Johann Gottlieb Rall: Tactical Negligence or Personal Negligence at Trenton?

The War Years (1775-1783)

February 7, 2023
by James M. Deitch Also by this Author

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“When a man chooses a calling, he must do everything that can be done in that calling so that he can never suffer reproach for having done only half of his duty. On this account, I keep among the mottoes in my portfolio, to serve at times as a reminder, the following from Boileau: ‘Honor is like an island, Steep and without shore: They who once leave Can never return.’”—Johann von Ewald[1]

After the First Battle of Trenton, a court of inquiry judged Col. Johann Gottlieb Rall, commander of the garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, and his deputy, Maj. Friedrich von Dechow, commander of the Knyphausen Regiment, to be responsible for the loss of the post. History has judged Colonel Rall guilty of tactical and personal negligence.[2] Did the effects of alcohol and vice diminish his character, or was it arrogance and contempt for the capabilities of the Americans that caused his failure of preparation and situational awareness? Historians have repeatedly mistreated Colonel Rall and his men at the Battle of Trenton, describing them as inebriated, ill-prepared, and otherwise distracted by the holiday season. None of this was true. Rall’s story is tainted by tradition and lore that obscure the historical information.

General William Howe, the British Commander in Chief, recognized Colonel Rall for his skill and courage at the Battles of White Plains and Fort Washington and rewarded him with the command at Trenton for his actions. Trenton was indeed a failure and a turning point in the war, but not for the reasons commonly accepted. Distrust between the British and Germans, contempt for the Americans, and a misjudgment of the relative safety of their winter quarters all contributed to this turning point of the American Revolution.

Johann Gottlieb Rall was born sometime around 1726 in Hesse-Cassel, a German-speaking polity of the Holy Roman Empire. He was destined for military service, as many young men of his time were in this part of the world. He first became a cadet in his father’s regiment and was promoted to warrant officer in July 1741. His rise through the ranks was steady, and he saw service throughout the continent. He saw action in the War of Austrian Succession, where he lead troops in Bavaria, the Rhine, and the Netherlands. He continued to build on his combat experience during the Seven Year’s War on the continent of Europe. In April 1771 he assumed command of an infantry regiment. From September 1771 through August 1772, he fought in the service of Catherine the Great’s army in the Russo-Turkish War. When Frederick II of Hesse-Cassel signed a treaty with King George III to provide troops for service in the American colonies, fifty-year-old Rall had thirty-six years of military service as a professional soldier. Howe gave Rall command of a brigade.[3]

On December 13, 1776, Gen. William Howe informed Col. Carl Emil Ulrich von Donop that he was placing him in command of two Hessian brigades, his own and that of Colonel Rall. In addition to the two brigades, three battalions of grenadiers, a company of Jägers under Capt. Johann Ewald, artillery, and an engineer officer would all be under Colonel von Donop’s orders. Von Donop assigned the engineer officer, Capt. Georg Heinrich Pauli, to Rall at Trenton to supervise the construction of prescribed defensive redoubts. Von Donop then marched onto Bordentown, where he went into winter quarters.[4]

By late November 1776, Washington’s army had crossed New Jersey and established itself on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, denuding the river of any boats on the New Jersey side for seventy miles and burning bridges along the way.[5] General Howe was not one to pursue retreating enemies in the winter. He was intent on setting up winter quarters, and his order to Maj. Gen. James Grant was to have Colonel von Donop hold the line from Trenton to Burlington, establishing posts and pickets along the way. Howe believed, and Grant concurred, that the posts were close enough to support each other in the event one was attacked. So confident was the British command that Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, General Howe’s immediate and very worthy subordinate, prepared to return to England for a visit with his family.[6] Howe terminated the 1776 campaign and returned to New York. He issued this order on December 14:

The campaign having closed with the pursuit of the enemies army near ninety miles by Lieutenant General Cornwallis’s Corps, much to the honor of his Lordship and the officers and soldiers under his command, the approach of winter putting a stop to any further progress, the troops will immediately march into quarters and hold themselves in readiness to assemble on the shortest notice.[7]

When Colonel von Donop ordered Colonel Rall into winter quarters at Trenton on December 14, 1776, he did so with express orders to garrison the town and protect the two bridges over adjacent creeks. The Hessian command intended that the protection of those bridges would ensure that the lines of communication with Bordertown and Princeton were kept open. Von Donop provided these orders in a letter dated that same day. Those orders required Rall to report formally every fourteen days, and informed Rall that von Donop would inspect his preparations in the coming days. Two days later, von Donop reported to Gen. Alexander Leslie by endorsement that he was in winter quarters, including Trenton, Bordertown, and Burlington, and a described the composition of the defending units. Von Donop also placed a garrison at Princeton. On that same day, he reported to General Grant that he had reviewed Rall’s plan, approved it, and would commence inspecting Rall’s defenses on the 17th.

Rall’s plan was to avoid building redoubts or any other defensive fortifications because the enemy surrounded him at the time. Instead, he favored maneuverability on the battlefield. He expressed this to von Donop again in a letter dated December 21 and requested reinforcements. Later, von Donop and Rall’s subordinates would report that Rall ignored or refused orders from von Donop to build the redoubts, but Rall’s letters refute those accusations.[8]

Also on the 17th, Rall informed von Donop that he had dispatched patrols as far as Bordertown and Maidenhead. He also reported enemy probing crossings from the Pennsylvania side of the river. Meanwhile, Rall concerned himself with moving oxen from Trenton to Bordentown, preparation for sending his quartermaster to New York to arrange provisions, and receipt of twenty fresh horses for his Dragoons. These activities suggest an engaged and alert commander.[9]

On the 18th, Americans probed the same crossing as the day before, and like in previous engagements, Rall’s force suffered casualties. On the 20th he lost three men, captured on the road to Maidenhead, indicating that the Americans were moving about the countryside on the east side of the Delaware River in New Jersey. In his report to von Donop, Rall complained that General Leslie had again ignored his requests to reinforce his right flank at Princeton and that he was particularly vulnerable at Maidenhead. He also apprised von Donop of the location of American Gen. William Stirling’s troops on the Pennsylvania side of the river, again indicating that he was aware and engaged. Meanwhile, General Grant wrote to von Donop providing administrative instructions on routine matters, and mentioned that Rall had written three letters to him. His only comment was that Rall needed to apply fewer resources to such dispatches. And that Rall made too much of the rebels.[10]

Rall wrote twice to von Donop on the 21st. In his first letter, he informed von Donop of interactions with the enemy that had resulted in additional casualties and reminded him of his appeal to Leslie for more troops to reinforce Maidenhead. A reinforcement would allow Rall to train the entirety of his resources on the Delaware river where he believed an attack would occur. Rall refused several requests from von Donop for additional patrols and security, stating that he could not spare a battalion when exposed at his front, rear, and right flank. On this same day, von Donop wrote to General Grant summarizing Rall’s concerns, relaying the report of casualties and conditions, and reminding Leslie of his requests for reinforcement at Princeton and his exposure points, particularly to the south and flank.[11]

While von Donop was writing to Grant, Grant responded directly to Rall. He admonished Rall to direct his requests to von Donop, reduce the number of troops attending to lines of communication, and explained Howe’s disapproval of deploying troops to Maidenhead. He indicated he had instructed Brigadier General Leslie to provide patrols to extend the lines of communication from Princeton to Trenton but only at the direct request of von Donop. However, others were aware of the threat. Rall received letters from one of his captains about stationing troops at the bridge at Crosswicks and another from General Leslie contradicting Grant and informing Rall of reinforcements from Princeton to Trenton and Maidenhead.[12] Grant and the other generals knew how stretched they were across the New Jersey frontier. But Grant concluded that the American army was defeated and that the winter conditions were such that the Americans posed no serious threat.[13]

While it is not in dispute that von Donop instructed Rall to build redoubts and other defensive structures, Rall’s reason for not doing so was not disobedience but a belief that doing so was futile for defending a town. Rall also understood that such work might only serve to weaken his already exhausted troops. He clearly informed von Donop of this, and von Donop approved of his plans. Still, Rall prepared pickets in several places. Beginning on the 21st he ordered all men to sleep under arms, and each morning, he personally led patrols with detachments, including artillery, along the river banks. He had expressed that he would not attempt to defend Trenton but would meet the Americans in the open fields of battle.[14]

On the eve of the battle, hearing shots fired, Rall led a patrol to investigate what was a probing action by Gen. James Ewing’s men. Meanwhile, the weather was turning bad with heavy snow and wind. Rall returned to town. Lt. Andreas Wiederhold had his troops take shelter at their picket, and other pickets under Capt. Ernst von Altenbockum and Lt. Friedrich von Gröthausen did their best to seek shelter. Maj. Friedrich von Dechow, the duty officer, canceled the next morning’s patrol. Meanwhile, Washington had already commenced the crossing of the Delaware.[15]

Rall was not personally negligent. His men were on duty, prepared, and under arms. They were present at their posts or in their barracks, sleeping but dressed and ready at a moment’s notice. Rall had led a patrol that evening and was present on the battlefield the morning of the battle, leading from the front. Mortally wounded, he continued to consider the welfare of his officers and men in his final appeal directly to Washington.[16]

His most ardent detractor, Lt. Andreas Wiederhold, in his diary was overly critical of Rall and provided an analysis criticizing Rall’s pleasure with aesthetics, such as his preoccupation with his hautboists, parading of the troops, and the ceremonial pomp of moving the artillery at set intervals of the day. Wiederhold outlined four primary elements of Rall’s failure. First was his failure of intelligence by not knowing the proximity of the enemy. Second, after the pickets were attacked, he failed to dispatch patrols. Rall failed to keep the entire garrison under arms through the night and, finally, a failed to retreat the garrison to save them.[17] While Wiederhold and von Dechow’s protests and suggestions are documented in the diary, they are not fully contextualized without the benefit of Rall’s letters to Grant and von Donop. Wiederhold’s vanity and ego are present in his writing. No doubt Rall was surprised by Washington’s attack. However, by his own account and only by chance, Wiederhold escaped the same fate as Rall, von Dechow, and Gröthausen.

Finally, there is the matter of the Landgraf, Friedrich Wilhelm II of Hesse-Cassel. He was undoubtedly embarrassed by the first significant defeat of his troops and the understanding that this, combined with the subsequent loss at Princeton, had not only turned the tide of the war but reflected poorly on his contributions to the British. He was angry at the result and looked to place blame. He ordered a court-martial, but command changes and other reliefs stalled the production by several years. Friedrich believed this loss would never have occurred if Rall had not relaxed discipline. For discipline to have eroded to the point where senior commanders find fault in an officer, the court of inquiry must demonstrate dereliction of duty or negligence. If history is to weigh the merits of such a charge, an understanding of the definition must first be established and accepted. For Rall to have been guilty of negligence, the presiding officer over the inquiry would have to establish that Rall failed to behave with a level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. This proof must extend beyond action to that of omissions of action where a duty to act existed.[18]

Friedrich expected this inquisition to extend to all officers. Eventually, Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen conducted the court-martial, but completed it only in 1782. The court cleared all the officers, including those deceased, except for Colonel Rall and Major von Dechow.[19] Rall’s long history of exemplary service was laid aside in favor of this brief two-week period of misfortune that ended with his death.

With little benefit for anyone to defend his honor, historians and academics have accepted the false claims of personal and professional negligence. The facts demonstrate the singular failures of a professional officer encumbered with a false sense of comfort in his abilities, an unhealthy disrespect for his enemy, and a lack of support from his superiors. No one questioned Rall’s courage. His closest officers never accused him of anything more than appreciating life. Lt. Jakob Piel described him as meriting the highest respect, caring for his subordinates, and being born to be a soldier. He called Rall courageous enough but lacking in presence of mind.[20]

Wiederhold’s initial reaction on December 26 was how this loss would find him terminally as a lieutenant and stilt his professional growth. Indeed, Wiederhold levied routine criticism of Rall’s performance throughout his journal, primarily in the level of attenuation he prescribed to the defense and the overreaction to minor skirmishes as they occurred. Before the court judgment, Wiederhold absolved himself from any responsibility. A close study of his journal fails to uncover any self-reflection or doubt in his own performance. Here it is fair to scrutinize Wiederhold’s sense of honor, particularly since Rall had since expired.

Quartermaster Heusser of the von Lossberg regiment wrote in his journal of Rall’s character, describing him as too proud to retreat a step. Instead, he dared to attempt the most daring acts but needed a more calm presence of mind for the day’s events.[21] Capt. Johann Ewald blamed Colonel von Donop for failing to reply and react to Rall’s routine requests for assistance, and recognized that Rall would forever bear the blame because he lost his life during the battle.[22]

In New York on January 111782, the court of inquiry issued a unanimous verdict. It recommended to Friedrich Wilhelm II that the regiments von Lossberg, von Knyphausen, and Rall could not bear the blame for lacking courage or insubordination. They recommended the acquittal of all surviving officers. The inquiry concluded that Colonel Rall and Major von Dechow were culpable and laid the foundations for the ill fate of the brigade. The court absolved all the surviving officers from penalty.[23]

The story might end there. Maj. Carl Leopold von Bauermeister, adjutant general to all three Hessian commanders in chief during the war and aid-de-camp to Sir Henry Clinton from 1779 to 1782, wrote in his journal, “Why the surprise was so sudden and so disastrous for the brigade I cannot explain in detail, but this much is certain; the day before, Colonel Rall wrote to Colonel von Donop that his brigade was extremely fatigued because of the miserable weather and continuous service and was in no condition to defend the post without relief and reinforcements.”[24] Baurmeister’s observation, considering the totality of his observations in the conduct of the war, best summarizes an official position on the loss of the garrison at Trenton. It should mitigate all attempts to place sole responsibility on Col. Johann Gottlieb Rall. While the loss was significant, it should dispel any notion that Rall was personally negligent in his duty to protect his portion of the pickets and properly proportions responsibilities between the local commanders and upwards to the top generals in the colonies at the time, including Gen. William Howe.

 


[1]Johann Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), v.

[2]William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1898), 402–404.

[3]Donald M. Moran, “Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall: Guilty of Tactical Negligence or Guiltless Circumstances?,” Liberty Tree Newsletter, November/December 2007

[4]Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 46-47.

[5]Peter T. Lubrecht, New Jersey Hessians: Truth and Lore in the American Revolution (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2016), 66.

[6]Mark Maloy, Victory, or Death: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, December 25, 1776-January 3, 1777 (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savis Beatie, 2018), 13.

[7]David Price, The Road to Assunpink Creek: Liberty’s Desperate Hour and the Ten Crucial Days of the American Revolution (Brentwood, TN: Knox Press, 2019), 29.

[8]Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 332.

[9]Ibid., 324.

[10]Ibid., 329.

[11]Ibid., 332.

[12]Ibid, 339, Letters No. 26 and 27.

[13]Andrew A. Zellers-Frederick, “The Hessians Who Escaped Washington’s Trap at Trenton,” Journal of the American Revolution (April 18, 2018), allthingsliberty.com/2018/04/the-hessians-who-escaped-washingtons-trap-at-trenton/.

[14]Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 333. Also see page 420.

[15]Moran, “Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall.”

[16]Ibid.

[17]Bruce E. Burgoyne, Defeat, Disaster, and Dedication: The Diaries of the Hessian Officers Jakob Piel and Andreas Wiederhold (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 2008). Also, Andreas Wiederhold, “Colonel Rall at Trenton,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Bibliography, Vol. 22, No. 4. (1898), 467.

[18]Moran poses the question of tactical negligence in his article. The definition came from The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.

[19]Zellers-Frederick, “The Hessians Who Escaped Washington’s Trap at Trenton.”

[20]Burgoyne, Defeat, Disaster, and Dedication

[21]Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 199-200.

[22]Ibid.

[23]Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, 422.

[24]Carl Leopold Bauermeister, Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals 1776-1784 of Adjutant General Major Bauermeister of the Hessian Forces, trans., ed. Bernhard A. Uhlendorf (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1957), 78.

9 Comments

  • While not the focus of the article, Why was LTC Josiah Parker of the 5th VA awarded Rall’s sword. Always liked the painting. Sounds like Grant did more than anyone to lay the groundwork for victory at Trenton.

    1. Thank you, Gunter. I am not aware of the disposition of the sword, but now you have me intrigued. I will look into it. Grant was a terrible officer, slovenly, disheveled, and unbecoming. His posting was undoubtedly an easy reward due to his post as a member of Parliament. My expanded work on this subject will develop Grant’s shortcomings more comprehensively. My motivation is not so much to clear Rall’s name as to ensure that, like Leopold von Ranke’s methodology, we record history as it was. (um die Geschichte so aufzuzeichnen, wie sie tatsächlich war.) Rall made every reasonable attempt to establish his presence properly with his available resources. He made mistakes, but not as has been told through tradition and lore. Cheers.

      James

  • Thank you for this intriguing article – as I recall even Howe allowed that his chain of outposts may have been too attenuated. But contra Rall, what about the oft-told story that he shoved a note of warning of the impending attack from a local loyalist either unread or unheeded.

    1. Thank you, Rand. Yes, the story of the note handed to him was factual, and Rall ignored one of several notices and clues. Washington had several spies move in and out of the town before the battle. He received the note, stuck it in his coat pocket, and never read it. It was recovered after he was deceased. Best regards.

      James

      1. Great article and research! Is there any evidence of Rall’s unopened letter? I have often read the story retold, but I can never find the source.

  • A great breakdown of the Hessian/British communication prior to the battle!

    Let us not forget that Donop was not where he should have been: Bordentown. Instead, he had attacked Mount Holly on December 23 after Gloucester County militia under Colonel Richard Somers attacked the 42nd Highlanders at Petticoat Bridge on December 22. After taking Mount Holly, Donop, with most of his brigade, stayed there to enjoy the largely abandoned town and its plentiful supply of spirits (quoting Ewald). And Donop found in his company “the exceeding beautiful young widow of a doctor.”

    Instead of being at Bordentown where he was readily in support of Trenton, the bulk of his force (which together exceeded Rall’s garrison) was out of range to support on the 26th. Donop maintained later that he was in Mount Holly to gather allegiances from the townsfolk and to get foraging supplies. The latter might be true, but it’s clear he was lying about what really kept him there. Ewald himself blamed the entire loss of Trenton (and the 13 colonies) on Donop’s affair with this unidentified woman.

    Rall may have been an unpopular officer with many in the ranks, but he’s less to blame than Donop’s affair or General Grant’s repeated opinion that Washington was finished (alluding to his famous quip before Parliament in 1775 that he could beat the rebellion with a single regiment).

    1. Thank you, Adam. These are all excellent points I will include in my expanded work on the same subject. Grant had complete scorn for the Americans, as you point out. To von Donop, he wrote, “Tell the Colonel [Rall] he is safe. I will undertake to keep the peace in Jersey with a corporal’s guard.” He had open contempt for Rall as well. (David Hackett Fischer, 197.) Cheers.

      James

  • Thank you for the fine article, James. I have one comment and one question.

    Comment: You referred to Rall leading a patrol to investigate a probing action by Gen. Ewing’s men on the eve of the battle. Unless we’re talking about two separate incidents, my understanding is that the rebel intrusion was comprised of soldiers from Gen. Adam Stephen’s brigade, ~ 50 men, ordered by Stephen w/o GW’s knowledge (which infuriated the latter b/c he thought it had ruined his chances of surprising the Hessians), and that this action may have lulled Rall into a false sense of security b/c he may very well have concluded that this was the attack about which he had been warned in a dispatch from Grant earlier on the 25th.

    Question: There is a school of thought that at least one of the reasons Rall did not fortify the town was b/c he had been given permission by Howe to attack Philadelphia once the Delaware froze over and his brigade could cross the river. Presumably (if you buy this idea), he didn’t expect to be in Trenton very long and so thought it a waste of time and effort to make elaborate defensive preparations. I’ve always been very dubious about this theory, as I can’t imagine Howe giving a Hessian force the honor of occupying the American capital and Rall only had 1,500 men w/ him anyway. This might make sense if Rall was expecting his contingent to be part of a larger force advancing on Philadelphia, but I’ve never read anything to suggest that Howe contemplated such a move (at least not before the first Battle of Trenton). European armies normally didn’t conduct major offensive operations in winter, and Howe doesn’t seem to have been in any hurry to make this move before spring 1777. So I’m wondering if you came across anything on this specific point and/or have any thoughts about that.

    Thanks again.

  • As cofounder of TenCrucialDays.org, and publisher of a number of books that are specific to the Trenton and Princeton campaigns, including David Price’s Road to Assunpink Creek referenced in the footnotes to this article, I am always eager to learn more and promote a greater understanding of the events of the Ten Crucial Days. Stryker’s research and narrative has been the foundation for so many historians through the decades. We are now blessed with new scholarship interpreting the events of the months leading up to and after the Ten Crucial Days.

    In your article, you write, “Historians have repeatedly mistreated Colonel Rall and his men at the Battle of Trenton, describing them as inebriated, ill-prepared, and otherwise distracted by the holiday season. None of this was true. Rall’s story is tainted by tradition and lore that obscure the historical information.” This does not reflect what Hackett Fischer, nor, more recently, Larry Kidder, author of TEN CRUCIAL DAYS, have said. Rall’s troops were indeed prepared and on notice but still defeated. The popular American myth that they were inebriated and distracted by the holiday season were not reflected in the court-martial. To be clear, readers who find the works of more current historians, such as Fischer and Kidder, that explain and correct the record.

    You explain that the British and Germans had “contempt” for and misjudged Americans. And you suggested the commanders, notably Grant, Leslie, and Donop, were all dismissing Rall’s warnings. True statements. But we know from the correspondence and Rall’s own actions that he was expressing the same attitudes and behaviors as his fellow officers. There was plenty of hubris to go around in the senior officer corps.

    In your fourth paragraph, you state, “…Donop assigned…Pauli, to Rall…” My reading of the correspondence was that Donop sent Pauli to Rall specifically to confer with him and to establish defensive redoubt locations, etc.

    You write, “By late November 1776, Washington’s army had crossed New Jersey and established itself on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware…” Clarifying, Washington left Brunswick December 1st. The army began to cross the Delaware into Bucks County during the first week of December.

    Paragraph six, you write, “Von Donop also placed a garrison at Princeton.”I am immensely curious of your source for this statement. Donop commanded the troops in Trenton, Burlington/Bordentown/Mt. Holly, but Leslie was in command of the troops in Princeton. Please explain how Donop placed the garrison at Princeton. It is true that Donop’s troops assembled in Princeton after the December 26 battle.

    Paragraph seven, you write, “Later, von Donop and Rall’s subordinates would report that Rall ignored or refused orders from von Donop to build the redoubts, but Rall’s letters refute those accusations.” Rall’s letter of 21st December reads, “I have not made any redoubts or any kind of fortification because I have the enemy in all directions. It is the(?), my brother, absolutely impossible.” Donop’s orders to build redoubts were clear. How does Rall’s statement, “I have not made any redoubts of any kind of fortification…” refute Donop’s orders? Rall simply tried to justify not following through on the order.

    Paragraph twelve, you write, “…each morning, he personally led patrols with detachments, including artillery, along the riverbanks.” I read the pages in Stryker to which you refer in your footnote #14. My apologies if I missed it, but I saw no reference in letter No 22. (page 333), nor on page 420 that suggested Rall personally led patrols. Please point me to those passages.

    Paragraph thirteen, you write, “On the eve of the battle, hearing shots fired, Rall led a patrol to investigate what was a probing action by Gen. James Ewing’s men.” I am really curious how you come to this assumption. We know that a company of Virginians had engaged on the eve the 25th. Can you point me to your reference where we think it may have been Ewing’s men? I have not read that in any account. Also, I did not see the reference in Moran’s article that Rall led a patrol that evening. Can you be more specific to where in his article he makes that statement and what his source was? Would it not be more accurate to state that Rall’s troops turned out in response to the incursion by the Virginia company and that Rall turned out with them, leaving his evening social engagement?

    Also, in paragraph thirteen you write, “…other pickets under Capt. Ernst von Altenbockum and Lt. Friedrich von Gröthausen did their best to seek shelter.” My understanding is that Grothausen’s approximately 50 Jager had been billeted at their post at the Hermitage on the river road since they entered the post. Are you saying they “…did their best to seek shelter” for some other reasons besides the weather conditions? It is also important to note that Weiderhold, Altenbockum, and Grothausen sent out patrols as usual even as they sought shelter from the storm. Due to the weather, the patrols did not all go as far out as normal, but they did go out.

    Paragraph fourteen, you write, “Rall was not personally negligent. His men were on duty, prepared, and under arms. They were present at their posts or in their barracks, sleeping but dressed and ready at a moment’s notice. Rall had led a patrol that evening and was present on the battlefield the morning of the battle, leading from the front. I have two questions about this statement. First, I really look forward to your providing me with the reference that he led a patrol that evening, and secondly, while we do know that his troops were on duty, prepared, under arms, sleeping, but dressed for battle, Rall was not. When he was awakened, after Weiderholt and Grothausen’s pickets were attacked, his soldiers were under orders to sleep in uniform, but Rall had to get dressed while critical moments of the battle were unfolding. Correct?

    Paragraph eighteen, you write, “With little benefit for anyone to defend his honor, historians and academics have accepted the false claims of personal and professional negligence.” In my view, recent historians have already been very aware that it was a collective fault and not solely Rall’s. However, this does not eliminate Rall’s errors. He was apparently a highly respected battlefield commander but given how events unfolded, I am not sure how he would win marks for his planning a defense under adverse circumstances.

    I found it curious that you suggest that Bauermeister was in a position to make judgments about the events to which he was not directly involved made him a better authority than Weiderhold, who was at the position and trying to do his duty successfully in spite of difficulties introduced by his commander? Would it not be in Baurermeister’s interest to direct some of the blame rather to the British – such as Grant and Howe – rather than have it fall on his Hessian brothers? Regardless, I think we can agree that both the British felt the war was virtually over and the American army was incapable of a serious attack. Their hubris toward the Americans dismissed Rall’s calls for support as needy and unnecessary. Rall had come to expect frequent small attacks – like the one the evening before the big battle. Most certainly, the remarkably miserable weather played a huge role in the fact that Dechow canceled the morning patrols that would have given the Hessian garrison warning, had Ewing’s troops been able to cross. The weather probably gave pause to Rall and all of his other subordinates. After all, who in their right mind would attack under such conditions and needing to keep your powder dry? It is easy for us, after the fact, to understand that Washington had no choice but to attack when he did. Still, Rall was not ready. His defenses were meager, and he had no contingency plan for coordinated defense. So we continue to learn more, but I think Rall certainly deserves to be included in deserving his share of the blame for Washington’s victory.

    Thank you.

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