I grew up on the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey. Christmas had an additional meaning to me over the usual church services, Santa, presents, and family gatherings. Christmas of 1776 was when General George Washington garnered a victory to set up the morale-boosting our Continental Army so desperately needed.
The simple story told to the children in elementary school is this: Washington Crossed the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. He marched his troops along the Delaware into Trenton surprising the Hessians overnight and defeating them. What they didn’t tell us in school can be found with further research or stories passed down from generation to generation. I’ve been blessed with both.
The parts of the story they don’t teach you in school are as follows:
Washington was a very astute military leader. While moving troops from New York to Pennsylvania during the summer of 1776, he crossed the Delaware River and took every available boat, transport ferry, canoe and dingy with him. For an area covering twenty plus miles along the river, Washington grabbed all these boats and hid them on the Pennsylvania side of an island. First, he wanted to stop the Brits from being able to follow him that summer. Second, he already had a plan to come back later that year.
It took over ten hours to get all the artillery, horses, supplies, and 2400 men across the River Christmas night. While the troops waited for marching orders, they huddled against a winter storm without much food or clothing. They were under orders for silence and allowed no fires so to remain hidden from the enemy. Once all the troops and gear were across, Washington split his Army into three parts. One small section of troops headed up the road toward Princeton to stop any British that may hear of the attack and send aid to Trenton. The British did send troops, and Washington’s men were able to keep them from advancing. Washington then split up the remaining men into two columns to march nine miles to Trenton. One column went inland and south to Trenton. The other column headed south along the river.
Two men helped with leading the troops into Trenton that night. Brothers Amos and Jedediah Scudder lived on a family farm along the Delaware River. Amos went on to continue fighting with Washington and Jedediah returned to farming the family land. I am a descendant of Jedediah. The troops that made their way towards Trenton that night via the River Road crossed our family property. My great-great grandmother remembers her grandfather telling stories of that night many times. The soldiers marched up the drive to their house leaving bloody footprints in the snow. The Scudders fed them with their entire winter larder, clothed them, administered first aid, and in some cases, buried the ones who died. I like to think that maybe that little bit of help boosted the morale enough to give the remaining men the strength they needed to continue the march, surprise the drinking Hessians, and subsequently beating them in battle.
That night was “The Turning Point of the American Revolution.” The men then had a bit of hope that they were not fighting for a lost cause. They marched hundreds of Hessian prisoners across the Delaware River to Philadelphia. On January 1, 1777, Washington returned to Trenton with reinforced troops, to face a battle with the British, who had made their way into town. Washington left a small force of men to fight (and win the second Battle of Trenton), and local Trentonians led the Army around that battle and onwards to Princeton. The second, decisive victory for the Americans came at the Battle of Princeton January 3.
Christmas 2015 brings a lot of emotion for me. I’ve lost two pets and gained a new one. I’ve gained independence. I’ve found some patience. I’ve learned a ton about things I never thought I’d be doing (social media~ahem). When I think about the story above, I think of what made this country what it is. I love history, and the story of that Christmas in 1776 reminds me of sacrifices individuals made to ensure their country provided what they felt they needed at the time. So be gentle in your thoughts about other countries and their civil uprisings and the fallout that comes from such things. We can never know the inner thoughts that move people to do, act, or be who they are. Remember the roots of the soil you stand on and the blood that nourished it.
Wishing you all blessings this Christmas.
Thanks for reading.