George Washington Biography

Crossing the Delaware

As George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania in early December 1776, the American rebellion looked to be coming to an end. Washington had lost control of New York to the British and his army had been chased through New Jersey all the way to Pennsylvania. The morale of patriots throughout America was grim. Even the leaders of the rebellion in Philadelphia began to worry that their rebellion would meet a swift defeat.

Tough Times

In an essay titled "The American Crisis" Thomas Paine wrote "These are the times that try men's souls." As Washington camped with his army near the Delaware River preparing for winter, his options were dwindling. His army had shrunk to around 5,000 men. Many of these men were injured or sick. They were desperately short on supplies with many men marching through the snow without shoes. To make matters worse, the enlistments for thousands of his soldiers were up at the end of the year and few new men were enlisting.

Time to Attack

Washington knew he had to do something drastic to improve morale and keep his army together. He decided that he was done retreating and it was time to attack. After careful planning, he decided to attack a garrison of 1,500 Hessians (German mercenaries who fought for the British) at Trenton, New Jersey. He planned the attack to take place the morning after Christmas when the Hessians would likely still be asleep after celebrating Christmas the night before.

The most dangerous part of the attack would be crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey. The fast rushing river was nearly frozen over and full of large chunks of ice. If a boat should capsize or sink, all the men aboard would quickly die in the ice cold water. Any commander would consider crossing the Delaware under such conditions as insanity. Washington was counting on this very fact.

Crossing the Delaware River

On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington and his men silently marched to McKonkey's Ferry where they would cross the Delaware River. The night was cold and stormy. What started out has a light drizzle turned into sleet and snow. The men boarded wide, flat-bottomed boats called Durham boats that were typically used to carry freight on river. Due to the terrible weather, it took several hours for the entire army to cross. Washington was on one of the first boats to make it through. Once on the other side of the river, the army remained quiet and prepared for the coming battle.

Battle of Trenton

It was around 4:00 am in the morning when the army began to march the ten miles towards Trenton. It took them around 4 hours of marching on icy roads in the cold dark before they arrived at the outskirts of Trenton. Some of the soldier's shoes had worn out and they were forced to wrap cloths around their feet. Blood from their feet made the trail turn red. During the difficult march, General Washington road up and down the lines on his horse encouraging his men to continue.

As they neared Trenton, the army split into two groups: one group led by General John Sullivan and the other by General Nathaniel Greene. As the Americans approached Trenton some small skirmishes broke out and warnings were sent to the Hessian commander in Trenton. The Hessians were slow to respond and were quickly surrounded by American forces. As the Hessians began to form ranks to fight back, the Americans positioned their cannons and fired on the Hessians. The Hessian commander, Colonel Rall, was mortally wounded in the attack and the Hessians surrendered.


With the defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, Washington had a major victory. He then made two more crossings of the Delaware River: one to take the prisoners to Pennsylvania and another to return with his army to New Jersey. Once back in New Jersey, he marched north to Princeton where he gained another victory by defeating the British at the Battle of Princeton.

A Turning Point

The Crossing of the Delaware and the subsequent victories at Trenton and Princeton proved to be an early turning point in the Revolutionary War. Without those victories the rebellion may have crumbled. After the victories, new soldiers began to enlist in the army and the patriots gained a renewed belief that they could win the war.

Interesting Facts

The password challenge used during the mission was "Victory or Death."

There were three crossings planned for the attack. Due to poor weather and ice on the river, only one crossing, the one that Washington led, made it successfully across the river.

Several famous men took part in the Crossing of the Delaware including future U.S. President James Monroe, John Marshall (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), and Alexander Hamilton.

When General Sullivan reported that his troop's gun powder had been soaked by the rain, Washington responded that Sullivan's army should use their bayonets.

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, remarked that "the achievements of Washington [at Trenton and Princeton] were the most brilliant of any recorded in the history of military achievements."

<<< Previous      Next >>>

George Washington Biography Contents
  1. Overview and Interesting Facts
  2. Growing Up George Washington
  3. French and Indian War
  4. Fort Duquesne
  5. Married Life and Mount Vernon
  6. The American Revolution Begins
  7. Commander in Chief
  8. Crossing the Delaware
  9. 1777 and Valley Forge
  10. Victory in the American Revolution
  11. End of the War, King Washington, and the Constitutional Convention
  12. First President of the United States
  13. The Presidency
  14. Leaving the Presidency, Retirement, and Death
  15. George Washington Quotes and Bibliography