Washington Crossing the Delaware

December 28, 2001


Provided by: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Summary authors & editors: Jim Foster

The above painting by Emanuel G. Leutze in 1851 shows the Commander of the Continental Army, General George Washington, leading his troops across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776. Washington and his men were camped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River on Christmas day 225 years ago. They hadn't yet won a victory over the British forces and were tired, hungry and cold. Although the winter of 1776-1777 was not severely cold, there were periods of bitter cold weather, such as during the last half of December. Portions of the Delaware River were choked with ice, but it wasn't nearly as ice-clogged as is portrayed in the painting. Nevertheless, Washington's army, including horses, wagons and canons, had to navigate the river during a sleet and snow storm.

Across the Delaware River in New Jersey, the British troops defending Trenton, were led by Colonel Johann Rall. He and his Commander, General Howe, sensed that the colonists weren’t strong enough to attack Trenton. Therefore, Howe sent a large percentage of his soldiers to New York. General Washington used the cover of darkness to cross the Delaware River upriver (north) of Howe's small army. His surprise attack on the unsuspecting British troops in Trenton, and later the same day in Princeton, resulted in a swift victories. These early victories in the Revolutionary War enabled the rebel forces to gain valuable ammunition, food and other important supplies. In addition, they were pivotal since they gave Washington’s army a much needed boost in moral.

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