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The Battle of Trenton was a battle which took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War after Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. General George Washington led the main Continental Army across the river to surprise and virtually eliminate the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. This overwhelming victory helped to preserve the Continental Army and set the stage for the Battle of Princeton the following week.


Trenton was occupied by three regiments of Hessian soldiers commanded by Colonel Johann Rall for a total of about 1,400 men. Washington’s force of about 2,400 attacked in two columns: Major General Nathanael Greene’s division from the north, and Major General John Sullivan’s division from the west. A third division never made it across the river because of the weather but was supposed to attack from the south.

It is said that the Hessians were drunk from celebrating Christmas, so they were not prepared for battle, but this idea is most likely not true. The American victory was aided by John Honeyman, a spy enlisted by Washington, who gathered intelligence in Trenton and misled the Hessian defenders. He was responsible for estimating the strength of the Hessian defenders and for convincing them that the Americans were confused and in no condition to attack. Also, the weather made crossing of the Delaware next to impossible, further enhancing the element of surprise. The Hessians sent out a patrol every night to check for nearby enemy forces, but they were not sent out that night because of the storm. [1]


Delayed by a snowstorm which began at 11:00 p.m. on Christmas Day, the American troops were unable to reach the east bank of the Delaware until 3:00 a.m. on December 26. With the storm still raging, fighting began around 8:00 a.m. and was over by 9 a.m.

Trenton had two main streets, King (now Warren) Street and Queen (now Broad) Street. Rall had been ordered to build a redoubt at the head of these two streets (where the battle monument stands today) by his superior, Count Carl von Donop, whose own brigade was stationed in Bordentown. Von Donop was not in Bordentown. He had marched south to Mount Holly on the 22nd to deal with the South Jersey Rising, and clashed with the New Jersey militia there on the 23rd. An officer of the Hessian engineers, Captain Pauli, was sent to Trenton with those orders but was sent back by Rall, without building the redoubt. When Rall was warned that the Patriots might attack, he replied, “Let them come. We need no trenches. We will go at them with the bayonet.” (In a side note: It is also theorized that Rall completely ignored the warning. It is theorized that he was playing cards when the letter of warning arived and that he simply slipped it into his jacket pocket and forgot about it. The letter then was later found on his body after he was killed in the battle of Trenton.)[citation needed]

A small guard post was set up by the Hessians in Pennington about nine miles north of Trenton, along Washington’s route to the city. When the squad guarding this post saw the large American force on the march, Lieutenant Wiederhold, in command of this Pennington picket, made an organized retreat. Once in Trenton the picket began to receive support from other Hessian guard companies on the outskirts of the town. Another guard company nearer to the Delaware River rushed east to their aid, leaving open the River Road into Trenton. General John Sullivan, leading the southern American column entered Trenton by this route and made it hard for the only crossing over the Assunpink Creek, which was the only way out of Trenton to the south, in hopes of cutting off the Hessian escape. When the 35 Hessian Jägers under the command of Lieutenant Grothausen who were stationed at the barracks on the northern edge of the town saw the vanguard of Sullivan’s forced charging into Trenton, they ran over the Assunpink bridge and left Trenton. Slowly, various companies of the three defending regiments formed and entered battle. Lieutenant Biel, Rall’s brigade adjutant, finally awoke his commander, who found that the rebels had taken the “V” of the major streets of the town where earlier that month Pauli would have constructed the redoubt. The northern American column quickly took this position, and with their cannons denied the Hessians a chance to form in the streets, while the remaining men in the column, and the other column near the river, moved to surround the Hessians.

Rall led his men and the men of the Lossberg regiment, under Lt Col. Scheffer, out of the town and attempted to reorganize and retake the town. The Americans, by this time, occupied the majority of the buildings and, from cover, fired into the ranks of the Rall regiment. The regiment broke and routed back through the ranks of the Lossberg regiment, causing more chaos. The two regiments were surrounded in an orchard south of the town, and from the smoke came the drums and standards playing the parley. Rall could be seen slumped over in his saddle; he was mortally wounded.

At the Assunpink Creek, the Knyphausen regiment, under Lt Col. von Dechow, became cut off from the bridge and was surrounded. The regiment surrendered just minutes before the rest of the brigade. The American forces had suffered only a handful of wounded, although two men died of hypothermia on the march and more the next night, while the Hessians suffered 114 casualties with at least 23 dead, as well as 913 captured. Rall was mortally wounded and died the same day. All four Hessian colonels in Trenton were killed in the battle. The Lossberg regiment was effectively removed from the British forces. Parts of the Knyphausen regiment escaped to the south, but Sullivan captured some 200 men along with the regiment’s cannons and supplies.


By noon, Washington’s force had moved to recross the Delaware back into Pennsylvania, taking their prisoners and captured supplies with them. This battle gave the Continental Congress a new confidence because it proved American forces could defeat regulars. It also increased the re-enlistments in the Continental Army forces. The Americans had now proved themselves against a disciplined European army and the fear the Hessians inspired earlier that year in New York was broken. As Captain Johann Ewald [of the Jägers], who was with von Donop in Mt Holly at the time of the attack, said of the Americans later, “We must now give them the honor of fortifications”.

While only two Americans were wounded, both of the injuries occurred during the Americans’ rush to capture Hessian artillery, to prevent the guns from being used. These wounded were officers: Captain William Washington (the General’s cousin), who was badly wounded in both hands, and young Lieutenant James Monroe, the future President of the United States. Monroe was carried from the field bleeding badly after he was struck in the left shoulder by a musket ball, which severed an artery. Doctor John Riker clamped the artery, keeping him from bleeding to death.[2]

The hours before the battle served as the inspiration for the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. The image in the painting, in which Washington stands majestic in his boat as it is crossing the Delaware River, is more symbolic than historically accurate, since the waters of the river were icy and treacherous, and the flag Monroe holds was not created until six months after the battle. The crossing also occurred before dawn. Many have doubted that Washington stood, but many scholars believe they all stood, albeit in a different type of boat. Nonetheless, the image has become an icon of American history.


  1. ^ pp. 234-262.
  2. ^ Fischer, p. 247.

14 Responses to “1776, 12/26: Battle of Trenton”

  1. 1 Ashton December 16, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    would someone please tell me the difference of the battle of trenton and the battle of Princeton!!

  2. 2 Tom Vollman December 21, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    The Battle of Trenton was fought in Trenton by elements of the American Continental Army against the Hessian (German) mercinary soldiers. When word got back to the British command at Princeton about the defeat of the Hessian troops at Trenton, British General Charles Cornwallis quickly marched from Princeton to Trenton and engaged the American Army in what is called the Second Battle of Trenton. Night fell and Cornwallis had the American troops pinned against the Assunpink River with (seamingly) no method of escape. Satisfied that he would quickly subdue the Americans at first light, he disengaged from the battle to await the morning when he would “Bag the Old Fox” – a reference to his belief that he would receive Washington’s surrender in the morning.

    During the overnight (however) Washington, having instructed some few soldiers to “keep the fires burning” to fool the British soldiers on picket guard to believe the Americans were at rest, stole away from his encampment, quickly marched north along the Quaker Bridge Road toward Princeton. The reason for Washington’s march to Princeton was his belief that the British Tresure chest (gold coin etc. that the British used to finance their operations) must have been left largely unguarded in Princeton since Cornwallis was in Trenton. He wanted the treasure to refit his rag-tag force and pay his soldiers who were on the verge of leaving the Army to return home to their farms and families.

    As Washington approached Princeton, he encountered a contingent of British soldiers quickly moving south toward Trenton to reinforce Cornwallis. It was in an apple orchard just south of Princeton (the Battle field is preserved even to this day )that the American Continental Army engaged the British troops heading south toward Trenton. Washington, exposing himself to grave danger and directly to the oncoming British hail of musket fire, rallied his troops to victory after initial retreat from the well disciplined bayonet charges of the British. It was in this battle that the American general Hugh Mercer (a hero of the first battle of Trenton) was shot and then subsequently bayoneted by British troops. Mercer died of his wounds at the nearby Clark farmhouse (still standing today)several days later.

    The battles of Trenton (1st and 2nd) as well as the Battle of Princeton instilled new life into an American Army that, up to that point, was defeated and broken. This short period of time (about 2 weeks) and the actions taken by American military leaders (specifically Washington, Mercer, Sullivan, Hamilton, and others) saved the American Revolution from extinction.

    • 3 Harry Hoskins May 1, 2009 at 11:11 pm

      looking for information about Captain Daniel Tilden, who I understand commanded a company at Trenton. One of his platoon leaders was Lt. James Madison.

      Really would like a picture of Captain Daniel Tilden. Lost our home in Hurricane Katrina, would like to display his picture on our walls.

      Captain Tilden was the great grand father of Sarah Tilden, who married Lafayette Hoskins, my great great grandfather.

      • 4 Gloria November 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm

        Did you find anything about Captain Daniel Tilden?
        I have an ancestor-Pelatiah Holbrook who served under Tilden in the Lexington Alarm.
        I’m having a real hard time piecing it all together.
        Thank you

      • 5 Marty Hansen July 3, 2017 at 7:39 pm

        Hi, Harry…
        Our ancestor, Captain Daniel Tilden, formed the first cavalry unit in Connecticut. I have a document somewhere that shows him as an Adjutant at the Battle of Trenton.
        There was a retired Doctor named Tilden,..(Benjamin?) who lived at the beginning of Cape Cod. In a duplex? 62 Pleasant Street?
        (Memory is tricky here…:+)) He wrote that he had pictures of ALL his Tilden ancestors on his walls.
        We’re all descended from Nathaniel Tilden, The Elder, who came from Tenterden, Kent about 1631…and settled in Scituate, Mass.
        on “the 2nd oldest continuously operating family farm in New England”
        …until sold by the daughters of Sam & Virginia Tilden…(5 years ago?).

        In our family records, Daniel is remembered for naming Hiram, Ohio
        for buying the drinks at a gathering.
        I thought he and Daniel R. Tilden, the political guy, were two different people. Now…I wonder.
        I do know for certain that our Marcellus Crane Tilden came from Garrettsville, Ohio…to Sacramento…about 1860-61.
        My Great Grandfather.

        Marty Hansen
        Nashville TN

  3. 6 anthony December 21, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for that, Tom!

  4. 8 Ilka G. Miller January 10, 2008 at 5:05 am

    will you please send me a photo of Major Friedrich Dechow,is a Hessian in the Battle of Trenton, Thanks

  5. 9 nikki September 25, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    this was so helpful for my project at school. Keep uo the good work guys!!!!:-)

  6. 10 nikki September 25, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I meant to say was keep up the good work not uo. Woops:-(

  7. 11 Roger Gerard June 12, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I have been told that my Scottish Highland ancestor married the widow, Marie Anne Catherine de Fleury, of a Major Bradley who was killed at the Battle of Trenton. I cannot find a citation anywhere of the death of a Major Bradley at the Battle of Trenton.
    Has anyone any information about a Major Bradley or a Marie Anne Catherine de Fleury/Bradley?

  1. 1 Pages « Friends of the American Revolution Trackback on July 22, 2008 at 9:58 am
  2. 2 Workday Wednesday: Dec. 26, 1776 in Trenton, New Jersey – Heritage Ramblings Trackback on February 11, 2019 at 7:46 pm

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