Historical Research Maps: The Battle of Trenton

Historical Research Maps: The Battle of Trenton

On the day after Christmas in 1776, George Washington and his troops gave the country a yuletide gift: a decisive victory against British and Hessian forces. Learn about it in this historical map.

Image via the Library of Congress.

On this day 240 years ago, George Washington’s army defeated unsuspecting Hessian soldiers in a surprise attack in Trenton, New Jersey. Still dazed (and, by some accounts, hungover) from Christmas celebrations the night before, the Hessians easily folded before the advancing Patriots, and the British were unsuccessful in retaking Trenton a few days later. The map above displays the two armies’ movements between Dec. 26, 1776, and Jan. 3, 1777, with Continental forces in green and Hessian and British forces in red. The map is also annotated with details of each movement and engagement throughout the week.

Battle maps like this one are filled with valuable details that can help you track military ancestors, particularly if you knew what regiment they served in. Military history buffs will also appreciate the detail, including information about tactical movements, topographical clues and the designations of Hessian soldiers who were captured as prisoners of war. The Library of Congress has several maps like these for the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

The Battle of Trenton was an important moral victory for the Continental Army. Many troops’ enlistment periods were about to end, and Washington needed to convince his men to re-enlist and encourage the public that American victory was possible. Washington lost just a handful troops during the encounter, most due to frostbite rather than combat. (A young James Monroe, who would later become the fourth president of the United States, was wounded during the encounter.)

If the Battle of Trenton isn’t ringing any bells, perhaps you’ll recognize this:

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” is one of the most recognizable pieces in American history, and it displays Washington and his troops in the lead up to the Battle of Trenton. In the early hours between Christmas Day and Dec. 26, Continental troops rowed across the nearly frozen Delaware River to get in position. You can see this advance on the map (“Parade of the Troops on the evening of the 25 of Dec., 1776”), where the river is noted as being “full of Ice.” The army crossed the river a total of three times throughout the week.


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