Following his defeat at Long Island, General George Washington reorganized his forces into three divisions commanded by Maj. General Israel Putnam, Maj. General Nathanael Greene and Maj. General William Heath. Even though his military advisors argued that New York City should be burned and abandoned, Congress resolved that the city not be damaged in the hopes that it could be recaptured. After having decided to evacuate Manhattan in September, his forces were defeated at Kip's Bay on September 15th, as Maj. General William Howe's troops landed.
Washington regrouped at Harlem Heights and held off General Howe's advance guard on September 16, 1776. He was again defeated at the Battle of White Plains on October 28th, but withdrew without being overrun. He lost valuable provisions and men at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, because he had allowed General Greene to convince him that the fort could be held. Fort Lee was barely evacuated without heavy losses before its capture on November 20th.
General Washington then retreated to Newark, New Jersey. On November 29, 1776, he retreated to Brunswick, New Jersey when pursued by Lt. General Charles Cornwallis. On December 1st, Washington lost about 3,000 more men as their enlistment was up and they refused to reenlist. On December 2nd, he left General Greene behind at Princeton to serve as a rear guard. On December 3rd at Trenton, his force was bolstered by the arrival of about 2,000 Pennsylvania militia. Maj. General Charles Lee continued to resist bringing his men to reinforce Washington. Washington also was disheartened by the poor turnout of New Jersey militia.
Washington now moved his army and forces over the Delaware River to Pennsylvania, completing the task by December 7, 1776. He also wisely gathered all the boats along the river and brought them to the Pennsylvania side and sent out orders that resulted in the destruction of all other boats within seventy-five miles. On the following day, General Cornwallis arrived and was cannonaded. After a futile search for boats, he returned to Brunswick to enter winter quarters. He left behind a garrison of Hessians under Colonel Johann Rall at Trenton.
On December 13, 1776, General Lee was captured at Basking Ridge. On December 20th, Maj. General John Sullivan led Lee's men into Washington's camp, while Maj. General Horatio Gates also arrived bringing 800 men from Fort Ticonderoga. Washington wanted to salvage a victory before going into winter quarters. He had to do so before December 31st, when another batch of enlistments ran out.
Washington first wanted to attack the Hessians at Bordentown, but the local militia in that area was too weak to offer support. He then chose the isolated Hessian garrison at Trenton under the command of Colonel Johann Rall. Rall had not heeded orders to build fortifications and send out patrols. Washington planned an early morning attack on Trenton for December 26, fully expecting the Hessians to be recovering from their Christmas night celebrations.
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