If I may get personal here, the Battle of Trenton occurred 244 years ago today. It is one of my favorite battles. Hell, I named my son after it. It is an example of what drew me to History and the teaching of it. The tale is stranger than fiction. There are two of my favorite anecdotes in this list. More importantly, it proves that one event and/or one man can change history.
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.
It was directed by Robert Harmon (“Ike: Countdown to D-Day”). 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. All seems lost when they reach the Delaware River with the British in hot pursuit. Washington orders Col. Glover (Sebastian Roche) to round up some boats and the army crosses the river into Pennsylvania at the last minute. What’s left of the soldiers are dispirited and sickly. Things are really bleak for the Revolution. 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. The movie covers the crossing and the battle.
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. Unfortunately, the movie is command-centric and no soldiers are developed. However, the movie doe a fair job depicting the hardships the men were dealing with. Kudos to the costume people for getting the rag-tag look.
The weapons and equipment appear to be authentic. 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 Continental 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 simple as the film portrays.
The movie is a worthy history lesson. It does a nice job establishing the fact that Washington’s army was at low ebb. The scene where Washington’s reveals his plan to his subordinates is an illuminating one. It encapsulates Washington’s leadership style and his audacity. Although Gen. Gates sneers at it (and him), the rest of the officers trust Washington. The movie introduces viewers to some other significant figures in the Revolutionary War, like Generals Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, John Sullivan, Lord Stirling, and Hugh Mercer. However, the figure that comes out of the movie with the most enhanced reputation is Glover. John Glover is a mostly forgotten hero of the Revolution. He is portrayed as a feisty non-military man who is not afraid to talk back to Washington. The movie makes it clear that we might not have won independence without him and his boatmen. Mercer (Roger Rees) is another who has a familiar relationship with George.
The crossing and the battle have no off-putting errors in them, but the movie does simplify things in an made-for-TV way. Due to the low budget nature of the production, the numbers are too small (as are the boats), but the cinematographer does a great job making a few look like many. Unfortunately, the budget did not allow for snow so the march is not realistically trying. The fighting in the town does not do justice to the battle and the combat is mostly bayonet-stabbing. Cannons do get their due, if mainly to show stuntmen flying through the air. A scene with Alexander Hamilton taking an outpost as a swashbuckler was clearly added to entertain. And Hamilton was not an aide to Washington at the time, he was in the artillery. It’s far from combat porn, but it’s decent for an A&E movie. The movie accurately fits the fact that no Americans were killed in the fighting. The movie closes on a strong historical note with a scene where Washington meets with Rall.
I had read Fast’s book and I am please to say the movie does justice to the novel. In some ways, the movie is more about George Washington than about the Battle of Trenton. Jeff Daniels is one of the best Washington’s and is right up there with Barry Bostwick. If you are not that familiar with his personality and why he was the most important man in American History, the movie will make you appreciate him more. It is also the best (and only) movie about a battle that if we had not won, we would have been part of the British Commonwealth.
GRADE = B