The second Artillery Engagement at the Battle of Trenton: December 26, 1776

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William W. Welsch

1778 sketch-map drawing of Battle of Trenton by Lt. Fischer
(courtesy of William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1988, page128)

The v. Knyphausen artillery detachment:

Lieutenant Friedrich Fischer was about 37 years old and had about 20 years military experience. He was the senior artillery officer in Trenton. For administrative purposes he saw to the needs of the men, and horses, and equipment for the artillery in Trenton. However, for tactical considerations he was a detachment commander to two three-pounder field guns and crews and horses and equipment assigned to support the v. Knyphausen Regiment. He was to follow their orders unless overridden by the Brigade leader, Colonel Rall. Lt. Fischer never made it to his assigned regiment. The reason was the rapid advance by the Patriots on all fronts.

Each regiment of the Hessians as they came to Trenton in mid-December was assigned a significant building, usually a church, to form its “center of gravity.” The v. Knyphausen regiment was assigned the Presbyterian church, the Jagers were assigned the Old Stone Barracks, the v. Lossberg regiment the English church, the dragoons were assigned the Quaker meeting house, and the Rall regiment several taverns. The Artillery was assigned the Methodist church at the northeast corner of Queen Street and Fourth Street. Thus, the artillery horses, harness, and limbers were at the Methodist church for the three detachments. Three of the neighboring houses to the Methodist church each contained the men for an artillery detachment.

On the early morning of the battle Lieutenant Engelhardt’s detachment men, horses, and limber had left the Methodist church on his way to the first artillery duel. He was given priority because the Rall Regiment was the regiment of the day, meaning it was their mission to be the initial response unit to any attack. Engelhardt was quickly off Queen Street and through Church alley with crew, horses hitched to the limbers, and headed to get his guns located on King street at the chief guard house.

Lt. Fischer and his detachment got ready quickly for the engagement and departed shortly after Englehardt.   While this activity was taking place Forrest’s patriot guns set up at the north end of Queen Street.

After limbering up Fischer’s two guns they moved to the middle of Church alley and then onto an open field on the north side and went “in battery” initially facing northwest. In Fischer’s sketch-map between King and Queen Streets the guns have an “R” showing the position (there are three “R”s written on the sketch-map above showing where three significant events took place involving Fischer’s artillery detachment). Fischer had 2 bombardiers, 15 gunners and 2 matrosses to operate his two guns. This was a good fighting position for a threat coming from the north and was also the location the guns were kept when the Hessians first arrived at Trenton. The following map shows Trenton more to scale.[i]

Both guns fired four times although it is not known if they fired at Forest at the north end of Queen Street or at the Patriot forces moving south on King Street (through gaps between the houses).[i] They may have fired at both at the same time. That firing took only a few minutes. Then one of the horses on one of the teams was killed or maimed. It was at this point Fischer realized his position was flanked by patriot Mercer’s infantry line moving east across King Street. He had to move or they would become immobilized.

Fischer had his two guns limbered up and he returned to the Methodist church, and then proceeded east on Fourth Street. As he passed the Method church the v. Lossberg artillery detachment with their two guns joined the column. The artillery column was followed by both the v. Lossberg and Rall infantry as they left Church alley and Pinkerton alley and moved east to the field near an apple orchard. Bombardier Volprecht, of the v. Lossberg artillery detachment recorded, “The two Regt’s., v. Lossberg and Rall, had followed him into the Plain.”[ii] There the two artillery detachments waited for the infantry to form a line.

With the lines formed Fischer was moving his two guns to the line and was within “15 paces” when disaster struck.[iii] One of Forest’s patriot six-pounder guns fired a grape shot that hit one of Fischer’s gun teams.[iv] In an instance, three horses were killed by the 48 2 oz. iron balls in the grape shot. On Fischer’s sketch-map “R” marks a spot where this event took place although great care needs to be taken because the sketch-map was not to scale.  The gun and destroyed horse team were left where they were in the field.

Lt. Fischer led his one gun and crew to cover the left flank of Rall’s Regiment as it attacked the town. The gun crew for the immobilized gun likely followed Rall’s Regiment in case the gun(s) on King Street were retrieved (see First article).  Fischer placed his still mobile gun on Queen Street and Fourth Street facing south to cover the flank.

Lt. Fischer then noticed, “there came, however, a battalion from the bridge, in which direction he at once aimed a cannon …” On Fischer’s map he shows “R” on Queen Street showing where his gun was positioned. Lt. Fischer’s gun could not fire. On Lt. Fischer’s gun crew, the “sponge” (crew member who sponges and rams the charge home) was killed and the implement broken by a cannon shot fired from down the street.  Patriot Moulder’s artillery unit was located in the battle at Second and Queen so it is likely they fired on Fischer’s gun.  The charge in the barrel of the gun could not be removed or seated. The men tried a wood stick they found but it did not work.[v] The gun had to be left where it was. The gun crew followed Rall’s Regiment back into the field.

The second artillery engagement was over. Lt. Fischer’s detachment stayed with the Rall Regiment until the surrender.

Sources:

[i] Information taken from The Trenton Mapping Project located at www.trentonhistory.org/Documents/Trentonin1775.pdf  With the information available it is likely more buildings are shown rather than less.

[ii]Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 338

[iii] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 277

[iv] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 341

[v] Stryker and this author have Forest firing down Queen Street and Hamilton firing down King street. Author Phillip Tucker has Hamilton and Baumann firing down Queen Street. That placement is very unlikely because Forest was the artillery support to de Fermoy, as ordered by General Washington, and the support to Stephen. Also, Baumann was the support to Mercer’s brigade and Queen street was on the opposite side of town.

[vi] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 341.


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