Sunday, November 10, 2019

Episode 122 Crossing the Delaware




For the last few weeks I've been building up Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware River, famously portrayed in Emanuel Leutze’s  painting.  Despite the attention given to this famous act, it's hard to exaggerate just how important this event was to the course of the war.  Had Washington not attempted the attack, or failed in its execution, there is a very good chance that the Continental Army would have dissolved that winter and the rebellion come to an end.

Continental Army in Tatters

Washington's Army had fallen to a few thousand men without adequate food, clothing, or shelter to get through the winter. the British regulars had pushed them back to Philadelphia.  The only thing that had kept the regulars from taking Philadelphia that winter, was General Howe’s decision not to deliver the final blow.  A great many of Washington’s soldiers had already gone home, and many of those remaining were simply waiting for their enlistments to end on December 31st.  Conventional wisdom was that, if there was still an army in the field to oppose it, the British Army would begin its final offensive in the spring, continue conquering territory, and suppress all armed resistance and talk of independence.

Washington's Crossing by Emanuel Leutze
(from Metropolitan Museum of Art)
It was far from clear that Washington's surprise attack would be successful or even that it would be a surprise.  The combined British and Hessian forces in southern New Jersey probably outnumbered the forces that Washington could put into any attack.  Washington had to have considered the precedent a year earlier when generals Montgomery and Arnold conducted a similar winter attack against Quebec leading to Montgomery's death, Arnold’s serious injury, and the capture of most of the northern army.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I have often wondered if Washington really thought he could pull off a victory that night, or whether he thought it preferable to die in a desperate battle rather than lose the war and surrender. Whatever he really thought about his chances, Washington never expressed any defeatism even to his closest associates.

Washington’s situation had improved a little.  Following the capture of General Charles Lee on December 13, his army in northern New Jersey, which Lee had complained could not make the journey to join up with Washington, seemed to have no problems making the march without their commander.  General Horatio Gates had also led regiments from Fort Ticonderoga to join Washington.  The Pennsylvania Associators, which were militia, also assembled to provide support.

By December 22, Washington reported that the men under his command numbered over 11,000, though only about half were ready for combat.  The other half of his army remained on the sick rolls.  Lack of adequate winter clothing and shoes, as well as inadequate food, contributed largely to the numbers of sick.  Even so, his effective fighting force of just over 6000 gave him a slight numerical advantage over the British and Hessian outposts along southern New Jersey, or as it was called at the time, West Jersey.

The Decision to Fight

That same day, Colonel Joseph Reed sent a letter to Washington saying that his spies had seen little activity between the scattered and isolated British outposts, and that Colonel Samuel Griffin’s force of 600 had engaged Colonel Carl Von Donop’s Hessians at Mt. Holly and were in high spirits.

Reed’s letter continued by recommending that Washington either send more troops to reinforce Griffin, or use the opportunity to make a major attack on another isolated outpost.  Reed thought the latter a better choice.  He stressed his recommendation by saying:
I will not disguise my own Sentiments that our Cause is desperate & hopeless if we do not take the [opportunity] of the Collection of Troops at present to strike some Stroke. Our Affairs are hasting fast to Ruin if we do not retrieve them by some happy Event. Delay with us is now equal to a total Defeat.  Be not deceived my dear General with small flatterg Appearances, we must not suffer our selves to be lulld into Security & Inacti[o]n because the Enemy does not cross the River—It is but a Reprieve the Execution is the more certain for I am very clear that they can & will cross the River in Spite of any Opposition we can give them.
Remember Reed and Washington had a strained relationship at this time, because Washington had recently learned of Reed’s letter to General Lee criticizing Washington for his indecision in his battles with the British in New York. Reed ended his letter asking pardon for his impertinence in recommending strategy to his commander, but again stressed the desperate circumstances.
Pardon the Freedom I have used, the Love of my Country, a Wife & 4 Children in the Enemys Hands, the Respect & Attachment I have to you—the Ruin & Poverty that must attend me & thousands of others will plead my Excuse for so much Freedom.
A courier brought Reed’s letter to Washington that same day.  Within hours, Washington convened a council of war with his most senior officers to discuss their options.  Washington submitted the proposal to cross the Delaware and attack a Hessian outpost as Reed’s, not his own.  He wanted his generals to speak openly before he presented his own views.  Everyone seemed to agree that an attack was the best option.  Even if it was risky, the consensus that doing nothing would lead to almost certain dissolution of the army meant that such a risk was justified.  The council then turned to the tougher question of how this would be done.

Planned Crossing Points
(from US Marine Corps College)
With Von Donop’s force of around 3000 Hessians in Mount Holly facing Colonel Griffith’s 600 Americans, the smaller outpost at Trenton was isolated.  Von Donop had been stationed at Bordentown, only five miles from Trenton.  His current location at Mount Holly was about 20 miles away, a day’s march given the weather.  Support from the outpost at Princeton was 14 miles from Trenton and had fewer troops to deploy.  The 1400 Hessians isolated at Trenton became the target of the Continental attack.

Once again, Washington relied on Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead regiment to get his army across the river.  Glover had been invaluable in moving the army across the rivers around New York.  His New England mariners would once again use their experience to move an army across the Delaware River at night.

The next day, December 23, Washington sent out his orders to senior officers for the planned attack on the night of December 25.  Surprise was a key element of the attack.  Washington instructed his senior officers not to reveal the plan the rank and file.  Surprise, though, was out of the question.  The British had numerous spies at top levels of the Continental Army.  Shortly after the American officers learned of the planned attack, an express rider took off for Brunswick New Jersey to inform British General James Grant.  After learning of the plans, Grant sent another express rider back to Trenton to inform the local commander, Colonel Johan Rall, of the planned attack.  Rall received this intelligence on the evening of December 25.  The intelligence was vague, but it told Rall to be on alert for a possible attack.

The Plan

Washington had long had a penchant for drawing up hopelessly complex plans of attack.  This attack was no exception.  Washington divided his forces into three separate divisions.  Washington with his main force would cross the Delaware with the largest force of about 2400 soldiers at a small town with the amazingly coincidental name of “Washington’s Crossing” about 10 miles north of Trenton.  Ok, the area got that name after the fact.  At the time, it was known as McConkey’s Ferry.  His force would also make use of Johnson’s Ferry, a short distance upstream from McConkey’s.

A second force of 1200 men under the command of Pennsylvania Militia General James Ewing would cross at Trenton Ferry, just south of town.  Although Ewing was a militia officer, he had decades of experience.  He was actually an alumnus of the Braddock Expedition, along with Washington, from way back in 1755.  Ewing’s mission was to capture and hold the bridge just south of Trenton, to prevent any Hessian retreat as Washington’s forces attacked from the north.

John Cadwalader and Family
(from Wikimedia)
A third force under the command of Colonel John Cadwalader with 1200 Philadelphia Associators, and Colonel Daniel Hitchcock with 600 Continentals, would cross about 12 miles south of Trenton from Bristol, Pennsylvania to Burlington New Jersey, the current location of the Burlington Bristol Bridge.  Of course, there was no bridge at the time.  The men would have to cross in boats.  Their mission was to attack Colonel Von Donop’s Hessians and British Colonel Stirling’s Highlanders, possibly joining up with Colonel Griffith’s 600 militia who had already engaged Von Donop at Mount Holly.  Although the enemy outnumbered the patriot attackers here, they were mostly there to act as a diversion and prevent Stirling or Von Donop from marching to rescue the forces at Trenton.  As Washington put it in his orders to Cadwalader: “if you can do nothing real, at least create as great a diversion as possible.”

General Israel Putnam also planned to make a fourth crossing further south, moving several hundred Philadelphia militia to attack and distract the enemy at Mount Holly from the south.  Putnam’s attempted crossing, however, was considered the most difficult, and was not considered critical to the Trenton attack.

The plan was for each of these separate crossings take place at night and then have all of them reach their targets at the same time just before dawn in order to surprise the enemy.  This seemed like a tall order. Washington was dividing his forces in the face of the enemy and simply counting on nobody having problems keeping to the planned schedule.  In truth though, Washington had little choice.  There was no way he could get all of these forces across the river at one location in one night. Crossing the river in small boats, loading and unloading men and equipment took considerable time.  It probably would have taken at least two or three days to effect a crossing of all the forces from one location, even in good weather.  Dividing his forces was not so much a tactical choice as it was a necessity.

Washington spent Christmas Eve moving his forces into position for deployment the following night.  The crossing would take place on the night of December 25-26 with the attack on Trenton scheduled for dawn on December 26.  There is a famous story of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a member of the Continental Congress from Philadelphia, visiting Washington on Christmas Eve.  They spoke as Washington wrote out the following day’s password on small slips of paper.  Rush picked up one after it fell to the floor and noted that the password was victory or death.

Crossing the Delaware

On December 25th, each soldier received three day’s rations and 60 rounds of ammunition.  Though they still did not know their mission, everyone knew something was coming.  Almost immediately, things began to go wrong.  Washington had planned for all of his forces to be in place by dusk on the 25th, so that that immediately after dark, just before 5PM, they could move down to the bank and begin crossing.  The entire army had to be across the river by midnight so that they could make the ten mile march to Trenton before dawn.

By dusk though, most of the troops had not arrived at their embarkation points.  With everything so tightly scheduled, even a short delay meant they would arrive in Trenton after dawn. With that, that they would lose the element of surprise.

As Washington was trying to deal with his delays, a messenger delivered a dispatch from General Gates.  Now that General Lee was a prisoner of war, Gates was the ranking general officer with real combat experience as an officer in the regular army before the war started.  You may recall from Episode 118 that Gates had been conspiring with Lee to oust Washington just before the British captured Lee.  Now Gates seemed to be abandoning Washington entirely.  Washington had asked Gates to oversee the crossing at Trenton.  Gates begged off, saying that he was too sick to command the crossing and that he was headed for Philadelphia.  Washington asked him at least to check on the crossing at Bristol on his way to Philadelphia.  But again, Gates claimed he was too sick and had to go straight to Philadelphia.

Now Washington learned that the “sick” General Gates was riding 100 miles to the Continental Congress in Baltimore where he would try to get Congress to order Washington to cancel his attack and pull back the army to Maryland where it could protect the Congress at Baltimore.  Gates was essentially calling Washington a complete failure and saying they needed to give up any defense of Philadelphia because of his failures.  The obvious next step seemed to be to remove Washington and give command of the army to someone else, maybe General Gates.  Upon reading Gates’ message, Washington apparently lost his temper for a moment, something extremely rare, but almost immediately composed himself.  Right now, he had a desperate battle to fight.  He would have to worry about his top general stabbing him in the back later.

Washington likely crossed on a ferry like the one portrayed
here (from Washington's Crossing State Park)
Washington’s more immediate problem was the weather. Just after dark, a light drizzle began to fall.  Very quickly it turned into a driving combination of rain, sleet, and snow, soaking his army and causing the soldiers to freeze.  Ice flows in the river made the crossing almost impossible.  The river had not frozen solid enough for the army to walk across but large chunks of ice made the use of boats extremely hazardous as well.

Further down river, the ice situation was even worse.  General Ewing’s planned crossing just below the Trenton Falls never even started.  The ice jam prevented any chance of a passage.  Ewing’s men did not even get into their boats, but simply turned back and gave up.

At the Bristol Crossing, a similar problem with ice floes made crossing impossible.  Colonel Cadwalader marched his men six miles further south go Dunk’s ferry, where they thought they might have a better chance.  The boats were able to make it about 150 feet from the Jersey shore, when they hit solid ice.  The soldiers were able to get out and walk over the ice, but could not land their cannon or other heavy equipment.  Later attempts to cross found conditions even worse.  After several hours only about one-third of the force had crossed and none of the cannons or horses.  Colonels Cadwalader and Hitchcock decided to call off the attempt and bring the soldiers back to the Pennsylvania side.

The 600 or so soldiers who had already crossed were upset, not only that the rest could not make it, but that they were now required to make the perilous return trip.  Many debated continuing the attack without their leaders.  But after some discussion, they decided that if none of the other divisions had crossed either, they would only be taken prisoner.  Reluctantly, they troops returned to the Pennsylvania by dawn: cold wet, and miserable over the failure of the mission.

Although Washington was not yet aware of these failures, he was dealing with his own problems.  His soldiers were crossing, but the late start and the weather was destroying his time schedule.  Most of the army came over in Durham boats.  These were large high walled flat bottomed boats built for the Durham Iron Works, to ship iron down river.  They looked like really large canoes, 30 to 60 feet long. They were very stable and could carry lots of weight.  The army filled the boats with soldiers, standing for the entire trip in order to cram as many as possible into each crossing.  Also, since they had no seats, sitting down would have meant sitting in a puddle of ice water in the bottom of the boats.

Reproduction Durham Boats
(from Boats Depot)
Although the Durham boats were large enough to handle heavy equipment, getting horses or cannons into the boats, over the high walls would have been difficult.  Instead, the army used the ferries to move cannon and horses across the river.

The river was a little narrower for Washington than for the divisions passing down river.  The crossing was about 800 feet, which was made difficult by a swift current and floating chunks of ice hitting the boats.  The men were forced to jump up and down in the boats to keep ice from forming along the sides of the boats.  Although there was a bright moon that night, storm clouds kept the night dark, making passage even more difficult.

Joining Glover’s New Englanders were men who had grown up on ships and docks.  These experienced sailors tested their limits that night against the tough conditions.  The fact that most soldiers could not swim made the passage even more perilous.  Of course, falling in might mean you could freeze to death even if you did not drown.

Eventually, Washington’s forces made it across the river.  His men built small fires along the banks in an attempt to keep warm.  Washington ordered pickets to cover all roads for several miles, capturing anyone found on the roads at night in order to prevent anyone from warning the Hessians.  But it seemed clear that they could no longer surprise the enemy.

By the time they were ready to march, it was 4:00 AM.  That meant they would not arrive in Trenton until long after daylight.  They would not be able to surprise the Hessians and they would have no other support from the other divisions that failed to cross.  It is not clear exactly when Washington learned that the other crossings were complete failures and this his force was on its own.  Not that it probably would have mattered.  Washington's password of victory or death was not simply an aphorism.  He was going to succeed or die trying.  Turning back, even with the odds against him, was not an option.

- - -

Next Episode 123 First Battle of Trenton (Available Nov. 17, 2019)

Previous Episode 121 Battle of Iron Works Hill



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Further Reading

Websites

Letter from J. Reed to G. Washington, Dec. 22, 1776: https://archive.org/details/jstor-20084674

Washington’s Crossing the Delaware: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/crossing-of-the-delaware

Reed, Joseph, General Joseph Reed's Narrative of the Movements of the American Army in the Neighborhood of Trenton in the Winter of 1776-77, originally published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 8 (Dec. 1884): https://www.jstor.org/stable/20084674

Miller, William P. An Examination of George Washington's Employment of the Pennsylvania Militia at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, US Army War College, 2005: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/An-Examination-of-George-Washington's-Employment-of-Miller/bcfd7e368687e0dab24858922591bce7882eb8d9

Colvin, Patrick. “Patrick Colvin the Ferryman of Trenton in 1776.” The American Catholic Historical Researches, vol. 7, no. 3, 1911, pp. 258–263. www.jstor.org/stable/44374931.

Billias, George A. "Soldier In A Longboat" American Heritage, Feb 1960 Vol. 11 Issue 2:
https://www.americanheritage.com/soldier-longboat

Fischer, David Hackett "The Spirit Of ’76" American Heritage February/March 2004 Vol 55 Issue 1:
https://www.americanheritage.com/spirit-76

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The Detail and Conduct of the American War, under Generals Gage, Howe, Burgoyne, and Vice Admiral Lord Howe, (original reports and letters) The Royal Exchange, 1780.

Carrington, Henry Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781, A.S. Barnes & Co. 1876.

Collins, Varnum L. A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-1777; a contemporary account of the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Princeton University Library, 1906.

Drake, Samuel A. The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77, Lee and Shepard, 1899.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 5, Vol 3, Washington: St. Claire Clarke, 1837.

Johnston, Henry The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn, Long Island Historical Society, 1878.

Martin, Joseph Plumb The Adventures of a Revolutionary Soldier, 1830 (This is a copy of the original print, but in poor quality.  You can borrow a better quality copy or listen to a free audio copy of the book) or see below in "books worth buying" section.

Reed, William B. (ed) Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Vol. 1, Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847.

Ross, Charles Derek (ed) Correspondence of Charles, first Marquis Cornwallis, Vol. 1 J. Murray, 1859.

Stryker, William Battles Of Trenton And Princeton, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1898.

Stryker, William The Continental Army at the Crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night of 1776, J.L. Murphy Publishing Co. 1896.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Atkinson, Richard The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Henry Holt & Co. 2019

Bill, Alfred Hoyt The Campaign of Princeton 1776-1777, Princeton Univ. Press, 1948.

Dwyer, William The Day Is Ours: How a Ragged Rebel Army Stood the Storm and Saved the Revolution,  Viking, 1983.

Fischer, David Hackett Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004 (book recommendation of the week).

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Ketchum, Richard The Winter Soldiers, Garden City: Anchor Books, 1973.

Kidder, William L. Ten Crucial Days: Washington's Vision for Victory Unfolds, Knox Press, 2019.

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. The Long Retreat, The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776, Upland Press, 1998.

Maloy, Mark Victory or Death: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, December 25, 1776 - January 3, 1777, Savas Beatie, 2018.

McCullough, David 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Schecter, Barnet The Battle for New York, New York: Walker Publishing, 2002.

Thompson, Ray Washington Along the Delaware: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton as told by the men who were there and through Washington's own official dispatches, Fort Washington, Pa: Bicentennial Press, 1970.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Episode 121: Iron Works Hill





When we last left the Continental Army, Washington was probably at the lowest point in his life.  His attempts even to put up a decent defense against the British invasion of New York had failed completely.  By December 1776, his army had retreated across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.  The only reason the British stopped their advance was that the British Commander Howe decided to call off any further campaigning and to put his armies into winter quarters.

Continental Army on the Ropes

The British controlled all of the area around New York, took all of New Jersey, and had moved unopposed into Rhode Island.  General William Howe wrote self-congratulatory letters back to London saying that his forces had accomplished everything they had planned for the year.

Of course, that was not completely true.  The British had originally planned to move up the Hudson River through New York and meet up with the British forces under General Guy Carleton in Canada.  Carleton was to have moved down the Hudson River, thus cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies.  That did not happen, mostly because Continental General Benedict Arnold had forced Carleton to delay his advance.  Carleton needed to build his navy on Lake Champlain to defeat Arnold at Valcour Island (see Episode 110).  The delay in doing that forced Carleton to delay an invasion of New York until the following spring.

Joseph Reed
So while General Arnold had delayed British plans, General Washington had not stopped Howe from doing anything.  Everyone seemed to come to the conclusion that General Washington just wasn’t up to the task of taking on the full British Army.

Thousands of Continental soldiers now sat in prison ships in New York Harbor, dying from disease and starvation.  Thousands more deserted the Continental Army, with little desire to join their comrades on the prison ships once the final surrender came.  By some estimates, Washington’s Army had dwindled to as little as 3000 men by the time his army crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  New York and New Jersey militia did not march with the army.  Pennsylvania militia had not yet arrived.  General Charles Lee still had several thousand continental soldiers in northern New Jersey and refused Washington’s increasingly desperate requests that he join him in Pennsylvania.  After Lee’s capture, General John Sullivan still needed time to move his Continentals in north Jersey to meet up with Washington just outside of Philadelphia.   Likewise General Horatio Gates was marching with reinforcements from Fort Ticonderoga, but was still on the march and had not yet reached Washington.

Many in Congress had lost faith in Washington as well.  They had talked of turning over command to General Lee.  The British leadership seemed to hold the same opinion.  When they captured General Lee on December 13, they saw it as a more important victory than the capture of 3000 Continental soldiers at Fort Washington.  Lee was the only general they seemed to respect.  Fortunately for the patriots, the capture put off talk of replacing Washington for a time.  It also ensured that Lee’s army would finally join with Washington in Pennsylvania.

Washington even had to be doubting himself by this time.  By the end of December, most of the remaining Continental enlistments would expire.  His army would almost certainly choose to go home as had earlier enlistments.  Washington sent many of his officers home to recruit a new army.  But no one seemed interested to sign on to what looked like a losing cause.  Thomas Paine did his part by publishing the Crisis, which I covered last week.  However, there was no good evidence that would do any good before the end of the year, if at all.

Looting and Pillaging

Despite bleak prospects, there was still reason to oppose the British occupation.  In earlier episodes, I’ve alluded to the problems of looting and pillaging.  Remember that British regulars were dirt poor.  Their pay was eight pence per day.  That’s roughly $10 per day when converted to inflation adjusted dollars.  By the time all the deductions were made for food, uniforms, and a host of other expenses, soldiers were lucky to receive maybe one fourth of that.  Their Hessian allies were paid even less. These were men living at bare subsistence, often without enough clothes to keep warm or enough food to stop feeling hungry.  When they came across abandoned homes or other property, they would help themselves to whatever they could, unless officers prevented it.  In that case, they had to do it on the sly.  Obtaining alcohol or any small valuables that could be sold later were prime targets.  But really just about anything they could carry would go.

Hessian Jagers occupied New Jersey
(from British Battles)
At times looting was part of a war strategy.  Some officers thought that the rebels should suffer after having rejected the King’s protection.  However, General Howe’s offer of pardon and amnesty was supposed to protect those who had signed oaths of allegiance.  The soldiers were not particularly careful to make that distinction.  Many New Jersey Tories who had welcomed the regulars as liberators, soon found their homes and personal items ravaged.

Not all of the pillaging was for personal gain either.  Rampaging soldiers often burned homes and simply destroyed property that they could not take with them.  They argued that civilians claiming loyalty were all rebels and would turn back to rebellion as soon as the soldiers moved on.

Rapes were another serious problem.  There were thousands of reported rapes of all sorts, from girls as young as ten to women in their seventies.  Married women and children were gang raped in front of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.  These were brutal acts of violence were often compounded with beatings threats of murder, and actual murder.

Many of the British officers put blame for these abuses on the Hessian soldiers.  British regulars did engage in such abuses too.  Whether Hessians were more to blame is questionable since British officers had an incentive to blame their allies.  If the abuses were committed by their own troops, that reflected poorly on the officers.  If committed by Hessian soldiers, the blame fell primarily on Hessian officers.

Whatever the percentage of blame, it is clear that Hessians engaged in some great share of the pillaging, looting and raping across New Jersey.  As I said, Hessians were paid even less than British Regulars.  Most enlisted men had come from families in abject poverty back in the German States and who had virtually no rights at all.  Seeing colonists who enjoyed comparative wealth and freedom and who still dared to commit treason against their king made many Hessians justify their ill treatment as just punishment.

Had the invaders limited their assaults to patriot households, that might not have been so bad for British policy.  But many loyalists quickly fell victim to military abuses: theft, destruction of property, assaults, and even murder.  Many who had spoken for the loyalist cause as the way to protect law and order now had reason to question their views.  Many were experiencing a tyranny that made many question their loyalties to the King.  The soldiers they once hailed as liberators had become their abusers.

Occupation of South Jersey

British officers did make some attempts to reign in soldier abuses, but the leadership did not seem terribly concerned about it.  Military victories would convince the citizenry to end the rebellion.  Once they returned to keeping the King’s peace, the military occupation could end and the abuses would also go away.

Initially the plan seemed to work.  General Howe’s amnesty proclamation motivated thousands across New York and New Jersey to swear allegiance to the King in return for a full pardon.  The British set out a series of outposts across New Jersey where subjects could see that they were in charge.  With any luck the Continental Army would dissolve over the winter and Howe could extend his amnesty across the continent without having to butcher thousands more on both sides.

Map of regional forces during Mount Holly Raid
Before Howe returned to New York for the winter, he personally surveyed and posted his army along the Delaware River, making sure the Americans would not attempt to cross back into New Jersey.

He left General James Grant in overall command of the region.  For those of you keeping track of such things, we first met General Grant in Episode 12, when he was a mere major captured near Fort Duquesne near the end of the French and Indian war, and again in Episode 15 when as a Lieutenant Colonel, he attacked the Cherokee at the Battle of Etchoe in South Carolina.  After the French and Indian war, Grant served as Governor of East Florida for a time, then returned home to be elected to Parliament.  There, he was one of the toughest talking members against the brewing rebellion. Grant said the patriots would never stand up to military action and that he could march across the entire continent with 5000 regulars.

When war broke out, he received a commission as full colonel and traveled with General Howe to Boston in 1775.  After Howe replaced General Thomas Gage as overall commander of North America, Grant received a promotion to brigadier general.  His leadership during the battle of Brooklyn had led to yet another promotion to major general.

Despite his rise in rank, Grant did not seem to have the respect of his officers and men.  Like General Howe, he seemed more interested in personal comforts than in the success or even the safety of the men under his command.  Grant set up his headquarters in Brunswick, NJ, closer to New York than to the outposts he commanded along the Delaware River.

The ranking officer actually present at the outposts was Hessian Colonel Carl Von Donop.  General Howe ordered Von Donop with a force of about 2000 Hessians to occupy Bordentown, NJ, a small town just a few miles south of Trenton along the Delaware River.  At the time, Bordentown had only a couple of dozen houses, nowhere near enough buildings to house 2000 Hessians for the winter.  Also as it bordered the Delaware River, the Hessians attracted artillery fire from ships and Continentals on the other side of the river.  Von Donop had to move inland and scatter his forces in farm houses around the countryside.

Some estimates say Von Donop had about 3000 men.  However, this may include the division deployed to Von Donop’s south.  Howe directed, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Stirling, an officer commanding the 42nd Regiment, known as the Black Watch, as well as a battalion of Hessians.  Stirling’s men would occupy Burlington, NJ about 10 miles southeast of Bordentown.  Again, Burlington was not large enough to house even this smaller force and suffered enemy artillery fire from the river.  Stirling also deployed his forces a few miles south of Burlington, further inland, scattering them among several farmhouses and barns in the area.

Carl Von Donop
(from Historica)
To Colonel Von Donop’s north Colonel Johann Rall commanded about 1400 Hessians at Trenton.  Rall held an independent command and did not report to Von Donop, but instead reported directly to General Grant.  At least Trenton, with about 100 buildings, was large enough to accommodate most of Rall’s soldiers, even if they did have to pack themselves into pretty tight quarters.

To support these front line outposts, General Howe established a supply depot at Princeton, further inland and about 13 miles north of Trenton.  There, General Alexander Leslie commanded another brigade of British infantry.  For those paying attention, this is the same Colonel Leslie who led a raid on Salem back in 1775 before Lexington and Concord, see Episode 46.  In early 1776 he received a promotion to brigadier general.

The British deployment was not particularly defensible.  These were thousands of soldiers spread over lightly populated countryside, with no forts or other particularly defensible positions.  Their focus was more on pacifying the region, hunting down small groups of rebels or bandits and making sure everyone knew they occupied New Jersey.  No one expected the crippled Continental Army to attempt any sort of large attack.  If an attack came, the forces were a few hours march away.  Any of the outposts should be able to hold out until relief could arrive.

While many in New Jersey had accepted the British occupation and sought amnesty.  There remained a hard core of militia who continued to harass the British at every opportunity.  These were not conventional soldiers.  They were essentially civilians with guns.  They could not take on the British army, or even the outposts that were set up.  They could, however, shoot British messengers that traveled between units, or attack supply trains providing food and supplies to the outposts.  If the British sent out companies of soldiers to track down the guerrillas, they would find only civilians who had hidden their guns and now claimed to be loyal subjects who knew nothing about the attacks in the area.  The British knew they were in hostile territory, but were frustrated that they could not get the enemy to stand and fight on a battlefield.

Iron Works Hill

Across the river in Pennsylvania, General Washington had to decide if there was anything he could do before his Army evaporated at the end of the year, just a few weeks away.  If fearful New Jersey civilians could see that they were not completely abandoned by the Continental Army, they might begin to rally around the American cause once again.  He also did not want to let the enemy get comfortable settling into winter quarters.  Anything they could do to harass and annoy the enemy had to continue.

On December 17, Washington ordered Colonel Samuel Griffin from Virginia to cross over into New Jersey.  Griffin commanded a force of about 600 men, a few Virginia artillerymen with small field cannon, along with mostly Pennsylvania and New Jersey militia.  The force made its way to Mount Holly New Jersey, where they set up a defensive position at the top of a small hill near the local iron works.

Mount Holly was close to the southernmost British outpost commanded by Colonel Stirling.  However, Stirling did not receive word of the American incursion into New Jersey, or if he did, he simply reported it to Colonel Von Donop and did not deploy any of his soldiers.  In Bordentown, Von Donop received word of the American presence. Some accounts indicate that his soldiers encountered rebels attempting to steal cattle.  They informed the British that more than 1000 rebels had encamped near Mount Holly.

Von Donop and Griffin had met on the field of battle once before.  Both men had led their battalions into battle at Harlem Heights, where Griffin was wounded.  It is not clear, however, that either man knew much about the other, or their opponent in the  previous encounter.

Samuel Griffin
(from Wikimedia)
Von Donop moved nearly all of the 3000 soldiers under his command to confront the enemy.  On December 21, the patriots encountered a small British force holding Petticoat Bridge, over Assiscunk Creek.  Outnumbered, the British outpost fell back to the north to meet up with Von Donop’s 3000 man force.

The following day, the main body of Hessians recaptured the bridge.  A brief skirmish took place, with a few casualties on each side.  The Americans fell back to Mount Holly.

That same day, Washington’s aide, Colonel Joseph Reed, rode into New Jersey to find Colonel Griffin.  He asked Griffin to keep the Hessians engaged in order to distract them as Washington prepared to cross the Delaware and attack further north.  Reed was pleased to find that Griffin had already engaged the enemy and was keeping them occupied.

It is not clear if Washington had sent Griffin into New Jersey with the intent of creating a distraction away from his newly formed plan to attack the Trenton garrison.  There are no written instructions to that effect.  Washington may have simply sent  Griffin more to get a better idea of the locations and numbers of British forces in the area.  The decision to use Griffin to distract and divide the enemy probably came later, hence Reed’s visit on the 22nd.  Reed himself called the engagement at Mount Holly accidental but with a “happy effect.”  Reed sent a messenger back to Washington, letting him know the enemy was scattered and divided making an immediate attack advisable.  Reed suggested either supporting Griffin or making a separate attack while Von Donop’s forces were so far from Trenton.

A day later, December 23, the Hessian force under Von Donop moved into Mount Holly.  The two sides engaged in a firefight lasting at least several hours, and involving the use of field cannon.  The Hessians eventually forced the smaller American battalion to fall back to their defensive position on Iron Works Hill.

The two sides continued in an exchange of fire, but the Hessians did not attempt to take the hill.  The American force was entrenched on the hill and had its own field cannons to deter any assault.  The Americans were outnumbered and that evening the Americans retreated to Moorestown, leaving Mt. Holly to the Hessians.

By some accounts, there were up to 100 casualties on both sides combined.  That seems exaggerated though.  Most accounts indicate only two or three killed on each side and maybe a dozen wounded.

Colonel Von Donop and his army occupied Mount Holly.  The Hessians looted houses, apparently found a fair amount of alcohol and got drunk.  With the patriot army having withdrawn and most of the local population having fled town, Von Donop decided not to pursue the enemy any further for the moment.  Instead, he allowed his troops to enjoy the town.

Though most of the locals fled, there is a story of one young widow who remained in town and entertained Von Donop.  Some historians have speculated that this widow might have been Betsy Ross, though I could find no solid evidence to support the theory.  Whoever she was, the widow apparently caused Von Donop to want to remain in town for a few days.  Another Hessian officer noted that Von Donop had a weakness for the ladies and was smitten by this young beautiful widow.  With the patriot force still in the area, and finding reasonably comfortable accommodations at Mount Holly, Von Donop and his men spent Christmas in the town.

Von Donop’s decision to remain in Mount Holly meant that Colonel Rall and the Hessian force in Trenton were isolated and at least a day’s march away from Von Donop’s larger force of Hessians.

- - -

Next Episode 122 Washington Crosses the Delaware (Available Nov. 10, 2019)

Previous Episode 120 The American Crisis



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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. 
Thanks,
Mike Troy


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You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.  Thanks again!




Further Reading

Websites

The Skirmish at Petticoat Bridge, by Norm Goos and Earl Cain: http://www.thehistorygirl.com/2014/12/the-skirmish-at-petticoat-bridge.html

Battle of Iron Works Hill https://revolutionarywar.us/year-1776/battle-iron-works-hill

Battle of Iron Works Hill: http://www.revwartalk.com/Battles-1776/12-22-1776-battles-battle-of-iron-works-hill-in-mount-holly-new-jersey-new-jersey-campaign.html

Iron Works Hill Revolutionary War Sites in Mount Holly, NJ
https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/mount_holly_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm

Iron Works Hill: https://bclhnsassoc.org/battle-of-iron-works-hill

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The Detail and Conduct of the American War, under Generals Gage, Howe, Burgoyne, and Vice Admiral Lord Howe, (original reports and letters) The Royal Exchange, 1780.

Carrington, Henry Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781, A.S. Barnes & Co. 1876.

Collins, Varnum L. A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-1777; a contemporary account of the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Princeton University Library, 1906.

Drake, Samuel A. The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77, Lee and Shepard, 1899.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 5, Vol 3, Washington: St. Claire Clarke, 1837.

Johnston, Henry The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn, Long Island Historical Society, 1878.

Martin, Joseph Plumb The Adventures of a Revolutionary Soldier, 1830 (This is a copy of the original print, but in poor quality.  You can borrow a better quality copy or listen to a free audio copy of the book) or see below in "books worth buying" section.

Reed, William B. (ed) Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Vol. 1, Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847.

Ross, Charles Derek (ed) Correspondence of Charles, first Marquis Cornwallis, Vol. 1 J. Murray, 1859.

Stryker, William Battles Of Trenton And Princeton, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1898.

Stryker, William The Continental Army at the Crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night of 1776, J.L. Murphy Publishing Co. 1896.


Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Atkinson, Richard The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Henry Holt & Co. 2019

Bill, Alfred Hoyt The Campaign of Princeton 1776-1777, Princeton Univ. Press, 1948.

Dwyer, William The Day Is Ours: How a Ragged Rebel Army Stood the Storm and Saved the Revolution,  Viking, 1983.

Fischer, David Hackett Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Ketchum, Richard The Winter Soldiers, Garden City: Anchor Books, 1973.

Kidder, William L. Ten Crucial Days: Washington's Vision for Victory Unfolds, Knox Press, 2019.

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. The Long Retreat, The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776, Upland Press, 1998.

Maloy, Mark Victory or Death: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, December 25, 1776 - January 3, 1777, Savas Beatie, 2018.

McCullough, David 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Schecter, Barnet The Battle for New York, New York: Walker Publishing, 2002.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Episode 120: The American Crisis




Last week I covered a few side events in Rhode Island and Canada that took place in late 1776.  But we all know the main event was along the Delaware River.  Over the last few weeks, I addressed the British push to take New Jersey and the Continental retreat to Pennsylvania.  Continental soldiers were leaving in droves as their enlistments ended, or just plain deserting.  General Washington had another very large enlistment expiration at the end of December, leaving him with little more than a few regiments to command.  Very few soldiers saw any chance of victory and were eager to go home.

One of the soldiers retreating with the Continentals was Thomas Paine.  The author of Common Sense had enlisted in the Pennsylvania militia sometime after writing his famous pamphlet.  He ended up in Fort Lee where he volunteered to serve as General Nathanael Greene’s aide-de-camp.  Paine marched with the rest of the army from Fort Lee as the British under Cornwallis pursued them.

According to legend, Paine marched with the army during the day and penned The American Crisis, No. 1, during the evenings as the army marched from Newark to the Delaware River. It is hard to imagine, though, having much time to do anything during the march.  Perhaps he had time to scratch out a few notes.  There is no good record as to exactly how much of The Crisis he wrote during the march.  Years later, Paine said that he wrote The Crisis in Philadelphia after his arrival in the city on December 8th.

The purpose of Paine’s essay was not to inspire the troops.  It was an attempt to rally the public to the cause and encourage more men to enlist.  Although it is a bit lengthy for this podcast, I’m going to read it in full since it is such a powerful work.

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.


Printing from "American Crisis"
(from Wikimedia)
Whether the independence of the continent was declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now enter into as an argument; my own simple opinion is, that had it been eight months earlier, it would have been much better. We did not make a proper use of last winter, neither could we, while we were in a dependent state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own*;      

* The present winter is worth an age, if rightly employed; but, if lost or neglected, the whole continent will partake of the evil; and there is no punishment that man does not deserve, be he who, or what, or where he will, that may be the means of sacrificing a season so precious and useful.we have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet. All that Howe has been doing for this month past, is rather a ravage than a conquest, which the spirit of the Jerseys, a year ago, would have quickly repulsed, and which time and a little resolution will soon recover.

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent. Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that He has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils; and as I do not, I cannot see on what grounds the king of Britain can look up to heaven for help against us: a common murderer, a highwayman, or a house-breaker, has as good a pretence as he.

'Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world. Many a disguised Tory has lately shown his head, that shall penitentially solemnize with curses the day on which Howe arrived upon the Delaware.

As I was with the troops at Fort Lee, and marched with them to the edge of Pennsylvania, I am well acquainted with many circumstances, which those who live at a distance know but little or nothing of. Our situation there was exceedingly cramped, the place being a narrow neck of land between the North River and the Hackensack. Our force was inconsiderable, being not one-fourth so great as Howe could bring against us. We had no army at hand to have relieved the garrison, had we shut ourselves up and stood on our defence. Our ammunition, light artillery, and the best part of our stores, had been removed, on the apprehension that Howe would endeavor to penetrate the Jerseys, in which case Fort Lee could be of no use to us; for it must occur to every thinking man, whether in the army or not, that these kind of field forts are only for temporary purposes, and last in use no longer than the enemy directs his force against the particular object which such forts are raised to defend. Such was our situation and condition at Fort Lee on the morning of the 20th of November, when an officer arrived with information that the enemy with 200 boats had landed about seven miles above; Major General [Nathanael] Green, who commanded the garrison, immediately ordered them under arms, and sent express to General Washington at the town of Hackensack, distant by the way of the ferry = six miles. Our first object was to secure the bridge over the Hackensack, which laid up the river between the enemy and us, about six miles from us, and three from them. General Washington arrived in about three-quarters of an hour, and marched at the head of the troops towards the bridge, which place I expected we should have a brush for; however, they did not choose to dispute it with us, and the greatest part of our troops went over the bridge, the rest over the ferry, except some which passed at a mill on a small creek, between the bridge and the ferry, and made their way through some marshy grounds up to the town of Hackensack, and there passed the river. We brought off as much baggage as the wagons could contain, the rest was lost. The simple object was to bring off the garrison, and march them on till they could be strengthened by the Jersey or Pennsylvania militia, so as to be enabled to make a stand. We staid four days at Newark, collected our out-posts with some of the Jersey militia, and marched out twice to meet the enemy, on being informed that they were advancing, though our numbers were greatly inferior to theirs. Howe, in my little opinion, committed a great error in generalship in not throwing a body of forces off from Staten Island through Amboy, by which means he might have seized all our stores at Brunswick, and intercepted our march into Pennsylvania; but if we believe the power of hell to be limited, we must likewise believe that their agents are under some providential control.

I shall not now attempt to give all the particulars of our retreat to the Delaware; suffice it for the present to say, that both officers and men, though greatly harassed and fatigued, frequently without rest, covering, or provision, the inevitable consequences of a long retreat, bore it with a manly and martial spirit. All their wishes centred in one, which was, that the country would turn out and help them to drive the enemy back. Voltaire has remarked that King William never appeared to full advantage but in difficulties and in action; the same remark may be made on General Washington, for the character fits him. There is a natural firmness in some minds which cannot be unlocked by trifles, but which, when unlocked, discovers a cabinet of fortitude; and I reckon it among those kind of public blessings, which we do not immediately see, that God hath blessed him with uninterrupted health, and given him a mind that can even flourish upon care.

I shall conclude this paper with some miscellaneous remarks on the state of our affairs; and shall begin with asking the following question, Why is it that the enemy have left the New England provinces, and made these middle ones the seat of war? The answer is easy: New England is not infested with Tories, and we are. I have been tender in raising the cry against these men, and used numberless arguments to show them their danger, but it will not do to sacrifice a world either to their folly or their baseness. The period is now arrived, in which either they or we must change our sentiments, or one or both must fall. And what is a Tory? Good God! what is he? I should not be afraid to go with a hundred Whigs against a thousand Tories, were they to attempt to get into arms. Every Tory is a coward; for servile, slavish, self-interested fear is the foundation of Toryism; and a man under such influence, though he may be cruel, never can be brave.

But, before the line of irrecoverable separation be drawn between us, let us reason the matter together: Your conduct is an invitation to the enemy, yet not one in a thousand of you has heart enough to join him. Howe is as much deceived by you as the American cause is injured by you. He expects you will all take up arms, and flock to his standard, with muskets on your shoulders. Your opinions are of no use to him, unless you support him personally, for 'tis soldiers, and not Tories, that he wants.

I once felt all that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the Tories: a noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, "Well! give me peace in my day." Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;" and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty. Not a place upon earth might be so happy as America. Her situation is remote from all the wrangling world, and she has nothing to do but to trade with them. A man can distinguish himself between temper and principle, and I am as confident, as I am that God governs the world, that America will never be happy till she gets clear of foreign dominion. Wars, without ceasing, will break out till that period arrives, and the continent must in the end be conqueror; for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire.

Thomas Paine (from Wikimedia)

America did not, nor does not want force; but she wanted a proper application of that force. Wisdom is not the purchase of a day, and it is no wonder that we should err at the first setting off. From an excess of tenderness, we were unwilling to raise an army, and trusted our cause to the temporary defence of a well-meaning militia. A summer's experience has now taught us better; yet with those troops, while they were collected, we were able to set bounds to the progress of the enemy, and, thank God! they are again assembling. I always considered militia as the best troops in the world for a sudden exertion, but they will not do for a long campaign. Howe, it is probable, will make an attempt on this city [Philadelphia]; should he fail on this side the Delaware, he is ruined. If he succeeds, our cause is not ruined. He stakes all on his side against a part on ours; admitting he succeeds, the consequence will be, that armies from both ends of the continent will march to assist their suffering friends in the middle states; for he cannot go everywhere, it is impossible. I consider Howe as the greatest enemy the Tories have; he is bringing a war into their country, which, had it not been for him and partly for themselves, they had been clear of. Should he now be expelled, I wish with all the devotion of a Christian, that the names of Whig and Tory may never more be mentioned; but should the Tories give him encouragement to come, or assistance if he come, I as sincerely wish that our next year's arms may expel them from the continent, and the Congress appropriate their possessions to the relief of those who have suffered in well-doing. A single successful battle next year will settle the whole. America could carry on a two years' war by the confiscation of the property of disaffected persons, and be made happy by their expulsion. Say not that this is revenge, call it rather the soft resentment of a suffering people, who, having no object in view but the good of all, have staked their own all upon a seemingly doubtful event. Yet it is folly to argue against determined hardness; eloquence may strike the ear, and the language of sorrow draw forth the tear of compassion, but nothing can reach the heart that is steeled with prejudice.

Quitting this class of men, I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you. It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America.

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both. Howe's first object is, partly by threats and partly by promises, to terrify or seduce the people to deliver up their arms and receive mercy. The ministry recommended the same plan to Gage, and this is what the tories call making their peace, "a peace which passeth all understanding" indeed! A peace which would be the immediate forerunner of a worse ruin than any we have yet thought of. Ye men of Pennsylvania, do reason upon these things! Were the back counties to give up their arms, they would fall an easy prey to the Indians, who are all armed: this perhaps is what some Tories would not be sorry for. Were the home counties to deliver up their arms, they would be exposed to the resentment of the back counties who would then have it in their power to chastise their defection at pleasure. And were any one state to give up its arms, that state must be garrisoned by all Howe's army of Britons and Hessians to preserve it from the anger of the rest. Mutual fear is the principal link in the chain of mutual love, and woe be to that state that breaks the compact. Howe is mercifully inviting you to barbarous destruction, and men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.

I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it. While our army was collected, Howe dared not risk a battle; and it is no credit to him that he decamped from the White Plains, and waited a mean opportunity to ravage the defenceless Jerseys; but it is great credit to us, that, with a handful of men, we sustained an orderly retreat for near an hundred miles, brought off our ammunition, all our field pieces, the greatest part of our stores, and had four rivers to pass. None can say that our retreat was precipitate, for we were near three weeks in performing it, that the country might have time to come in. Twice we marched back to meet the enemy, and remained out till dark. The sign of fear was not seen in our camp, and had not some of the cowardly and disaffected inhabitants spread false alarms through the country, the Jerseys had never been ravaged. Once more we are again collected and collecting; our new army at both ends of the continent is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the next campaign with sixty thousand men, well armed and clothed. This is our situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils—a ravaged country—a depopulated city—habitations without safety, and slavery without hope—our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.

Thus ended the Crisis.

These powerful word began to spread across North American in late December 1776.  Historians also don’t agree on the day it was published.  Most say December 19, but it may have been as late as December 23.  Popular legend says he published it in the Pennsylvania Journal and that Washington had it read to his army just before they crossed the Delaware to attack the Hessians.  But again, there is no contemporary evidence that Washington did this.  Paine’s first printing came as an independent pamphlet. The Pennsylvania Journal had ceased publishing entirely in early December because of the expected British invasion of Philadelphia.  It did not resume publishing until mid-January.

Another paper, the Pennsylvania Packet reprinted the first half a few days after Christmas. It did not publish the second half until January.  That said, it is quite possible that copies of the original American Crisis pamphlet reached the Continental Army a few days before the crossing and that many soldiers either read it or had it read to them.

Whatever the details of its release, Paine’s Crisis called on the nation to rally against the British Army.  Next week, we will cover the beginning of the country’s counterattack.

- - -

Next Episode 121 Battle of Iron Works Hill

Previous Episode 119: Fort Cumberland (Nova Scotia) and Newport, RI


Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. 
Thanks,
Mike Troy


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You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.  Thanks again!



Further Reading

Websites

The American Crisis series (full texts): http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis

The American Crisis Before Crossing the Delaware, by Jett Conner, Journal of the American Revolution 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/02/american-crisis-before-crossing-the-delaware

A Brief Publication History of the “Times That Try Men’s Souls,” by Jett Conner, Journal of the American Revolution 2016:
https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/01/a-brief-publication-history-of-the-times-that-try-mens-souls

How Thomas Paine's Other Pamphlet Saved the Revolution: https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/how-thomas-paines-other-pamphlet-saved-the-revolution

Biography of Thomas Paine: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/biographies/thomas-paine

Thomas Paine: https://www.biography.com/scholar/thomas-paine

The Writings of Thomas Paine: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31270/31270-h/31270-h.htm

Thomas Paine, works: https://oll.libertyfund.org/people/thomas-paine

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Clarke, Harry Hayden Thomas Paine, American Book Company, 1944.

Conway, Moncure The Life of Thomas Paine, Vol 1 and Vol. 2, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908.

Conway, Moncure (ed) The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. 1 1774-1779,  New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1906.

Drake, Samuel A. The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77, Lee and Shepard, 1899.

Foner, Phillip (ed) The Complete Works of Thomas Paine, Citidel Press, 1945.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Atkinson, Richard The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Henry Holt & Co. 2019

Dwyer, William The Day Is Ours: How a Ragged Rebel Army Stood the Storm and Saved the Revolution,  Viking, 1983.

Fischer, David Hackett Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Foner, Eric Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976

Foner, Eric Thomas Paine: Collected Writings: Common Sense / The Crisis / Rights of Man / The Age of Reason / Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters, Library of America, 1995 (book recommendation of the week).

Kaye, Harvey J. Thomas Paine and the Promise of America: A History & Biography, New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Kean, John Tom Paine: A Political Life, London: Bloomsbury, 1995

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. The Long Retreat, The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776, Upland Press, 1998.

Nelson, Craig Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, New York: Viking, 2006.

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