US American History Info and Articles
The Victory at Trenton
Such an opportunity came soon. A body of British troops, made up of Hessians (or Germans mainly from Hesse-Cassel, hired as soldiers by King George), was stationed at Trenton, and Washington planned to surprise them on Christmas night, when, as he knew, it was their custom to hold a feast and revel.
With two thousand four hundred picked men he prepared to cross the Delaware River at a point nine miles above Trenton. The ground was white with snow, and the weather was bitterly cold. As the soldiers marched to the place of crossing, some of them whose feet were almost bare left bloody footprints along the route.
At sunset the troops began to cross. It was a terrible night. Angry gusts of wind, and great blocks of ice swept along by the swift current, threatened every moment to dash in pieces the frail boats.
From the Trenton side of the river, General Knox, who had been sent ahead by Washington, loudly shouted to let the struggling boatmen know where to land. For ten hours boat-load after boat-load of men made the dangerous crossing. A long, long night this must have been to Washington, as he stood in the midst of the wild storm, anxious, yet hopeful that the next day would bring him victory.
It was not until four in the morning that the already weary men were in line to march. Trenton was nine miles away, and a fearful storm of snow and sleet beat fiercely upon them as they advanced. Yet they pushed forward. Surely such courage and hardihood deserved its reward!
The Hessians, sleeping heavily after their night’s feasting, were quite unaware of the approaching army. About sunrise they were surprised and most of them easily captured after a brief struggle.
Like a gleam of light in the darkness, news of this victory shot through the colonies. It brought hope to every patriot heart. The British were amazed at the daring feat, and Cornwallis decided not to leave America for a time. Instead, he advanced with a large force upon Trenton, hoping to capture Washington’s army there.
At nightfall, January 2, 1777, he took his stand on the farther side of a small creek, near Trenton, and thought he had Washington in a trap. “At last,” said Cornwallis, “we have run down the old fox, and we will bag him in the morning.” In the morning again!
But Washington was too sly a fox for Cornwallis to bag. During the night he led his army around Cornwallis’s camp and, pushing on to Princeton, defeated the rear-guard, which had not yet joined the main body. He then retired in safety to his winter quarters among the hills about Morristown.
During this fateful campaign Washington had handled his army in a masterly way. He had begun with bitter defeat; he had ended with glorious victory. The Americans now felt that their cause was by no means hopeless. It was well that they had this encouragement, for the year that began with the battle of Princeton (1777) was to test their courage and loyalty to the uttermost.