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   Chapter 6 No.6

Elsie's Vacation and After Events By Martha Finley Characters: 20431

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

It was still early in the evening when the Dolphin reached her wharf at Philadelphia, where her passengers found friends and relatives waiting to give them a joyful reception.

A few days passed very pleasantly in visiting these friends and places of interest in the city, particularly such as were in one way or another connected with the events of revolutionary times. Then they went up the Delaware in their yacht.

Their first halting-place would be at Trenton, and naturally the talk, as they went up the river, was largely of the revolutionary events which had taken place there and at other not far distant points. Grandma Elsie was again the narrator.

"In November of 1776," she began, "our country's prospects looked very dark. On the 16th, Fort Washington, on the east bank of the Hudson, and near New York City, fell into the hands of the enemy and its garrison of nearly three thousand men were made prisoners of war.

"On the 20th Cornwallis crossed the Hudson at Dobbs Ferry and with his six thousand men attacked Fort Lee. The garrison hastily retreated, leaving all their baggage and military stores, and joined the main army at Hackensack, five miles away.

"Then Washington, who had with him scarcely three thousand men, began a retreat toward the Delaware, hoping to obtain reinforcements in New Jersey and Pennsylvania which would enable him to make a stand against the invaders and give them battle.

"But his troops had become much dispirited by the many recent disasters to our arms, delayed payment of arrears by Congress, causing them great inconvenience and suffering, and lack of proper food and clothing, and the presence of the enemy, who now had possession of New Jersey and seemed likely soon to take Philadelphia.

"Just at that time, as I have said, there seemed little hope for our country. Washington's army was dwindling very rapidly, men whose terms of enlistment had expired refusing to serve any longer, so that he had but twenty-two hundred under his command when he crossed the Delaware, and two days later not more than seventeen hundred; indeed, scarcely more than a thousand on whom he could rely.

"He wrote to General Lee, who had been left at White Plains with nearly three thousand men, asking him to lead his division into New Jersey, to reinforce his rapidly melting army. Lee paid no attention to the request and Washington sent him a positive command to do what he had before requested.

"Lee obeyed very slowly, and while on his way was taken prisoner by the enemy."

"Served him right for disobeying Washington!" growled Walter.

"There could be no excuse for such disobedience," continued Grandma Elsie; "and one feels no sympathy for Lee in reading of his sudden seizure by the British, who carried him off in such haste that he had no time to dress but was taken bareheaded and in blanket coat and slippers."

"I doubt if his capture was a loss to the American cause," remarked Rosie.

"No," said her mother; "though much deplored at the time, I have no doubt it was really for the good of the cause. General Sullivan succeeded Lee in command and presently joined Washington with his forces."

"I don't see how Washington could have patience with so many disappointments and delays," said Lulu. "Didn't he ever give way to despair, even for a little while, Grandma Elsie?"

"I have never seen the least intimation of it," replied Mrs. Travilla. "He is said to have been at this time firm, calm, undaunted, holding fast to his faith in the final triumph of the good cause for which he was toiling and striving.

"There seemed to be nothing but the Delaware between the enemy and his conquest of Philadelphia; the freezing of the river so that the British could pass over it on the ice might occur at any time. Some one asked Washington what he would do were Philadelphia to be taken. He answered, 'We will retreat beyond the Susquehanna River, and thence, if necessary, to the Alleghany Mountains.' Doubtless he was even then planning the masterly movements of his forces that presently drove the enemy from Trenton and Princeton."

"Didn't the people of Philadelphia try to be ready to defend themselves and their city, mamma?" asked Walter.

"Yes," she replied; "Congress gave the command there, with almost unlimited power, to General Putnam; then appointing a committee of three to act for them, they adjourned to reassemble at Baltimore.

"In the meantime Washington was getting ready for the striking of his intended blows in New Jersey.

"It would seem that General Howe, the commander-in-chief of the British forces, had planned to despatch Cornwallis up the Hudson to the assistance of Burgoyne, who was about to invade our country from Canada. But Cornwallis had a strong desire to capture Philadelphia, and probably no doubt that he could do so if allowed to carry out his plans, and to that Howe consented.

"Cornwallis showed but little skill in the arrangement of his forces, scattering them here and there in detachments from New Brunswick to the Delaware and down that stream to a point below Burlington. His military stores, and his strongest detachment, were at New Brunswick. The last consisting of a troop of light horse with about fifteen hundred Hessians.

"Washington decided to surprise those troops while at the same time Generals Ewing and Cadwalader, with the Pennsylvania militia, were directed to attack the posts at Bordentown, Black Horse, Burlington, and Mount Holly. Cadwalader was to cross near Bristol, Ewing below Trenton falls, while Washington, with Generals Greene and Sullivan, and Colonel Knox of the artillery, was to lead the main body of Continental troops and cross the Delaware at M'Conkey's Ferry.

"Washington was very anxious to save Philadelphia, which Cornwallis was aiming to capture, and felt sure of taking without any great difficulty, after crossing the Delaware, since he had heard that the people there were for the king almost to a man. So sure was he indeed that the victory would be an easy one that he had gone back to his headquarters in New York and prepared to return to England.

"Putnam, in Philadelphia, had heard of Washington's intended attack upon the British at Trenton, and to assist him sent Colonel Griffin, at the head of four hundred and fifty militia, across from Philadelphia to New Jersey with directions to make a diversion in favor of the Americans by marching to Mount Holly as if intending an attack upon the British troops under the command of Colonel Donop at Bordentown.

"Donop fell into the trap, moved against Griffin with his whole force of two thousand men, and, as Griffin retreated before him, followed; then, secure like Cornwallis and other of the English officers in the belief that the Americans were well nigh subdued already, and that when once Philadelphia should fall, resistance would be about at an end, moved his troops in so dilatory a manner that he was two days in returning to his post."

"Humph! they were mightily mistaken in their estimate of our people, weren't they, mamma?" exclaimed Walter.

"I think they were themselves soon convinced of that," she answered with a smile; then continued her story.

"Washington selected Christmas night as the time for his contemplated attack upon the British at Trenton. It was, as he well knew, the habit of the Germans to celebrate that day with feasting and drinking, and such being the case, he felt that he might reasonably expect to find them under the influence of intoxicating drinks, therefore unfit for a successful resistance.

"The river had been free from ice, but in the last twenty-four hours before the time appointed for the expedition the weather changed, growing very much colder, so that the water was filled with floating ice, greatly increasing the difficulty and danger of crossing; a storm of sleet and snow set in too, and the night was dark and gloomy.

"Still the little army was undaunted; they paraded at M'Conkey's Ferry at dusk, expecting to reach Trenton by midnight; but so slow and perilous was the crossing that it was nearly four o'clock when at last they mustered on the Jersey shore.

"It was now too late to attack under cover of the darkness, as had been Washington's plan."

"Excuse me, mamma, but surely it would be still dark at four o'clock in the morning?" Walter said half inquiringly.

"Yes, my son, but you must remember they had crossed at M'Conkey's Ferry, which is eight miles higher up the river than is Trenton, so that they had that distance to march before they could make their attack.

"Washington divided his forces, leading one portion himself by the upper road,-Generals Greene, Mercer, and Lord Sterling accompanying him,-and giving Sullivan command of the other, which was to approach the town by another road leading along the river.

"The two arrived at Trenton about the same time, having marched so silently that the enemy was unaware of their approach till they were but a short distance from the picket guards on the outskirts of the town.

"There was a brisk skirmish then, the Hessians retreating toward their main body, firing as they went from behind the houses, while the Americans pursued them closely."

"Then the Hessians weren't drunk as Washington expected, were they, Grandma Elsie?" asked Grace.

"Well-authenticated tradition says they were," replied Mrs. Travilla; "that they had been carousing through the night, Rall himself feasting, drinking, and playing cards at the house of Abraham Hunt, who had invited him and other officers to a Christmas supper. They had been playing all night and regaling themselves with wine.

"A Tory on the Pennington road saw, about dawn, the approach of the Americans under Washington and sent a messenger with a note to warn Rall. But a negro servant who had been stationed as warden at the door refused to allow the messenger to pass in, saying, 'The gemman can't be disturbed.'

"It seems that the messenger was aware of the contents of the note, or at least that it was a warning of the approach of the Americans, so, being foiled in his purpose of seeing Rall himself, he handed the note to the negro with

an order to carry it at once to Colonel Rall.

"The negro obeyed, but Rall, excited with wine and interested in his game, merely thrust the note into his pocket and went on with his deal.

"But presently the roll of the American drums, the rattle of musketry, the tramp of horses, and the rumble of heavy gun-carriages fell upon his drowsy ear, and in a moment he was wide awake, the cards were dropped, he sprang to his feet, then rushed away to his quarters and mounted his horse with all speed; but at that time his soldiers were being driven by the Americans as chaff before the wind.

"The Hessians' drums were beating to arms, and a company rushed out of the barracks to protect the patrol. Washington's troops had begun the fight with an attack upon the outermost picket on the Pennington road, and Stark, with the van of Sullivan's party, gave three cheers and rushed upon the enemy's pickets near the river with their bayonets, and they, astonished at the suddenness and fury of the charge, were seized with a panic and fled in confusion across the Assanpink.

"Both divisions-the one commanded by Washington, the other under Sullivan-now pressed forward so rapidly, and with such zeal and determination, that the Hessians were not allowed to form. Nor could they get possession of the two cannon in front of Rall's quarters.

"The Americans themselves were forming in line of battle when Rall made his appearance, reeling in his saddle as if drunk,-as I presume he was,-received a report, then rode up in front of his regiment and called out, 'Forward, march; advance, advance!'

"But before his order could be obeyed a party of Americans hurried forward and dismounted his two cannon, accomplishing the feat without injury to themselves except that Captains William Washington and James Monroe were slightly wounded."

"And where was General Washington just then, mamma?" asked Walter.

"He was there in the midst of the fighting, and exposed to the same dangers as his troops. It was under his personal direction that a battery of six guns was opened upon two regiments of Hessians less than three hundred yards distant. Washington was then near the front, a little to the right, where he could be easily seen by the enemy, and made a target for their balls. But though his horse was wounded, he remained unhurt."

"Oh," cried Evelyn with enthusiasm, "surely God protected him and turned aside the balls, that America might not lose the one on whom so much depended! the father of his country, the ardent patriot, the best of men and greatest of generals, as I do certainly believe he was."

"I am proud that Washington was a countryman of mine," exclaimed Rosie, her eyes sparkling.

"Yes, we are all proud of our Washington," said Lulu. "But what more can you tell us about the battle of Trenton, Grandma Elsie?"

"Rall drew back his two regiments as if intending to reach the road to Princeton by turning Washington's left," continued Mrs. Travilla in reply. "To prevent that, an American regiment was thrown in front of him. It seemed likely that he might have forced a passage through it, but his troops, having collected much plunder in Trenton and wishing to hold on to it, persuaded him to try to recover the town.

"He made the attempt, but was charged impetuously by the Americans and driven back further than before; and in that movement he himself was mortally wounded by a musket ball. His men were thrown into confusion, and presently surrendered.

"Then Baylor rode up to Washington and announced, 'Sir, the Hessians have surrendered.'"

"Baylor?" repeated Walter. "Who was he, mamma?"

"One of Washington's aids," she replied. "In the first year of the war he was made an aid-de-camp to General Washington and in that capacity was with him in this battle."

"How I envy him!" exclaimed Lulu.

"I do think that if I'd been a man living in those days," said Walter, "I'd have cared for no greater honor than being aid to our Washington."

His mother's only reply was a proudly affectionate look and smile as she went on with her story.

"There was another regiment, under Knyphausen, which had been ordered to cover the flank. These tried to reach the Assanpink bridge, but lost time in an effort to get two cannon out of the morass, and when they reached the bridge the Americans were guarding it on both sides. They tried to ford the river, but without success, and presently surrendered to Lord Stirling, with the privilege of keeping their swords and their private baggage. That ended the battle, leaving the Americans with nearly a thousand prisoners in their hands.

"Over two hundred of the Hessians had escaped-some to Princeton, others to Bordentown. There were a hundred and thirty absent, having been sent out on some expedition, and seventeen were killed. The battle had lasted thirty-five minutes, and the Americans had not lost a man."

"It was wonderful, I think!" said Evelyn, in her earnest way; "certainly God helped our patriotic forefathers or they never could have succeeded in their conflict with so powerful a foe as Great Britain was even then."

"It was all of God's great goodness to this land and people," said Grandma Elsie. "Had there been in that action defeat to our arms instead of victory, we would not-so soon at least-have become the free and powerful nation we are to-day. Congress lavished praise upon General Washington, but he replied, 'You pay me compliments as if the merit of the affair was due solely to me; but I assure you the other general officers who assisted me in the plan and execution have full as good a right to the encomiums as myself.'"

"Possibly that was only just," remarked Rosie, "but it strikes me as very generous."

"It was just like Washington," said Walter; "our Washington! I'm ever so proud of him!"

"As we all are," said his mother; "but we must not forget to give the glory of that victory, and all others, and also of our final success, to him who is the God of battles, and by whose strength and help our freedom was won. As Bancroft says, 'Until that hour the life of the United States flickered like a dying flame,' but God had appeared for their deliverance and from that time the hopes of the almost despairing people revived, while the confident expectations of their enemies were dashed to the ground. Lord George Germain exclaimed after he heard the news, 'All our hopes were blasted by the unhappy affair at Trenton.'"

"Unhappy affair indeed!" exclaimed Walter. "What a heartless wretch he must have been, mamma!"

"And how our poor soldiers did suffer!" sighed Lulu; "it makes my heart ache just to think of it!"

"And mine," said Grandma Elsie. "It is wonderful how much the poor fellows were willing to endure in the hope of attaining freedom for themselves and their country.

"Thomas Rodney tells us that on the night of the attack upon Trenton of which we have been talking, while Rall caroused and played cards beside his warm fire, our poor soldiers were toiling and suffering with cold and nakedness, facing wind and sleet in the defence of their country.

"The night," he says, "was as severe a night as ever I saw; the frost was sharp, the current difficult to stem, the ice increasing, the wind high, and at eleven it began to snow. It was three in the morning of the 26th before the troops and cannon were all over, and another hour passed before they could be formed on the Jersey side. A violent northeast storm of wind, sleet, and hail set in as they began their nine miles' march to Trenton, against an enemy in the best condition to fight. The weather was terrible for men clad as they were, and the ground slipped under their feet. For a mile and a half they had to climb a steep hill, from which they descended to the road that ran for about three miles between hills and forests of hickory, ash, and black oak."

"Oh, how brave and patriotic they were!" exclaimed Rosie. "I remember reading that their route might be easily traced by the blood on the snow from the feet of the poor fellows, who had broken shoes or none. Oh, what a shame it was that Congress and the people let them-the men who were enduring so much and fighting so bravely for the liberty of both-bear such hardships!"

"It was, indeed," sighed Grandma Elsie; "it always gives me a heartache to think of those poor fellows marching through the darkness and that dreadful storm of snow, sleet, and bitter wind and only half clothed. Just think of it! a continuous march of fifteen miles through darkness, over such a road, the storm directly in their faces. They reached their destination stiff with cold, yet rushed at once upon the foe, fighting bravely for freedom for themselves and their children. 'Victory or death,' was the watchword Washington had given them."

"Were they from all the States, mamma?" asked Walter.

"They were principally Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New England troops," she answered. "Grant, the British commander in New Jersey, knew of the destitution of our troops but felt no fear that they would really venture to attack him; persuading himself that they would not cross the river because the floating ice would make it a difficult, if not impossible, thing for them to return.

"'Besides,' he wrote on the 21st, 'Washington's men have neither shoes nor stockings nor blankets, are almost naked, and dying of cold and want of food.'"

"And didn't Rall say the Americans wouldn't dare to come against him?" asked Walter.

"Yes; his reply to a warning of danger of being attacked was, 'Let them come; what need of intrenchments! We will at them with the bayonet!'"

"And when they did come he was killed?"

"Yes, mortally wounded; taken by his aids and servant to his quarters at the house of a Quaker named Stacey Potts; and there Washington and Greene visited him just before leaving Trenton."

"They knew he was dying, mamma?"

"Yes, and, as Lossing tells us, Washington offered such consolation as a soldier and Christian can bestow."

"It was very kind, and I hope Rall appreciated it."

"It would seem that he did, as the historian tells us it soothed the agonies of the expiring hero."

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