Emanuel Leutze. Washington Crossing the Delaware. 1851. Oil on canvas.
378.5 cm × 647.7 cm. 149 in × 255 in.
At the end of 1776 American army is composed of less than 3.000 men, badly equipped, badly equipped and badly nourished. In spite of the keen efforts made by Washington and others to recruit new men, few citizens want to join an army which appears about to collapse. The total defeat and the end of the new nation seemed inevitable but, by a tactical master stroke, Washington manages to awake the hope.
In the evening of December 25th, 1776, George Washington makes cross the Delaware river to his troops. The following day, it gains a victory over the German mercenaries of Hesse, combined to the British, during the battle of Trenton.
Approximately 30.000 German soldiers fought for the English during the American revolutionary war. They fought in their own traditional uniforms with their usual leaders and their own flags. They are under the command of the British generals. These mercenaries come from the area of Hesse in Germany (which is at the origin of their name).
January 3rd, 1777, Washington still strikes by putting in rout 3 British regiments during the battle of Princeton. It takes then a solid position on the heights of Morristown. The British fold up themselves then in New York by leaving with the army insurrectionists the total control of the New Jersey.
December 25th, 1776 the river is cold, and time is very bad. The crossing of the river is dangerous. With only 2.400 men under his command Washington goes then 9 miles (14 kilometers) towards Trenton. With 8:00 of the morning, by surprise, it crushes the 1.200 soldiers of Hesse with Trenton and makes more than 900 prisoners. The victories of Trenton and Princeton amplified the moral one of the troops much and inspired by the re-enlistings.
Trenton, small town in the New Jersey, was occupied by 3 regiments of s Hessian soldiers ordered by colonel Johann Rall, comprising approximately 1.500 men. The forces of Washington are made up of 2.400 men, with the divisions of infantry ordered by the Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, the artillery is under the direction of the general sergeant Henry Knox.
The crossing of the Delaware river in this period of the year is extremely risky. Each soldier carries his own ammunition and 3 days of rations. When the army arrives on the shore of Delaware, it is already late, and the clouds start to be formed. He starts to rain. The temperature of the air falls, the rain changes into glaze, then in snow. The Americans start to cross the river, the men are on boats and the horses and artillery on large vats. During the passage several men fall over edge, including colonel John Haslet, quickly withdrawn from water. The atmospheric conditions were so terrible that the crossing lasted until 3:00 of the morning whereas it was envisaged midnight in the original plan. Because of these same atmospheric conditions the Generals Cadwalader and Ewing could not join the attack on Trenton.
With 4:00 of the morning, the soldiers start to walk towards Trenton.
Several regiments did not have boots to go and were forced to carry rags around their feet. The feet of these men cold and bled. Two men died about it.
While they went, Washington is assembled through the line, encouraging the men to continue. The Sullivan General sends a mail to say to Washington which the rain and snow wet the powder of its men. Washington answer: “ known as with the Sullivan General to use the bayonet. I want to take Trenton. This in known as length on the determination of Washington. Like its sentence : “ To overcome or Die ”.
The battle for Trenton started with 8:00 of the morning.
Edouard G. Lengel write : “ the Germans were astounded and they were tired but there is no truth with the legend saying that they were drunk and without resource. ” Makes these troops of Them were on their guards for some time already.
Two American leaders were wounded: William Washington, cousin of the general, and lieutenant James Monroe, future President of the United States.
In the painting it is Monroe which carries the flag.
As opposed to what watch the painting the crossing was carried out before the paddle. Thus of night and during a storm, moreover people were held to avoid being in contact with the icy water contained in the content of the boats.
Contrary to what was taught a long time by state education in France it is false to claim that the Americans obtained their independence thanks to the assistance of France. The American army gained the battles of Trenton, Princeton and Saratoga without any help of France. It is only after the American victory with Saratoga that France makes alliance with the 13 British colonies risen against the United Kingdom.
The year 1777 marks the turning of the war in favor of the American cause. France, beaten by the United Kingdom in 1763, secretly sent money and supply to the colonists since the beginning of the conflict. Thus, at the summer 1777, the young marquis of La Fayette, with a troop of volunteers equipped with his own expenses, E goes to the helps of the insurrectionists. La Fayette, after having fought at the sides of the soldiers of Virginia, returns temporarily to France and supports Benjamin Franklin in his negotiation to obtain the official support of France to the war of American Independence. Convinced of the solidity of the American cause thanks to the victory of risen in Saratoga, Louis XVI, who had recognized the independence of the British colonies of America on December 17th, 1777, signs two treaties the next on February 6th. The first is a treaty of friendship and of trade, the second envisages the alliance of the two nations in the event of declaration of war of the United Kingdom in France. The assistance of France concretized himself by the sending of weapons, soldiers, warships and an important assistance.
Taking into consideration fact it is especially La Fayette which helps the insurrectionists, without La Fayette it is probable that American would never have obtained anything from the French sovereign. And fortunately that La Fayette had a personal fortune and that it could help American with its own sums of money… But Marie Joseph Gilbert Motier, marquis of La Fayette was a close friend of Georges Washington and especially the defender of a democracy “ resulting from the people ”. Died on May 20th, 1834 with a reputation of conceited and exceeded old man, the marquis of La Fayette leaves in France an ambiguous image. Between 1789 and 1830, it simultaneously attracted itself the animosity of the royalists and the revolutionists Jacobins, the first regarding it as traitor under his aristocratic condition, the seconds reproaching him his too great moderation and its opportunist temptations. Supporter of law and order public and eager to assume responsibilities increasingly more important, it left the image of a man undertaking and ambitious, of which the hunger of notoriety was been used better for the United States than in France.
Moreover, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Americans still remember the marquis and his action, when they declare the war in Germany in spring 1917. July 4th (birthday day of American independence), a military detachment arises on the tomb of La Fayette, in the Parisian cemetery of Picpus, and pays a vibrating homage to the “ large patriot ”. The short speech of colonel Stanton because a deep impression and since remained with the posterity…
« La Fayette, we’re here ! »
In 2002, American nationality was conferred on a purely posthumous basis with the French general.
The sky occupies more than one third of the painting. Although the sun is hidden the background is relatively clear what makes it possible to emphasize the characters in the 1st plan who are darker. The point of view of the spectator is on the boat of Washington but the spectator realizes quickly that it is about a convoy and its glance slips by to the background. It is only then that the glance returns and details the foreground.
Washington is drawn up on the left tension field. Between 2 natural points of interest. Its boat is located on the low tension field it also between 2 natural points of interest.
Pictorial space is structured by colour. Blue for the sky, the green for water, the white for snow and the ice.
The artist uses the 2 large diagonals. All 2 are treated as rising diagonals as much for the guiding lines which relate to the men or the landscape and nature.
In the boat the men seem refrigerated while with the back one distinguishes horses and guns.
George Washington and the 2 men holding the flag, of which James Monroe, future president of the United States, seem very given, their glance is directed forwards and the bank to be reached.
With before the men draw aside from gigantic pieces of ice so that the boat can pass. Actually the crossing took place the night of 11 hour of the evening at 3 o'clock in the morning. This recall with such climatic conditions makes the scene even more terrible and heroic.
Although the sun is hidden behind a sky of storm the fabric is enlightened left.
Harmonize and Contrasts.
Contrasts between cold and hot colours. Contrast between complementary colours.
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Order of American congress for the Capitole.
The equestrian sculpture of George Washington at the center of Washington Circle.