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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Capture of Philadelphia
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[The active military operations of the year 1777 in the North were matched by as active ones in the Middle States, though the latter did not end so successfully for the American cause. In the early part of the year, as we have seen, Washington had regained possession of New Jersey, and closed the avenue to Philadelphia by that route. Half the year was occupied by Howe in vain endeavors to bring Washington to a general engagement. Failing in this, he withdrew all his forces from New Jersey, and began extensive preparations for a sea- expedition, whose object it was not easy to ascertain. Washington, however, believed it to be the capture of Philadelphia, and made energetic preparations for the defence of that city. Howe set sail from Sandy Hook on the 23d of July with a large and well-appointed army, leaving a strong garrison to hold New York. Rhode Island was also strongly garrisoned. Yet about this time an adventure of striking boldness occurred on that island. General Prescott, who commanded the Rhode Island forces, had become very negligent of his guard, under assurance of perfect safety. In consequence, on the 10th of July, a party of militia secretly landed on the island and carried him off prisoner from the midst of his army. This exploit gave the greatest satisfaction to the Americans, who hoped to exchange this prisoner for General Lee, who had been captured in much the same manner.

About this time several French officers of distinction entered the service of the United States, principal among them being the Marquis de Lafayette, a young nobleman of the highest rank, and for whom Washington ever afterwards felt the warmest friendship. The intentions of Howe for some time remained doubtful. His fleet kept at sea off the coast, and Washington was in doubt whether its destination was Delaware or Chesapeake Bay, or whether it might the action. Washington on this occasion evinced the force of individual will applied, under extreme necessity, to a determining issue. The battle occupied less than one hour. Its fruit was like the grain of mustard-seed which developed a tree under whose branches a thousand might take shelter. He marched back to Newtown with prisoners of war, reaching head-quarters the same night; a new experience for the American army. This countermarch was attended with great hardships and suffering. The entire distance marched by the troops which left Newtown with Washington was nearly thirty miles, before they again reached their camp, and more than a thousand men were practically disabled for duty through frozen limbs and broken-down energies.

[The events that succeeded this important victory may be briefly stated. Washington's good fortune having brought him in reinforcements of militia, and induced some of his men whose term was about expiring to remain six weeks longer, he recrossed to Trenton on December 28. The British were now in force at Princeton. On January 2, Cornwallis reached Trenton with a strong army. Washington lay intrenched on the east side of the creek, with about five thousand men. The British threatened an attack the next day, in which defeat would have been ruinous to the Americans, since the ice in the Delaware rendered it nearly impassable in the face of an active foe. Washington accordingly devised a stratagem which proved highly successful. Kindling his camp-fires, and leaving guards and sentinels, he decamped that night with his whole army, and reached Princeton the next morning, about the time that Cornwallis discovered his disappearance. Here he met and defeated a body of soldiers, but, finding that Cornwallis was marching hastily back, and fearing to be caught between two fires with a worn-out army, he abruptly left that locality, and marched towards Morristown, while the British hastened to New Brunswick, to save their stores. Washington soon took the field again, and overran all northern New Jersey, while Howe's army became confined to the two posts of Amboy and New Brunswick. The people of New Jersey, who had been cruelly abused by the invaders, now retaliated by a guerilla warfare, cutting off outposts, attacking stragglers, and so annoying the British that they hardly dared venture beyond their lines.]

Charles Botta

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