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How Did Battle of Trenton Impact the Revolutionary War?

Updated on December 26, 2017
Pendhamma S profile image

Pendhamma Sindhusen is a conservative author on American politics and history and economics

Map of Battle of Trenton
Map of Battle of Trenton | Source
George Washington crossing Delaware river by Emanuel Leutze
George Washington crossing Delaware river by Emanuel Leutze | Source


Marked in 1776 was humble defeats for George Washington. After his continental army was booted out of New York by the British, led by General William Howe, a man sent to America by King George III to command the British troops under General Thomas Gage. Washington’s defeats in series of skirmishes entailed the British occupation of New York, but fortunately, his army survived and fled out of New York. The capture of New York was truly a revenge for Howe after his forces were forced to evacuate from Boston on March 17, the same year. That evacuation was driven into occurrence by the Continental army’s fortification at Dorchester heights which imperiled Howe’s forces in the city. Nevertheless, erelong after abandoning Boston, Howe’s forces with reinforcements from Europe returned and targeted New York. He landed his troops on Staten Island in July. They clashed with Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island in August and managed to outflank his regiments by decoying the Americans to attack 2 luring lines while the attack line flanked them off guard. This strategy dealt a critical defeat for Washington, turning Continental congress members to doubt his ability to lead the army. However, with fog and darkness, Washington managed to abscond to further New York despite Howe’s plan to trap him and his troops. Washington led losses at Kip’s bay, Pell’s Point and more memorable and significant, White Plains during September and October despite successfully detering British troops from landing at Harlem Heights and Throggs neck. Eventually, New York was occupied by the British, sorely diminishing Washington’s reputation. By December, people in the Continental congress were talking about dismissing Washington from the title of commander-in-chief while soldiers in the army were desperate and thinking of being dismobilized by the end of the year (after Washington supplicated them to prolong their time in the army to the end of the year). Severely declined was George Washington’s career. Thus, he decided to devise a new strategy to regain his respect and so as the momentum of the war.

In the evening of December 25, 1776, General George Washington set off 3 prongs to cross the Delaware river from his camp in Pennsylvania to attack the Hessian garrisons assigned and disbursed by the British to protect the city of Trenton. There were George Washington’s line comprised of 2400 men, aiming to attack the Hessians, General James Ewing’s line of 900 troops assigned to seize the bridge over the Assunpink creek, preventing the Hessians from escaping and Colonel John Cadwalader’s line, consisting of 1900 soldiers, committed to attack British garrison at Bordentown and station there in the south to prevent British and Hessian reinforcements from advancing northward to Trenton. Meanwhile, on the other side, Colonel John Rall, in control of the Hessians at Trenton, was cautioned by deserters from the Continental army about the attack. Fortunately for Washington, a small band of rebels attacked the Hessians’ outpost before Washington’s arrival and met Washington’s line on the way. Rall thought the attack was the one he was cautioned and thus, disregarded for strengthening the defense, making it easier for the continentals to launch a surprise attack on Trenton. But, on that day, the plan fizzled out as Ewing’s and Cadwalader’s prongs were unable to cross the Delaware due to the weather condition, making Washington’s the only group to fulfill the plan. Nevertheless, Washington was successful at crossing the icy river though the vile weather delayed his arrival at another bank by 3 hours. At 3 AM, he and his troops landed 10 miles northward away from Trenton and began to march toward Trenton at 4 AM. But, unfortunately, due to the lack of boots for the troops, some of them were forced to wear tatters around their feet. Some of those who wore tatters also had a bleeding feet, turning snow on the ground red and causing 2 of the troops to die because of Hypothermia during the march. At 8 AM, the raid began with the Hessians being perplexed by an unanticipated attack. Washington’s troops were divided into 3 groups, the 2 infantry lines under General Nathaniel Greene and General John Sullivan and another artillery unit under Colonel Henry Knox which heavily barraged on the Hessians from the north of King and Queen streets while Washington himself observed the scene from a high ground nearby. Greene’s division attacked from the north and drive the Hessians out of the outpost while Sullivan’s division entered in the south and blocked the only crossing over the Assunpink creek, depriving the Hessians of their southern escape route. Washington also sent a battalion under Irish born General Edward Hand to seize the road to Princeton to block their escape too. Seeing no chance of survival if stationing in the same cause, Lieutenant Andreas Wiederholdt, commander of the Hessian outpost ordered an organized retreat. Hessian troops used buildings as cover for themselves while tried to return their fire at Washington’s army. While on their retreat, Wiederholdt’s troops were amalgamated by other regiments and companies and attempted to engage the Americans. However, with Americans advancing into the town, they had no other alternative save retreat. By this time, Washington moved to the north of King and Queen streets while Rall and his regiment accompanied by the Knyphausen and Lossberg regiments congregated along the south of the streets. Rall’s regiment would advance to the north of King Street and the Lossberg regiment would do the same on the Queen Street while the Knyphausen would anchor at the same place, stationing as Rall regiment’s reserve. The Hessians were repelled by American cannons’ devastating shots and incessant attacks from an American flank under Brigadier General Hugh Mercer which heavily enfiladed the Rall regiment. Erelong, they fled out of the town while American troops began to seize German cannons whose gunners were already killed and those led by General George Weedon advanced down the King Street. In the meantime, as Sullivan’s division pulverized Hessian force in the south, General John Stark led an assault on the Knyphausen regiment and quickly overcame it, disheartening the Germans from fighting, hence, providing them an idea of escape. Proficient enough, General Sullivan sent troops to barricade the escape ways across the southern creek to prevent the enemies from eschewing the battlefield. By this time, Rall ordered a regroup (but the remnant Knyphausen regiment, although with an order from Rall to join the whole extant army, erroneously misnavigated themselves and was captured by the Americans) and devised a plan to reconquer the town by capturing the high ground in the north. Then, Germans headed toward the King Street with brigade’s band playing marches to countenance the troops. But, visioned by astute Washington were they and their marching. Thus, aware of Rall’s plan, Washington maneuvered his troops in defensive positions and successfully withstood the assailing. In the tumult, Rall was shot twice in his side and hence, mortally wounded. During the night, moribund John Rall died at his headquarter. Aghast at their leader being shot, the dispirited Hessians scattered terribly and mostly fled into an orchard nearby. Washington’s men then pursued and quickly beleaguered them, but offer them terms of surrender. Discerning no better way, 900 Hessians capitulated and were later sent to Pennsylvania and Virginia respectively. After all, out of 2400 Americans, only aforementioned 2 croaked (while on their march) and another 5 wounded including future US President, Lieutenant James Monroe while 22 out of 1500 Hessians were killed and 83 of them were wounded.

George Washington leading his troops at the Battle of Trenton
George Washington leading his troops at the Battle of Trenton
George Washington at the Battle of Trenton
George Washington at the Battle of Trenton | Source
Surrender of the Hessians at Trenton
Surrender of the Hessians at Trenton | Source
Painting of George Washington and his troops marching toward Trenton by  Edward Percy Moran
Painting of George Washington and his troops marching toward Trenton by Edward Percy Moran | Source
The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton by John Trumbull
The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton by John Trumbull | Source

Impacts of the Battle of Trenton

In spite of being small, the Battle of Trenton is of a great and unnegligible significance. It has proved to be vital to the survival of the American Revolution.

In November, Hessians had intimidated and frightened the Americans into dismay when they captured Fort Washington and 2837 Continental troops inside. That dismay vanished after this battle and so did their despair inherited from their loss at previous battles with the British and their loss of New York.

Troops' morale significantly skyrocketed and they were amenable to accept Washington's plea to prolong their service term. Their belief in their capacity of fighting for their divine freedom resurrected.

After British General William Howe successfully conquered New York, revolutionaries began to doubt Washington's aptness as commander-in-chief of the Continental army and some of them were discussing about substituting him with other astute generals or disbanding the army. But, as Washington conquered Trenton, his reputation improved and the doubt perished. People returned their efforts toward winning their rightful freedom.

Events Afterwards

After winning in Trenton, Washington led his troops back across the Delaware and again settled in Pennsylvania. With his troops’ service terms reaching the limits at most by the new year, he supplicated them to protract their terms by six weeks and they amenably accepted his appeal as their morale greatly soared after the battle. His army gained more personnel (civilians who joined the army during the battle) and supplies captured from the Hessian base. On the other side, cognizance of Hessians’ defeat at Trenton impelled British Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis to attempt a recapture of Trenton, thus, he marched his 5000 troops southward from Princeton and left Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood in charge of controlling 1400 men and the city. Aware of Cornwallis’s plan on December 31, 1776, Washington and his troops crossed back the Delaware river and established a defensive position near the Assunpink Creek. On January 2, 1777, the Battle of Assunpink Creek, aka the Second Battle of Trenton, broke out as the British advanced to Trenton by twilight after being retarded by Edward Hand’s band of riflemen. Cornwallis pressed 3 strikes on the Americans, but were thrice repulsed. Ultimately, mirk coerced him into relinquishing his hope of defeating Washington on that day and awaiting sunrise on the next day, so, he encamped nearby. Washington ordered cannons to be fired out in order to distance the British away from Trenton and to assure Cornwallis would not assault his troops during the night. By 2 AM of the next day, Washington and his 4500 troops commenced their march to Princeton to attack Mawhood’s Princeton while leaving 500 men and 2 cannons at Trenton to continually cannonade the British and to hoodwink them into believing of the presence of a large number of troops stationed there. Cornwallis was certain that on the next day, his troops would besiege and capture Washington’s army that he even remarked "We've got the old fox safe now. We'll go over and bag him in the morning." Unfortunately for him, by the time he once again maneuvered his troops to Trenton, there was no American soldier and the aforementioned 500 men had already abandoned their position to join Washington in Princeton. Meanwhile, as the attack was unanticipated, Princeton was not mobilized and was captured by Washington’s troops while Mawhood’s troops pusillanimously fled the city to join Cornwallis in Trenton. Dismally, during what became known as the Battle of Princeton, American general Hugh Mercer was terribly wounded by gunshots and succumbed to his wounds on January 12. For most soldiers, they lost one of their adept leaders, but for George Washington, he lost one of his closest confidants and comrades. Apart of the lamentable loss of a meritorious man like Mercer, the attack proved to be a great conquest for the Americans. Morale among troops significantly buoyed for the second time as most of New Jersey was conquered and British troops were utterly exorcized out of major parts of the state. After the Battle of Princeton, Washington established a winter headquarter at Morristown in northern New Jersey and received more recruits to contend for their rightful independence.


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