On the night of Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington began crossing the Delaware River to attack Trenton, New Jersey, creating the iconic scene immortalized in an 1851 painting.
Washington crossing the Delaware River is a famous event in American history that took place during the American Revolutionary War. George Washington, then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, led a surprise attack against Hessian forces (German soldiers hired by the British) stationed in Trenton, New Jersey.
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851
Early in the morning on Christmas, General Washington advised his troops to have food and supplies for three days of travel, and was concerned the British were planning to cross the Delaware River once it had completely frozen over. The weather was getting worse as well, turning from drizzle to rain to sleet and snow, based on a soldier's account of the day.
The greatest hazard Washington faced was ice chunks in the river, making it extremely difficult to navigate across, meaning all of the Army did not move across the water until 3am on the 26th. Over the next two days, Washington and his men would make the trip two more times. The crossing would result in the Battle of Trenton
, which was a small but significant battle in the Revolutionary War.
The attack on the Hessian forces was a surprise, and the Americans were able to quickly overwhelm the enemy. The victory at Trenton was a turning point in the war, and it helped to bolster morale among the American troops and civilians. It also proved to be a tactical victory, as it allowed Washington to regain control of New Jersey and boosted recruitment for the Continental Army.
The cold weather was indicative of the period known as the "Little Ice Age" of the late 18th century.
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