During the Fall of 1776, General George Washington had been on the retreat. Starting in August, Maj. General William Howe drove Washington first from New York City and then from New York. state. Lt. General Charles Cornwallis had then taken up the chase and sent Washington retreating across New Jersey so that in early December, Washington had crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Washington knew that morale was down because the Continental Army had yet to secure a victory on the battlefield against British Army regulars. There were those in the Continental Congress who were beginning to doubt the ability of the Commander-in-Chief as well. His enlistments were running out at the end of the year and the weather was growing harsh so that he would soon have to enter winter quarters.
General Washington knew that he and the Rebel cause needed some momentum before ending operations for the winter.. He decided to cross the Delaware River back into New Jersey and make a surprise attack on the British forces which had already settled into winter quarters. He chose the remote Hessian garrison at Trenton commanded by Colonel Johann Rall. On Christmas Night, 1776, what has been immortalized as 'The Crossing' took place in a snowstorm as Washington led his troops across the Delaware River and on to Trenton.
The rough weather had delayed General Washington's attack until 8:00 A.M., but the Hessian garrison had no patrols to sound a warning and the troops were still recovering from the late night Christmas celebrations. The two columns of Washington's force led by Maj. General Nathanael Greene and Maj. General John Sullivan quickly overran outposts on the north and west of Trenton. They split the Hessian regiments and without taking more than a handful of casualties, routed the Hessians. Some were able to escape south because a supporting force under Brig. General James Ewing had been unable to make the river crossing. The rest were cornered and forced to surrender in Trenton. Washington secured the victory and momentum he had so desperately needed. He was even able to press on and only a few days later, score another victory at Princeton before entering winter quarters.
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