United States History: The Hessians in America Part 3

About the German Hessians who came to the United States to fight against the Americans and remained.

The Hessians

While Washington waited with his shivering, ragged troops, Col. Gottlieb Rall, commandant of 1,400 Hessians in the sleepy village of Trenton, across the river, kept his troops busy with endless, comic-opera parades. Rall was a boisterous, party-loving drunk who enjoyed music. Each day he got his musicians out to lead a parade through Trenton, with his troops following in close drill order. He turned a deaf ear, however, to Col. Carl von Donop's advice to fortify the town against attack from those "country clowns," as Rall called them; their activities across the river could hardly be ignored. But Rall had beaten them at Fort Washington and felt nothing but contempt for them.

Washington chose Christmas for the attack on Trenton. He knew that for a good Hessian, Christmas is the season for orgies. He could count on finding a drunken, groggy garrison. Late in the afternoon of Christmas day, the troops began to move down the riverbank, their bare feet swathed in gunnysack, and waited in shivering silence for the early fall of darkness.

Meanwhile, the Hessians were celebrating the Yuletide with considerable abandon, gathered around gaily decorated evergreen trees-the 1st Christmas trees seen in America-as was the custom in Germany, quaffing a liquor called applejack. Colonel Rall spent most of the night playing cards at a party at Postmaster Abraham Hunt's house. A Tory farmer delivered a note warning of the rebel attack, but was refused admittance by Hunt's butler. When the butler gave Rall the note, Rall, too intent on his cards and his applejack, and not too familiar with the English language, stared bleary-eyed at the note and then shoved it into his pocket unread.

The patriots surprised the Hessians about 7 A.M. on December 26. Rall, still groggy, was roused by an aide who left immediately to try and organize the still drunken troops. When Rall emerged onto the street, hung over, half dressed, but with broadsword in hand, he tried vainly to rally his men. Those who weren't mowed down by the bullets flying through the streets fled in panic, stumbling over the white, frozen snow away from the awful onslaught. Christmas ended in disaster for many Hessians in 1776.

Rall sustained 3 gunshot wounds, the last one mortal, and he was carried into the Presbyterian Church where he was laid out in a pew. When the note he had ignored fell out of his pocket, and was handed to him by an aide, he groaned with remorse. For a game of cards and a night of drinking, Rall paid dearly with the loss of Trenton and with his life. Nearly 1,000 Hessians were taken prisoner, 40 were killed or wounded, and 6 cannon and more than 100 muskets were confiscated. Two Americans were killed, 3 wounded.

The victory at Trenton renewed confidence in the hearts of the patriots. Hungry, exhausted soldiers who had thought seriously of deserting before Trenton, now stayed around, curious to see what would happen. Many other young men flocked in from the surrounding country-side to enlist. Trenton had saved the day.

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