The rebellion had been thoroughly crushed. On December 8, 1776, General George Washington took what was left of his battered troops and made his escape across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. As the last American troops began crossing the river, the first Redcoat pursuers arrived at the riverbank. However, they were unable to follow the worn out Americans because Washington had had the foresight to take with him every boat within fifty miles.
Freedoms dream appeared to be dead. The American forces had dwindled to only 5,000 soldiers. With enlistments about to retire at the first of the year, Washington could be left with only 1,200 regulars. The one bright spot was that the over confident British decided to hold up for the winter and take care of what was left of the rebels come spring. British General William Howe took his troops to New York City to enjoy the winter months in relative ease and comfort. Howe did however leave a garrison of German mercenaries called Hessians in Trenton, NJ.
The Hessians expected Washington to attack. In fact, they were exhausted by being on alert for more than a week because of this expectation. This worked to Washington’s favor and he did not disappoint the Hessians. At mid-afternoon Christmas day, Washington and 2,400 of his troops marched nine miles up river to McKonkey’s Ferry. At 6:00 PM, General Washington wrote in his diary, “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 old rags tied around their feet, but I have not heard a man complain.”
During the darkness of night in a storm mixed with snow, rain, and hail, Washington and his troops began crossing the Delaware River. It took almost nine hours for the Continental Army to reach the other side. By 4:00 AM, the Continental Army had crossed the river. The Patriots were cold, wet, and exhausted. Washington urged his men forward. Some of the soldiers left a trail of blood from their bare exposed feet.
When the attack began, the Americans gained the upper hand partly due to the Hessians’ exhaustion. When the Hessians finally tried to assemble their troops, American artillery captain Alexander Hamilton was given the order to fire the cannons at point blank range. The battle was over within two hours. Freedoms dream was alive! That day, Washington and his men killed or captured 1000 Hessians and confiscated many supplies. Washington then took his troops, prisoners, and captured supplies back across the Delaware River victoriously.
This article was a selection from Mark Bowser’s inspiring book “Christmas Hope.” Available on Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00APHCBZU