Washington's Crossing

by David Hackett Fischer
Category: "U.S. History - Military"
Year of Publication:2004
Date Added:03/24/2004
Date Read:01/08/2005
Notes:Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia. George Washington lost ninety percent of his army and was driven across the Delaware River. Panic and despair spread through the states. Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, Washington — and many other Americans — refused to let the Revolution die. Even as the British and Germans spread their troops across New Jersey, the people of the colony began to rise against them. George Washington saw his opportunity and seized it. On Christmas night, as a howling nor'easter struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. A second battle of Trenton followed within days. The Americans held off a counterattack by Lord Cornwallis's best troops, then were almost trapped by the British force. Under cover of night, Washington's men stole behind the enemy and struck them again, defeating a brigade at Princeton. The British were badly shaken. In twelve weeks of winter fighting, their army suffered severe damage, their hold on New Jersey was broken, and their strategy was ruined. Fischer's richly textured narrative reveals the crucial role of contingency in these events.
My Rating: 9

Reviews for Washington's Crossing

Review - Washington's Crossing

Fischer covers the entire campaign of 1776 from the American preparations for the British attack on New York through the following March. He shows how Washington and his army learned from the string of American defeats that drove them out of the city and through New Jersey. The British, on the other hand, learned little except contempt for their adversaries. They thought the was about over when they drove Washington’s few remaining men across the Delaware, and most Americans thought so to.

Washington’s attack on Trenton on the night of December 25-26 didn’t succeed because the Hessians were drunk. They weren’t — they were on guard and had sent out patrols that very night. But the storm did cause them to let down their guard toward morning. The victory was due to the excellence of the American attack plans and the skill and tenacity of the soldiers.

After the battle, the Americans withdrew across the Delaware but realized their victory would mean little if they did nothing more. Meanwhile, the victory at Trenton was bringing in more men and encouraging the militia to rise up throughout the state. Washington took his army back to Trenton and prepared a solid defensive position that enable it to withstand the probing attacks by Cornwallis’s much larger force that had marched from Princeton.

But Washington knew another British attack on the next day could very well overwhelm his army, and the Delaware river at his back made retreat impossible. Instead he hit upon a bold plan — leaving their positions in the dark, they marched north to Princeton and defeated the smaller force Cornwallis had left behind. Cornwallis countermarched, but Washington was gone to the north by the time he arrived. The mood of the British army had changed. They were no longer confident of victory. They skedaddled to the east and holed up near New York. Washington’s troops and New Jersey militia harried them all winter and regained total control of New Jersey.

Fischer’s premise is that history is the result of choices, and that the Americans won because of the bold decisions of Washington and his men. It was convincing, well-written and interesting throughout except for the final chapter where the author went back over the whole story and reiterated his premise over and over again.
Back to the list