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Battle Of Trenton

December 26 th, 1776

American Victory

Battle of Trenton - A Stan Klos Biography

by Neal McLaughlin -- August 2004

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 regiment of 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 Trenton.

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 Greene and 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 progress.

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 General Washington.

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 surrendering.

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 freedom.


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