Americans (both the people and their soldiers) were demoralized by Christmas of 1776. Five months after asserting their freedom from Britain, their commander-in-chief and his troops were losing key battles. Badly needing a victory, Washington made a decision that changed the momentum of the war. He, and his 2400 men, would cross the cold Delaware River on Christmas night.
Why pick this night? Washington knew that Hessian soldiers, fighting for Britain, liked to celebrate holidays. Christmas was a major holiday and the Hessians would not be battle-ready at their camp in Trenton, New Jersey. If the Americans could surprise them at night, the impact would be even greater for the Patriots.
It would not be easy to cross the river, however. It was cold and icy, making it hard for the boats to safely maneuver. Among the men who attempted the trip were James Madison and James Monroe (future American presidents), John Marshall (future Chief Justice of the United States) and future dueling rivals (Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton).
Despite the adverse conditions, the Americans made it safely to the other side (at 3:00 a.m.) where they regrouped and marched to Trenton. Surprising the Hessians (although not by cover of darkness), General Washington's forces took control within forty-five minutes, taking nine hundred Hessians as prisoners. Soon after, Washington and his troops also captured Princeton. Not only were both victories great morale-boosters, they also drove the British out of New Jersey.
The painting depicted above, created in Dusseldorf by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) around 1851, substitutes romantic effect for some historical facts. The crossing was at night, in the midst of driving sleet and snow. The "Betsy Ross" flag (with stars in a circle) was created about six months later. Prince Whipple (a legendary black patriot depicted in this scene) was in Baltimore during December of 1776. And James Monroe (one of Washington's trusted scouts and advisors shown holding the flag) was not (according to historical records) in the General's boat that night.
Notwithstanding, this work of art has become an iconic American treasure. Click on the image for a better look.
George Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1851. The painting is large (more than twelve feet high and twenty-one feet long) and today is owned by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Linked above: Washington, Crossing the Delaware. Lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1876. Library of Congress.
Also linked above: Surrender of the Hessian troops to General Washington. Lithograph by Henry Hoff, 1850. U.S. National Archives, image 148-GW-332
And ... Washington at Princeton on the 3rd of January, 1777. Lithograph by D. McLellan, 1853. U.S. National Archives, image 148-GW-331.
Delaware (river), river in the eastern United States, one of the major rivers of the region. The Delaware rises on the western slopes of the Catskill Mountains in eastern New York. At that point, the river consists of two branches: the West Branch and the East Branch. The West Branch is the chief branch; it flows southwest as far as Deposit, New York, and then turns southeast. From a point near Hale Eddy, New York, to Hancock, New York, it forms the boundary between Pennsylvania and New York. The East Branch parallels the course of the West Branch above Deposit. The two branches meet at Hancock. From this point, the Delaware, flowing southeast, continues as the New York-Pennsylvania boundary as far as Port Jervis, New York. There it becomes the boundary between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, following a generally southern course to its outlet in Delaware Bay. The lower Delaware forms the boundary between New Jersey and Delaware for a few miles. Important tributaries of the Delaware include the Neversink, Calicoon, and Mongaup rivers in New York; Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Lackawaxen rivers in Pennsylvania; and the Maurice and Musconetcong rivers in New Jersey. The West Branch flows for 145 km (90 mi) and the East Branch flows for 121 km (75 mi). It is 451 km (280 mi) from the junction of the two branches to Delaware Bay. The Delaware River drains an area of about 31,100 sq km (about 12,000 sq mi).
The Delaware is a source of hydroelectric power and an important waterway. It is navigable by large, oceangoing vessels as far inland as Philadelphia and by smaller vessels to Trenton, New Jersey. A canal once connected Trenton to New Brunswick, New Jersey, on the Raritan River. The canal has been filled in at numerous points, such as Manville and New Brunswick. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal connects the Delaware River below Wilmington, Delaware, with Chesapeake Bay. The canal is navigable by oceangoing vessels. Through the Delaware River Basin Commission, created in 1961, the federal government and the four Basin states-New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware-jointly manage Basin assets and problems.
On the evening of December 25, 1776, George Washington led his troops across the Delaware. The next day, he and his troops defeated German mercenaries allied with the British (Hessians) in the Battle of Trenton.
Sections of the Delaware River are particularly scenic. These sections include the Catskills between New York and Pennsylvania, known as the Upper Delaware, and the area between New Jersey and Pennsylvania that makes up the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Delaware Water Gap, gorge, northeastern United States, carved by the Delaware River through the Kittatinny Mountains (a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains system), between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The gorge, about 3 km (about 2 mi) long, is flanked on the western, or Pennsylvania, side by Mount Minsi and on the eastern, or New Jersey, side by Mount Tammany. Both cliffs rise to about 365 m (about 1200 ft) above the river. The gorge ranks among the scenic wonders of the United States. In 1965 it was designated part of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The gorge also has a long cultural history; Native Americans first lived in the river valley about 8000BC.
Another source for facts:
Delaware River above the Delaware Water Gap
|States||New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware|
|- left||Neversink River, Musconetcong River|
|- right||Lehigh River, Schuylkill River|
|Cities||Port Jervis, NY, Easton, PA, Trenton, NJ, Camden, NJ, Philadelphia, PA, Wilmington, DE|
|- location||Mount Jefferson, Town of Jefferson, Schoharie County, New York, USA|
|- elevation||2,240 ft (683 m)|
|Secondary source||East Branch|
|- location||Grand Gorge, Town of Roxbury, Delaware County, New York, United States|
|- elevation||1,560 ft (475 m)|
|- elevation||880 ft (268 m)|
|- elevation||0 ft (0 m)|
|Length||360 mi (579 km)|
|Basin||14,119 sq mi (36,568 km2)|
|- average||13,100 cu ft/s (371 m3/s)|
|- max||64,800 cu ft/s (1,835 m3/s)|
|- min||4,310 cu ft/s (122 m3/s)|
|Discharge elsewhere (average)|
|- Port Jervis||7,900 cu ft/s (224 m3/s)|
The Delaware River is a major river on the Atlantic coast of the United States. The Delaware was explored by Adriaen Block as part of the New Netherlands Colony, and was named the South River to mark the southernmost reach of that colony.
The river meets tide-water at Trenton, New Jersey. Its total length, from the head of the longest branch to Cape May and Cape Henlopen, is 410 miles (660 km), and above the head of the Delaware Bay its length is 360 miles (579 km). The mean freshwater discharge of the Delaware River into the estuary is 11,550 cubic feet (330 m³) per second.
The Delaware River constitutes, in part, the boundary between Pennsylvania and New York, the entire boundary between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and most of the boundary between Delaware and New Jersey. A historical oddity, the Delaware-New Jersey Border is actually at the eastern-most river shoreline within the Twelve-Mile Circle of New Castle, rather than the usual mid river or mid channel borders, causing small portions of the New Jersey peninsula falling west of the shoreline to fall under the jurisdiction of Delaware. The rest of the borders follow a mid-channel approach.
Commerce was once important on the upper river, primarily prior to railway competition (1857).
The mean tides below Philadelphia are about 6 feet (1.8 m). The magnitude of the commerce of Philadelphia has made the improvements of the river below that port of great importance. Small improvements were attempted by Pennsylvania as early as 1771.
In the "project of 1885" the United States government undertook systematically the formation of a 26-foot (7.9 m) channel 600 feet (180 m) wide from Philadelphia to deep water in Delaware Bay. The River and Harbor Act of 1899 provided for a 30-foot (9.1 m) channel 600 feet wide from Philadelphia to the deep water of the bay.
The main, west or Mohawk branch rises in Schoharie County, New York, about 1,886 feet (575 m) above the sea, near Mount Jefferson, and flows tortuously through the plateau in a deep trough, impounded at one point to create the Cannonsville Reservoir, and then becoming the state boundary at the 42nd parallel, until it emerges from the Catskills. Similarly, the East Branch begins from a small pond south of Grand Gorge in the town of Roxbury in Delaware County, flowing southward toward its impoundment by New York City to create the Pepacton Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the New York City water supply system. The confluence is just south of Hancock.
After leaving the mountains and plateau, the river flows down broad Appalachian valleys, passing Hawk's Nest overlook on the "Upper Delaware Scenic Byway". Below Port Jervis, New York, the Walpack Ridge deflects the Delaware into the Minisink Valley, where it follows the southwest strike of the eroded Marcellus Formation beds along the Pennsylvania–New Jersey state line for 25 miles (40 km) to the end of the ridge at Wallpack Bend in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The Minisink is a buried valley where the Delaware flows in a bed of glacial till that buried the eroded bedrock during the last glacial period. It then skirts the Kittatinny ridge, which it crosses at the Delaware Water Gap, between nearly vertical walls of limestone, and passes through a quiet and charming country of farm and forest, diversified with plateaus and escarpments, until it crosses the Appalachian plain and enters the hills again at Easton, Pennsylvania. From this point it is flanked at intervals by fine hills, and in places by cliffs, of which the finest are the Nockamixon Rocks, 3 miles (5 km) long and above 200 feet (61 m) high.
At Trenton there is a fall of 8 feet (2.4 m). Below Trenton the river flows between Philadelphia and New Jersey before becoming a broad, sluggish inlet of the sea, with many marshes along its side, widening steadily into its great estuary, Delaware Bay.
Its main tributaries in New York are the Mongaup and Neversink rivers and Callicoon Creek; from Pennsylvania, the Lackawaxen, Lehigh, and Schuylkill rivers; and from New Jersey, Rancocas Creek and the Musconetcong and Maurice rivers. Oldmans and Raccoon creeks are tributaries in New Jersey.
The Delaware has experienced a number of serious flooding events as the result of snow melt and/or rain run-off from heavy rainstorms. Record flooding occurred in August 1955, in the aftermath of the passing of the remnants of two separate hurricanes over the area within less than a week: first Hurricane Connie and then Hurricane Diane, which was, and still is, the wettest tropical cyclone to have hit the northeastern United States. The river gauge at Riegelsville, PA recorded an all time record crest of 38.85 feet (11.84 m) on August 19, 1955.
More recently, moderate to severe flooding has occurred along the river. The same gauge at Riegelsville recorded a peak of 30.95 feet (9.43 m) on September 23, 2004, 34.07 feet (10.38 m) on April 4, 2005, and 33.62 feet (10.25 m) on June 28, 2006, all considerably higher than the flood stage of 22 feet (6.7 m).
Since the upper Delaware basin has few population centers along its banks, flooding in this area mainly affects natural unpopulated flood plains. Residents in the middle part of the Delaware basin experience flooding, including three major floods in the three years (2004–2006) that have severely damaged their homes and land. The lower part of the Delaware basin from Philadelphia southward to the Delaware Bay is tidal and much wider than portions further north, and is not prone to river related flooding (although tidal surges can cause minor flooding in this area).
The Delaware River Basin Commission, along with local governments, is working to try to address the issue of flooding along the river. As the past few years have seen a rise in catastrophic floods, most residents of the river basin feel that something must be done. However, due to insufficient federal funds, progress is slow.
After New York City had made 15 reservoirs (with more to come) for their water supply, and with a growing population, the city tried to gain permission to make five reservoirs along the Delaware River's tributaries. However, they were denied the permission to impound the Delaware's tributaries to make new reservoirs. So in 1928, New York City decided to draw water from the Delaware River to feed the population boom that had started during the beginning of the Great Depression. There were, however, villages and towns across the river in Pennsylvania that were already using the Delaware for their water supply. The two sides eventually took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1931, New York City was finally allowed to draw 440 million gallons of water a day from the Delaware and its upstream tributaries.
The Delaware River is a major barrier to travel between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Most of the larger bridges are tolled only westbound, and are owned by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, Delaware River Port Authority, Burlington County Bridge Commission or Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
Perhaps the most famous “Delaware Crossing” involved the improvised boat crossing undertaken by George Washington’s army during the American Revolution on Christmas Day, 1776. This led to a successful surprise attack on the Hessian troops occupying Trenton, New Jersey.
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