Gail G. Hall
"It is a glorious victory. It will rejoice the hearts everywhere and give new life to our hitherto waning fortunes…If he (General George Washington) does nothing more, he will live in history as a great military commander" (Meltzer, 108). With these words recorded on Dec. 26, 1776, Washington's aide, Colonel John Fitzgerald, stated the importance of the American success at the Battle of Trenton. This battle, along with the nighttime crossing of the Delaware River and the Battle of Princeton, demonstrated the bold and inspirational leadership of Commander-in-Chief George Washington. These events of the winter of 1776-1777, known as the Christmas Campaign, are widely believed to have changed the course of the American Revolution.
For many Americans Emanuel Leutze's historical painting,
Washington Crossing the Delaware
, with its depiction of determination in the face of adversity, symbolizes the War of Independence. Many viewers of the painting believe that it accurately represents the events of Christmas night 1776. Painted in Germany in 1851 by Emanuel Leutze nearly 75 years after the event, it was put on display in Brooklyn in October of that year where it was seen by more than five thousand viewers in two weeks. One hundred fifty years later it remains an enduring image of the American Revolution and of George Washington. American art critics and historians have stated that it is neither history nor art (Scheer, 17). What is the real story of the crossing of the Delaware River and of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton? How did General George Washington and a rag-tag American army defeat Hessian mercenaries and British troops and change the course of the war?
The Christmas Campaign of 1776: Many Voices
is a resource-based, collaboratively planned and team-taught unit in which students are active learners who apply new skills as they do historical research. Students will use primary and secondary sources to study the many perspectives on this famous event. They will examine history paintings and portraits using a technique called "object analysis." Students will learn how to examine maps and journals to see the words behind the myth. From these "many voices" students will gain a larger understanding of General George Washington and the important events of the winter of 1776.
Unit objectives for students:
1. Students will understand the importance of the battles of Trenton and Princeton in the winter of 1776/1777.
2. Students will understand the bold and inspirational leadership of General George Washington in these important battles.
3. Students will access, evaluate and use a variety of primary sources (historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifact, historical sites, art and other records from the past) and secondary sources and judge their authority.
4. Students will apply a methodology called object analysis (description, deduction, and speculation) to study history paintings and portraits.