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From George Washington to Colonel John Cadwalader, 27 December 1776

To Colonel John Cadwalader

Head Qrs Newton [Pa.]1 Decr 27th 1776

Dear Sir

I was just now favoured with your Two Letters of the 25th and 26th Instant and regret much the cause that prevented your passing the River.1 had it not been for this accident, I am persuaded our Plans would have been accomplished to our utmost wishes. The same Obstacle hindered Genl Ewin from giving his aid and cooperating in the attack on Trenton. could we have had his force to have secured the Pass over the Bridge, The whole of the Enemy must have fallen into our hands; But availing themselves of this circumstance, all that could, retreated with the greatest precipitation without making the least opposition. Those that remained drew up but in such confusion & disorder that they were incapable of making a successfull resistance. You have the number of Officers &c. below.2 the Damage we sustained was very inconsiderable, not more than a private or two killed, One or two wounded & Captn Washington of the third Virginia Regiment. I should have most certainly pursued those that retreated had it not been for the distressed situation of my Troops (about Three or four & twenty hundred in number) who had experienced the greatest fatigue in breaking a passage through the ice and all the Severities of rain, & Storm. This with the apprehension that we could receive no Succours, and that the difficulty of passing & repassing the River might become greater, led us to conclude our return eligible. The Officers & Men who were engaged in the Enterprize behaved with great firmness, perseverance & bravery and such as did them the highest honour.3

I shall be extremely ready, and it is my most earnest wish, to pursue every means that shall seem probable to distress the Enemy and to promise success on our part. If we could happily beat up the rest of their Quarters bordering on & near the River, it would be attended with the most valuable consequences. I have called a meeting of the General Officers to consult of what measures shall be next pursued & would recommend that you & Genl Putnam should defer your intended Operations till you hear from me.4 Perhaps it may be Judged prudent for us to pass here with the force we have if it is practicable or if it is not, that I may come down to you & afford every assistance in my power. We will try to concert a Plan & upon such principles as shall appear to promise success. Please to give me frequent information of the State of the River & Whether it is to be passed in Boats or whether the Ice will admit of a passage. I am in haste Dr Sir with much esteem Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, PHi: Cadwalader Collection.

Tench Tilghman wrote Cadwalader at 10:00 P.M. on this date from GW’s headquarters at Newtown: “I am commanded by his Excellency to inform you, that since he wrote you this morning, giving you an Account of his Return from Jersey, he had heard that you had passed over this day. By not having this from your own Hand, he presumes, you imagined he continued yesterday in Jersey, after his Success at Trenton. Upon a supposition that you are over, he has ordered Genl Mifflin, who is coming up with 1500 Men from Philada to pass the River and join you. The General will cross the day after tomorrow with the Continental Battalions, he would do it sooner, but the Men have undergone so much Fatigue, that they want rest. He therefore desires that you would keep your Ground, and not attempt any thing (without you see a Certainty of success) till he passes the River, because a Miscarriage would defeat all the good Effects of our late Victory. Genl Ewing will likewise pass over with his Brigade and I think it will be very hard if we cannot by a Junction of our forces, put Count Donnop to the Rout.... P. S. Keep the Time of the Generals intent to pass a secret” (DLC:GW; see also Cadwalader to GW, this date).

1GW is referring to Cadwalader’s two letters of 26 Dec., the first of which is dated erroneously 25 Dec. on the manuscript of the ALS.

2The list appended to the end of this letter reads: “Prisoners 1 Col. 2 Lieutt Cols. 3 Majors 4 Captains 8 Lieuts. 12 Ensigns 2 Surgeons Mates 92 Serjeants 20 Drummers 9 Musicians 25 Servants 740 Rank & file Total 919. about 25 or 30 killed. 6 peices of Brass Artilly. from 900 to 1000 Stand Arms &c.” The total of the number of officers and men on this list is 918 rather than 919.

3For more detailed account of the Battle of Trenton on 26 Dec., see GW to Hancock, this date.

4Although GW, when he wrote this letter, was not aware of Cadwalader’s crossing to Burlington, N.J., on this date, he apparently learned of it by the time that his council of war met. Joseph Reed, who was not at the council, writes in his narrative of events: “Some Doubts it is said arose in the General Council on this Occasion some of the Members who disapproved the Enterprize [of crossing to New Jersey] advised the sending Orders to the Militia [under Cadwalader] to return, but the General [GW] & some others declared that tho’ they would not have advised the Movemt yet being done it ought to be supported & the Orders were accordingly issued for the Troops to prepare to cross the River” (“Reed’s Narrative, 1776–77,” description begins “General Joseph Reed’s Narrative of the Movements of the American Army in the Neighborhood of Trenton in the Winter of 1776–77.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 8 (1884): 391–402. description ends 397; see also General Orders, 29 December). No official record of the proceedings of this council have been found.

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