Everything you think you know about George Washington's leading his troops across the Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776? It's probably wrong, especially if you're basing your knowledge on a certain oil painting.
Those who want a more accurate depiction of that event can journey Friday to Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County, where more than 300 reenactors in appropriate colonial dress - including the good general himself - will re-create scenes from that night 239 years ago, crossing the river to New Jersey in replicas of the actual craft used by the Continental Army.
"It's a fun event, a great event, but it's also a very serious commemoration," said Joseph Capone, executive director of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. "We don't want to forget the soldiers' sacrifices. We don't want to lose that history."
The crossing is one of multiple regional activities commemorating a period of 10 days as 1776 ended and 1777 began that helped turn the course of the Revolutionary War for Washington and his ragtag army. Other scheduled events include:
Offerings at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during winter break include interactive military musters such as the ones used to call Washington's soldiers, a historic character meet-and-greet, and a "Growing Up, American Style" show featuring traditional colonial dress and games.
The Trenton Downtown Association hosts "Patriots Week," from Dec. 26 to 31, in the New Jersey capital. Among the offerings: battle reenactments, music and dance, walking tours and lectures, and family-friendly crafts and performances.
Three New Jersey museums offer end-of-year programing relating to the Revolutionary War. A lecture at the 1719 William Trent House Museum, titled "What a Difference an 'E' Makes," untangles the relationship between the Cox family and the Coxe family, Trentonians on opposite sides of the conflict.
The New Jersey State Museum offers colonial crafts and guided tours through its oldest collections, while its planetarium - before its regularly scheduled shows - will feature the night sky as it was Dec. 25, 1776.
The Old Barracks Museum hosts a Colonial Ball in a neighboring building, inviting guests to learn colonial dances while enjoying light refreshments. Costumes optional.
The Old Barracks Museum location is where the Hessian soldiers working for the British were living when Washington and his troops surprised them after their river crossing.
Development assistant Lauren Ronaghan said Washington had to get his soldiers into battle quickly because the majority of them would have finished their service at the end of the year. "This was the victory he needed to get more troops involved in the war efforts," she said.
But before they could win, the troops had to cross the Delaware River.
This is the 63d reenactment in modern times of the surprise attack, Capone said. On the Pennsylvania side, visitors will see Washington address his troops, quoting Thomas Paine: "These are the times that try men's souls." He'll also urge them to follow their leaders: "For God's sake, keep by your officers!"
"There's a lot of research that goes into this" Capone said. "We don't have photos or videos, so we use primary sources to re-create and say, 'These early guys won our freedom for us.' "
After Washington's address, he and his soldiers will board their boats and head east. Once in New Jersey, they'll fire cannons to let the crowds on the Pennsylvania side know they have landed safely.
Of course, that didn't happen in 1776, Capone said. The original crossing was part of a surprise attack. Organizers have taken a few liberties for the sake of performance.
Speaking of taking liberties, here are some things to know about the best-known painting depicting this historic event:
That image, painted in 1851 in Germany by Emanuel Leutze, shows the white-wigged Washington armed with a sword and standing tall toward the front of the ship, the sun highlighting his strong face and the familiar American flag as about a dozen soldiers paddle a small craft through the icy waters from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.
In reality: The crossing occurred on a rainy night. The 44-year-old redheaded Washington wouldn't have worn a white wig, wouldn't have risked upsetting the boat by teetering at the edge, and wouldn't have worn his sword backward. That flag had not yet been created. The actual boats used were 60 feet long and weighed several tons. The sharp, icy forms on the water are modeled after those on the Rhine; the Delaware freezes in flat plates.
"The artist took some liberties . . . but the image itself evokes the struggle," Capone said, "and that's why we still have a reproduction in the park's Visitors Center.
"It's the most iconic image of the Revolutionary War worldwide. Even people who don't understand the Revolution say, 'That's George Washington crossing the Delaware.' "
Washington crossing the Delaware reenactment. Washington Crossing Historic Park, Bucks County, noon-3 p.m. today. Free. Take the family out for some post-presents fresh air with a trip to observe Gen. George Washington's inspiring his troops before leading them across the river and into enemy territory. Event will not take place in bad weather. For more information:
Patriots Week in Trenton. Dec. 26-31, times and costs vary. Some events are free. Commemorate the New Jersey capital's pivotal place in American history. This is the 239th anniversary of the two Battles of Trenton, decisive patriot victories that helped turn the course of the Revolutionary War. Scheduled events include battle reenactments, music and dance, walking tours, lectures, and family-friendly crafts, a puppet show, and dress-up events. Highlights include the Battles of Trenton reenactments and a Battle of Trenton guided walking tour. For more information:
National Constitution Center. 525 Arch St., Philadelphia. Winter break programing runs Dec. 26-31 and includes child-friendly programing such as dress-up opportunities and craft/activity stations. For more information: www.constitutioncenter.org or 215-409-6600.
Old Barracks Museum. 101 Barracks St., Trenton. The Colonial Ball at Historic Trenton Masonic Temple is the highlight of the museum's year-end offerings. For more information: www.barracks.org or 609-396-1776.
1719 William Trent House Museum. 15 Market St., Trenton. The former home of the city's founder will host such events as a lecture about two feuding Trenton families with (almost) the same name. The museum also honors Trent's heritage with Hogmanay, a Scottish celebration of the new year. For more information: www.williamtrenthouse.org or 609-989-0087.