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Battle of Trenton

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

December 26. –General Washington, finding it absolutely necessary to rouse the spirits of the army, which have been sorely depressed by the long series of disasters which have attended us for almost the whole of this month, resolved to attempt surprising a considerable body of Hessians, quartered at Trenton, consisting of about nineteen hundred, and a detachment of British light horse. The plan was as spiritedly executed as it was judiciously concerted, and terminated in fully answering the warmest expectations of its projectors. Yesterday morning, orders were given for a large part of the army to have three days’ provisions ready cooked, and forty rounds a man, and to be ready to march by three o’clock in the afternoon; accordingly the farthest brigades marched by two o’clock. About eleven o’clock at night it began snowing, and continued so until daybreak, when a most violent northeast storm came on, of snow, rain, and hail together.

Early, the American army, which did not exceed twenty-four hundred men, crossed the Delaware with several companies of artillery, and thirteen field-pieces, and formed in two divisions; one commanded by General Greene, the other by General Sullivan, and the whole by General Washington. The attack began about seven o’clock by the van-guard of Sullivan’s division, who attacked the Hessians’ advanced guard, about a mile from the town. These they soon drove, when the whole pushed with the utmost vigor for the town, which they immediately entered. General Greene’s division attacked the town on the other side at the same time. The Hessians did as much as could be expected from people so surprised, but the impetuosity of our men was irresistible; fifteen minutes decided the action, and the enemy threw down their arms and surrendered prisoners of war. They consisted of three regiments of grenadiers and fusileers, and were equal to any troops the Prince of Hesse could boast of. The troop of British dragoons, without waiting to be charged, scampered off with the utmost expedition. Could the brigade under Colonel Ewing have landed below the town, as was intended, the light horse must inevitably have been taken, as well as a considerable number of the Hessians who got off; but the violence of the wind was such, and the quantity of ice so great, that he found it impossible to cross. Our success, though not complete, was great. The men behaved with the utmost bravery. Finding that their guns did not generally go off, owing to their having been exposed to the snow and rain for six hours, they charged bayonets, and, with three cheers, rushed like bloodhounds upon the Hessians, who, astonished at their fury, fled or threw down their arms; and it was owing to the ardor of the attack that so little blood was shed. The army returned the same day, and, notwithstanding a continual pelting for twelve hours, of a most violent rain, hail, and snow-storm, we had only two men frozen to death. Luckily they found some hogsheads of rum at Trenton, large draughts of which alone preserved the lives of many. The soldiers behaved exceedingly well with respect to plundering, considering they were animated by revenge for past insults, exasperated by the injuries done their messmates taken at Fort Washington, and animated by every incentive that could work upon the license of a successful army. The general gave the Hessians all their baggage, and they have since gone to the western counties of Pennsylvania, with their packs unsearched. They were amazed at the generosity of the general, so opposite to their own conduct, and called him a very good rebel.

The enemy who lay at Bordentown soon had the alarm, which was communicated to all the parties along the river, who, after remaining under arms the whole day, in the evening marched off, leaving us to take possession of Bordentown, Mount Holly, and Burlington.1


1 Freeman’s Journal,. January 21.

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