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Christmas Victory: How Weather Aided Washington's Surprise Attack

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill
December 26, 2014; 3:38 AM ET
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On Dec. 25, 1776, during the early years of the American Revolution, General George Washington led his troops on a surprise attack of British-backed forces by crossing the Delaware River in adverse weather conditions.

Stationed in Pennsylvania, Washington devised a plan to take his troops across the river in New Jersey to surprise opponents in Trenton. Between the holiday and poor weather, the attack was unexpected by the enemy forces. According to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, "The element of surprise was the only way that he and his army stood a chance of defeating the highly trained Hessian mercenaries."

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The night of the crossing, high winds, sleet, rain and snow made for rough waters on the river, where chunks of floating ice added to the dangers. Combined with the dark of night, the conditions also contributed to low visibility for the Continental troops as they tried to make their way across the treacherous river. Three other forces had previously attempted to cross the river that night but were unsuccessful, leaving them a few thousand people short for their battle plan.

Artist's depiction of Washington's forces as they cross the Delaware River. (George Caleb Bingham/Chrysler Museum of Art)

Washington's forces attacked a stronghold of Hessian soldiers the following morning, catching them largely off guard. The result was a decisive victory for the Patriot troops, taking on very few wounded in the battle. The casualties they did endure were a result of exposure to the harsh winter elements during the march rather than the battle itself.

The victory helped to boost the morale of American fighters who had previously suffered significant losses against British forces. The event inspired soldiers to keep fighting for their cause and has ensured a spot in American history as one of the most iconic moments of the Revolutionary War.

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