By Christmas Eve of 1776, the American Revolution was, in essence, over. The Americans had lost. George Washington was out of options. His army, now down to only a few thousand, had lost seven battles in a row and was freezing on the west bank of the Delaware River awaiting the end. The British, on the other hand had 33,000 soldiers, well over a hundred ships and were partying in New York City and preparing for the final surrender. Most of the American troops had resolve, but they had lost hope that England could ever be defeated. Half of Washington’s army, 1,500 men, were quitting that week and going home because their enlistments were up.
Washington decided on one final offensive. He gathered the same fishermen who had helped him retreat in August from New York and had his beleaguered troops ferried across the half frozen Delaware at midnight on Christmas Day. Just before they boarded the boats, the General had The American Crisis, the challenge by Thomas Paine, read to the men.
“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: “Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.
Heaven knows how to set proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has right [not only to tax but] ‘to bind us in all cases whatsoever’ and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon the earth. Even the expression is impious, for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”
Washington landed near Trenton in a blinding snow and hailstorm that served as a cover for his crossing and approach. His men quickly surprised a detachment of 1,200 Hessians. Colonel Rhal and his men had been partying and drinking with a pompous, false sense of security late into the night.
When Washington attacked in early morning almost all were captured and Rhal was mortally wounded. That day, Washington re-crossed the river with over 1,000 prisoners, and only 5 casualties of his own. As was his custom, he did not mistreat his prisoners.
The Americans immediately crossed the river again avoiding the massive British counter attack and surprised the British from the rear at Princeton. General Washington won another victory, riding his horse between the lines of fire and miraculously remained unscathed as both armies volleyed.
His troops rallied for a final charge and won. These victories changed the course of history. Almost all of the American soldiers re-enlisted. France began to support the cause, and hope in the providence of God (the great equalizer) reinvigorated the colonists.
Read the rest at World History Institute