Washington Crossing the Delaware
By Dec 25, 1776, the Continental Army under General George Washington had suffered many defeats against the British as the Americans were battling for freedom from England. They had lost the city of New York along with other strategic locations. General Washington decided to try a daring strategy on the night of December 25 because a victory of some sort would encourage the troops.
The British had hired German soldiers called Hessians to assist them in the fight against the thirteen colonies. They were very well-trained mercenaries, or soldiers for hire. 1500 Hessian troops were camped on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River near Trenton on December 25, celebrating Christmas.
Washington's original plan included three river crossings. One group of troops would land south of Trenton. One would land right at Trenton. Washington himself would cross over to a point about 10 miles north of Trenton with 2400 soldiers and surprise the enemy at dawn on December 26. The river was 300 yards wide at that point. He thought they would squeeze the Hessians this way and defeat them. This was a tricky plan. The other two divisions of the troops couldn't make the crossing, but Washington and his men made it, although they were three hours behind his schedule.
A British spy in General Washington's camp told a British general about the planned crossing. The general told the Hessian commander, Colonel Von Donop, who told Johan Rall at Trenton. He laughed at the possibility that the troops could make it across the river. A storm was coming and it was dark. Luckily, the Americans had brought all their boats to the south side of the river. These were sturdy boats which could cut through the ice. Horses and heavy guns were placed on flat-bottomed boats.
Many of Washington's troops were from New England and were experienced watermen. Those watermen who were from Philadelphia even knew this stretch of the river. At the time of the crossing, a driving rain began, and by 11 p.m., a storm called a nor'easter was in full force. Both snow and sleet hit the troops as they boarded the boats and crossed the Delaware River.
Although the crossing was difficult, Washington knew they would need to bring the big artillery. Colonel Henry Knox oversaw ferrying over 18 cannons, horses to pull the gun carriages and sufficient ammunition to shoot the guns. The guns known as 6-pounders weighed as much as 1750 pounds. After the troops landed on the New Jersey shore, they had to march four more hours to reach Trenton. The procession went for almost a mile. Knox put his artillery at the top of Trenton to be able to control it. The temperature ranged between 29 and 33 degrees, with a cold wind blowing.
Because of all the difficulties, including weather and scheduling, Washington thought about cancelling the maneuver. However, he thought they had come too far to retreat. Just after 8 a.m. on December 26, Washington's troops came forward against the Hessians in three columns, with Washington leading the middle one. The American artillery began to fire also. Unbelievably, they had surprised the Hessians who ran out to get into their formations.
The Americans led the attack on Trenton in two parts. John Stark came from the west. George Washington and Nathaniel Greene came from the north. A Hessian lieutenant incorrectly told the leader that they were surrounded, so they decided to stand and fight. They could have retreated. Rall was killed and the Hessians were confused without their leader. They retreated east, and then surrendered. The Battle of Trenton was the first major military victory for the Continental Army.
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