UPDATE: "It Was As Severe a Night As I Ever Saw"
December 27, 1776 (LPAC)— It is quite remarkable that the events, which we report here, of the past few days have been victorious, considering the circumstances. Not only was the army lacking food, clothing, and gun powder, but it was on the verge of disbanding, as was the Congress, who were about to throw in the towel and obtain the best terms that could be had from the enemy. It is thought that these pressing concerns moved our great General Washington to make the greatest effort, not only to take Trenton, but to win back the hearts of the citizenry of the colonies, who had been inflicted with doubt. It is these circumstances, as Thomas Paine said in his paper, which we published yesterday, when “he that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman.”
To better give our citizens an understanding of the events that took place, we received several accounts over the past 24 hours. Commander Thomas Rodney, who crossed at Dunker's Ferry with 600 men, but didn’t engage in the battle at Trenton, gave the following account of the conditions, “It was as severe a night as I ever saw, and after two battalions were landed, the storm increased so much that it was impossible to get the artillery over, for we had to walk one hundred yards on the ice to get on shore. General Cadwalader therefore ordered the whole to retreat again, and we had to stand at least six hours under arms—first to cover the landing, and till all the rest had retreated again—and by this time the storm of wind, rain, hail, and snow with the ice was so bad, that some of the infantry could not get back till next day. The design was to have surprised the enemy at Black Horse and Mount Holly at the same time that Washington surprised them at Trenton, and had we succeeded in getting over, we should have finished all our troubles.”
General of Artillery, Henry Knox, who crossed with General Washington at McKonkey’s Ferry, gave us the following account of the battle: “The enemy, by their superior marching, had obliged us to retire on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, by which means we were obliged to evacuate or give up nearly all the Jerseys. Soon after our retiring over the river, the preservation of Philadelphia was a matter exceedingly precarious, --the force of the enemy three or four times as large as ours. However, they seemed content with their success for the present, and quartered their troops in different and distant places in the Jerseys. Of these cantonments Trenton was the most considerable.
“Trenton is an open town, situated neatly on the banks of the Delaware, accessible on all sides. Our army was scattered along the river for nearly twenty-five miles. Our intelligence agreed that the force of the enemy in Trenton was from two to three thousand, with about six field cannon, and that they were pretty secure in their situation, and that they were Hessians,-- no British troops. A hardy design was formed of attacking the town by storm. Accordingly a part of the army, consisting of about 2,500 or 3,000, passed the river on Christmas night, with almost infinite difficulty, with eighteen field-pieces. The floating ice in the river made the labor almost incredible. However, perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible. About two o’clock the troops were all on the Jersey side; we then were about nine miles from the object. The night was cold and stormy; it hailed with great violence; the troops marched with the most profound silence and good order.
“They arrived by two routes at the same time, about half an hour after daylight, within one mile of the town. The storm continued with great violence, but was in our backs, and consequently in the faces of our enemy. About half a mile from the town was an advanced guard on each road, consisting of a captain’s guard. These we forced, and entered the town with them pell-mell; and here succeeded a scene of war of which I had often conceived, but never saw before. The hurry, fright, and confusion of the enemy was [not] unlike that which will be when the last trump shall sound. They endeavored to form in streets, the heads of which we had previously the possession of with cannon and howitzers; these, in the twinkling of an eye, cleared the streets. The backs of the houses were resorted to for shelter. These proved ineffectual: the musketry soon dislodged them. Finally they were driven through the town into an open plain beyond. Here they formed in an instant. During the contest in the streets measures were taken for putting an entire stop to their retreat by posting troops and cannon in such passes and roads as it was possible for them to get away by. The poor fellows after they were formed on the plain saw themselves completely surrounded, the only resource left was to force their way through numbers unknown to them. The Hessians lost part of their cannon in the town: they did not relish the project of forcing, and were obliged to surrender upon the spot, with all their artillery, six brass pieces, army colors, &c. A Colonel Rawle commanded, who was wounded. The number of prisoners was above 1,200, including officers,-- all Hessians. There were few killed or wounded on either side. After having marched off the prisoners and secured the cannon, stores, &c., we returned to the place, nine miles distant, where we had embarked. Providence seemed to have smiled upon every part of this enterprise. Great advantages may be gained from it if we take the proper steps. At another post we have pushed over the river 2,000 men, to-day another body, and to-morrow the whole army will follow. It must give a sensible pleasure to every friend of the rights of man to think with how much intrepidity our people pushed the enemy, and prevented their forming in the town.”
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