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6. The Road to Trenton - TravelStorys

Ten Crucial Days

Location Trip Time Travel Type
New Jersey 1.5 hour

6. The Road to Trenton

The Hessians were mercenaries from Germany. In other words, they were hired guns for the British crown. Still, they had fought bravely during the New York campaign and were given the Trenton posting in recognition of that service. But just like the Continental troops, the Hessians faced shortages of supplies and proper clothing. Many were ill and unfit for duty. Even though they were officially in winter quarters, the Hessians felt as if they were still on an active campaign -- dealing with near-daily hit and run harassment raids from the Patriots. The Hessian commander, Colonel Johann Rall, was considered an excellent combat leader. But he had very little respect for the Continental Army and its officers. Because of this, he failed to construct defensive fortifications around Trenton or even to draw up a battle plan on the off chance there might be a large-scale assault. He expected a long winter of annoying, but ultimately fruitless, harassing attacks. He did not expect a major blow. He was, quite literally, about to get the surprise of his life. As the Continental troops got closer to Trenton, they must have expected to encounter one of the Hessian units that regularly patrolled this road. But they never appeared. Perhaps the ferocity of the storm kept the soldiers from venturing too far from their posts. Or maybe a raiding party of Virginia militia earlier that evening lulled the Hessians into a false sense of security that the Americans were done for the day. There is one thing we do know. Contrary to popular myth, the Hessians were not hung over from Christmas festivities the night before. Private Greenwood was pretty firm in his recollection when the Continental Army engaged the Hessians: I am willing to go upon oath that I did not see even a solitary drunken soldier belonging to the enemy — and you will find… that I had an opportunity to be as good a judge as any person there. Back on the approach into Trenton, Washington split his army into two columns at the crossroads just ahead of you -- where the Lower Ferry Road intersection stands today. Half went north with General Nathanael Greene along the Pennington Road and the remainder continued straight under the command of General John Sullivan. Each road was guarded by a Hessian outpost about a mile outside Trenton. Washington needed to make sure both divisions reached these outposts at the same time. The officers synchronized their timepieces, and Sullivan -- who had the shorter route -- delayed his advance. The first shots would soon be fired.

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