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CHAP. VIII. with them, too, to increase the number of con. 1776. tinental regiments. It was admitted that those
already voted would, most probably, not be completed; but he contended that by directing an additional number, and appointing other officers, more men would be inlisted, as every officer would recruit a few. With respect to the additional expense to be incurred by the measures he recommended, it was observed, “ that our funds were not the only object now to be taken into consideration. The enemy, it was found, were daily gathering strength from the disaffected. This strength, like a snowball by rolling, would increase, unless some means could be devised to check effectually the progress of their arms. Militia might possibly do it for a little while; but in a little while also the militia of those states which were frequently called upon, would not turn out at all, or would turn out with so much reluctance and sloth, as to amount to the same thing. Instance New Jersey! witness Penn. sylvania! could any thing but the river Dela. ware have saved Philadelphia ?
“ Could any thing,” he asked, “ be more destructive of the recruiting business, than giving ten dollars bounty for six weeks ser. vice in the militia, who come in, you cannot tell how; go, you cannot tell when; and act, you cannot tell where: who consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last in a critical moment.
" These, sir,” he added, " are the men I CHAP. VIII. am to depend upon ten days hence. This is 1776. the basis upon which your cause will rest, and must forever depend, until you get a large standing army sufficient of itself to oppose the enemy.”
He also hinted the idea, extremely delicate in itself, of enlarging his powers so as to enable him to act without constant applications to con. gress for their sanction of measures, the imme. diate adoption of which was essential to the public interests. “This might,” he said, “be termed an application for powers too dangerous to be intrusted.” He could only answer, " that desperate diseases required desperate remedies. He could with truth declare that he felt no lust for power, but wished with as much fervency as any man upon this wide extended continent, for an opportunity of turning the sword into a ploughshare: but his feelings as an officer, and as a man, had been such as to force him to say, that no person ever had a greater choice of difficulties to contend with than himself.”
After stating several measures he had adopted, not within the powers conferred on him by congress, and urging many other necessary ar. rangements, he added, “ It may be thought I am going a good deal out of the line of my duty, to adopt these measures, or advise thus freely: a character to lose, an estate to forfeit,
CHAP. vin. the inestimable blessing of liberty at stake, and 1776. a life devoted, must be my excuse.”
The present aspect of their affairs was ex. tremely unfavourable to the United States. The existing army, except a few regiments from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York, affording an effective force of about fifteen hundred men, would dissolve in a very few days. New Jersey had, in a great mea. sure, submitted to the enemy. The militia of Pennsylvania had not turned out with the alacrity expected from them. General Howe would, most probably, avail himself of the ice which was now to be expected, and of the dissolution of the American army, to pass the Delaware and seize Philadelphia. This event was greatly dreaded, not only on account of its intrinsic importance at any time, but on account of its peculiar importance at this; when that army was to be recruited on which the future hopes of America were to rest, and which was to decide her destiny. It was greatly feared, and with much reason, that this event would make so unfavourable an impres. sion on the public mind, as to deter the American youth from engaging in a contest becoming so desperate.
Impelled by these considerations, and by that enterprise of temper which he possessed in a very great degree, general Washington no sooner perceived the dispersed situation of the
enemy, than he meditated a blow which might CHAP. VIII. retrieve the affairs of America, in the public 1776. opinion, and recover the ground which had been lost.
He formed the daring plan of attacking, at the same instant, all the British posts on the Delaware. If successful in all, or any of these attacks, he hoped to wipe off the ill impressions made by his losses, and by his retreat, and to compel the enemy to compress himself in such a manner as no longer to cover the Jerseys, while he should at the same time, relieve Phila. delphia from the immediate and imminent danger with which it was now threatened. · The position he had taken, to oppose the pas. sage of the river by the enemy, was precisely calculated to favour his present scheme of offensive operations.
Most of his regulars were posted above Trenton, from Yardly's up to Coryell's ferry. General Irvine with the Pennsylvania flying camp, and Jersey militia, extended from Yardly's to the ferry opposite Bordentown; and general Cadwalader with the Pennsylvania militia, lay still lower down the river.
The plan now formed was to cross in the night at M‘Konkey's ferry, about nine miles above Trenton, to march down in two divisions, the one taking the river road, and the other the Pennington road, both which lead into the town; the one at the upper, or west end, and
CHAP. VIII. to him. With his utmost efforts he could not 1776. cross the river; in consequence of this circum
stance the lower road towards Bordentown remained open. A part of the enemy, about five hundred men, stationed in the lower end of Trenton, availed themselves of this circumstance, and crossing the bridge in the commencement of the action, marched down the river to Bordentown. The same cause, pre. vented general Cadwalader from attacking the post at Burlington. With infinite difficulty he got over a part of his infantry; but finding it absolutely impracticable to cross with the artil. lery, his infantry returned.
Though this plan failed in so many of its parts in consequence of the extreme severity of the night, the success which attended that part of it, which was to be executed by general Washington in person, was complete; and was followed by the happiest effects. About twenty of the enemy were killed, and nine hundred and nine, including officers, laid down their arms, and surrendered themselves prisoners. Others were afterwards found concealed in houses, so as to increase the number to about one thou. sand. Six field pieces, and a thousand stand of small arms, were also taken. On the part of the Americans, two privates were killed; two frozen to death; and one officer, and three or four privates, wounded.