Battle of Assunpink

 

                It has been a matter of surprise to many, that the Battle of Assunpink, or Trenton bridge, should be passed over so lightly by most historians of the revolution.  On the result of this action, apparently, in a great degree, was suspended the fate of American independence.  It is probable that more than twice the number of British troops were killed, than either at the battles of Trenton or Princeton.  The first account of the action, here given, is from an officer present in the engagement.  It was published in the “Connecticut Journal,” Jan. 22d, 1777.

 

                Immediately after taking of the Hessians at Trenton, on the 26th ult., our Army retreated over the Delaware, and remained there for several days, and then returned and took possession of Trenton, where they remained quiet until Thursday, the 2d inst.; at which time, the enemy having collected a large force at Princeton, marched down in a body of 4,000 or 5,000, to attack our people at Trenton.  Through Trenton there runs a small river, over which there is a small bridge.  Gen. Washington, aware of the enemy’s approach, drew his army (about equal to the enemy) over that bridge, in order to have advantage of said river, and of the higher ground on the farther side.  Not long before sunset, the enemy marched into Trenton; and after reconnoitering our situation, drew up in solid column in order to force the aforesaid bridge, which they attempted to do with great vigor at three several times, and were as often broke by our artillery and obliged to retreat and give over the attempt, after suffering great loss, supposed at least one hundred and fifty killed.  By this time, night came on, and Gen. Washington ordered fires to be kindled and everything disposed of for the night.  But after all was quiet, he ordered a silent retreat, drew off his army to the right, marched all night in a round-about road, and next morning arrived with his army at Princeton.  All this was done without the any knowledge of the enemy, who, in the morning, were in the utmost confusion, not knowing which way our army had gone until the firing at Princeton gave them information.

 

 

       The following account of the battle of Assunpink is given as related by an eye-witness, and published in the Princeton Whig, Nov. 4th, 1842.

 

            When the army under Washington, in the year ’76, retreated over the Delaware, I was with them.  At that time there remained in Jersey, only a small company of riflemen, hiding them- selves between New Brunswick and Princeton.  Doubtless, when Washington reached the Pennsylvania side of the river, he expected to be reinforced as to enable him effectually to prevent the British from reaching Philadelphia.  But in this he was disappointed.  Finding that he must achieve victory with what men he had, and so restore confidence to his countrymen, it was then the daring plan was laid to recross the river, break the enemy’s line of communication, threaten their depot at New Brunswick, and thus prevent their advancing to Philadelphia; which was only delayed until the river should be bridged by the ice.  But Washington anticipated them.  I was not with the troops who crossed to capture the Hessians.  It was in the midst of a December storm, that I helped to re-establish the troops and prisoners on the Pennsylvania shore.  The weather cleared cold, and in a few days we crossed the ice to Trenton.  Shortly afterward a thaw commenced which rendered the river impassable, and consequently the situation of the army extremely critical.

 

           

 

In the morning of the day on which the battle of the Assunpink was fought, I, with several others, was detached under the command of Capt. Longstreet, with orders to collect as many men as we could in the country between Princeton, Cranbury, and Rhode Hall [Jamesburg], and then unite ourselves with the riflemen who had remained in that neighborhood.  We left Trenton by the nearest road to Princeton, and advanced nearly to the Shabbaconk, (a small brook near Trenton,) when we were met by a little negro on horseback, galloping down the hill, who called to us that the British army was before us.  One of a our party ran a little way up the hill, and jumped upon a fence, from whence he beheld the British army, within less than half a mile of us.  And now commenced a race for Trenton.  We fortunately escaped capture; yet as the enemy were so near, that before we crossed the bridge over the Assunpink, some of our troops on the Trenton side of the creek, with a field-piece, motioned to us to get out of the street while they fired at the British at the upper end of it.  Not being on duty, we had nothing to do but choose our position and view the battle.

 

            Washington’s army was drawn up on the east side of the Assunpink, with its left on the Delaware river, and its right extending a considerable way up the mill-pond, along the face of the hill where the factories now stand.  The troops were placed one above the other, so that they appeared to cover the whole slope from bottom to top, which brought a great many muskets within shot of the bridge.  Within 70 or 80 yards of the bridge, and directly in front of. And in the road, as many pieces of artillery as could be managed were stationed.  We took our station on the high ground behind the right, where we had a fair view of our line, as far as the curve of the hill would permit, the bridge, and street beyond being in full view.  The British did not delay the attack.  They formed two columns, the one marching down Green-street to carry the bridge, and the other down Main-street to ford the creek, near where the lower bridge now stands.  From the nature of the ground, and being on the left, this attack (simultaneous with the one on the bridge) I was not able to see.  It was repelled; and eye-witnesses say that the creek was nearly filled with their dead.  The other column moved slowly down the street, with their choicest troops in front.  When within 60 yards of the bridge they raised a shout, and rushed to the charge.  It was then that our men poured upon them musketry and artillery a shower of bullets, under which however they continued to advance, though their speed was diminished; and as the column reached the bridge, it moved slower and slower until the head of it was gradually pressed nearly over, when our fire became so destructive that they broke their ranks and fled.  It was then that our army raised a shout, and such a shout I have never since heard; by what signal or word of command, I know not.  The line was more than a mile in length, and from the nature of the ground the extremes were not in sight of each other, yet they shouted as one man.  The British column halted instantly; the officers restored the ranks, and again they rushed the bridge, and their retreat was followed was again followed by the same hearty shout from our line.  They returned the third time to the charge, but it was in vain.  We shouted after them again, but they had enough of it.  It was strange that no account of the loss the English was ever published; but from what I saw, it must have been great.[1]  

 

               



[1] “Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey,” by Barber and Howe, 1844, New York: S. Tuttle, 194 Chatham-Square.