The Battle of Trenton, New Jersey

Photo by Michael Kleen

George Washington’s daring raid across the icy Delaware River revived his battered army’s spirits and prevented total disaster for the Patriot cause. Today, the Capitol of New Jersey commemorates Washington’s 1776 victory.

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The Battle of Trenton was fought on December 26, 1776 between American forces commanded by General George Washington, Major Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, and Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, and British forces commanded by Col. Johann Rahl in Trenton, New Jersey during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was an American victory and a much-needed boost to Patriot morale.

After a string of defeats around southeastern New York and Long Island, George Washington’s army withdrew across the Delaware River to lick its wounds. Washington was joined by several other prominent American commanders, who needed a victory to hold together their ragtag band of militia over the winter. The victorious British commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, spread his army along the east bank of the Delaware to await the spring.

Washington decided to attack an isolated contingent of approximately 1,500 Hessian mercenaries camped at Trenton. A driving snowstorm prevented some of his plan from being implemented, but Washington crossed the icy Delaware under cover of darkness with 2,400 men. The Hessians, thinking victory was at hand, had spent Christmas celebrating and hadn’t provided proper security. As a result, they were caught off guard in the town streets.

After a running battle, Hessian Col. Johann Rahl made several attempts to organize his men and counter attack, but was mortally wounded. The remaining Hessians surrendered. Relatively light American casualties sweetened Washington’s victory. The Patriots lost only four killed and eight wounded to the Hessians’ 40 killed, 66 wounded, and 918 captured.

Fought between Great Britain and her Thirteen American Colonies from 1775 to 1883, the Revolutionary War led to a Declaration of Independence and the formation of the United States of America in 1776. The Thirteen Colonies won their independence, at the cost of an estimated 158,000 British, American, French, German, Spanish, and American Indian lives. It was a dynamic and surprisingly international conflict.

Trenton formally became the capitol of New Jersey in 1790, and since then has experienced significant growth. Because the Battle of Trenton was fought in the streets and where the city later grew up, only a few locations have been preserved. The 1758 barracks where the Hessians were stationed is now a museum. In 1893, a 150-foot Beaux-Arts style monument was erected on a high point where George Washington stationed his artillery.

The Old Barracks Museum, at 101 Barrack Street in Trenton, New Jersey, is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but closed Sundays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. The Trenton Battle Monument is located at the intersection of Warren and Broad streets and Pennington and Brunswick avenues. The interior of the monument has been closed for years due to its elevator being inoperable.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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