tv Washington Crossing the Delaware CSPAN January 7, 2017 9:04pm-10:00pm EST
rosemary stevens, professor emeritus of history at the university of pennsylvania discusses her book, a time of scandal, the makings of the veterans bureau." theo one had heard of veterans bureau scandal before and it was a big scandal in the 1930's. time, the veterans bureau scandal, of which charles ford was the center, was equally important, and yet, this man has come down in history as a crook. i got intrigued. announcer: sunday night at eight eastern on c-span q and a. historian military harry labor talks about george
washington's crossing of the delaware river to defeat hessian troops at the battle of trenton. he talks about the situation in the american revolution at the time that a broad washington -- that brought washington to make his gamble. >> ladies and gentlemen, good evening. it is our pleasure to welcome harry the presentation of 240th anniversary of washington's crossing the delaware. the losses in newark city were washingtonat george
and his troops considered burning new york city. the congress obeyed the burning -- forbade the burning of the new york city. , perhapsd the hessians the most brutal soldiers at the army.nd the british --george washington he said himself said, as unaccustomed to undoubted read him, cannot keep her straight of government and an army. that army, through full retreat to new jersey, defended by alexander hamilton and his artillery who covered the retreat. that was before alexander hamilton learned to sing, not the way. -- by the way. they successfully retreated
until pennsylvania and of course crossed the delaware and what nathanael greene said at the time was god's redeeming providence as they fought and won the battle of trenton and princeton. princeton which the hessians had captured and which one haitian officer said, a wonderful -- hes said, a wonderful library. then they subsequently burned it. it was a wonderful moment in american history, this ragtag army facing the most successful army in the world coming out of the seven years war. george washington as leader, who, although we know what a great commander he was today, at the time his greatest
experiments -- greatest experience, of course, they captured boston, about the time he got there they had already surrounded boston. his greatest victory had been at fort bragg. sos american who learned much through failure was able to command a great victory. i want to quote from a great book about this great moment in american history. he said, much a recent historical writing has served too manybecause scholars have tried to make the american past into a record of crime and folly. the story of washington's crossing tells us that americans in early generations were capable of acting in a higher spirit and so are we. whoso is dr. harry laver
has himself a distinguished career as a historian. he has written about the art of command and edited a book and contributed it. he has written about the kentucky militia in the revolutionary and post revolutionary area -- revolutionary era. he has written about general grant and his art of command. he is a wonderful historian at the command school at fort leavenworth, which you know the library has a tremendous relationship with the history department. dr. laverored to have here tonight. all, i would like to
thank everyone here at the kansas city public library. they have been fantastic supporting us as a college and having speakers down here to support this program. as a number of you mentioned, it is harkening back to this kind of weather that general washington and his men faced, especially with saturday with the incoming snow. how many of you are familiar with this painting? the painting itself painted by a german artist emanuel leutze. he traveled to the united states, visited the united states and went back to germany where he put together this painting. the painting that we now have is in the metropolitan museum of art in new york city. has anybody seen it?
it is huge, 12 feet by 20 feet. the first version of this that l eutze did have some fire damage in the studio and then it went to a museum in germany. force inthe royal air a bombing raid destroyed the painting. fortunately he was working on another person in 1851 -- in 1851.ersion we can note that he was trying to capture these weird of the revolution and the spirit of the united states. he does that extraordinarily well. when we look at the figure at the front, not the very front, but the one leading -- leaning
towards us. the opposite side of the boat, an african-american figure, and as you make your way back, there is a person in red just behind the flag. the speculation is that might actually be a woman. at the back of the boat, the band you see leaning back, a native american. closer, you look can identify a few figures like the man holding the flag. president james monroe and there is general nathanael greene, one of washington's commanders in the operation he has taken. standing, probably not. he very much would have been sitting. he painted the said dong when ,he -- he painted this at dawn
but the crossing happened in the middle of the night. and the number of men in this tot would have sunk the best the bottom of the delaware river. the boats were known locally as durham boats. they were almost like small barges. not quite the right craft, but again, it does capture the spirit of what was happening at this event. the central figure was washington. with some of my students in class, of of the staff college, we've had a debate about the role of individuals in history. do individuals drive history or do events drive of collectively as a -- do events a drive us
collectively as a human race? are there indispensable figures in the past? the truth is, historians don't really like the idea of an indispensable figure. that's one individual at any one time can dramatically alter the course of human history. -- i am one, i will of those individuals who does not like that at all. but with washington, i'm willing to make an exception. there are two or three events of that point to washington as being an indispensable figure. and this event we are talking about tonight, with the two and 40th anniversary -- with the , ish anniversary coming up one of those. go back with me to december 25, 1776.
the place we're going to go is a mall village called mcconkey's inry on the delaware river pennsylvania. it is about 35 miles north of philadelphia, at the time, the capital of the united states. we are going there to join general washington standing on the banks of the river. at the time, general washington, commander and chief of the continental army of the united states of america, a country that had just declared its independence less than six months earlier. is hard to-- it imagine hot, steamy independence hall in philadelphia. washington is having to undertake an operation that he does not want to do.
as we stand there with washington, the weather is not very good. christmas day has dawned bright and good. but as we got to late afternoon, rain began to fall and next with sleet. the wind began to pick up so the sleet would sting when it hit your face. as we stand with washington, we're watching about 2500 men loaded onto those durham boats that i mentioned a few moments ago. those soldiers along with artillery cannon pieces and horses getting on board. load ase difficult to night was falling and the delaware current was running strong and there were ice flows coming down the river, always threatening to overturn those boats. and washington himself begin to board one of those boats.
i have no historical evidence for what i'm about to take -- say, but i have to believe as a that moment, washington's mind had a flashback, if only for a few seconds, to an event in his life more than 20 years earlier. event that was hauntingly similar to what he was experiencing now. the year was in 1753, the royal governor of virginia was concerned about what the french were doing in the western part of the british colonies. he was concerned about western virginia and western pennsylvania and decided he needed to find out what was going on out there. he selected a young virginia militia major by the name of george washington to lead an expedition, to do some reconnaissance and communicate with the french about british concern. and on november 16, young major
washington set out here on this expedition. along the way, through great misfortune, he picked up a small -- a member of his small party. the party was about six individuals and the individuals up wasthe man he picked named christopher grist. he rivaled daniel been in his frontier abilities -- daniel boone in his frontier abilities. they pick up some indian allies from the seneca tribe. the confluence of ae allegheny and monde again rivers that was
he watched for the french. he ended up walking to the shores of lake erie before he found the french. he ended up talking to the french and set out to return to virginia. urgentton saw this as a task to get the french response that. the small party set out, but the weather starts to delay their advance. washington saw this as an urgent task to get the french response back -- . he tells of the second in command to stay in camp, gather strength and i and christopher
gist will send out cross-country and get to the allegheny river to get to virginia. they covered 18 miles an in indian shelter. washington was starting to feel the rigors and demands. through a stroke of great misfortune, think countered an indian who offered to guide them on the shortest possible route and they set out. not long after setting out, the indian offered to kerry washington's pack -- two -- to carry washington's pack, which washington agreed to. he then asked to carry
washington's musket, which he declined. gist ischristopher and finallyied, they get their bearings and they realized the indian has been leading the way away from the allegheny river. at that moment, the indian reached the tree line spun around and fired his musket at the two men. christopherees indian asng after the fast as he can go. the indian is trying to load the musket and he gets to the indian
just before he can level his musket. gist leveled his musket at the indianss chest. -- chest. from murdering the indian. they let him go. then the men realized the indian is likely to return and to not by himself. they press on overnight and into the next day with no sleep and virtually no food, cold, freezing weather. lake the following day, they finally reached the allegheny river. hope is it is frozen over so they can quickly go across, but it is not. running down the middle of the river, a rapid current of ice flows.
they cut down a number of trees, quickly craft together a pretty shoddy raft and shove off into the river. each of them has a poll or stick they are trying to push themselves with across the river. washington at one point shows hisk into the -- shoves stick into the river and falls into the river. d gistgs onto the raft an onto haul washington back the raft. small islandn a where they spend the night. how these men survived, i have no idea. morning, i doubt
they slept, when light comes, river has frozen over. they cross and get to a trading post, get sustenance and warmth, recover and the following day washington sets out again for virginia. 1777, one month after departing from the meeting with the french, he delivers that message to the governor. 21 years old, he had shown extraordinary determination and strength of character. the governorg, recognized this and washington rose through the ranks of the virginia militia. well beyond 10 years, he rises in the political world of virginia and the military world. april 19, 1775, lexington and
concorde takes place. washington, in virginia, was a representative to the second continental congress where the met to decide what to do about this bloodshed that occurred in massachusetts and very quickly they settled on selecting a commander and that commander was a george washington. from there, washington headed up to boston or he took command of the army forces that were organizing their to battle with the british -- organizing there to battle with the british. ever the next years, there are skirmishes and engagements, but the next time we pick up our story is in new york city where washington has the continental army to defend new york from british forces arriving in the hundreds almost every day. in late august of 1770 x, 1776,gton -- august of
washington escapes narrowly from the battle on long island. in the coming months, washington and his confidential -- continental army will battle the british and it is defeat followed by withdrawal. the british chase them outside of new york city, across the manhattan island, into new and by november 1776, washington is seeking refuge. washington, he had made some serious mistakes. he was not the general that we recognize today. and indeed some of his colleagues were very concerned about this man he was leaving their army -- leading their
army. wasfficer in the army who formally in the british army wrote to his colleague about the indecisiveness of mind that was plaguing the army. and the truth was washington had been indecisive. in key battle he is not shown great leadership -- in key battles he had not shown great leadership, but, and a very important but, washington was dedicated to the cause of american independence. he never wavered for a moment that american independence was the cause and there was a never question in his mind or wavering on that issue. counterpart through
these battles across new jersey with a general named william howell. general howell, but the time we get to early december, he decides he has done enough. he has the americans on the run and they have not been able to stand against him at any point. so, let's call it off for the year. this was common practice that going into winter quarters. theral howell send out all orders that the troops will be done for the year. washington?ter after all, general howell was spring, theat, come spring ball -- spring thaw and melting snow would reveal the
army.s of washington's idea generals no howell was going to call off the campaign season. washington was concerned that was the delaware froze over, how would -- general howell would march into philadelphia, which with the disastrous for the united states. washington says, i must do something, but what can i do? congress, fearful of a standing army, standing armies, the tool of oppressive governments that require an extraordinary amount of taxes. they only approved year-long enlistments for washington's soldiers. congress like to rely on the
militia, the citizen soldiers to defend their homes. washington new the militia had value, but he was not -- militia hadnew the value, but he was not overly confident in them. consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and than at the last, leave you at a credit all moments. -- critical moment. but that was all he had. does gather 6000 men in mid-december, knowing in two weeks on december 31, the majority and list was going to inspire, and his thinking was the same as general howe. my army is going to die over the winter and less i do something. he looked at with the british were doing, and what he saw is the british going into
garrison, just as general howe had ordered. each place you see those little red circles were garrisons of british or hessian forces. hired ton mercenaries help fight the war. looking at the map, washington saw an opportunity. the middle of the map, there was a hessian horse of about 1500 soldiers. the hessians had a habitation -- reputation as heart fighters and also as soldiers who treated very harshly civilians and their prisoners. but there washington saw a chance to change the direction and momentum of this war. what washington put together was
a plan that was out dishes. out dishes this -- i day shifts -- audacious. what he envisioned it with 6000 men was this. bring the army of four different units, the largest he would command himself. that would cross the delaware river to the north of trenton, swing down and assault trenton from the north and the east. another force of 600 would travel down the rest inside of the weather -- western side of the river with the purpose of blocking the hessians'means of escape to the south. another force of 2000 would make their way even farther south, cross at where we see bordentown, where another hessian force was, and their job
was to keep there was hessians from reinforcing the other hessians at trenton. the other small force was reinforcements. was each of these columns would converge just before dawn, the day after christmas. imagine in an era before cell phones, before radios, before any kind of communication beyond man and horse, how difficult this was going to be to coordinate all these elements. this would have been challenging for general howe's army of professionals, let alone a group of militia part-time citizen soldiers. that is washington's plan. eve, one of the revolutionary leaders named benjamin rush visited washington at his headquarters north of trenton. rush recalled later that
washington was nervous, physically -- fidgety, and understandably so. and at -- before he left, rush looked down at the papers washington had on his desk and what he saw was the past word -- password for the centuries -- centuries at the river crossing. the password was victory or death. clearly washington was committed. the following morning was christmas. clear, freezing, but then bad weather began. at this point we can rejoin it general washington on the banks of the delaware as he is getting on board. the crossing takes place over the course of the night. it is 3:00 a.m. before all the manner across the river. three hours behind schedule, washington realizes at that point he is not going to get to trenton below -- before dawn and
the element of surprise might be lost. he was not turning back at that point. began to press farther south, and this is a painting from 1819 of washington overseeing the troops crossing the delaware. around 4:00 a.m., after getting all his men together and in column, they begin to move down on that nine mile journey down to trenton. theee the top of the map path that washington's men took. about four miles from trenton, washington's 2500 split into two forces. one force traveled its way along commandr road under the of a general named john sullivan. they were going to approach trenton from north along the river. the other half, under nathanael greene, takes a different path.
ony swing around and come in the pennington road. washington is with this column as it makes its way towards trenton. it is about 7:20, well after light has begun to streak through the strive -- skies. as they get closer to the village, washington is trying to maintain whatever surprise they might have. some of the soldiers were called washington was on horseback on the outskirts of town, and as washington,ed by moving into position around the village, washington was telling them to take -- stay by your officers. for god sakes, stay by your officers. and then they made first contact. shots exchanged with some of the hessian sentries. were centuries -- sentries
quickly overwhelmed by the men coming out of the woods, and washington's men pressed forward. he could year to his right gunfire, and then increasingly rapid gunfire as sullivan's men it made contact. washington took great comfort that selling 10 -- sullivan's men had arrived. what he didn't know was that all the other columns had turned back. none of them had crossed the river. the commanders had made the --ision as washing washington's men were crossing that the river was too treacherous to cross. washington's men were on their own. there was no help coming from anywhere else. trenton, colonel rall and his men were taken by surprise. it is not really that surprising
that they were taken by surprise. we know what happened in the days leading up to the washington assault. previously, at 5:00 in the afternoon the previous day, rall warning of an attack on trenton, but he dismissed it. but he dismissed it because for a number of days leading up to then, militia -- and stretching to call them that -- would come out, take a pot shot at the hessians, and disappear. the hessians would go on a patrol and chase after these phantoms. this occurred in the middle of christmas day even. as night was falling and snow was starting to fall on christmas day, rall's men are struggling back into their barracks after a while boost --
wild goose chase, and they are exhausted. it is not surprising he was not taking the warning experience will -- warning seriously. and now washington's men were attacking his men. rall tries to get his men organized. henry knox gets his artillery in place there in trenton. gets his artillery in place right were he sees washington's name, pointing down the length of this long to roads . it was like a bowling alley. he could fire straight down, and that is the spot where the hessians were trying to organize. great chaos among the hessians, trying to get themselves organized through this assault by washington. colonel rall realized this was
not going to prove effective, and his men had made that decision on their own and had been heading out the eastern side. they were looking to escape the trenton -- to princeton, where there were reinforcements. a force tohad sent block the road to princeton. colonel rall and his men evacuated trenton into the surrounding field. rall tries to organize his men out there for a counterattack. they charge against the americans, the americans fire casualties, it -- including colonel rall. the hessians are done. themually, about 600 of will escape, primarily to the south. but 22 are killed, including colonel rall.
over 80 are wounded and washington and his men casher -- capture about 900 hessian soldiers. it is an astounding victory, credited primarily to washington and his determination to press on. washington was not content with this, however. he understood this may not be enough momentum to keep the revolution and the cause through all long winter that was coming. so he convinced them to sit around -- stick around for six more weeks. he was persuasive, and a $10 bonus for staying with enough. he crossed into pennsylvania briefly, and that is the new year was donning crossed into crossedey -- dawning into new jersey and went into the british at
princeton. he defeats them on january 3. north tos army moorestown, new jersey, where they went into winter camp. washington was the cause of this victory. we cannot attribute it to anything but him and his determination to continue on. washington would face some pretty significant challenges yet to come. 1777-1778ing winter, as the winter we are all familiar with and valley forge. lesser known as the winter, two years later at moorestown, that was far worse than the winter at valley forge. but they survived that. washington's dealings with congress over the course of the
entire war, who were not at times the most affordable washington -- supportive of washington. but five years after washington wins the battle in trenton -- this is a painting of washington leading his men. he was not quite out that front in trenton. lastngton will see the major conflict of the war at yorktown, virginia, where he along with the american army and , both army and navy, forced general cornwallis to surrender. washington, at that 1776, kept the revolution alive. moment ofhe darkest the revolution, were writer
thomas payne mentioned as "the times to try men's souls." i think of washington had not acted as he had and shown that determination, this ring saw -- spring thaw would have revealed the corpse of washington's army, just as general howe would have addicted. for that reason -- predicted. for that reason, i think washington was an indispensable figure. remembere a moment to the 200th anniversary of what washington did. thank you for coming out. [applause] dr. laver: i understand we have some time for questions. the request is if you do have a question, if you make your way to one of the two microphones so
c-span can get your question. i will say, this is an early disclaimer -- disclaimer. if i do not know the answers, a number of my colleagues are here. sir? of numberre a hundred of wonderful stories about the battle. so they were gambling on the kitchens -- hessians gambling and drinking on christmas. and there's another one about rall playing cards and ,ashington being on the move and he paid the price for that. is there any truth to those two stories? the first question about the hessians sleeping off christmas celebrations? the best evidence is not so much. they may have been celebrating,
but the circumstances i described previously, they were just worn out from a lengthy campaign. the hessians were involved in the campaign from new york city up through -- many of you are familiar with the battles of harlem heights and new jersey. i think they were just worn out. as to the other message in the pocket, i have heard that as well. again, the evidence is pretty slim on that. us byur point about bringing information, that was the source of the warning that colonel rall did receive. there was a spy and washington's headquarters, and in the preceding days as is washington -- washington and his commanders were discussing this. hard and tookf off to the british commander. did depart and thomas
to the british commander. but what he didn't know was that washington at a smaller group of commanders got together to finalize the details of when, where, and how. the spy had some idea, but no specifics. rollins had -- rall would have ignored that anyway. >> you spoke about washington's beginnings in the virginia militia. did he have training over the next 20 years up to this point? did he have a mentor or someone that guided him in military tactics and knowledge? what made him become what he was? dr. laver: he did have two mentors. the first, i cannot say was necessarily a military mentor, but was his older brother, lawrence. he set down principles of character and integrity that washington really in the lower -- really absorbed. voluntarily, washington's mentor
is general brad from the british army. frenchwith him from the and indian war. washington serves as an aid to general braddock. extraordinaryws courage and that battle. severesuffering from health problems, and gets up out of a sick bed in the battle that bracket -- braddock is killed. he was following braddock, and braddock becomes his mentor. washington's aspiration was to officer inrt of -- the british army. he was declined because he was a columnist. lonist. >> you kind of segued into my
question. my understanding is that washington and king george the third were cousins. is there anything to that at all? dr. laver: i have not heard that. anyone else because that? -- speak to that? i have not heard that. britishs descended from aristocracy, though. was he not? all british aristocracy leads back to charlemagne or whomever, he might be. [laughter] dr. laver: but i don't know for certain. i cannot say yea or nay on that. >> i have a picture in my mind of what happened at trenton, and suddenly i have 900 prisoners. what do you do with them? that was before guantanamo. [laughter] >> you have to do something with them. dr. laver: typically, prisoners
were exchanged. you exchange rate for rank, individual for individual. there would be an exchange process. some of the officers that were recognized, charles lee was taken for a while and exchanged as a senior officer. >> [indiscernible] manyaver: i don't know how they may have had after the new york campaign? they may well have had near -- and i don't want to make back the impression because some of you are aware of the horrendous conditions on the prison ships the british should -- often use on the coast. anything else? iowa's thought the american revolution -- i always thought
the american revolution was a continuation of the british civil war, and even their generals were not well trained. why were they any better than ours? dr. laver: i do not know from say the british are not a professional army, because they had been battling for some years with the french. war, ourh and indian version of that in america is sort of an overflow of that. the british may not have had a professional army for centuries, they had professional experience. in this era, britain was the superpower. both enable and land forces. there was experience there -- in naval and land forces. there was experience there, and training that the americans did not have. army,y sort of standing
professional officers, congress balked it. if they were true patriots, they would not ask us for pay. there is a very much in different mentality there. >> [indiscernible] in that case, we are going back 100 years or so? the new model army that comes out of the civil war is the basis for increasing the professionalism of the british army. >> i'm talking what the british army to keep the army's moral -- army small, [indiscernible] dr. laver: to some degree, parliament got past that. a military force to maintain control of the college -- cannot -- colonies. i think some of your points are
valid. britain is not a fully complete professional force. philadelphia had a port. how come the british didn't go there instead of new york city? congress was there and everything, why not do it the easy way? dr. laver: the short answer is the british to go there. -- do go there. they end up there the following year. the answer is that new york was the largest city at the time. operations, that made sense to be the center place -- centerpiece for british military forces. it will remain that way for the rest of the revolution, well after cornwallis surrenders. army in still a huge
new york city. philadelphia does get into the mix in 1777. just to comment on the prisoner question from earlier, i am a native virginian, and the issue with the hessian prisoners taken were they were marched to the south. they were interred at a camp outside of charlottesville, virginia. up taking am ended pledge and joining the continental army in search of -- and serving of continental soldiers later on. the british were not keen on exchanging them because they were mercenaries and hessians. there were not going to exchange the prisoners they had for hessians. they were saving them for british predators -- prisoners. and most of the exchanges were done between offices of like
rank and gentlemen. the common prisoners were basically kept and diet in the ships by the thousands, or were sent further south away from the army there. dr. laver: thank you, thank you. sir? >> do we have an idea what kind of nationality mix was involved with them? fromaver: all mercenaries various parts. we were talking about which parts of germany's particular hessians came from. we are not certain. as the colonists were concerned, these were hessians and mercenaries at that. one particular point about the hessians is that there were 13,010 hessian troops in america. 3000 of them decided to stay and became americans.
dr. laver: it looks pretty good when they got here. yeah? we have time for just one more. do -- drewit that the sessions to come fight? why didn't they just stay home? [laughter] dr. laver: this was not uncommon in the. leading up to the american revolution, that oftentimes heads of state would hire armies . there were armies out there that were willing to be hired out. these were simply professional soldiers. pay me and i will fight for you. >> thank you. >> [indiscernible] received a lot of money -- dr. laver: yes, frederick wilhelm. basic payrs received but frederick wilhelm cashed in. thank you again for coming. [applause]
[conversations] weekend, c-span will explore the literary life and history of san diego. we will hear about how the u.s. navy built its presence in san diego, from uss midway museum historian carl sometime -- thing gnheim.zi she made numerous deployments to the mediterranean for the first years of her career. was decided she needed to transfer to the pacific. in 1955, she made an epic voyage , because she was too large to pass through the panama canal,