The Crossing (2003)



Director:     Robert Harmon.

Starring     Jeff Daniels (George Washington), Sebastian Roche (Colonel John Glover), Steven McCarthy (Captain Alexander Hamilton).  

Delaware River crossing by George Washington, December 25, 1776 in preparation for the Battle of Trenton





Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Winter 1776.  Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American forces under Washington have been pushed out of New York.  The continental soldiers are cold and sick.  Washington's forces are being further pushed across New Jersey to the Delaware River shore. 

A group of troops led by Captain Alexander Hamilton are having difficulty pushing a cannon up a hill.  Washington arrives on horseback and tells Hamilton to spike the cannon and leave it behind.  The order is carried out and the soldiers can move forward. 

December 7, 1776.  The New Jersey bank of the Delaware River north of Trenton.  General Washington tells Col. Glover of Massachusetts that he would like to cross the river.  There are some 2,000 men.  Glover asks the general where are the boats.  There are some boats north of their present position.  Washington tells Glover to "Take them if you have to."  Glover tells a local man that his boats are being commandeered.   The man is not pleased at all.  He asks under whose orders his boats are being commandeered.  General Washington is the answer.  The man replies:  "God damn him for the bandit that he is." 

As Washington's troops board the boats, the British attack.  A number of the American troops are killed.  But the British can't stop Washington from getting all of his troops to the Pennsylvania side of the river. 

Washington talks with his staff about the odds against them.  Once they had 20,000 men; now they are down to less than 2,000.  Once they had 300 pieces of artillery; now they are down to18.  General Hugh Mercer adds that there is no food, medicine or blankets.  There are 2,000 men under General Lee and another 2,000 under General Gates.  But where are these armies at the moment?  Washington tells the surveyor Sterling to go and find General Lee.

Local resident Thomas Barclay offers his house for Washington's use as headquarters. 

December 20, 1776.  Washington needs funds to pay his soldiers, many of whose enlistments are expiring very soon.  Funds are also needed for food and clothing.  Washington admits he is tired and lays down on a bed.  He cannot rest for long, however,  because intelligence reports have come in.  Howe is so certain the Americans are on the verge of surrendering that he has allowed General Cornwallis to return to England.  Some 1,200 Hessians under Colonel Rall are holding Trenton. 

In this desperate situation, Washington grabs Mercer for a look at Trenton.  They watch as the Hessian soldiers practice forming their formations.  Unexpectedly, Sterling returns with General Sullivan and his forces.  They report that General Lee has been captured at a bar in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.  In the forces there are 872 able soldiers and many sick ones.  General Gates should arrive by nightfall. 

Colonel Glover is given the task of re-ferrying the soldiers back across to the Jersey side of the Delaware River.  Glover doesn't think that the task can be done, but he understands that there is no alternative.   Washington hosts a dinner at the Barclay house where Generals Knox and Mercer and Colonel Glover are in attendance.  General Gates arrives late to the dinner.  Washington is very glad to see him. Bad news also arrives.  Congress has removed to Baltimore, since Philadelphia cannot be effectively defended.  Washington is given all the power to make the decisions as regards his army and its actions. 

Washington know the British are just waiting for the river to freeze so their men can walk across to attack the American forces, so he introduces a bold plan.  His idea is to attack the Hessians.  He asks for comments and General Gates is very outspoken and a bit rude.  He objects to the plan because he says the American forces cannot defeat the Hessians.  Washington replies by saying the very superiority of the Hessians will be their undoing.  With a surprise attack, the Hessians won't even have time to form their famous formations.  Gates says that he fears for Washington's sanity and feels that Washington is not fit to command.  Washington replies that his soldiers are the ones who never left him and who will follow him even into hell.  The commander-in-chief tells Alexander Hamilton to put his pistol on General Gates and escort him away from the encampments.  The order is that Gates not be allowed to speak to anyone. 

After Gates is gone, Washington says that for the first time, on Christmas day, they will go on the attack, the target being the Hessians.  In private, Colonel Glover expresses his serious misgivings.  General Knox tells Glover that he is a sour, foul-mouthed barbarian. 

Washington goes to visit McConkey of McConkey's tavern.  He tells McConkey that he wants the house for tomorrow for his headquarters.  They are transferring 2,000 troops to the other side of the river from this point.  McConkey asks him why he does not wait for better weather in spring.  Washington answers that if he does not cross the river tonight, then there will no army to be crossed to the other side of the river.   

Washington tells Glover that he has been a pain in his ass since the day he met him.  He adds:  "You are a hard man to like."  But, on the other hand, Washington recognizes that Glover is the man who can get the impossible done.  He stays in command of the ferrying process.

Washington presents the final details to his staff.  Trenton is four miles south of them.  Generals Green and Washington are to head along Pennington Road, while General Sullivan will go down the River Road.  The crossing begins.  Washington starts to worry that the crossing is taking too much time.  He tells his officers that regardless of the time, the attack will go on.  He had wanted to attack Trenton in the early morning when it would still be dark.  He now realizes that this goal is impossible.  So they will attack in daylight.

Colonel Glover tells Washington that the crossing is complete.  Washington gives the order to march in ten minutes.  The plan is now to attack at 8 o'clock in the morning.  The American troop movements are not discovered.  It seems that the Hessians are sleeping soundly after their Christmas binge.  The Americans take the Hessians completely by surprise.  Many are killed as they run out of their barracks.  The Hessian soldiers try to form their formations, but there are just too many Americans around them.  When they make some progress forming up, they are killed by cannon or musket fire. 

Colonel Rall tries to rally his men at the large meadow.  But they soon see that they are virtually surrounded.  An American rifleman is able to shoot Colonel Rall in the chest.  The order is given to surrender. 

Washington sends Rall's sword to congress.  He learns that Rall's wound is a mortal one.  Rall wants only to surrender to Washington before he dies.  Washington does not want to see the man because he was responsible for the massacre of many of his troops in battle on Long Island.  With some prodding, Washington finally goes to see Rall.  Soon after acknowledging that he is Washington to Rall, the Hessian commander dies. 

Washington is happy that he defeated the Hessians at Trenton, but says that this is only the beginning of a war.  One really good piece of news is that the Americans had no casualties at all; no dead and no wounded. 

It takes seven more years before a peace treaty is signed with Britain.  General Mercer dies in the Battle of Princeton.  Glover becomes a general.  Knox becomes the Secretary of War before dying at age 56.  Alexander Hamilton becomes the Secretary of the Treasury and is killed in a duel in 1804. 

Of the 16,992 Hessian soldiers in America, only 10,492 returned to Europe in 1783.  Many were killed fighting in the American Revolution, but many of them remained in the United States after the war and became citizens. 

Pretty good movie about the lowest point in the American fortunes in their war for independence.  Jeff Daniels did a good job as the hero General Washington.  The message comes through loud and clear just how terrible the situation was for the American army under Washington.  Washington knew that the situation was so desperate that he had to do something bold and imaginary.  And that he did with a complete surprise attack on the Hessians in Trenton.  Could we call General Washington the "Comeback Kid". 

There were, however, some glaring problems with the movie.  Washington crosses the Delaware River without a trace of snow or ice on the river or the river banks.  And the American troops are attacked by the British right on the shores of the Delaware.  It makes the action more exciting, but it didn't happen.  But I don't like to deliberately look for troubles with historical movies.  We have to give them a break to encourage people to watch and make these types of movies.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Film from the A&E cable network.

After kicking the British out of the Boston area, the enemy returned to the fight in the New York City area, landing on Staten Island.  Washington and his troops loose the Battle of Brooklyn; are forced all the way up to White Plains (Westchester County, NY), where they win a series of skirmishes in the Battles of White Plains; retreat across the Hudson River, retreat from Fort Lee, New Jersey, flee across the state of New Jersey all the way over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, not far north of Trenton, New Jersey. 

Washington makes one of the greatest comebacks in military history by re-crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776 attacking and capturing the Hessian troops in Trenton the following day.  From there Washington wins the Battle of Princeton (northeast of Trenton) and then goes into winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey (safely behind the Watchung Mountains of New Jersey).


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