Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

afterwards some prominent Whigs arraigned him before the Magistrates as having aided and comforted the enemies of New Jersey in the evil days when that State was occupied by the invader; but in the end Honeyman surmounted all his perils, and long out-lived his unpopularity. He died in the odour of patriotism, at the ripe age of ninety-three.

That conversation on a winter night between Washington and John Honeyman settled the fate of Colonel Rall and the brigade which he commanded. The faulty disposition of the Hessians inside Trenton, and the absence there of all due caution and preparation, were now intimately known to the American general; and he had informed himself quite sufficiently about the state of things prevailing in the district outside the confines of the village. It was his constant custom to send across the British lines a number of horsemen, habited like well-to-do rustic folk, and to keep them riding backwards and forwards through and through the country, making their mental notes leisurely and coolly, and with all but assured impunity. In this respect, from the nature of the case, Washington possessed a great advantage over the Royal generals. The spies accredited by Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton had unusual hazards and difficulties to encounter; and, unless they shirked the business of their mission, their careers were for the most part very brief. Washington's army contained regiments from all the States; and within the precincts of his camp there was sure to be at least one native of any given county and township in the Confederacy. If the Royal spy was of colonial origin, it was long odds that some rebel militiaman or another would recognise him for a fellow-townsman and a Loyalist; and, if he was an Englishman, he had to undergo that searching catechism of personal inquiries which, then and long afterwards, in peace and war

1 In Stryker's Trenton and Princeton a narrative is given of Honey. man's proceedings during December 1776.

2 Washington to Major General Putnam ; January 5, 1777.

alike, it was the pleasure of every true American to inflict upon a stranger for the gratification of his own curiosity. But Washington's corporals and sergeants, — who even in their uniforms looked much more like agriculturists than military men, - when got up as harmless civilians could make the round of British bivouacs without fear of meeting any one who knew their faces, their antecedents, or their political opinions; and they were safer still in the company of Hessians, none of whom could so much as tell a Yankee from a Carolinian. The Revolutionary emissaries wandered at ease through the cantonments of Grant, and Leslie, and Von Donop; talking Toryism, peddling tobacco, and picking up valuable materials for observation at every

Their general was soon absolutely certified that, if he moved forward quietly and rapidly, he would have at least three clear and uninterrupted days within which to arrange the accounts of Colonel Rall and his regiments. General Graħt had under his own hand at Brunswick considerably less than a thousand men; round Princeton the troops were dispersed in winter quarters, and had given over the very idea of further movements until spring arrived; while in Burlington County the Royal soldiers were reported as "scattered through all the farmers' houses, -eight, ten, twelve, and fifteen in a house, — and rambling over the whole

country.” 1

Washington's opportunity had come; and not a moment too soon. He already had confessed to his brother that the game was pretty nearly up,” owing to the defection of the middle colonies from the American cause, to the ruinous policy of short enlistments, and the too great dependence which had been placed on the militia.? Every clause of that melancholy sentence was correct in all particulars. Governor Tryon exultingly wrote to Lord George Germaine that in the

1 Colonel Reed to General Washington ; Bristol, December 22, 1776.

2 Letter to John Augustine Washington; Camp near the Falls of Trenton, December 18, 1776.

colony of New York loyalty towards the Crown was no longer a passive or a timorous sentiment. One day he had mustered under the Royal standard eight hundred and twenty armed inhabitants of Queen's County; and on another the oath of allegiance was administered to almost as many of the Suffolk Militia. Not a murmur of discontent could be heard throughout the whole crowd which witnessed that imposing ceremony. General George Clinton, on the other hand, who governed, in the interest of the Revolution, as much of the province of New York as Howe had not reconquered, informed the State Convention that his men had gone away, and still were going, without leave and in great numbers. He doubted, (he said,) whether he had strength enough to bring them back even though he should leave his lines undefended, and employ his whole remaining force to hunt up and recover the defaulters. It is certain that the entire, and the almost immediate, dissolution of the Provincial forces was serenely anticipated at the British head-quarters in New York city. Washington himself fully believed that his adversary was only waiting till the ice bore, and the Continental troops had melted away, in order to draw his brigades once more together, and advance upon Philadelphia. That fear was not chimerical; for by the end of the first fortnight in January the Delaware was frozen so hard that, if Sir William Howe had still been in fighting mood, (which, for good reasons, he no longer was, he might

1 General Clinton to the President of the Convention of New York ; December 28, 1776.

"Our people here are many of them in the utmost distress about their families, and other affairs at home, at this severe season. Their complaints are most desperate, and I am afraid many women and children, together with their cattle, will suffer, if not perish, and am sorry to Inform you that, In spite of all our Efforts, I am convinc'd the Melitia will go home Bodily, Before three Days, the consequence of which is obvious to Every man of the least desernment.” Colonel Allison to General George Clinton; Tappan, December 27, 1776. The news of Trenton had not, by then, penetrated to the Hudson river.

2 General Washington to Colonel Reed; December 23, 1776.

have marched his infantry across the river in extended order of battle.

One hope remained to comfort the mind, and stimulate the faculties, of the American commander. A single brilliant and indisputable success, all the more surely in proportion as it was unexpected, would reanimate the spirit of the nation, decide waverers, recall absentees to arms, and set the embers of the Revolution once more in a blaze. As early as the fourteenth of December Washington, in no less than three letters, expressed that conviction, and declared his intention to act upon it. The announcement, however, was made in general terms; and he thenceforward kept his own counsel. From the time when specific information about the distribution of his enemy's forces began to reach him, and his own scheme of action took definite shape, all further allusion to the subject disappeared even from his most familiar correspondence. At last, on the twenty-third of December, when his views were clear and his plans thought out, he wrote thus to the Adjutant General of the army. “Christmas-day at night, one hour before day, is the time fixed for our attempt on Trenton. For Heaven's sake keep this to yourself; as the discovery of it may prove fatal to us,

our numbers, sorry am I to say, being less than I had any conception of. But necessity, dire necessity, will, nay must, justify an attempt.”

On Christmas Eve, General Greene requested the family with whom he lodged to leave their house in his charge for the night. When the coast was clear, Wash

1 One of these letters was addressed to General Heath, and another to General Gates. In the third, Washington wrote to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut about the troops whom Schuyler had sent down from Albany and Ticonderoga. “By coming on they may in conjunction with my present force, and that under General Lee, enable us to attempt a stroke upon the forces of the enemy, who lie a good deal scattered, and to all appearance in a state of security. A lucky blow in this quarter would be fatal to them, and would most certainly rouse the spirits of the people, which are quite sunk by our late misfortunes.”

PT. II.-VOL. II.

H

ington and his principal officers came in to supper; and, before they left the table, all their preparations were complete. Colonel Cadwalader, — himself a Philadelphian, - was to take the Philadelphian Associators, and a brigade of New Englanders, across the Delaware in the neighbourhood of Bristol, and beat up Von Donop's cantonments at Bordentown.1 General Ewing, with something under a thousand militiamen, was bidden to pass the river at Trenton Ferry, and station his troops on the southern bank of the Assunpink Creek. Washington himself, meanwhile, purposed to traverse the stream at a higher point, and advance against Colonel Rall's position from the northwest quarter. His force consisted of twenty-four hundred Continental veterans under Greene and Sullivan, and no fewer than eighteen cannon. So large a mass of artillery was a grievous incumbrance on this night march, undertaken with intent to surprise an enemy covered by a nearly impassable current; but the future showed that the arrangement had been dictated by just foresight. Each of the seven brigades was to be furnished with two good guides. Every officer in the column was to set his watch by Washington's, and to fasten a piece of white paper conspicuously in his hat. Every man carried cooked provisions for three days; a blanket to cover him if ever he found leisure to lie down; a new flint screwed into the hammer of his piece, and forty rounds of ammunition which, whatever might be the case later on, were at all events to be dry when the expedition started. An express rider was despatched to summon Doctor

1 Cadwalader had been taken at Fort Washington, and was most handsomely released without parole by Sir William Howe, in return for civilities shown by the Colonel's father to General Prescott when a prisoner in Philadelphia. Washington, in terms of unwonted vivacity, expressed an apprehension lest the Continental officers might "kick up some dust” at being placed under the command of a brigadier from the militia. He accordingly desired General Horatio Gates to lead the force which was destined to attack Von Donop; but Gates pleaded illness, and went off to Baltimore, where he put himself in touch with the less respectable Members of Congress, and laid the foundation of an intrigue directed against the leadership of Washington.

« ПредишнаНапред »