George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, which occurred on the night of December 25–26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, was the first move in a surprise attack organized by George Washington against the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey, on the morning of December 26.
Planned in partial secrecy, Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the icy Delaware River in a logistically challenging and dangerous operation. Other planned crossings in support of the operation were either called off or ineffective, but this did not prevent Washington from surprising and defeating the troops of Johann Rall quartered in Trenton. The army crossed the river back to Pennsylvania, this time laden with prisoners and military stores taken as a result of the battle.
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Interesting Facts About “Washington Crossing the Delaware”
- It wasn’t painted by an American
The quintessentially American oil-on-canvas was actually painted by a immigrant. A German artist by the name of Emanuel Leutze completed it in 1851 – 75 years after the events he depicted had occurred. Leutze, who was born in Württemberg in 1816, lived in Philadelphia for a time and was enthralled by the history of North America.
- The boat is carrying some interesting characters
In addition to the artist’s portrayal of General Washington, the occupants of the rowboat represent a microcosm of 18th century America. They include a frontiersmen (at the bow), a Scot (second from the left facing aft), an African American (third from the left facing aft), a woman disguised as a man (foreground wearing a red shirt), two farmers (second and third from the right) and a native American (wearing buckskin and manning the tiller). Also in boat appear the future fifth president of the United States, James Monroe (clutching the flag) along with the Irish American general Edward Hand (the man seated fourth from the right wearing a bicorn hat).
- The image is rife with inaccuracies
The artist took a number of, shall we say, ‘creative liberties’ in his painting. For instance, the Stars and Stripes flag portrayed in the image didn’t actually exist at that time. Up until 1777, the 13 colonies had adopted the Grand Union as their standard — 13 red and white stripes with a miniature Union Flag in the upper left. Also, the famous crossing took place in the dead of night and in foul weather — not at twilight under picturesque clearing skies.
- America only received reproductions of the painting
Leutze completed the painting in 1850 and then composed a duplicate of it shortly afterwards. The original was damaged in a fire but later restored while the replica was put on display in New York. This second version was sold privately a number of times before becoming part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection in 1897. The version of the painting that famously hangs in the White House’s West Wing is only a reproduction.
- You’ll never believe how the original was lost
The original ‘Crossing’ remained in Germany after it was painted and went on display in the Kunsthalle Bremen art museum in 1851. There it remained for decades. Sadly, it was lost in an RAF bombing raid on Bremen in 1942. Many joked that its destruction was Britain’s final revenge for the American War of Independence.