The Patriot Resource - American Revolution


Battle of Trenton
Battle of Trenton


Retreat Across New Jersey: November 20-December 13, 1776
After the fall of Fort Lee, New Jersey on November 20, 1776, Maj. General William Howe had full possession of the New York City-area. General George Washington was now located at Newark, New Jersey with 4,400 men of his 16,400 man force. Brig. General Alexander Stirling had 1,000 at Brunswick and Rahway, New Jersey. Maj. General Charles Lee had more than 7,000 men at White Plains, New York. While Maj. General William Heath had 4,000 men in the Hudson Highlands.

Instead of capitalizing on his momentum, Maj. General Howe prepared for winter quarters. He sent 6,000 men under Maj. General Henry Clinton to Newport, Rhode Island. His only operation against General Washington was to send Lt. General Charles Cornwallis to pursue Washington south of Brunswick, New Jersey to create a secure zone in northern New Jersey. Washington remained in Newark until November 28, while he hoped militia would turn out and help his bolster his army's numbers.

When General Cornwallis approached Newark on November 29, 1776, General Washington retreated to Brunswick. While there nearly 2,000 enlistments ran out and the men refused to reenlist. Wasington's force was down to 3,000 men. He was forced to retreat from Brunswick so quickly on December 1, that he was only able to partially destroy the bridge before the jäger advance guard arrived. After a final march of twenty miles in the pouring rain, Cornwallis had to halt at Brunswick to allow his troops to rest.

After retreating from Brunswick, General Washington made for Princeton and then Trenton burning bridges and felling trees to slow the British pursuit. He left a force under Maj. General Nathanael Greene at Princeton on December 2, 1776, to serve as a rear guard. On December 3, 2,000 Pennsylvania militia joined him at Trenton. While at Trenton, Washington learned that General Lee was still several days away. He again sent a request that Lee hasten to reinforce him. Washington also called out the New Jersey militia with little response. Washington now began to send his supplies and all boats across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. His troops also destroyed all other boats along the Delaware for seventy-five miles.

General Greene was forced to retreat from his position at Princeton as General Cornwallis approached. Greene joined Washington in his crossing and by December 7, 1776, Washington's entire force was across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. On December 8, General Corwallis arrived at Trenton and was cannonaded from across the river by Washington. After he searched unsuccessfully up and down the river for boats, Cornwallis requested permission to halt at the Delaware River.

On December 12, the Continental Congress decided to move from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Maryland because of the advancing British forces. On December 13, Maj. General Charles Lee was captured by a British patrol which included Cornet Banastre Tarleton at Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Lee had been slow to bring his force to join Washington perhaps because he was hoping for failure on Washington's part so that he would replace Washington or at the very least was unhappy with having to serve under Washington in the main army rather than have an independent command. Also on that same day, General Howe announced that he was entering winter quarters.








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