Christmas and Crossing the Delaware

Fellow Farraguteer, Mark Hildebrand forwarded me this link to The Washington Post article – Christmas Solders of 1776

You see, this Friday, December 25th, marks the 233rd anniversary of George Washington’s famed crossing of the Delaware.

Farragut's 2nd Adventure Entails the "Crossing of the Delaware"

Starship Farragut’ second episode, “For Want of a Nail” has the Farragut crew traveling back in time – days before General Washington’s momentus crossing on the Delaware River. 

Carter and Prescott Talking with Doctor Holley (not shown)

As told by CAPT Carter and LCDR Prescott to Doc Holley:

CARTER
On Christmas night in, uh –

PRESCOTT
Seventeen Seventy Six

CARTER
Right.  A few months after the Declaration of Independence.  The army had lost several battles and was barely hanging on.  Washington decided to try a surprise attack on a group of German mercenaries.

PRESCOTT
Hessians.  I am impressed, mon Capitaine.

HOLLEY
I assume they were, or will be, successful?

CARTER looks at PRESCOTT, giving him permission to continue.

PRESCOTT
Yes.  They took the battalion at Trenton with only a few minor casualties.  With a much needed victory and fresh supplies, it galvanized the troops and the Revolutionary Cause.  Re-enlistments surged and the army continued fighting for another five years.

CARTER
All because that man sitting by the fire came up with a brilliant plan and was able to get his generals and commanders to take a leap of faith.

Uncanny, the The Washington Post article (written by Ed Ruggero) is very similar to what is stated above and goes into much greater detail:

The summer and fall of 1776 marked a low point for George Washington’s Continental Army. His soldiers were defeated in the Battle of Long Island in August, and, soon after, they had to flee New York City, leaving behind thousands of comrades taken captive by the British.

By December the Continental Army had all but abandoned New Jersey and hoped only to escape across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Prospects for the rebellion looked grim: The enlistments of one-third of Washington’s men would expire on December 31, leaving him with a force too small to prosecute the war offensively against the British.

And yet, as his oft-beaten and demoralized soldiers retreated with the British and Hessians on their heels, Washington was already thinking about how he could strike back. He needed a victory to reinvigorate the cause and convince his men to stay on.

As winter set in, the British scattered their forces in small garrisons across New Jersey. On December 23, a day when the password used by Continental sentries was “Victory or Death,” Washington’s officers got word that they would cross the river and attack the enemy outpost at Trenton, New Jersey.

Much depended on surprise. Washington feared that an alerted enemy would counterattack and annihilate his army–and the newborn nation’s hopes–before he could escape back to Pennsylvania.

The weather was cold and clear on Christmas Day, promising frozen roads and easier movement. Then, at sunset, the temperature climbed and the rain began. The soldiers, some of them wearing only rags on their feet and all of them drenched to the skin and whipped by sharp winds, moved to the boats and out onto the ice-choked river. Once on the far side, the men slopped up muddy banks, man-handling balky artillery pieces. Washington rode alongside the column as it stumbled through the dark, encouraging the men in a calm voice.

Shortly after leaving the river, Washington encountered a small force of Virginians who had crossed to attack a Hessian outpost. The general was furious, certain he had lost the element of surprise. He would have been even angrier had he known that his was the only column that made it across the river; the two supporting attacks were stalled in Pennsylvania. He would reach Trenton after dawn, and he expected to find an alert enemy, yet still Washington pressed on.

Washington has often been called a lucky commander, and his luck held that night. Hessian forces that had spent the night chasing the Virginians returned to their barracks, exhausted. The Hessian commander, Colonel Rall, was convinced that no attack was possible in the miserable weather. He called off the regular dawn patrols of the river crossings that might have discovered the American advance.

The sun was well up by the time Washington reached Trenton. His soldiers, shivering and soaked by the freezing rain, moved their mud-caked artillery to a low hill at the top of King and Queen Streets. Riding at the head of his troops, Washington ordered, “Advance and charge.”

It was over in less than an hour. Rall was mortally wounded, and though 500 of his men escaped, some of his officers had run, leaving the regiment leaderless. The bedraggled American force captured some 900 prisoners and tons of valuable supplies. Most importantly, this victory breathed new life into the Revolution at the very moment it was about to expire. Nearly half the men due to leave the army chose to stay with Washington and fight another day.

What must Washington have been thinking when the sun came up that morning, revealing his wet and weary men as they plodded forward, heads bent into the sleet, following the clouds of their own breath? In spite of the defeats, Washington’s soldiers were willing to trust him again, willing to risk their very lives on his judgment. Can there be anything more humbling for a leader to behold?

This Christmas other men and women, the heirs of those sodden and shivering Continentals, are also far from home, taking risks their leaders have asked of them. Those of us who will spend this holiday in comfort should be no less in awe of the service they offer us than was Washington as he looked over his column of patriots on the road to Trenton.

Such a good article and appropriate with both the holiday season and the historic anniversary, I thought I should share with folks.  Merry Christmas!

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One Response to “Christmas and Crossing the Delaware”

  1. Kevin Palm Says:

    That article just goes to show how well-written and researched the FWOAN script was. A VERY inspirational story, and thank you for sharing it with us, John! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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