- Crossing the Delaware
- 233 years ago
When Washington's army first arrived at McKonkey's Ferry he had about 4,000 - 6,000 men, although 1,700 soldiers were unfit for duty and needed hospital care. In the retreat across New Jersey Washington had lost precious supplies as well as losing contact with two important divisions of his army...
Washington had additional problems, including the fact that the enlistments of his men would expire on December 31, 1776. A series of lost battles and retreats had left morale dangerously low among the soldiers. Many of them were inclined to leave the army once their commission was finished and several had taken the opportunity to desert the army before their enlistments were up. Orders were issued to bring supplies to the camp and men were dispatched to recruit new soldiers, who did slowly begin to arrive at the camp.
Morale was given a boost on December 19 by the publication of a new pamphlet by Thomas Paine. Common Sense had served to increase support for the Revolution in its early days, and Paine's new pamphlet, titled The American Crisis, began with these well known words:
Within a day of the its publication in Philadelphia, General Washington ordered it be read to the troops encamped at Washington Crossing. While Paine's writing could not feed or shelter the troops it did serve to increase morale and help them feel a little more tolerant of their current conditions. Morale was also improved by the fact that most soldiers knew they could leave the army within the next few weeks, with their time of duty legally fulfilled and with the knowledge that they had stayed throughout the "dark days of war."
On the next day an event took place that was to have an even better effect on morale. General Lee's division of 2,000 arrived in camp under the command of General John Sullivan. General Lee had been captured by the British on December 12 when he had ventured several miles away from his troops in search of more comfortable lodgings. Later that day General Gates's division, now numbering just 500, arrived in camp. Soon after, another 1,000 men from Philadelphia under Colonel John Cadwalader joined Washington. As a result of these reinforcements and smaller numbers of volunteers from the local area, Washington now had 6,000 listed as "fit-for-duty..."
Final preparation for the attack was begun on December 23. On December 24 Washington ordered that each man be provided with three days rations and that they keep their blankets handy. He also ordered that security be tightened at each river crossing. The Durham boats used to bring the army across the Delaware from New Jersey were brought down from Malta Island near New Hope and hidden behind Taylor Island at McKonkey's Ferry. A final planning meeting took place on December 24, with all of the General Officers present. General Orders were issued by Washington on December 25 outlining plans for the march and attack.
OperationOn Christmas Day 1776 the troops assembled at the ferry landing and were given the password for the day, " Victory or Death". All of the men were gathered at the point of embarkment by 3:00 p.m. 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, but it was not until 3:00 a.m. on December 26 that the army completed the crossing and it took another hour to get the troops organized for an attack. A hail and sleet storm had broken out early in the crossing, winds were strong and the river was full of ice floes. The treacherous weather conditions stopped General Ewing from even attempting his crossing. Colonel Cadwalader crossed a significant portion of his men to New Jersey, but when he found that he could not get his artillery across the river he recalled his men from New Jersey. When he received word about Washington's victory, he crossed his men over again but retreated when he found out that Washington had not stayed in New Jersey.
AttackMain articles: Battle of Trenton and Battle of Princeton
As soon as the army was ready, Washington ordered it split into two columns, one under the command of himself and General Greene, the second under General Sullivan. The Sullivan column would take River Road from Bear Tavern to Trenton while Washington's column would follow Pennington Road, a parallel route that lay a few miles inland from the river. Only three Americans were killed and six wounded, while 22 Hessians were killed with 98 wounded. The Americans were able to capture 1,000 prisoners and seize muskets, powder, and artillery.