On December 23, 1776 Thomas Paine wrote "these are the times that try men's souls." George Washington's army was disintegrating after a series of defeats around New York City, and may of his men's enlistments were due to expire at the end of the year. The only thing saving his army was winter and the Delaware River. The British retired to winter quarters in the hopes that either winter, or renewed hostilities in the spring, would end the rebellion.
After asking his men to stay for one last effort, Washington devised a daring plan to stun the British, capture supplies, and reinvigorate American morale. The plan was to ferry his army across the Delaware on Christmas, and strike the Hessian garrison at Trenton. Initially devised as a three pronged attack, a Nor'easter and ice choked river turned back two of Washington's columns. Only the main army, with Washington at its head, made the arduous crossing nine miles to the north of Trenton.
Behind schedule because of the storm, the Americans arrived on the outskirts of Trenton around daybreak on the 26th. Washington split his force into two columns. One, commanded by Nathaniel Greene attacked from the north, while a second under John Sullivan attacked from the west to cut the line of retreat to the south.
The Hessian garrison, under the command of Colonel Johann Rall had been harassed by American militia for several weeks and were exhausted. Despite Washington engaging the pickets on the outskirts of town, Rall was taken completely by surprise. A running fight through town was a decidedly one sided affair. Some Hessians managed to escape, but most were captured, including the mortally wounded Rall.
Washington had won a stunning victory. The army that the British thought was all but defeated had destroyed a major garrison with very light casualties, capturing critical supplies in the process. Emboldened, Washington would recross and cross the Delaware again over the next ten days, fighting a delaying action at the Battle of the Assunpink and winning another stunning victory at the Battle of Princeton. The Revolution had survived.