Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
Trenton

THE troops that accompanied Washington across the Delaware were dazed by their harrowing experiences in New Jersey; they were, said Thomas Paine, "surprised how they got through; and at a loss to account for those powers of mind, and springs of animation, by which they withstood the forces of accumulated misfortune." At the limit of their powers of endurance, they could have offered little resistance had the British continued the pursuit beyond the Delaware. Blaming the cowardice of their countrymen for their misfortunes, they swore that they would "fall a Sacrafice to the British Savages"; exhausted, barefooted and ragged, without medicine or hospitals, they suffered and died by hundreds. Sickness, death, and desertion had cost the army more men than a severe battle.

To Washington, Howe's decision to terminate the campaign at the Delaware came almost like a reprieve to a condemned man. He had had no doubt that Howe intended to proceed to Philadelphia; ravaging New Jersey, he pointed out, was "playing no more than a small game"; Howe must take Philadelphia if for no other reason than to save his reputation --"for what has he done as yet, with his great Army?" The American commander had little hope of stopping Howe; once across the Delaware, the British could march into Philadelphia without interference from Washington's command, now numbering scarcely more than two thousand fighting men.

The campaign in New Jersey had erased almost the last doubt from the minds of British officers that the Americans were a pack of cowardly rascals who fought only when up to their eyes in entrenchments. Even many of the officers who at Boston had learned to respect Americans were now among the loudest in depreciating their courage. They de

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