Washington's army had for some time had nothing but defeat. This, of course, was very encouraging to the British side. There were only about three thousand men with him, and these were suffering from cold and hunger.
Washington felt that a bold stroke must be made, and that too very soon. He knew that there were encamped just across the Delaware, a body of Hessian troops, who had been hired and sent over here by the English government to fight against the colonists.
Washington knew the ways of these Hessians; and he was quite sure that they would spend Christmas day (1776) in a great celebration, and very likely would be "off guard" in the evening.
It was a terrible night. The sleet and rain were pouring down; it was bitterly cold, and the river so full of broken ice that, in the inky darkness, it seemed almost impossible to get across. But Washington was brave, his soldiers believed in him, and so they struggled on.
It was four o'clock in the morning when the last boat-load of men reached the Trenton shore. They crept silently along the bank to where the Hessians lay, tired out with Christmas revelry, and thus burst suddenly upon their unsuspecting enemy. It was a glorious victory. Hessians were captured almost before they could rub their eyes open. Washington lost hardly ten men in all and captured almost one thousand Hessians, besides cannon, guns, and ammunition. The Hessians were sent off for winter-quarters into central Pennsylvania, where they found many German settlers, who treated them kindly and spoke their own language. They had a very comfortable time there, and always spoke of Washington as "a very good rebel." And so ended with a success at last the year of 1776, which had for some months looked so dark and dismal to the American Army.