Revolutionary War: Washington Crossing the Delaware
Colonel Glover's 14th Regiment and the Battle of Trenton
December 26, 1776
British Map made of the Battle of Trenton in April, 1777.
Excerpts from Chapter 1 of "Gen. John Glover and His Marblehead Mariners" by George Athan Billias.
"After marching five miles toward Trenton, Washington’s force split into two divisions. The right wing under General John Sullivan took the lower River Road that ran roughly parallel to the Delaware. The left wing under Washington and General Nathanael Greene marched along the upper or northern route known as the Pennington Road. Washington’s plan was to strike at Trenton from opposite directions and with a simultaneous double-pronged attack to burst upon the Hessians before they could rally any effective resistance.
"Glover struck off down the River Road with the rest of Sullivan’s division, but he had more regiments under his command than the Fourteenth Continental. After his outstanding work in the Long Island evacuation, he had been made commandant of a brigade. His was one of the three brigades under Sullivan; the other two were commanded by General Arthur St. Clair and Colonel Paul Sargent.
"Glancing over his shoulder at the five regiments in his brigade, Glover felt reassured. With him were a hard core of veterans who had fought with him before. Three regiments, his own Fourteenth, Shepard’s Third, and Baldwin’s Twenty-Sixth, had been with him at Pelham Bay when he had made a stubborn stand against a British amphibious landing. The other two regiments, Webb’s Nineteenth and Bailey’s Twenty-Third, had served under him in the White Plains campaign. Along with these infantry units, Glover had a battery of artillery assigned to his command led by Winthrop Sargent, a bright, young Harvard graduate. As matters turned out, Glover’s guns were to play a crucial role in the coming battle.
"The wild night storm increased in fury as dawn drew near, and exposure and fatigue began to take their toll. Having been open to wind and snow during their trips to and from across the Delaware, the men in Glover’s regiment began to succumb to the bitter cold. Lieutenant Joshua Orne became so numb that he fell into a heap by the roadside in slush and snow and could not get up. As he lay there, the snow began to cover his inert form and most of the regiment marched by without seeing him. He would have perished if one of his comrades in the rear of the column had not stumbled upon him.
"Arms as well as men were affected by the weather. Glover’s young son, John, commanding one of the companies in his father’s regiment, discovered that some of the firearms were so wet that they would not function. Word was passed up the chain of command to General Sullivan, who relayed this disquieting news to Washington. Back down from the upper road came the grim and determined reply, 'Advance and charge.' Fixing their bayonets, the men in the Fourteenth prepared to fight at close quarters.
"The storm tormenting Washington’s men shielded them as well. Dawn broke before Trenton was sighted but, with wind and snow whipping into their faces, Hessian sentries did not spot the attacking force. The three enemy units in town—Rall’s regiment, clad in dark blue; the Lossberg, garbed in livid scarlet; and the Knyphausen, in menacing black—were just beginning to stir when the attack came.
"Washington’s plan for a simultaneous assault came off with perfect timing. Greene’s division ran into the first enemy outpost shortly after eight o’clock. "Der Feind! Heraus!" shouted startled Hessian sentries. Their shouts were still ringing in the morning air when Sullivan’s division ran into the first enemy outpost at the opposite end of town three minutes later.
"The attack was brilliantly executed. To the north, the American column raced down Pennington Road, and one brigade peeled off to the right to attack the upper part of the town from the west. The rest of Greene’s division continued on until it reached the intersection of King and Queen streets where Knox’s cannon were wheeled into position to fire down the two main thoroughfares of Trenton. Greene then threw some troops farther east to prevent any of the Hessians from fleeing to the northeast in the direction of Princeton. Now the only escape route remaining open was over the bridge at Assunpink Creek in the lower part of town.
"Sullivan’s division, with Glover’s brigade near the head of the column, drove in the Hessian pickets on the River Road on the outskirts of town. Glover’s brigade then took up the chase and pursued the retreating guards pell-mell into the lower part of Trenton. Entering Front Street, the brigade drove hard toward the southeast to reach the west side of Queen Street. Here they came upon part of Rail’s regiment retreating from the hot fire of cannon at the head of the street. Taking cover behind a red board fence, Glover’s men blazed away at the confused Hessians and caught them between two fires.7
"The Hessians farther south of town, seeing that they had no chance, quickly fled over the stone bridge at the Assunpink and disappeared in the direction of Bordentown.
Reprinted from Appeal to Arms by Willard M. Wallace, by permission of Harper & Brothers. Copyright, 1951, by Willard M. Wallace.
"Glover’s men dashed after them in hot pursuit until they had crossed the bridge. Then Glover had a better idea. Wheeling his guns into position on the high ground just south of the creek and to the left of the bridge, he bottled up the last escape corridor of the enemy troops still trapped in town.
"The battle quickly came to an end. Remnants of two Hessian regiments surrendered to Greene’s troops, who ringed the town to the east and northeast. To the southeast, elements of the Knyphausen regiment headed for the bridge to try to make their escape. Discovering that Glover’s men were already there, the Hessians fell back to the east along a path that ran just above the Assunpink with the hope of finding some place where they could ford the creek. St. Clair’s brigade drove them into a low swampy area where two enemy cannon bogged down. As the enemy struggled to get these field pieces free, Glover’s guns from the opposite side of the creek raked them with hot fire.19 Pinned down by Glover’s artillery on their flank, blocked by St. Clair’s brigade to their front, and with their backs against the freezing waters of the Assunpink, most of the Knyphausen regiment decided to surrender. Some few brave souls made a break across the icy creek and, neck-deep, struggled to safety on the other side.
"By ferrying Washington’s force across the Delaware, Glover’s men had made the attack on Trenton possible; by cutting off the enemy’s last route of retreat, they had made success certain. They had still one more contribution to make, to consummate the victory. Some 950 Germans had been taken, and Washington decided to move them across the river on the very day of the battle lest the British counterattack and free the prisoners. It was Glover’s men who ferried the prisoners and spoils back over the Delaware.
"Recrossing the river took even longer because more trips were necessary. If anything, river conditions were worse because there was more ice and the waters were still high. Once again, most of the crossings took place at night, for it was nearly dark before the first boatload of prisoners was ferried over. Nor did the operation go smoothly; on one trip an entire boatload of Hessian officers was nearly lost when one craft capsized.
"The night of the 26th was nearly over before the last of the American troops were brought back over. Glover’s men were on the verge of exhaustion. They had been rowing and poling boats and marching and fighting for nearly thirty-six hours. "We . . . did not get to our Tents till next Morning," wrote a young captain in Glover’s brigade, "two Nights and one day in as violent a storm as I ever felt."20
"The battle of Trenton, though small, produced great results. The victory helped to turn the tide in the Revolutionary War by boosting American morale, enhancing the prestige of the Continental Army, and restoring Washington’s reputation as a military leader. As Trevelyan put it so eloquently, "It may be doubted whether so small a number of men were ever employed so short a period of time with greater and more lasting results upon the history of the world."21 In view of the major role that Glover’s men played in fashioning the victory, it seems fitting that the statue of Private John Russell of the Fourteenth Continental today stands guard at the base of the Trenton battle monument."
Revolutionary War: The Battle of Trenton
Last modified: January 20, 2013