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But nothing could check the
panic, until they joined the main body at Harlem. In this manner, the
city of New York fell into the hands of the British, who captured 300
prisoners, a number of cannon, and a large quantity of stores. The
American army pulled itself together on Harlem Heights, while the enemy
encamped in front, their right resting on the East River and their left
on the Hudson, with both flanks supported by armed ships.


NATHAN HALE, THE "MARTYR SPY."

While General Howe occupied New York, one of the most pathetic incidents
of the Revolution occurred. It was of the highest importance that
Washington should gain information of the intentions and the strength of
the enemy. In order to do so, Captain Nathan Hale, of Connecticut,
voluntarily entered the British lines disguised as a spy. He did his
work with shrewdness and skill, but on his return, and when about to
re-enter the American lines, he was recognized and captured. When
accused, he admitted his identity and business, and without trial was
condemned to death. He was brutally treated by the provost-marshal, who
refused him a light to read his Bible, and destroyed the letters he
wrote to his mother. He was hanged the morning after his capture, his
last words being: "My only regret is that I have but one life to give to
my country."

The months passed without any important movement on either side. Howe
made careful preparations and Washington closely watched him. The
Continental army was divided into four divisions, commanded respectively
by Generals Heath, Sullivan, Lincoln, and Lee (who had lately returned
from the South). At a council of war it was decided that Harlem Heights
could not be held against the enemy, but at the urgent request of
General Greene, a strong garrison was left in Fort Washington. It
numbered 3,000, and was under the command of Colonel Robert Magaw of
Philadelphia.


CONTINUED RETREAT OF THE AMERICANS.

In accordance with the plan agreed upon, Washington fell slowly back and
was attacked at White Plains. He inflicted severe loss on the enemy, but
continued to retreat, whereupon Howe turned back and assailed Fort
Washington with such an overwhelming force that Colonel Magaw
surrendered.

Washington's fear now was that the British would press a campaign
against Philadelphia, the capital. Accordingly, he crossed to New
Jersey, and, with General Greene, took position at Fort Lee. The enemy
threatened it with such a large force that it was abandoned and he began
his retreat through New Jersey, with Cornwallis, the ablest of the
British generals, in close pursuit. The two armies were frequently so
near each other that they exchanged shots.


THE DARK DAYS OF THE REVOLUTION.

The "dark days" of the Revolution had come. Winter was at hand, and
hundreds of the ragged Continentals, as they tramped over the frozen
roads, left the bloody prints of their bare feet on the ground. Many
lost heart, and the desertions were so numerous that it looked as if the
whole army would crumble to pieces.

The remark has often been made of Washington that he never won a battle,
but the wonder is that he did so well with the miserable force under his
command. His greatness, however, rests upon a much broader foundation.
He, far more than any other man, saw the end from the beginning, and
embodied within himself the spirit of the struggle for American
independence. He was the Revolution. Had he been killed, the struggle
would have stopped, for no one could have been his successor. Subjected
to trials whose exasperating nature it is impossible for us to
comprehend, he never lost heart. He pressed forward with sublime faith
that no disaster, defeat, or misfortune could weaken. Moreover, let it
not be forgotten that he fought from the opening to the close of the
struggle without accepting a cent in the way of payment.

When Washington reached the little town of Trenton, he was joined by
Stirling, the junction raising the force to 5,000 men. General Lee,
disobeying orders, marched so tardily that he was captured at Basking
Ridge, N.J., by a company of British horse. Investigations that have
since been made leave no doubt that Lee purposely allowed himself to be
taken, and that while in the enemy's hands he offered to do all he could
in the way of betrayal of his country. Washington crossed the Delaware
into Pennsylvania, just as Cornwallis entered the upper end of the town.

The great man, knowing the universal depression, saw that a blow must be
struck to raise the drooping spirits of his countrymen. Otherwise the
struggle would collapse from sheer despair. As for the enemy, they gave
scarcely a thought to the shivering ragamuffins on the other side of the
river. The Hessian commander, Colonel Rall, had occupied the town with
his men, and they prepared to enjoy life to the full. Rall drank toddy,
smoked, and played cards, while the wintry winds roared outside. Perhaps
a feeling akin to pity moved him when he thought of the starving,
freezing Continentals who were foolish enough to rebel against the rule
of the great and good King George III.


BATTLE OF TRENTON.

Washington determined to attack the Hessians in Trenton. He divided his
army into three divisions, sending one to Bristol, opposite Burlington,
another remained opposite Trenton, while he himself marched several
miles up stream to a point since known as Washington's Crossing.

The movements down the river were to be directed against the enemy's
detachments at Bordentown, Burlington, and Mount Holly, but the stream
was so choked with masses of floating ice that neither division was able
to force its way over. Washington, with 2,500 of the best officers and
men in the army, crossed the stream in the face of a driving storm of
snow and sleet, and, reaching the village of Birmingham, several miles
inland, divided his force. Sullivan took the road which runs close to
and parallel with the river, while Washington, with Greene, followed the
Scotch road. The latter joins the upper part of the town, while the
river road enters the lower end. The plan was for the two divisions to
strike Trenton at the same time and attack the Hessians in front and
rear. It was hardly light on the morning succeeding Christmas, 1776,
when Washington drove in the sentinels and advanced rapidly in the
direction of Sullivan, the report of whose guns showed that he had
arrived on time and was vigorously pressing matters.

The rattle of musketry and the boom of cannon roused the startled
Hessians, who made the best defense possible. Colonel Rall leaped from
his bed, and, hastily donning his clothes, strove to collect and form
his men. While doing so he was mortally wounded. The moment quickly came
when his situation was hopeless. Supported on either side by a sergeant,
Rall walked painfully forward to where Washington was seated on his
horse, and, handing his sword to him, asked that mercy should be shown
his men. Washington assured him his request was unnecessary. Rall was
carried to a building, where, as he lay on the bed, he was visited by
Washington, who expressed his sympathy for his sufferings, which soon
were terminated by death.

[Illustration: WASHINGTON CROSSING THE DELAWARE.]

The battle of Trenton, as it is known in history, was remarkable in more
than one respect. The Americans captured 950 prisoners, six guns, a
large number of small arms, killed twenty and wounded nearly a hundred
of the enemy. Of the Americans, four were wounded and two killed, and it
is probable that these deaths were due to the extreme cold rather than
the aim of the Hessians, whose work is very suggestive of that of the
Spaniards in the late war.

The moral effect of the victory, however, was almost beyond estimate.
The threatening clouds that had so long darkened the land were
scattered, and the glorious sun of hope burst through and cheered all.
The triumph may be summed up in the expression that it marked the
"turning of the tide." Reverses were yet waiting for the Americans, but
the war for independence was steadily to advance to its triumphant
conclusion.


THE EFFECT OF THE VICTORY.

The situation of Washington at Trenton, however, was critical.
Cornwallis with his powerful force was at Princeton, ten miles distant,
and was sure to advance against him as soon as he learned of the reverse
at Trenton. Washington, therefore, recrossed the Delaware on the same
day of the victory, with his prisoners and captured war material. One
result was that the British, as soon as they learned what had taken
place, abandoned South Jersey.

Washington remained three days in Pennsylvania, when he again crossed
the Delaware and re-entered Trenton. More than 3,000 reinforcements
joined him, and 1,400 New England soldiers, whose terms of enlistment
were expiring, were so inspired by the victory that they volunteered for
six weeks longer. Robert Morris, to whom we have referred as the
financier of the Revolution, raised $50,000 in specie and sent it to
Washington to be used in paying the troops, who very sorely needed it.

As soon as Cornwallis was told by his scouts that Washington had
returned to Trenton, he advanced against him with a force of 7,000 men,
determined to wipe out the disgrace of a few days before. This was on
the 2d of January, 1777. Greene held the British commander in check
until the close of the day, when he was able to drive the Americans to
the eastern shore of the Assunpink Creek, which runs through the middle
of the town and was spanned by a wooden bridge. There was brisk fighting
at this bridge, but the cannon of Washington were so effective that the
British troops gave up the attempt to force a passage until the morning
of the following day.


WASHINGTON'S CRITICAL SITUATION.

The two armies encamped in sight of each other on opposite banks of the
Assunpink, their camp-fires and sentinels in plain sight. The situation
of the American army could not have been more critical. Behind it was
the Delaware filled with floating ice and in front the superior army of
Cornwallis, confident of capturing Washington and his forces on the
morrow.

But when the raw wintry morning dawned, Cornwallis was astounded to hear
the booming of cannon in the direction of Princeton, ten miles behind
him.



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