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Article 1 (Dec 2019): In 1776, the fate of America turned on the Christmas Crossing
December 30, 2019At Christmastime in 1776, George Washington's troops were in retreat, barely keeping ahead of the Redcoats. The Revolution was in great danger of collapsing.
Washington's troops had reached Trenton on the Delaware River on December 2. Gathering every boat they could find so the British couldn't follow, they crossed the river into Pennsylvania. Washington expected the British to attack when the river froze, but they delayed.
The American troops were described by an enemy officer as "dying of the cold, without blankets, and very ill-supplied with provisions." Meanwhile, some 1,000 Hessians, German professional soldiers, had arrived in Trenton.
With morale crumbling, one fiery supporter of the Revolution refused to despair. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, had written a new essay, the first in a series he called The American Crisis. It was published on December 19. The troops were inspired as they read:
"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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Washington formed an audacious plan. He would cross the Delaware some nine miles north of Trenton and surprise the garrison. The Hessian commander said the Patriots were just farmers, and he never prepared for an attack.
The crossing began at 6 pm on December 25. After nine hours, the last boatload of men and cannons were on the shore. Then came the nine-mile ordeal through freezing wind and hail to reach Trenton.
Washington and his men attacked the Hessians shortly after dawn, surprising them completely. It was over in two hours with nearly 900 taken prisoner. The Americans suffered few casualties.
The Christmas victory at Trenton marked a turning point of the American Revolution. The effect on troop morale was tremendous, because they had taken on the King's forces and won. As word of the victory spread, confidence in Washington and in the Revolution was revived. Once written off as beaten, Americans fought on and won.
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