Washington’s Crossing


“Say what you will, but you are never prepared for the surprise attack”

Sarah Dessen

State 41: New Jersey May 25-26, 2018

Nate

We woke up at a Walmart in Lanoka Harbor, NJ well rested and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, I scoured the Atlantic City Boardwalk in search of Salt Water Taffy, and could not wait to see what adventure lie ahead. After spending a day exploring central New Jersey, the first task of the day is to drive 48 miles Northwest to Trenton to tour the New Jersey Statehouse. Built in 1790, The New Jersey Capitol building is the third-oldest statehouse in continuous legislative use in the United States. Unlike many other statehouses the Cross Country Couple has encountered, New Jersey’s Capitol building actually houses both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature, and the offices of the Governor, and Lieutenant Governor. Good Job New Jersey!

After securing parking for Rosie, we made our way towards the capitol building where I made a very disturbing discovery! Scaffolding and security barriers were erected around the statehouse, and it appeared the capitol building was undergoing a major restoration. I missed out on a previous capitol tour due to renovations, which you can read more about by clicking here. Hopefully, New Jersey’s Statehouse was still open to the public! Please see the pictures below.

Before venturing inside, I explored the building’s exterior and surrounding capitol grounds. The New Jersey Statehouse’s external construction was unlike any I have previously encountered, and not necessarily in a good way. Most capitol buildings are constructed with a dome topped central space with two flanking structures housing the states legislature. While I fully appreciate and even celebrate unique architectural design, there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to the layout of the New Jersey Capitol Building. It appeared whenever the need for additional space arose, additions were made to the existing structure with disregard to aesthetics or the building's original design. After two centuries of ongoing construction, the New Jersey Capitol Building consisted of a hosh posh of hastily and thoughtless additions giving the statehouse a very choppy appearance. New Jersey’s Capitol Grounds were even more disappointing. Most statehouse's grounds feature beautiful gardens, tall shady trees, and well manicured green grassy lawns. New Jersey’s Capitol Grounds presented a seemingly endless sea of stone and concrete, which was cold, urban, and very unwelcoming.

With much difficulty, I finally found the entrance to the statehouse, which lacked a grand staircase, and appropriate signage. After being searched by security, I made my way over to the tour guide's desk, where I made a shocking discovery! The tour guide whom greeted me looked just like my late Step Grandfather; Leon! It was as if I had seen a ghost! Even the sound of the tour guide's voice and mannerisms were identical to Leon's! Just to make absolutely sure I was not the butt of someones extremely sick joke, I asked the tour guide his name, which was Bob. Bob shared the statehouse was currently undergoing a 3 year multi-million dollar restoration, and only the Senate and the House were open to public. I give New Jersey a lot of credit for at least keeping part of their capitol open for tours verses closing down the whole building. Way to go New Jersey!

Bob paired Lori and I up with an already scheduled tour of grade schoolers from a parochial school in South Jersey who were well dressed, inquisitive, genuinely interested and well behaved. First, we were led into the House, which was beautiful but otherwise unremarkable. Bob proceeded to give a very accurate and interesting presentation about how the House operates. Upon completion of Bob’s speech, he asked the group if there were any questions. A young boy raised his hand, and asked Bob, “Why is the clock on the wall showing the wrong time?” The entire group's eyes turned away from Bob, and towards the clock displayed above the chamber as a soft muffled chuckle broke out across the room. Sure enough, the time displayed was 7:00 when it was in fact 11:00! Bob stated the battery likely needed to be changed, and praised the young boy for his “astute attention to detail; a quality which will indeed serve you well throughout your life”. Please see the pictures below of the New Jersey House chamber.

Upon departing the House, we were led into the Senate, which too was beautiful but otherwise unremarkable. After Bob completed his presentation about the Senate, he once again asked the group if there were any questions. This time a little girl raised her hand, and asked, “Is the clock in the Senate showing the right time?”. Bob responded by saying he could not see the Senate clock from where he was standing, and then asked the group if there were any more questions. The same boy who previously raised his hand in the House raised his hand once again, and when called upon by Bob said, “I can see the clock from here, and it is the correct time”. With a huge smile, Bob asked the group, “Does anyone have any questions not involving the time?”, and the group responded with soft laughter. The Grandfather of one of the school children on the tour was a current State Senator in New Jersey. While I am not a big fan of politics in general, it was nice of the Senator, whose name escapes me, to take a few moments to talk with the children about the legislative process, and to pose for a few pictures. Please see the pictures below of the New Jersey Senate.

Please see the additional pictures below of our visit to the New Jersey Capitol building.

The New Jersey State Capitol was among the least impressive statehouses we have visited. To be fair, the building was in the midst of major renovations, and I would love to return for a repeat tour upon its completion. The most memorable part of our visit to the New Jersey Statehouse was our tour guide Bob. While most capitol tour guides present as scripted and robotic, Bob was informative, patient, engaging, knowledgeable, pleasant and encouraging. Bob has volunteered as a statehouse tour guide for the past 18 years simply out of his love for New Jersey, and my greatest hope is I too will one day feel a similar pride for my new home state.

After departing the New Jersey Statehouse, we drove 9 miles Northwest to Hopewell Township to visit the Cross Country Couple’s "Historic Location" for New Jersey; Washington Crossing State Park. Established in 1912 and 3,575-acres, Washington Crossing State Park is the site where the Continental Army launched the Battle of Trenton, a major turning point in the Revolutionary War. Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania preserves the point of Washington's departure across the Delaware River, and Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey commemorates where Washington landed. Together, the two parks make up Washington Crossing National Historic Landmark.

It was the Winter of 1776, and Colonial America was engrossed in the Revolutionary War. The war was not faring well for our young nation. General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, had just suffered a series of crushing and embarrassing defeats in New York resulting in his forced retreat into Pennsylvania. Making matters worse, the majority of the enlistments in the Army were soon set to expire. Morale was low throughout the ranks, and America’s fight for independence increasingly appeared to be a lost cause. Desperately needing to turn the tide of the war, General Washington concocted a plan so daring and unexpected it would prove to be the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

The target was Trenton, NJ where the Hessians, who were allies with the British, were spending the Winter months. The greatest obstacle standing in Washington’s way would be getting his army of 5,400 and artillery across the Delaware River unnoticed. Washington's plan called for dividing his Army into three columns, which would cross at three separate points along the Delaware River. One column would cross to the far South of Trenton creating a diversion, and another column would cross to secure a bridge preventing the enemy escape. Washington would lead the third and largest column of the Continental Army across the Delaware North of Trenton, and launch a surprise attack against the Hessian's Garrison on Christmas morning. Once Trenton was secure, the three separate columns of the Continental Army would unify, and attack the British posts in Princeton and New Brunswick.

Each American Soldier was given three days’ food rations, 60 rounds of ammunition and told they were about to embark on a secret mission code named; “Victory or Death”. At dusk on Christmas Eve 1776, Washington and the Continental Army of 5,400 strong arrived at the shores of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania when the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse. Blistering cold temperatures, hurricane force winds, blinding snow, and an iceberg laden river, greeted General Washington at the banks of the Delaware. Undeterred, the Continental Army braved exposure to the elements in row boats crossing the icy Delaware River throughout the night and into the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Washington was among the first who crossed!

Although no Americans died during the crossing, several fell overboard, and were rescued from the river’s frigid waters. By 3:00 am, Washington’s horses, eighteen pieces of artillery, and 2,400 soldiers safely crossed the Delaware and arrived on New Jersey’s side of the river’s shore. Washington then learned the other two columns of the Army were unable to cross the Delaware due to the weather, leaving him with 3,000 fewer soldiers than planned. With less then half of his Army and no reinforcements, Washington departed the banks of the Delaware at 4:00 am for a 9-mile march South to launch a surprise attack on the Hessian's Garrison in Trenton. The Hessians had no long distance outposts, or patrols the night of the attack. When Washington’s Army arrived in Trenton, the Hessians were entirely caught off guard. After a brief battle, approximately two thirds of the 1,500-man Hessian Garrison had surrendered, and the Americans suffered no casualties.

The Battle of Saratoga is frequently cited as the turning point in the Revolutionary War, but the lessor known Battle of Trenton served as the actual pivotal point in America’s fight for independence. Albeit not a grand military engagement, the Battle of Trenton achieved a enormous psychological victory for the American Colonists at a time when such was desperately needed! In the preceding months, the colonists had suffered a series of defeats, and the American fight for independence was on the brink of collapse. For the first time during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army proved it could defeat a well trained and well equipped European Army. In addition to boosting morale, Washington’s victory at Trenton captured greatly needed supplies, encouraged re-enlistments, and inspired countless rebels throughout the colonies to take up arms against the British. Had Washington not achieved victory at the Battle of Trenton, the Continental Army would have ceased to exist, the Revolutionary War would have been lost, and the America we know today would look starkly different.

After parking Rosie at the visitor's center, we followed signs directing us along a paved path for a 1/2-mile hike across a beautiful grassy well cared for park. Upon arriving at the famed place of Washington's Landing, I was expecting to encounter a large sculpture of the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army; George Washington standing triumphantly aboard a large bronze boat. Surprisingly, the only monument I could find was a small bolder with a bronze plaque describing the site of Washington's Crossing. How anticlimactic!!! Speaking of anticlimactic, the Delaware River did not appear all that menacing during our visit, and was certainly not as wide as I had anticipated. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to stand at the exact spot where Washington once stood at a decisive and pivotal moment in our nation's history. Apparently the crossing of the Delaware and Battle of Trenton are recreated each Christmas by historical re-enactors. Please see the pictures below of our visit to the site of Washington Crossing.

After departing Washington Crossing State Park, we drove 12 miles Northeast to Princeton where we found a Walmart to spend the night.

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