US American History Info and Articles
A Time of Trial for Washington
But the death of Nathan Hale was only one of the hard things Washington had to bear in this trying year of 1776. We have seen that when the Americans left the Long Island shore, the British promptly occupied it. On Brooklyn Heights they planted their cannon, commanding New York. So Washington had to withdraw, and he retreated northward to White Plains, stubbornly contesting every inch of ground.
In the fighting of the next two months the Americans lost heavily. Two forts on the Hudson River with three thousand men were captured by the British. The outlook was gloomy enough, and it was well for the Americans that they could not foresee the even more trying events that were to follow.
In order to save himself and his men from the enemy, Washington had to retreat once more, this time across New Jersey toward Philadelphia. With the British army, in every way stronger than his own, close upon him, it was a race for life. Sometimes there was only a burning bridge, which the rear guard of the Americans had set on fire, between the fleeing forces and the pursuing army.
To make things worse, Washington saw his own army becoming smaller every day, because the men whose term of enlistment had expired were leaving to go to their homes. When he reached the Delaware River he had barely three thousand men left.
Here again Washington showed a master-stroke of genius. Having collected boats for seventy miles along the river, he succeeded in getting his army safely across at a place a little above Trenton. As the British had no boats, they had to come to a halt. In their usual easy way, they decided to wait until the river should freeze, when - as they thought - they would cross in triumph and make a speedy capture of Philadelphia.
To most people in England and in America alike, the early downfall of the American cause seemed certain. General Cornwallis was so sure that the war would soon come to an end that he had already packed some of his luggage and sent it to the ship in which he expected to return to England.
But Washington had no thought of giving up the struggle. Others might say: “It’s of no use to fight against such heavy odds.” General Washington was not that kind of man. He faced the dark outlook with all his courage and energy. Full of faith in the cause for which he was willing to die, he watched eagerly for the opportunity to turn suddenly upon his overconfident enemy and strike a heavy blow.