Historical Markers
Washington Crossing Historical Marker
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Washington Crossing

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
PA 532 at Washington Crossing

Dedication Date:
November 17, 1947

Behind the Marker

"These are the times that try men's souls," wrote journalist markerTom Paine in December 1776 in The Crisis. "The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it Now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Only six months after issuing their fiery Declaration of Independence, Americans discovered that principles and rhetoric meant little on the battlefield. General George Washington and his Continental Army were in full retreat from the British Army, after suffering a series of defeats in and around New York City and northern New Jersey. "Without reinforcements," Washington admitted grimly, "I think the game is pretty near up."
Oil on canvas of Washington and another soldier, who holds the American flag, standing in a boat, while other soldiers sit rowing, crossing the icy Delaware River.
George Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851.

But Washington's counterpart, markerGeneral Sir William Howe failed to follow through on his military advantages. On December 13, shortly after Congress had quit Philadelphia, Howe ordered his troops to suspend their offensive for the duration of the winter and settle into positions across New Jersey.

The delay was all that Washington needed. With enlistments due to expire at the end of the year, the American commander decided to cross the Delaware River and strike a surprise blow. From various headquarters in Bucks County, he plotted to launch an offensive on Christmas night, with troops crossing the icy river at three points and converging on an encampment of German mercenary soldiers (Hessians) protecting Trenton.

An officer described the night of the crossing as "fearfully cold and raw" but noted that he had "never seen Washington marker so determined as he is now." Even though two of the detachments never made it across the river and the rest were late, the daring maneuver proved a complete success. Nearly a thousand surprised Hessian soldiers surrendered with no American fatalities. After so many early setbacks, it was a striking personal victory for General Washington.

In 1851, Emanuel Leutze created the famous painting of the crossing. His dramatic version was not exactly accurate – the boat and flag were wrong and Washington was not standing – but the painting captured the drama of the incident. The moment could not have been more inspiring, or more necessary, in such trying times.
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