Revolutionary Diaries

Battles of Trenton Commemoration 1998

Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

dated Wednesday, December 23, 1998. All rights reserved.

New View of the Crossing

It would have been a dream trade for George Washington

and artist Bob Beck: swap the cold, sleety weather the general


on the Delaware River in 1776 for the balmy, spring-like conditions

Beck experienced at the same site earlier this month — but hold

the full moon and low water mark.

More than a year ago, after deciding to do "Washington Crossing

the Delaware" his way, Beck applied his considerable painterly

and intuitive skills to the task. The result, "Second


a 40-inch high by 60-inch wide oil on board, was unveiled December

3 at the visitors center of Washington Crossing Historic Park, where

it remains on view through Wednesday, December 30. It’s not your


idea of this famous scene, largely because it’s so far from the now

ubiquitous vision of 19th-century painter Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze,

long associated with both the event and the Washington Crossing


center. (A digital copy of his famous history painting has now


the painted reproduction that was removed, amid much acrimony, from

the center’s auditorium about a year ago.)

Observing that Leutze’s version of history includes the wrong flag,

the wrong time of day, the wrong position of Washington in the boat

— and the wrong boat (but who’s counting?) — Beck, who doesn’t

usually tackle history paintings, says his "Second Crossing"

sprang from his impulse to "put you there." He regards the

Leutze painting as "theater," noting that even modern-day

re-enactors seem more interested in re-creating this potent painting

than the event.

Now headquartered in Lumberville, the artist also lived in Bristol

for a while. Day and night, sun and snow, he knows the Delaware. About

Washington’s trip, he says, "We’re talking dead of night in a

sleet storm. Not a lot of available light. I know what I’d see —

if you could see anything."

Beck’s preparation for taking on this iconic scene included reading,

measuring, and drawing the 40-foot Durham boat replicas housed at

Washington Crossing, and witnessing last year’s re-enactment. Within

days of that event, he had made a 5-inch high by 10-inch wide oil

sketch of his painting-to-be. "This is black cat in the coal bin

stuff," he says. "Real dark. You’re not going to see the


and bullets. You have to imagine a lot."

In a few weeks last summer, Beck completed the bigger picture,


with "dry painting" the scene in his head, figuring out how

to handle different parts. Depicting the sleet may have been the most

hazardous part of his own crossing. First, he moved his thumb over

the bristles of a big brush to dust the panel surface with a spray

of cool-gray dots, suggesting a veil of sleet behind the boat, down

to the horizon line. His very last step was a second "sleet"

dusting from top to bottom of the painting, this time with a warmer

gray tone, to suggest the sleet in front of the boat. "If I’d

had a drop the size of a dime, there’d be no fixing it," he says.

"It would have been all over."

Now completed, the picture "shows" a blurry boatload of (we

assume) soldiers, a flag, and, somewhere there in the dark, General

George Washington — probably in a coast guard-approved position.

In the foreground are sharply-defined ice floes; in the background,

glowing orange campfires on the Jersey shore. Sleet combines with

the dark of night to make individuals indistinguishable.

Which goes right along with what has been called the "obscuring

veil of myth" long shrouding Washington. In fact, Beck’s sidestep

away from distinguishing the general in his picture may be well timed,

given the current flap about Washington (yes, it’s his turn now),

DNA tests that are being sought, a slave named "Venus," and

reputed illegitimate offspring. (He had no legitimate children.) In

"Second Crossing," Washington is neither "father of the

country" nor demigod solely, just one of the boys in Beck’s boat.

And adding injury to insult, there may not even be a boat for this

year’s Washington Crossing re-enactment. The area’s near-drought


have so lowered the Delaware’s water level that Vinson says


may be forced to make a symbolic crossing taking the bridge. But the

real capper came with the widely published photo of the


(who has declined to ride a horse) posed in military uniform with

saber drawn, astride his 1100 c.c. Kawasaki motorcycle.

Now, that’s de-mythologizing with a vengeance. Bob Beck has done it

more decorously.

— Pat Summers

Second Crossing, Washington Crossing Historic Park,

Visitors Center, Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, 215-493-4076.

Bob Beck’s new look at an old image, on exhibit through December 30.


Washington’s Crossing, Washington Crossing Historic

Park , Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, 215-493-4076. The

222nd anniversary of George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware

is observed with a full-scale reenactment. Visitors Center opens at

11 a.m. where a documentary film is shown, and Colonial soldiers in

uniform will be in the historic village of Taylorsville. Beginning

at 1 p.m., the revolutionary troops will assemble along the banks

of the Delaware to be addressed by General Washington before the


by Durham boats or bridge, depending on river conditions. $1 parking


Top Of Page
Revolutionary Diaries

In the 1980s, in the course of researching the book

that would become, "The Day is Ours! An Inside View of the Battles

of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776 – January 1777" (newly


in paperback from Rutgers University Press), historian and journalist

William Dwyer found himself spending time with a whole new group of

folks. For many of the participants of the war — from American,

British, and Hessian soldiers to myriad fearful and ambivalent


— kept a record of their experiences during the revolution, and

Dwyer became their avid collector and listener. And it is through

the diaries, journals, letters and memoirs of these men and women

that Dwyer lets them tell the story, in their own words, of the events

that made a nation. Writes one critic, "Dwyer has put together

a wonderful, lively account that reflects a reporter’s respect for

quotes from eyewitnesses. He presents the facts and lets history speak

for itself."

Dwyer is a veteran journalist in both senses of the word. During World

War II he was correspondent for the Stars and Stripes, the armed


newspaper, for which he covered the Fourth Infantry Division. Now

82, Dwyer is a columnist for the Times of Trenton, a job he has held

since the early 1960s. He was press secretary to Governor Richard

Hughes for four years. He has also taught adult education at Rider

College and written for the New York Times, Commonweal, Christian

Science Monitor, and New Jersey Monthly. Married to Marjorie Wright

Dwyer, they are the parents of Suzanna, Princeton Class of ’93 and

captain of the ice hockey team, now teaching at St. Mark’s School

in Boston. He dedicates "The Day is Ours!" to his "kid

brother," First Lieutenant Edward Thomas Dwyer Jr., a pilot who

died in service in October 1944 on a mission from India to China.

In Chapter 31 of his highly readable 385-page history of the three

historic battles that took place so close to home, Dwyer invites his

readers to share the hours before Washington’s historic crossing


the thoughts and memories of some of its lowliest helpers:

Bill Dwyer’s View:

Boats in Readiness

It was Christmas afternoon and the Continentals under

General Washington’s direct command in Bucks County — many of

whom indeed had neither coat, show, nor stocking, nor scarce anything

else to cover their bodies — were either preparing to march or

already on the move. An hour or so before the sun would set at 4:35

o’clock, John Greenwood, the 16-year-old fifer from Massachusetts,

trudged out of Newtown in formation with his company and headed


toward the Delaware River. He was still suffering from "the camp

itch" and it showed in the way he gimped along. It was not as

painful as it had been on the march from Ticonderoga — ointment

had eased the pain considerable — but his thighs were still raw

and scabbed. Greenwood was not just a fifer now; he was carrying a

musket and about 60 rounds of ammunition stuffed into various pockets.

And three days’ cooked rations (heavily salted meat and hard bread).

This, he figured, must be it, the marching order they had been


But where were they going? Faithful to the enlisted man’s


credo, he was certain that anywhere at all would be better than where

he had been. But where would it be this time?

"None but the first officers knew where we were going or what

we were going about," Greenwood would later recall, "for it

was a secret expedition, and we, the bulk of the men coming from


knew not the disposition of the army we were then in, nor anything

about the country. This was not unusual, however, as I never heard

soldiers say anything, nor ever saw them trouble themselves, as to

where they were or where they were led. It was enough for them to

know that wherever the officers commanded they must go, be it through

fire and water, for it was all the same owing to the impossibility

of being in a worse condition than their present one, and therefore

the men always liked to be kept moving in expectation of bettering


In all, some 2,400 Continentals were on the way to the assembly area

centering on Samuel McKonkey’s ferry, eight miles up the Delaware

from Trenton (and thus also known as Eight-Mile Ferry) (note: now

Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania). "The regiments have had their

evening parade," one of Washington’s aides notes, "but instead

of returning to their quarters are marching toward the ferry. It is

fearfully cold and raw and a snowstorm settling in. The wind is


and beasts in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for

the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around

their feet; others are barefoot but I have not heard a man


It had been a mostly sunny day, with the thermometer around 32 degrees

and the wind light out of the north. In the afternoon, however, there

had been a shift of the wind and a falling barometer; a heavy storm

of snow and sleet from the south was on its way. Although


in," it would not arrive until about an hour before midnight.

Under orders, the Continentals marched in silence toward the ferry

house. "A profound silence to be enjoined," Washington had

ordered, "and not man to quit his ranks on the pain of death."

From William M. Dwyer, "The Day is Ours! An Inside View

of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776 – January


Rutgers University Press, 1998; 448 pages; paper, $20.

Top Of Page
Battles of Trenton Commemoration 1998

Battles of Trenton Celebration, Old Barracks Museum,

Barrack Street, Trenton, 609-396-1776. Saturday and Sunday,


26 and 27, noon to 5 p.m.

Trenton’s revolutionary history comes alive through guided tours of

the newly renovated Old Barracks Museum, the William Trent House,

the Friends Meeting House, St. Michael’s Church, and the Alexander

Douglass House. Both days, $7.50 adults; $3 children.

Saturday, December 26: At Mill Hill Playhouse, free


of the movie "Ten Crucial Days," each hour from 1 to 4 p.m.

From 5 to 6 p.m., fifers and drummers march through the streets.

Sunday, December 27: Washington’s Continental Army, the

British army, and their German Hessian mercenaries do battle in


Trenton at the 222nd Anniversary Celebration of the Battles of


Opening ceremony for the First Battle of Trenton begins at 12:30 p.m.

at the Old Barracks.

At 1 p.m. the cannons will boom in the First Battle of Trenton that

begins at Battle Monument and at the corner of Calhoun and West State

streets, proceeding to Mill Hill Park. At 3 p.m. the Second Battle

reenactment begins in front of the First Presbyterian Church and


to Mill Hill Park.

In other commemorative events, at 2:15 p.m., at Mill Hill Playhouse,

author James S. Pula speaks on the Polish contribution in training

Washington’s Army for battle, and autograph his book, "Thaddeus

Kosciuszko, the Purest Son of Liberty. At from 2:15 to 5 p.m. at Cafe

Ole, author Arthur Lefkowitz autographs his book, "The Long


the Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey, 1776."

At 2:45 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church, there is a Memorial

Service for the Slain.

Free parking lots are located at South Warren and Lafayette Street,

and at the Trent House, with free shuttle bus service to the Old


Museum both days. Call for directions or visit website at

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