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was stationed on the Pennington road, a quarter of a mile outside Trenton; and at nearly the same distance further on was the advance-post, which on this occasion was held by a score of the Von Knyphausens under Lieutenant Wiederhold. This young gentleman was a smart officer, especially when criticising his superiors after things had happened; but at the place, and the moment, of all others, he himself was not sufficiently alive to the danger. Chancing to step out of the house at a quarter to eight in the morning, he saw a number of men coming through the edge of the woods about two hundred yards away. They were General Greene's skirmishers; and the main column was close behind. The fight at once began, — fast, furious, and unceasing from the earliest minute to the last. Before the officers in charge of Rall's outposts had time to look about them, the Americans were thick in their front. Along both roads the tide of battle surged with extraordinary violence. The Hessian pickets on the Pennington highway were rolled up, and driven back into the town, a great deal the worse for the collision. Sullivan, in the quarter towards the river, without losing a man of his own, beat in a picket of fifty chasseurs. Hunters and gamekeepers from the German forests, they passed in Europe for dead shots at stags and poachers; but they aimed badly when their target was a backwoodsman with the butt of a rifle at his shoulder. The tactical movements, on which success or failure depended, were conducted with rare precision and marvellous celerity. Even if grass could have grown in such weather, there would have been no great crop of it that day beneath the feet of Washington's people. Greene's two leading brigades filed steadily and swiftly past the northern entrance of Trenton, and formed up in a continuous line extending from the Princeton highway to the Assunpink Creek. His third brigade, which General Mercer commanded, turned off the road by which they had hitherto travelled, got into touch with Sullivan, and assailed the western skirts of the village; while Lord
Stirling, who hitherto had marched at the tail of the column, drew up his slender, but well-tried, battalions of Southern infantry opposite the junction of the two principal streets, on the very spot which Von Donop had marked out as a site for the redoubt that never had been erected.
The net had been drawn, almost without an interstice, around the devoted village before the garrison was arrayed for battle. Their brigade adjutant looked into Rall's chamber at six o'clock, and again at seven ; but on both occasions he found its occupant sleeping heavily. When the rattle of small arms arose outside the town, he a third time knocked loudly at the front door; and the colonel, roused at last, flung on his uniform, and was instantaneously in the street. Fiery soldier that he always was, nothing except the prospect of a fight would have drawn him out of his bed without a grumble. He at once set his troops in such order as was permitted by the hurry, and by the fatal disadvantage of the restricted locality within which he was now reduced to manœuvre. His own regiment fell in some distance down King Street, which was the western of the two thoroughfares; and the Von Lossbergs mustered in Church Alley, at the back of the poplar trees, with orders to clear Queen Street of the rebels. Von Dechow drew up his battalion to the rearward, at a right angle with the rest of the brigade, and faced Sullivan in the southern quarter of the town. But the streets of Trenton, with round-shot already bounding along the causeways, were ill suited for an assembling-ground. Colonel Knox had placed his guns in line as fast as they arrived at the cross-roads, and gave them the range himself; and the Americans had pushed forward so briskly that Alexander Hamilton, — who marched with the reserve, and was therefore the last to unlimber, -- discharged shell with deadly effect into the leading company of the Von Lossberg regiment as it emerged from Church Alley. Of effective response on the other side there was none whatever. The Von Knyphausen cannon got
among the Von Lossberg ranks; while the Von Lossberg cannon remained throughout the affair with the Von Knyphausen battalion, and made a very poor history. For all the damage that they wrought, the German field-pieces might have remained in the arsenal at Cassel; since their fire was at once dominated by the American gunners, who aimed as scrupulously and coolly as if they were shooting at a mark to win a prize for their battery. By the time that the four Hessian cannon which pointed northwards had discharged twenty rounds between them, they had lost half their horses; many of their artillerymen had been struck down; and the remainder were running for their lives.
Meanwhile the town was filling up rapidly with American marksmen, who were busy and efficient in a theatre of action which exactly suited their favourite mode of warfare. The streets were bordered by handsome and commodious houses, standing in enclosed plots of ground, which in summer time were shaded by abundance of elm, and black-oak, and hickory. The fences, dividing one property from another, were lined more thickly every minute by skirmishers, who pelted with musketry the groups of Hessians, huddled up behind the tenements for shelter from the grape-shot which scoured the street. The riflemen, - a privileged class, who went their own way in battle, ensconced themselves under cover from the rain in cellars ? or in upper chambers; wiped their priming-pans dry; and took deliberate shots at every German uniform which showed itself round a corner. Mercer's troops, who had penetrated within the confines of Trenton from the
1 A traveller, who visited Trenton more than a quarter of a century before the battle, described the houses as comfortably built of stone below, with an upper-floor of wood ; standing flush to the street, but apart from each other, and with larger or smaller gardens to the rear of them. Travels in North America, by Professor Peter Kalm, in Volume XII. of Pinkerton's Collection. Professor Kalm may fairly be called the Swedish Arthur Young
2 Professor Kalm especially noticed the cellars at Trenton, which apparently were a feature of the place.
west, fired sharply, and close at hand, into the flank of the Hessians through the pales of a large tan-yard. After no long while Stirling gave the word, and launched his infantry, at a run, down both roads towards the centre of the village. If the German officers had so poor an opinion of generals and colonels who were tradesmen and mechanics, this was the time to prove it; for Knox was a Boston bookseller; Stirling had kept a shop; and Nathanael Greene, when it came to forging an anchor, could hold his own among any gang of hammermen in Rhode Island. The moment, however, was one when social distinctions are apt to be in abeyance. William Washington's Virginians charged for the guns in King Street. Their stalwart captain was shot through both his hands, and Lieutenant Monroe had an artery cut by a ball. If surgical aid had not been promptly forthcoming, he might have died then and there; and his doctrine, which in any case could hardly fail to have been invented, would have borne some different title. But the guns were taken. Rall's own regiment fired two volleys, and then broke and fell back, throwing the left wing of the Von Lossbergs into great confusion. A mighty clamour came from their rear, where Sullivan's division was pushing the Von Knyphausens in hopeless rout across the southern districts of the town. Colonel Stark, who held the rail-fence at Bunker's Hill, commanded the leading regiment, -as active in attack as he had then been obstinate in defence. The names of his people recall the battles of the Old Testament; and they were not behindhand with the Israelites in their zeal to smite an adversary. Fifteen or sixteen New Hampshire men from Derryfield kept constantly to the front, under Sergeant Ephraim Stevens, and Captain Ebenezer Frye; a very corpulent officer who had retained his girth through all the hardship and starvation of the Jersey retreat. They are said to have taken prisoners sixty Hessians, who afterwards professed to have been puzzled and misled as to the
number of their captors by the headlong and desperate character of the onset. The streets were thick to suffocation with the smoke of gunpowder. The sleet came down more dense and blinding than ever. The narrow spaces resounded with the roar of cannon and musket, with shrieks and exclamations, with vehement cheering, and a great deal of swearing in two languages. Words of command were thick in the air; for among Washington's troops there was an excited captain or subaltern to every ten or twelve privates; and some of the German officers exerted themselves bravely and strenuously, although they nowhere could induce their men to stand. Doors and windows on the ground-floor were beaten in; and the dwellings were used as fortresses by the American riflemen, or as asylums by Hessians who sought refuge and concealment beneath Tory roofs. Colonel Knox, with all else that he had to occupy his attention, found time to bestowa compassionate thought upon the residents of Trenton and their hapless families. The scene, terrible to civilian householders, was too much for the nerves of a good many professional soldiers. Several hundreds of the garrison fled across the bridge over the Assunpink Creek, which still was open, and made their way safe to Bordentown. The calamity which they left behind them was so overwhelming that their timely retreat, instead of being censured or punished, was accounted to them for righteousness.?
The Hessian Commander began to be aware that, unless he could extricate his brigade from the streets and by-lanes of the town, it would soon be destroyed piecemeal. He had at first been dazed and mystified by the suddenness and multiplicity of the American
1« The attack on Trenton was a most horrid scene to the poor inhabitants. War, my Lucy, is not a humane trade.” General Knox to his wife ; January 2, 1777.
2 "The number of men who succeeded in escaping plainly shows what the rest could have done if the officers remaining had done their duty, and not put aside the obligations they were under to me, to the honour of my troops, and to their own reputation." Letter of April 1777, from the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel to Lieutenant General von Knyphausen.