On the night of December 25, 1776, with the winter wind whipsawing the water, with waves ripping across the bows of their leaky boats, and sheets of ice impeding their path, American soldiers rowed across the merciless river, from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The city of Trenton was their objective….
Emanuel Leutze’s massive painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It’s approximately 12½ feet high by 21 feet wide. Reading the numbers doesn’t measure its impact—my daughter has seen it, and says it is incredible. This painting has been scoffed at by those who like to point out various historical inaccuracies or implausibilities, but like all art it is symbolic. David Hackett Fisher writes that the debunkers:
…rarely asked about the accuracy of its major themes. To do so is to discover that the larger ideas in Emanuel Leutze’s art are true to the history that inspired it. The artist was right in creating an atmosphere of high drama around the event, and a feeling of desperation among the soldiers in the boats. To search the writings of the men and women who were there (hundreds of firsthand accounts survive) is to find that they believe the American cause was very near collapse on Christmas night in 1776. In five months of heavy fighting after the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s army had suffered many disastrous defeats and gained no major victories. It had lost 90 percent of its strength. The small remnant who crossed the Delaware River were near the end of their resources, and they believe that another defeat could destroy the Cause, as they called it. The artist captured very accurately their sense of urgency, in what was truly a pivotal moment for American history.
In our own valley of Delaware may our words, acts, and choices work to bring revival and awakening in our Republic.
…“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;” and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty.
–The American CrisisDecember 19, 1776
God bless you this Christmas night, and may God bless America in the coming year.
David Hackett Fischer,Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York: 2004) 4-5.