Presented by Dr. Glenn Williams Regimental Historian
26 DECEMBER 1776 - BATTLE OF TRENTON - Revolutionary War
On Christmas night 1776, General George Washington's ragged Continental Army, including the 1st Maryland Regiment commanded by Lt. Col. Francis Ware, left its encampments in Pennsylvania, crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey during a driving sleet and snow storm, then just after dawn on 26 December, conducted a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers posted at Trenton, and won a stunning victory.
After a series of defeats and retreats the American Revolution appeared near collapse. The enlistments for most soldiers were about to expire, but Washington persuaded enough to stay for one bold stroke. With the remnant of the Main Army reinforced by the Pennsylvania
militia for a total force of about 7,000 men, Washington planned to attack the Hessian garrisons at Trenton and Bordentown, New Jersey. Only the 2,400 men under his personal command crossed the ice-choked Delaware successfully and formed two columns. The left column, commanded by Major General Nathanael Greene, and right, under Major General John Sullivan, took separate routes toward Trenton, ten miles to the south. They converged on the town at about 0800 and achieved complete surprise. Continental infantry, supported by Colonel Henry Knox's artillery, forced the enemy infantry and artillery attempting to form a line of defense on King and Queen Streets to retreat to an orchard. With their commander mortally wounded, most of the Hessians surrendered after an hour and a half of hard fighting. The Battle of Trenton cost the British and Hessians about 30 killed and 918 captured, while American combat losses amounted to 4 dead and a similar number of wounded. Washington's army returned to the Pennsylvania side with their prisoners and the captured artillery, ammunition and supplies. The success enabled Washington to keep his army together to fight for independence for at least a few more weeks.
DID YOU KNOW
Due to battle casualties and disease, expiring enlistments and the absence of officers and men sent home to recruit and reconstitute companies, the 1st Maryland had a strength of 163 men in the battle.
The much-needed victory restored the flagging American morale.
General George Washington personally led the surprise attack on the 1,400 Hessian auxiliaries and some British troops posted at Trenton.
Two other American columns failed to get across the Delaware River as planned.
"Washington Crossing the Delaware," by Emanuel Leutze, the original is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, with a copy at the museum at Washington Crossing Pennsylvania State Historic Site, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. Although historically inaccurate in many respects, it is arguably the most enduring image of the event.
"Passage of the Delaware," by Thomas Sully, in the Museum of Fine Art of Boston.
"Merry Christmas, 1776," by H. Charles McBarron, U.S. Army in Action Series, CMH
"Trenton, 1776," by H. Charles McBarron, Soldiers of the American Revolution Series, CMH
Map of the Battle of Trenton by a Hessian Officer, LoC. Note - American forces are indicated in red (representing the attacker) and Hessian / British forces in blue (for the defender).
Map of the Battle of Trenton, CMH
Next up: The Battle of Princeton