December 18, 2013

Washington to Cross Delaware in Christmas Day Reenactment

This December 25 thousands are expected to gather on both sides of the Delaware River to watch the reenactment of George Washington’s daring 1776 river crossing.

Police Lieutenant John Godzieba of Langhorne, Pa. will channel the famed general as he delivers an address to some two hundred re-enactors in Continental military garb.

After the general’s speech, weather permitting, Mr. Godzieba as Washington will be rowed across the river with his men in three replica Durham boats and a small river boat.

This will be Mr. Godzieba’s fifth year in the role. At 6’4”, he looks made for the part. “I get that a lot,” he said. “Washington was 6’3” and people tell me that I really look like him, although some wonder why I don’t have white hair. What they don’t realize is that when he crossed the Delaware, Washington was 45 years old and his hair was reddish brown.”

In his role as General Washington, Mr. Godzieba has learned much about the man he portrays. “I’ve digested a lot of biographies and know a great deal about 18th century warfare. Perhaps being a re-enactor for 22 years helps, but I have the sense that he ruled by consent, listening to his officers,” said the police lieutenant. “I like to think I share some of his qualities: he’s a little bit self-conscious, doesn’t like speaking in public, and likes to look his best. Also, he loved his farm as you can tell from the letters he wrote back home to his nephew. I think he was a homebody at heart, moved by a deep sense of duty to his country.”

The reenactment celebrates the historic action in the winter of 1776 during the War of Independence. The crossing and subsequent battles at Trenton and Princeton are reputed to have turned the tide in the affairs of the patriots fighting for independence against colonial rule.

The Continental Army had experienced nothing but defeat and were a pretty ragged and downcast bunch. The campaign in New York had not gone well. The Battle of Long Island had been lost and the army forced to retreat across New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Soldiers lacked food and warm clothing; enlistments were expiring and desertion was rife.

A victory was desperately needed when Washington devised his bold plan to cross the Delaware under the cover of darkness and attack the British garrison at Trenton, about 10 miles downstream and manned by some 1500 Hessian soldiers. On December 25, 1776, 2400 men made the crossing, beginning in the late afternoon after the sun had set. Candle-lit lanterns provided little light. According to letters and diary accounts, the weather was bleak; rain had turned to sleet and snow. The river is believed to have been in flood at the time, and the crossing was dangerous.

The Americans were ferried by fishermen from Marblehead led by Colonel John Glover. The bad weather prevented two supporting divisions led by Generals Cadwalader and Ewing from making a similar crossing further downstream, so Washington had to go it alone. In spite of the lack of support, Washington’s unexpected attack resulted in the surrender of the Hessian force within an hour. The success gave the patriots new hope.

Mr. Godzieba has gathered a wealth of information about Washington’s life and interests, from details about his famous dentures to his passion for dogs. “When I first started out, I was invited to participate in a fundraising dinner where the host’s two young children were Washington aficionados. They knew everything and asked all sorts of questions that I couldn’t answer, like what was the name of Washington’s dog. I decided I’d never be caught out like that again,” said Mr. Godzieba, who rattles of the names of the General’s dogs: True Love, Tippler, and Sweet Lips, among others.

As for this year’s crossing on December 25, Mr. Godzieba expects success. “With all the snow we’re getting in the Delaware Watershed up in New York state, the water level should have risen enough for us to get over to New Jersey.”

The 61st Annual Christmas Crossing of the Delaware will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on December 25 at Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing. Starting around 1 p.m., actors in period costume will set out from the McConkey’s Ferry section of the Washington Crossing Historic Park on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. Founded in 1917, the Washington Crossing Historic Park has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Admission is free and the event can be observed from the Jersey side of the river. For more information, call (215) 493-4076, or visit