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their sanction of measures, the immediate 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 list of 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 arrangements, 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, the inestimable blessings of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be my excuse.”
The present aspect of their affairs was extremely 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, was to be dissolved in a very few days. New Jersey had, in a great measure, submitted to the enemy. The militia of Pennsylvania had not turned out with the alacrity expected from them. General Howe would, RR 3
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 its peculiar importance at this juncture, when that army was to be recruiteil, 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 impression 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 enterprising disposition which he possessed in a Tery great degree, General Washington no sooner perceived the dispersed situation of the eneiny, than he meditated a blow which might retrieve the affairs of America in the public 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 compell the enemy to compress himself in such a manner as no longer to cover the Jerseys, while lie should, at the same time, relieve Philadelphia from the immediate and imminent danger with which it was now threatened. The position be had taken, to oppose the passage
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 Yardley's to the ferry opposite Bordentown; and General Cadwallader, 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 of which lead into the town; the one at the upper or west end, and the other at its back, and towards the north. This part of the plan was to be executed by the General in person, at the head of about two thousand four hundred continental troops. It was supposed very practicable to pass them over the river by twelve o'clock, so that sufficient time would be allowed to reach their point of destination by five in the morning of the next day, when the attack was to be made. General Irvine, was directed to cross at the Trenton Ferry, and secure the bridge below the town, so as to prevent the escape of any part of the enemy by that road. General Cadwallader was to cross over at Bristol, and carry the post at Burlington. It had been in contemplation to unite the troops employ
ed in fortifying Philadelphia, to those at Bristol, and to place the whole under General Putnam; but there were such indications in that city of an insurrection to favour the royal cause, that it was deemed unsafe to withdraw them. The cold on the night of the twenty fifth was very severe ; a mingled snow, hail, and rain, fell in great quantities, and so much ice was formed in the river, that, with the utmost possible exertions, the troops, with the artillery, could not be got over till three o'clock, and it was near four before the line of march could be taken up. As the distance to Trenton, both by the River and Pennington Roads, is nearly the same, it was supposed that each division of the army would reach its object about the same time, and therefore orders were given to attack at the first moment of arrival; and, after driving in the out-guards, to press rapidly after them into the town, so as to prevent the main body of the eneny from forming.
General Washington himself accompanied the upper division, and arrived at the out-post on that road precisely at eight o'clock. He immediately drove it in, and in three minutes heard the fire from the division which had taken the River Road, The piquet-guard kept up a fire from behind houses as they retreated, but the Americans followed them with such ardour and rapidity, that they could make no stand. · Colonel Rawle, a very gallant officer, who commanded in Trenton, pa
raded his men, in order to meet the assailants, In the very commencement of the action he was mortally wounded ; and his troops, in apparent confusion, attempted to file off from the riglit, and gain the road to Princeton. Perceiving this, General Washington threw a detachment in their front, which intercepted them in the attempt, and advanced rapidly on them. Finding themselves surrounded, and their artillery already seized, they laid down their arms, and surrendered prisoners of war,
Unfortunately, the quantity of ice had rendered it impracticable for General Irvine to execute that part of the plan which had been allotted to him. With his utmost efforts he could not cross the river. In consequence of this circumstance, 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, inarched down the river to Bordentown. The same cause prevented General Cadwallader 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 artillery, his infantry returned.
Though this plau failed in so many of its parts, in consequence of the extreme severity of the