December 21, 2007

We "considered ourselves a vanquished people"

From A Revolutionary Christmas Story, By Lynne Cheney, NYT, December 21, 2004

AS 1776 was drawing to a close, Elkanah Watson, a young man in Massachusetts, expressed what many Americans feared about their war for independence. "We looked upon the contest as near its close," he wrote, "and considered ourselves a vanquished people."

There was good reason for pessimism. The British had driven Gen. George Washington and his men out of New York and across New Jersey. In early December, with the British on their heels, the Americans had commandeered every boat they could find to escape across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. They were starving, sick and cold. The artist Charles Willson Peale, watching the landing from the Pennsylvania shore, described a soldier dressed "in an old dirty blanket jacket, his beard long and his face so full of sores that he could not clean it." So disfigured was the man, Peale wrote, that at first he did not recognize him as his brother James.

In these desperate circumstances, George Washington made a stunning decision: to go back across the Delaware and launch a surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries occupying Trenton. On Christmas night, he led 2,400 men, many of them with their feet wrapped in rags because they had no shoes, to a crossing point nine miles upstream from Trenton. As freezing temperatures turned rain to sleet and snow, they began to cross the river.

The task was harder than any of them had imagined. Men had to break through ice to get into the boats and then fend off chunks of floating ice once they were in the river. Getting cannons across - each weighed nearly a ton - was especially difficult. Downstream, two other groups that Washington had ordered to cross the Delaware failed in their mission. But Washington and his men persevered, until finally, at 4 o'clock in the morning, they were across and ready to march to Trenton.

They had planned to approach Trenton before dawn, but the difficulty of the crossing had delayed them, and it was daylight when they encountered the first Hessians. Still, the surprise worked, and in two hours, with few losses of their own, they captured nearly 900 of the enemy. "This is a glorious day for our country," Washington declared... [There's more.]
Can one possibly imagine the elation that must have been felt by Elkanah Watson, when the news of the victory at Trenton arrived? The deep satisfaction we feel right now at the splendid turnaround in Iraq is nothing compared with how Americans must have felt then.

Thank you Lynne Cheney for this one! And we should be very grateful that, even in these last decadent days of America, we have public servants like the Cheney family...

Vice president Cheney and his wife and daughters     

Posted by John Weidner at December 21, 2007 4:23 PM
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