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American Heros

Sheridan At Cedar Creek
Inspired repulsed battalions to engage, And taught...

Farragut At Mobile Bay
Ha, old ship, do they thrill, The brave two hundre...

Washington
The brilliant historian of the English people [*] has written...

The Battle Of New Orleans
The heavy fog of morning Still hid the plain from...

Remember The Alamo
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier'...

George Rogers Clark And The Conquest Of The Northwest
Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end the...

General Grant And The Vicksburg Campaign
What flag is this you carry Along the sea and sho...

John Quincy Adams And The Right Of Petition
He rests with the immortals; his journey has been long: ...

The Burning Of The Philadelphia
And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a mali...

King's Mountain
Our fortress is the good greenwood, Our tent the ...

The Flag-bearer
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;...

The Death Of Stonewall Jackson
Like a servant of the Lord, with his bible and his sword...

Francis Parkman
(1822-1893) He told the red man's story; far and wide...

The General Armstrong Privateer
We have fought such a fight for a day and a night As m...

Bennington
We are but warriors for the working-day; Our gayne...

Hampton Roads
Then far away to the south uprose A little feathe...

The Battle Of Trenton
And such they are--and such they will be found: No...

The Cruise Of The Wasp
A crash as when some swollen cloud Cracks o'er th...

Lincoln
O captain. My captain. Our fearful trip is done; T...

Gouverneur Morris
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. PARIS. AUGUST 10, 1792. Justum et ...



The Battle Of Trenton






And such they are--and such they will be found:
Not so Leonidas and Washington,
Their every battle-field is holy ground
Which breathes of nations saved, not worlds undone.
How sweetly on the ear such echoes sound!
While the mere victor's may appal or stun
The servile and the vain, such names will be
A watchword till the future shall be free.
--Byron.


In December, 1776, the American Revolution was at its lowest ebb. The
first burst of enthusiasm, which drove the British back from Concord
and met them hand to hand at Bunker Hill, which forced them to abandon
Boston and repulsed their attack at Charleston, had spent its force. The
undisciplined American forces called suddenly from the workshop and the
farm had given way, under the strain of a prolonged contest, and had
been greatly scattered, many of the soldiers returning to their homes.
The power of England, on the other hand, with her disciplined army and
abundant resources, had begun to tell. Washington, fighting stubbornly,
had been driven during the summer and autumn from Long Island up the
Hudson, and New York had passed into the hands of the British. Then
Forts Lee and Washington had been lost, and finally the Continental army
had retreated to New Jersey. On the second of December Washington was
at Princeton with some three thousand ragged soldiers, and had escaped
destruction only by the rapidity of his movements. By the middle of the
month General Howe felt that the American army, unable as he believed
either to fight or to withstand the winter, must soon dissolve, and,
posting strong detachments at various points, he took up his winter
quarters in New York. The British general had under his command in his
various divisions twenty-five thousand well-disciplined soldiers, and
the conclusion he had reached was not an unreasonable one; everything,
in fact, seemed to confirm his opinion. Thousands of the colonists were
coming in and accepting his amnesty. The American militia had left the
field, and no more would turn out, despite Washington's earnest appeals.
All that remained of the American Revolution was the little Continental
army and the man who led it.

Yet even in this dark hour Washington did not despair. He sent in every
direction for troops. Nothing was forgotten. Nothing that he could do
was left undone. Unceasingly he urged action upon Congress, and at the
same time with indomitable fighting spirit he planned to attack the
British. It was a desperate undertaking in the face of such heavy odds,
for in all his divisions he had only some six thousand men, and even
these were scattered. The single hope was that by his own skill and
courage he could snatch victory from a situation where victory seemed
impossible. With the instinct of a great commander he saw that his only
chance was to fight the British detachments suddenly, unexpectedly,
and separately, and to do this not only required secrecy and perfect
judgment, but also the cool, unwavering courage of which, under such
circumstances, very few men have proved themselves capable. As Christmas
approached his plans were ready. He determined to fall upon the British
detachment of Hessians, under Colonel Rahl, at Trenton, and there strike
his first blow. To each division of his little army a part in the
attack was assigned with careful forethought. Nothing was overlooked and
nothing omitted, and then, for some reason good or bad, every one of
the division commanders failed to do his part. As the general plan was
arranged, Gates was to march from Bristol with two thousand men; Ewing
was to cross at Trenton; Putnam was to come up from Philadelphia; and
Griffin was to make a diversion against Donop. When the moment came,
Gates, who disapproved the plan, was on his way to Congress; Griffin
abandoned New Jersey and fled before Donop; Putnam did not attempt
to leave Philadelphia; and Ewing made no effort to cross at Trenton.
Cadwalader came down from Bristol, looked at the river and the
floating ice, and then gave it up as desperate. Nothing remained except
Washington himself with the main army, but he neither gave up, nor
hesitated, nor stopped on account of the ice, or the river, or the
perils which lay beyond. On Christmas Eve, when all the Christian
world was feasting and rejoicing, and while the British were enjoying
themselves in their comfortable quarters, Washington set out. With
twenty-four hundred men he crossed the Delaware through the floating ice,
his boats managed and rowed by the sturdy fishermen of Marblehead from
Glover's regiment. The crossing was successful, and he landed about nine
miles from Trenton. It was bitter cold, and the sleet and snow drove
sharply in the faces of the troops. Sullivan, marching by the river,
sent word that the arms of his soldiers were wet. "Tell your general,"
was Washington's reply to the message, "to use the bayonet, for the
town must be taken." When they reached Trenton it was broad daylight.
Washington, at the front and on the right of the line, swept down the
Pennington road, and, as he drove back the Hessian pickets, he heard the
shout of Sullivan's men as, with Stark leading the van, they charged in
from the river. A company of jaegers and of light dragoons slipped away.
There was some fighting in the streets, but the attack was so strong and
well calculated that resistance was useless. Colonel Rahl, the British
commander, aroused from his revels, was killed as he rushed out to rally
his men, and in a few moments all was over. A thousand prisoners fell
into Washington's hands, and this important detachment of the enemy was
cut off and destroyed.

The news of Trenton alarmed the British, and Lord Cornwallis with seven
thousand of the best troops started at once from New York in hot pursuit
of the American army. Washington, who had now rallied some five thousand
men, fell back, skirmishing heavily, behind the Assunpink, and when
Cornwallis reached the river he found the American army awaiting him on
the other side of the stream. Night was falling, and Cornwallis, feeling
sure of his prey, decided that he would not risk an assault until the
next morning. Many lessons had not yet taught him that it was a fatal
business to give even twelve hours to the great soldier opposed to him.
During the night Washington, leaving his fires burning and taking
a roundabout road which he had already reconnoitered, marched to
Princeton. There he struck another British detachment. A sharp fight
ensued, the British division was broken and defeated, losing some five
hundred men, and Washington withdrew after this second victory to the
highlands of New Jersey to rest and recruit.

Frederick the Great is reported to have said that this was the most
brilliant campaign of the century. With a force very much smaller than
that of the enemy, Washington had succeeded in striking the British at
two places with superior forces at each point of contact. At Trenton he
had the benefit of a surprise, but the second time he was between two
hostile armies. He was ready to fight Cornwallis when the latter reached
the Assunpink, trusting to the strength of his position to make up for
his inferiority of numbers. But when Cornwallis gave him the delay of a
night, Washington, seeing the advantage offered by his enemy's mistake,
at once changed his whole plan, and, turning in his tracks, fell upon
the smaller of the two forces opposed to him, wrecking and defeating
it before the outgeneraled Cornwallis could get up with the main army.
Washington had thus shown the highest form of military skill, for
there is nothing that requires so much judgment and knowledge, so much
certainty of movement and quick decision, as to meet a superior enemy at
different points, force the fighting, and at each point to outnumber and
overwhelm him.

But the military part of this great campaign was not all. Many great
soldiers have not been statesmen, and have failed to realize the
political necessities of the situation. Washington presented the rare
combination of a great soldier and a great statesman as well. He aimed
not only to win battles, but by his operations in the field to influence
the political situation and affect public opinion. The American
Revolution was going to pieces. Unless some decisive victory could be
won immediately, it would have come to an end in the winter of 1776-77.
This Washington knew, and it was this which nerved his arm. The results
justified his forethought. The victories of Trenton and Princeton
restored the failing spirits of the people, and, what was hardly
less important, produced a deep impression in Europe in favor of the
colonies. The country, which had lost heart, and become supine and
almost hostile, revived. The militia again took the field. Outlying
parties of the British were attacked and cut off, and recruits once more
began to come in to the Continental army. The Revolution was saved. That
the English colonies in North America would have broken away from the
mother country sooner or later cannot be doubted, but that particular
Revolution Of 1776 would have failed within a year, had it not been
for Washington. It is not, however, merely the fact that he was a great
soldier and statesman which we should remember. The most memorable thing
to us, and to all men, is the heroic spirit of the man, which rose in
those dreary December days to its greatest height, under conditions
so adverse that they had crushed the hope of every one else. Let it
be remembered, also, that it was not a spirit of desperation or of
ignorance, a reckless daring which did not count the cost. No one knew
better than Washington--no one, indeed, so well--the exact state of
affairs; for he, conspicuously among great men, always looked facts
fearlessly in the face, and never deceived himself. He was under no
illusions, and it was this high quality of mind as much as any other
which enabled him to win victories.

How he really felt we know from what he wrote to Congress on December
20, when he said: "It may be thought that I am going a good deal out of
the line of my duty to adopt these measures or to advise thus freely.
A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable blessing of
liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be my excuse." These were the
thoughts in his mind when he was planning this masterly campaign. These
same thoughts, we may readily believe, were with him when his boat was
making its way through the ice of the Delaware on Christmas Eve. It was
a very solemn moment, and he was the only man in the darkness of that
night who fully understood what was at stake; but then, as always, he
was calm and serious, with a high courage which nothing could depress.

The familiar picture of a later day depicts Washington crossing the
Delaware at the head of his soldiers. He is standing up in the boat,
looking forward in the teeth of the storm. It matters little whether the
work of the painter is in exact accordance with the real scene or not.
The daring courage, the high resolve, the stern look forward and onward,
which the artist strove to show in the great leader, are all vitally
true. For we may be sure that the man who led that well-planned but
desperate assault, surrounded by darker conditions than the storms of
nature which gathered about his boat, and carrying with him the fortunes
of his country, was at that moment one of the most heroic figures in
history.





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