Eric Bess’s piece on page B8 [“Against All Odds: The Courage of Washington Crossing the Delaware,” in the July 28–Aug. 3 edition] is well done and succinctly describes the story behind the painting and the historical events that drove Emanuel Leutze to portray it in his painting. The events in 1776 that preceded the crossing, especially in August 1776, could have been as disastrous at that time when the British Army had George Washington’s Continental Army on the verge of destruction in Brooklyn. Fortunately, a combination of stealth, maritime experienced men, and a foggy night allowed the Continental Army to retreat to Manhattan and eventually march across New Jersey to make camp in Pennsylvania across the Delaware River adjacent to Trenton.
A detailed historical depiction of Leutze’s painting can be found in a book written by David Hackett Fischer titled “Washington’s Crossing.” It has a six-page Introduction at the beginning of the book. At the conclusion, the author quotes George Washington: “A people unused to restraint must be led; they will not be drove.”
The painting certainly takes this grammatical quote and illustrates it with George Washington’s resolve as he stands in the boat.