The Battle of Trenton was fought during the American Revolutionary war and it took place near Trenton, New Jersey. The battle was fought between the Americans against the Hessians and British troops after the Americans lost the battle in New York and were forced to retreat through New Jersey. The battle began on December 25, 1776 and ended on December 26, 1776
Armies and Commanders
In the battle of Trenton, the American army was led by General George Washington and his army had nearly 2,400 soldiers commanded by Major Generals John Sullivan and Nathanael Greene. The Hessian army was led by Colonel Johann Rall. Three regiments of Hessian troops were stationed at Trenton with a total of around 1,400 troops. A small British unit called 16th Dragoons was also there at Trenton.
After a humiliating defeat in New York by the hands of the British and their Hessian auxiliaries, the American army led by General Washington was forced to retreat across New Jersey as the army of British commander Lord Cornwallis was in close pursuit. Washington’s army got temporary safety when they crossed Delaware River to enter Pennsylvania.
Their morale after the defeat was very low and nearly ninety-percent of the troops, who fought the battle of Long Island, left the army and went back. Soldiers felt that they were fighting for a losing cause, and General Washington faced a tough task of holding up the troops for the battles ahead. The enlistment terms of most of the soldiers were about to expire at the end of the year. At that time, three regiments of Hessian soldiers commanded by Colonel Rall were stationed at Trenton, a small town in New Jersey.
American Battle Preparations
Washington planned the attack on Trenton to revive the dying confidence in his troops with a victory over British. Washington chose to plan the battle in rough weather as the terms of most enlisted soldiers were to expire by the year’s end. Washington planned to attack the Hessian regiments stationed at Trenton from 3 directions simultaneously.
General Cadwalader was to launch a diversionary attack on the British garrison at Bordentown to block any reinforcements from the south. The main assault force comprised of 2,400 troops and was led by Sullivan and Greene. The army would cross the Delaware River near Trenton and would then split into two parts – one led by Greene and other by Sullivan. Greene would attack from the north and Sullivan from the south in a coordinated attack. Also, across the river, General James Ewing was placed at Trenton Ferry with 700 men to prevent Hessian soldiers from escaping. Washington planned also planned to carry out attack on Princeton and New Brunswick after a victory in Trenton.
Hessians arrived at the town of Trenton on December 14th to form their winter quarters. Rall sensed the possibility of attack from the Continental Army. He asked for reinforcements from the British General James Grant but was denied since the British considered the American army to be in disarray and did not expect them to launch an attack. Trenton was a small town without any walls or fortifications. Colonel Rall’s officers suggested that they build fortifications for the town, but he ignored the suggestions which eventually cost him heavily. Also, there was evidence that Rall had been informed by spies about the American preparations of an attack. However, Rall took these suggestions lightly and failed to sufficiently prepare for the defense of Trenton.
The Battle of Trenton
Washington and his Continental Army planned to move on the Christmas night, but faced stormy weather on the way. By the time they reached the Delaware River, it started snowing and crossing the river became difficult. Due to bad weather, Cadwalader and Ewing were unable to join the attack. The tough weather took some toll on the soldiers, but Washington tried to keep up the morale of the troops by encouraging them throughout.
The army split up in two as per plan with Greene moving towards the north and Sullivan towards the south of Trenton. Washington moved from the north along with Greene and his troops, and they attacked the Hessian outpost, forcing the Hessian men to retreat to the higher grounds of North Trenton where they were joined by main Hessian army.
From the south of Trenton, Sullivan reached the Assunpink Creek and waited for the Greene’s unit to reach north while driving out the Hessian outpost. After a while, Sullivan attacked at the south, forcing many Hessian soldiers and to run away and swim across the creek. Both Greene and Sullivan’s column pushed into Trenton. Artillery and cannons from across the Delaware River were commissioned. The surprise attack and heavy fire took a substantial toll on Hessian army.
The American army took total control of the battle. All three Hessian regiments were isolated and were not able to coordinate. American soldiers took cover in houses and from there, fired freely. During the battle, Colonel Rall was fatally wounded. The Hessian troops were completely surrounded and were forced to surrender. Hessians suffered significant losses with 22 dead, 83 wounded, and nearly 1,100 troops captured. Americans only suffered 2 dead and 5 wounded.
As Cadwalader and Ewing were unable to join along with their 2,600 troops, Washington dropped the plan to advance further to Princeton and New Brunswick. After the battle, Washington and his troops moved back to Pennsylvania by crossing Delaware, taking back prisoners and captured supplies. This battle, despite its small scale, did wonders to the confidence level of Continental Army. They believed that they could defeat the European army, even after Hessians instilled fear in them during the battle of Long Island. It led to increased enlistment into the army.
British General Howe was surprised by the ease with which Americans won against Hessian troops. With the increased confidence of the Americans, the colonial effort was enthused and the morale advantage of British army was neutralized.