WRITTEN BY DAVID DICRESCENZO
Imagine if you would for a minute that this Christmas and the next several you won’t get to be with your family and friends sitting around a comfortable house exchanging gifts, having a few drinks and a sumptuous meal; or maybe never again. While I recognize that this is certainly a reality for many every year, and especially our troops wherever they may be stationed, I’d like to transport you to a yesteryear when we were just starting to be America, and almost didn’t make it; a yesteryear when being in our military, while still very honorable, did not come with any of the relative comforts of today.
For starters, unless you were an officer, you likely had to supply your own rifle or, as happened a lot, use a captured piece if you lived long enough; and until 1779 there were no uniforms really, again unless you were an officer. Until then, trying to match the color scheme, you wore what you had available, which probably wasn’t much more than a pile of tattered rags and a pair of boots that would have been thrown out long ago in today’s civilian or military life. There were a lot of reasons for this; not the least of which were that just about all of the Continental Army regiments were made up of some sort of civilian or state militias that had previously only mustered when called upon, there was no effective central government and any fiat money it might have decided to issue would have been untrusted by merchants who were probably still loyal to the Crown anyway, and the individual states themselves had limited resources.
So there you were, your pay was late or missing so often that General Washington himself had to personally guarantee your wage and pony up on occasion; thankfully, by the Grace of God, he had the pockets to do it. By the way, you had better get used to harsh conditions and walking/marching everywhere. If C-RATS or MREs had been invented back then, they would have been considered a delicacy compared to the putrid rations they had to contend with when they were even available.
Keep all of that in mind and imagine that you have probably been part of the 18 month old Continental Army putting up with it for the entire time; it is the dead of winter, you are many miles from home, freezing your butt off and starving, and you get orders to cross an ice choked river in the middle of the night on Christmas to mount an attack against a superior force of well trained, well rested, and well fed Hessian Mercenaries who were backed up by professional British Troops.
Faced with all of this, if you did decide to stick around, you did so only because you loved and respected your Commander who you’d prayed with and for, and witnessed him praying alone; you loved and trusted him as much as you hated the tyranny of the British and what you knew would happen to you and your comrades if the Revolution failed.
I guess I should also mention that you are well aware that many of your comrades have already deserted, and in many cases have accepted food and comfort, and probably a promise that they wouldn’t be executed as traitors to the Crown in exchange for intel on what the Continental Army was planning. Suffice it to say, like so many before you in history, your very faith in God was under assault.
It gets worse. The barges, (not longboats as famously depicted) that were scrounged up to carry you across said ice choked river were suited to ferry the cannon, (which they certainly did) but not exactly designed for the task of moving people; not only were there no seats, the bottom of the boats were cold and wet so sitting was not a good option. The entire operation was hours behind schedule and the crossing was also delayed; mostly by a severe Nor’easter with wind driven, frozen rain. As it turned out, that unimaginably foul weather actually helped save the day because even though the British and the Hessian Mercenaries knew about the planned attack via the deserters, they believed that there was no way they would get attacked on Christmas, and especially not in such inclement weather.
Much to their surprise, they were proved wrong as the solitary unit that DID get across the arduous 300 yards of the Delaware caught them completely unprepared. That “short” crossing was by no means easy and took from 11:00 PM on 12/25/1776 until just before dawn the next morning, and then they had to march ten miles to Trenton to engage the enemy. Not only were the Hessians surprised by the attack in and of itself; most if not all of them had been celebrating Christmas with abandon and were found in various stages of intoxication or flat out hung over and didn’t have a lot of fight in them. As a result, the Continental Army enjoyed its first victory after many months of enduring deplorable conditions and defeats.
The victory, while not really a strategic one, did greatly improve morale and resulted in a spike in re-enlistments, as well as restocking with much needed food and supplies complements of the enemy. The rest as they say is history. The war continued; over the next six years and many battles, both sides experienced victories and defeats along the way. However in the end, the Continental Army, by the Grace of God, ultimately won our Independence from what was the mightiest empire on the planet at the time.
By the way, in case you were not aware, because the dates can be a bit confusing, the Revolutionary War started long before the Declaration of Independence was even drafted or signed. Indeed, the “official” start was on the morning of April 19, 1775 right after Paul Revere and William Dawes had rode throughout what would certainly have been a very chilly night mustering the Minutemen for what became the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, where “the shot heard round the world” took place. Clearly, by July 4, 1776, they were fully engaged in warfare and the Declaration amounted to a sort of “oh, by the way” formality listing specific grievances. By that time, it was certainly not news to King George or anyone on the planet that there was big trouble across the pond and the American Colonies were duking it out with Britain’s Redcoats.
Also, extremely important and not taught in schools, Revere and Dawes were warning not just of the approaching British, but of what they planned on doing upon arrival, which was to disarm the colonists. That is how tyrants take and remain in power..!
I’ll repeat that in caps; “THAT IS HOW TYRANTS TAKE AND REMAIN IN POWER..!
The Colonists may or may not have uttered the words, but their actions screamed an old saying of defiance from the Spartans. “Molon Labe”; which essentially translates to “come and take them”. Sadly, we are very close as a nation to resorting to that same defiance to a tyrannical government this time led by democrats that has far exceeded its authority and intent, and is absolutely preparing to attempt to disarm We the People starting in January.
So as you sit around your homes in two weeks and celebrate in whatever fashion you choose, take a moment to think about those first brave Patriots who with little more than their faith and their love of country and freedom, risked everything to start this great nation; and keep our brave warriors of today in mind as they risk it all as well in faraway places to maintain that hard fought for independence.
One final side note of interest that I never knew before writing this; one of the members of Washington’s group by the name of Conrad Heyer who did cross the Delaware that evening lived long enough to be photographed and is said to be the person with the earliest birth date ever photographed.
Merry Christmas my Patriot friends…
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