George Washington and the Crossing of the Delaware

The withdrawal of Washington to the Highlands left the garrisons at Forts Washington and Lee in a position of great insecurity. General Greene had persisted in retaining the garrison in Fort Washington, and had induced Congress to order its continued occupation, despite the remonstrances of Washington. The result justified the fears of the commander-in-chief. Howe invested the fort, and besieged it with such vigor that its brave commander was obliged to surrender. The besiegers lost nearly a thousand men in killed and wounded, the Americans one hundred and forty nine: much valuable artillery and a large number of small-arms were captured, and more than twenty-six hundred prisoners taken. An advance was next made on Fort Lee, which lay on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, about ten miles above the city. The garrison of this stronghold escaped certain capture by a hasty withdrawal, but much valuable material was abandoned to the enemy. These were serious disasters to the American army, and Washington found himself obliged to retreat step by step through New Jersey, followed by the victorious foe. Fortunately for him, the Howes divided their forces, a strong expedition being sent to Newport, for the capture of the island of Rhode Island, the unimportant occupation of which employed a large body of troops for three years.

Washington, after facing his foe at every step, was finally forced by superior numbers to cross the Delaware, on which he destroyed or secured every boat for a distance of seventy miles, to prevent the enemy from following. Howe reached Trenton on the 8th of December, just in time to see the last of the Americans safely pass the river.

Meanwhile, General Lee, who had been left in command on the Hudson, delayed his march to Washington's aid, despite the urgency of the latter, and, while carelessly passing the night at a distance from his force, was taken prisoner by some British dragoons. "No hope remained to the United States but in Washington. His retreat of ninety miles through the Jerseys, protracted for eighteen or nineteen days, in winter, often in sight and within cannon-shot of his enemies, his rear pulling down bridges and their van building them up, had for its purpose to effect delay till midwinter and impassable roads should offer their protection. The actors, looking back upon the crowded disasters which fell on them, hardly knew by what springs of animation they had been sustained."

This retreat and pursuit threw the inhabitants of the then seat of government into the greatest dismay. There were British posts in New Jersey but little above Philadelphia, and ships of war were rumored to be in the bay. The inhabitants sent their wives and children, and portable valuables, from the city. The panic affected Congress, which body hastily voted to adjourn to Baltimore, their flight seriously injuring the public credit and causing a fall in the value of the currency. Putnam held the city, which he was charged to hold to the last extremity. General Howe, satisfied that the fight was thoroughly taken out of the American army, returned to his winter-quarters in New York, leaving Donop with two Hessian brigades and the Forty-Second Highlanders to hold the line from Trenton to Burlington.

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