Most everyone, outside the Obama administration, its supporters, the liberal arts faculty in most major universities, and a disturbing number of high school history teachers, is familiar with Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on the night of December 25-26, 1776, and the stunning surprise victory that ensued in the streets of Trenton, New Jersey. What is often lost in the telling of the narrative is the tactical sophistication that George Washington was developing by the winter of 1776-77 and a little known battle, one which I think shows Washington at his finest, that took place on January 2, 1777. This battle, Second Trenton or the Battle of Assunpink Creek, preserved the initiative gained at First Trenton and set up the victory at the Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777) which resulted in the Forage War and the forced evacuation of New Jersey by British forces during the winter of 1777.
A grave disservice is done to Washington and to the Continental army and Pennsylvania and New Jersey militia in the traditional telling of this story. There is quite a bit of evidence that Washington planned the crossing of the Delaware, in broad terms, during the retreat through New Jersey. As the Continental army retreated across the Delaware, Washington ordered the Delaware river scoured for miles for watercraft of all sizes to be collected from the Jersey shore and concentrated at spots near his winter quarters in Pennsylvania. A traditional approach would simply have burned or destroyed the craft to prevent the British from using them in pursuit or for their own crossing in the spring. The fact that Washington had the boats confiscated ensured that he had the ability to cross the Delaware while the British were effectively marooned on the far side of the river.
In popular imagination, Washington pounced on arrogant and drunk Hessians the morning after Christmas, routing them. The actual facts tell a different tale. Though Washington held militia in general low regard when it came to holding their place in line of battle:
To place any dependence upon militia, is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life – unaccustomed to the din of arms – totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, which being followed by a want of confidence in themselves when opposed to troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge, and superior …read more