Crossing the Delaware

The American Revolution had many incredible moments and given the odds of success it is astounding that the revolution happened at all. Many of the battles were won less by planning and more by a firm belief and desire for freedom. One of the most notable events was an act of desperation taken by George Washington as he crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve.

The fight against the well-trained and well-armed British forces was a difficult one. The colonists had little in the way of weapons, but made up for it in their enthusiasm and grit. The British had taken two of the major colony cities, New York and Boston, and this made the colonists evacuate and regroup to the north.

The founders were in the process of creating the Declaration of Independence against the British Empire and some of the colonists that were hoping to be independent Americans were starting to lose hope.

American Art in Delaware
American Art in Delaware

Christmas Eve of 1776 saw the Hessians, who were German soldiers that were standing on the side of the British in the battle, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.  Hessians were fond of drinking alcohol and since this was a holiday, it was also known that they would be partying.

The Hessians were named so because they came from an area of Germany called Hesse-Kassel. There were around 30,000 Hessians that fought on the side of the British. After the war, many of the Hessians made the decision to stay and settle in the new country.

George Washington wanted to surprise the Hessians, but the weather was incredibly cold and it was snowing. The ice on the river was forming quickly and any boats carrying American soldiers were barely able to make it.

George Washington gathered 2,000 colonists in boats and he led the group in the lead boat to cross the Delaware at nightfall. They all made it to shore and headed to the Hessian camp in Trenton, New Jersey.

The colonists surprised the Hessians, creating so much chaos that the Hessians left and ran to hid. It took only 45 minutes for the Colonial soldiers to take around 900 Hessians prisoner.

The hungry and tired Colonial soldiers found supplies, ammunition and food at the Hessian camp and were able to restock and replenish their supplies.

Once fed and with a quick rest, the Colonial soldiers marched and headed to Princeton, New Jersey where they won against the British only a couple of days later.

The surprise and victory over the Hessians, combined with the victory at Princeton drove the British troops out of New Jersey and gave the well-needed sense of success to the colonists and the Colonial soldiers.

It has to be remembered that crossing the Delaware at night, in the freezing cold, on a river almost frozen over was the kind of chance that very few military experts would have taken. This was a totally brilliant move by George Washington and it could have gone badly if he hadn’t counted on the knowledge of the Hessians and the fact that it was a holiday.

The victories gave the colonists hope that they were closer to gaining their independence from the British rule.

The crossing of the Delaware was an important tactical move but also one that helped the morale of the Colonial soldiers and the colonists. Many of the soldiers were hungry and injured and ready to leave Washington’s service. They needed a win to help to spur them on to fight for the new country.

Q&A:

Who were the Hessians?
German soldiers fighting on the side of the British

Why was the Crossing of the Delaware important for the Colonial soldiers?
Many were hungry and injured and thinking of leaving the service

What were the weather and river conditions when George Washington crossed the Delaware?
Snowing, freezing cold, and the river was filling with ice

How long did the battle with the Hessians last?
45 minutes

After winning against the Hessians, where did Washington take the Colonial soldiers for the next battle?
Princeton, New Jersey

Why were the Hessians so easy to beat?
They were drinking and celebrating the Christmas holiday