Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Danger in the Night

     We went down to the Delaware River on Christmas day to witness a group of men gather together in the afternoon to recreate an historic event.

     For it was just about 4 p.m. on Christmas afternoon, as it was beginning to get dark, when a ragtag group of American men assembled in the rain and the cold, and prepared to cross the river and fight a desperate battle.

The troops assemble
    It was 1776. That autumn General George Washington had been pushed out of New York. His army of roughly 5000 men had retreated through New Jersey and crossed the Delaware to encamp along the shoreline in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, British troops had settled down in New York for the winter and had left a force of Hessian soldiers to guard their southern flank in New Jersey.

     During their retreat, the Americans had been forced to leave behind precious supplies. Morale among recruits was low. Over a thousand of them were ailing or injured and unfit for duty. A number of soldiers had deserted. Many of the others were looking forward to going home, since their enlistment period was expiring.

     But Washington wouldn't give up. He sent some of his men to enlist new recruits from around the area. They signed up a number of new men, largely because of the mistreatment by British soldiers throughout New York and New Jersey. Then Thomas Paine published his pamphlet The American Crisis:  "These are the times that try men's souls ..."

Two men to carry one oar
     Washington read the inspiring pamphlet to his men, and it lifted their spirits. Then a separate American force of approximately 2000 men managed to join them by the river, providing much-needed reinforcements.

     And so Washington decided to cross the Delaware River and make a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers who defended Trenton.

     A small fleet of open boats was assembled from people along the Delaware. At dark, around 4 p.m., the Americans began to march quietly down to the riverbank. As night fell, the rain turned to sleet. But Washington pressed on. The general rode in one of the first boats to cross the river, but it took until 3 a.m. for the entire force to get across -- and longer to finish transporting the supplies.

The plan of attack
     Once they were in New Jersey, the small army split into two groups and marched nine miles through the night to the small city of Trenton. They attacked the Hessian outpost at dawn, catching them completely by surprise. The Americans lost three men. The Hessians had 22 killed before surrendering. The American soldiers then destroyed or captured Hessian supplies, and took several hundred prisoners.

     Washington brought his men, and the prisoners, back across the Delaware to his outpost in Pennsylvania, and the Americans reveled in their victory, drinking rum captured from the Hessians. A few days later the Americans crossed into New Jersey again, and on January 3, 1777 they won a decisive victory in the battle of Princeton.

Cannon fire
     Washington's army then spent the winter in Morristown, NJ. But the struggle for independence was far from over. By the next winter the British had occupied Philadelphia, leaving Washington to winter over in Valley Forge. And it was another five long years before the British finally admitted defeat, after they lost the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia. The war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783. America gained its independence ... and the next chapter had begun.

     On this December day, in 2018, the river was high and ran fast. The reenactors decided not to cross the river, and I don't blame them one bit. Too dangerous. But they gathered the boats, assembled together, read the speeches, and then shot off the cannon, memorializing a bunch of men who were, I believe, far stronger and braver than we can ever claim.


Tabor said...

Nice bit of history.

DJan said...

Fascinating history, of which I wasn't aware. I think it's a good thing they didn't try to cross the river. Thanks for the great story. :-)

Barbara said...

What a fun thing to do on Christmas Day. Sounds so cold. Being a southern girl I pull up short on fun outings that must be enjoyed in the cold. Glad there are hardy souls that keep the fun happening. Interesting post.

Linda Myers said...

Did you know all that piece of history before you went to the celebration, or did you learn it there?

Tom Sightings said...

Linda -- I only knew the bare outline, so I learned most of it there. The reenactors were very knowledgeable and willing to answer all our stupid questions.

Diane Dahli said...

As Canadians, we learned about Washington's crossing of the Delaware in elementary school—what a famous and romantic story! But for his courage, and the determination of his followers, history might have turned out much differently!

Olga said...

Nice outing. I took my grandson to a re-enactment at Fort Ticonderoga this past summer. Of course the educator in me was very pleased that his interest in history was sparked. He asked many questions and the re-enactors were very willing to share their wealth of knowledge.

gigihawaii said...

Great history lesson. I am amazed at the fortitude of these early Americans.

steve said...

اننا نقدم العديد من الخدمات يمكنك زيارتها :

افضل شركات نقل العفش بالمدينة المنورة
شركة نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة
شركة تنظيف بالكويت
افضل شركة تنظيف الكويت
افضل شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالرياض
شركة صيانة مكيفات بالرياض
افضل شركة صيانة مكيفات بالدمام