Battle of Trenton
Overview
 
The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, after General George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

's crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 against Hessian soldiers garrisoned at Trenton. After a brief battle, nearly the entire Hessian force was captured, with negligible losses to the Americans.
Discussions
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, after General George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

's crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 against Hessian soldiers garrisoned at Trenton. After a brief battle, nearly the entire Hessian force was captured, with negligible losses to the Americans. The battle significantly boosted the Continental Army's flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments.
The Continental Army had previously suffered several defeats
New York and New Jersey campaign
The New York and New Jersey campaign was a series of battles for control of New York City and the state of New Jersey in the American Revolutionary War between British forces under General Sir William Howe and the Continental Army under General George Washington in 1776 and the winter months of 1777...

 in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and had been forced to retreat through New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 to Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

. Morale in the army was low; to end the year on a positive note, George Washington—Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army—devised a plan to cross the Delaware River
Delaware River
The Delaware River is a major river on the Atlantic coast of the United States.A Dutch expedition led by Henry Hudson in 1609 first mapped the river. The river was christened the South River in the New Netherland colony that followed, in contrast to the North River, as the Hudson River was then...

 on Christmas night and surround the Hessian garrison.

Because the river was icy and the weather severe, the crossing proved dangerous. Two detachments were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington and the 2,400 men under his command alone in the assault. The army marched 9 miles (14 km) south to Trenton. The Hessians had lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, and did not post a dawn sentry. After having a Christmas feast, they fell asleep. Washington's forces caught them off guard and, before the Hessians could resist, they were taken prisoner. Almost two thirds of the 1,500-man garrison was captured, and only a few troops escaped across Assunpink Creek
Assunpink Creek
Assunpink Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River in western New Jersey in the United States.Assunpink Creek is born in rural Monmouth County, about a mile north of Clarksburg. Flowing westwards, it soon enters the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, where it has been dammed to form Rising Sun...

.

Despite the battle's small numbers, the American victory inspired rebels in the colonies. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.

Background

In early December 1776, American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 morale was very low. The Americans had been ousted from New York
Battle of Long Island
The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, fought on August 27, 1776, was the first major battle in the American Revolutionary War following the United States Declaration of Independence, the largest battle of the entire conflict, and the...

 by the British and their Hessian auxiliaries, and the Continental Army was forced to retreat across New Jersey. Ninety percent of the Continental Army soldiers who had served at Long Island were gone. Men had deserted, feeling that the cause for independence was lost. Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, expressed some doubts, writing to his cousin in Virginia, "I think the game is pretty near up."

At the time a small town in New Jersey, Trenton
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

 was occupied by three regiments of Hessian soldiers commanded by Colonel Johann Rall, numbering about 1,400 men. Washington's force comprised 2,400 men, with infantry divisions commanded by Major Generals Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. When the war began, Greene was a militia private, the lowest rank possible; he emerged from the war with a reputation as George Washington's most gifted and dependable officer. Many places in the United...

 and John Sullivan
John Sullivan
John Sullivan was the third son of Irish immigrants, a United States general in the Revolutionary War, a delegate in the Continental Congress and a United States federal judge....

, and artillery under the direction of Brigadier General Henry Knox
Henry Knox
Henry Knox was a military officer of the Continental Army and later the United States Army, and also served as the first United States Secretary of War....

.

American plan

The American plan relied on launching coordinated attacks from three directions. General John Cadwalader
John Cadwalader (general)
John Cadwalader was a commander of Pennsylvania troops during the American Revolutionary War.-Early life:...

 would launch a diversionary attack against the British garrison at Bordentown, New Jersey
Bordentown, New Jersey
Bordentown City is in Burlington County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city population was 3,924. Bordentown is located at the confluence of the Delaware River, Blacks Creek and Crosswicks Creek...

, to block off reinforcements from the south. General James Ewing would take 700 militia across the river at Trenton Ferry, seize the bridge over the Assunpink Creek
Assunpink Creek
Assunpink Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River in western New Jersey in the United States.Assunpink Creek is born in rural Monmouth County, about a mile north of Clarksburg. Flowing westwards, it soon enters the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, where it has been dammed to form Rising Sun...

 and prevent enemy troops from escaping. The main assault force of 2,400 men would cross the river 9 miles (14 km) north of Trenton and split into two groups – one under Greene and one under Sullivan – to launch a pre-dawn attack. Sullivan would attack the town from the south and Greene from the north. Depending on the success of the operation, the Americans would possibly follow up with separate attacks on Princeton
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton is a community located in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. It is best known as the location of Princeton University, which has been sited in the community since 1756...

 and New Brunswick
New Brunswick, New Jersey
New Brunswick is a city in Middlesex County, New Jersey, USA. It is the county seat and the home of Rutgers University. The city is located on the Northeast Corridor rail line, southwest of Manhattan, on the southern bank of the Raritan River. At the 2010 United States Census, the population of...

.

During the week before the battle, American advance parties began to ambush enemy cavalry patrols, capturing dispatch riders and attacking Hessian pickets. The Hessian commander, to emphasize the danger to his men, sent 100 infantry and an artillery detachment to deliver a letter to the British commander at Princeton. Washington ordered Ewing and his Pennsylvania militia to try to gain information on Hessian movements and designs. Ewing instead made three successful raids across the river. On December 17 and 18 they attacked an outpost of jäger
Jäger (military)
Jäger is a term that was adopted in the Enlightenment era in German-speaking states and others influenced by German military practice to describe a kind of light infantry, and it has continued in that use since then....

s and on the 21st, they set fire to several houses. Washington put constant watches on all possible crossings near the Continental Army encampment on the Delaware, as he believed William Howe
William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe
William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe, KB, PC was a British army officer who rose to become Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the American War of Independence...

 would launch an attack from the north on Philadelphia if the river froze over.

On December 20, 2,000 troops led by General Sullivan arrived in Washington's camp. They had been under the command of Charles Lee
Charles Lee (general)
Charles Lee was a British soldier who later served as a General of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence. Lee served in the British army during the Seven Years War. After the war he sold his commission and served for a time in the Polish army of King Stanislaus II...

, and had been moving slowly through northern New Jersey when Lee was captured. That same day, an additional 800 troops arrived from Fort Ticonderoga
Fort Ticonderoga
Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon, is a large 18th-century fort built by the Canadians and the French at a narrows near the south end of Lake Champlain in upstate New York in the United States...

 under the command of Horatio Gates
Horatio Gates
Horatio Lloyd Gates was a retired British soldier who served as an American general during the Revolutionary War. He took credit for the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga – Benedict Arnold, who led the attack, was finally forced from the field when he was shot in the leg – and...

.

Hessian moves

On December 14, the Hessians arrived in Trenton to establish their winter quarters. At the time, Trenton was a small town with about 100 houses and two main streets, King (now Warren) Street and Queen (now Broad) Street. Carl von Donop
Carl von Donop
Count Carl Emilius von Donop was a Hessian colonel who fought in the American Revolutionary War.-Origins and ambitions:...

, Rall's superior, had marched south to Mount Holly on December 22 to deal with the resistance in New Jersey, and had clashed
Battle of Iron Works Hill
The Battle of Iron Works Hill, also known as the Battle of Mount Holly, was a series of minor skirmishes that took place on December 22 and 23, 1776, during the American War of Independence...

 with some New Jersey militia there on December 23.

Donop, who despised Rall, was reluctant to give command of Trenton to him. Known to be loud, Rall was unacquainted with the English language, but he was also a 36-year soldier with a great deal of battle experience. His request for reinforcements had been turned down by British commander General James Grant, who disdained the American rebels and thought them poor soldiers. Despite Rall's experience, the Hessians at Trenton did not admire their commander. They believed that he was too nice, and not ruthless enough to be successful. His officers complained, "His love of life was too great, a thought came to him, then another, so he could not settle on a firm decision ..." Rall avoided hard work and had little concern for his troops' comfort.

Trenton lacked city walls or fortifications, which was typical of American settlements. Some Hessian officers advised Rall to fortify the town, and two of his engineers advised that a redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

 be constructed at the upper end of town, and fortifications be built along the river. The engineers went so far as to draw up plans, but Rall disagreed with them. When Rall was again urged to fortify the town, he replied, "Let them come ... We will go at them with the bayonet."

As Christmas approached, Loyalists
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

 came to Trenton to report the Americans were planning action. American deserters told the Hessians that rations were being prepared for an advance across the river. Rall publicly dismissed such talk as nonsense, but privately in letters to his superiors, he said he was worried about an imminent attack. He wrote to Donop that he was "liable to be attacked at any moment". Rall said that Trenton was "indefensible" and asked that British troops establish a garrison in Maidenhead
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Lawrenceville is a census-designated place and unincorporated area located within Lawrence Township in Mercer County, New Jersey. As of the 2010 United States Census, the CDP population was 3,887...

 (now Lawrenceville). Close to Trenton, this would help defend the roads from Americans. His request was denied. As the Americans disrupted Hessian supply lines, the officers started to share Rall's fears. One wrote, "We have not slept one night in peace since we came to this place." On December 22, a spy reported to Grant that Washington had called a council of war; Grant told Rall to "be on your guard".

The main Hessian force of 1,500 men was divided into three regiments: Knyphausen, Lossberg and Rall. That night, they did not send out any patrols because of the severe weather.

Crossing and march

Before Washington and his troops left, Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush was a Founding Father of the United States. Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian and a Christian Universalist, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania....

 came to cheer up the General. While he was there, he saw a note Washington had written, saying, "Victory or Death
Victory or death
Victory or death and its equivalents, is used as a motto or battle cry :* It is given as the translation of the heraldic motto of several Scottish clans :** Clan MacDougall - BUAIDH NO BAS...

". Those words would be the password for the surprise attack. Each soldier carried 60 rounds of ammunition, and three days of rations. When the army arrived at the shores of the Delaware, they were already behind schedule, and clouds began to form above them. It began to rain. As the air's temperature dropped, the rain changed to sleet, and then to snow. The Americans began to cross the river, with John Glover in command. The men went across in Durham boat
Durham Boat
The Durham boat was a large wooden boat produced by the Durham Boat Company of Durham, Pennsylvania, starting in 1750. They were designed by company owner Robert Durham to navigate the Delaware River and thus transport the products produced by the Durham Forges and Durham Mills to Trenton, New...

s, while the horses and artillery went across on large ferries. The 14th Continental Regiment
14th Continental Regiment
The 14th Continental Regiment, also known as the Marblehead Regiment and Glover's Regiment, was raised as a Massachusetts militia regiment in 1775, and taken into the Continental Army establishment during the summer of 1775 as the 23rd Massachusetts Regiment. When the Continental Army was...

 of Glover manned the boats. During the crossing, several men fell overboard, including Colonel John Haslet
John Haslet
John Haslet was an American clergyman and soldier from Milford, in Kent County, Delaware. He was a veteran of the French and Indian War and an officer of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, serving as the first Colonel of the 1st Delaware Regiment...

. Haslet was quickly pulled out of the water. No one died during the crossing, and all the artillery pieces made it over in good condition.

Two small detachments of infantry of about 40 men each were ordered ahead of main columns. They set roadblocks ahead of the main army, and were to take prisoner whoever came in to or left the town. One of the groups was sent north of Trenton, and the other was sent to block River Road, which ran along the Delaware River to Trenton.

The terrible weather conditions delayed the landings in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 until 3:00 am; the plan was that they were supposed to be completed by 12:00 am. Washington realized it would be impossible to launch a pre-dawn attack. Another setback occurred for the Americans, as generals Cadwalader and Ewing were unable to join the attack due to the weather conditions.

At 4:00 am, the soldiers began to march towards Trenton. Along the way, several civilians joined as volunteers, and led as guides (see Captain John Mott
John Mott (captain)
John Mott was a Captain in the 1st Hunterdon Regiment of the New Jersey militia during the American Revolutionary War. He served as a guide to General George Washington and the Continental Army during their march down along the Delaware River prior to the Battle of Trenton.- Early life :Captain...

) because of their knowledge of the terrain. After marching 1.5 miles (2 km) through winding roads into the wind, they reached Bear Tavern where they turned right. The ground was slippery, but it was level, making it easier for the horses and artillery. They began to make better time. They soon reached Jacob's Creek
Jacob's Creek
Jacobs Creek is a small creek that runs through the wine-producing region of the Barossa Valley, 80 km north of Adelaide, South Australia. The creek itself is only several kilometres long and flows westwards from its beginning in the Barossa Ranges, eventually meeting the North Para River...

, where, with difficulty, the Americans made it across. The two groups stayed together until they reached Birmingham, where they split apart. Soon after, they reached the house of Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore was the second Episcopal bishop of New York.-Early life and family:Moore was born in Newtown, New York, in 1748, the son of Samuel Moore and Sarah Fish Moore and the great-grandson of John Moore, the first Independent minister allowed in New England...

, where the family offered food and drink to Washington. At this point, the first signs of daylight began to appear. Many of the troops did not have boots, so they were forced to wear rags around their feet. Some of the men's feet bled, turning the snow to a dark red. Two men died on the trip.

As they marched, Washington rode up and down the line, encouraging the men to continue. General Sullivan sent a courier to tell Washington that the weather was wetting his men's gunpowder. Washington responded, "Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet. I am resolved to take Trenton."

About 2 miles (3 km) outside the town, the main columns reunited with the advance parties. They were startled by the sudden appearance of 50 armed men, but they were American. Led by Adam Stephen
Adam Stephen
Adam Stephen was a Scottish-born doctor and military officer. He came to North America, where he served in the Virginia colonial militia under George Washington during the French and Indian War. He served under Washington again in the American Revolutionary War, rising to lead a division of the...

, they had not known about the plan to attack Trenton, and had attacked a Hessian outpost. Washington feared the Hessians would have been put on guard, and shouted at Stephen, "You sir! You Sir, may have ruined all my plans by having them put on their guard." Despite this, Washington ordered the advance continue to Trenton. In the event, Rall thought the first raid was the attack which Grant had warned him about, and that there would be no further action that day.

American attack

At about 8 am, the outpost was set up by the Hessians at a cooper shop on Pennington Road about one mile north-west of Trenton. Washington led the assault, riding in front of his soldiers. As the Hessian commander of the outpost, Lieutenant Andreas von Wiederholdt, left the shop, an American fired at him. Wiederholdt shouted, "Der Feind!" (The Enemy!) and other Hessians came out. The Americans fired three volleys and the Hessians returned one of their own. Washington ordered Edward Hand
Edward Hand
-Early life and career:Hand was born in Clyduff, King's County, Ireland January 10, 1742, and was baptised in Shinrone. His father was John Hand. Among his immediate neighbours were the Kearney family, ancestors of U.S. President Barack Obamba [1]...

's Pennsylvania Riflemen and a battalion of German-speaking infantry to block the road that led to Princeton. They attacked the Hessian outpost there. Wiederholdt soon realized that this was more than a raiding party; seeing other Hessians retreating from the outpost, he led his men to do the same. Both Hessian detachments made organized retreats, firing as they fell back. On the high ground at the north end of Trenton, they were joined by a duty company from the Lossberg Regiment. They engaged the Americans, retreating slowly, keeping up continuous fire and using houses for cover. Once in Trenton, they gained covering fire from other Hessian guard companies on the outskirts of the town. Another guard company nearer to the Delaware River
Delaware River
The Delaware River is a major river on the Atlantic coast of the United States.A Dutch expedition led by Henry Hudson in 1609 first mapped the river. The river was christened the South River in the New Netherland colony that followed, in contrast to the North River, as the Hudson River was then...

 rushed east to their aid, leaving open the River Road into Trenton. Washington ordered the escape route to Princeton be cut off, sending infantry in battle formation to block it, while artillery formed at the head of King and Queen streets.

Leading the southern American column, General Sullivan entered Trenton by the abandoned river road and blocked the only crossing over the Assunpink Creek to cut off the Hessian escape. Sullivan briefly held up his advance to make sure Greene's division had time to drive the Hessians from their outposts in the north. Soon after, they continued their advance, attacking the Hermitage, home of Philemon Dickinson
Philemon Dickinson
Philemon Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician from Trenton, New Jersey. As a brigadier general of the New Jersey militia, he was one of the most effective militia officers of the American Revolutionary War. He was also a Continental Congressman from Delaware and a United States Senator...

, where 50 Jägers
Jäger (military)
Jäger is a term that was adopted in the Enlightenment era in German-speaking states and others influenced by German military practice to describe a kind of light infantry, and it has continued in that use since then....

 under the command of Lieutenant von Grothausen were stationed. Lieutenant von Grothausen brought 12 of his Jägers into action against the advanced guard, but had only advanced a few hundred yards when he saw a column of Americans advancing to the Hermitage. Pulling back to the Hessian barracks, he was joined by the rest of the Jägers. After the exchange of one volley, they turned and ran, some trying to swim across the creek, while others escaped over the bridge, which had not yet been cut off. The 20 British Dragoons also fled. As Greene and Sullivan's columns pushed into the town, Washington moved to high ground north of King and Queens streets to see the action and direct his troops. By this time, American artillery from the other side of the Delaware River came into action, devastating the Hessian positions.

With the sounding alarm, the three Hessian regiments began to prepare for battle. The Rall regiment formed on lower King Street along with the Lossberg Regiment, while the Knyphausen Regiment
Wilhelm von Knyphausen
Wilhelm Reichsfreiherr zu Innhausen und Knyphausen was a general from Hesse-Cassel. He fought in the American Revolutionary War, during which he led Hessian mercenaries on behalf of the British Empire.-Biography:His father was colonel in a German regiment under the Duke of Marlborough...

 formed at the lower end of Queen Street. Lieutenant Piel, Rall's brigade adjutant, woke his commander, who found that the rebels had taken the "V" of the main streets of the town. This is where the engineers had recommended building a redoubt. Rall ordered his regiment to form up at the lower end of King Street, the Lossberg regiment to prepare for an advance up Queen Street, and the Knyphausen regiment to stand by as a reserve for Rall's advance up King Street.

The American cannon stationed at the head of the two main streets soon came into action. In reply, Rall directed his regiment, supported by a few companies of the Lossberg regiment, to clear the guns. The Hessians formed ranks and began to advance up the street, but their formations were quickly broken by the American guns and fire from Mercer's men who had taken houses on the left side of the street. Breaking ranks, the Hessians fled. Rall ordered two three-pound cannon into action. After getting off six rounds each, within just a few minutes, half of the Hessians' manning their guns were killed by American cannon. After the men fled to cover behind houses and fences, their cannon were taken by the Americans. Following capture of the cannon, men under the command of George Weedon
George Weedon
George Weedon was an American soldier during the Revolutionary War from Fredericksburg, Virginia.He served as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army and later in the Virginia militia....

 advanced down King Street.

On Queen Street, all Hessian attempts to advance up the street were repulsed by guns under the command of Thomas Forrest. After firing four rounds each, two more Hessian guns were silenced. One of Forrest's Howitzers was put out of action with a broken axle. The Knyphausen Regiment became separated from the Lossberg and the Rall regiments. The Lossberg and the Rall fell back to a field outside town, taking heavy losses from grapeshot
Grapeshot
In artillery, a grapeshot is a type of shot that is not a one solid element, but a mass of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the balls resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name...

 and musket fire. In the southern part of the town, Americans under command of Sullivan began to overwhelm the Hessians. John Stark
John Stark
John Stark was a New Hampshire native who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He became widely known as the "Hero of Bennington" for his exemplary service at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.-Early life:John Stark was born in Londonderry, New...

 led a bayonet charge at the Knyphausen regiment, whose resistance broke because their weapons would not fire. Sullivan led a column of men to block off escape of troops across the creek.

Hessian resistance collapses

The Hessians in the field attempted to reorganize, and make one last attempt to retake the town so they could make a breakout. Rall decided to attack the American flank on the heights north of the town. Rall yelled "Forward! Advance! Advance!", and the Hessians began to move, with the brigade's band playing fifes, bugles and drums to help the Hessians' spirit.

Washington, still on high ground, saw the Hessians approaching the American flank. He moved his troops to assume battle formation against the enemy. The two Hessian Regiments began marching toward King Street, but were caught in American fire that came at them from three directions. Some Americans had taken up defensive positions inside houses, reducing their exposure. Some civilians joined the fight against the Hessians. Despite this, they continued to push, recapturing their cannon. At the head of King Street, Knox saw the Hessians had retaken the cannon and ordered his troops to take them. Six men ran and, after a brief struggle, seized the cannon, turning them on the Hessians. With most of the Hessians unable to fire their guns, the attack stalled. The Hessians' formations broke, and they began to scatter. Rall was mortally wounded. Washington led his troops down from high ground while yelling, "March on, my brave fellows, after me!" Most of the Hessians retreated into an orchard, with the Americans in close pursuit. Quickly surrounded, the Hessians were offered, and agreed, to surrender.

Although ordered to join Rall, the remains of the Knyphausen Regiment mistakenly marched in the opposite direction. They tried to escape across the bridge, but found it had been taken. The Americans quickly swept in, defeating a Hessian attempt to break through their lines. Surrounded by Sullivan's men, the regiment surrendered, just minutes after the rest of the brigade.

Casualties

The Hessian forces suffered 22 fatalities, 83 serious injuries, and 896 captures. The Americans suffered only two fatalities and five injuries from war wounds. Including American soldiers who died of exhaustion, exposure, and illness in the following days, total American fatalities from the expedition may have been higher than those of the Hessians.

The captured Hessians were sent to Philadelphia and later Lancaster
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster is a city in the south-central part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is the county seat of Lancaster County and one of the older inland cities in the United States, . With a population of 59,322, it ranks eighth in population among Pennsylvania's cities...

. In 1777 they were moved to Virginia. Rall was mortally wounded and died later that day at his headquarters. All four Hessian colonels in Trenton were killed in the battle. The Lossberg regiment was effectively removed from the British forces. Parts of the Knyphausen regiment escaped to the south, but Sullivan captured some 200 additional men, along with the regiment's cannons and supplies. Also captured were approximately 1,000 arms and some much-needed ammunition.

Myths

Popular history portrayed the Hessians as having been drunk from Christmas celebrations. An officer in Washington's staff wrote before the battle, "They make a great deal of Christmas in Germany, and no doubt the Hessians will drink a great deal of beer and have a dance to-night. They will be sleepy to-morrow morning." However, historian David Hackett Fischer
David Hackett Fischer
David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University. Fischer's major works have tackled everything from large macroeconomic and cultural trends to narrative histories of significant events to explorations of...

 said, "It wasn't so." He points out that an American soldier John Greenwood, who fought in the battle and supervised Hessians afterward, said, "I am certain not a drop of liquor was drunk during the whole night, nor, as I could see, even a piece of bread eaten." Military historian Edward G. Lengel
Edward G. Lengel
Edward G. Lengel is an American military historian and professor at the University of Virginia.Lengel is the editor-in-chief of The Papers of George Washington documentary editing project in Charlottesville, Virginia...

 said, "The Germans were dazed and tired but there is no truth to the legend claiming that they were helplessly drunk."

Effects

Following the surrender of the Hessians, Washington is reported to have grabbed the hand of a young officer and said "This is a glorious day for our country." He soon learned that Cadwalader and Ewing had been unable to make the crossing, leaving his worn-out army of 2,400 men isolated. Without their 2,600 men, Washington realized he did not have the forces to attack Princeton and New Brunswick.

This small but decisive battle, as with the later Battle of Cowpens
Battle of Cowpens
The Battle of Cowpens was a decisive victory by Patriot Revolutionary forces under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War...

, had an effect disproportionate to its size. The colonial effort was galvanized, and the Americans overturned the psychological dominance achieved by the British Government troops in the previous months. Howe was stunned by the Hessian garrison's being so easily surprised and overwhelmed. Fischer argues the changing attitudes were buoyed more by writings of Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

 and additional successful actions by the New Jersey Militia than they were by the Battle of Trenton.

Aftermath and legacy

By noon, Washington's force had moved across the Delaware back into Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, taking their prisoners and captured supplies with them. This battle gave the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 a new confidence, as it proved colonial forces could defeat regulars. It also increased re-enlistments in the Continental Army forces. By defeating a European army, the colonials reduced the fear which the Hessians had caused earlier that year after the fighting in New York.

Two notable American officers were wounded: William Washington
William Washington
William Washington , was an officer of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, who held a final rank of Brigadier General in the newly created United States after the war...

, cousin of the General, and Lieutenant James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

, the future President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

. Monroe was carried from the field bleeding badly after he was struck in the left shoulder by a musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

 ball, which severed an artery. Doctor John Riker clamped the artery, preventing him from bleeding to death.

The hours before the battle served as the inspiration for the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware is an 1851 oil-on-canvas painting by German American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. It commemorates General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War...

by German American
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 artist Emanuel Leutze
Emanuel Leutze
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze was a German American history painter best known for his painting Washington Crossing the Delaware.-Philadelphia:...

. The image in the painting, in which Washington stands majestic in his boat as it crosses the Delaware River, is generally believed to be more symbolic than historically accurate. The waters of the river were icy and treacherous, and the flag Monroe holds was not created until six months after the battle. In addition, contrary to the painting, the crossing occurred before dawn. On the other hand, Fischer argues that because the crossing took place in a storm, people may have stood to avoid sitting in icy water in the boats. Because of its emotional content, the painting has become an icon of American history.

The Trenton Battle Monument
Trenton Battle Monument
The Trenton Battle Monument is a column-type monument in Trenton, New Jersey. It commemorates the December 26, 1776 Battle of Trenton, a pivotal victory for the Continental forces during the American Revolutionary War.-Description:...

, erected at "Five Points" in Trenton, stands as a tribute to this American victory. The crossing of the Delaware and battle are reenacted by local enthusiasts every year (unless the weather is too severe on the river).

In popular culture

  • The A&E
    A&E Network
    The A&E Network is a United States-based cable and satellite television network with headquarters in New York City and offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, London, Los Angeles and Stamford. A&E also airs in Canada and Latin America. Initially named the Arts & Entertainment Network, A&E launched...

     movie The Crossing (2000), starring Jeff Daniels
    Jeff Daniels
    Jeffrey Warren "Jeff" Daniels is an American actor, musician and playwright. He founded a non-profit theatre company, the Purple Rose Theatre Company, in his home state of Michigan...

     as General Washington, shows events from the crossing through the battle.

  • The book To Try Men's Souls, by Newt Gingrich covers the crossing through the battle from several different character perspectives.

  • The rapper Astronautalis
    Astronautalis
    Astronautalis is an American hip hop artist based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.After gaining some renown in local circles in Jacksonville and competing at Scribble Jam, Astronautalis self-released his debut album, You and Yer Good Ideas, in 2003...

    wrote the song "Trouble Hunters" as an anthem to the Battle of Trenton.
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