December 25, 1776

Washington Crossing the Delaware
The famous painting above is by the German-American artist, Emanuel Leutze. The painting, done in 1848, now hangs at the Met. The depiction is the turning point of the American Revolution. Maybe it’s time for another painting.

During the winter of 1776 the prospect of America winning the war against Britain was looking grim. The time for the enlisted army was about to expire on December 31 and most men were not interested in returning. Morale in the army was low, and Washington realized that if he didn’t make a move immediately he would lose most of his men.

in an attempt to save his army and help turn the tide of war, George Washington—Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army—devised a plan to cross the Delaware River on Christmas night and surround the Hessian garrison. The Hessians were German mercenaries hired by England to help fight in the war against the Americans.

In preparation for his surprise attack he ordered all boats along the Delaware River to be confiscated and brought to the Pennsylvania side. The river at that time was extremely icy and treacherous to cross, so Washington used professional boatmen from Massachusettes who could navigate the waters. Under the cover of night on Christmas night, 1776, Washington and 2400 men crossed the river at McKonkey’s Ferry.

It took until about 3 am for all of the men and artillery to cross, but not a single man, horse, or gun was lost in the crossing. Because the river was icy, the crossing proved dangerous. Two of the offensive groups were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington and his 2,400 men alone in the assault. Once on the other side of the river, Washington and his men then marched 9 miles to Trenton where they surprised the Hessian forces.

The Hessians had lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, and didn’t even have a dawn sentry. After having an enormous Christmas feast, they fell asleep. Washington caught them off guard and before the Hessians could resist, Washington captured them. Almost two thirds of the 1,500 man garrison was captured,

Despite the battle’s small numbers, its effect was enormous throughout the colonies. The revolution itself had been in doubt only a week earlier, and the army seemed on the verge of collapse. However, with this victory, soldiers agreed to stay and new recruits came and joined the ranks.

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