The Battle of Trenton (Dec. 26, 1776) was a crucial early victory for the American forces in the American Revolution. On Christmas night 1776, Gen. George Washington and about 2,500 Continental soldiers crossed the ice-clogged Delaware River from Pennsylvania; early the next morning they surprised Hessian mercenaries in the British service encamped at Trenton, N.J.
By four in the morning there were nine long miles to cover before wintry dawn. There was no smoking or talking or halting or straggling -- surprise was essential on the road that led to sleeping Trenton and its garrison of tough German professionals.
Soaked muskets became useless, but Washington ordered: "Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet. I am resolved to take Trenton." And for once, bayonets were available. Ice formed on the roads. Men fell in a clatter of equipment, were pried to their feet, and went stumbling on. Overhead the eastern sky began to pale. The columns broke into what a soldier later called a "long trot."
The hundred-odd scattered houses of Trenton lay silent under the storm, and ice glinted on picket fences, orchards, and the hulking stone barracks built to house Royal troops during the old French wars.On high ground at present Princeton Avenue, Washington appeared with his staff, and threw in Lord Stirling's brigade, spearheaded by George Weedon's 3rd Virginia. Americans under Captain William Washington and Lt. James Monroe cut down the gunners about two Hessian fieldpieces. Arthur St. Claire's brigade was in, and John Stark, leading its right element, "dealt death wherever he found resistance and broke down all opposition before him."As their firearms dried out, riflemen took aim and muskets began to pop all along the line. Colonel Johann Raul, Commanding Officer of the Hessian troops, still dazed from his holiday celebrations, raged up and down King and Queen streets, bravely trying to rally his men. Then he was down, mortally wounded. Sullivan swung his whole command up from the river to meet St. Claire crashing down from the north, and the remnants of the Trenton garrison downed arms in a dripping, winrty orchard.The whole affair had lasted less than three-quarters of an hour.American casualties were light, but the Hessian commander was mortally wounded in the ensuing battle, and more than 900 of his men were captured. Washington also came away with badly needed arms and stores. After their earlier defeats in New York, the Trenton victory restored the Americans' flagging morale.