The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776
Artist: John Trumbull, American, 1756?1843
In this scene, Trumbull celebrates an important American victory. On December 25, 1776, Washington resolved to put an end to the long series of military defeats that had demoralized American troops by launching a surprise attack on the Hessians, German mercenaries in the British Army, at Trenton. After crossing the Delaware on a storm night, the Continentals besieged the town with cannons and bayonets. The Germans, caught on the morning after Christmas celebrations, were unable to organize a resistance; the ensuing battle lasted only forty-five minutes. Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall, the Hessian commander, was mortally wounded, and 1,000 of his troops taken prisoner, while only three Americans were injured. The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton focuses on the generosity of the victorious Americans toward a fallen enemy officer. In the center, General Washington, attended by two aides, Captain Tench Tilghman and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Harrison, directs Major William Stephens Smith to care for the mortally wounded Colonel Rall. In his Autobiography Trumbull wrote: I composed the picture, for the express purpose of giving a lesson to all living and future soldiers in the service of their country, to show mercy and kindness to a fallen enemy - their enemy no longer when wounded and in their power.
This object is on view at the gallery.
Christie's, New York, George Washington at Princeton: From the Collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, sale cat. (2006), 12, ill.
Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 26, 8889, 98, no. 34, ill.
John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington:The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), unpag., ill.
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery's complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.