Crossing the Delaware

It t’was the night of Christmas…and General George Washington was crossing the Delaware with his Continental Army ready to give the Hessian soldiers (mercenaries of the British) a belated Christmas surprise.

"Washington Cross the Delaware" (1851 painting) As unauthentic as possible, yet this painting is iconic in American culture.

“Washington Cross the Delaware” (1851 painting)
As unauthentic as possible, yet this painting is iconic in American culture.

Welcome to Part 3 of Historical Happenings on Christmas Day. (Last two parts were Merry Birthday and Christmas Emperor).

Now we leave the Middle Ages far behind and return to American shores to find George Washington and army crossing the Delaware River on the night of December 25, 1776. Here’s the story…

New York was lost, the region and the city. The victorious British left the Hessian mercenaries in the New Jersey area while most of the British army and officers stayed in the New York region, blissfully looking forward to a delightful holiday season. The Hessians (German soldiers hired by the British army to help with the fighting) were also busy planning their Christmas parties – events involving a lot of song and…um…drinking.

“Meanwhile on the opposite shore” (apologies to H.W. Longfellow there) Washington’s army was dwindling. Morale was low. Other generals couldn’t (or won’t) join the commander because of bad weather. However, between December 20 and 24 some reinforcements and supplies did arrive, and the general prepared a “little Christmas surprise” for his “dear” friends across the river.

On Christmas Day the American troops were called out and told to prepare for a secret mission. The day was bitterly cold and the wind grew stronger as the hours progressed. In the dusky twilight the troops climbed on flat, barge-like boats and prepared to pole across the ice filled river. In an operation almost amounting to a logistical miracle (especially considering there were no radios) 6 generals (including Washington and Greene), 2,400 troops, 18 cannons, baggage, about 50-75 horses got across the Delaware River.

An 1819 Painting of the Crossing; Washington is on the central white horse.

An 1819 Painting of the Crossing; Washington is on the central white horse.

Once across the river, Washington directed his troops to control the roads and guarantee that no spies got through with the news. At about 8 a.m. on December 26, the town of Trenton, New Jersey, was surround and Washington launched an attack.

Sleepy Hessians soldiers stumbled from their sleeping quarters. Everything had been jolly the night before, but now they were under attack. (And that grog they’d enjoyed so much wasn’t helping the situation now).

In summary, George Washington and the Continental Army won a belated Christmas victory on December 26, 1776 at the Battle of Trenton, because they dared to cross an icy river on Christmas Day.

I think it would be unfair to tell this story without sharing the real Christmas gift the American army received on December 19, 1776. It was from the writer Thomas Paine, and it was reason to keep fighting. I hope these words are still encouraging to you, exactly 238 years after they were officially read to the American army. (This blog post was published on December 19, 2014).

These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. (From The American Crisis by Thomas Paine)

Merry Christmas Patriots!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’m going to share a couple of historical Christmas video clips in the next couple days – just a little gift from Gazette665. I hope you have a blessed holiday and I’d appreciate a comment if you’ve enjoyed our December posts.


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