Christmas Miracle: Washington’s Crossing

December 20, 2022
A photo of the Delaware River


General Washington's choice to cross the Delaware River on Christmas Night in 1776 arguably changed the course of America's history forever.
"These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph."

Thomas Paine's "The American Crisis," reportedly read to soldiers that Christmas night.

What Happened:

  • July 4, 1776 – Declaration of Independence signed. British have many high-profile victories.

  • By winter 1776, Gen. Washington's Continental Army is in retreat and running out of men and money: high casualties and attrition, low morale.

  • Gen. Washington takes a gamble, hatching a difficult plan to surprise British forces the day after Christmas.

Dec. 25-26, 1776

  • On Christmas night, the Continental Army takes more than 10 hours to cross the Delaware River in a freezing cold snowstorm.

  • Despite successfully crossing, many lack proper shoes to march hours to Trenton for the battle – leaving bloody footprints in the snow.

  • Gen. Washington surprises the British side the day after Christmas, winning the Battle of Trenton quickly.

Why It Matters

"It's really almost a miracle event, viewed by the population at the time. It looked as if the war was over … This victory is a huge morale confidence building victory that's going to allow the war to continue."

Historian Clay Craighead. Washington's victory changed the early course of the American Revolution – and, arguably, America's fate.

Even the British felt a shift after this battle. Some, such as historian Clay Craighead, point to it as a real turning point in momentum. Visit our source page to hear Clay tell the story of this perilous night that changed America forever.

Listen to Historian Clay Craighead tell the story of Washington Crossing the Delaware HERE

A Christmas Surprise! (U.S. Army)

Crossing of the Delaware (Mount Vernon)

General George Washington and the Crossing of the Delaware (America 250)

by Jenna Lee,