December 25-26, 1776
— Washington Crossing State Park —
"I am determined, as the night is favorable, to cross the River, & make the attack upon Trenton in the Morning."
General George Washington
After a series of defeats in New York in 1776, General George Washington's Continental Army retreated across New Jersey and, on December 8th, escaped across Delaware River into Pennsylvania. The British, unable to find boats, could not pursue Washington further so went into winter quarters; leaving a chain of outposts throughout New Jersey. The Trenton outpost consisted of three regiments of Hessian soldiers.
In desperate need of a victory, Washington decided to cross the Delaware River on Christmas night to launch a surprise attack on Trenton. As night fell, the army of 2,400 men began to cross the ice-filled river. By midnight a storm had developed - hurling sleet, hail and snow at the rebel army.
"We had to wait for the rest and so began to pull down the fences and made fires to warm ourselves, for the storm was increasing rapidly. After a while it rained, hailed, snowed, and froze, and at the same time blew a perfect hurricane."
John Greenwood, Fifer, 15th Massachusetts Regiment
For almost ten hours, boats moved continuously back and forth across the river, ferrying men, horses and cannon to the Jersey side. It was nearly 4 in the morning before the entire army was assembled and ready for the march to Trenton.
On the morning of December 26th, after a nine-mile march, the Hessian garrison was surrounded and defeated. This decisive victory at Trenton - a tremendous morale boost for the Continentals - saved the Revolution.
"?the army?passed the river on Christmas night, with almost infinite difficulty?. The floating ice in the river made the labor almost incredible. However perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible?. The night was cold and stormy; it hailed with great violence?."
Colonel Henry Knox, Continental Artillery