December 24, 0010
FROM THE ARCHIVES: NOT SO VANQUISHED:
A Revolutionary Christmas Story (LYNNE CHENEY, 12/21./04, NY Times)
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.
One of the best books of 2004 was David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing, which covers this period brilliantly and opens with a terrific rehabilition of Emmanuel Leutze's iconic painting of the Crossing
Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 0010 12:00 AM
[originally posted: 2004-12-21]