The last of the six marvelous escapes of our hero from impending and fatal disaster occurred during the historic night march of Washington and the American Army on Princeton, where, on the third of January, 1776, he compassed the entire destruction of one regiment of the enemy, and captured or forced to ignoble retreat two others. This battle was the subject of one of Colonel Trumbull’s most famous paintings; and it was during this engagement—as Washington himself told the illustrious artist—that he was in greater peril than even at the time of Braddock’s defeat.
In the height of the battle the two armies were for a brief season in furious conflict, and Washington between them within range of both fires. Washington Irving writes:
His Aide, Colonel Fitzgerald, losing sight of him in the heat of the fight when enveloped in smoke and dust, dropped the bridle on the neck of his horse and drew his hat over his eyes, giving him up for lost. When he saw him, however, emerging from the cloud, waving his hat, and beheld the enemy giving way, he spurred up to his side: “Thank God,” cried he, “your Excellency is safe!” “Away, my dear Colonel, and bring up the troops,” was Washington’s reply; “the day is our own.”
Trumbull’s immortal picture shows us the hero of that decisive battle standing on the memorable day of Princeton by the side of his white war-horse. Says an eloquent writer:
Well might he exult in the event of the day, for it was the last of a series of bold and skilful manoeuvres and successful actions, by which, in three weeks, he had rescued Philadelphia, driven the enemy from the banks of the Delaware, recovered the State of New Jersey, and, at the close of a disastrous campaign, restored hope and confidence to the country.
Such are the six memorable events which it well becomes the American people to recall with devout gratitude and awe, realizing anew the Providence that watches alike over human beings and the affairs of nations, and recognizing the solemn truth that ever, as, signally, in those times that tried the souls of men,
“God fulfills Himself in many ways.”
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Von Braam and Washington
Washington began to be a soldier in his boyhood. During the British campaign against the West Indies, Lawrence Washington, George’s half-brother, made the acquaintance of a Dutchman, named Jacob von Braam, who afterwards came to Virginia. These young men were great heroes to the ten-year-old George. Von Braam took the lad in hand and began his military education. He drilled him in the manual of arms and sword exercise, and taught him fortification and engineering. All the theory of war which Washington knew was gained from von Braam; the practice he was soon to gain in the field.