Film / The Crossing

"Washington needed a victory, they got a miracle."

The Crossing is a 2000 made-for-TV movie that aired on A&E, depicting the first Battle of Trenton in The American Revolution. It stars Jeff Daniels as George Washington and follows him through December, 1776 as he tries to find a way to save his army and the Revolution from disintegration after a desperate retreat across the Delaware.

There are no British troops immediately in the vicinity, their commander having deemed the Continentals too pathetic to bother with, leaving instead a force of 1200 Hessians—around the numbers that Washington can drum up from the other generals. He decides to cross the Delaware on Christmas night and ambush the Hessians, a plan that everyone thinks is crazy. But with enlistments set to expire at the end of the year, Washington sees no other choice if the Revolution is to continue at all.

Although it takes some liberties with the facts of the battle (see Hollywood History for details) The Crossing portrays the struggles of Washington and the Continental Army in a realistic and unromantic way.


  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Yup. Actually a part of Washington's plans, at least in the movie and popular legend.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Hessians' formations are fine when attacking in a planned battle, not so much in an ambush where most of them are still half-asleep.
  • Badass Bookworm: Henry Knox, who is mocked by Glover for being fat and ran a bookshop before the war, is an excellent artilleryman.
    • "Excellent" doesn't quite cover it. General Knox (for whom Fort Knox, Kentucky was named) was considered a natural genius in the use of artillery by his British enemies, and has come to be considered one of the greatest artillery officers the world has ever seen.
  • Brutal Honesty: This is Colonel Glover's trademark, along with generally being insulting.
  • Camping a Crapper: Non-lethal version. The owner of a foundry comes out of the privy to see Colonel Glover and a large number of soldiers waiting to inform him that they have just commandeered his shipping fleet.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The rifle sealed with candle wax.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Hamilton versus the Hessians in the guardhouse and the rest of the Continentals in the main battle against the Hessians.
  • Darkest Hour: The American Revolution had a lot of very, very low points, but the end titles state that this was the worst of them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Washington, and several others in his army.
    Mercer: They say the General [Howe] has her flat on her back every afternoon, fornicating like a fifteen-year-old.
    Washington: [beat.] Well that's very stimulating, Hugh, but what does it have to do with me?
  • Determinator: "As long as I command a corporal guard, I will march on Trenton."
  • The Dreaded: The Hessians, who killed surrendering troops at Brooklyn. They're particularly dreaded by the Pennsylvania German troops, who call them "devils."
  • A Father to His Men: Very much so. It's actually one reason he feels obligated to make one final attempt at a victory, because he feels he owes it to the lads who have not deserted.
    • Colonel Rall shows some signs of this as well, the Skewed Priorities part below not withstanding. He seems to keep himself alive long enough to ask that his men not be abused in surrender.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Continental Army wins.
  • Four-Star Badass: Washington, front and center.
    • General Hugh Mercer as well.
  • Hollywood History:
    • A key part of Washington's plan (and why it still succeeds despite running into daylight) is that the Hessians are hungover from their Christmas celebrations. Although some of Washington's staff did truly think this would be the case, the Hessians had been warned that the Continentals were planning something and apparently did not revel, although they were still caught off-guard.
    • The confrontation between Gates and Washington didn't happen. In fact Gates was even more weaselly than the film suggests—he contrived to avoid the concentration opposite Trenton entirely, reporting to Congress instead of showing up in Washington's camp.
    • The scene where a squad of Patriots led by Hamilton ambush and slaughter a German guardhouse did not happen. There was a guardhouse, and the garrison of said guardhouse exchanged volleys with the Americans for a while before retreating back into town when they realized there were way too many Americans coming for them to deal with.
    • The weather during the river crossing, the approach on Trenton, and the battle was even worse that the movie indicates, with the Delaware choked with ice and and heavy sleet in the Americans' faces as they attacked. This may have been left out of the movie due to budgetary limitations.
  • Idiot Ball: General Howe withdrawing all of his troops except for the 1200 Hessians. Washington is both incredulous and insulted to realize that his army is Not Worth Killing.
  • It's Personal: Washington is absolutely livid at the Hessians for killing his retreating troops in Brooklyn.
  • Jerk Ass: General Gates is portrayed as one here, to the point where Washington ordered him out at gunpoint. (In Real Life, Gates tried twice to replace Washington during the war before disgracing himself through cowardice.)
  • The Lancer: Hugh Mercer to Washington. Not only is he Washington's Number Two, but is explicitly stated to be his closest friend.
  • Language Barrier: The Pennsylvania German troops under Captain Heineman. When he requests that he be able to warn his men that they'll be attacking Hessians, Washington's staff shrugs and allow it because they figure nobody could understand them.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Colonel Glover would be a general if he hadn't offended all of Washington's staff at one point, but he's not too interested in higher rank anyway.
  • The Men First: Washington yells at some officers who elect to warm themselves at the fire while their troops are freezing outside.
  • Mildly Military: One point that Gates uses to strike at Washington during his rant; Washington admits that he is right in that and then turns it around on him.
  • Military Maverick: Washington. Given that he's the commander-in-chief, he can get away with it basically on the strength of "because I say so," But not even Mercer, his best friend, thinks the plan will work.
  • Not So Different: Washington is disgusted by the Hessians, as they are only hired mercenaries fighting for profit; while the British at least have an excuse to not want the Colonials to be free. Gen. Nathaniel Greene gives a little speech on the matter, pointing out that one of their own chief complaints is overtaxation, and that everyone ultimately fights for profit.
  • Oh, Crap!: A small squad of Hessians manage to get into formation to fire on a line of Patriots...then the American line splits and a canon is wheeled into place right in front of them.
  • One Bullet Left: A particularly well done, and extreme, example. A Colonial soldier seals his powder chamber with wax, hoping it will stay dry. This makes him the only soldier in the Continental Army to have a gun that can fire, and he only has one shot. He uses it to mortally wound Col. Rall, ending the battle
  • Poirot Speak: A little bit with Captain Heineman, but mostly with words that are almost cognates anyway—"und" for "and" along with a hard "g" in "general."
  • Psycho for Hire: Washington's opinion of the Hessians. In reality, most of the foot soldiers were ill-treated conscripts who had no say in being shipped off to fight in America.
  • Race Against the Clock: Washington has until the 31st of December to win a victory so that his men will have a reason to re-enlist.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Continental Army of course, but they're more "dirty, hungry, sick and demoralized" than "ragtag" at this point in time.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A battle against Hessians fought by ill-trained, dispirited farmers and militiamen and and there were no Continental casualties? Yeah right!
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gates gives one to Washington. Washington more or less responds with "go to hell" and takes his troops.
    • Played straight, then averted: Washington starts giving one to Colonel Glover, calling him a pain in the ass and a thorn in his side, then goes on to call him a damned fine soldier and the bravest man he knows, and would he please be so good as to have his men ferry his troops over the river?
  • Skewed Priorities: When informed of the American attack, Colonel Rall very methodically dresses in his uniform rather than immediately taking command. Meanwhile, his men are being cut down in their pajamas.
    • Presumably he didn't know how badly the battle was going.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Washington. A Virginia gentleman and lover of fine wine. Also known for peppering his speech with curses, and saying this during the crossing:
    "Move your fat ass, Henry! Don't shake your balls or you'll swamp the boat."
  • The Spymaster: We see hints of Washington's information network, both in letters and an in-person meeting with a contact.
  • War Is Hell: From the opening scene, which shows Washington's broken, dispirited army on the retreat. When the dying Colonel Rall demands to surrender to Washington as a courtesy of war, Washington bitterly snaps that "there are no courtesies in war."
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Both General Lee and General Gates think that they should be in charge, and Washington's staff bicker among themselves quite a lot.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: At the beginning of the movie, Washington orders Glover to commandeer a fleet of boats from a local foundry so that they may escape the British. Needless to say, the foundry owner isn't too happy.
    Owner: "My God, sir, is this your 'Revolution'? Is this your 'liberty and equality'? To destroy a man's business? To rob him of his property?!"
    Glover: "I follow my orders, sir."
    Owner: "Whose orders?"
    Glover: "General Washington."
    Owner: "Then God damn him for the bandit that he is! How am I gonna make a living?! Who's gonna pay me??!!"
  • Where Are They Now: Sort of anyway. The characters are all long dead (of course), but the epilogue reveals their fates.