Photo above: Washington's Crossing State Park, Pennsylvania. Photo right: Painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
It would become the first real blush of success for Washington's army after the Declaration of Independence in July, as many of the battles before the Ten Crucial Days of this Campaign had been less kind to Washington's troops as they battled the British, and their Hessian allies, for the right of freedom. And when the three battalions of troops gathered at various locations along the Delaware River in boats they had confiscated from the region to both prevent the British from following and allow themselve the opportunity for a surprise attack, they were prepared for whatever next move the General would make.
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Washington's Crossing Then
Many thought that meant winter quarters and a stay in the fighting till spring. Others, including Washington, thought a surprise attack and hopeful victory would spur the Continental Army to further victories as the war went on. So on December 25, 1776, they gathered at those three locations and prepared to cross the cold Delaware waters at a wide location in a snowstorm during the dark of night. And when only one of those three battalions could make it across, that led by Washington himself, it would precurse a march into Trenton, that surprise attack, and 900 captured Hessian troops sleeping during a night they thought would be devoid of battle.
Washington's men had crossed the Delaware River earlier in the month, chased out of New Jersey and New York by the British, who thought they had tamed the revolution and were preparing for winter quarters. The Continential Army was camped in Newtown prior to making their crossing on December 25. Two other sections of the army were to cross at other locations, including Cadwalader at Bristol Ferry and Ewing at Trenton Ferry. Neither of those two would be able to cross that night, leaving Washington's 2,400 men to be the sole participants in the Battle of Trenton.
They had commanded the river from Philadelphia north so that no boats would be available for the British to pursue them. They would cross 50-75 horses and 18 guns during that stormy night. It would take them from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. to accomplish the task.
On the New Jersey side, the ferry was run, originally by the Johnson family, but during the American Revolution, by the family of James Slack. During December of 1776, the New Jersey side was British territory with Hessians patrolling the ferry area on a daily basis.
There would be another battle at Trenton a week later, and one day later at Princeton, but this was a night for Washington and his troops to make a daring cross on McKonkey's Ferry to Johnson's Ferry, and let the cry of freedom call across the choppy, freezing waters for a nation to hear. It would tell the tale of far in the future victory that we sometimes forget, ... the long, arduous road to freedom, a constitution, an election of Washington in 1789 to be president, and the start of the United States of America we know today. In many ways, although the nation had started in that hall in Philadelphia six months before, this crossing started the road to victory. Go there and see how it started.
Ten Crucial Days Campaign Timeline
December 25, 1776 - Washington's 2400 troops cross the Delaware River.
December 26, 1776 - Surprise attack by the Continental Army on the Hessian barracks at Trenton result in the capture of 900 Hessian troops. Cornwallis would afterwards pursue Washington with 8,000 men, forcing him to recross the Delaware.
January 2, 1777 - Second Battle of Trenton. This battle was a diversion which allowed Washington to take his main body of troops to Princeton.
January 3, 1777 - Battle of Princeton. Continental Army defeated the British at their garrison, forcing them to leave southern New Jersey. Washington and his troops would winter at Morristown.
Image above: 1872 drawing by Felix Octavius Carr Darley for G. P. Putname of Washington on horseback prior to crossing the Delware. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Continental Army Troops during the Washington's Crossing reenactment.
Washington's Crossing Now
The two parks that make up the majority of the historic area on both sides of the Delaware River do not get the attendance they should, nor the attention of a public that comes in the millions to the Philadelphia's Independence Hall area, or that of Valley Forge, but Washington's Crossing should garner that attention for the important facts of its history, and is located nary an hour north of those two. In fact, hop on Route 202 at Valley Forge and head north and you'll be there in a jiffy. Hop on I-95 if you're in Philadelphia proper and you'll be there in that jiffy, too.
Washington's Crossing Historic Park and Washington's Crossing New Jersey State Park are located at the location where Washington actually crossed the river. Reenactments of the actual crossing (picture below) are held on December 25 each year (have been for the last 60). It's a great time to visit. Join the 9,000 folks who come. There is a new (opening March 2013) and improved Visitor Center and Museum on the Pennsylvania side and a new focus with the Friends of Washington's Crossing taking charge of the site after tough times and budget cuts in the Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission had even forced the spector of closing several years ago. No thoughts of that now as things are moving forward. There are seasonal tours of the buildings and village, plus other locations. These also occur from the New Jersey side that encompasses an even larger acreage for history, plus picnics, an amphitheatre, and nature center.
Washington's Crossing - The town is still small and the area around the actual crossing is easy to interpret as the site of 1776.
Bowman's Hill Tower - Five miles north of the village is the second area of the Pennsylvania park where you can get a great view of the whole Delaware River area.
Johnson's Ferry House (pictured below center and right) - This was the point of debarkation where Washington watched as the remainder of his troops crossed the river to the New Jesery side. You can visit the home today, walk to the springhouse, take tours, participate in special programs, and visit the barn.
Washington State Park Museum - Located in the center of the park, the museum covers the history of the Ten Crucial Days campaign and has artifacts of the Revolutionary War in its galleries.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Washington's Crossing T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Great for American Revolution history fans.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take the guided tour of the Pennsylvania park. Call for times, but usually held from Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., from April to December. With the new visitor center opening, these times and dates may change. The tour takes you through the village of Washington's Crossing, a number of historic buildings, and for a walk along the Delaware River where Washington actually crossed. You'll see the Durham boats, too. If you'd also like to visit a guided tour of the Thompson-Neely House and Bowman's Tower in the northern section of the park, there is a combo ticket that allows you entrance to all three.
2. Whether you ride or walk across the bridge from one park to the other, take note of the width of the river, its movement, then add snow and ice. Try to imagine rowing a boat across there with horses and cannons to bring along, too.
3. Once on the New Jersey side, and its a small thing to do, take a stroll down the Continental Road. Well, actually its a path, but during Washington's time, it was the path used by his troops as they marched to victory at Trenton. Imagine the snow falling and how tired you'd be from rowing. It's located just a short walk from the parking area for the museum and nature center.
Image above: Lithograph of Washington at Washington's Crossing, December 25, 1776, by John Cameron, Currier and Ives. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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