ground not adapted for effectual defence, they very speedily had upon their hands the whole of Washington's army. General Sullivan, who led the right wing of the Americans, advanced vigorously against Princeton, and drove the Fifty-fifth and Fortieth regiments in a northerly direction through and beyond the town, killing a few, and capturing large numbers of prisoners. An attempt at resistance was made in and around the College. Even in that quarter there was very little bloodshed, but some profanation; for young Alexander Hamilton, with the irreverence of a student fresh from a rival place of education, planted his guns on the sacred grass of the academical Campus, and fired a six-pound shot which is said to have passed through the head of King George the Second's portrait in the Chapel. The buildings were soon encompassed by an overwhelming force, and their garrison surrendered at discretion.
When the town had been cleared, Washington came to an almost instant resolution as to the course which it behoved him to pursue. If he had been able to dispose of six or eight hundred troops with some spring and alertness left in them, he would, (he said, have made a forced march on Brunswick, which contained the magazines belonging to the British army of occupation, as well as their military chest, with seventy thousand pounds inside it. But his soldiers, who had carried their arms during forty continuous hours of bitter weather, were falling asleep on the frozen ground; and there was no time allowed them to snatch a rest or cook a meal. As soon as the sun tinged with light the fog of early morning, Cornwallis discovered the trick which had been played him on the Assunpink Creek; and he marched at top-speed towards the dis
1 Washington to the President of Congress ; Pluckemin, January 5,
tant boom of the cannon, - that most distracting of all music in the ears of those who themselves ought by rights to be taking an active part in the concert. While Washington's rear-guard was still within sight of Princeton, the British light infantry were already at the southern entrance of the village, and the Americans would have been overtaken by their pursuers before ever they reached Brunswick. There, by all the rules of war, they should have encountered Sir William Howe and his New York army; and they would have been caught between two fires, either of which was quite as hot as they could endure. At a point five miles beyond Princeton, Washington turned due north out of the Brunswick road; lay that night at Somerset Court House; and marched thence, by Pluckemin, to the central, convenient, and the very defensible position of Morristown. There he established his troops securely, and, (by comparison with their experiences during the first ten weeks of winter,) not uncomfortably. Undisturbed by the adversary, — and in daily communication with Albany, Philadelphia, and New England, — he abode during the next four months at his head-quarters in the Jerseys; a thankful, a somewhat hopeful, and an exceedingly busy man.
Howe, giving no naines or details, stated the British loss at about two hundred and twenty. Washington reported to Congress that upwards of a hundred of the enemy were left dead on the field, and that he had in custody near three hundred prisoners, of whom fourteen bore commissions. Thirty Americans were returned as wounded. The same number of their privates were killed, and seven of their officers. The fighting had been so close and fierce that a very large proportion of the casualties were fatal; and yet, during the whole of
1 Between the seventh of January and the twenty-eighth of May, 1777, every single one of Washington's despatches is addressed from Morris.
2 General Mercer lived till the Sunday week after the battle, and suffered cruelly up to the very last. When the firing ceased, Washington shook hands with Colonel Hitchcock at the head of the New England