Crossing the Delaware (1776)

The majority of Washington’s militia enlistments were expiring at the end of the year.  Suspecting few to reenlist, Washington desperately needed a victory.  Beginning at sunset on Christmas Day, Washington’s plan was to move his army and artillery across the Delaware River and march quietly to Trenton.  If all went well, his army would surprise the Hessian Garrison in an early morning attack.  River ice and a violent storm, however, created delays and prevented many troops from crossing.  Washington lost all hope of surprising the enemy but going back across the river was not an option.  When the muskets became wet, Washington ordered, “use the bayonets.  I am resolved to take Trenton.”

“… without tents and some of our men without even shoes, [we were ordered] over the mountains to a place called Newton, [PA]…   A day or two after reaching Newton we were paraded one afternoon to march and attack Trenton.  If I recollect aright the sun was about half an hour high and shining brightly, but it had no sooner set than it began to drizzle or grow wet, and when we came to the river it rained…  Over the river we then went in a flat-bottomed scow, and as I was with the first that crossed, we had to wait for the rest and so began to pull down the fences and make fires to warm ourselves, for the storm was increasing rapidly…

During the whole night it alternately hailed, rained, snowed, and blew tremendously. I recollect very well that at one time, when we halted on the road, I sat down on the stump of a tree and was so benumbed with cold that I wanted to go to sleep; had I been passed unnoticed I should have frozen to death without knowing it…”  John GreenwoodThe Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood, December 1776

James Still (Nov 2016)


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