The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Trenton
Battle of Trenton

The Battle: December 26, 1776
General George Washington ordered the crossing of the Delaware River to begin right after dark on Christmas Day, December 25, 1776. He wanted to be in position to launch his attack in the early morning hours. He expected the Hessian troops to have heartily celebrated Christmas and be drunk and tired when he attacked. A storm blew up and the men were forced to cross in the ice and snow, which slowed the crossing.

General Washington personally led 2,400 men, horses and eighteen cannon across the river the river at McKonkey's Ferry, which was nine miles above Trenton. He would then attack the town from the north. Brig. General James Ewing was to lead 1,000 militia at the Trenton Ferry and block a retreat to the south. Colonel John Cadwalader would lead 2,000 men, mostly militia, across the river at Bordentown and attack the garrison there as a diversion. However, with the storm, Ewing was unable to make it across, while Cadwalader was unable to bring his artillery and too late to be of any assistance.

General Washington's troops set out at 2 P.M. and began crossing atfter dark. The crossing was to be completed by 12:00 A.M., but the storm began at 11 P.M. and delayed completion of the crossing until 3:00 A.M. and the column was not fully ready to march until 4:00 A.M. The hoped for surprise attack in the early morning darkness was now impossible. However, Colonel Rall still felt unthreatened. Even with intelligence from Loyalists and American deserters having given away the day and hour of the attack, Rall did not know how large the attacking force would be.

At Birmingham, about four miles from their crossing, General Washington's force split into two columns. Maj. General Nathanael Greene led one column onto the Pennington Road to attack the garrison from the north. General Washington accompanied this column. Maj. General John Sullivan led the second column continued on the river road so it could attack the garrison from the west. By 6:00 A.M. the troops were miserable. Two men reportedly froze to death and muskets won't fire because of the cold, but Washington was committed and would not give up.

At the Hessian garrison in Trenton, Colonel Rall had passed out and was sound asleep along with most of his 1,200 man force, which was divided into three regiments: Knyphausen, Lossberg and Rall. They had sent out no patrols because of the severe weather. The weather had taken a toll on General Washington's troops, but had also given them cover. At 8:00 A.M. General Washington came upon a house about half a mile from Trenton where Hessian sentries were posted. The first shots were fired in the engagement. Only a few minutes later, General Sullivan's column routed the Hessian sentries at the outpost a half a mile west of Trenton

Colonel Rall himself was slow to wake and dress because of the effects of the late night. The Hessians turned out quickly and formed up, but their attempts to attack to the north were hampered by the flanking fire from the western column and the artillery. The Americans positioned two cannon on a rise that guarded the two main routes out of town. The Hessians tried to bring four guns into action, but American fire kept them silent. Captain William Washington, cousin to General Washington, and Lieutenant James Monroe, future President of the United States, were wounded while capturing the Hessian guns.

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