Settled by the English in 1664, Trenton grew into a quaint little village
comprised of roughly 130 houses and a small Presbyterian Church. The landscape
was dotted with apple orchards, gardens and a small scenic bridge that spanned
the Assunpink Creek.
By December of 1776, however, this idyllic little town had become home to a
Knyphausen Hessians, a handful of Dragoons and a pocket full of riflemen of
the British Crown. Soon, a garrison of British troops under the command of
Colonel Johann Rall would set winter camp in Trenton.
Satisfied with their defeat and the retreat of General Washington across the
Delaware River into Pennsylvania, Lt. General
Charles Cornwallis set
off for England to advise the king that an end to the rebellion was nearing,
while Major General William
Howe traveled to New York for the holiday festivities.
As the British Militia settled in for their winter's quarter, General George
Washington, left with less than 1,500 fit soldiers, was organizing the incoming
troops into respective regiments for one last effort before ending operations
for the winter.
To give the Rebel cause a much needed boost, General Washington decided that he
would once more cross the Delaware River, advance back into New Jersey and
launch a surprise attack on the remote Hessian garrison which was quartered at
At 2: 00 p.m. on December the 25th, General George Washington and the
Continental Army marched out of their camp toward the banks of the Delaware
River. Their intended goal was to reach the riverbanks by nightfall and cross
under the cover of darkness.
Shortly after nightfall General Washington and his army began their tedious trek
across the frozen river. Their goal of completing the entire crossing by
midnight was soon hampered as a winter storm severely impeded their progress.
After a treacherous night of fighting the elements, Washington and his army were
able to gain an upper hand and arrived on the New Jersey shore at 4:00 a.m.,
dashing all hopes of using the cover of darkness to camouflage their movement.
The army proceeded to march towards Trenton, pausing only momentarily when they
reached the Bear tavern. It was here that the forces were split into 2 columns.
Major General Nathanael Greeneand General Washington would take
one column and head to the north while the second column, led by Major General
John Sullivan and Brigadier
General Arthur St. Clair would continue to
travel the river road to attack form the west.
Despite the frigid temperature, frozen and often misfiring muskets and the
exposure to the unforgiving elements, George Washington remained focus on his
tasks and pushed onward. Besides, this same storm which was impeding their
movement was also acting as a smokescreen in covering the Continental Army's
By 8: 00 a.m. on December 26, George Washington and his column were less than a
mile from Trenton and the Hessian Sentries.
Colonel Rall and most
of his 1,200 troops were in deep sleep and oblivious to the presence of
Washington and his army. The fact that Colonel Rall decided not to send out
night patrols due to the severity of the weather was an advantageous error for
One alert sentry did spot the Continental army and the cry went out. Meanwhile a
volley of musket fire was aimed at Washington's army but whizzed clearly above
their heads. At 8:05 a.m., Sullivan's column had encountered the sentries who
were posted to the west of Trenton and they, too, were fired upon.
Despite the rumble of the American artillery and the whine of the musket balls,
General Rall was difficult to arouse. Because he believed that the Continental
Army was incapable of such an assault Rall was ill prepared for the surprise
attack. Once awake, he headed out to command the situation as the Hessians, who
quickly responded to the cry of war, were hampered severely by the cannon
barrage from the strategically placed artillery.
Total chaos now reigned. The Hessians regrouped and once again launched an
attack only to once again be repelled. Their artillery were overrun and made
useless as Lt. William Washington, cousin to George Washington, and Lieutenant
James Monroe captured the artillery pieces.
Major General Sullivan and his column had driven the separated Knyphausen
regiment back through the southern end of Trenton where many of the Hessians
were able to make an escape. Colonel Rall ordered the Hessian regiments of
Lossberg and Rall, to an apple orchard outside of town. From here they would
regroup and attempt to take the road north into Princeton.
Within moments of issuing this order, Colonel Johann Rall was struck and fell,
mortally wounded. The 2 regiments obeyed the pervious order and began their
march to Princeton. Upon entering town the regiments were met with musket fire
and artillery barrages from the Continental Army and her band of civilian
brothers who were waiting in nearby buildings and brush. The Hessians made a
hasty retreat back to the orchard where they were swiftly forced into
The remaining troops of the Knyphausen regiments rapidly headed for Bordentown
but were severely slowed by the muck that served as their escape route. General
Sullivan and his column quickly caught up with and surrounded the bogged down
regiment and accepted their surrender.
By 9: 30 a.m. on December 26 General George Washington and the soldiers of the
Continental Army had finally achieved a long awaited battlefield victory over
the British. This victory not only renewed the Continental Congress's faith in
their Commander-in-Chief it also bolstered the spirits of the people who turned
out to enlist in the victorious, but severely depleted Continental Army.
By 12:00 noon on December 27, 1776 General Washington, the Continental Army and
their prisoners had returned safely to their Pennsylvania camp. The ingenious
plan of General Washington had achieved the desired results. 106 Hessians had
been wounded or killed, at least 600 had been captured and many more fled to
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