U.S. #1688 pictures Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s dramatic portrayal of Washington’s crossing.
U.S. #1688 pictures Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s dramatic portrayal of Washington’s crossing.

Washington Crosses the Delaware

On the night of December 25, 1776, George Washington led his men across the Delaware River in a surprise attack on the British.

By early December 1776, things were bleak for the American patriots.  They’d lost a string of battles and were pushed out of New York, through New Jersey, into Pennsylvania.  Many soldiers had deserte­­­­­­­­­d, fearing that the cause for independence was lost.  Even General Washington expressed his doubts when he wrote to his cousin, “I think the game is pretty near up.”

U.S. #1686-89 – While #1688 isn’t available on its own, you can own it as part of this four-sheet set.

In spite of this, Washington formed a plan.  Trenton, New Jersey, on the other side of the Delaware River, was occupied by a force of just 1,500 Hessians (German troops fighting for the British).  In addition to their small force, their guard was down, as they believed that no American attacks would be possible.  Washington planned to lead his 2,400-man army across the Delaware while two other detachments would arrive from different directions, cutting off the Hessians’ escape routes.

Planning and preparation lasted throughout December. By the morning of December 25, Washington ordered his men to pack three days’ worth of food and be fitted with fresh flints for their muskets.  Washington was also concerned that the British were planning to cross the river once it was frozen, but he moved ahead with his plans.  That evening, Washington and his men marched to their crossing point at McKonkey’s Ferry, but arrived late.  Despite the delayed start, Washington pressed on and was among the first to cross the river.  As the weather grew worse overnight, the rain turned to sleet and then snow, slowing their progress even further.  They planned to reach the shore by midnight, but did not arrive until 3 a.m.

Item #CNNJ25D – The New Jersey State Quarter was the first circulating coin to picturing Washington on both sides.

Once across the river, Washington led his men on the nine-mile march to Trenton.  Around 8 a.m., they encountered a Hessian outpost, overtook it, and forced the Hessians to retreat back into Trenton.  With his additional detachments unable to reach Trenton, Washington sent some of his men to block the escape routes while he found high ground to direct the attacks on the town’s two streets.

Item #M8288 – A U.S. Half-Dollar enhanced with the image of Washington crossing the Delaware.

Around the same time, American artillery across the Delaware began firing on the Hessian positions.  Soon, the Americans managed to drive the Hessians from the town.  The German troops regrouped and made one final attempt at retaking the town, but were attacked from three directions and retreated to a nearby orchard, where they quickly surrendered.  Another Hessian regiment had tried to escape across a nearby bridge but were also captured.  In the end, the enemy force suffered 22 killed, 83 wounded, and 896 captured.  The Americans had two dead and five wounded, including future President James Monroe, who was shot in the shoulder.

The Battle of Trenton was a significant morale booster – encouraging troops to reenlist and convincing new recruits to join the fight.

Click here to see a larger version of, and learn more about, the painting on U.S. #1688.

Click the images to add this history to your collection.

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  1. Sirs;
    I hope sometime in very near future,
    that they will honor George
    Wahington by putting out
    another stamp of him
    croeeing The Delewear
    on 25 Dec.1776.

  2. Merry Christmas to all! George Washington’s determination and perseverance are symbolic of what America is today. Enjoy the freedom to celebrate this day as you wish.

  3. Took a lot of courage to go fight those Hessian troops in the adverse conditions. These are the men who we owe our respect and thanks for all our time on earth this Christmas.2015.

  4. Brings to mind a best collection of trivia info around.
    Total amount in Washington’s boat- 13 look very careful for the 13th
    Each boatman is dressed acordingly to their ethnic back-ground.
    One of the boatmen looks suspecipously like a women

    All in all one of the best documrntay pieces ever wrote to date

    1. Wonderful story! More trivia about those 13 men in Washington’s boat. Have you ever wondered where the expression “you’ve gotta be kidding me” started? In crossing the Delaware that fateful night, General Washington called out to Corporal Peters to extend his lantern over the prow of the boat in order that they might successfully navigate the crossing. All of a sudden, the weather took a turn for the worse and Corporal Peters fell into the raging river. In response to the crew’s calling out to reverse course and search for him, General Washington proclaimed “No, we must complete our mission before dawn without Corporal Peters”. Upon docking, General Washington, seeing that his men were exhausted and disheartened, spied what he thought was a lodging atop a hill and summoned his men to rally up the hill to secure a short night’s rest. Little did Washington know that the lodging was, in fact, a house of prostitution. Upon reaching the door, Gen Washington exclaimed “Madam, my men are exhausted. Can you provide some comfort for them this evening/” The madam then answered, “I believe I can General. How many men to you have?” To which Gen Washington replied “12 men without Peters”. To which the madam replied “12 men without peters! General Washington – you gotta be kidding me!” now you know… Merry Christmas!

  5. A bearded, mustachioed, Washington dressed in red inquired, “Ho Ho Ho madam?” To which madam replied, “Aye General, I’ve a house full of ’em.” Thanks for the set up Dave S.

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