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Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware

During the American Revolutionary War, on Christmas Day, 1776, troops assembled at McKonkey's Ferry, Pennsylvania in preparation for crossing the Delaware River. This would be the first move in a surprise attack against the Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey in the Battle of Trenton. These troops, of 2,400, led by General George Washington, were on their way to attack a Hessian Garrison of 1,500 in Trenton, New Jersey and had been given the password for the day, "Victory or Death".

By 3:00 p.m., all of the men were gathered at the point of embarkment, which was about nine miles north of Trenton, and the loading of the boats began at nightfall. Washington and a party of Virginia troops crossed over first to secure a landing site.

The original plan called for the entire army to be disembarked on the New Jersey side of the Delaware by midnight. However, a hail and sleet storm had begun early in the crossing, winds were strong and the river was full of ice flows that had been moving downstream for several days. Thus, was not until 3:00 a.m. on December 26, that the army completed the crossing; it took another hour to get the troops organized for an attack.

Washington’s troops attacked to the south, taking the Hessian garrison by surprise and swarming the town. Following fierce fighting, and the loss of their commander, the Hessians surrendered.

The victory came at a time in the Revolution when morale was at its lowest point. News of the American victory spread rapidly through the colonies, reinvigorating the failing spirit of the Revolution. The outcome of the battle also gave Washington and his officers the confidence to build up another campaign. They crossed the Delaware again on December 30, attacked and on January 2, won another victory at Trenton. They then pushed on to Princeton, defeating the British there on January 3.

Though it was not apparent at the time, these battles were crucial turning points in the Revolutionary War. Not only did they pull the Revolution out of the depths of despair, they proved to would-be allies like France, Holland and Spain, that the Continental Army was a force to be reckoned with.

In 1851, Emanuel Leutze painted an oil-on-canvas painting titled Washington Crossing the Delaware . The painting commemorates Washington's crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776. The painting depicts Washington standing proud with his officers around him. The men had to work hard to push past ice while trying to ignore the cold. In the painting, there seems to be a Heavenly glow around them, protecting them from the elements and from the British and the Hessians.

As of 2004, the original Washington Crossing the Delaware painting is part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but you can purchase a copy at .

About the Author: Teresa Frady is webmaster of several art and entertainment sites including, where finding your favorite poster, photo or art print is easy.

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