The Withdrawal From Trenton
Trenton, December 5, 1776
Sir: As nothing but necessity obliged me to retire before the Enemy, and leave so much of the Jerseys unprotected, I conceive it to be my duty, and it corresponds with my Inclination, to make head against them, so soon as there shall be the least probability of doing it with propriety; that the Country might in some Measure be covered, I left two Brigades (consisting of the five Virginia Regiments and that of Delaware, containing in the whole about 1200 Men fit for Duty, under the Command of Lord Sterling and Genl. Stephen) at Princeton, till the Baggage and stores could cross the Delaware, or the Troops under their respective Commands forced from that place. I shall now, having removed the greatest part of the above Articles, face about with such Troops as are here fit for Service and March back to Princeton and there govern myself by Circumstances and the movements of General Lee. At any event, the Enemy's progress may be retarded by this Means if they Intend to come on, and the People's fears in some measure quieted if they do not; sorry I am to observe however, that the frequent calls upon the Militia of this State, the want of exertion in the principal Gentlemen of the Country, or a fatal supiness and insensibility of danger, (till it is too late to prevent an evil, that was not only foreseen but foretold) have been the causes of our late disgraces. If the Militia of this State had step'd forth in Season, (and timely notice they had) we might have prevented the Enemy's crossing the Hackensack, although (without some previous notice of the time, and place) it was impossible to have done this at the No. River. We might with equal probability of success, have made a stand at Rrunswick on the Rariton; but as both these Rivers were fordable (in a variety of places knee deep only) it required many Men to defend the passes, and these we had not. At Hackensack our force was insufficient, because part was at Elizabeth Town, Amboy and Brunswick, guarding a coast which I thought most exposed to danger; and at Brunswick, because I was disappointed in my expectation of Militia, and because on the day of the approach of the Enemy and probably the reason of it, [why the attack was made] the term of the Jersey and Maryland Brigade's Service expired and neither of them would stay an hour longer.
These, among ten thousand other Instances, might be adduced to show the disadvantages of short Enlistments, and the little dependence upon Militia in times of real danger; but as yesterday cannot be recalled, I will not dwell upon a subject which no doubt has given much uneasiness to Congress, as well as severe pain and mortification to me.
My first wish is, that Congress may be convinced [from experience] of the [indispensable necessity] propriety of relying as little as possible upon Militia, and of the necessity of raising a larger standing Army than they have voted, the saving in the Article of Stores, Provisions and in a thousand other things by having nothing to do with Militia, [unless in cases of extraordinary emergency and such as could not be expected in the common course of events, ] would amply support a large Army which (well officered) would daily be improving instead of [allways] continuing a destructive, expensive and disorderly Mob.
I am clearly of opinion, that if 40, ooo Men had been kept in constant pay since the first Commencement of Hostilities, a~ the Militia had been excused doing duty during that Period the continent would have saved Money. When I reflect on the losses we have sustain'd for want of good Troops, the certainty of this is placed beyond a doubt in my Mind. In such case the Militia, who have been harrassed and tired by repeated calls upon them, and Farming, and Manufactures in a Manner suspended would, upon any emergency have run with alacriq to Arms, whereas the cry now is, they may as well be wind one way as another, and with difficulty are obtained. I mention these things to show that in my opinion, if any dependence is placed on Militia another year, the Congress will deceive themselves. When danger is a little removed from them, they will not turn out at all. When it comes home to them, the well affected, instead of flying to Arms to defend themselves, are busily employed in removing their Family's and Effects, while the disaffected are concerting measures to make their Submission, as spread terror and dismay all around, to induce others to follow the example; daily experience and abundant proofs warrant this Information.
I shall this day reinforce Lord Stirling with 1200 Men, which will make his Numbers about 2400, to morrow I mean to repair to Princeton myself and shall order the Pennsylvania Troops (who are not yet arrived except part of the German Battalion, and a Company of Light Infantry), on to the same place.
By my last advices the Enemy are still at Brunswick and the Account adds that General Howe was expected at Elizabeth Town with a reinforcement, to erect the King's Standard and demand a submission of this state. I can only give this as a Report, brot. from the Enemy's Camp by some of the Country 'People. I have &c.