Every American should know about their history. Unfortunately, few do. The West in general has experienced a remarkable drop in general historical knowledge recently; fewer and fewer people in my generation know and understand their history. Most sadly, almost no American youngsters really understand the American Revolution. Based on my experience, they don’t know why it happened, how close of an affair it really was, or, in some particularly distressing cases, even when it happened. They certainly haven’t read books like Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher.
The best way to combat that historical illiteracy, in my opinion, is by finding and reading the best books about historical events and then sharing them with people who might be interested. Reading Washington’s Crossing, written by David Hackett Fischer, is a great way to do that; it’s about the time that tried men’s souls and is incredibly interesting. While not as full in scope as some other books about the Revolutionary War and early America, such as The Age of Federalism, it is a thrilling account of some of the darkest days of the American Revolution and provides insights into the mind of His Excellency: George Washington, America’s most important and greatest Founding Father.
Summary of Washington’s Crossing
The period Washington’s Crossing covers is from the British invasion of New York until shortly after Washington’s recapture of Princeton from British forces in early 1777.
That time period, termed by Thomas Paine to be “the times that try men’s souls,” was one of, if not the, darkest periods in American history. The British were winning the war handily, few men were volunteering to fight in the service of the American cause, and the troops had few supplies with which to fight the war.
Everything changed with George Washington’s brilliant and heroic crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, the image of which is captured forever in Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of the night. Washington’s troops were able to surprise the Hessian mercenaries that occupied Trenton, routing and capturing them after a brief fight.
That one action reinvigorated the American cause, caused guerrillas to rise up across the Jersey countryside, and put the British on the defensive. Washington was able to take advantage of all of those suddenly changed factors to attack the British and frustrate the plans of even General Cornwallis, one of Britain’s best officers.
Washington’s Crossing ends there, in early 1777. At that point, there was still lots of fighting left to do and many opportunities for the war to be lost. But, facts on the ground had irrevocably changed. At that point, it was America’s war to lose rather than Britain’s to win.
Those are the main events that David Hackett Fisher covers in Washington’s Crossing; Washington’s many defeats against the Howe brothers but eventual (and much needed) victories against British and Hessian forces at Trenton and Princeton.
But, in it, Fisher covers far more. He goes into depth discussing who the Hessian mercenaries were, why the British had to resort to hiring German mercenaries, and how that action affected support for the war. Similarly, he discusses in fascinating detail Washington’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader, how guerilla warfare affected Washington’s victories in New Jersey in the winter of 1776-77, and other small but interesting details about those events.
To me, one of the most engrossing was Fisher’s section on the boats used to cross the Delaware River before attacking Trenton. We have been taught (incorrectly) that Washington actually would have been sitting down in the boat while traversing the Delaware and that Leutze’s painting got that fact incorrect and has him posing and standing up purely for sensationalist and patriotic purposes.
According to Fisher, in reality, during Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, he would have been standing up, as is depicted in the painting. Ice-cold water would have been sloshing around in the boat due to horrific weather conditions and the sea-worthiness of the boats themselves. So, to avoid sitting in cold water, Washington likely would have been standing.
That section takes up no more than a few paragraphs. But it shows the nature of Washington’s Crossing; while it might read like a novel because it is so exciting, it is not. It is a serious book that, although very fun and exciting to read, also contains a plethora of fascinating historical facts.
Analysis of Washington’s Crossing
Unlike many other modern history books, Washington’s Crossing is unapologetically pro-America. Despite Washington’s ownership of slaves, Hamilton’s infidelity, and the other human shortcomings of many of the great men involved in the book, Fischer doesn’t focus on those aspects of their lives. Instead, he focuses on what made them great. Their skill at the art of war, their bravery under fire, and, most of all, their patriotism and belief in the American experiment.
Too much of what is written in the modern day focuses on the bad in our history. Commensurately, far too little is written about how great our Founding Fathers were. Their unparalleled genius and foresight, and of course their dedication to the cause of liberty, are the aspects of their lives that current Americans should remember. Not their relatively few and far-between shortcomings.
For that reason, I can’t recommend Washington’s Crossing strongly enough. Every American needs to read it so they understand how our now-glorious republic was saved in the winter of 1776 by Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. Without that heroic and strategically-sound decision, America might have died.
And by focusing on battles, Fisher makes it a book that you will want to read and be unable to put down. I enjoy dry books like The Age of Federalism and The Federalist Papers because I enjoy learning the ideas in them. But many people don’t. And that is perfectly okay, not everyone has to like the same thing.
But we should all know our history. And Washington’s Crossing is a book that makes it fun to learn that history. If you do as I recommend and buy and read a copy, you won’t be bored to sleep by dry political theory and debates about ideology. You will instead be drawn into the dark winter of 1776-1777 when the survival of the fledgling American republic was at stake. Like Washington’s troops in New Jersey and New York, you will be surrounded by battles in the freezing countryside, demoralized by constant defeat, and have your spirits lifted by great victories over the Redcoats and their Hessian mercenaries.
Fisher’s writing style is excellent; it drew me in to the point where I could not put the book down. Rather than be a responsible adult and fold the corner so that I could go to bed at a reasonable hour, I stayed up late into the night reading about Washington’s great fight against the British. I was on the edge of my seat, praying that Washington and his men would survive their next encounter with the British, as I am sure they were.
In short, Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher is such a great book because, while it is packed full of facts and historical details, especially about the Hessian mercenaries that Washington beat at Trenton, it does not focus on those dry details. Instead, Fisher focuses on the events, both good and bad, that were so crucial to the survival of America. As a result, by reading Washington’s Crossing, you’ll get to learn the history of America while also reading a thrilling book that seems more like a Tom Clancy novel than a historical work.
Read Washington’s Crossing when you get a chance. You won’t regret it. All Americans have a duty to learn about their history. Our Founding Fathers and the patriots of the Revolution sacrificed so much to make America the powerful, free, and prosperous nation that it is today. Washington and his men froze and starved at Valley Forge, fought battles against the British Empire, the superpower of the time, and gave up some of the best years of their lives to stay in the field and maintain the fight.
They are some of the men most worthy of our honor and respect, whatever the nihilistic idiots that want to erase our history might say about them. They were freedom-loving patriots and honorable men. Not despicable slavers and tyrants.
But to properly honor and respect them, we have to know what they accomplished. Otherwise, whatever we might say in honor of their memory will just be meaningless generalities meant to make a political point or sound good in a speech rather than to actually honor their legacy. You can’t fight back against the idiocy of the 1619 project if you don’t know what actually happened. You can’t try to emulate George Washington if you don’t know what he did. We cannot be a nation that lives up to the vision the Founding Brothers if we do not know what the patriots of the Continental Army accomplished.
So, read Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher or another like it so you know those historical truths. It is about the darkest days of the American Revolution and how we overcame those dark days. It will teach you about the patriotism, honor, and resilience of Washington and his men. By reading it, you will learn why they were great men.
By: Gen Z Conservative
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