Trenton Battle Monument
Dedicated in 1893, this monument commemorates the American victory in the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. The battle served as critical turning point in the war as the British had routed the Continental army in previous engagements and many of the Continental enlistments were scheduled to end at the beginning of the new year. General George Washington was desperate for a victory that would encourage the troops to sign on again and to bring in new enlistments to keep the army alive. For this reason, on Christmas night General Washington decided to attack a Hessian encampment across the Delaware River in Trenton. Using small boats, Washington and his army crossed the nearly frozen Delaware River during the night. The plucky American force was able to completely surprise the experienced Hessian mercenaries, providing a critical victory that prevented soldiers and political leaders alike to continue supporting the revolution.
Backstory and Context
The Trenton Battle Monument, completed in 1893, commemorates one of the most pivotal moments in American history. On December 26, 1776, George Washington led his force of 2400 Continental troops across the Delaware River into Trenton, New Jersey to conduct a surprise attack on Hessian (German) troops. The Hessian general dismissed the warnings of attack and as a result the British suffered dozens of dead and wounded (the rest were becoming prisoners) while not on American soldier was killed; it was a total victory for the Continental Army. The monument stands at the exact location where Washington's canon was located, which prevented a British escape. It is 150 feet tall and atop rests a 13-foot bronze stature of George Washington with his arm extended pointing the direction the canon faced (down Warren Street). The monument is hallowed and there is an elevator inside enabling visitors to go to the top platform to view the surrounding landscape (it is not clear if this is still possible today). The monument is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Continental army had suffered a long string of losses at the hand of the British army and was reeling at the end of 1776. Washington had caught a break when the British decided not to pursue him further and decided to just set up camp for the winter. Washington knew that he needed to create some positive momentum to the war and in a hope that a victory would encourage his men to reenlist and get more enlistment from more men. So, Washington decided to go forward with a surprise attack that was scheduled for December 26 in hopes of catching the Hessian off guard. In order to accomplish this feat though he would have to pull off a surprise journey across the nearly frozen Delaware River during the middle of the night.
The event of Washington crossing the Delaware has become an iconic event of the Revolutionary War, with the painting depicting Washington standing bold in the boat in the front leading the charge across the river. However, this is not how the event took place secrecy was key to the whole battle plan nobody would have been standing in that manner trying to give away their actions. Washington had planned a 3-pronged attack with two smaller forces crossing below Trenton and his main force crossing above Trenton. The journey across the river was not an easy one because the river was full of ice chunks and in fact the two smaller forces was unable to even make it across because the ice was packing. The journey took Washington longer than he had expected because the crossing took longer, and they had to proceed through a blizzard. For this reason, the army had very little time to make the march to the Hessian encampment before dawn. The Hessian’s outpost fired on the Continental army but the commander at Trenton just thought it was more small patrols.
Washington had split his army in two and both arrived in time to lay a trap for the Hessian troops, Washington positioned his men to circle the enemy thus cutting off their attempts at retreating. The Hessian's tried to fight off the Americans in a very quick lopsided battle, however when their attempts at fending off the American attackers the Hessian's found most of their exits were cut off forcing the majority of the Hessian troops to surrender. Less than half of the Hessian were able to escape because of the two small forces were unable to make the crossing. The Americans only lost four lives during the battle and Washington wanted to march on to Princeton as planned but after learning that his other men were unable to make the crossing he called off the attack. This battle set the stage for the Battle of Princeton and brought a new wave of energy to the Revolution.
McCullough, David. 1776. Simon and Schuster, 2005.