Christmas Night, 1776: How Did They Cross? The Horses:

Part II.

Part 1 of this article showed that a total of 23 ferry trips were required to move all of Knox’s artillery men, guns, horses, and carts across the Delaware River. In addition, there were other horses needed for the march to Trenton. Many of the likely 35 horses associated with senior officers and aids could fit in with the above 23 trips at a rate of a couple per trip, especially the ferry with only one cart. 

There were six ferries operating to move the Continental Army across the river at McKonkey’s ferry site. Each of the six ferries could likely carry a maximum weight of roughly 8,750 pounds. That weight estimate comes from the intelligence report from Capt. Losbiniere on 22 December 1776 concerning the “7 flat-bottom boats which may carry about 50 men each and two ferry Boats, which may carry the like number” that were with Col. Cadwalader at Bristol ferry.[i]  There is no reason to believe those ferries were different from those at used at McKonkey’s. If it is assumed a man weighed 150 pounds plus 25 pounds of musket and gear, then the weight for 50 men comes to 8,750 pounds. With those capabilities the Philadelphia Light Horse needed 3 ferries for their unit (8 horses and riders per ferry).

Possibly one more ferry trip for any leftover senior officers and aids horses was necessary.  That is 27 trips total needed. With six ferries working that is four trips for all with three additional trips required. Those five round trips by the ferries were estimated by Washington in his plan to require six hours; however, it actually took a nine-hour period (6 pm to 3 am). The additional hours required for the crossing was likely explained by the floating ice and the increased river current driving the ferries out of position.

The question was raised about how difficult it would have been to transport the horses across the river. The somewhat surprising answer may be that it was not as difficult as many assume. No doubt a few horses were a problem; however, the majority of the horses probably presented few problems. How we surmise this is as follows:

Firstly, we can safely speculate that at least some of the horses had participated in earlier ferry crossings during the army’s previous movements and retreats. Those horses would remember that nothing was amiss in the crossing.  Secondly, many of the farm horses transferred to pull guns had previous experience pulling carts and wagons across ferries to take produce to market. Thirdly, each team had a driver who knew the horses and he could strategically place the lead horse with a horse who had experience. As for the cavalry, each horse rider likely slowly leads his horse onto the ferry. Horses who see a previous horse move onto a ferry without incident generally lose their fear.

The following picture of a contemporary ferry crossing (1779) shows a typical crossing.[ii] This period ferry appears to measure about 48 feet long (without the two four-foot ramps) by eight feet wide. If one replaces the carriage in the painting with a field gun and limber then the person holding the reins would be the driver. Note the horses are in a pair; whereas, on a gun team there would be a thill horse in front of the limber and additional horse(s) in front of the thill horse.

Many of the campaigns and battles of the Revolutionary War are better understood if a study of horses was included in the analysis. Often, it was all about horses, or the lack thereof. Both General Burgoyne’s march south in the Saratoga campaign and General de Kalb’s march toward South Carolina show that the lack of horses was very important. As for the crossing of the Delaware, General Washington showed his skill in planning. More important, Washington was lucky. It was not the horses that drove the outcome but rather the bad weather and severe river conditions. These bad conditions set in place the delay that assisted the surprise attack.

[i] William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton (The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1898), 338

[ii] Camden County Historical Society, Drawing of the ferry done in 1779 in Lower Delaware River. Image retrieved

Annis Boudinot Stockton, Mythmaking, and the American Revolution

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Blake McGready. A short bio is at the end of this post.

In December 1776, Richard Stockton of Princeton, New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, disavowed the American Revolution and swore allegiance to King George III. After British forces imprisoned Stockton, he accepted his captor’s amnesty offer. Revolutionaries considered Stockton’s decision an act of cold betrayal and condemned his perfidy. And yet, following his death in 1781, most biographies avoided or ignored Stockton’s questionable political commitment; one tribute claimed his conviction inspired “the utmost confidence of his associates and the country at large.” Stockton owed much of this comeback to his wife, Annis Boudinot. As a prolific and published poet, she helped erase much of her husband’s political infidelity in her writings. At the time of his death she praised him in one tribute, “Can we forget how patiently he bore / The various conflicts of the trying hour / While meekness, faith, and piety refin’d.” She carefully forgot that her husband abandoned the revolutionaries during “the trying hour.”[i]

Annis Boudinot (Mrs. Richard) Stockton by James Sharples Senior, from life, 1796-1797. Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park.
Continue reading “Annis Boudinot Stockton, Mythmaking, and the American Revolution”

Christmas 1776

In preparation for an upcoming publication by Emerging Revolutionary War’s historian Mark Maloy, I was doing some light reading about the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. That is when I came across the following quote by the late Albert Chestone;

“The great Christmas raid in 1776 would forever serve as a model of how a special
operation–or a conventional mission, for that matter–might be successfully
conducted. There are never any guarantees for success on the battlefield; but with a
little initiative and a handful of good Americans, the dynamics of war can be altered
in a single night.”

There is no doubt that the actions that followed the daring enterprise of crossing the Delaware was a turning point in the long road to independence of the American colonies. Yet, sometimes we overlook the entire operation as a fait accompli. Continue reading “Christmas 1776”

North Jersey American Revolution Round Table

Two of the most significant battles of the war happened in the state of New Jersey; Trenton and Princeton. The harshest winter of the war for the Continental Army was at Morristown, New Jersey. Maybe it is only fitting that the largest American Revolution Round Table is also located in the Garden State.

North Jersey American Revolution Round Table

The North Jersey American Revolution Round Table is now on its ninth year as an organization and according to Secretary Rich Rosenthal, they are known for their “caliber of speakers and membership participation.”

Meetings are held the second Thursday of every month at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum Great Hall. All facets of the American Revolutionary War and era are discussed with, of course, “special emphasis” on New Jersey and Morristown’s role in the history of the United States.

Guests are certainly welcome. “We meet at a National Park facility [Morristown National Historical Park]–there is no admission!”

For more information, consult the following website by clicking here. An email newsletter is also available to keep up-to-date on events of the non-profit round table.


The Greatest Leaders of the American Revolution You Have Never Heard Of

A fisherman by trade before the war, the savior of the American Continental Army during the war on two occasions, and returned to civilian life with personal, physical, and economic hardships because of the war.

John Glover
John Glover

That one line could simply sum up John Glover of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Glover has received scant attention; a few lines here, a page in this publication, or a reference in passing when talking about the engagements around New York or the Crossing of the Delaware.

Daniel Glover is more than well deserving of the epithet, “one of the greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.”

Born on November 5, 1732 in what is now Danvers, Massachusetts, where he lived until the death of his father when he was just four years old. His mother Tabitha Bacon Glover moved young Daniel to Marblehead, on the coast of Massachusetts where he would apprentice, when he came of age, as a shoemaker. He eventually looked toward the sea and made a living as a merchant.

Daniel became well-entrenched in Marblehead society, he joined the local militia in 1759 and entered politics, aligning himself with the Whig party in 1760. By the time of the first shots on the Green of Lexington and the North Bridge at Concord, Glover was a colonel of militia in the Marblehead Regiment.

Although his regiment made the march to Boston and took part in the siege, Glover was away on detached duty when the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s Hill) was fought. When George Washington rode into Cambridge, Massachusetts and assumed command of the American forces, Glover lost his headquarters. A product of Glover’s fine taste, the Marblehead sailor had picked the home of a loyalist as his own command post. Washington chose the mansion, which now is a national historic site, as his own. Yet, a company of Glover’s Marblehead soldiers was also chosen to be the guard of Washington’s new headquarters.

Showing his importance and marshaling his background in shipping, Glover donated one of his own ships, the Hannah, named after his spouse, to build a hodgepodge navy for use by the Americans. One of the ships that made this volunteer navy actually captured a British ship, the brig HMS Nancy in which held as its cargo, 2,000 muskets, 30,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and one brass mortar amongst other crucial military supplies much in need by Washington’s army.

After the siege of Boston was lifted with the evacuation of the British, Glover, with the rest of the Continental Army, headed south to New York City where another campaign and another chance to show his worth to the cause awaited.

On the night of August 29 and into the early morning hours of August 30, Colonel Glover and his able Marblehead regiment sailed the majority of Washington’s forces from Brooklyn across the East River to safety. Altogether, approximately 9,000 soldiers, plus artillery and supplies escaped from under British General Sir William Howe’s command. With Marylanders under Lord William Stirling launching ferocious rear-guard suicidal charges, Glover’s men saved Washington’s army that late August night.

A month and a half later, on October 18th, Glover’s Brigade of Massachusetts soldiers held off a large contingent of British and Hessian mercenaries as Washington’s army retreated to safety. With approximately 750 men at his disposal, Glover’s rearguard action held over 4,000 enemy soldiers from threatening the retreat of the American forces.

glover rock
Glover’s Rock, commemorating the action at Pell’s Point

Showing his humility, Glover would write about seeing the enemy come ashore before the engagement at Pell’s Point, that his first inkling was to give “a thousand worlds to have General [Charles] Lee or some other experienced officer present.” Luckily for the Americans, Glover did not get his wish and led admirably.

Glover’s command stuck with Washington’s forces during their retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania and eventually to the banks of the Delaware River. In the prelude to the pivotal “Crossing of the Delaware” the former Marblehead sailors and their 43-year old commander would prove crucial.

To complete the surprise, Washington had to get his men across the ice-clogged Delaware River and to Trenton, New Jersey. Washington laid his eyes on Glover and outlined his thoughts and the big issue at hand; how to ferry his men across?

The response to his commander in chief was simple; to “not be troubled about that, as his boys could manage it.” Another primary account said that Glover and his command showed “perseverance…accomplished what at first seemed impossible.”

With Washington’s daring plan and Glover’s practicality, the “impossible” happened and the Americans scored a cause rallying victory at Trenton on December 26, 1776 and another equally important victory at Princeton, New Jersey on January 3, 1777.

After these winter battles, Glover went home to care for his gravely ill wife, Hannah, but there was nothing he could do. After a year long struggle, Hannah died on November 13, 1778 leaving John with eight children, including the oldest John who was a captain in his father’s Marblehead regiment.

While at home, George Washington petitioned the Continental Congress to promote Glover to brigadier general. Congress agreed and on February 21, 1777 the former Marblehead merchant became a general in the Continental Army.

When Glover returned to active duty, he was given the task of escorting the British and Hessian prisoners captured at the Battle of Saratoga and also took part in the unsuccessful attempt to expel the British from Newport, Rhode Island in 1778.

The end of the war saw him still in service in the Hudson Highlands where most notably he was on the board of officers that sentenced British spy Major John Andre to death. At the very end of the war, on September 30, 1783, Glover received a brevet to major general.

800px-Glover-statue Boston
John Glover Statue Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

With the war over, Glover and his second wife, Francis Fosdick resided in Marblehead. However, Glover’s health and family were devastated by the war. Glover’s health was impaired by years of hard campaigning, including struggling with malaria in 1777. He lost his first wife Hannah during the war and his oldest son, John, disappeared as a prisoner-of-war while being transported over the Atlantic Ocean. Even his pre-war career, as a merchant, was greatly impacted by the seven-year conflict.

Glover rebounded as best he could and did serve in a few political positions, including in the Massachusetts State Legislature and as a Selectman for Marblehead.  One highlight of the post-war years was when President George Washington stopped over in Marblehead and was entertained by his former subordinate.

On January 30, 1797, Glover passed away from hepatitis at the age of 64 and became one of the greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.


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.

James Monroe at War



Part One

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome guest historian Scott H. Harris, Director of the James Monroe Museum.

It is one of the great exploits of the American Revolution.  On the night of December 25, 1776, General George Washington led the Continental Army across the icy Delaware River to attack a Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey.  Young Lieutenant James Monroe held the flag behind Washington as they were rowed across the freezing river (standing up).

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware.  Oil on canvas, 1851.  Only two figures in this fictitious image are identified—General George Washington and Lieutenant James Monroe (holding flag).
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware. Oil on canvas, 1851. Only two figures in this fictitious image are identified—General George Washington and Lieutenant James Monroe (holding flag).


Except, that’s not what happened.

Continue reading “James Monroe at War”