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Crossing the Delaware

For many, Christmas is a day for celebration and giving. But for the unfortunate soldiers in the Continental army back in 1776, it was about crossing an icy river in the middle of the night to put a hurt on some Hessian soldiers camped out in Trenton, NJ. Today, in fact, is the 230th anniversary of George Washington’s famous Delaware River crossing. Leutze-Washington.jpg

Unlike the famous 1851 painting by Emmanuel Leutze, Washington didn’t stand at the bow of his rowboat staring defiantly across the shore. Had he done that, odds are he would have tipped the boat, causing everyone on it to fall into the icy water. More likely, he was huddled with his other officers trying to stay warm. However, the drama of the situation was real.

Before the famous crossing, the rag-tag Continental army had spent most of the late summer and fall of 1776 getting beaten across New Jersey by the British, who had captured New York City the previous August. To put some distance between his tired army and the very well-supplied British, Washington led his troops into Pennsylvania in November. Knowing that a Christmas attack would be the last thing that the British or their Hessian mercenaries would expect, Washington ordered his 3,000-strong Continental army to cross the Delaware River over to New Jersey. Once across, they marched to Trenton, where on the morning of the 26th they surprised and soundly defeated the Hessian troops, most of whom were hung over from Christmas celebrations.

For more about Washington's famous crossing, check out pp. 460-461 of the 2007 World Almanac, or try the links after the jump:

Interview with historian David Hackett, author of Washington's Crossing (NPR's Weekend Edition, 12/28/2003).
Washington's Crossing Historical Park in Pennsylvania, where the Continentals began their journey. Each year on December 25, they re-enact the crossing.
Debunked myths
about the crossing.
Map
of the Battle of Trenton.

Painting: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851. Original at the Metropolitan Museum of Art .

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