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Raging River
The storm continued to rage while George Washington contemplated whether to recross the Delaware River or attack Trenton on the morning of December 26, 1776. Perhaps no one ...

Raging River

The storm continued to rage while George Washington contemplated whether to recross the Delaware River or attack Trenton on the morning of December 26, 1776. Perhaps no one felt the chill of the icy river and the scourge of the night crossing more than the man in charge of the artillery. The responsibility of ferrying the men and ammunitions across the river fell to the meticulous mind and attentive arms of Henry Knox.

“A hardy design was formed of attacking the town by storm,” Knox wrote, describing the plan in a letter to his wife, Lucy. Knox explained his perspective behind Washington’s decision to cross in the first place. The enemy “had obliged us to retire on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, by which means we were obliged to evacuate or give up nearly all the Jerseys.”

Not long after the Continentals formed their camp, they discovered “the preservation of Philadelphia was a matter exceedingly precarious, the force of the enemy three or four times as large as ours.”

Knox was often the first to analyze the strength of the enemy, based on their arms. He noted the British army had scattered their troops at “distant places in New Jersey,” but Trenton’s “cantonments” were the largest. “Trenton is an open town, situated nearly on the banks of the Delaware, accessible on all sides. Our army was scattered along the river for nearly 25 miles. Our intelligence agreed that the force of the enemy in Trenton was from two to three thousand, with about six field cannon, and that they were pretty secure in their situation,” he wrote of the Hessian regiment based there.

Knox then used matter-of-fact terms to tell Lucy about the coldest and most challenging night of 1776. “Accordingly a part of the army, consisting of about 2,500 or 3,000 passed the River on Christmas night, with almost infinite difficulty, with 18 field-pieces. The floating ice in the River made the labor almost incredible,” he wrote, not even mentioning the challenge of finding enough boats to carry the men and ammunitions across and conducting the affair in silence. Two men died of frostbite after crossing the river. The army also left bloody footprints behind in the ice and snow. “The night was cold and stormy; it hailed with great violence; the troops marched with the most profound silence and good order,” he reported.

But the sleet did not subside after they arrived on the New Jersey side. The approach of daylight did not dissipate the hail or the storm. “The storm continued with great violence, but was in our backs, and consequently in the faces of our enemy,” he wrote. Knox then made an important conclusion after the crossing. Diligence had overcome the raging river.

“However, perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible,” Henry Knox concluded of the Delaware crossing.


Father, thank you for the gift of faith that secures raging rivers and allows me to cross onto unknown shores.

“When the river rages, he is not alarmed; he is secure, though the Jordan should surge against his mouth”

(Job 40:23).

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