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"Hasten your march or your arrival may be too late." When this urgent appeal was penned Lee had not yet seen fit to cross the Hudson, nor was it until Washington had reached Princeton that Lee's troops were at last put in motion toward the Delaware. 

Hitherto Lee had been in some sort Washington's tutor, or at least military adviser,--a rôle for which, we are bound in common justice to say, Lee was not unfitted. But from the moment of separation, he appears in the light of a rival and a critic, and not too friendly as either. In the beginning, Washington had looked up to Lee. Lee now looked down upon Washington. Unquestionably the abler tactician of the two, Lee seemed to have looked forward to Washington's fall as certain, and to so have shaped his own course as to leave him master of the situation. In so doing he cannot be acquitted of disloyalty to the cause he served if that course threatened to wreck the cause itself.


It is only just to add that for troops taking the field in the dead of winter, Lee's were hardly better prepared than those they were going to assist. General Heath, who saw them march off, says that some of them were as good soldiers as any in the service, but many were so destitute of shoes that the blood left on the rugged, frozen ground, in many places, marked the route they had taken; and he adds that a considerable number, totally unable to march, were left behind at Peekskill. This brings us face to face with the extraordinary and unlooked-for fact that instead of bending all his energies toward effecting a junction with the commander-in-chief, east of the Delaware, in time to be of service, Lee had decided to adopt an entirely different line of conduct, more in accord with his own ideas of how the remainder of the campaign should be conducted. Meantime, as a cloak to his intentions, he kept up a show of obeying the spirit, if not the letter, of his instructions, leaving the impression, however, that he would take the responsibility of disregarding them if he saw fit. If he had written to Washington, "You have had your chance and failed; mine has now come," his words and acts would have been in exact harmony.[1]


On the 7th Lee was at Pompton. This day an express was sent off to him by Heath informing him of the arrival of Greaton's, Bond's, and Porter's battalions from Albany. Lee replied from Chatham directing them to march to Morristown, where his own troops were then halted. The prospect of this reënforcement, which in all probability he had been expecting to intercept, may account both for the slowness of Lee's march, and for the closing sentence of his reply to Heath. Here it is: "I am in hopes to reconquer (if I may so express myself) the Jerseys. It was really in the hands of the enemy before my arrival."


In halting as he did Lee was deliberately forcing a crisis with Washington, who was all this time falling back upon his supplies, while the British, having to drag theirs after them, could only advance by spurts. Here was a rare opportunity for fighting in retreat being thrown away, as Washington conceived, by Lee's dilatoriness in reënforcing him. Reluctant to abandon his last chance of giving the enemy a check, Washington seems to have thought of doing so at Princeton (ignorant that this spot was so soon to be the field of more brilliant operations) as a means of gaining time for the removal of his baggage across the Delaware. It was probably with no other purpose that his advance, which had reached Trenton as early as the 3d, was marched back to Princeton, which Lord Sterling was still holding with the rear-guard as late as the 7th, when, as we have seen, Cornwallis made his forced march from Brunswick to Princeton, in such force as to put resistance out of the question. Here he halted for seventeen hours, thus giving Washington time to reach Trenton, get his 2,200 or 2,400 men across the Delaware, and draw them up on the other side, out of harm's reach, just as his baffled pursuers arrived on the opposite bank.

Cornwallis immediately began a search for the means of crossing in his turn.[2] Here, again, he was baffled by Washington's foresight, as every boat for seventy miles up and down the Delaware had been removed beyond his adversary's reach.

On the day of this catastrophe, which seemed, in the opinion not only of the victors but of the vanquished, to have given the finishing stroke to the American Revolution, Lee's force, augmented by the junction of the troops marching down to join him, was the sole prop and stay of the cause in the Jerseys.

That force lay quietly at Morristown until the 12th of the month, when it was again put in motion toward Vealtown, now Bernardsville.


At this time a second detachment from the army of the North, under Gates,[3] was on the march across Sussex County to the Delaware. Being cut off from communication with the commander-in-chief, Gates sent forward a staff officer to learn the condition of affairs, report his own speedy appearance, and receive directions as to what route he should take, Hearing that Lee was at Morristown, this officer pushed on in search of him, and at four o'clock in the morning of the 13th, he found Lee quartered in an out-of-the-way country tavern at Baskingridge, three miles from his camp, and by just so much nearer the enemy, whose patrols, since Washington had been disposed of, were now scouring the roads in every direction. One of these detachments surprised the house Lee was in, and before noon the crestfallen general was being hurried off a prisoner to Brunswick by a squadron of British light-horse.

Lee's troops, now Sullivan's, with those of Gates, one or two marches in the rear, freed from the crafty hand that had been leading them astray, now pressed on for the Delaware, and thus that concert of action, for which Washington had all along labored in vain, was again restored between the fragments of his army, impotent when divided, but yet formidable as a whole.

Lee's written and spoken words, if indeed his acts did not speak even louder, leave no doubt as to his purpose in amusing Washington by a show of coming to his aid, when, in fact, he had no intention of doing so. He not only assumed the singular attitude, in a subordinate, of passing judgment upon the propriety or necessity of his orders,--orders were given with full knowledge of the situation,--but proceeded to thwart them in a manner savoring of contempt. Lee was Washington's Bernadotte. Neither urging, remonstrance, nor entreaty could swerve him one iota from the course he had mapped out for himself. Conceiving that he held the key to the very unpromising situation in his own hands, he had determined to make the gambler's last throw and had lost.

Although Lee's conduct toward Washington cannot be justified, it is more than probable that some such success as that which Stark afterwards achieved at Bennington, under conditions somewhat similar, though essentially different as to motives, might, and probably would, have justified Lee's conduct to the nation, and perhaps even have raised him to the position he coveted--of the head of the army, on the ruins of Washington's military reputation. Could he even have cut the enemy's line so as to throw it into confusion, his conduct might have escaped censure. With this end in view, he designed holding a position on the enemy's flank,[4] arguing, perhaps, that Washington would be compelled to reënforce him rather than see him defeated, with the troops now beyond the Delaware. Washington saw through Lee's schemes, refused to be driven into doing what his judgment did not approve, and the tension between the two generals was suddenly snapped by the imprudence or worse of Lee himself.

Captain Harris,[5] who saw Lee brought to Brunswick a prisoner, has this to say of him: "He was taken by a party of ours under Colonel Harcourt, who surrounded the house in which this arch-traitor was residing. Lee behaved as cowardly in this transaction as he had dishonorably in every other. After firing one or two shots from the house, he came out and entreated our troops to spare his life. Had he behaved with proper spirit I should have pitied him. I could hardly refrain from tears when I first saw him and thought of the miserable fate in which his obstinacy has involved him. He says he has been mistaken in three things: first, that the New England men would fight; second, that America was unanimous; and third, that she could afford two men for our one."[6]



[1] Lee had expected the first place and had been given the second. His successes while acting in a separate command (at Charleston) told heavily against Washington's reverses in this campaign; and his outspoken criticisms, frequently just, as the event proved, had produced their due impression on the minds of many, who believed Lee the better general of the two. Events had so shaped themselves, in consequence, as to raise up two parties in the army. And here was laid the foundation of all those personal jealousies which culminated in Lee's dismissal from the army. While his abilities won respect, his insufferable egotism made him disliked, and it is to be remarked of the divisions Lee's ambition was promoting, that the best officers stood firmly by the commander-in-chief.

[2] Cornwallis took no boats with him, as he might have done, from Brunswick. A small number would have answered his purpose.

[3] Ticonderoga being out of danger for the present, Washington had ordered Gates down with all troops that could be spared.

[4] As Washington had been urged to do, instead of keeping between Cornwallis and Philadelphia.

[5] Lord George Harris, of the Fifth Foot.

[6] It will be noticed that this account differs essentially from that of Wilkinson, who, though present at Lee's capture, hid himself until the light-horse had left with their prisoner.