when did george washington cross the delaware

when did george washington cross the delaware

when did george washington cross the delaware

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George Washington crosses the Delaware

During the American Revolution, Patriot General George Washington crosses the Delaware River with 5,400 troops, hoping to surprise a Hessian force celebrating Christmas at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey. The unconventional attack came after several months of substantial defeats for Washington’s army that had resulted in the loss of New York City and other strategic points in the region.

At about 11 p.m. on Christmas, Washington’s army commenced its crossing of the half-frozen river at three locations. The 2,400 soldiers led by Washington successfully braved the icy and freezing river and reached the New Jersey side of the Delaware just before dawn. The other two divisions, made up of some 3,000 men and crucial artillery, failed to reach the meeting point at the appointed time.

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 Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey, on the morning of December.

when did george washington cross the delaware
when did george washington cross the delaware

6 Facts about Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware River

1. Washington crossed the Delaware River so that his army could attack an isolated garrison of Hessian troops located at Trenton, New Jersey.

So why were Washington and his bedraggled Continental Army

trying to cross an ice-choked Delaware River on a cold winter’s night?

It wasn’t just to get to the other side. Washington’s aim was to conduct a surprise attack upon a Hessian garrison

of roughly 1,400 soldiers located in and around Trenton, New Jersey.

Washington hoped that a quick victory at Trenton would bolster sagging morale in his army and

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encourage more men to join the ranks of the Continentals come the new year.

After several councils of war, General George Washington set the date for the river crossing for Christmas night 1776.

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2. Washington’s attack plan included three separate river crossings, but only one made it across.

George Washington’s plan of attack included three different crossings of the Delaware River on Christmas night.

Col. Cadwalader was to lead his force of 1,200 Philadelphia militia and 600 Continentals

across the river near Burlington, New Jersey.

His role was to harass and prevent the British and Hessian units near the town

from racing north to support the Hessians at Trenton.

Gen. James Ewing’s force of 800 Pennsylvania militia was to cross the river at Trenton and

take up defensive positions along the Assunpink River and bridge.

Ewing’s soldiers would work to prevent the Hessians from retreating from Trenton.

And Washington and his 2,400 soldiers would cross at McConkey’s and Johnson’s ferries,

roughly 10 miles north of Trenton and would then march down to Trenton to surprise the garrison at dawn

. This was an ambitious plan, one that even well rested and experienced troops

would have had difficulty in executing. Both Cadwalader and Ewing’s forces were unable to cross the ice-choked river.

And Washington’s main force managed a crossing, but was more than three hours delayed.

when did george washington cross the delaware
when did george washington cross the delaware

3. Spies and deserters had informed the British and Hessians that Trenton was likely to be attacked.

Lurking within Washington’s headquarters was a British spy who has never been identified. This spy was privy to the early deliberations of Washington’s war council and correctly passed along to British Major General James Grant that Washington’s army was looking to attack north of the river. Grant passed along this information to General Leslie and Col. Von Donop who then passed it along to Col. Johann Rall at Trenton. And while Grant stated that he did not think Washington would attack, he did command Rall to be vigilant. Rall acknowledged receipt of this important intelligence at about the same time that Washington was beginning his crossing. With typical Hessian bravado, Rall dismissed or even welcomed the threat stating “Let them come… Why defenses? We will go at them with the bayonet.”

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The day before, Rall had received two American deserters who had crossed the river and told the Hessians that the American army was ready to move. Other loyalists informed the Hessians that an attack was imminent. So why wasn’t Rall more active in opposing the crossing or better prepared to defend the town? History records that a series of false alarms and the growing storm had given the Hessian defenders a sense that no attack was likely this night. How might history have changed if the Hessians responded differently to all this intelligence?

when did george washington cross the delaware
when did george washington cross the delaware

4. Washington’s force used a collection of cargo boats and ferries to transport his men across the Delaware.

Thanks to the foresight of General Washington and the actions of the New Jersey militia, the American forces had brought all available watercraft on the Delaware to the southern bank, thus denying the British the use of these crafts, while making them available for an American recrossing. Much of Washington’s force crossed the river in shallow draft Durham boats – strongly built cargo vessels, most between 40 and 60 feet in length, designed to move iron ore and bulk goods down the river to markets in and around Philadelphia.

These stout craft with their high side walls were robust enough to survive the ice-choked Delaware. Heavy artillery pieces and horses were transported on large flat-bottomed ferries and other watercraft more suited to carrying that type of difficult cargo. It shouldn’t be surprising that most of Washington’s soldiers stood during the crossing since the bottoms of Durham boats were neither comfortable nor dry.

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5. Experienced watermen from New England and the Philadelphia area ably guided the boats across the challenging river.

One factor in Washington’s favor was the large number of experienced watermen to be found at the crossing site. Col. John Glover’s Marblehead regiment was filled with New Englanders who had extensive experience as seamen. Glover’s men were all quite identifiable with their short blue seaman’s jackets, tarred pants, and woolen caps. Other experienced watermen from the Philadelphia area, many familiar with this exact stretch of river, had also congregated in the area and were able to provide the muscle and skill needed to make the perilous nighttime crossing.

6. The crossing was made worse by the arrival of a strong storm that brought freezing rain, snow, and terrifying winds.

By the time that most of the soldiers had reached the launching point for the boats, the drizzle had turned into a driving rain. And by 11 o’clock that evening, while the boats were crossing the river, a howling nor’easter made the miserable crossing even worse. One soldier recorded that “it blew a perfect hurricane” as snow and sleet lashed Washington’s army.

when did george washington cross the delaware
when did george washington cross the delaware

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