America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

Capturing the Hessians

IT was a cold December night, and the little army of General Washington stood upon the banks of the Delaware River, getting ready to cross its icy waters. The men were cold and hungry, tired and discouraged. It seemed as if the war would be lost for lack of men and supplies. The whole country was downhearted.

Not so General Washington. He knew that one victory would raise the hope of the troops and the country, and he proposed to start winning it that night. Over at Trenton were a thousand hired [170] Hessian soldiers, celebrating Christmas. Washington determined to be on hand at the celebration.

"Courage, my men," he cried. "Tomorrow will be a great day, if you can stand this night."

The men got into the boats, and took the oars. Blocks of ice floated by over the frozen river. The wind blew keen and cold. The men shivered and shook, as they steered their boat amid the perils that surrounded them.

At last they were over. What stamping of feet and blowing of hands to keep warm! Then came the long march of nine miles to Trenton, through a blinding snow-storm. Hour after hour passed, while the men stumbled and fell and got up and trudged on and on. No soldiers, except those fighting for home and country and freedom, could have endured through that march. But at last the almost exhausted army came to Trenton.

In the meantime, the hired soldiers of the King of England had been having a great time, drinking and feasting and boasting of what they would do to Washington's army when next they met. The Hessian Commander at Trenton was named Rall. He had made his headquarters in the house of a merchant, one Abraham Hunt. Rail was very fond of drinking and playing cards. On Christmas night, he and Hunt were in a warm room, before [171] a big fire, with plenty to eat and drink at hand; a game of cards was in progress. Just at this moment Washington's army was crossing the Delaware, amid the snow and ice.

A servant came in and handed Rail a note. He thrust it into his pocket, saying, "I will read it later on." But it so happened that he forgot the note, and went on playing cards and drinking. Late in the night, he went to bed and slept, and all the while Washington was drawing closer and closer through the blinding snow!

The next day, Washington was before Trenton. The sun was shining, and his troops were eager and ready for battle. Bursting upon the unsuspecting Hessians, the great battle of Trenton began. It did not last long. All the Hessians, one thousand in number, surrendered, after a hundred had been killed. Washington lost four men, two frozen to death and two killed.

Rail was mortally wounded, and borne to a tavern nearby. It was then that he thought of the note in his pocket, and asked for it. When it was opened it was found to contain a warning of the plans of Washington, which had been sent by a Tory, and delivered to a servant in Hunt's house. What a difference in the history of our country, if the note had been read in time for the [172] Hessians to have met Washington on his way to Trenton!

It was a great American victory, and brought a happy Christmas season to the Colonies when it became known.


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