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The Good Soldier White
Modern G. I.’s will recognize a fellow spirit in the sergeant who wrote this account of life in General Washington’s army
June 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 4
Col. Knox rode up to me, and said, Sergeant what piece is that? I told him the piece that he ordered to be left, I wanted the victory complete. You are a good fellew, said he, I will remember you, and they happened to be all the Generals, and they rode on.
After getting back to the place where we crossed, I being weary, laid down upon the snow and took a knap; the heat of my body melted the snow, and I sunk down to the ground. …
This victory [at Trenton] raised the drooping spirits of the American army, and string anew every nerve for our Liberty and Independence.
After staying in Pennsylvania from 26th of December 1776, to January 2d, 1777, our whole army crossed over to Trenton again, with about one half the number less than we had when we retreated over the river Delaware…
The night before, a large body of malitia joined our army, and they were sent out to meet the enemy, and fight upon their retreat. As soon as they had got over the bridge, we had all our cannon placed before it, consisting of 18 or 19 pieces. The enemy came on in solid columns; we let them come on some ways, then by a signal given, we all fired together. The enemy retreated off the bridge and formed again, and we were ready for them. Our whole artillery was again discharged at them.—They retreated again and formed; they came on the third time. We loaded with cannister shot, and let them come nearer. We fired altogether again, and such destruction it made, you cannot conceive.—The bridge looked red as blood, with their killed and wounded, and their red coats. The enemy beat a retreat, and it began to grow dark.
We were dismissed for an hour or two, to pull down all the fences we could find, to build fires with them—and get some refreshment. The fires were made to deceive the enemy; to make them suppose that we were there encamped.
About 9 or 10 o’clock, orders came by whispering, (not a loud word must be spoken), to form the line and march. We took such a circuitous rout, we were all night marching from Trenton to Princeton.
Capt, Benjamin Frothingham, came to me and said, you and I must march together; we marched some ways, I being exceeding sleepy, I pitched forward several times, and recovered myself. Said he, you are the first person I ever see, sleep while marching. Do you know that you are to command that left piece tomorrow morning? I expect we shall have some hard fighting; we are going to attack Princeton, the enemy’s head-quarters. I told him I could not;—I want to know where all the commissioned officers were? Whose orders is it? It is Col. Knox’s, said he. I do not think that I am capable—the responsibility is too great for me;—I cannot think why he should pitch upon me; why, he remembers what you did at Trenton, said he. I began to feel my pride arising, and I said no more.
A little before we got in sight of the enemy, our whole army halted.
The captain sent me a sergeant with a bucket full of powder and rum, every man must drink a half gill. He came to me to know if I had drank any, I told him no; drink some, said he, I have, so I took a little.
We marched on a short distance, we see them all formed in a line, and ready to receive us.
We marched forward so did they. I ordered the limbers off, and to man the drag ropes—They were to the north of us, the sun shone upon them, and their arms glistened very bright, it seemed to strike an awe upon us.
The Capt: said to me, are we not nigh enough to give them a shot? I replied yes, I think so. You fire, and I will follow suit, I told the sergeant to get a strong man to take the spung. I took aim and said fire! then he did the same. Then the enemy began;—both armies advancing towards each other, firing as fast as possible,—We then loaded with cannister shot, they made a terrible squeaking noise. Both armies kept on marching towards one another, until the infantry come to use the bayonets. Our company being on the extreme left, had to face the enemy’s right; consising of granadiers, highlanders, &c. their best troops.
Our left line gave way—but before I moved, saw the second come up, and Gen. Merser, who was killed, leading them. I never saw men looked so furious as they did, when running by us with their bayonets charged. The British lines were broken, and our troops followed them so close, that they could not form again. A party of them ran into the colleges, which is built of stone. After firing some cannon, they surrendered.
After the battle was over, I went into a room in the college, and locked myself in; I saw a plate of toat, a tea pot, and every thing handy for breakfast. I sat down and helped myself well.—I was very hungry, marching all night, and fighting in the morning, I felt highly refreshed; after I was done, I looked round the room, and saw an officer’s coat—I went to it, and found it a new one; the paper never taken off the buttons, was plated or solid silver, I could not determine which, lined with white satin; there was a silk skirt, an elegeant one. and a pair of silk shoes, and small a gilt bible; all of which, I took.