Thursday, December 25, 2008

Don't Forget Trenton!

Merry Christmas everyone! As you enjoy the festivities, keep in mind that today also carries a special American tribute that should not go forgotten.

232 years ago on this date George Washington and the Continental Army made their daring advance on Trenton to attack the Hessian soldiers encamped at the city. The move was risky to say the least. Trenton was defended by 1,500 Hessian mercenaries, who were expecting to pass through a relatively calm winter encampment at the city. Washington, however, saw an opportunity to gain a moral victory (moral because winning Trenton was not a major tactical victory) for his army. After all, this was the same army that had been thoroughly routed by the British at New York, where they were forced to flee on a number of occasions. As a result, the Continental Army was in extreme disarray and Washington himself was being questioned by the delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In fact, some even suggested that the General should be replaced for his poor performance at New York.

It was under these tough circumstances that Thomas Paine wrote the words to his epic pamphlet, The Crisis, which was written just two days before the planned attack on Trenton:

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 by 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: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a 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 a 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 earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
With such dire circumstances all around them, Washington decided to roll the dice. An attack on Trenton would secure a for the Continental Army a legitimate moral victory, one which would help to inspire the allegiance of more colonials to the cause of independence. Despite the benefits, Washington was not unaware of the tremendous risk he was taking. In a very real sense this was an all-or-nothing gamble (It is therefore no surprise that Washington would pen a note on his desk that read, "Victory or Death").

To make a long story short, Washington and the Continental Army won an astonishing victory at Trenton, capturing over 1/3 of the entire Hessian garrison. Since the Hessians expected a quiet winter encampment, they chose to enjoy the holidays by staying up late and drinking away their Christmas Eve. As a result, the army was caught asleep, hung over, and disorganized upon Washington's arrival. Here is a clip from the movie The Crossing, which captures the feel of that Christmas morning:

The Army then goes on to rout the Hessians at Trenton. In the process, only 2 continental soldiers lost their lives. In addition, only five were wounded (including James Monroe, who eventually became our 5th president).

So, Merry Continental Army Kicks Hessian Butt Day/Christmas!!!


Brian Tubbs said...

Good article, Brad (as always)! I linked to it from my American founding blog.

Hey, did you decide to make this an individual instead of group blog? I see that I'm no longer a contributor.

Rebecca said...

That looks like a good movie. I'm always on the lookout for good movies on the American Revolution. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of good ones out there. And thanks for the reminder about what happened on Christmas Day!

Brian Tubbs said...

There are two things about "The Crossing" that I don't like.

1. It shows GW cursing like a sailor throughout. Not that a choice word or two didn't escape GW's lips from time to time. I'm sure such language occasionally did. Ask Charles Lee at Monmouth. BUT...I seriously doubt Washington cursed as much as portrayed in "The Crossing." For one thing, GW himself issued a "General Order" forbidding his soldiers to curse.

2. At the end, the movie (based on a script written by Howard Fast, who is an admitted socialist) has GW grudgingly agreeing with one of his generals that the main motive of the colonies in fighting the war is profit. While I'm no head-in-the-clouds idealist (aka Parson Weems), "The Crossing" goes too far to the other extreme.

Brian Tubbs said...

Oh, a third problem :-) ....

"The Crossing" has Alexander Hamilton serving as Washington's aide during the Trenton episode. This is historically incorrect. Hamilton was still with the artillery during this battle. He had not yet come on Washington's staff.

BUT...aside from all that...the movie isn't that bad.

I just wish they'd do something on the BIG Screen!

Brad Hart said...


You are 100% right about the Hamilton mistake. I actually find it kind of funny! I guess it's another History Channel blunder that they seem to make on a regular basis. You would think that they would catch such an obvious error like this!

As for the war being for profit, I am completely on your side of this one. I couldn't agree more.

The swearing is a funny one. I know that those closest to Washington maintained that he was extremely disciplined but also had a major temper. For the most part, Washington was good at controlling it, but when his fuse did run out he was known to explode...and who could blame him. I would have been royally pissed off at Lee as well!!! I guess the best analogy is that Washington was an Eisenhower type. He could get extremely mad when it was required, but for the most part was quite reserved. To be certain, Washington was NOT a Patton!!! =)

Brian Tubbs said...

Ha, ha, and the fact that "Washington was NOT a Patton" is probably why there's a classic, Academy-Award winning film on Patton (starring George C. Scott) as compared with a forgotten 1980s TV miniseries on Washington (starring Barry Bostwick). Oh well.

Anonymous said...

i like this great article ,,

thanks ,,

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