Last night, Deborah and I watched the movie, The Crossing, starring Jeff Daniels as George Washington. The movie covers about one week during the Revolutionary War, culminating with the Battle of Trenton.
The Battle of Trenton was a major turning point of the war. German-American artist Emanuel Leutze famously painted Washington standing in the front of a boat, crossing the Delaware River after dark on Christmas Day, 1776. The goal was to get all his troops across the river during the night, then march on Trenton and surprise the Hessians garrisoned there in a dawn attack. The attack began promptly at 8 am, and the surprise worked. Wet, tired, and hungry, the adrenaline must have kicked in, because the battle was carried out without a single injury or lost life for Washington’s troops (according to the movie).
Several things struck me about our Home Team as I watched the film and here is my 10 point synopsis of the movie.
- We were discouraged to the point of defeat
- We had lost every battle
- We had never gone on the offensive
- We were farmers and businessmen
- We were not professional soldiers (they were)
- We had no mercenaries (they did)
- We had inferior numbers (outnumbered ten to one)
- We were short of money and supplies
- We were tired and hungry
- We were only six months into war
Washington was desperate because the Americans had lost every battle via retreat, and the desertion rate was overwhelming. His command was reduced to only two thousand men who could still fight, and the better fed, better armed British, and their Hessian mercenaries, knew victory was theirs as soon as the river froze over.
The crossing of the Delaware and attack on Trenton was a desperate act by a desperate leader … and it worked. The day after Christmas, December 26, 1776, the Americans surprised the Hessians in a morning attack on Trenton, and changed the outlook of the war.
Seven more years passed before independence was won, but it started with this historic victory.
There were also two flags present in the movie, and I was curious about them. Since the Stars and Stripes wasn’t born until June, 1777, I wondered what flag the Americans fought under. Here is the Grand Union, that Washington’s men carried into battle. The flag was never given official status as the National Flag of the newly formed United States, but was used by Washington throughout the war, and was flown over the first naval vessels commissioned for war.
The other flag was probably a regimental flag but I could not get a clear enough view of it to accurately identify it.
The Continental Congress realized the need for a National flag and adopted the Stars and Strips on June 14, 1777. This flag was purportedly made by Betsy Ross. I don’t want to debate the merits of the Betsy Ross claim here, but will address it in another article. But please drop me an email if you have strong viewpoints either way.
If you are fuzzy on the history of The Battle of Trenton, and want to see a good film, I highly recommend The Crossing.