“PERSEVERANCE AND SPIRIT HAVE DONE WONDERS IN ALL AGES.”
General George Washington, as Quoted in 1776 by David McCullough
“The reflection upon my situation and that of this army produces many an uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in sleep. Few people know the predicament we are in.”
General George Washington, January 14, 1776.
“The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.” General George Washington, July 2, 1776.
Ponder and remember today, Christmas Day 1776, our forefathers.
“COMMON MEN,” AMERICANS, who took untold risks and made gallant sacrifices so all Americans would have a future undreamed of by peoples of all other countries, times, and places.
I am reading the book 1776 by David McCullough. George Washington’s vision, risk taking, and potential loss of ALL, including his own LIFE, family and fortune; in hopes of a NEW WORLD for mankind, certainly puts in perspective the LACK OF FORESIGHT, SACRIFICE and CONSEQUENCE of any “modern” TODAY.
(Please consider the tribulations and triumphs of G-d fearing men.)
On December 24, 1776, the day before Christmas, Washington’s judge advocate, Colonel William Tudor, who had been with him (Washington) from the beginning, wrote again, as he often had during the campaign, to tell his fiancee’ in Boston of his continuing love for her, and to explain why his hopes of returning soon to Boston had vanished.
“I cannot desert a man (and it would certainly be desertion in a court of honor) who has deserted everything to defend his country, and whose chief misfortune, among ten thousand others, is that a large part of it wants spirit to defend itself.”
According to latest intelligence, the enemy’s (Hessians) force at Trenton numbered between 2,000 and 3,000 men.
Christmas Day the weather turned ominous. A northeast storm was gathering. The river was up, and filled with broken sheets of ice.
Congressman and physician Benjamin Rush: “Years later, Rush would recall a private meeting with Washington at Buckingham, during which Washington seemed “much depressed.” In “affecting terms,” he described the state of the army. As they talked, Washington kept writing something with his pen on small pieces of paper. When one of them fell to the floor by Rush’s foot, he saw what was written: “Victory or Death.” It was to be the password for the night.
Washington wrote to Robert Morris, “I agree with you that it is vain to ruminate upon, or even reflect upon the authors of our present misfortunes. We should rather exert ourselves, and look forward with hopes, that some lucky chance may yet turn up in our favor.“
As during the escape from Brooklyn, Washington’s other daring river-crossing by night, a northeaster was again, decisively a blessing and a curse– a blessing in that it covered the noise of crossing, a curse in that, with the ice on the river, it was badly slowing progress when time was of the essence. The plan was to have the whole army over the river no later than midnight, in order to reach Trenton before dawn.
According to Washington, … it was 3 o’clock, 3 hours behind schedule, before the last of the troops, horse, and cannon were across.
At that point the attack might have been called off, the men sent back over the river, since the entire plan rested on the element of surprise and the chances for surprise now seemed gone.
As Washington would explain succinctly to John Hancock, “I well knew we could not reach it [Trenton] before day was fairly broke, but as I was certain there was no making a retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the river, I determined to push on at all events.”
Meanwhile: 2 of the 3 parts of Washington’s 3 part plan were failing (2 of Washington’s 3 forces would not make it to join in the attack.)
General Ewing had called off his attack on Trenton because of ice in the river. At Briston, where ice was piled higher even that at Trenton, Cadwalader and Reed had succeeded in getting some of their troops over to the other side, but then, unable to move their cannon across, they too, had called off the attack.
Thus, of the three planned attacks on the enemy, only one was moving forward and it was perilously behind schedule.
The storm grew worse, with cold driving rain, sleet, snow, and violent hail. The troops, Henry Knox wrote, pushed on “with the most profound silence.”
John Greenwood remembered moving no faster than a child could walk, stopping frequently, and suffering terribly from the cold.
The entire 2,400 on the march kept together for five mile, as far as a little crossroads called Birmingham, where the army divided, Sullivan’s column keeping to the right on the River Road, while Washington’s and Green’s force veered off to the left on the Pennington Road, both routes slick with ice and snow.
… About four miles left to Trenton for both …
Men and horses kept slipping and skidding in the dark.
When handed a message from General Sullivan saying that the men had found their arms too soaked to fire, Washington answered, “Tell the general to use the bayonet.”
The two columns reached their assigned positions outside Trenton at about the same time, a few minutes before eight, an hour after daylight.
Most of the townspeople had fled, taking as much as possible of their belongings. In the bare houses and the stone barracks were quartered the 1,500 Hessians who occupied the town.
THE ATTACK BEGAN just after 8 o’clock. The American under Nathaniel Greene came out of the woods and across a field through driving snow about half a mile from town. The were moving fast, at what was called a “long trot.” The Hessians on guard on the Pennington Road had trouble at first making out who they were and how many there were. The storm continued with great violence,” Henry Knox wrote, “but was in our backs, and consequently in the faces of the enemy.”
The Americans opened fire. The Hessians waited for them to get closer, then fired and began quickly, smoothly falling back into town, exactly as they had been trained to do when retreat was the only choice Washington thought they performed particularly well keeping up a steady retreating fire.
Washington’s 2,400 Americans, having been on their feet all night, wet, cold, their weapons soaked, went into the fight as if everything depended on them. Each man “seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward.” Washington wrote.
In town the Hessians came rushing out of their houses and barracks into the streets. Drums beat, the band played, officers shouted orders in German, and as fast as the Hessians began forming up, Knox’s artillery were in position at the head of King and Queen streets.
The cannon opened fire with deadly effect down hundreds of yards on each street, and in minutes – “in the twinkling of an eye,” Knox said — cleared the streets.
When the Hessians retreated into the side streets, they found Sullivan’s men coming at them with fixed bayonets. For a brief time, a thousand or more Americans and Hessians were locked in savage house to house fighting.
It was all happening extremely fast, in wild confusion and swirling snow made more blinding by clouds of gunpowder smoke. “The storm of nature and the storm of the town,” wrote Nathanael Greene, “exhibited a scene that filled the mind during the action with passions easier conceived than described.”
(Hessian) Colonel Rall, who had been rousted from his bed and was quickly on horseback and in command in the midst of the fray, ordered a charge. Men were being hit all around him. The line faltered. He ordered a retreat into an orchard at the southeast edge of town. Then Rall, too was hit and fell from his horse. Mortally wounded, he was picked up and carried to the Potts house.
The Hessians in the orchard, finding themselves surrounded, lay down their arms and surrendered.
It had all happened in forty-five minutes or less. Twenty-one Hessians had been killed, 90 wounded. The prisoners taken numbered approximately 900. Another 500 had managed to escape, most of them by the bridge over Assunpink Creek.
Incredibly, in a battle of such extreme savagery, only four Americans had been wounded, including Captain Washington and Lieutenant Monroe, and not one American had been killed. The only American fatalities were the two soldiers who had frozen to death during the night on the road.
“After having marched off the prisoners and secured the cannon, stores, etc.,” wrote Knox, “we returned to the place nine miles distance where we had embarked.” Thus after marching through the night a second time, back to McKonkey’s ferry, the army crossed the Delaware once again back to the Pennsylvania side of the river.