Ghost of Christmas (Research) Past

December 24th, 2012

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze 1851

Christmas 1776 found the Continental army at its lowest point.  After losing New York, the American Revolutionary army had fled across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.  They were underfed and ill-equipped, and had proven vastly inferior to British troops in almost every way.  Washington himself wrote “I think the game is pretty near up.”

 That evening, General George Washington led his famous crossing, taking men across the Delaware river to attack the Hessian fortification in Trenton, New Jersey.  This involved a nine mile march through freezing cold (some soldiers didn’t even have boots).  The battle was a complete success, eliminating the garrison, capturing valuable supplies and cannons, and proving that American soldiers could actually defeat regular army troops.  The battle was so successful that more American casualties fell to the elements than to enemy fire.

 But even this well documented history is rife with misinformation and legend.  The Hessians were drunk (they weren’t).  The attack was in darkness (that was the plan but it was well after dawn).  No Americans died or were injured (there were a few casualties, including future President James Monroe).  Even Leutze’s famous painting above depicts a flag that wasn’t yet designed. 

 So how can you cull fact from legend?  There are lots of good sources for information on this pivotal Christmas in history.  You might start with an encyclopedia source, such as Britannica.  You might try reading journal articles in our major databases.  These can include information on facets of that Christmas not covered in general works, such as Contemporaneous Account of the Battle of Trenton or Colonel Rall at Trenton

 And for in-depth coverage, you might turn to our extensive book collection.  These include ebooks like Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution by Theodore Savas and Almost a Miracle : The American Victory in the War of Independence by John Ferling.  And our print collection is strong, as well, with titles like Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781 by W.J. Wood (E230 .W66 1990), Washington, the Indispensable Man by James Flexner (E312 .F556) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1776 by David McCullough (E208.M396 2005).

 And, of course, for more information, try one of our LibGuides on American history.  This Christmas is a good season to learn!