1. In December 1776, the American Revolution was failing. The once eager troops were now weary and tired. The American soldiers had been called suddenly from their workshops and farms. They were not prepared for a long war. Now they were scattered, and many of the soldiers began returning to their homes.
2. The power of England’s vigorous army had begun to show. Washington had been fighting stubbornly during the summer and autumn. And yet, New York had returned to the hands of the British. Then Fort Lee and Fort Washington had been lost, and finally, his army had retreated to New Jersey.
3. December 2nd, Washington was at Princeton with three thousand ragged soldiers. British General Howe felt that the American army was not able to fight. He doubted it could even survive the winter. It would soon be dissolved. General Howe went to New York, to stay for the winter.
4. The British general had 25,000 well-trained soldiers, so his decision seemed wise. The American army had left the field of battle. He was sure that no more volunteers would come out, despite Washington’s appeals. All that remained of the American Revolution was the little army and the man who led it.
5. Yet Washington did not despair. He sent messages in every direction, looking for troops. Nothing that he could do was left undone. Boldly, he planned an attack against the British. It was a desperate attempt, for he had only 6000 men, and even these were scattered. Yet he hoped that by his own skill and courage, he could win.
6. He saw that his only chance was to attack the British suddenly. It must be done in secrecy and perfect judgment. It would also require great courage.
7. On Christmas Eve, when the world was feasting and rejoicing, Washington set out. The British were enjoying themselves in their comfortable quarters. Washington and his men crossed Delaware through the floating ice. His boats were rowed by the same strong fishermen-turned soldiers. The crossing was successful, and he landed about nine miles from Trenton.
8. It was bitter cold, and snow drove sharply into the faces of the troops. One commander, named Sullivan, sent word that his soldiers’ guns were wet. “Tell your general,” Washington said to the messenger, “to use the bayonet, for the town must be taken.” When they reached Trenton, it was daylight. Washington, at the front of the line, swept down the road. As he drove back the Hessians, he heard the shout of Sullivan’s men as they charged in from the river.
9. There was some fighting in the streets, but the attack was so strong and well planned that it was useless. Colonel Rahl, the British commander, was killed as he rushed out to rally his men. In a few moments it was all over. Washington took a thousand prisoners, and this part of the British Army was destroyed.
10. A famous painting shows Washington crossing the Delaware at the head of his soldiers. He is standing up in the boat, looking forward through the storm. It doesn’t matter whether the work of the painter shows exactly what happened or not. The courage and determination which the artist shows on Washington’s face are all true. We may be sure that the man who led that well-planned but desperate attack was at that moment one of the most heroic figures in history.