The army was sick and cold. Many of the soldiers had no shoes, but wrapped rags around swollen feet. Faces were marked with sores. The Continental Army had no appetite for crossing the Delaware behind their leader George Washington. And so they didn't.
But these soldiers weren't the soldiers in the Revolutionary War, but re-enactors, dressed in the authentic uniforms of Washington's army, gathered on the Pennsylvania banks of the fast-flowing river on Christmas Day this year to reprise the historic crossing. For three years past, they've been unable to cross because the weather outside was frightful. But so were the weather and the river on the dark night of the 1776 crossing, when chunks of ice crashed against the shore and dense sleet sheathed the cannon the soldiers strained to get into boats. The reluctance of the enactors - intelligent reluctance - underscored the courage required of the real soldiers on that real December night.
As it happened, only two of three groups Washington commanded actually made it across. Two other contingents had to turn back. The group that made it is immortalized in the famous painting, inspirational if not historically accurate, by Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze in 1851 in Dusseldorf that is - or once was - reproduced in every school child's history book.
To set the record straight and to do a little inspiring herself, Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, has written her own account of that fateful night in a children's book, "When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots." It's a wonderful way to challenge children with a page-turner that describes the fortitude required to get our young country underway, borne on the ideals of freedom and liberty. The successful crossing led to two major victories, at Princeton and Trenton, which were turning points in the Revolution.