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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Washington's Crossing, historian David Hackett Fischer uses Emanuel Leutze's highly romantic depiction of this famed event to reveal the gritty reality of the challenge faced by General Washington's Continental Army during the harsh winter of 1776, and the pivotal importance of the subsequent battles at Trenton and Princeton in turning the tide of the war.

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His narrative begins in the summer of 1776 with the arrival of 33,000 fresh British and Hessian troops in New York. Intent on striking a crushing blow against the nascent Revolution, the British generals launched a massive and merciless assault against the bedraggled and comparatively untrained American forces, driving them out of the New York and Long Island area, ultimately to southern New Jersey.

By winter, Washington's battered troops, already depleted by defections and desertions, with many unfit due to illness, had retreated as far as Pennsylvania. At length, the arrival of limited, but sufficient reinforcements emboldened the general to consider an attack on a British position. On Christmas night, Washington led a force of 2,400 across the ice-covered Delaware River in a surprise attack on the combined British and Hessian troops based in Trenton, putting the town under his control. Within weeks, after again defeating the British at Trenton, the Americans seized another valuable British base at Princeton.

After both sides retreated to winter quarters, the American troops maintained an essentially guerrilla-style offensive, forcing the British and Hessians to concentrate their troops, which left the Americans in control of large parts of the mid-Atlantic region. This new type of "ungentlemanly" hit-and-run combat was well-adapted to the abilities of the Continental army, which had fared so badly against disciplined enemy troops with extensive experience in European-style line formation. For the first time, the Americans, who had heretofore always been on the defensive, began to regain territory on the attack, thus permanently reversing the momentum of the war.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2353

In 1781, after the surrender of the British forces at Yorktown ended the Revolutionary War, Charles Cornwallis and George Washington dined together. Lord Cornwallis proposed a toast asserting that Washington would be remembered best for his brilliant maneuvers along the Delaware River in the winter of 1776-1777. That twelve-week campaign is the focus of David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing. If the number of soldiers involved was small by historical standards, Fischer nevertheless believes that the battles of Trenton and Princeton and the famous Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River were significant because they reversed the momentum of the Revolutionary War and demonstrated to the world that a democratic society devoted to freedom could accomplish a great deed through its own conviction, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice.

Professor Fischer has an impressive command not only of the minutiae of these battles but also of their significance. He sees the campaign as a clash not only of three different armies with their own ways of training and sets of tactics but also a conflict of principles. On one hand were the British and Hessians embodying discipline and order. On the other were the Americans, who were struggling to form an army of liberty. To Fischer, the opposing sides were vying for no less than the respect of the free world.

No one felt the difficulties of forging an army of liberty more than Washington. Having served with the British in the French and Indian War, he knew that his opponents were strengthened by the principles of hierarchy, service, loyalty, and discipline. He found that...

(The entire section contains 2666 words.)

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