Washington Crosses the Delaware
Of all the stories in the Revolutionary War, I think Washington's crossing of the Delaware & the march to Trenton is my favorite. It's winter, 1776. Washington's troops have suffered a number of defeats in New York & have been chased by Cornwallis all the way to New Jersey. From there, Washington crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania & gathered or destroyed all the boats he could find for miles in both directions & sets up camp near McKonkey's Ferry. Washington was safe for the time being but his army was shrinking. Casualties & desertions had taken their toll. Recruitment was down & many enlistments were due to expire at year end. To make matters worse, Congressional confidence in Washington's leadership was beginning to erode as well. Washington needed a bold plan to reignite support for the cause. More precisely, he needed a victory. Washington decided to load his 2,400 men, horses & artillery aboard the boats he'd gathered, march the 9 miles to Trenton & make a surprise attack on the Hessians baracked there. A daunting task amidst winter's fury, to be sure, but Washington had a bigger problem, morale. The troops were exhausted, demoralized, hungry, poorly equipped & it was miserably cold. No doubt the men had seen their comrades dieing & deserting around them. I suspect they were wondering if this whole revolution thing was such a good idea after all. The revolution itself hung on the precipice of collapse. But Washington had a secret weapon. He did not have fresh supplies or reinforcements to raise the men's spirits. He did not have hot food & he certainly did not have a pay wagon. What he had was words. But not just any words. He had a copy of a recent essay written by one of the greatest propagandists America has ever seen. Hot off the success of his first pamphlet, "Common Sense" Thomas Paine had written an essay aimed at rallying the revolutionary called, "American Crisis". Washington read it to his troops. I can only imagine the reaction the men must have demonstrated upon hearing those words because after hearing them, they rose up, boarded those boats, crossed the frozen Delaware, & marched the 9 miles to Trenton across frozen snow-covered ground. Some had only rags for shoes & marched until their feet bled. When they arrived, they charged the unsuspecting Hessians. By 9:30 AM, December 26th Washington's Colonial Army had defeated the 1,500 man Hessian garrison & was on their way back to PA with 600 prisoners in tow. About a week later they set their sights on Princeton & managed to defeat British Lt. Col Charles Mawhood & his 1,400 troops, chasing them away before Cornwallis could arrive with reinforcements. To me, the march on Trenton will go down as one of the greatest acts of heroism ever recorded in the annals of American military history. Next time you are enjoying the freedoms of America, take a moment to remember the bloody footprints in the snow.
Keith at Washington Crossing State Park
Me at the site of Washington's Delaware Crossing
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