« PreviousContinue »
ACTION AT PRINCETON.
road to Brunswick, leaving behind one hundred dead, and three hundred prisoners. There were also three brass fieldpieces, which for want of horses, the American commander could not secure. On his side, there fell one of his Generals, named Mercer, and four Colonels or Captains, but no more, as he states, than twenty-five or thirty privates. During this action Washington himself, with the utmost intrepidity, appeared in the thickest of the fight, animating his men by his example even to the alarm and dissatisfaction of his officers. * On the other hand, the British troops evinced so much of steady courage and discipline under every disadvantage, as to warrant their chiefs in the belief that had the 40th come up in time from Princeton, and the three regiments formed in line together, they might have stood firm against all the efforts of the not large nor well-appointed American army, and enabled Lord Cornwallis to take it in the rear.
Washington did not find it possible to fulfil his first intentions, and push onward to Brunswick. His men were exhausted with fatigue, having been eighteen hours without food, and thirty-six without rest; most of them were ill-clad, and many barefoot. Moreover Lord Cornwallis, seeing at day-break that the American army was no longer before him, and hearing the guns in his rear, was hastening back with all speed to Princeton and to Brunswick, there to secure his reserve and magazines. The American General therefore desisted from pursuit of the two defeated regiments, and turned aside towards Pluckemin; first, however, destroying the bridge over Stoney Brook, and thus retarding any pursuit of himself. Two days afterwards he moved to Morristown , a position among the hills, not easy of access yet well provided with supplies. From thence sending out detachments he overran and reduced nearly the whole of the Jerseys. General Howe, not willing to be roused from his
* One officer writes from Morristown a few days afterwards: "Our uarmy love their General very much, but they have one thing against him, "which is the little care he takes of himself in any action." Note by Mr. Sparks to Washington's Writings, vol. iv. p. 262. . , winter quarters at New York, seemed content to lose the province so lately gained, and satisfied with merely retaining posts at Brunswick and Amboy.
At this time one of Washington's detachments, under General Heath, was pushed forward, even beyond the Hudeon, in the direction of Kingsbridge. There the British held a fort, which, though in their possession, retained the name which the Americans had given it — Fortlndependence. To this fort General Heath sent a summons to surrender, couched in the most peremptory terms. "Twenty minutes "only can be allowed for the garrison to give their answer; "and should it be in the negative, they must abide the con"sequences." The garrison returned no answer, but found no consequences follow, since the fort was not attacked, and General Heath quietly withdrew. For this ridiculous affair he was properly rebuked by Washington.*
Thus concluded the campaign of this year. The surprise at Trenton, and the skirmish at Princeton — both of which the Americans have dignified with the name of battles — are not to be estimated solely by their rank as feats of arms. Their results, moral as well as military, were of very high importance. In the first place they had saved Philadelphia, and arrested the conquering progress of the British troops. Next, as we have seen, they replaced the Jerseys beneath the sway of Congress. No greater act of impolicy can well be imagined than that the British General should tamely acquiesce in the reduction of a province which had so recently and so warmly espoused his cause, thus exposing the loyalists within it to every kind of persecution and ill-treatment, and discouraging most effectually the loyalists elsewhere.
Hardly less impolitic, hardly less injurious, had been the license allowed the troops, and above all, the foreign mercenaries, while this province still continued in their hands.
* "Your summons, as you did not attempt to fulfil your threats, was "not only idle but farcical, and will not fail of turning the laugh exceedingly upon us." To Major General Heath, February 3. 1777. See also Heath's Memoirs, pp. 107. 113., as cited by Mr. Sparks.
1777. MORAL EFFECTS OF WASHINGTON'S SUCCESSES. 141
Acts of plunder, or of insult, not promptly repressed, nor duly punished, led of course to alienation and resentment. The details of any such outrages, sometimes taken on oath, but more frequently magnified by rumours and surmises, were published in the American newspapers, as incentives against the King and people of Great Britain. There is then no cause for wonder, if by such deplorable excesses in the men, and remissness in the chiefs, the temper of the Jerseys, of late so favourable, was wholly changed. As the American troops advanced they observed, at least in some districts, that almost every house on the road had a red rag nailed upon the door, as a token of attachment to the Crown; but all such tokens the inhabitants were now busy pulling down. *
The moral effects of Washington's successes were felt throughout the United States. In the strong words of one of their own historians, it seemed like a resurrection from the dead.** Washington himself, indeed, had never ceased to be serene and self-assured. In the lowest depths of fortune he said calmly to one of his chief officers, that he should strive to the last, retiring, if need were, from State to State, and from post to post, and if even forced back from all, maintaining the war beyond the Alleghany mountains.*** But many others, who in bygone years had bawled while he was quiet, and who had blamed him for being so, were now wavering and whispering, while he continued firm. There was a general gloom and despondency, an idea that the British arms were irresistible, and that the struggle for Independence was drawing to a close. In this state of public feeling, the recruiting for the new army, on which all Washington's hopes depended, made no progress. By the days of Trenton, and of Princeton, this state of public feeling was reversed. They had shown that it was not merely behind entrenchments and redoubts that the American forces could fight;
* Life and Correspondence of Reed, vol. i. p. 280.
but that even in the open field, under favourable circumstances, they could cope with, and might overpower, their disciplined and veteran foes. Confidence returned, and with confidence exertion. New recruits began to come in, and some of the older enlisted were persuaded to remain, while clothing, stores, and other requisites for them were more freely supplied.
In no place was the change of temper more marked and more apparent, than in the ranks of Congress. When that assembly met again at Baltimore, so keen was their sense of the present peril, as to overcome what hitherto had been among their main principles of action, — their dislike of a standing army, their distrust of a military chief. On the day after the affair of Trenton, but of course before its issue could be known, they conferred upon their General, for six months to come, powers of the most extensive kind, — the powers, in truth, of a Dictator. Washington was authorised to raise sixteen battalions in addition to those already voted; to apply at his pleasure to any of the States for the aid of their Militia; to appoint and displace all officers below the rank of Brigadier-General; to take, wherever he might be, whatever he might want for the use of his army, allowing a reasonable price for the same; to arrest and confine all persons who should refuse to take the continental currency, or who had given any other proof of disaffection to the cause. The extraordinary powers thus entrusted to him, were acknowledged by Washington in the most dutiful and becoming spirit. Referring to them, he says, "Instead of "thinking myself freed from all civil obligations, by this "mark of the confidence of Congress, I shall constantly bear "in mind, that as the sword was the last resort for the "preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first "thing laid aside when those liberties are firmly established. "I shall instantly set about making the most necessary re"forms in the army." *
* Letter, January J. 1777. Even in England, at that time, the new Dictator came to bo snrnamed, in compliment, the American Fabiua. (See 1777. - SINGULAR INSTRUCTIONS.
When, however, the day of Princeton had been fought, -— when the Jerseys were recovered, and when, a few weeks afterwards, the Congress were enabled to return from Baltimore to Philadelphia, — they passed from their late dismay to overweening confidence. They seemed to think that it was only the caution of their General which prolonged the war, as if he need only lift his hand to annihilate and exterminate the entire British army! To their suggestions on this subject Washington replies on the 14th of March, with his usual clear good sense, and not without a touch of humour. He declares that he should be happy indeed if he could accomplish the important objects so eagerly wished by Congress, namely, "confining the enemy within their present "quarters; preventing their getting supplies from the coun"try; and totally subduing them before they are reinforced." "But," adds Washington, "what prospect or hope can there "be of my effecting so desirable a work at this time? The "whole force I have in Jersey is but a handful:" and he then proceeds to explain why his force in Jersey was not only small, but ill-appointed. Perhaps we may suspect that, in the high-flown hopes which they formed, some at least of the members of Congress were misled by the high-flown terms which they employed! Like the Spanish chiefs and statesmen of old, and down to the present day, they had grown fond of bestowing exalted epithets upon their cause and country, until at last they wrought themselves into believing all their own compliments realities.*
General Howe, and consequently General Washington,
Annual Rcgiat. 1777, p. 20.) The American writers a.dd, and are well justified in adding, that to no man more truly than to Washington might be applied these lines on Fabius, which Ennius wrote, and Cicero records:
"Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem:
"Non ponebat enim rumores ante salutem;
"Ergo magisque, magisque Viri nunc gloria claret." * In a lively work of our own time — "Lea Soirees de Neuilly" — may be seen described the weariness of the French officers under the Duke d'Angouleme, in 1823, at the oft-recurring phrase of each Spanish Alcalde: "Seigneur commandant, je viens vous complimenter au nom des heroiques "habitants de cette ville!" (p. 298.) Several towns, Madrid especially, rejoice in the official title of Eroica.