Like many historical events, the American Revolution is often shrouded in romantic myth and stubborn stereotypes. Perhaps no event offers a better example than General George Washington’s famous crossing of icy Delaware River on Christmas night to lead the Continental Army’s defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey, an event which revived the flickering morale American revolutionaries.
In George Washington’s Surprise Attack: A New Look at the Battle That Decided the Fate of America (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), Phillip Thomas Tucker attempts to parse fiction from fact. He provides an in-depth look (more than 600 pages, with notes) at the events of the Battle of Trenton, presenting new insights and analysis about a battle that holds a mythical place in American national history.
Tucker includes stories from a variety of forgotten individuals of the war, including officers and soldiers from both sides, that help bring to life the Continental army’s victory. At the time a small town in New Jersey, Trenton was occupied by three regiments of Hessian soldiers commanded by Colonel Johann Rall, numbering about 1,400 men. Washington’s force comprised 2,400 men, with infantry divisions commanded by Major Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, and artillery under the direction of Brigadier General Henry Knox.
Tucker, who is a civilian historian with the Department of Defense and specialized in air force history and living in Washington, DC, explores the tactical roots of Washington’s battle plan. He argues that Washington’s tactical abilities have been inaccurately derided by historians. Other myths that Tucker hopes to debunk include the Hessians’ slovenly drunkenness, Washington acting alone in creating the attack strategy, and Rall’s incompetence as a leader contributing widely to his troops’ defeat.
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