Washington Crossing the Deleware

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CROSSING THE DELEWARE

HIST101

George Washington saved not only the continental army at the battle of Trenton, but he also saved and breathed new life into the cause of Independence. After knowing seemingly knowing nothing but defeat and hardship for the latter half of 1776, Washington knew that not only he, but the neophyte country known as the United States, needed a miracle. History dictates that he most certainly delivered that miracle and saved the cause, but what were the effects of his victory? What is the importance of his crossing of the Delaware?

The crossing at the Delaware river has become over the years, the symbol of American spirit and resolve. Numerous historical evidence indicates the hardships and hazards that accompanied the crossing that fateful December night. But to discuss the effects of the crossing, one must set the stage of events first.

In the winter of 1776, General George Washington and his fledgling continental army stood on the precipice of annihilation. After suffering a series of disastrous defeats which resulted in the loss of New York city and it's surrounding areas, Washington gathered the shattered remnants of his once proud army and retreated across the Delaware river into Pennsylvania. Washington knew that the life of not only his army, but the cause was ebbing away daily, more so with their disastrous string of defeats. With low morale, constant desertion, sickness and hunger facing his men, he also knew that there was one other chief problem which would befall him at the end of the year;the expiration of the soldiers enlistments.[1]

When the continentals drove the British troops out of Boston in March of 1776, Washington had seventeen thousand troops under his command. By December of 1776, through not only combat but the attrition of war and what entails with it, he now commanded a mere four thousand seven hundred men. At the end of December when the enlistments for the soldiers ran out, he would be fighting with only twelve hundred men. In a letter that Washington wrote to John Hancock who was residing with the Continental congress in Philadelphia at the time, Washington wrote, “Ten more days will put an end to the existence of our Army[2].”

Washington was not exaggerating when he said this. He had no doubt in his mind that come the end of the year the expiration of enlistments would cause an exodus of his fighting force. Aside from the threat of the ending enlistments, there was also the Hessian mercenary force across the river at Trenton, which Washington had no doubt that the they would cross the Delaware river once it was frozen over and suitable to do so. Washington also realized that if he could end the year with a tremendous victory, it would do wonders not only for the cause, but for recruiting more soldiers to fight for it. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Washington decided that he would attack the Hessian mercenary force on December 25, 1776.

The Hessians were feared by the continental army, and rightfully so. They were some of the Europe's best trained troops at the time and the memories of their massacre of American troops at the Battle of Long Island, lay fresh in their minds. The need for self-preservation seemed almost as strong as the need to avenge the brave soldiers lost. Washington's staff strongly advised him from attacking the Hessians in broad daylight, even crossing the river it's self. Their seemed to be a prevalent feeling that the Hessians would destroy the continentals, even though they had the Hessian'soutnumbered(the Hessians in Trenton were around fifteen-hundred men). While the continentals had numbers on their side, the Hessians had several things they did not. The Hessians were billeted in houses no doubt with fire places and were relatively safe and comfortable from the cold....
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