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Johann Gottlieb Rall (also spelled Rahl) (ca. 1726 – December 26, 1776) was a German colonel, best known for being in command of Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey at the Battle of Trenton during the American War of Independence.
Early life and career
Rall was probably born as a so-called "soldier child" ca. 1726. He was a son of Captain Joachim Rall from Stralsund, who served in the regiment of Major General Donop. The first mention of Johann Rall was as a new cadet of the same regiment on March 1, 1740, commanded at this time by Colonel Prince Casimir von Isenburg of Isenburg-Birstein.
He was promoted to warrant officer on July 25, 1741; to second lieutenant on August 28, 1745; and to captain on May 10, 1753. Rall was promoted to major on May 7, 1760, under Major General Bischhausen and transferred, in January 1763, into the Stein garrison regiment, where he was appointed lieutenant colonel. On April 22, 1771, he was transferred to the Mansbach Infantry Regiment as a colonel. He became commander of the regiment in January 1772.
During this time, Rall fought in the War of the Austrian Succession and participated in campaigns in Bavaria, on the Rhine, in the Netherlands, and served in Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion. He fought in the Seven Years' War (also called the French and Indian War) and was involved in many battles. From September 1771 until August 1772, he was in Russia and fought for Catherine the Great under Count Orlov in the Fourth Russo-Turkish War.
American War of Independence
By 1776, Rall belonged to the infantry regiment of the 1st Division under General Phillip Leopold von Heister and commanded approximately 1,200 men fighting for Great Britain in the American War of Independence. He was at the Battle of Brooklyn at Flatbush, the Battle of White Plains, Battle of Long Island, and figured prominently in the Battle of Trenton.
On the night of December 25–26, 1776 General George Washington crossed the Delaware River with his troops on the way to Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessian regiments, camped in and around Trenton, were attacked and decisively defeated by the American Continental Army. The Hessians had supposedly let their guard down to celebrate the Christmas holiday, and (legend has it) Rall himself was misled by John Honeyman, a spy of Washington who convincingly posed as a loyalist. According to one account, Rall was busy playing cards/chess the night before the attack at the home of Trenton merchant Abraham Hunt when he was handed a note from a local Loyalist who'd seen Washington's forces gathering. Then after receiving the message, placed it in his coat pocket without reading it.
While leading his troops in retreat from the battle of Trenton, Rall was struck by a musket ball. He died later that day from his injuries. The note informing the colonel of the attack was later found in his coat pocket.
According to local tradition, Rall is buried in an unidentified grave in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church on East State Street in Trenton, where an inscription is dedicated to his memory.
- Donald N. Moran, Johann Gottlieb Rall: Guilty of Tactical Negligence or Guiltless Circumstances?
- Trenton Historical Society