Eyewitness Account of Washington Crossing the Delaware

 

What an amazing opportunity to place yourself at the scene a a historic event! Read this eyewitness account of Washington Crossing the Delaware by Elisha Bostwick. Read Washington’s December 27, 1776 letter to the Congress regarding the raid on Trenton after Mr. Bostwick’s account.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze 1851

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze 1851

 

Account of Elisha Bostwick

“army passed through Bethleham and Moravian town and so on to the Delaware which we crossed 9 miles north of Trenton and encamped on the Pennsylvania side and there remained to the 24th December. [O]ur whole army was then set on motion and toward evening began to re-cross the Delaware but by obstructions of ice in the river did not all get across till quite late in the evening, and all the time a constant fall of snow with some rain, and finally our march began with the torches of our field pieces stuck in the, exhalters. [They] sparkled and blazed in the storm all night and about day light a halt was made at which time his Excellency and aids came near to the front on the side of the path where soldiers stood.

I heard his Excellency as he was coming on speaking to and encouraging the soldiers. The words he spoke as he passed by where I stood and in my hearing were these:

‘Soldiers, keep by your officers. For God’s sake, keep by your officers!’ Spoke in a deep and solemn voice.

While passing a slanting, slippery bank his Excellency’s horse’s hind feet both slipped from under him, and he seized his horse’s mane and the horse recovered.

Our horses were then unharnessed and the artillery men prepared. We marched on and it was not long before we heard the out sentries of the enemy both on the road we were in and the eastern road, and their out guards retreated firing, and our army, then with a quick step pushing on upon both roads, at the same time entered the town. Their artillery taken, they resigned with little opposition, about nine hundred, all Hessians, with 4 brass field pieces; the remainder crossing the bridge at the lower end of the town escaped….

Marched the next day with our prisoners back to an encampment. I here make a few remarks as to the personal appearance of the Hessians. They are of a moderate stature, rather broad shoulders, their limbs not of equal proportion, light complexion with a bluish tinge, hair cued as tight to head as possible, sticking straight back like the handle of an iron skillet. Their uniform blue with black facings, brass drums which made a tinkling sound, their flag or standard of the richest black silk and the devices upon it and the lettering in gold leaf….

When crossing the Delaware with the prisoners in flat bottom boats the ice continually stuck to the boats, driving them down stream; the boatmen endeavoring to clear off the ice pounded the boat, and stamping with their feet, beckoned to the prisoners to do the same, and they all set to jumping at once with their cues flying up and down, soon shook off the ice from the boats, and the next day recrossed the Delaware again and returned back to Trenton, and there on the first of January 1777 our years service expired, and then by the pressing solicitation of his Excellency a part of those whose time was out consented on a ten dollar bounty to stay six weeks longer, and although desirous as others to return home, I engaged to stay that time and made every exertion in my power to make as many of the soldiers stay with me as I could, and quite a number did engage with me who otherwise would have went home.”

Letter from George Washington to the Continental Congress

Head Quarters, Newton, December 27, 1776.

Sir: I have the pleasure of Congratulating you upon the success of an enterprize which I had formed against a Detachment of the Enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday Morning. The Evening of the 25th I ordered the Troops intended for this Service [which were about 2400]  to parade back of McKonkey’s Ferry, that they might begin to pass as soon as it grew dark, imagining we should be able to throw them all over, with the necessary Artillery, by 12 O’Clock, and that we might easily arrive at Trenton by five in the Morning, the distance being about nine Miles. But the Quantity of Ice, made that Night, impeded the passage of the Boats so much, that it was three O’Clock before the Artillery could all get over, and near four, before the Troops took up their line of march.

This made me despair of surprising the Town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke, but as I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events. I form’d my detachments into two divisions one to March by the lower or River Road, the other by the upper or Pennington Road. As the Divisions had nearly the same distance to March, I ordered each of them, immediately upon forcing the out Guards, to push directly into the Town, that they might charge the Enemy before they had time to form. The upper Division arrived at the Enemys advanced post, exactly at Eight O’Clock, and in three Minutes after, I found, from the fire on the lower Road that, that Division had also got up. The out Guards made but small Opposition, tho’ for their Numbers, they behaved very well, keeping up a constant retreating fire from behind Houses. We presently saw their main Body formed, but from their Motions, they seemed undetermined how to act. Being hard pressed by our

Troops, who had already got possession of part of their Artillery, they attempted to file off by a road on their right leading to Princetown, but perceiving their Intention, I threw a body of Troops in their Way which immediately checked them. Finding from our disposition that they were surrounded, and that they must inevitably be cut to pieces if they made any further Resistance, they agreed to lay down their Arms. The Number, that submitted in this manner, was 23 Officers and 886 Men. Col Rall. the commanding Officer with seven others were found wounded in the Town. I dont exactly know how many they had killed, but I fancy not above twenty or thirty, as they never made any regular Stand. Our loss is very trifling indeed, only two Officers and one or two privates wounded. I find, that the Detachment of the Enemy consisted of the three Hessian Regiments of Lanspatch, Kniphausen and Rohl  amounting to about 1500 Men, and a Troop of British Light Horse, but immediately upon the begining of the Attack, all those who were, not killed or taken, pushed directly down the Road towards Bordentown. These would likewise have fallen into our hands, could my plan have been compleatly carried into Execution. Genl. Ewing was to have crossed before day at Trenton Ferry, and taken possession of the Bridge leading out of Town, but the Quantity of Ice was so great, that tho’ he did every thing in his power to effect it, he could not get over.

This difficulty also hindered General Cadwallader from crossing, with the Pennsylvania Militia, from Bristol, he got part of his Foot over, but finding it impossible to embark his Artillery, he was obliged to desist. I am fully confident, that could the Troops under Generals Ewing and Cadwallader have passed the River, I should have been able, with their Assistance, to have driven the Enemy from all their posts below Trenton. But the Numbers I had with me, being inferior to theirs below me, and a strong Battalion of Light Infantry at Princetown above me, I thought it most prudent to return the same Evening, with my prisoners and the Artillery we had taken. We found no Stores of any Consequence in the Town. In justice to the Officers and Men, I must add, that their Behaviour upon this Occasion, reflects the highest honor upon them. The difficulty of passing the River in a very severe Night, and their march thro’ a violent Storm of Snow and Hail, did not in the least abate their Ardour. But when they came to the Charge, each seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward, and were I to give a preference to any particular Corps, I should do great injustice to the others. Colonel Baylor, my first Aid de Camp, will have the honor of delivering this to you, and from him you may be made acquainted with many other particulars; his spirited Behaviour upon every Occasion, requires me to recommend him to your particular Notice. I have the honor &ca.

P.S. Inclosed you have a particular List of the Prisoners, Artillery and other Stores.”