Mandeville, LA – The events dramatized in Mike Church’s “Times That Try Men’s Souls”, now playing in our EXCLUSIVE, Founding Father Films, Christmas Webcast, are based upon the writing of Washington Irving in his 5 volume set “Life of Washington”. Below is the version of The Crossing, condensed from that book, enjoy and please tune into our dramatization of the entire story from The Times That try Men’s Souls, now playing (see event page for showtimes).
The projected attack upon the Hessian posts was to be threefold : 1st. Washington was to cross the Delaware with a considerable force, at McKonkey’s Ferry (now Taylorsville), about nine miles above Trenton, and march down upon that place, Where Rahl’s cantonment comprised a brigade of fifteen hundred Hessians, a troop of British lil-horse, and a number of chasseurs. 2d. General Ewing-, with a body of Pennsylvania militia, was to cross at a ferry about a mile below Trenton; secure the bridge over the Assunpink creek, a stream flowing along the south side of the town, and cut-off any retreat of the enemy in that direction. 3d. General Putnam, with the troops occupied in fortifying Philadelphia, and those under General Cadwalader, was to cross below Burlington and attack the lower posts under Count Donop. The several divisions were to cross the Delaware at night, so as to be ready for simultaneous action by five o’clock in the morning.
The advance guard was led by a brave young officer, Captain William A. Washington, seconded by Lieutenant James Monroe (in after years president, of the United States). They received orders to dislodge the picket.
Seldom is a combined plan carried into full operation. Symptoms of an insurrection in Philadelphia obliged Put- nam to remain with some force in that city; but he detached five or six hundred of the Pennsylvania militia under Colonel Miflin, his adjutant-general, who threw himself into the Jerseys, to be at hand to co-operate with Cadwalader.
Early on the eventful evening (Dec. 25th), the troops destined for Washington’s part of the attack, about two thousand four hundred strong, with a train of twenty small pieces, were paraded near McKonkey’s Ferry, ready to pass as soon as it grew dark, in the hope of being all on the other side by twelve o’clock. Washington repaired to the ground accompanied by Generals Greene, Sullivan, Mercer, Stephen, and Lord Stirling. Greene was full of ardor for the enterprise; eager, no doubt, to wipe out the recollection of Fort Washington. It was, indeed, an anxious moment for all.
Boats being in readiness, the troops began to cross about sunset. The weather was intensely cold, the wind was high, the current strong, and the river full of floating ice. Colonel Glover, with his amphibious regiment of Marblehead fishermen, was in advance. They were men accustomed to battle with the elements, yet with all their skill and experience the crossing was difficult and perilous. The night was dark and tempestuous, the drifting ice drove the boats out of their course, and threatened them with destruction. It was three o’clock before the artillerv was landed, and nearly four before the troops took up their line of march. Trenton was nine miles distant; and not to be reached before day- light. To surprise it, therefore, was out of the question. There was no making: a retreat without being discovered and harassed in re-passing the river. Beside, the troops from the other points might have crossed, and co-operation was essential to their safety. Washington resolved to push forward and trust to Providence. He formed the troops into two columns. The first he led himself, accompanied by Greene, Stirling, Mercer, and Stephen; it was to make a circuit by the upper or Pennington road, to the north of Trenton. The other, led by Sullivan, and including the brigade of St Clair, was to take the lower river road lead ing to the west end of the town. Sullivan’s column was to halt a few moments at a cross-road leading to Rowland’s Ferry to give Washington’s column time to effect its circuit, so that the attack might be simultaneous. On arriving at Trenton they were to force the outer guards and push directly into the town before the enemy had time to form.
It began to hail and snow as the troops commenced their march, and increased in violence as they advanced, the storm driving; the sleet in their faces. So bitter was the cold that two of the men were frozen to death that night. The day dawned by the time Sullivan halted at the cross-road. It was discovered that the storm had rendered many of the muskets wet and useless. ” What is to be done ? ” inquired Sullivan of St Clair. ” You have nothing for it but to push on and use the bayonet,” was the reply. While some of the soldiers were endeavoring to clear their muskets, and squibbing off priming, Sullivan despatched another to apprise the commander-in-chief of the condition of their arms. He came back half dismayed by an indignant burst of Washington, who ordered him to return instantly and tell General Sullivan to “advance and charge.”
It was about eight o’clock when Washington’s column arrived in the vicinity of the village. The storm which had rendered the march intolerable, had kept every one within doors, and the snow had deadened the tread of the troops and the rumbling of the artillery. As they approached the village, Washington, who was in front, came to a man that was chopping wood by the roadside, and inquired, ” Which way is the Hessian picket?” “I don’t know,” was the surly reply. ” You may tell,” said Captain Forest of the artillery,” for that is General Washington.” The aspect of the man changed in an instant. Raising his hands to heaven, “God bless and prosper you!” cried he. “The picket is in that house, and the sentry stands near that tree.”
The advance guard was led by a brave young officer, Captain William A. Washington, seconded by Lieutenant James Monroe (in after years president, of the United States). They received orders to dislodge the picket. Here happened to be stationed the very lieutenant whose censures of the negligence of Colonel Rahl we have referred to. By his own account, he was very near being entrapped in the guard-house. His sentries, he says, were not alert enough; and had he not stepped out of the picket-house himself and discovered the enemy, they would have been upon him before his men could scramble to their arms. “Der feind ! der feind! heraus! heraus!” (the enemy ! the enemy ! turn out ! turn out !) was now the cry. By this time the American artillery was un limbered; Washington kept beside it and the column proceeded. The report of fire-arms told that Sullivan was at the lower end of the town. Colonel Stark led his advance guard, and did it in gallant style. The attacks, as concerted, were simultaneous. The outposts were driven in; they retreated, firing from behind houses. The Hessian drums beat to arms; the trumpets of the light-horse sounded the alarm; the whole place was in an uproar. Some of the enemy made a wild and undirected fire from the windows of their quarters; others rushed forth in dis- order and attempted to form in the main street, while dragoons, hastily mounted and galloping about, added to the confusion, Washington advanced with his column to the head of King Street, riding beside Captain Forest of the artillery. When Forest’s battery of six guns was opened the general kept on the left and advanced with it, giving directions to the fire. His position was an exposed one, and he was repeatedly entreated to fall back; but all such entreaties were useless when once he became heated in action.
The enemy were training a couple of cannon in the main street to form a batter v, which might have given the Americans a serious check; but Captain Washington and Lieu- tenant Monroe, with a part of the advance guard rushed forward, drove the artillerists from their guns, and took the two pieces when on the point of being fired. Both of these officers were wounded; the captain in the wrist, the lieutenant in the shoulder.
While Washington advanced on the north of the town, Sullivan approached on the west, and detached Stark to press on the lower or south end of the town. The British light- horse, and about five hundred Hessians and chasseurs, had been quartered in the lower part of the town. Seeing Washington’s column pressing in front, and hearing Stark thundering in their rear, they took headlong flight by the bridge across the Assunpink, and so along the banks of the Delaware towards Count Donop’s encampment at Bordentown. Had Washington’s plan been carried into full effect, their retreat would have been cut off bv General Ewing; but that officer had been prevented from crossing the river by the ice.
Colonel Rahl, according to the account of the lieutenant who had commanded the picket, completely lost his head in the confusion of the surprise. The latter, when driven in by the American advance, found the colonel on horseback, endeavoring to rally his panic-stricken and disordered men, but himself sorely bewildered. With some difficulty he succeeded in extricating his troops from the town, and leading them into an adjacent orchard. A rapid retreat by the Princeton road was apparently in his thoughts; but he lacked decision. The idea of dying before the rebels was intolerable. Some one, too, exclaimed at the ruinous loss of leaving all their baggage to be plundered by the enemy. Changing his mind’ he made a rash resolve. ” All who are my grenadiers, forward ! ” cried he, and led his grenadiers bravely but rashly on, when, in the midst of his career, he received a fatal wound from a musket ball and fell from his horse. His men, left without their chief, were struck with dismay; heedless of the orders of the second in command, they retreated by the right up the banks of the Assunpink, intending to escape to Princeton. Washington saw their design, and threw Colonel Bland’s corps of Pennsylvania riflemen in their way; while a body of Virginia troops gained their left. Brought to a stand, and perfectly bewildered, they grounded their arms and surrendered at discretion.
The number of prisoners taken in this affair was nearly one thousand, of which thirty-two were officers. Washing- ton’s triumph, however, was impaired by the failure of the two simultaneous attacks. General Ewing, who was to have crossed before day at Trenton Ferry, and taken posses- sion of the bridge leading out of the town, over which the light-horse and Hessians retreated, was prevented by the quantity of ice in the river. Cadwalader was hindered by the same obstacle. He got part of his troops over, but found it impossible to embark his cannon, and was obliged, therefore, to return to the Pennsylvania side of the river. Had he and Ewing crossed, Donop’s quarters would have been beaten up, and the fugitives from Trenton intercepted. By the failure of this part of his plan, Washington had been exposed to the most imminent hazard. The force with which he had crossed, twenty-four hundred men, raw troops, was not enough to cope with the veteran garrison, had it been properly on its guard; and then there were the troops under Donop at hand to co-operate with it. Nothing saved him but the utter panic of the enemy, their want of proper armed places, and their exaggerated idea of his forces. Even now that the place was in his possession he dared not linger in it.