December 26th, 2010

Lest We Forget … Christmas 1776 (today is the Anniversary of the Battle of Trenton)

The Crossing of the Delaware, December 26, 1776

The Crossing of the Delaware, December 26, 1776

NOTE FROM STEWART:  My Christmas message the other day focused on how Christmas is traditionally a time of peace.  However, we should not forget that it has also been a time of war, when necessary.  Today, December 26, is the anniversary of the battle of Trenton, New Jersey, which was a critical battle in the American Revolution, giving the patriot cause a much needed morale (and material) boost after a string of stinging defeats.   The march and crossing of the Delaware river had begun on December 25, but the actual battle occurred in the early morning of the 26th.

That battle showed that men fighting for their freedom were more than a match for mercenaries fighting only for money – and making it a surprise attack at dawn the day after Christmas rather than a formal set-piece battle certainly helped too.  It is a classic example of maneuver warfare, working inside the enemy’s OODA loop by striking when and where least expected, and under the most advantageous circumstances (when it came to the actual fighting).   It was a hard, dangerous crossing and a miserable march, in a snow storm, in the dark, but a hard march made for an easy fight.  The American patriots walked away from that battle with only four injured, none killed (except for two men who froze to death during the night march), nine hundred Hessian prisoners, and lots of nice new boots, muskets, and cannon.  What a Christmas present for the American cause!   It was a good day!

Below is a wonderful article about it, written by Oath Keeper Jennifer Terhune, and originally published in The Oath Keeper newspaper (

Lest We Forget … Christmas 1776

Jennifer Terhune
The Oath Keeper

Christmas Day, 1776, was a dismal, freezing day for the troops of the Continental Army serving under General George Washington.  The Americans were camped on the banks of the Delaware River in temperatures well below freezing.  In the afternoon of that Christmas Day, a raw, icy wind began to blow in from the northeast.  The soldiers didn’t really have anything resembling uniforms.  Many of them had no shoes; the best they could do was to wrap rags around their feet.  The troops were constantly battling illness caused by exposure and disease.

Even worse, morale was at an all time low.  Washington’s army had just retreated across the Delaware River after a long line of disastrous campaigns in New York. The ranks were dwindling as more men deserted every day.  Many men thought the war was over, that the Americans had lost. Even General Washington had his doubts.  In a letter to his brother, he worried about “a noble cause lost” and wrote: “I think the game is pretty near up.”

The British certainly thought so.  General Howe, commander of the British troops, felt he had the Americans beaten and bottled up.  He left a battalion of Hessians under command of Colonel Johann Rall in Trenton to keep the Americans at bay. Howe  himself returned to the comforts of New York City to enjoy the holiday season.

Washington decided that the time was ripe for the Americans to strike a decisive blow.  Activity was preferable to waiting out the miserable winter without supplies, and with disease and desertion ravaging his troops.  The New York campaign had convinced Washington that direct, army versus army battles with the British were not winnable for the Americans.  There were simply too many British and Hessians, who were too well equipped and too well trained. The Americans were sadly lacking in all those areas.  The Americans were too few, they were poorly trained, and they were undersupplied.

Washington decided that until these deficiencies were fixed, the Americans needed to stick to small engagements and surprise attacks; in effect, “guerilla” warfare.  And Washington knew that the best time for such a blow was when the enemy least expected it.  The element of surprise was essential.

And so, as the wind began to mix with icy sleet and snow, on December 25, 1776, the main body of Continental troops got the orders to march to a narrow point in the Delaware River known as McKonkey’s Ferry.  The troops did not know where they were going or why, but as one soldier, John Greenwood, later wrote: “I never heard soldiers say anything, or trouble themselves, as to where they were or where they were led…for it was all the same owing to the impossibility of being in a worse condition than their present one, and therefore the men always liked to be kept moving in expectation of bettering themselves.”

Secrecy was the order of the day.  Complete silence was imposed on the marching troops, and the password for the expedition, decided on by General Washington earlier in the day, was “Victory or Death.”

Two smaller forces of troops, commanded by General John Cadwalader and General James Ewing, were set to cross the river at different points, to join in the attack or at least create a diversion from the real target, the Hessian garrison at Trenton.  But the weather became fiercer.  The temperatures dropped and the wind began to roar with all the ferociousness of a full-blown nor’easter.  The wind was filled with icy sleet, snow, and hail.  The river began to rise ominously and the rough, black water was surging with chunks of ice.  The generals commanding the diversionary troops decided the river was impassable.  Their troops would have had to travel over a hundred yards of ice to even reach the water’s edge.  They decided to halt the attack and turn back.  However, at the narrow point of McKonkey’s Ferry, General Washington did not appear to have any second thoughts.  He stood watching the troops embark across the river, a solitary, silent figure wrapped in his cloak.

One of the trickiest parts of the expedition was the actual river crossing.  The men were packed standing into shallow boats called Durham boats, and piloted across the river by men of Colonel John Glover’s 14th Regiment of Massachusetts.  This regiment was well picked for the job; many were fishermen from Marblehead.  They used long poles and oars to ferry the boats across the choppy, icy water.

By three a.m. on the morning of December 26th, 2,400 troops had crossed the river, as well as horses and artillery.  They were three hours behind schedule, but the troops moved ahead into the stormy darkness, beginning the nine mile march south to Trenton.  The storm continued unabated and, incredibly, grew worse.  The soldiers struggled along the road that was hard and uneven with frozen ruts and slick with icy sleet.  Men and horses slid and slipped in the dark.  One soldier remembered later that he was so cold he was numb all over, “so be-numbed with cold that I wanted to go to sleep.  Had I been passed unnoticed, I should have frozen to death without knowing it.”  In fact, two soldiers did freeze to death during that bitterly cold march to Trenton.

At the crossroads of Birmingham, the army split, with one force under General Sullivan heading to the right, and General Washington’s troops keeping to the left on Pennington Road.  The day dawned around seven a.m., a cold, wintry morning. The rising sun slowly outlined the barren trees along the road with the first rays of milky light, barely shining through the low hanging clouds.  The men marched on, utterly silent, through the icy dawn, their feet crunching over the icy, slippery road.

Finally, at eight a.m., both columns were in position, immediately north of Trenton.  The attack began as the men moved forward along Pennington Road, picking up their speed into a long trot.  The storm was still pouring snow from the sky, and the wind was at the back of the American attackers.  The Hessians guarding the road could barely see into the blinding storm and had no idea of the size of the force bearing down on them.  They retreated smoothly into the town and kept up a steady fire at the advancing Americans.

General Sullivan’s troops attacked almost simultaneously from the River Road, opening the attack with the boom of artillery.  One of Washington’s staff later remembered that “General Washington’s face lighted up instantly, for he knew it was one of Sullivan’s guns.”

The two American columns converged as they entered the town, and the Americans, wet and frozen to the bone, having just marched nine weary miles, threw themselves into combat with a ferocious will.  The Hessians tried to form up in the streets, but Henry Knox had his artillery battalions ready, and they went into action with deadly force.  The streets were cleared “in the twinkling of an eye”.  The Americans had been ordered to fix their bayonets since the powder was wet from the snow and ice. Soon, savage house to house fighting was taking placing all through the houses and streets of Trenton.  The air was filled with smoke from the artillery, screams and shouts in English and German, and still with swirling snow.

The Hessians rolled out an artillery gun and tried to take aim at the Americans, but before they could fire, six Virginians led by Captain William Washington (a distant relative of General George Washington) and Lieutenant James Monroe, rushed forward, seized the gun, and turned it on the Hessians.

Hessian Colonel Johann Rall tried to rally his troops and ordered a charge.  But the American fire was too fierce, and the Hessians fled into an orchard.  They were immediately surrounded, and surrendered when they realized their plight.

The battle, altogether, had taken about forty-five minutes.  Twenty-one Hessians had been killed, and over nine hundred were captured.  The Americans also captured six brass cannons, forty horses, and over a thousand weapons.  Only four Americans were wounded in the Battle of Trenton.  The only two fatalities were the two men who froze to death during the night march.

After securing the spoils of battle, the Americans turned around and marched back up the road, nine miles to McKonkey’s Ferry.  Back through the freezing wintry day, back along the same icy ruts they had traveled through the long, bitter night, and back into the boats, over the surging, icy waters of the Delaware.

But the army that had marched down to Trenton was not the same that now marched back. They were no longer a demoralized, disintegrating army, but a victorious army that had soundly beaten a battle-hardened foe. Now they were an army that had struck a blow that would rock the British Empire to its core.  Now they had won a battle that would allow the cause of freedom to live to fight another day.


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18 Responses to “Lest We Forget … Christmas 1776 (today is the Anniversary of the Battle of Trenton)”

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  1. 1
    Robin W. Tong Says:

    Few remember that Washington’s army was ill provisioned that winter, lacking blankets or winter clothing, and lacking adequate supplies to provide little more than meager fare to quell the pains of hunger. It was not uncommon for the men to eat soap and boil the leather from their shoes and moccasins, and on those occasions that wild game was to be had, the entrails and bones were pounded and boiled as gruel.

    The password for the march… “Victory or Death”… was most apt and appropriate… for they truly had nothing left to lose. It is to those poor noble souls of the Continental Army whom suffered the persecution of the British Army and their mercenaries and nearly perished in the harshness of winter that we owe our Liberty.

    What say you? Would you be half as willing to stand by your Oath and peacefully refuse to enforce illegal orders that would subvert by armed force the liberties of the States and the People?

    Yours in Liberty,

  2. 2
    Freedom Warrior Says:

    Patrick Henry – 03/23/1775
    No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

    Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not [Jer. 5:21], the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss [Matt. 26:48]. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

    They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us [2 Chron. 32:8]. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone [Eccl. 9:11]; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

    It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace [Jer. 6:14]. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle [Matt. 20:6]? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

  3. 3
    Joe Horton Says:

    Hey guys–

    Great piece on Washington crossing the Delaware. Side note: When the New Jersey quarters came out, there was that scene on the back of the coin. I was traveling somewhere with my son who, incredibly, can be even funnier than I am when the spirit moves him to be. I called for him to take a look at the NJ coin, which he did, saying something like, “hmmm…New Jersey…they should show four guys breaking into a car.”

    Change of subject: Any way to gt a copy of Stewart’s paper on Solving the Enemy Combatant Problem without a facebook account? Whenever I try, it looks like I need to get one, which I really don’t want to do.



  4. 4
    oladcock Says:

    Wonderful article and highlights the spirit that dwells within to shake the chains of bondage, be it through armed might or over reaching regulation and evolutional socialism/marxism…O.L.

  5. 5
    Fred Combrink Says:

    American History should be taught in the schools again.

  6. 6
    john Says:

    Here is the first page of items from a Foxfire search on Stewart’s paper:

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat

    Dirt Rhodes Scholar: Understanding Enemy Combatant Status and the …
    Oct 28, 2006 … Stewart is NOT a liberal, unless you want to consider him a classical liberal. …. the Court had no problem at all with using military jurisdiction ….. “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status.” A 94 page paper ……/enemy-combatant-status-no-more.html – Cached – Similar
    Oath-Keeper Stewart Rhodes on the Rise of Authoritarianism and How …
    Nov 29, 2010… for the paper “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status” at Yale. What was that about? Stewart Rhodes: My 2004 paper addressed the dangerous and ….. Isn’t one of the big problems at the Federal level the pervasive fear of ….. Those who want to understand the dangers of enemy combatant … – Cached
    Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, rings the Daily Bell in a …
    Nov 23, 2010 … Stewart graduated from Yale Law School in 2004, where his paper, “Solving the … won a prize for the paper “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status” at Yale. …. It is not up to the military to fix our problems. …;read... – Cached
    Oath-Keeper Stewart Rhodes on the Rise of Authoritarianism and How …
    Nov 21, 2010 … It is not up to the military to fix our problems. …. Stewart Rhodes: See my above discussion of my Yale paper. ….. Those who want to understand the dangers of enemy combatant status in particular can also read … .org/oath/2010/11/09/solving-the-puzzle-of-enemy-combatant-status-stewart-rhodes/ ……/Oath-Keeper-Stewart-Rhodes-on-the-Rise-of-Authoritarianism-and-How-US-Law-Enforcement-Can-Take-a-Stan... – Cached
    Oath-Keeper Stewart Rhodes on the Rise of Authoritarianism and How …
    Nov 22, 2010 … Stewart graduated from Yale Law School in 2004, where his paper, “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status” won Yale’s Judge William E. ……/oath-keeper-stewart-rhodes-on-the-rise-of-authoritarianism-and-how-us-law-enforcement-can-take-a-stand-for… – Cached
    Exposed Post: Solving the Puzzle of “Enemy Combatant” Status …
    Nov 10, 2010 … The paper “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status” won …. to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help ……/solving-puzzle-of-enemy-combatant.html – Cached
    Oath-Keeper Stewart Rhodes on the Rise of Authoritarianism and How …
    Nov 21, 2010 … Stewart graduated from Yale Law School in 2004, where his paper, “Solving … the paper “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status” at Yale. ….. Daily Bell: Do law enforcement officials perceive the problems that you perceive? …… Those who want to understand the dangers of enemy combatant ……/oath-keeper-stewart-rhodes-on-the-rise-of-authoritarianism-and-how-us-law-enforcement-can-take-a-stand-for... – Cached
    E. Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers – on Beyond the Ordinary Dot Net
    E. Stewart Rhodes, Founder and Director of Oath Keepers, attorney with … prize for best paper on the Bill of Rights ‘Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant … Stewart makes the point that the people contributing to the problem do not … – Cached – Similar
    The Yale Law Journal Online – Solving the Due Process Problem with …
    Dec 31, 2004 … Rather than merely determining whether a detainee is an enemy combatant, the CSRTs should also decide whether a detainee found to be an ……/solving-the-due-process-problem-with-military-commissions/ – Cached

  7. 7
    Uncle Vic Says:

    So uplifting to hear of the crossing once again. No whining at the challenge of the moment. They pressed forward with His blessing to Victory or Death.

  8. 8
    Leonard M Grummell USAF(ret) Says:

    In reference to a previous post…”Those who fail to heed the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them”. (Santanya) I call upon all of my Oath Keeper brethern to offer a prayer that the new Congress will heed our combined voices and the will of the American people. This may be the last opportunity we have to wrest control of the United States from the socialist liberals and re-establish a Constitutional Republic. May God have mercy upon us….!!!

  9. 9
    lilolady Says:

    It is up to the older generations to remember and instill as best we can, in those who come after, the enormity
    of the sacrifice and true suffering endured by our forefathers and their families to wrest freedom from tyranny.
    If American History were taught via Tweet , Texting, I-Chat and Facebook, we have a small chance of engaging
    our young folks in appreciation of the blessing bestowed upon them and this Nation by far better than they
    have ever known/ or will ever know again. Thanks to all who have commented on this day’s wonderful piece!
    Very inspiring!

  10. 10
    Stan Needham Says:

    What a great story. The last time I read an account of this historic battle was in a college history course some 44 or 45 years ago, so I was more than a little past-due to read it again.

    I pray to God that Americans are never called on the defend liberty in such a grueling way again, but it’s comforting to know that there is a core of Americans who would do so without hesitation.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone.

    LCDR Stan Needham

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