“Very well, sir,” ordered Washington. “Return and tell General Sullivan he must rely on the bayonet.”
“Your Excellency,” said Colonel Hand, stepping up, “my regiment is in the same plight, and our rifles carry no bayonets.”
“We kin club both them and the Hessians all the same,” spoke up a voice from the ranks.
“Here are some dry cartridges,” broke in Brereton.
“Let your men draw their charges and reload, Colonel Hand,” commanded Washington.
In a moment the order to advance was issued, and the column debouched upon the post road leading toward Princeton. The first sign of life was a man in a front yard, engaged in cutting wood; the commander-in-chief, who was leading the advance, called to him:—
“Which way is the Hessian picket?”
“Find out for yourself,” retorted the chopper.
“Speak out, man,” roared Webb, hotly, “this is General Washington.”
“God bless and prosper you, sir!” shouted the man. “Follow me, and I’ll show you,” he added, starting down the road at a run. As he came to the house, without a pause, he swung his axe and burst open the door with a single blow. “Come on,” he shrieked, and darted in, followed by some of the riflemen.
Leaving them to secure the picket, the regiments went forward, just as a desultory firing from the front showed that the alarm had been given by Sullivan’s attack. Pushing on, a sight of the enemy was gained,—a confused mass of men some three hundred yards away, but in front of them two guns were already being wheeled into position by artillerists, with the obvious purpose of checking the advance till the regiments had time to form.
“Capture the battery!” came the stern voice of the commander.
“Forward, double quick!” shouted Colonel Hand.
Brereton, putting spurs to his horse, joined in the rush of men as the regiment broke into a run. “Look Out, Hand!” he yelled. “They’ll be ready to fire before we can get there, and in this narrow road we’ll be cut to pieces. Give them a dose of Watts.”
“Halt!” roared Hand, and then in quick succession came the orders, “Deploy! Take aim! Fire!”
“Hurrah for the Hymns!” cheered Brereton, as a number of the gunners and matross men dropped, and the remainder, deserting the cannon, fell back on the infantry. “Come on!” he roared, as the Virginia light horse, taking advantage of the open order, raced the riflemen to the guns. Barely were they reached, when a mounted officer rode up to the Hessian regiments and cried: “Forwarts!” waving his sword toward the cannon.
“We can’t hold the guns against them!” yelled Brereton. “Over with them, men!”
In an instant the soldiers with rifles and the cavalry with the rammers that had been dropped were clustered about the cannon, some prying, some lifting, some pulling, and before the foe could reach them the two pieces of artillery were tipped over and rolled into the side ditches, the Americans scattering the moment the guns were made useless to the British.