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Washington stands in front of a white horse whose reins are held by a soldier. Washington holds a spyglass in his right hand, and his left hand rests on his sword. His uniform is a blue coat over gold waistcoast and pants. In the dark background there are more men in uniform, one of whom is carrying an American flag.

George Washington Before the Battle of Trenton, by John Trumbull, 1792

The Battle of Trenton was fought on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War campaign for New Jersey. In a surprise attack, the Continental Army led by George Washington attacked the winter quarters of a brigade composed primarily of German troops from Hesse-Kassel in Trenton, New Jersey.[1] The Hessian brigade was under the command of Colonel Johann Rall; he died of wounds sustained in the battle, and about two thirds of his men were taken prisoner.[2] It was the first major victory after a long string of defeats that had resulted in the loss of New York City, and was a significant boost to American morale.[3][4] It was followed by two more American victories, first in a second battle at Trenton on January 2, 1777, and then on January 3 at Princeton.[5]

Most of the German brigade comprised three Hessian regiments: those of Rall, von Lossberg, and von Knyphausen. The remainder of the brigade consisted of artillery corps attached to each regiment, a detachment of Jäger, and a small company of British dragoons. The attacking American army consisted of units from the Continental Army, including companies of its artillery, and a few companies of militia. Additional units were intended to also participate either in the attack, or in diversions to draw attention from the main thrust; these units failed to cross the icy Delaware River and did not participate in the action.

Hesse-Kassel and British Army[]

A stained and discolored manuscript sketch. The two man roads of Trenton run parallel north-south, with the bridge over Assunpink Creek just to the south. Further south and west the wide Delaware River is shown. The American force indicators are shown moving along two roads that approach Trenton from the northwest; some forces move across the bridge to the southeast side of the creek, while others envelop the Hessian forces attempting to form up to the east of the town.

A Hessian's sketch of the Battle of Trenton

After the war broke out in 1775, the British government realized that it would need more troops than it could raise on its own to fight the war, so it sought to hire troops from willing third parties in Europe.[6] All of these hired troops came from German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire. The single largest contingent, with more than 12,000 arriving in North America in 1776, came from the Landgraviate of Hessen-Kassel.[7] The garrison that was quartered at Trenton was a brigade of about 1,400 men, almost all from Hesse-Kassel, under the command of Colonel Johann Rall. The brigade was composed of three regiments, each of which had an artillery company attached. Also included in the brigade were a company of Hessian Jäger (basically light infantry) and a small company from the British 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons.[8]

The Hessian regiments were named for their formal commanding officers. Since many general officers were also commissioned as colonels of regiments, they were often not present with the regiment, or were busy with their other duties even if the regiment fell under their higher-level command. Since Rall commanded the entire brigade, his regiment's operations were directed by its lieutenant colonel, as were the regiments of Lieutenant Generals Wilhelm von Knyphausen and Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg, the second and third ranking general officers in the North American forces of Hesse-Kassel after Lieutenant General Leopold Philip von Heister.[9]

The information in this table is based primarily on the reports of surviving Hessian officers submitted during inquiries into the disaster demanded by Frederick II, the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel,[10] with some estimates provided by David Hackett Fischer and other historians. The reported strengths do not include the 28 regimental officers.[8] The casualty figures are from an official Hessian return (a formal report on the unit's strength) that also does not include officers.[11] Officers killed or who died of their wounds included Col. Johann Rall and Maj. Friedrich von Dechow, the acting commander of the Knyphausen regiment.[12]

Hessian and British units
Unit Commander Unit size Casualties Notes
Rall's Brigade Lt. Col. Johann Rall 1,354 17 killed
78 wounded
868 captured[12]
Grenadier Regiment Rall Lt. Col. Balthasar Brethauer(acting) 512 12 killed
10 wounded
290 captured[11]
This regiment was the "regiment of the day" and had consequently been on alert.[13] It was part of a counterattack to recover some Hessian guns that had been abandoned, during which Rall went down with a mortal wound.[14]
Fusilier Regiment von Lossberg Lt. Col. Francis Scheffer (acting) 345 4 killed
55 wounded
260 captured[11]
Lossberg's regiment managed to regroup with Rall in an orchard east of town, and participated in the counterattack to retrieve the Hessian guns. It suffered the highest number of killed and wounded; "lost in this affair 70 killed and wounded".[15]
Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen Maj. Friedrich Ludwig von Dechow (acting) 429 1 killed
13 wounded
310 captured[11]
This regiment attempted to escape to the south across the Assunpink Creek, but was blocked first at the bridge and then in attempts to ford the creek.[16] Fifty of its men swam across the icy creek and reached Princeton ten hours later.[17]
Artillery Lt. Friedrich Fischer 6 guns total; personnel are counted with their assigned regiments Casualties are counted with their assigned regiments Many of the artillerymen escaped across the Assunpink Creek bridge after abandoning their guns early in the battle.[17]
Lt. Johann Engelhardt
Jägers Lt. Friedrich von Gröthausen 50 estimated Stryker does not report any casualties for this unit. This company retreated across the Assunpink Creek bridge after skirmishing with the van of Sullivan's division.[17]
British 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons None listed 18 estimated Stryker does not report any casualties for this unit. This company was stationed near the Assunpink Creek bridge and escaped across it early in the action.[18]
Totals 1,382 22 killed
83 wounded
891 captured[12]
Unit size includes 28 officers not counted in rank and file. Casualties include the following officer casualties: 5 killed, 5 wounded, 23 captured. Captured includes the wounded; the entire Hessian officer corps was captured or killed.[12]
Unless otherwise cited, the information in this table is provided by Fischer, p. 396.

Continental Army[]

A group of about a dozen men is shown standing about. Each wears a different style of uniform, varying the hat, color of the jacket and its facing, color and cut of the waistcoat, color of the pants, and style of footwear. One man wears ranger garb, consisting of leather tunic, pants, and moccasins.

Watercolor by Charles M. Lefferts depicting various Continental Army uniforms

Washington organized his army into two columns for the attack on Trenton. After crossing the Delaware River, Brigadier General Adam Stephen's troops guarded the bridgehead while the remaining troops crossed. The divisions marched together for several miles before taking different roads into Trenton.[19] Stephen's men led Major General Nathanael Greene's division southward along an inland road (which was accompanied by Washington and his entourage), while Major General John Sullivan's division followed a road along the river, intending to prevent the Hessians from retreating across the Assunpink Creek.[20]

Most of the figures in this listing are derived from a return prepared by George Washington on December 22, 1776, four days before the battle. Historian David Hackett Fischer includes estimates made by either himself or other historians for strength counts that were not provided in Washington's return. The counts include all officers and musicians, in addition to the rank and file marked as present and fit for duty.[21] Washington required everyone to carry muskets, including officers and musicians who did not normally carry them.[22]

American casualties in the battle were very light, and are therefore not listed in the table below. Two Virginia officers, Capt. William Washington and Lt. James Monroe of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, were injured, as was James Buxton, an ensign in the 4th Virginia Regiment.[23][24] (Monroe, the future United States president, suffered a wound to the neck that very nearly killed him. His life was saved by a doctor who volunteered his services to the army as it marched through New Jersey that morning.)[25] Two privates are known to have died in the battle, and one account includes mention of two men dying from exposure on the march. The most pessimistic estimate of American casualties lists four killed and eight wounded,[23] although Fischer points out that many more American troops probably died of non-combat causes (including illness, hypothermia, malnutrition, and exhaustion) in the days and weeks following the campaign of late December and early January.[26]

Continental Army
Unit Commander Unit size Notes
Commander-in-Chief Maj. Gen. George Washington Washington rode with Greene's division, and observed the battle from high ground above the town near the artillery companies.[27]
Commander-in-Chief's Guard Capt. Caleb Gibbs about 75 This unit's assigned task was the protection of Washington and his papers.
Secretary Lt. Col. Robert Hanson Harrison
Washington's aides-de-camp Lt. Tench Tilghman
Lt. Col. Richard Cary
Lt. Col. Samuel Blachley Webb
Adjutant General Col. Joseph Reed Reed accompanied militia Brig. Gen. John Cadwalader's brigade in its failed crossing of the Delaware.[28]
Quartermaster General Col. Stephen Moylan
Commissary General Lt. Col. Joseph Trumbull
Paymaster General Col. William Palfrey
Muster Master General Col. Gunning Bedford
Director of the General Hospital Dr. John Morgan
Chief Engineer Col. Rufus Putnam
Greene's Division Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene 2,690 Washington rode with this division.[20]
Stephen's Brigade Brig. Gen. Adam Stephen 541 This brigade served as bridgehead and advance guard,[29] and formed part of the center of Greene's line for the attack, along with Stirling's brigade.[30]
4th Virginia Regiment Lt. Col. Robert Lawson 229 Col. Thomas Elliott was absent.[31]
5th Virginia Regiment Col. Charles Scott 129
6th Virginia Regiment Col. Mordecai Buckner 191
Stirling's Brigade Brig. Gen. William Alexander (Lord Stirling) 673 This brigade formed part of the center of Greene's line for the attack, along with Stephen's brigade.[30]
1st Virginia Regiment Capt. John Fleming 185 No field officers were present.[32]
1st Delaware Regiment Col. John Haslet 108 Col. Haslet was one of several men that fell into the Delaware during the crossing.[33]
3rd Virginia Regiment Col. George Weedon 181
1st Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment Maj. Ennion Williams 199 Col. Samuel Miles and Lt. Col. James Piper were captured in Battle of Long Island. According to Stryker, this unit included the remnants of Atlee's Pennsylvania State Musketry Battalion (decimated at Long Island),[34] while Fischer places those remnants with the 6th Virginia Regiment.
Mercer's Brigade Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer 838 This brigade lined up on Greene's right for the attack.[30]
20th Connecticut Regiment Col. John Durkee 313
1st Maryland Regiment Lt. Col. Francis Ware 163 Col. John Stone was recruiting in Maryland.[35]
5th Massachusetts Regiment Maj. Ezra Putnam[35] 115 Fischer lists Col. Israel Hutchinson in command; Stryker says Hutchinson and Lt. Col. Benjamin Holden were absent.[35]
Bradley's Battalion, Connecticut State Troops Capt. Benjamin Mills 142 Fischer lists Col. Philip Burr Bradley in command; Stryker indicates all field officers were absent.[31]
Maryland Rifle Battalion Volunteers Capt. David Harris 105 Lt. Col. Commandant Moses Rawling was absent, wounded in the Battle of Fort Washington.[31]
Fermoy's Brigade Brig. Gen. Matthias Alexis Roche de Fermoy 638 This brigade lined up on Greene's left for the attack.[30] At a key point in the battle, Washington ordered the brigade to extend Greene's line further to its left to avoid a potential flanking maneuver.[36]
1st Pennsylvania Regiment Col. Edward Hand 254 Hand's men were first assigned to cover the Princeton road.[37]
German Continentals Col. Nicholas Haussegger 374 Near the end of the battle, these German immigrants called out to the Hessians in German to lay down their weapons.[38]
Sullivan's Division Maj. Gen. John Sullivan 2,624 estimated General Sullivan accepted the surrender of Maj. von Dechow, who was mortally wounded and seeking safety.[39]
Glover's Brigade Col. John Glover 1,259 estimated This brigade crossed the Assunpink Creek and took up positions on the far side of the bridge to prevent the enemy's escape across the bridge.[40]
14th (Marblehead) Regiment Maj. William R. Lee Fischer lists Col. John Glover in command; Stryker says Major Lee commanded while Glover led the brigade.[41]
3rd Massachusetts Regiment Col. William Shepard
19th Connecticut Regiment Col. Charles Webb
23rd Continental Regiment Col. John Bailey
26th Continental Regiment Col. Loammi Baldwin
Sargent's Brigade Col. Paul Dudley Sargent 865 estimated This brigade also crossed the Assunpink Creek bridge and took up positions above the bridge to catch men trying to ford the creek.[40]
16th Continental Regiment Capt. James Perry Fischer lists Sargent in command; Stryker indicates Perry, the next senior officer, commanded while Sargent led the brigade.[42]
Ward's Regiment Connecticut Continentals Col. Andrew Ward
6th Battalion Connecticut State Troops Col. John Chester Stryker claims this unit did not cross the river.[43]
13th Continental Regiment Lt. Col. Ebenezer Clap[43] Col. Joseph Read was absent.[43]
1st Regiment MacDougall's New York Continentals Capt. John Johnson The colonelcy was vacant with the promotion of Alexander MacDougall to brigadier general, and the other command positions were also vacant.[43]
3rd New York Regiment Lt. Col. Baron Friedrich von Weissenfels Col. Peter Gansevoort was absent.[43]
St. Clair's Brigade Brig. Gen. Arthur St. Clair 500 estimated This brigade entered the lower end of town, near the bridge, and engaged the Hessians on King Street.[25]
5th Continental Regiment Col. John Stark Stark's men led the initial attack against the jäger outpost on the river road.[44]
8th Continental Regiment Col. Enoch Poor
2nd Continental Regiment Col. Israel Gilman Stryker lists Gilman as Lt. Col., with a vacant colonelcy. The previous colonel, James Reed had been promoted to brigadier general, and was sick at Peekskill, New York.[42]
15th Continental Regiment Col. John Paterson[45]
Artillery Col. Henry Knox 418 estimated; 16 guns Knox oversaw and coordinated the crossing of the Delaware River.[46]
New York Company of Continental Artillery Capt. Sebastian Baumann 3 guns, 80–85 men Marching with Greene's division, this company and others occupied high ground that commanded Trenton's main roads.[27]
Massachusetts Company of Continental Artillery Capt. Lt. Winthrop Sargent 2 guns, 55 men estimated Capt. Thomas Pierce was absent, wounded.[47] This unit marched with Sullivan's division,[48] and was eventually stationed on south shore of the Assunpink Creek. Its gunfire obstructed attempts by the Knyphausen regiment to ford the creek.[49]
New York State Company of Artillery Capt. Alexander Hamilton 2 guns, 36 men Marching with Greene's division, this company occupied high ground that commanded Queen Street, one of Trenton's main roads.[50]
Eastern Company, New Jersey State Artillery Capt. Daniel Neil 2 guns, 63 men This unit marched with Sullivan's division.[48]
Western Company, New Jersey State Artillery Capt. Samuel Hugg 2 guns, 55 men estimated This unit marched with Sullivan's division.[48]
2nd Company, Pennsylvania State Artillery Capt. Thomas Forrest 2 guns, 52 men Marching with Greene's division, this company occupied high ground that commanded King Street, one of Trenton's main roads.[50]
2nd Company, Philadelphia Associators Capt. Joseph Moulder 3 guns, 85 men This unit marched with Sullivan's division.[48]
Philadelphia Troop of Light Horse Capt. Samuel Morris 25 cavalry[51] According to Stryker, this unit rode with Greene's division; it is not clear from sources if it was brigaded in any way. Fischer lists the unit as "not with the Continental Army".[48][52] Its assignments included patrolling the area around Trenton in the aftermath of the battle and the retreat across the river.[53]
Total Size 5,422 estimated
Unless otherwise cited, the information in this table is provided by Fischer, pp. 390–393.

Other American units in the campaign[]

Emanuel Leutze's 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware

Although the main Continental Army force was the only American formation involved in the attack on Trenton, Washington had planned two additional crossings of the Delaware to assist in the attack. Pennsylvania militia Brigadier General John Cadwalader's brigade, composed of militia companies called associators and a number of smaller Continental Army regiments, did get some units across the river at Dunk's Ferry, but ice jams on the far side made it impossible to cross everyone, including Cadwalader and the artillery, and the effort was abandoned.[54] A battalion of Marines under Major Samuel Nicholas was attached to Cadwalader's brigade but did not participate in Battle of Trenton.[citation needed] Pennsylvania brigadier James Ewing was unable to cross any of his troops (militia companies that had been assigned to the reserve force known as the Flying Camp earlier in the year) due to difficult icy conditions at the Trenton Ferry.[55] Ewing's artillery did fire across the river during the battle.[44]

Other American units
Unit Commander Unit size Notes
Cadwalader's Brigade Brig. Gen. John Cadwalader 2,322 estimated Some crossed at Dunk's Ferry but then withdrew.[54]
Philadelphia Associators Capt. George Henry[56] 1,500 estimated The Associators (or at least some of them) and the Delaware militia were the only troops that successfully crossed the Delaware. They returned after it was clear the artillery could not be crossed, upon which Cadwalader and Hitchcock abandoned the effort.[57]
Morgan's Regiment, Philadelphia Militia Col. Jacob Morgan
Bayard's Regiment, Philadelphia Militia Col. John Bayard
Cadwalader's Regiment, Philadelphia Militia Lt. Col. John Nixon
Matlack's Rifle Battalion, Philadelphia Militia Col. Timothy Matlack
Kent County, Delaware Militia Company Capt. Thomas Rodney
Two artillery companies
Hitchcock's Brigade Col. Daniel Hitchcock[57] 822 estimated
Nixon's Regiment, Massachusetts Continentals Col. John Nixon 156[58] The numbers from Hitchcock's brigade were published in Wright from the General Return of 22 December 1776 and are hard to read.
Varnum's Regiment, Rhode Island Continentals Col. James Varnum 138
Hitchcock's Regiment, Rhode Island Continentals Maj. Israel Angell 114 Angell commanded because Hitchcock led the brigade.
Little's Regiment, Massachusetts Continentals Lt. Col. William Henshaw[59] 168 Col. Moses Little was sick at Peekskill, New York.[60]
Lippitt's Regiment, Rhode Island Line[61] Col. Christopher Lippitt 171 Wright called this unit a Continental Army regiment, whereas Fischer listed it as militia.
Ewing's Brigade, Pennsylvania Militia of the Flying Camp Brig. Gen. James Ewing 1,000–1,200[62] This brigade was to cross at the Trenton Ferry, directly across from the town.[55] Fischer lists fewer units than Stryker does, estimating the brigade to have 826 men.
Cumberland County Regiment Col. Frederick Watts
Cumberland County Regiment Col. William Montgomery
Lancaster County Regiment Col. Jacob Klotz
York County Regiment Col. Richard McCallister
Chester County Regiment Col. James Moore
Detachment, Bucks County Regiment Col. Joseph Hart This unit is not listed by Fischer, but is listed by Stryker as part of Ewing's brigade. Stryker estimates that this unit and Dickinson's New Jersey militia combined numbered between 300 and 500 men.[62]
New Jersey militia Brig. Gen. Philemon Dickinson These units are not listed by Fischer, but are listed by Stryker as part of Ewing's brigade.[62]
Detachment, 1st Regiment Hunterdon County, New Jersey militia Col. Isaac Smith
Detachment, 2nd Regiment Middlesex County, New Jersey militia Col. John Neilson
Unless otherwise cited, the information in this table is provided by Fischer, p. 392.


  1. Ketchum, pp. 239–255
  2. Ketchum, pp. 255–268
  3. Fischer, p. 257
  4. Ketchum, pp. 273–275
  5. Fischer, pp. 287–343
  6. Fischer, p. 52
  7. Eelking, p. 23
  8. 8.0 8.1 Fischer, p. 396
  9. Eelking, pp. 283–284
  10. Ketchum, pp. 325–326
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Stryker, p. 408
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Fischer, p. 405
  13. Fischer, p. 240
  14. Fischer, p. 248
  15. Fischer, p. 249
  16. Fischer, pp. 251–252
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Fischer, p. 254
  18. Fischer, p. 253
  19. Fischer, p. 222
  20. 20.0 20.1 Fischer, p. 230
  21. Fischer, pp. 390–393
  22. Fischer, p. 207
  23. 23.0 23.1 Fischer, p. 406
  24. Fischer, p. 221
  25. 25.0 25.1 Fischer, p. 247
  26. Fischer, p. 255
  27. 27.0 27.1 Fischer, p. 244
  28. Fischer, p. 215
  29. Fischer, pp. 220,222
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 Fischer, p. 235
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Stryker, p. 353
  32. Stryker, p. 351
  33. Fischer, p. 219
  34. Stryker, p. 350
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Stryker, p. 352
  36. Fischer, p. 246
  37. Fischer, p. 237
  38. Fischer, p. 251
  39. Stryker, p. 179
  40. 40.0 40.1 Fischer, p. 252
  41. Stryker, p. 356
  42. 42.0 42.1 Stryker, p. 354
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 43.3 43.4 Stryker, p. 355
  44. 44.0 44.1 Fischer, p. 239
  45. Egleston, pp. 98,463
  46. Fischer, p. 218
  47. Stryker, p. 357
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 48.3 48.4 Stryker, p. 142
  49. Stryker, p. 178
  50. 50.0 50.1 Stryker, p. 158
  51. Stryker, p. 358
  52. Fischer, p. 392
  53. Stryker, p. 208
  54. 54.0 54.1 Fischer, pp. 214–215
  55. 55.0 55.1 Ketchum, p. 268
  56. Dwyer, p. 243
  57. 57.0 57.1 Dwyer, p. 244
  58. Wright, p. 96
  59. Proc. Mass. Hist. Society, Vol 15, p. 72
  60. Johnston, p. 189
  61. Wright, p. 230
  62. 62.0 62.1 62.2 Stryker, p. 347


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