Washington Surprise Attacks The British Garrison at Trenton

Battle of Trenton by Hugh Charles McBarron.

Today on December 26, 1776, George Washington surprise attacks the British garrison at the Battle of Trenton.

The Battle of Trenton became one of General George Washington’s first victories of the American Revolution. The war was off to a shaky start and the Continental Army was desperate for a win. The Americans spent weeks planning a surprise attack on the British. On the night before, at approximately 11:00 pm, Washington ordered his army of 5,400 soldiers to cross the icy Delaware River. The plan was to surprise attack an isolated British garrison of 1,400 Hessians at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessians were German mercenaries contracted by the British government during the war. His plan was both dangerous as well as a logistical nightmare. Nonetheless, Washington led his division of troops to the other side of the river.

However, the other planned landings were either called off or canceled. The other two main divisions failed to reach the rendezvous point but Washington decided to continue as planned. He had 2,400 men and 18 cannons at his disposal. The division was organized into two assault groups before marching 9 miles toward Trenton. A snowstorm continued throughout the morning causing slow troop movements. They didn’t end up arriving until much later in the morning. Luckily for Washington, the Hessians had been up all night celebrating Christmas; leaving no time to prepare any defenses. They did manage to form ranks in the streets and fire back at the Americans.

The Hessian commander Johann Rall was mortally wounded during house-to-house combat. The Germans were quickly overwhelmed and tried to regroup in an orchard outside the town. They did make one final stand before either surrendering or fleeing the battlefield. George Washington now had 900 Hessian prisoners along with a large supply of muskets, swords, and cannons. However, his men were exhausted. They were unable to advance or hold the town without critical reinforcements. While the victory had no real strategic significance, it did serve as a catalyst for reinvigorating hope among the colonies.

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