Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ASSUNPINK AND PRINCETON [JANUARY 3, 1777], by THOMAS DUNN ENGLISH

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

ASSUNPINK AND PRINCETON [JANUARY 3, 1777], by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: Glorious the day when in arms at assunpink
Last Line: And you and your children would not have been free.
Subject(s): American Revolution; Cornwallis, Charles (1738-1805); Princeton, Battle Of (1777); Reed, James (1724-1807); St. Clair, Arthur (1736-1818)

GLORIOUS the day when in arms at Assunpink,
And after at Princeton the Briton we met;
Few in both armies -- they'd skirmishes call them,
Now hundreds of thousands in battle are set.
But for the numbers engaged, let me tell you,
Smart brushes they were, and two battles that told;
There 't was I first drew a bead on a foeman --
I, a mere stripling, not twenty years old.

Tell it? Well, friends, that is just my intention;
There's nothing a veteran hates and abhors
More than a chance lost to tell his adventures,
Or give you his story of battles and wars.
Nor is it wonder old men are loquacious,
And talk, if you listen, from sun unto sun;
Youth has the power to be up and be doing,
While age can but tell of the deeds it has done.

Ranged for a mile on the banks of Assunpink,
There, southward of Trenton, one morning we lay,
When, with his red-coats all marshalled to meet us,
Cornwallis came fiercely at close of the day --
Driving some scouts who had gone out with Longstreet,
From where they were crossing at Shabbaconk Run --
Trumpets loud blaring, drums beating, flags flying --
Three hours, by the clock, before setting of sun.

Two ways were left them by which to assail us,
And neither was perfectly to their desire --
One was the bridge we controlled by our cannon,
The other the ford that was under our fire.
"Death upon one side, and Dismal on t' other,"
Said Sambo, our cook, as he gazed on our foes:
Cheering and dauntless they marched to the battle,
And, doubtful of choice, both the dangers they chose.

Down at the ford, it was said, that the water
Was reddened with blood from the soldiers who fell:
As for the bridge, when they tried it, their forces
Were beaten with terrible slaughter, as well.
Grape-shot swept causeway, and pattered on water,
And riddled their columns, that broke and gave way;
Thrice they charged boldly, and thrice they retreated;
Then darkness came down, and so ended the fray.

How did I get there? I came from our cornmill
At noon of the day when the battle begun,
Bringing in flour to the troops under Proctor;
'T was not very long ere that errand was done.
Up to that time I had never enlisted,
Though Jacob, my brother, had entered with Wayne;
But the fight stirred me; I sent back the horses,
And made up my mind with the rest to remain.

We camped on our side -- the south -- of Assunpink,
While they bivouacked for the night upon theirs;
Both posting sentries and building up watch-fires,
With those on both sides talking over affairs.
"Washington 's caught in a trap!" said Cornwallis,
And smiled with a smile that was joyous and grim;
"Fox! but I have him!" -- the earl had mistaken;
The fox, by the coming of daylight, had him.

Early that night, when the leaders held council,
Both St. Clair and Reed said our action was clear;
Useless to strike at the van of our foemen --
His force was too strong; we must fall on his rear.
Washington thought so, and bade us replenish
Our watchfires till nearly the dawn of the day;
Setting some more to make feint of intrenching,
While swiftly in darkness the rest moved away.

Marching by Sandtown, and Quaker Bridge crossing,
We passed Stony Creek a full hour before dawn,
Leaving there Mercer with one scant battalion
Our foes to amuse, should they find we were gone;
Then the main force pushed its way into Princeton,
All ready to strike those who dreamed of no blow;
Only a chance that we lost not our labor,
And slipped through our fingers, unknowing, the foe.

Mawhood's brigade, never feeling its danger,
Had started for Trenton at dawn of the day,
Crossed Stony Creek, after we had gone over,
When Mercer's weak force they beheld on its way;
Turning contemptuously back to attack it,
They drove it with ease in disorder ahead --
Firelocks alone were no match for their cannon --
A fight, and then flight, and brave Mercer lay dead.

Murdered, some said, while imploring for quarter --
A dastardly deed, if the thing had been true --
Cruel our foes, but in that thing we wronged them,
And let us in all give the demon his due.
Gallant Hugh Mercer fell sturdily fighting,
So long as his right arm his sabre could wield,
Stretching his enemies bleeding around him,
And then, overpowered, fell prone on the field.

Hearing the firing, we turned and we met them,
Our cannon replying to theirs with a will;
Fiercely with grape and with canister swept them,
And chased them in wrath from the brow of the hill.
Racing and chasing it was into Princeton,
Where, seeking the lore to be taught in that hall,
Redcoats by scores entered college, but stayed not --
We rudely expelled them with powder and ball.

Only a skirmish, you see, though a sharp one --
It did not last over the fourth of an hour;
But 't was a battle that did us this service --
No more, from that day, had we fear of their power.
Trenton revived us, Assunpink encouraged,
But Princeton gave hope that we held to the last;
Flood-tide had come on the black, sullen water
And ebb-tide for ever and ever had passed.

Yes! 't was the turn of the tide in our favor --
A turn of the tide to a haven that bore.
Had Lord Cornwallis crossed over Assunpink
That day we repelled him, our fighting were o'er.
Had he o'ertaken us ere we smote Mawhood,
All torn as we were, it seems certain to me,
I would not chatter to you about battles,
And you and your children would not have been free.

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