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Soldier In A Longboat
Three times John Glover’s Marblehead fishermen saved Washington’s army; in a final battle, the “amphibious regiment” rowed him to victory across the Delaware
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
The rest of the attack was brilliantly executed. In the upper part of town, Greene’s division raced down Pennington Road to the intersection of King and Queen streets, where they planted some cannon to sweep the two main thoroughfares of Trenton. Greene then threw some troops further east to prevent any Hessian retreat in that direction. The only escape route remaining open was the bridge at Assunpink Creek in the lower end of town.
Glover’s brigade entered the lower part of Trenton and, driving hard to the southeast, reached Queen Street, where they came upon part of a Hessian regiment retreating under fire from the cannon at the head of the street. Glover’s men promptly opened up, placing the enemy between two fires. Some of the Hessians fled over the Assunpink bridge and disappeared in the direction of Bordentown. Glover’s men dashed after them but stopped after seizing the bridge. Wheeling his artillery into position on the high ground south of the creek and to the left of the bridge, Glover bottled up the last escape corridor.
The battle came to an end quickly. Remnants of two Hessian regiments surrendered to Greene’s troops, who had blocked their attempt to break out to the north and northeast. To the southeast, elements of one enemy unit, the Knyphausen Regiment, headed for the bridge to make good their escape. Discovering Glover’s men there, the Hessians fell back to the east along a path that ran just above the Assunpink, hoping to find a ford across the creek. Pinned down by fire from Glover’s artillery on their flank, faced with another American brigade to their front, and with their backs against the cold, deep waters of the Assunpink, most of the Knyphausen Regiment surrendered.
By ferrying Washington’s forces across the Delaware, Glover’s men had made the attack on Trenton possible; by cutting off the enemy’s last escape route, they made success certain. They had one more contribution to make. Some 950 Germans had surrendered, and Washington decided to move them across the river immediately. Once again he turned to Glover’s men, who ferried the prisoners and spoils back over the Delaware.
It was nearly dark that December afternoon before the first prisoners were taken over, and recrossing the river took longer because there were more trips to make. On one of them an entire load of Hessian officers was nearly lost as a Durham boat capsized. By the time the last of the American troops were ferried back to the Pennsylvania side, the night of the twenty-sixth was all but gone.
Glover’s men were on the verge of exhaustion. For nearly thirty-six hours, under the worst possible conditions, they had been rowing and poling boats, marching and fighting as infantry, then rowing and poling once again.
The victory at Trenton had an enormous psychological effect upon the Army and the nation. As Trevelyan wrote in The American Revolution : ”… it may be doubted whether so small a number of men were ever employed so short a space of time with greater or more lasting results upon the history of the world.” In view of the major role played by Glover’s men in fashioning the victory, it seems altogether fitting that the statue of a Marblehead private guards the base of the battle monument at Trenton.
Paradoxically, most men of the organization left the Army in the hour of their glory. Privateering, that endemic disease of all mariners in the Revolution, took the largest toll.
Even Glover quit the service for a short time, although for other reasons. His prolonged absence from business had put his family into desperate financial straits, and his wife’s health was so poor that she was soon to die. He went back to Marblehead to attend to personal affairs, and when Congress promoted him to brigadier general in February, 1777, he declined the commission. Only after Washington wrote him a flattering and persuasive letter did Glover change his mind. Returning to the Army in June, 1777, he led a brigade through the Saratoga and Rhode Island campaigns, performed garrison duty, and mustered recruits before retiring from active service in 1782.
With the passing of the Marblehead regiment, the patriot army lost one of its most colorful units. There is no truth in the old legend that these men were the first official members of the Marine Corps; but it is certain that their role as a kind of sea infantry set a tradition for American marines in later wars. Whenever American fighting men have participated in amphibious warfare, they have carried on in the footsteps of John Glover and his famous Marblehead regiment of the Revolution.