Page One Editorials
George Washington’s Christmas Miracle
George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, which occurred on the night of December 25–26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, was the first move in a surprise attack organized by George Washington against the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey, on the morning of December 26. Planned in partial secrecy, Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the icy Delaware River in a logistically challenging and dangerous operation.
While 1776 had started well for the American cause with the evacuation of British troops from Boston in March, the defense of New York City had gone quite poorly. British general William Howe had landed troops on Long Island in August and had pushed George Washington’s Continental Army completely out of New York by mid-November, when he captured the remaining troops on Manhattan.
The main British troops returned to New York for the winter season. They left mainly Hessian troops in New Jersey. Washington’s army was shrinking, due to expiring enlistments and desertions, and suffered from poor morale, due to the defeats in the New York area. Most of Washington’s army crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania north of Trenton, New Jersey, and destroyed or moved to the western shore all boats for miles in both directions. Cornwallis (under Howe’s command), rather than attempting to immediately chase Washington further, established a chain of outposts from New Brunswick to Burlington, including one at Bordentown and one at Trenton, and ordered his troops into winter quarters. The British were happy to end the campaign season when they were ordered to winter quarters. This was a time for the generals to regroup, re-supply, and strategize for the upcoming campaign season the following spring.
George Washington was forty-four years old at the time of the Delaware River crossing.
On the morning of December 25, Washington ordered his army to prepare three days’ food, and issued orders that every soldier be outfitted with fresh flints for their muskets. He was also somewhat worried by intelligence reports that the British were planning their own crossing once the Delaware was frozen over. Washington’s plan required the crossing to begin as soon as it was dark enough to conceal their movements on the river, but most of the troops did not reach the crossing point until about 6 p.m., about ninety minutes after sunset. The weather got progressively worse, turning from drizzle to rain to sleet and snow. “It blew a hurricane,” recalled one soldier.
Washington was among the first of the troops to cross, going with Virginia troops led by General Adam Stephen. These troops formed a sentry line around the landing area in New Jersey, with strict instructions that no one was to pass through. The password was “Victory or Death.”
At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, Washington’s remaining force, reached the outskirts of Trenton and descended on the unsuspecting Hessians. Washington’s men quickly overwhelmed the Germans’ defenses, and by 9:30 a.m. the town was surrounded.
Although not apparent at the time, these battles were a decisive turning point in the Revolution. The victories pulled the languishing Revolution out of the depths of despair, galvanized colonial support, shocked the British, and convinced potential allies such as France, Holland, and Spain, that the Continental Army was a force to be reckoned with.
His troops rallied for a final charge and won. These victories changed the course of history. Almost all of the American soldiers re-enlisted. France began to support the cause, and hope in the providence of God (the great equalizer) reinvigorated the colonists.
As historian David Hackett Fischer rightly says of the Battle of Trenton: “No single day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than Christmas 1776.” It was one of two Christmas gifts George Washington gave to the United States of America. We are still enjoying the gift today ▪
Text from Wikipedia
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown portrait of
20 March 1797
by Charles Willson Peale
Sideview of Washington on Mount Rushmore.
Painted in 1851 by German artist Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Painted in Dusseldorf, Germany, Washington Crossing the Delaware shows a bold General Washington navigating through the frozen river with his compatriots braving the elements on their way to victory at Trenton. While the painting was in Germany, Leutze hoped that this brave episode in pursuit of American independence and republican rule would stir his fellow countrymen to more liberal reforms. In the fall of 1851 the painting was shipped to the United States where it wowed audiences in New York City and the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC. The New York Evening Mirror boldly called it “the grandest, most majestic, and most effective painting ever exhibited in America.”