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Johann Gottlieb Rall (also spelled Rahl) (c. 1726—December 27, 1776) was a German colonel best known for his command of Hessian troops at the Battle of Trenton during the American Revolutionary War.
Early life and education
Rall was born as a so-called "soldier child" in about 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.
In the service of the Landgraf of Hesse-Cassel, he was promoted to ensign on July 25, 1741; to 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 to 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 rising of 1745. He fought in the Seven Years' War (the phase in North America be known as 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 Revolutionary War
By 1776, Rall belonged to the infantry regiment of the 1st Division under General Phillip Leopold von Heister and commanded a Hessian Brigade of 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 commanded by Rall, 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 chess or cards the night before the attack at the home of Trenton merchant Abraham Hunt when he was handed a note from a local Loyalist who had seen Washington's forces gathering. Because he was paying such careful attention to the game, upon receiving the message, he placed it in his coat pocket without reading it.
While leading his troops during the battle, Rall was mortally wounded. He was shot twice in the side and needed to be carried back to his headquarters set up in the house of Stacy Potts (a distinguished member of the Trenton community) where he died that night. Before his death he requested a formal surrender to Washington. 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.
- Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption – Site of his headquarters in Trenton, New Jersey
- Washington, George (December 27, 1776). "From George Washington to John Hancock, 27 December 1776". Founders Online, National Archives.
- Fischer, David Hackett (2006). Washington's Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 248, 255, 405. ISBN 0-19-517034-2.
- "Parish History". Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.
The Hessian Commander, Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall, was mortally wounded and eventually died here on December 27, 1776.
- "Trenton Historical Society, New Jersey". Trentonhistory.org. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Donald N. Moran, Johann Gottlieb Rall: Guilty of Tactical Negligence or Guiltless Circumstances?
- Trenton Historical Society