Saturday, February 2, 2013
WAR MOVIE LEADERSHIP WATCHALONG: The Crossing
“The Crossing” was a made for TV movie produced by A&E in 2000. It is based on the book by Howard Fast and depicts events involving the Battle of Trenton. The movie won a Peabody Award for excellence. Jeff Daniels portrays George Washington in the film.
The movie begins with the Continental Army at a low moment in the war. It has just lost New York City and has been forced to retreat across New Jersey. What’s left of the soldiers are dispirited and sickly. All seems lost when they reach the Delaware River with the British in hot pursuit. Washington orders Col. Glover to round up some boats and the army crosses the river into Pennsylvania at the last minute.
Washington meets with his subordinates and proposes a daring plan to recross the river and surprise the Hessian garrison at Trenton. The officers are shocked at the audacity of the plan. Col. Glover is put in charge of the crossing which runs behind schedule, but is successful. The march to Trenton is uneventful until Alexander Hamilton is tasked to take out an outpost. The attack takes the Hessians by surprise and they are quickly surrounded in a meadow. The Hessian commander is mortally wounded by the only musket fired by the Americans. Washington reluctantly meets with Col. Rall before he expires and then is informed of the amazingly low casualty figures for his men in the victory.
The movie is quite good considering its low budget nature. Not much was spent on the actors, other than Daniels. All the others are B-list, but they acquit themselves well. Daniels is outstanding and gets Washington’s personality right. He portrays his dignity and barely controlled temper well. The soldiers appear to be re-enactors, which is actually a plus. The weapons and equipment appear to be authentic. The camp life rings true, but the movie concentrates on command. The plot does tend to be simplistic on tactics. It makes a point of the necessity of using the bayonet due to wet powder and then emphasizes this with literally only one soldier firing his musket. The strategy looks flawless when in reality Washington tended to make his plans too elaborate and rely too much on precise timing. Although the Battle of Trenton was less complicated than many bigger battles, it was not as orderly as the film portrays.
On to the discussion:
1. What leadership traits are portrayed? Washington has moral courage. He is willing to risk his men when he realizes doing nothing could result in the end of the Revolution. He inspires his men during very trying times. Although not known for a sense of humor, Washington lightens the tension by making a joke at Gen. Knox’s expense. Washington is a hands-on general. He does his own reconnoitering of Trenton and formulates the plan on his own. Once he develops the plan, he refuses to back off on it. The movie doesn’t mention it, but the password was “Victory or Death”.
2. How does he handle his subordinates? Washington is depicted as firmly in control of his officers, but willing to listen. When Glover questions the boldness of the plan, Washington first praises his services and then tells him to do what Washington wants. When Gates insults the plan and Washington himself, Washington controls his seething temper and orders the malcontent out of the camp.
3. What adversities are overcome? The film begins at one of the lowest moments of Washington’s career. The army is down to less than two thousand men and they are a whipped group. Many are planning on going home when their enlistments are up in the next couple of months. He keeps their spirits up, but knows a victory is imperative. They will be facing the dreaded Hessians, but Washington’s confidence and the surprise nature of the plan cancels out his men’s fears. The weather is an adversity that is overcome by sheer willpower and the sturdy backs of Glover’s Marbleheaders.
When you watch “The Crossing”, you are made aware that Washington was indeed the “indispensable man”. If the movie ended with his death instead of Rall, America as we know it would be very different. He was not a great general, especially tactically, but he was a great leader and the perfect person for the situation.
What say you?