Col. John Cadwalader to George Washington, December 26, 1776
From Colonel John Cadwalader
Bristol [Pa.] 2th Decr 1776
Sir The River was so full of Ice that it was impossible to pass above Bristol, where I intend[ed]—and therefore concluded to make an attempt at Dunks’s Ferry—as soon as it was dark I sent down all the Boats I could muster, & mar[c]hed down about 8 O’Clock—I embarked a few men to line the River & prevent any person escaping to give Intelligence to the Enemy; and these were followed by a part of the first Battalion of Militia, then two Field Pieces, with which I went over to see if it was practicable to land them, & upon examination found it was impossible—the Ice being very thick—Upon reporting this to the Field officers they were all of opinion that it would not be proper to proceed without Cannon—During this time the third Batt. was landed—We concluded to with draw the Troops that had passed but could not effect it till near 4 O’Clock this Morng—The whole then were ordered to march for Bristol—I imagine the badness of the night must have prevented you from passing as you intended—our men turned out chearfully—We had about 1800 rank & file, including Artillery—It will be impossible for the Enemy to pass the River, till the Ice will bear—Would it not be proper to attempt to cross below & join General Putnam, who was to go over from Philada to day with 500 men, which number added to the 400 Jersey Militia which Col: Griffin left there would make a formidable Body—This would cause a Diversion that would favour any Attempt you may design in future, & would expose their Baggage & Stores, if they attempt to cross—It is impossible, in our present Situation, to co-operate with Genl Putnam—The Militia will be easier kept together by being in motion & we shall have some Service from Col. Hitchcock’s Brigade, whose time of Enlistment will be up in a few Days. We have procured a considerable number of Shoes Stockgs & Breeches for them—They are in good Spirits & enlist very fast. I am, Sir, with great Respect your most obt hble Servant &ca
Although Cadwalader dated the manuscript 25 Dec., the context of this letter indicates that it was written early on the morning of 26 Dec. (see note 1 and Cadwalader’s second letter to GW of this date).
1. Sgt. John Smith of Lippitt’s Rhode Island regiment in Col. Daniel Hitchcock’s brigade says that his regiment paraded at Bristol on the afternoon of 25 Dec. “& Every man that was able to goe upon Duty was ordred to get in Readyness to march & Join the Brigade which they Did & Crosed over to Burlintown & marchd that Evening Several miles to a River & Some of the troops Crosed But the Ice was in the River so that they Could not Get over the artillery & was Oblig’d to Give over the Expeadition for this Night & about 3 a clock it Began to hail Verey fast[.] our Reget Returnd in the meen time & soon after was a Verey Bad Storm of Rain & hail Snow & thundring of Cannon which Began about 7 or 8 a clock in the morning & Continiued Verey Loud & quick for a Considerable time & the Snow & Rain together Boath increas’d[.] the Cannonade soon abated & Every man to work to meak himself Comfortable as he Could with fires for we had plenty of wood & soon After News Came that General Washington had a Battle at Trenton with the Kings Troops or Hesians & [ ] this morning and had teaken 9 or 10 hundred of them Prisoners & took their stores & Baggage & intirly Routed the whole Nest of them” (Rau, “Smith’s Diary,” 267–68). Capt. Thomas Rodney, who commanded the company of Kent County, Del., militia that had been put under Cadwalader’s command, gives another account of these events in his letter to Caesar Rodney of 30 December. “On the 25th instant, in the evening,” Thomas Rodney writes, “we received orders to be at Shamony [Neshaminy] Ferry as soon as possible. We were there, according to orders, in two hours, and met the Riflemen, who were the first from Bristol; we were ordered from thence to Dunk’s Ferry, on the Delaware, and the whole Army of about two thousand men followed, as soon as the artillery got up. The three companies of Philadelphia Infantry and mine were formed into a body, under the command of Captain [George] Henry, (myself second in command,) which were embarked immediately to cover the landing of the other troops. We landed with great difficulty through the ice, and formed on the ferry shore, about two hundred yards from the river. It was as severe a night as ever I saw, and after two battalions were landed the storm increased so much and the river was so full of ice that it was impossible to get the artillery over, for we had to walk one hundred yards on the ice to get on shore. General Cadwalader, therefore, ordered the whole to retreat again, and we had to stand at least six hours under arms—first, to cover the landing and till all the rest had retreated again; and by this time, the storm of wind, hail, rain, and snow, with the ice, was so bad, that some of the Infantry could not get back till next day. This design was to have surprised the enemy at Black Horse and Mount-Holley, at the same time that Washington surprised them at Trenton; and had we succeeded in getting over, we should have finished all our troubles. Washington took nine hundred and ten prisoners, with six pieces of fine artillery, and all their baggage in Trenton” (Ryden, Rodney Letters, 150–52; see also Rodney, Thomas Rodney’s Diary, 22–23; “Reed’s Narrative, 1776–77,” 393–94; Sellers, “Peale’s Journal,” 275–76; and “Young’s Journal,” 258).
2. On the manuscript Cadwalader first wrote “1700.” He then struck out that number and wrote “1800” above the line. The forces under Cadwalader’s command at Bristol were Col. Daniel Hitchcock’s brigade of Continental soldiers, three regiments of Philadelphia associators, a detachment of the Philadelphia riflemen, four companies of Philadelphia city militia, a company of Kent County, Del., militia, and two companies of artillery (see Stryker, Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 344–46). The effective strength of the rank and file in Hitchcock’s brigade on 22 Dec. was 680 men (see the general return for GW’s army, 22 Dec., DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–83; see also Force, American Archives, 5th ser., 3:1401–2, and Lesser, Sinews of Independence, 43).
3. Joseph Reed wrote Cadwalader at 11:00 A.M. on 25 Dec. from Philadelphia: “General Putnam has determined to cross the river with as many men as he can collect, which he says will be about 500; he is now mustering them and endeavouring to get [Thomas] Proctor’s company of artillery to go with them. I wait to know what success he meets with, and the progress he makes; but at all events I shall be with you this afternoon” (Reed, Joseph Reed, 1:275n). Philadelphia merchant Christopher Marshall says in his diary entry for 25 Dec. that “a detachment of Three Thousand, with Gen. Putnam, was agreed upon to leave this City and pass into the Jerseys to-morrow morning. The men were in high spirits” (Duane, Marshall’s Diary, 109; see also GW’s first letter to John Cadwalader, 25 Dec., n.3).
4. Sgt. John Smith of Lippitt’s Rhode Island regiment says in his diary that on 23 Dec. “I had a Pair of Stockings & shoes from the Coll Cost 19/ & 6 pence” (Rau, “Smith’s Diary,” 267).