Christmas, 1776

On Christmas, 1776, George Washington took the greatest gamble of the American Revolution, up to that date. On that cold and snowy night, with an ice-clogged river, and an army teetering on the verge of disintegration, the American commander led his command toward a signature, morale-improving, improbable victory.

He defeated Hessian soldiers, in the service of the British, at Trenton, New Jersey. The call sign –used to enter and exit the American camp– leading up to the offensive movement was “victory or death.”

That was quite an accurate statement to summarize the dire straits the American cause of independence had become by winter 1776. The heroics of that night lent itself to the painting by Emanuel Leutze in 1851 that is chock full of historical inaccuracies. But the painting conjured up images of that noble band of American patriots that followed George Washington across the frozen waterway in 1776.

Emmanuel Leutze's painting, 1851
Emanuel Leutze’s painting, 1851

[Did you know that James Monroe, who would be wounded at the Battle of Trenton, is painted in holding the flag? There is no primary account that puts both men in the same boat that night, though.]

Luckily, famous historical artist Mort Kunstler, took a look at Leutze’s famous painting and decided to make it more historically accurate. Although initially reluctant to tackle the project given the popularity of the previous work, Kunstler studied, tackled history books, and diligently sought such information like the type of boats that would have been used, in the process of creating a more historically accurate depiction.

He succeeded.

Mort Kunstler painting of the "Crossing of the Delaware"
Mort Kunstler painting of the “Crossing of the Delaware”

So, as you celebrate the holidays, you now need a little more space on the wall for a second painting of Washington and his army crossing the Delaware.

Whether you have the space or not on your wall for two paintings, one thing these great illustrations have in common is showing the fortitude of the American soldier.

That fortitude is still on display to this very date. On Christmas Day 2015 thousands of men and women, in the service of America, will serve around the world, where the call sign of “victory or death” is not a mere anecdote from years past, unfortunately.

Thank you to all the men who crossed that icy river many cold nights ago to help win our independence and to the men and women who keep watch tonight on another cold night around the world.

To the readers of Emerging Revolutionary War, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Thank you for reading!



*Great article on Kunstler and the painting can be found here.

**Link to Mort Kunstler’s website can be found here.

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