Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Crossing the Delaware
I started giving books to my children for Christmas when they were babies. Now they are all grown up with all of them married and most of them with children of their own. I still follow the tradition of giving books to them - plus their spouses and children. To make it easier on myself, I choose the books that I want them to read. I also give a certain book to a certain group. Some years the husbands form one group while the wives form another group. Another year all of my natural children form one group while their spouses are in a different group. I group the grandchildren by age. All of the books I gave for Christmas this year were about the Constitution and the Founders of our nation. I gave my youngest grandchildren a book by Lynne Cheney called When Washington Crossed the Delaware. This is a great Christmas book, which I hope will be read in their families every year at Christmas. Mrs. Cheney tells the story in a wonderful way, and the paintings by Peter M. Fiore are beautiful. I highly recommend this book to every family. For my post today I will write a brief summary of the story because I would be remiss if I let the Christmas season pass without this story being told. On July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. While Congress was doing its duty, General George Washington and his army were about to be trapped in New York by the British army and their hired soldiers called Hessians who were from Germany. The Hessians were widely feared by the Americans because they showed no mercy. Washington planned an escape with his army from Brooklyn on Long Island to Manhattan. Five British warships were prepared to sail up the East River to block Washington's retreat, but there was a "miraculous" shift in the wind, which kept the British from coming up river. It was at this point on August 29, 1776, that Washington ordered the evacuation to begin. Colonel John Glover and his men from Marblehead, Massachusetts, all sailors and fishermen, took the American army across the East River to Manhattan in any boat they could find. They worked all night moving military men and equipment. When daybreak came, a thick fog rolled in also, thus enabling the entire army to move across the river without being seen by the British. Throughout the fall, the British pushed the American army south through New Jersey. Washington and his army retreated across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, destroying bridges and taking boats as they went. By December 1776, Washington's Continental Army was dwindling in numbers because enlistments were ending for many of the men. Washington's money and supplies were running very low, and his men were in great need of food and warm clothing. Washington contacted Robert Morris who raised enough cash to pay bonuses to the ragged, starving soldiers, and they extended their enlistments into the new year. On Christmas night Washington made a sudden attack on Trenton, New Jersey. Colonel John Glover's sailors from Marblehead, Massachusetts, again moved the entire army, including horses and cannon, across the ice-filled Delaware River. This little group of about 2400 men surprised the Hessian defenders, killed their commander and took nearly one thousand prisoners back across the river. The Battle of Trenton was over in two hours. Only two Americans were injured, one of whom was an eighteen-year-old lieutenant named James Monroe, the future president. Also in the group was a nineteen-year-old captain named Alexander Hamilton, a signer of the Constitution and the nation's first secretary of the treasury, as well as a young John Marshall, the future chief justice of the United States. Washington's attack was a huge success, and the Americans rejoiced at the victory. As a side note, Washington treated the prisoners humanly, and thousands of Hessian Germans would later settle in Pennsylvania and Virginia. With British and Hessian troops gathering at Princeton, New Jersey, Washington sent out a call for more forces. Veterans as well as inexperienced men came to help. While the enemy was advancing, Washington ordered most of his army to line up on the south side of Assunpink Creek and sent a force to the north side of the creek to slow down the enemy. General Charles Cornwallis, the British commander, thought the Americans were trapped on the evening of January 2, 1777 and decided to wait until morning to attack. Washington had another idea. About 1:00 A.M. he and his officers led their men quietly away to attack Princeton. Cornwallis didn't know they were gone until dawn. The American army encountered British troops in the farmland near Princeton, and many Americans fell in battle. As the survivors were retreating, General Washington on his great white horse rushed to rally his troops. Somehow, Washington was miraculously saved as he rode between to the two armies while they were preparing to fire on the other army. Within a few hours the Battle of Princeton was over, and the Americans had once again defeated the greatest army in the world. Although it was unknown at the time, these two battles, which were fought over the holidays, was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. "General Washington and his men had stood with their country in a time of crisis. When they were cold and hungry, they did not quit. When the conflict was hard, they fought on. And when they won, the victory was sweet. News of Trenton and Princeton spread across the land, lifting the spirits of patriots everywhere. Many a battle lay ahead, but now Americans could think of winning their war of independence. Now they could imagine that their great struggle would have a glorious end." (Lynn Cheney in When Washington Crossed the Delaware, a Wintertime Story for Young Patriots, last page).