You guys seem pretty psyched about RE Factor’s new line of “modernized” art, especially the Colonial Maritime Raid Force. Since July 4th is coming up, I thought it might be fitting to talk a little about the story behind the original painting Washington Crossing the Delaware River.
In late 1776, George Washington’s Continental Army had suffered a series of damaging losses. British General George Howe had driven Washington’s army out of Manhattan, into New Jersey, and finally across the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Over 90% of the Continental Army was lost to disease, battle, or desertion. Washington’s remaining troops’ enlistments were set to expire at the end of the year. In those days there was no stop-loss. When an enlistment ran out, men went home. A general could wake up to find that his entire fighting force had gone home, and he had no remedy other than personal magnetism or more money. Washington was in a bad place, and he knew it. He also knew that just across the river sat around 1,400 Hessian mercenaries in Trenton, New Jersey, and he outnumbered them. A victory could dramatically improve morale, convince his men to remain, and also bolster the Continental Congress’ foreign ambassadors as they attempted to convince France and other nations to support America’s struggle for independence.
Washington actually planned a tightly timed three-pronged attack consisting of Washington’s troops hitting Trenton from the north, troops under General James Ewing cutting off escape routes to the south, and militia under Colonel John Cadwalader cutting off reinforcements. The attack was planned for the morning of December 26th, with the army crossing the river under the cover of darkness at 2300 on December 25th. Unfortunately, as with any plan, the environment gets a vote, and on the night of the 25th, a nor’easter descended on Washington’s troops as they crossed the river. Despite the crossing only being approximately 300 yards, the army’s movements were hampered by the frozen river and savage storm. The planned attack got so far behind that at one point, the General considered cancelling it. Unknown to him, the delay actually worked in his favor. The Hessian troops had been warned of an attack to commence at midnight. When the army did not materialize as expected, they let down their guard. The four-hour weather delay, which also prevented Washington’s two other columns from crossing the Delaware in time for the attack, may have actually saved the maneuver. Washington’s troops, accompanied by artillery under the command of Colonel Henry Knox, attacked at 0800. The Hessian commander was killed, and the Continental Army captured almost 1,000 enemy troops.
After the battle, Washington retreated back across the river into Pennsylvania. On December 31st, he re-took Trenton, then moved north, where they defeated three British regiments in separate engagements before taking up winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey.
From a tactical perspective, Washington’s victories were not tide-turning, at least not in the physical sense. Washington was still outnumbered with a poorly supplied army. But from a morale standpoint, these victories were key. They proved that the Continental army could indeed stand up to British regulars and win, and most likely prevented the total collapse of the enterprise.
The actual painting titled Washington Crossing the Delaware River wasn’t painted until 1851 by German artist Emanual Leutze, who may have taken a few artistic liberties with the painting. Leutze was less concerned with an accurate depiction of the even than he was with creating an idolized, inspiring picture of General Washington, which he did succeed in accomplishing. The painting is arguably one of the most famous American history paintings, and hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
RE Factor has taken a few more artistic liberties with the painting, and updated it with some more modern military elements. Check it out in the RE Factor store!
About the author
Joel is an 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.