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“i Never Have Seen Washington So Determined”

July 2024
3min read

Captain Andreas Wiederhold, Hessian forces:

On December 14, 1776, we marched to famous Trenton, which I shall remember as long as I live, and to which place our all too merry Brigadier [Colonel Johann Rail] is said to have brought us by his solicitation. How well he would have done not to have solicited for it! He might perhaps have kept and preserved the undeserved praise which was ignorantly bestowed upon him. But here it all fell into the mud!

Major von Dechow very wisely suggested to throw up some earth-works and to put the cannons into them, so that all might be in readiness for as good a defense as possible in the case of an emergency. “Let them come,” was the Colonel’s answer. “What, earth-works! With the bayonet we will go for them.”… He believed the very name Rail more effectual and stronger than all the fortifications of Vauban and Coehorn together, and no rebel would have the courage to attack him.

An unknown officer on Washington’s staff:

Dec. 23—… Washington has just given the counter sign, “Victory or Death.”… He intends to cross the river, make a ten-mile march to Trenton, and attack Rail just before daybreak.…

Dec. 25—Christmas morning. They make a great deal of Christmas in Germany, and no doubt the Hessians will drink a great deal of beer and have a dance to-night. They will be sleepy to-morrow morning. Washington will set the tune for them about daybreak.…

Christmas, 6 P.M. —The regiments have had their evening parade, but instead of returning to their quarters are marching toward the ferry. It is fearfully cold and raw and a snow-storm setting in. The wind is northeast and beats in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet; others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain.…

Dec. 26, 3 A.M. —I am writing in the ferry house. The troops are all over, and the boats have gone back for the artillery. We are three hours behind the set time. [Colonel John] Glover’s men have had a hard time to force the boats through the floating ice with the snow drifting in their faces. I never have seen Washington so determined as he is now. He stands on the bank of the river, wrapped in his cloak, superintending the landing of his troops. He is calm and collected, but very determined. The storm is changing to sleet, and cuts like a kr.ife. The last cannon is being landed, and we are ready to mount our horses.

Private Elisha Bostwick, Continental Army:

… Finally our march began with the torches of our field pieces stuck in the exhalters. [They] sparkled and blazed in the storm all night and about day light a halt was made, at which time his Excellency [Washington] and aids came near to front on the side of the path where the soldiers stood.

I heard his Excellency as he was comeing on speaking to and encourageing the soldiers. The words he spoke as he passed by where I stood and in my hearing were these:

“Soldiers, keep by your officers. For God’s sake, keep by your officers! ” Spoke in a deep and solemn voice.

… Our horses were then unharnessed and the artillery men prepared. We marched on and it was not long before we heard the out Gentries of the enemy both on the road we were in and the eastern road, and their out gards retreated fireing, and our army, then with a quick step … entered the town.

Colonel Henry Knox, Continental Army:

… Trenton is an open town, situated nearly on the banks of the Delaware, accessible on all sides. … We … entered the town … pell-mell; and here succeeded a scene of war of which I had often conceived, but never saw before. The hurry, fright, and confusion of the enemy was [not] unlike that which will be when the last trump shall sound. They endeavoured to form in streets, the heads of which we had previously the possession of with cannon and howitzers; these, in the twinkling of an eye, cleared the streets. The backs of the houses were resorted to for shelter. These proved ineffectual: the musketry soon dislodged them. Finally they were driven through the town into an open plain beyond. … The poor fellows after they were formed on the plain saw themselves completely surrounded, the only resource left was to force their way through numbers unknown to them. The Hessians lost part of their cannon in the town; they did not relish the project of forcing, and were obliged to surrender upon the spot. … It must give a sensible pleasure to every friend of the rights of man to think with how much intrepidity our people pushed the enemy, and prevented their forming in the town.

Colonel Clement Biddle, Continental Army, to the Committee of Safety:

I have the pleasure to inform you that the Prisoners amount to near one thousand, that their Arms, six brass field pieces, Eight Standards or Colours and a number of Swords, Cartouch Boxes taken in this happy Expedition, are safely arrived at and near this place. If your Honourable Committee could by any means furnish Shoes & Stockings for our Troops it will be a great relief.…

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