The painting of Washington crossing the Delaware

Washington crossing the Delaware.  Please click to enlarge.

A German-American painter named Emanuel Leutze made his famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware in 1850 to encourage freedom-loving Germans after the defeat of democratic revolutions in 1848.

The original remained in Germany and did not survive World War Two, but Leutze made a copy that survives today in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Although the accuracy of some details has been question, historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book, Washington’s Crossing, gives Leutze credit for showing what a great feat it was to cross the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776.

The crossing succeeded partly for the same reason that General MacArthur’s Inchon landing succeeded during the Korean Conflict.  It was so difficult a feat that the enemy didn’t consider it as a possibility.

Fischer also gave Leutze credit for recognizing the diversity and individuality of the American troops.  Here is Fischer’s description.

Washington’s small boat is crowded with thirteen men …

One man wears the short tarpaulin jacket of a New England seaman; we look again and discover that he is of African descent.  

Another is a recent Scottish immigrant, still wearing his Balmoral bonnet.  

A third is an androgynous figure in a loose red shirt, maybe a woman in man’s clothing, pulling at an oar.

At the bow and stern are hard-faced western riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings.  

Huddled beneath the thwarts are farmers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey in blanket coats and broad-brimmed hats.  One carries a countryman’s double-barreled shotgun.  The other looks very ill and his head in swathed in a bandage.

A solider beside them is in full uniform, a rarity in this army; he wears the blue coat and red facings of Haslet’s Delaware Regiment.

Another figure bears a boat cloak and an oiled hat that a prosperous Baltimore merchant might have used on a West Indian voyage; his sleeve reveals the facings of Smallwood’s silk-stocking Maryland Regiment.

Hidden behind them is a mysterious thirteenth man.  Only his weapon is visible; one wonders who he might have been.

The dominant figures in the painting are two gentlemen of Virginia who stand tall above the rest.  

One of them is Lieutenant James Monroe, holding a big American flag upright against the storm.  

The other is Washington in his Continental uniform of buff and blue.  He holds a brass telescope and wears a heavy saber, symbolic of a statesman’s vision and a soldier’s strength.

The artist intends us to see each of these soldiers as an individual, but he also reminds us that they are all in the same boat, working desperately together against the wind and the current.

The greatness of George Washington was that he could forge an Army out of such diverse origins, and defeat the hardened British and Hessian professional soldiers.  The greatness of Americans in that era was that we could bury our differences and unite in a common cause.

Americans today are even more diverse that we were then.  But we’re still all in the same boat.

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “The painting of Washington crossing the Delaware”

  1. silverapplequeen Says:

    Reblogged this on silverapplequeen and commented:
    I’ve seen this picture forever & never knew a thing about it.

    Like

  2. Fred (Au Naturel) Says:

    Two future presidents in one painting.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: