Colonel Johann Rall was the commander of the three Hessian regiments that had occupied Trenton, New Jersey in December of 1776. General George Washington had the town surrounded and artillery positioned at the two main streets. By the time Rall's adjutant heard what was happening and woke Rall up, the Battle of Trenton was well underway.
With Major General Nathanael Greene driving the Hessians south from their outpost, and Major General John Sullivan advancing north from Assunpink Creek, the Hessians were being forced into the center of Trenton, towards the artillery forces of Brigadier General Henry Knox.
Rall's regiment was sent to the south end of King Street, where they were joined by the Lossberg regiment. A third regiment, the Knyphausen, took over the south end of Queen Street. Rall ordered all regiments to advance north to take out the artillery of the Continental Army. As that was happening, fifty Jagers,a German light force infantry under the command of Lieutenant von Grothausen, were stationed at the Hermitage. When von Grothausen saw a small advance force coming to the Hermitage, he ordered twelve Jagers to attack -- however, when he next saw a full column of American soldiers coming up behind their advance force, von Grothausen ordered a retreat and all fifty Jagers tried to escape.
As Rall's regiments advanced north towards the artillery they were caught up in gunfire from American soldiers who had been placed in houses along the street. The Hessians broke rank and most of them fled. Rall sent in a cannon to take on the American artillery, yet after a few rounds of fire, half of the Hessians left in the battle were dead from the American cannon. More Hessians fled and their cannon was taken by the Americans, who were advancing further down King Street.
Attempts by the Hessians to advance up Queen Street failed when they were turned back by the guns of Thomas Forrest and his men. During the volley of rounds and surprise attacks from houses, the Knyphausen Regiment somehow were separated from the other two Hessian regiments. The Rall and Lossberg Regiments retreated to a field south of the town, where they received heavy losses.
Sullivan's regiment had overwhelmed the Hessians in the southern part of town, as John Stark and his men charged the Knyphausen regiment with only bayonets. Resistance of the Knyphausen regiment was broken down when none of their weapons would fire. Sullivan then blocked off Hessian troops from escaping across Assunpink Creek.
After the heavy losses in the field, Rall ordered and forward advance towards Washington and his flank up on higher ground. As they advanced up King Street, fire opened upon them from houses where American soldiers and civilians had taken defensive positions. Rall and his men did not lose their spirit and pushed through, recapturing their cannon. Knox sent out soldiers to retake the cannon from Rall's men, which they succeeded in doing. The cannon was turned on the Hessians and Rall was mortally wounded.
The Hessians retreated into the nearby orchard, with Washington and his flank in hot pursuit. As they were surrounded, the Hessians surrendered to the Americans. At just about the same time, in the south of town, the Knyphausen Regiment were defeated by Sullivan's regiment and surrendered.
From the time the first shot was fired at the cooper shop,
less than four hours had passed. The battle was over and by twelve noon Washington and his regiments were back across the Delaware River, back to Pennsylvania. All four colonels of the Hessian regiments had been killed in action. The Americans took 896 Hessians captive. Twenty-two Hessians died in battle and eighty-three had been wounded. The Americans had two fatalities and five injuries during battle -- due to exposure to the bitter cold, illness and sheer exhaustion, they lost many more in the days following the battle.
It was not till after the battle that Washington realized the other two regiments led by Cadwalader and Ewing had not been able to cross the Delaware River. He was now unable to attack Princeton and New Brunswick as originally planned.
The victory at the Battle of Trenton was a decisive factor in raising the morale of the Continental Army troops, encouraged more civilians to enlist, and raised the hopes and determination of the colonists to win their freedom.
At "Five Points" in Trenton, New Jersey, there stands the Trenton Battle Monument as a tribute to this American victory.
Battle of Trenton, by H. Charles McBarron, Jr., 1975
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