Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
It was Christmas night, 1776, in Trenton, New Jersey. Fourteen-hundred Hessian troops (German soldiers hired by the British Empire) were camped in Trenton. After their evening meal, the soldiers began to relax and fell asleep, not expecting to do battle on Christmas night. Their guard was down, they had no outposts or patrols on guard. They had no clue that soon they would be in the famous Battle of Trenton.
Across the Delaware River and not far north of the Hessian encampment, General George Washington, Chief Commander of the Continental Army, was preparing to cross the river with three detachments. With severe weather conditions and the icy river threatening, the crossing would be dangerous. The plan was to be across the river by midnight, but the weather caused delays and the crossing was difficult. Threatening clouds, then rain, sleet and finally snow slowed down operations. The men crossed in flat-bottomed boats, which required oars or poles to maneuver and a keel with steering gear. Horses and artillery were loaded onto ferries. During the crossing, several men fell overboard, but were saved. All men made it across alive. The horses and artillery arrived in good condition.
Washington was alone with a detachment of 2,400 men -- the other two detachments led by Generals Cadwalader and Ewing, were unable to cross. This was yet another setback from the original plan. Cadwalader was to launch an attack on the British encampment at Bordentown as a diversion and to prevent any help from that garrison for the Hessians in Trenton. Ewing was to move his detachment to the Assunpink Creek to stop any escaping Hessian soldiers. Washington, as the main force, was able to cross with his men 9 miles north of Trenton as planned, but had no other detachments to rely on.
Making new plans, Washington sent two small detachments ahead to set up road blocks. One group headed north of Trenton and the other was sent to River Road which ran parralel to the Delaware River, to block any escapes there. All escapees, or anyone entering or leaving the town were to be taken prisoner. Washington lead the main force on the nine mile march south to Trenton. Two troops died from exposure to the harsh and bitter cold, traveling was difficult in the snow, and facing the wind. Slippery, uneven ground slowed them down. Many men had no boots, only rags wrapped around their feet, yet they kept moving. As they slowly progressed, many civilians joined as volunteers, which was a great help, for they knew the terrain.
Just outside of Trenton, Washington's detachment met up with the advance forces he had sent out earlier in the morning. It was already eight o'clock, far later than what the original plans had called for.
Just northwest of Trenton, about a mile or so, the Hessians had set up an outpost in a cooper shop (cask and barrel crafting, usually set up in a stable). As Washington led the troops to attack, Lieutenant Wiederholdt, of the Hessian brigade, saw them and shouted out to his comrades inside. As gunfire was being exchanged, Washington sent General Edward Hand's Pennsylvania Riflemen and a battalion of German speaking infantry out to the road that led to Princeton, to stop any Hessian soldiers from escaping that way.
As the battle raged, Wiederholdt led his soldiers away from the outpost, retreating towards Trenton, where they were joined by troops from another regiment. When they reached the outskirts of Trenton, the Hessians received more help from guards posted there and another company of troops that were stationed nearby at the Delaware River came to their aid -- which left the River Road into Trenton open for possible escape.
Washington sent infantry to block off the escape route to Princeton and had artillery set up at King and Queen, the two main streets in Trenton. Major General John Sullivan led his southern American troops to River Road to block the chance of any Hessians crossing over Assunpink Creek in the south, while Major General Nathanael Greene drove the Hessians from their outposts in the north. Sullivan began his advance north as Greene drove south.
The battle was heating up -- to continue reading about the "Battle Of Trenton 1776 - Victory", please click on the related link below. Thank you.
Passage of the Delaware, by Thomas Sully, 1819
Wikipedia Public Domain