Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Washington's Christmas Crossing

Washington Crossing the Delaware
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-1868)

On the evening of December 25, 1776, General George Washington marshaled some 2,400 men on the banks of the Delaware River across from New Jersey. It was a very cold and snowy evening and the river was full of ice. Relying heavily upon the efforts of the 14th Continental Regiment (Col. Glover's Regiment) Washington's small army was ferried across the river. After a difficult crossing the troops were then divided into two commands and then marched over poor roads to the outskirts of the town of Trenton. In the early morning hours of December 26th the Americans launched an attack upon the three Regiments of Hessian soldiers that were garrisoned in the small town.

According to legend the Hessian troops were feeling the ill effects of a night of Christmas revelry and were unable to defend themselves. In fact the Hessian soldiers put up a stiff fight but they were taken by surprise by the attack and were overwhelmed by the Continental forces surrounding them. The Hessian commander, Col. Rall, was mortally wounded in the fighting and died shortly afterwards surrounded by his American captors.

The defeat of the Hessian's at Trenton gave the rebel cause a much needed boost. In a year that began with much promise - the British Army's forced evacuation of Boston - the American Army had suffered a series of defeats. After losing major battles at Brooklyn, Harlem Heights and White Plains and a number of other losses, by December 1776 Thomas Paine's famous words, "these are the times that try men's souls", were especially apt. Although a small victory, it was a victory none the less. Washington's army now had the impetus to go forward into the New Year.

Washington's crossing of the Delaware is recreated every year by some very dedicated Revolutionary War Reenactors at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania on December 25. This event is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Here is a story out of Philadelphia about the reenactment and the man portraying Gen. Washington.

No comments: