Lest We Forget ... Christmas 1776 (yesterday was the Anniversary of the Battle of Trenton)

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Washington Crosses Deleware
The Crossing of the Delaware, December 26, 1776
 

NOTE FROM STEWART:  My Christmas message the other day focused on how Christmas is traditionally a time of peace.  However, we should not forget that it has also been a time of war, when necessary.  Yesterday, December 26, was the anniversary of the battle of Trenton, New Jersey, which was a critical battle in the American Revolution, giving the patriot cause a much needed morale (and material) boost after a string of stinging defeats.   The march and crossing of the Delaware river had begun on December 25, but the actual battle occurred in the early morning of the 26th.


That battle showed that men fighting for their freedom were more than a match for mercenaries fighting only for money - and making it a surprise attack at dawn the day after Christmas rather than a formal set-piece battle certainly helped too.  It is a classic example of maneuver warfare, working inside the enemy's OODA loop by striking when and where least expected, and under the most advantageous circumstances (when it came to the actual fighting).   It was a hard, dangerous crossing and a miserable march, in a snow storm, in the dark, but a hard march made for an easy fight.  The American patriots walked away from that battle with only four injured, none killed (except for two men who froze to death during the night march), nine hundred Hessian prisoners, and lots of nice new boots, muskets, and cannon.  What a Christmas present for the American cause!   It was a good day!


Below is a wonderful article about it, written by Oath Keeper Jennifer Terhune, and originally published in The Oath Keeper newspaper (http://www.theoathkeepernews.com/).



Lest We Forget ... Christmas 1776


Jennifer Terhune

The Oath Keeper


Christmas Day, 1776, was a dismal, freezing day for the troops of the Continental Army serving under General George Washington.  The Americans were camped on the banks of the Delaware River in temperatures well below freezing.  In the afternoon of that Christmas Day, a raw, icy wind began to blow in from the northeast.  The soldiers didn't really have anything resembling uniforms.  Many of them had no shoes; the best they could do was to wrap rags around their feet.  The troops were constantly battling illness caused by exposure and disease.


Even worse, morale was at an all time low.  Washington's army had just retreated across the Delaware River after a long line of disastrous campaigns in New York. The ranks were dwindling as more men deserted every day.  Many men thought the war was over, that the Americans had lost. Even General Washington had his doubts.  In a letter to his brother, he worried about "a noble cause lost" and wrote: "I think the game is pretty near up."


The British certainly thought so.  General Howe, commander of the British troops, felt he had the Americans beaten and bottled up.  He left a battalion of Hessians under command of Colonel Johann Rall in Trenton to keep the Americans at bay. Howe  himself returned to the comforts of New York City to enjoy the holiday season.


Washington decided that the time was ripe for the Americans to strike a decisive blow.  Activity was preferable to waiting out the miserable winter without supplies, and with disease and desertion ravaging his troops.  The New York campaign had convinced Washington that direct, army versus army battles with the British were not winnable for the Americans.  There were simply too many British and Hessians, who were too well equipped and too well trained. The Americans were sadly lacking in all those areas.  The Americans were too few, they were poorly trained, and they were undersupplied.


Washington decided that until these deficiencies were fixed, the Americans needed to stick to small engagements and surprise attacks; in effect, "guerilla" warfare.  And Washington knew that the best time for such a blow was when the enemy least expected it.  The element of surprise was essential.

And so, as the wind began to mix with icy sleet and snow, on December 25, 1776, the main body of Continental troops got the orders to march to a narrow point in the Delaware River known as McKonkey's Ferry.  The troops did not know where they were going or why, but as one soldier, John Greenwood, later wrote: "I never heard soldiers say anything, or trouble themselves, as to where they were or where they were led...for it was all the same owing to the impossibility of being in a worse condition than their present one, and therefore the men always liked to be kept moving in expectation of bettering themselves."


Secrecy was the order of the day.  Complete silence was imposed on the marching troops, and the password for the expedition, decided on by General Washington earlier in the day, was "Victory or Death."


Two smaller forces of troops, commanded by General John Cadwalader and General James Ewing, were set to cross the river at different points, to join in the attack or at least create a diversion from the real target, the Hessian garrison at Trenton.  But the weather became fiercer.  The temperatures dropped and the wind began to roar with all the ferociousness of a full-blown nor'easter.  The wind was filled with icy sleet, snow, and hail.  The river began to rise ominously and the rough, black water was surging with chunks of ice.  The generals commanding the diversionary troops decided the river was impassable.  Their troops would have had to travel over a hundred yards of ice to even reach the water's edge.  They decided to halt the attack and turn back.  However, at the narrow point of McKonkey's Ferry, General Washington did not appear to have any second thoughts.  He stood watching the troops embark across the river, a solitary, silent figure wrapped in his cloak.


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