It was a desperate act during a desperate time. It was the winter of 1776 and the Colonial Army was looking for something to give it hope that they could beat the British who occupied Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the most important cities of the time. Something had to be done.
To restore faith in the Continental Army, General George Washington devised a plan to attack the Hessian forces in southern New Jersey that were helping protect an advance onto Philadelphia. General Washington know that the Hessians, German soldiers employed by Great Britain, were hearty partiers and would be doing so on Christmas. He devised a plan to cross the Delaware River at night to surprise the Hessians.
On Christmas night, Washington lead 2,000 troops across the icy Delaware River undetected by the British. They regrouped on the New Jersey side of the river and marched to Trenton where the Hessians were camped.
Two thousand hungry and cold colonial troops attacked the Hessian camp. After 45 minutes of fighting, the colonial forces has taken over 900 Hessians prisoner and controlled the camp. The soldiers found food, supplies, and much needed ammunition. A week later, the Colonial Army marched to Princeton and defeated the British army lead by Lt. Col. Charles Mawhood.
Word of the success in New Jersey spread throughout the colonies and provided incentive for them to press on with the fight for independence.
We may not know what it is like, but German-born artist Emanuel Leutze’s oil painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware is the image we most associate with the crossing. The iconic painting depicts General Washington on the lead boat with his foot on the bow as soldiers rowed across the frozen river. A flag bearer is standing behind General Washington who is being held up by another soldier. The darkened overhead sky to represent the night crossing with the sun rising in the east signifying the dawn of a new day in the revolution.
On May 17, 1999, the US Mint introduced the New Jersey State Quarter, the third quarter of the 50 State Quarters program. The reverse of this quarter is engraver Alfred Maletsky’s wonderful interpretation of Leutze’s painting.
Numismatics meets history as we remember the struggle for independence on December 25, 1776.