The Five Crucial Factors Behind The Ten Crucial Days

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My apologies for neglecting the blog of late, but (in my defense) I’ve been pounding the keyboard for sundry other purposes, including an article for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park newsletter that should appear October 1, another piece for the Summer 2023 Swan Historical Foundation newsletter (due out soon), and the item mentioned below. In addition, I’m over 40K words into a manuscript for what I hope will be book no. 5, which would be an extension of said item. (Holy sprained fingers!) There must be an easier way to ward off boredom.

This new article in the Journal of the American Revolution dissects the “Ten Crucial Days” campaign of 1776-1777 by focusing on five key analytical elements: leadership, geography, weather, artillery, and contingency. They obviously overlap, and perhaps this narrative neglects others worthy of consideration; however, it would be hard to argue that each of these did not have a significant influence on the outcome of a legendary winter offensive.

57. Who Said What About the “Ten Crucial Days” (Again)

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I know I covered the subject in a prior post (no. 35—published Dec. 4, 2021—to be precise), but I wanted to provide a link to a greatly expanded version of this, which just appeared in the Journal of the American Revolution. The article features some fairly obscure quotes, including ones from both sides, in addition to those with which many or most Rev War aficionados would be familiar by virtue of their being frequently referenced in secondary sources.

Oh yeah, I left out the alleged quote from one Lawrence Peter Berra that was in the earlier post and which I thought was an apposite observation in regard to the lesson to be learned from the “Ten Crucial Days” winter campaign of 1776-1777, i.e., “It ain’t over till it’s over.” (And Howe.) It seemed somewhat indecorous to include a reference to Yogi in a JAR piece—off-base, you might say. (And I didn’t want to be the Berra of such tidings.)

55. Giving History A Hand

Reminder: If you’re reading this in your email, you have to click on the link at the bottom or go to and click on the Speaking of Which tab in order to view the actual blog post with the featured image.

Also please note: I know I indicated in the last post that the next one would complement it by outlining the fate of various British and Hessian officers after the Revolutionary War. However, as you can see, I have taken the liberty (this is a Rev War blog, after all) of deferring the post on those officers until next time. Today’s offering is something that’s near and dear to my heart and—given the focus of my second book, The Road to Assunpink Creek—my keyboard.

Giving Revolutionary history a hand and then some is exactly what Thomas Black, a senior at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence Township, NJ—Maidenhead at the time of the War for Independence—recently did. For his Eagle Scout project, Thomas constructed a marker (seen above) to memorialize the delaying action waged by American skirmishers under Colonel Edward Hand against a far larger force of British and Hessian troops advancing from Princeton to Trenton on January 2, 1777—and especially the clash that occurred adjacent to the parking lot at Notre Dame.

The new marker is far more elaborate and informative than the preexisting tiny blue marker by Lawrenceville Road (Route 206) in front of the school. Thomas’s creation stands near Shabakunk Creek, which runs through the campus and was the scene of perhaps the most intense fighting between Hand’s men and His Majesty’s troops, the latter commanded by Lieutenant General Charles Earl Cornwallis. It is quite possible that the efforts of those unsung Patriot combatants saved George Washington’s army from destruction that day by preventing Cornwallis’s formidable column from arriving in Trenton until it was too dark to launch a full-scale assault on the rebel lines positioned behind Assunpink Creek on the southern edge of town.

Thomas’s effort was inspired by his history teacher John McQuarrie, who recently retired after more than two decades at Notre Dame. John (who BTW is a subscriber to this blog) was kind enough to share a link to additional information about this much-needed tribute to the heroic resistance by Edward Hand’s thousand-man detachment, who were outnumbered more than six-to-one by their adversary. Later that day—in the immediate aftermath of Hand’s fighting withdrawal—Washington’s troops held off the enemy thrust at the Battle of Assunpink Creek, or Second Battle of Trenton. The next morning, they counterattacked at Princeton in the capstone engagement of the “Ten Crucial Days” winter campaign of 1776-1777, which reversed the military momentum previously enjoyed by the Crown’s forces.

So kudos to Thomas and John. They deserve a hand and Hand deserves them. I hope what they’ve done is, well, a sign of the times. (Yes, I know, they worked hand in hand.)

And speaking of same, for anyone who may be interested, I will be discussing the significance of the events referenced above at the annual meeting of the Lawrence Historical Society on February 26 at the Lawrence Headquarters Branch of the Mercer County Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, NJ (at the corner of Brunswick Pike and Darrah Lane). The talk will be based on The Road to Assunpink Creek. The meeting, which is open to members and nonmembers, is scheduled to begin at 1 pmAdmission is free but registration is requested—and here’s the link to register. (I hope to bring copies of my four books to the event.)

52. The Enduring Durhams

The image above is that of a replica Durham boat housed in the boat barn at Washington Crossing Historic Park (WCHP) along the Pennsylvania banks of the Delaware River. None of the Durhams that plied the Delaware and Lehigh rivers in the eighteenth century—some fifteen to twenty of which were used to transport George Washington’s infantry across the Delaware on Christmas night 1776—exist today, at least not on dry land. However, the four seaworthy (or river-worthy, to be precise) replica craft at WCHP are used in the re-enactment of that nautical enterprise undertaken twice each December, once on the second Sunday of the month (December 11 this year) and the other on Christmas afternoon. This ritual became routinized in 1953 and has been ongoing ever since.

The Boats

At Washington’s command, the Durham boats that were to be used in the crossing on the night of December 25-26, 1776 were collected from the upper Delaware and Lehigh rivers. Daniel Bray, Jacob Gearhart, and Thomas Jones, all captains in the Hunterdon County militia, engineered this effort and reportedly concealed the boats behind Malta Island below Coryell’s Ferry (today New Hope) on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, several miles above the site at McConkey’s Ferry where the main Continental force would cross. (Malta Island cannot be discerned today because of topographical changes to the area.) In addition to the Durhams, the militia gathered other boats over a forty-mile stretch of the Delaware and moored them in various creeks and behind wooded islands along the river’s west bank, intending to deprive the enemy of these craft while keeping them ready for the Americans’ use.

The Durham boats, which were constructed at the Durham Ironworks or Durham Furnace near Easton, Pennsylvania, typically ranged from thirty to sixty feet in length and were about eight feet wide in the beam. It is estimated that each of these boats carried between thirty and forty soldiers, in addition to a crew of several rowers and a captain. The latter functioned as a pilot by steering the boat with a “sweep” oar, about twenty-five feet long and weighing some ninety pounds, which protruded from the stern (rear). The crew used oars that were about eighteen feet long and weighed some thirty-five pounds; two men were required to operate each oar, and there were two to four oars on each side depending on the length of the boat. The soldiers would have been required to stand on the Durhams, as these vessels had no seats since they were not built to hold passengers but rather to transport heavy cargo such as iron ore, pig iron, produce, and timber downriver to Philadelphia.

The River

The float ice on the Delaware that night—and there were copious amounts of it—posed a particular impediment to the Durhams. The swift current combined with the ice, bitterly cold winds, freezing precipitation, and swollen river to make the army’s endeavor especially challenging. Moreover, the full-blown northeaster that descended on the area by 11 p.m. compounded the difficulty of carrying out Washington’s battle plan. As a result, it took between nine and ten hours for the entire 2,400-man force to make its way to the New Jersey side. By the time those troops did so, it was 3:00 a.m., and it would be another hour before their march to Trenton commenced.

The Result

With the aid of the Durhams and the sailor-soldiers of the 14th Massachusetts Continental Regiment known as the Marblehead Regiment, who with other units rowed the Durhams (accompanied by ferry boats that conveyed the army’s horses, artillery, and wagons), Washington’s troops succeeded in traversing the ice-laden river. Remarkably, they did so without losing a single soldier, cannon, horse, wagon, or boat and later that morning defeated the brigade of German soldiers, known to us as “Hessians,” occupying the town of Trenton. The victorious rebel troops made further use of the Durhams on the night of December 26-27, when they returned to Pennsylvania with some nine hundred prisoners, and again between the 29th and New Year’s Eve as they crossed the river once more—the fourth time that month—back to New Jersey. From there, the Patriot forces went on to win two more battles, at Trenton on January 2 and Princeton the next day, to complete their remarkable “Ten Crucial Days” campaign and reverse the momentum of the war.

The sturdy Durhams accomplished what Washington envisioned when he ordered that they be rounded up for the army’s use. In fact, you might say those boats kept the Revolution afloat (in a manner of speaking).

Season’s Greetings! 

I’ll be taking a break from blogging until 2023. In the meantime, my best wishes to all for a joyful holiday season and a healthy and happy new year.

51. To SAR with Love

It would obviously be gratifying to learn that my literary and educational activity relating to the “Ten Crucial Days” of the Revolution is viewed favorably in any quarter but especially so when the judgment is rendered by a group whose members are passionately committed to preserving the legacy of that pivotal moment in American history and those who made it possible.

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Washington Crossing Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) during their dinner meeting at the Continental Tavern in Yardley, PA. The subject was John Haslet’s World, the third volume in this scribbler’s trilogy about the “Ten Crucial Days,” and I left with a full stomach (if you’re in the area, try the salmon – it’s really good) and the SAR Bronze Good Citizenship Medal.

The accompanying citation was presented by chapter president William B. Hampton and reads as follows (cue the gauche display of immodesty):

The Washington Crossing Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the American
Revolution is honored to present the SAR Bronze Good Citizenship Medal and certificate to
David Price for his work promoting the historical and accurate story of the Crossing and the
succeeding 10 days of the American Revolution. Without this Crossing, the American
Revolution may well have failed. This Crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Night
of 1776, envisioned and led by General George Washington, successfully initiated the “Ten
Crucial Days” of the American Revolution. David has authored 3 books with inspiring
stories about the events during this period. His historical research has illuminated the stories
of this pivotal time. Through his authorship, affiliations with local and national
organizations relating to the Revolutionary War, and his work as an historical interpreter
and outreach educator for 8 years for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park and 4 years
at Princeton Battlefield, David has been instrumental in furthering our SAR Chapter’s
primary goal: that of the careful perpetuation and accurate teaching of Washington’s
Crossing. In addition, he has been a featured speaker for our chapter twice and for other
SAR chapters. We are grateful for his service to perpetuate the memory of Revolutionary
War Patriots through his historical research, and education, 2 purposes of the SAR.

To be honest, I’ve had it up to here with such comments (let the record reflect that I’m pointing to my ankle). That said, if this exercise in whistle tooting offends anyone’s reverence for humility, I apologize. (Actually, humility is what slaps you in the face when you’re speaking to an audience of eleven people in an auditorium that seats about 250 and one of them starts snoring during your talk, to which I can attest.) Apparently seven years of literary exertion with little to show for it in the way of tangible recognition on the order of the referenced encomium—and who’s to say that isn’t for good reason—has reduced me to this shameless state. Hence I stand guilty of exploiting this one post to revel in a few kind words from fellow history geeks. Begging your indulgence, I promise to provide something more illuminating next time.

39. The Most Unappreciated Event of the Revolution

Please Note: The images of a brutish and needless conflict instigated without provocation and orchestrated by a murderous and delusional bully, which have splashed across our screens the last few days, made me somewhat hesitant to publish a blog post about any type of military engagement at this point, even though I realize one has nothing to do with the other—except perhaps to remind us yet again that, as General William T. Sherman once observed, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.” And more so today than ever before.

But notwithstanding all that, here goes . . .

The Battle of Assunpink Creek, also known as the Second Battle of Trenton, on January 2, 1777 (imaginatively depicted in the nineteenth-century print above) was the second of three military engagements during the Continental Army’s triumphant winter campaign from December 25, 1776 through January 3, 1777—what historians commonly refer to as the “Ten Crucial Days.” (For the Patriot cause, these might also be termed the “Tense Crucial Days.”) The desire to correct its neglect in our collective historical memory was the genesis of my second book, The Road to Assunpink Creek: Liberty’s Desperate Hour and the Ten Crucial Days of the American Revolution. I contended there and have since that this affair—largely ignored by historians until David Hackett Fischer’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington’s Crossing (Oxford, 2004)—was arguably the most pivotal military engagement of the war for independence.

Why Did it Matter?

Traditional accounts of this period in the Revolutionary War have treated the clash at Assunpink Creek as the “Rodney Dangerfield” of military encounters, emphasizing instead the first battle at Trenton on December 26, 1776, in which Washington’s army overcame the Hessian brigade occupying the town after the legendary Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River, and the battle at Princeton on January 3, 1777 that provided the Continentals with the capstone victory of their winter offensive (very offensive if you were British).

But consider this  .  .  .

— Had Washington been defeated at Assunpink Creek, his victory at Trenton on December 26 would have been a historical footnote that did nothing to alter the strategic dynamic of the contest and there would have been no victory at Princeton on January 3 because in all likelihood there would have been no American Army to march there.

— The second battle involved the largest number of soldiers of the three engagements fought during the 1776-1777 winter campaign, particularly if one includes both the fighting between the Anglo-German army as it approached Trenton and the skirmishers under Colonel Edward Hand resisting its advance and the follow-up confrontation when the Crown’s forces attempted to cross the Trenton bridge spanning the creek.

— If we compare the three battles, this was the only one in which the enemy had a numerical advantage. It was also the only one in which Washington’s army fought both British and Hessian troops, and in which the enemy forces were led by a British general (Charles Lord Cornwallis, probably the most competent and energetic field commander in the King’s army). Moreover, it was the only one in which the geographic position of the American troops was such that they were in danger of being trapped between two waterways—the creek in their front and the Delaware River at their back—with no means of escape if they were outflanked and pushed up against the river.

— This was the longest battle of the “Ten Crucial Days” if one counts as a single encounter the resistance offered by Colonel  Hand’s contingent during their fighting withdrawal from Maidenhead (Lawrence Township today) to Trenton and the clash at the creek immediately following the delaying action.

— January 2, 1777 was the first time the Continental Army repulsed an attack by British troops during a truly significant battle. Had the rebel army failed to stop their adversary’s advance at Assunpink Creek, the result would probably have been the destruction of that army and possibly the cause of American independence. And in that scenario, Washington would most likely have met his end on the battlefield or suspended from a British rope.

— The recollections of those present attest to the gravity of this moment: Major James Wilkinson—“If there ever was a crisis in the affairs of the Revolution, this was the moment”; Ensign Robert Beale of Virginia—“This was the most awful crisis”; Captain Stephen Olney of Rhode Island—“It appeared to me then that our army was in the most desperate situation I had ever known it”; and Private John Howland of Rhode Island—“Had the army of Cornwallis…crossed the bridge, or forded the creek, unless a miracle intervened, there would have been an end of the American army.”

— In Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Viking, 2016), Nathaniel Philbrick opines that if Cornwallis’s effort to cross the Trenton bridge and overrun the rebel army had succeeded, “the war was as good as finished” for the capital city of Philadelphia “would surely [have fallen] that winter, and the Continental Congress in Baltimore might very well [have decided] that a negotiated settlement was in the country’s best interests.” Washington’s decision to fight here, he writes, created “the make-or-break moment” of the Revolutionary struggle.

Bottom Line

I’ll rest my case with the following excerpt from The Road to Assunpink Creek (the author says it better than I can):

Historians of the Revolution never mention Assunpink Creek in the same breath as Saratoga or Yorktown—the most recognized and significant battles in that struggle, with the former in 1777 leading to France’s crucial intervention in the contest and the latter in 1781 breaking the back of England’s will to fight against the colonials—but those later engagements might very well have never occurred if January 2, 1777 had turned out differently for Washington’s army. The events of that day, including the delaying action by Colonel Hand’s men and the fighting at the creek, plausibly created a deciding moment of as great consequence for the cause of American independence as the far better-known confrontations that occurred later in the war. Perhaps no military action in our country’s history is more paradoxical than the one on the road to Assunpink Creek, and at the bridge that crossed it, in the sense that its obscurity in the public mind and neglect by many historians is so disproportionate to its impact on the course of a conflict with global implications.

In other words, if things had gone differently that day, the quest for American independence may very well have been (ahem) up the creek.

36. Commemorating the Battle of Princeton

Attention all Rev War buffs and history enthusiasts!

Check out this link to the Princeton Battlefield Society’s website, where you’ll find information about an exciting event on January 2, 2022 that will celebrate the 245th anniversary of the third and final engagement fought during the Revolution’s “Ten Crucial Days.”

All the best!


P.S. The image above depicts General Washington leading the climactic charge at Princeton on January 3, 1777.

35. Who said What about the “Ten Crucial Days”

Rev War buffs are about to commemorate the 245th anniversary of the “Ten Crucial Days” campaign—from December 25, 1776 through January 3, 1777, perhaps the ten most remarkable days in American history—that reversed the momentum of the war for independence just when the Revolutionary enterprise seemed on the verge of final defeat, The battles at Trenton and Princeton—the first significant victories for Washington’s army—altered not only the course of the conflict but the public image of the Continental Army’s commander-in-chief as well.

In this season of remembrance, I thought it timely to recall some observations about these events here:

SIR GEORGE OTTO TREVELYAN, British Historian—It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world. (Source: The American Revolution in six volumes, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 1899-1907)

FREDERICK II, King of Prussia, 1740-1786 (Frederick the Great)—The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of ten days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements. (Source: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, William S. Stryker, 1898)

THOMAS PAINE, Author and pamphleteer—The conquest of the Hessians at Trenton by the remains of a retreating army…is an instance of heroic perseverance very seldom to be met with. And the victory over the British troops at Princeton, by a harrassed and wearied party, who had been engaged the day before and marched all night without refreshment, is attended with such a scene of circumstances and superiority of Generalship, as will ever give it a place on the first line in the history of great actions. (Source: The American Crisis, Number V, Thomas Paine, March 21, 1778, in Thomas Paine, Collected Writings, 1955)

JAMES WILKINSON, Major, Continental Army—The joy diffused throughout the union by the successful attack against Trenton, reanimated the timid friends of the revolution, and invigorated the confidence of the resolute. Perils and sufferings still in prospect, were considered the price of independence, and every faithful citizen was willing to make the sacrifice. Success had triumphed over despondency, and the heedless, headlong enthusiasm, which led the colonists to arms, had settled down into a sober sense of their condition, and a deliberate resolution to maintain the contest at every hazard, and under every privation. (Source: Memoirs of My Own Times, James Wilkinson, 1816)

MERCY OTIS WARREN, American poet, dramatist, and historian—Perhaps there are no people on earth, in whom a spirit of enthusiastic zeal is so readily enkindled, and burns so remarkably conspicuous, as among the Americans….The energetic operation of this sanguine temper, was never more remarkably exhibited, than in the change instantaneously wrought in the minds of men, by the capture of Trenton at so unexpected a moment. (Source: History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, Mercy Otis Warren, 1805)

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Captain, Continental Army—After escaping the grasp of a disciplined and victorious enemy, this little band of patriots were seen skillfully avoiding an engagement until they could contend with advantage and then by the masterly enterprises of Trenton and Princeton, cutting them up in detachments, rallying the scattered energies of the country, infusing terror into the breasts of their invaders and changing the whole tide and fortunes of the war. (Source: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, William S. Stryker, 1898)

LORD GEORGE GERMAIN, British Secretary of State for North America—All our hopes were blasted by that unhappy affair at Trenton. (Source: Remarks by George Germain, May 3, 1779, in The Parliamentary Register: Or History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons during the Fifth Session of the Fourteenth Parliament of Great Britain, Volume XI, John Stockdale, 1802)

HENRY KNOX, Brigadier General, Continental Army—I look up to heaven and most devoutly thank the great Governor of the Universe for producing this turn in our affairs. (Source: Letter to Lucy Flucker Knox, January 7, 1777, in The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, William S. Stryker, 1898)

SAMUEL DeFOREST, Connecticut militiaman—The events of two weeks appears to have rolled on a pivot which has sealed and gave a stamp to the destiny of America. (Source: Samuel DeForest, Military Pension Application Narrative, in The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence, John C. Dann, ed., 1980)

NICHOLAS CRESSWELL, English diarist who travelled throughout the American colonies from 1774 to 1777—The minds of the people are much altered. A few days ago they had given up the cause for lost. Their late successes have turned the scale and now they are all liberty mad again. (Source: Nicholas Cresswell: Journal, January 5-17, 1777, in The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence, 1775-1783, John Rhodehamel, ed., 2001)

WILLIAM HARCOURT, Colonel, British Army—Though it was once the fashion of this army to treat [the American soldiers] in the most contemptible light, they are now become a formidable enemy. (Source: Letter to his father, Earl Harcourt, March 17, 1777, in The Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants, Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, eds., 1967)

CHARLES EARL CORNWALLIS, Lieutenant General, British Army (reportedly responding to a toast at a dinner for British, French, and American officers hosted by George Washington after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781)—And when the illustrious part that your excellency has borne in this long and arduous contest becomes a matter of history, fame will gather your brightest laurels from the banks of the Delaware than from those of the Chesapeake. (Source: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, William S. Stryker, 1898)

The final quote below is not generally cited in this context but is far better known than the others and VERY MUCH on point.

LAWRENCE PETER “YOGI” BERRA, Professional baseball player, coach, manager, and philosopher—It ain’t over till it’s over. (Source: Attributed to Berra as manager of the New York Mets during the 1973 season and quoted in The Yogi Book: I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said, Yogi Berra, 1998)

There, now I’ve covered all the bases (so to speak).

Dear Reader:

Please be advised that I anticipate diminished blog production for a period of time (a slowdown, not a complete stop), owing to my immersion in another literary project—a book about the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776 as part of Westholme Publishing’s Small Battles series.

I hope to return to a more regular blogging schedule in the not-too-distant future and extend my sincere thanks to those who have subscribed. To other readers, I hope you’ll consider signing up – it’s free and easy to do in the footer on any page.

Thank you for your indulgence.

Don’t go away. I’ll be back.

Best regards,



24. A JAR Blog Post

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of the Journal of the American Revolution (JAR).

I’m incorporating by reference here an article of mine that just appeared in the JAR (hope the lid is on tight) entitled “When War Came to the Thompson-Neely Farmstead.” It’s about the Continental army’s encampment on the grounds of the Thompson-Neely house (TN), which is the historical focal point of the upper park section at Washington Crossing Historic Park.

Hopefully this article will enhance the salience of the park and other sites relating to the 1776-1777 “Ten Crucial Days” winter campaign among the Rev War aficionados who subscribe to JAR. TN deserves that recognition—which I suppose you might call an article of faith.