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Day 2 – December 26, 1776: First Battle of Trenton
As Washington approached Trenton, he was astounded by the valor of his men, who had marched all night and were still eager to attack. Though a snowy tempest still whirled around them, the squalls now blew at their backs as they raced forward at a brisk pace. Intent on exploiting the element of surprise, Washington wanted his men to startle the Hessians. Emerging from the Trenton woods shortly after eight A.M., he divided his wing of the army into three columns and spearheaded the middle column himself, trotting forward in an exposed position. As his men surged ahead, he reported to Hancock, they “seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward.” Washington heard artillery blasts exploding on the River Road, confirming that the two American wings had coordinated their arrival.
Trenton consisted of a hundred or so houses, long since deserted by their occupants. Knox’s cannon began to fire with pinpoint accuracy down the two main streets, King and Queen, with Alexander Hamilton again in the thick of the fray. “The hurry, fright, and confusion of the enemy was [not] unlike that which will be when the last trump shall sound,” said Knox, who forced the German gunners to abandon their weapons and scatter to the southern end of town.
Colonel Rall mobilized a group of men in an apple orchard, then tried to steer a charge toward Washington. Responding to this move, Washington adroitly positioned his men on high ground nearby. As John Greenwood recalled, “General Washington, on horseback and alone, came up to our major and said, ‘March on, my brave fellows, after me!’ and rode off.” Washington’s quick-witted action stopped the Hessian advance in its tracks. Colonel Rall, who was riddled with bullets, “reeled in the saddle” before being rescued from his horse and carried to a church. Washington conversed with the dying Rall and ordered that all Hessian prisoners be treated honorably. When he learned from Major James Wilkinson of the surrender of the last regiment, he beamed with quiet pleasure. “Major Wilkinson,” he replied, shaking his hand, “this is a glorious day for our country.” Since he had crafted the strategy and led his men to glory, the stunning victory belonged to Washington lock, stock, and barrel. The temperature remained around 32° all day. ~ from Ron Chernow’s GEORGE WASHINGTON: A Life. All Rights Reserved © 2010 Penguin Press. www.ronchernow.com